Sunday, August 27, 2006

Meating Place

Please do not continue if you are a vegetarian.

There is meat a plenty at Samba Brazilian Churrascaria, definitely a great place for those that crave meat. Carnivores will be pleased to know that grilled meats are served by a passador (meat waiter) who carves the meat off a long skewer right onto your plate. The meat will keep on coming as it's unlimited servings.

Located at the complex of the former Big Splash at East Coast, Samba is a Brazilian themed restaurant that specializes in Churrascaria (specialty grill). It is said that cowboys or gauchos during those days simply patted coarse sea salt on large cuts of meat and seafood before grilling, basting them from time to time with oil and lemon juice. When cooked, excess salt would be brushed off or washed off with light brine.

While waiting for the passador to arrive at my table, I decided to help myself to the starter buffet spread. I wasn't impressed by the fried potato wedges, over-cooked tagliatelle, boiled carrots and corn, and the out-of-placed Taiwanese Xiao Bai Cai. I would also have preferred the red and green peppers to have been grilled instead of boiled or stir-fried. On the other hand, the salad section offered cucumbers, iceberg lettuce, heart of palm, cherry tomatoes among other vegetables. Quite a number of dressings were available.

But sad side dishes aside, the main star of any churrascaria should be the meats. There is a whole range of meats served by the passadors. One can expect pork sausages, pork ribs, beef topside, beef rump, black pepper beef, chicken, bacon-wrapped chicken breast, chicken heart, ham, lamb, fish, and even char siew! While I found the black pepper beef a tad salty, the chicken, ham and beef topside were grilled perfectly tender.

The chicken heart tasted earthy and almost like mushrooms but I would still prefer regular cuts of meat. I feel that the dory that they used should have been substituted with salmon. The oilier fish with its smooth yet firm flesh would have been delightful. No complains about the char siew though. It's a great incorporation of a local flavour. To help refresh the palate, ask for the grilled pineapples.

To accompany the tasty grilled meats, I ordered a lime caipirinha ($11.90). It's quite similar to vodka lime but has a stronger taste. Made essentially from cachaca, a distilled sugarcane liquor. The juice of a large lime and brown sugar are mashed before mixing with cachaca and ice.

Personally, I feel that the pace of the passadors here is too slow. I had to wait a fair bit before the next meat arrived. On the whole, a good place to meat up.

Samba Brazilian Churrascaria
Big Splash Aquatic Complex
902 East Coast Parkway

Chew On This: Settle the bill with American Express and get a One-for-One offer. Normal price per adult dinner is $35.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Hollow Wood

Those of you who used to frequent the now-defunct Fat Frog Cafe near the old National Library must have dearly missed the place and the local bands that played there. Fat Frog Cafe was a pioneer in providing a platform for local acts and music. It started the ball rolling and although it has long ceased operations, its fans would be happy to know that a new establishment has sprouted up in its place.

Timbre, a bistro-bar, has rooted in hidden soil along Armenian Street. Due to ongoing construction around it and loud music volumes, you will probably hear it before you see it. So follow your ears.

I checked out Timbre on a Thursday night and sat on black wooden chairs at the back, to the left of the stage. A couple of skinny trees which, because of their long draping aerial roots, gave a rather ancient feel provided a magical touch to the atmosphere. Stars glittered in the dark Thursday sky while a gentle evening breeze caressed my face. All at once, I was brought into the middle of the woods. Perfectly romantic. A much appreciated break from the hustle and bustle of life. Or I could have just been too hungry or tired and began hallucinating.

I was zapped back to reality when my nose picked up the scent of the food that had arrived. Instead of bringing me to the next heaven, I was rather disappointed with the food. Only the thin-crust pizza ($16) had made the grade. Not that it was fantastic either. The flour-dusted edges were overly burnt. The toppings of chicken and basil, beef and red onion were decent but stingy. The size though was good for sharing among three to four adults.

The kitchen had run out of mashed potatoes and so I had Bangers and Fries ($15.90) instead. The sight of the measley portion of the fries that accompanied all the dishes nearly knocked me off my seat. How 'generous' could any food establishment get with fries? The coarsely-chopped pork sausages lacked the nice bite that the skin should provide. As crude-sounding as it is, I'm talking about something that I feel every good sausage should have. That is, a good firm bite as one sinks his teeth through the skin.

The Sirloin Steak ($18.90)comes in a valued-for-money size but is a tad tough even when I requested it to be done medium-rare.

The Fish and Chips ($12.50) were sub-standard. Soggy fish and even 'soggier' fries. The Pork Rib ($16.50) which looked like a mess actually was tender enough to melt in my mouth. Exactly as the menu had claimed. Taste wise, it could have been better.

Unimpressed with the food, I looked to Alemay and Fatt who were performing that night. Alemay doesn't look like she can sing but boy has she got a pretty good voice, proving that looks can be deceiving. How I had wished that the food would have tasted better than they looked. Alemay and Fatt were belting out a mixture of pop, jazz and soul. Perfect music to laze around and lounge. I would have preferred EIC, with their alternative rock tunes, though. Maybe I'll pop by again when they play on their ususal Wednesday slot.

So while I applaud the rustic, romantic ambiance and the music dished out by local bands, I feel that the food needs great improvement. Solid wood but not so solid food.

