Tuesday, November 28, 2006

No Signboard, No Problem.

They say a name is as important for a person just as a signage is important for a shop. I couldn't agree more but the folks at No Signboard simply took it the other way. Their legend has it that a grandmother worked the wok as a street hawker years ago without a signboard. Her food was so popular that the lack of a signage literally became her identity, her trademark.

Since then the place is just known as No Signboard. Popular for it's seafood, I brought my crab-loving granny there. I haven't seen her and grandpa in a long while and thought a Sunday lunch after church with them would be nice.

We ordered White Pepper Crabs, Boiled Live Prawns, Luo Han Zai and Ginger & Onion Frog. While I'm not a super-dooper big-time fan of seafood or like shellfish, I do enjoy certain types and dishes especially steamed pomfret, squid and lobsters. Selective seafood fan I am. On the few occasions that I've been to No Signboard, it was all because my dining companions liked seafood. I still say "Bring me the steak!"

The White Pepper Crab ($43 for one crab) was big and meaty. I like the fragrance from the ground pepper, giving the dish a peppery lift. I envy people who can really manoeuvre their way through the shells of this crustacean to extract every gram of meat. I can't, or maybe it's just the lazy eater in me. Fiddling and breaking and peeling and extracting crabs and prawns just seemed too much work for a sliver of flesh. Oh and I suspect that black pepper was involved too. Ah well, another example of what you see on the menu is not exactly what you get. Not too bad nonetheless.

Considered exotic to Ang Mohs who are known to film the killing of these bullfrogs in Chinatown much to the dismay of the frog-sellers, frog is common to the Chinese here. No Signboard's Ginger & Onion Frogs are notable with the spring onions and ginger slices perfuming the pieces of frogs. Like almost everything 'exotic', it does taste relatively like chicken.

The Boiled Live Prawns ($30 for 600g) were good. It's one of the few prawn dishes that I like. The sweetness of the fresh prawns are brought out without sophisticated sauces and strong flames. Perhaps my Cantonese roots have a part in me liking food that is not too heavy on seasoning but instead stresses on the freshness of the ingredients.

The Luo Han Zai ($12 for medium) was a medley of mushrooms and fried gluten. It was stir-fried in a tasty brown sauce that I enjoyed with my bowl of rice. A good respite from the seafood.

I have to admit that I was rather happy with lunch that day. The thing I that don't know is if it's because of the food or seeing my grandparents. Or just both.

No Signboard
Esplanade (with branches in Geylang, East Coast and Kallang.)
Tel: 63369959

Chew On This: Unlike most Chinese restaurants, No Signboard @ Esplanade doesn't close in the afternoon so if you are by the river and the Merlion is not your idea of seafood, you know where you can turn to.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Über Expectations

First there was the metrosexual. Then the ubersexual. It's no surprise that even burgers are being sized-up these days. Überburger, touted as a gourmet burger place and opened by the people behind Corduroy & Finch, has drawn mixed reviews. Probably the most outstanding fact is that the most expensive burger here cost $101. Yes, one hundred and one dollars for a burger with decadent fillings such as wagyu beef, truffle sauce, foie gras and champagne dressing.

When most of us Singaporeans are used to $5, ok maybe now $7+ burger meals at fast food places, forking out $101 for one unit of burger seems like an indication that one has struck lottery and also probably Alzheimer’s. Luckily for us common sane folks, there are other much 'down-to-earth'-costing burgers here. The cheapest is a chicken burger at $9 and many other can be had for below $30.

The first time I visited Überburger a few months after they had opened, I was not particularly drawn to come back. Today was the second chance I gave it, to prove it's über-ness. And by the way, über in German means superior, over the top.

Dinner at Überburger was on a Saturday night. The place looked the same as I had remembered from my first visit. Large glass windows allowed outsiders to the view of the bold red and black themed walls and floors within. Four or five plasma TVs screening soccer matches and MTV concerts hung from above. A distinct air of superiority was definitely in the air. Snooty, some may say. The waiters were smartly dressed in black and the menu was in a long, rectangular form. It certainly took a while to get used to how the price of each item was displayed. For example, thirty2$ actually means $32. I found it confusing at first but was amused later at the rather interesting concept.