45 Armenian Street
Singapore 179936
Tel: 63388277

Chew On This: Timbre has daily happy hours promotion from 6-9pm and if you should arrive after 9pm, fret not. There are post happy hours offers too that varies depending on the day of visit. Just ask the staff.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Black Magic

I like being surprised by a dish or two when dining at a place whose existence seems to only be to fill one's stomach, not bothering about one's taste buds. And look what I discovered in Nanyang Technological University's canteen A. This bowl of ban mian hei tang really brightened my lecture-filled day.

Ban mian hei tang loosely translates to 'hand-made noodles in black soup'. Typically, your choice of hand-made noodles are served in a light broth with minced pork, greens and an egg, garnished with fried ikan billis (anchovies).

As oddly intriguing as it sounds, the dish actually tastes better than it sounds or looks. Sadly, like most lazy hand-made noodles stalls on the rest of the island, this stall uses a machine to roll out and cut its noodles. I still feel that cold steel lacks the warmth of the human hand. But alas, most in Singapore, having been blinded by commercialism, actually fail to understand this.

Actually the blackish broth is meant for a pork and flour vermicelli dish but because I felt that flat egg noodles would keep me more satiated, I informed the uncle at the stall to make the switch. A change that would definitely taste better than the original clear broth. Add a spoonful of chilli and it gives the dish an additional dimension. The chilli prepared by the Chinese lady, is similar to those used in authentic Chinese recipes and mala steamboat. Chilli and Szechuan peppercorns among other spices are fried and grounded, infusing the surrounding oil. This makes the ban mian hei tang fragrant, spicy and rich. Don't over do the chilli unless you are a dragon or risk your taste buds getting numbed by magic.

Xi An Snacks
Nanyang Technological University
Canteen A

Chew On This: The numbing sensation you get from the above-mentioned chilli is due to the Szechuan peppercorns. Also known as hua jiao, this small but intensely fragrant and hot spice is a favourite in Szechuan cooking.

PS: Thanks Ryan for the camera and picture above.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Mee, Myself and I

On a lazy sunny afternoon, I am sure most would dread going out to get lunch. Worse still, if there was no one for company, minus Prinze, my three-year old Schnauzer who would gladly share my lunch I'm sure.

Good thing that there was this bowl of noodles in the cupboard. Having one for a quickie lunch brought back memories of my late paternal Grandma. Grandma used to buy a packet of dried egg noodles and cooked them in a prawn and ikan billis ( anchovies) stock for the soup version. If she wanted to serve these noodles dry, she would had just simply doused the cooked noodles in sesame oil, oyster sauce and her hand-pounded chilli paste. Humble Cantonese noodles but oh-so-very delicious.

The egg noodles packed in Instant Noodle King's Wonton Soup Flavoured version is similar. Unlike most instant noodles where by the manufacturer would use egg noodles that were curly and deep fried, this one had dried, non-fried egg noodles that were thinner and straighter. The dehydrated condiments, consisted of cabbage, wakame, corn and chives also added to the flavour of the noodles. It was a novel idea to use dried wakame. I'm sure Grandma would agree.

Instant Noodle King
Wonton Soup Flavoured
Available at most supermarkets.

Chew On This: Since the noodles are not fried, it has significantly less fat than regular deep-fried noodles. So go on, indulge in one. But beware of the ever-present MSG in the soup.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Bless Singapore

Happy 41st Birthday Singapore! I can't help as a surge of patriotism swells up within me as I watched the National Day Parade on the TV. It's strange how the performances and events such as the flag fly-past, 21-gun salute, Red Lion parachutists, Gurmit Singh etc have become so routine every year yet we are still being drawn to them. Watching, cheering and anticipating with zeal, as if watching the parade for the first time.

Singaporeans are diverse and so are our palates becoming to be. Just look at the food available on our tiny island. Russian, French, Italian, Indian, African, Chinese, Indonesian, Thai, Japananese, Korean, Spanish, Vietnamese, German, Pakistani, Malaysian, Swiss, Turkish, American, Mongolian, get the picture. This even applies to our local food. Go to any hawker centre and you will see a wide array of food from the different races here. It's not uncommon to spot an Indian eating at a Chinese zi char(cooked food) stall or a Chinese eating satay (Malay meat skewers). Subtly, food is promoting racial harmony and interaction. In fact, there are different interpretations of some dishes by different races. For example, chicken rice has a Chinese version while the Malays have nasi ayam, their take of chicken rice.

When it comes to Singapore's national dish, some say it has to be chicken rice while others vote for chilli crab. And there are yet some who suggest rojak. If there is one dish that has to be representative of Singapore, I would put my money on curry. Yes, curry. Curry can lay claim to having a version of itself being adopted by each race in Singapore. The Indians, Malays, Chinese, Peranakans and Eurasians all have their own unique style of curries. Spicy, fragrant, numbing, sweet, mild, coconutty or rich, curry has been firmly integrated into our diet. Chicken curry with bread, prata with dhal, curry noodles, curry puffs, Devil's curry, curry fish head, mutton curry, beef curry and maybe even curry ice cream for those crazy enough to try.

Like the many ingredients and spices that go into each pot of curry, many factors have contributed to the success of modern day Singapore. While we strive for the future of our home island, let us not forget those around us. Let us build each other up and be more gracious in our actions. Onwards Singapore, spice up the world!