First up, the Ubmonster ($29). The insides consisted of a 250g of chopped sirloin topped with emmenthaler cheese, hickory smoked bacon, tomato and onions. The Ubmonster came with a bucket of fries and a salad. Ordered for the beef to be done medium, I still found the meat dry. It was a big burger but I didn’t find the taste big. The fries were really nice though. Thickly-cut and salted, it was crisp outside and soft fluffy within.

I ordered the Blue Tiger Prawns burger ($22) out of curosity. I haven’t had a prawn burger and was interested in how it would turn out. The menu stated that chopped prawns were mixed with ginger, chili, chives, sea salt and pepper. Well, I didn’t detect much ginger or chili or sea salt or pepper. The prawn patty tasted fresh albeit being bland. I had to ask for mustard to prep up the burger. I couldn’t help but compare the prawn patty to fishcake and even some dim sum filling.

Next was the Wagyu-stlyed Buger ($32). Supposedly 'wagyu fats mixed with normal sirloin to create a juicy patty that would resemble a wagyu patty', I wasn’t impressed with it. I ordered this one done medium-rare and found the beef too chewy, partly also because of bits of tough chewy tendon and fat fibers. How ironic. What I did like was the rocket salad that accompanied this burger. The rocket salad was dressed in a light vinaigrette and I was happy to find pine seeds sprinkled on top of the leaves.

The Tuna Steak Burger ($25), touted as a larger version of a Corduroy & Finch bestseller, also sounded interesting. Two-inch yellowfin tuna steaks done rare, smothered in wasabi cream and sandwiched with tomato and cucumber slices between sesame buns. I had made a mistake by informing the waiter to hold this burger in the kitchen as there was only three of us and I didn’t want the burger to get cold. This resulted in the tuna steaks being overly done. So instead of the slightly cooked outsides and the reddish raw inside, the tuna was cooked through and tasted dry. A pity as I thought the wasabi cream would have paired with it very well. The wasabi cream was luxuriously smooth and had a nice, non-overpowering, kick to it.

On the whole, I felt that the dinner that night was a hit-and-miss affair. Simple things like a warm juicy meat patty and toasted buns are important but Überburger seemed to have fumbled with the basics amidst the aim for burger nobility. In fact, I think I enjoyed the sides like fries and salad more than the burgers.

Despite the many unfavourable reviews and comments on online forums regarding Überburger's service or rather lack thereof, I found service that night acceptable. The waiters were attentive and helped with the explanation of what the menu had to offer. They also asked if we had a UOB card as there was a promotion for cardholders. I like places that inform customers about such deals instead of keeping mum and hoping that customers will not know and so pay the non-promotional price. Water was constantly topped-up and no, they did not charge for it. While not great, service was difinitely better than that stated in forums.

Prices can be generally expensive but yet not without reasoning. They use quality ingredients such as yellowfin tuna steaks, rocket, pine nuts, grain-fed beef plus the fact that everything they use is organic. These do not certainly come cheap. It’s good quality ingredients but I pity the way that they are treated to produce each burger that struggles to achieve über expectations. For a place with German Ralf Spika, with no less than two Michelin stars to his name, as the executive chef, I think for the night I was there he certainly wasn’t. Or maybe Paris Hilton is right. The stars are blind.

Oh Überburger, if only I had left über satisfied.

# 01-06 to 10
Millenia Walk
Tel: 6837 0280

Chew On This: Use your UOB card at Überburger and get 1-for-1 deals for their burgers (Except their 101 burger. Don't even think about it!) and beers (5-10pm). Promotion ends 30th November 2006.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Eat the Korean Wave

I never really got into the whole Korean drama thing except for Da Chang Jin. But thousands out there feed on Korean dramas released each season and fuelled by the Korean invasion, anything stamped 'Korean' seems to be in demand. Even pseudo-Korean Seoul Garden unashamedly benefited. Move aside Hong Kong serials, Bollywood movies, Japanese shows and Hollywood stuff, Korean dramas currently reign supreme. Just ask my next-door neighbour whose world will come to a standstill at a particular time every day.

It's quite funny that I didn't fancy Korean food until I had lunch at a Korean restaurant in the US, of all places. Brought there by a Taiwanese friend towards the end of my attachment program at Cornell, I fell in love with kimchi, stir-fried sweetish beef and Korean rice cake. It was a humble place with a homely feeling, nothing fancy. But the food I had there still resides fondly in my memory, erasing the nasty experience I had with kimchi and egg rolls onboard Asiana Airlines years ago.

And so I, together with a party of five, decided on trying Se Ra Bel Korean Restaurant in the Furama hotel after hearing it was pretty good. One thing I realised about Korean dining places is that they tend to be less dress-ed up (the place, not waitress mind you) and more relaxed compared to their Japanese counterparts. It was unpretentious comfort.

An array of no less than seven small dishes greeted us as soon as we got seated. These contained mainly bits of vegetables and soy bean products. The nicely-fermented kimchi provided a tangy, sourish note which whet my appetite. It was made in-house with 24 ingredients. Also worth mentioning was the julienned potato and carrots. Crisp and tasty, I could not resist attacking them with my chopsticks.

The Dok Boki Bokum or Korean rice cake ($15) was of a starchy kueh-like consistency. Sliced into slices and stir-fried with cuts of cucumber, carrots and onion in a slightly sweet-spicy sauce. Not as good as I had remembered of the one in the US but still palatable.

The Hae Mul-Jeon Gol ($40 for large) was a steamboat pot of a spicy broth with a chockfull of seafood and vegetables. Look closely and you may see a few pairs of eyes staring back from beneath the broth. Digging into big pot revealed pieces of flower crab, large prawns, clams, squid and fish. The mini ocean also had cabbage and golden mushrooms (enoki to the Japanese) which lent their natural sweetness to the tasty broth. If certainly looks hotter than it really is though still mildly spicy. I ordered a plate of marinated beef ($18) as an addition to the steamboat.

The most outstanding dish I had that afternoon had to be the Dolsot Bibim Bab ($15). Think of it as claypot rice with an unmistakable Korean twist. Served in a very hot stone bowl, the rice is topped with slivers of beef, carrots, onions, mushrooms, green vegetables and big bean sprouts. A fresh egg cracked right in the centre and sesame seeds sprinkled over the ingredients added an aesthetic touch. The idea is then to add the accompanying sauce, mix all the ingredients up with the rice and watch as the raw egg coats each morsel. The result was a tasty pot of rice with the flavours of the beef and the various vegetables melding in harmony, only to be further accentuated by fragrant sesame seeds and the egg itself. Because the stone bowl was so hot, bits of rice and stuff got stuck to the bowl, which imparted a lovely charred aroma to the dish. This dish alone was enough to satisfy my tastebuds.

The name Se Ra Bel means 'heavenly cuisine' and I do hope that heaven would have a branch. And oh, do check out their Ginseng Chicken which seems promising but unfortunately ran out when I visited.

Se Ra Bel Korean Restaurant
60 Eu Tong Sen Street
Furama City Centre (Furama Hotel)

Chew On This: Se Ra Bel will be closed from 13-30th November as they will be moving to #03-01 in the same building. Use your American Express or HSBC card to get a 20% discount.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Cold Scoopz of Pleasure

Who says you can't eat ice cream on a rainy day? For ice cream of this consistency, I'll eat it in any weather. Never mind the monsoon.

Like many local ice cream start-ups such as Ice Cream Gallery, Icekimo, Island Creamery and The Daily Scoop, Scoopz began small and uses real fruits and quality ingredients in their ice cream. But unlike most of the rest, Scoopz offers flavours that are not as unique as chiku, wild as teh halia or intoxicating as lychee martini. More 'normal' flavours such as banana, chocolate cookies, durian, peach, green tea and watermelon reside here at Scoopz. Honestly, their chocolate and durian are among the best I have tasted.

This picture features their chocolate and jackfruit ice cream. (Each scoop at $2.80.) The chocolate was rich, chocolatey and not overly sweet while the jackfruit had a delicate jackfruit flavour that was so addictive I wished I had ordered double scoops. Bits of yellow pulp were testament to the real fruit being used, no yucky artificial flavourings. Another thing about this wave of local-made ice cream is that most contain less fat and sugar than the average ice cream, and that is without losing its creaminess or taste. At Scoopz, ice cream is hand-made daily on the spot using freezing pans and it is quite a sight to watch as they churn out dense, smooth ice cream.

Compared to most other 'established' and 'branded' ice cream companies around, I personally have a preference for their local counterparts with their cheaper scoops, healthier contents and flavours that are uniquely Singapore!

Jurong Point
(1st branch at #B1-154 Parkway Parade)

Chew On This: The Jurong Point branch has a flavour of the month ($2.30) and an introductory special ($2.30) which promotes new flavours. October's flavour of the month was chocolate while November's Mocha. The current introductory special is lemon which I found too sour for my liking. After feedback, the guy behind the counter said they are making subsequent batches less sour.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Afternoon Chill @ Cedele

Hot. Sunday. Afternoon. All these three reasons plus the fact that I was feeling peckish after lunch made me find a spot to get some bites and just chill. Forgetting the worries of life and savouring each second that ticked by. Such moments do not come by easily especially when the exams are drawing near.

Once more Cedele beckoned and I ended up getting an iced lemon tea ($2.50), a sesame bagel ($1.80) and a raisin scone ($1.50). I liked the fact that a thick slice of lemon was used to flavour the iced tea instead of one of those scrawny slices that seem to function more as a garnish. I appreciate the fact that the sweetness of the drink could also be adjusted by adding the desired amount of syrup available at the counter.

The sesame bagel was not available at the counter and I had to take one from the baskets of breads that were actually packed for sale. The staff kindly heated it up for me upon request. This bagel was probably the most chewy and tough one I had ever sunk my teeth into. I guess it could have been a result of heating the bagel for too many a second in a microwave (why do they not use a toaster?).

It's such a shame that bagels are not really popular here. The dough is shaped like a donut, boiled in water before being baked. Common varieties include cinnamon raisin, blueberry, wholemeal, sesame and poppy seeds. A good bagel to me is one that is sufficiently toasted for a bit of a crust on the toasted sides and warm and chewy on the inside. Bagels can be eaten plain but would also go very well with some strawberry jam and cream cheese. Mmm...I miss New York. Think my piggie friend in US should try them.

The raisin scone was buttery and slightly crumbly, with raisins giving a sweet touch. It could be better by having a more crusty top and a milky undertone. Nonetheless, this trio took my mind off economics, organic chemistry and the like on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.

Suntec City
Tower 5

Chew On This: I hear Cedele has come up with its own range of Christmas goodies such as Rosemary Turkey, Sherpherd's Pie and Gingerbread cookies. Check it out here.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Hawking Muffins

A stall selling muffins in a hawker food centre? It's something strange in the neighbourhood and I spotted such an occurrence in Dunman Food Centre.

Miss Muffin (the stall, not the lady) stands out from the usual stalls of rojak, char kway tiao and mee pok. With muffins neatly displayed in rows, I must say it's a pretty novel idea to market these baked confectionery in a hawker centre. Each muffin goes for $1.20 and they come in flavours such as mango almond, durian, banana walnut, cheese, peach, chocolate chip, chempedak, blueberry, apple almond and raisin.

I tried the chocolate chip and mango almond muffins. The chocolate chip muffin was a little dry and could do with a more buttery and chocolate boost. The mango almond one was dusted with icing sugar and looked pretty. Taste-wise, the scent of mango essence just didn't do it for me. Using the pulp of real fruit would have been more costly but I think there are many out there who would appreciate the natural flavour and taste.

I still quite can't believe muffins in a hawker centre but hey, that's become a reality.

Miss Muffin
Dunman Food Centre (opposite Joo Chiat Neighbourhood Police Post)

Chew On This: Miss Muffin bakes all the muffins daily in the stall itself. No getting supplies from cafes/hotels here.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

No Joke

The sight of this burger should humble most others, make Ronald flush in embarrassment to call his BigMac and make burgers from Carl's Jr politically-correct. After reading ieat's post on this burger that he managed to get Aston to include in the menu, I knew I had to sink my teeth into it and experience the ieat Super Burger!

Aston is the guy behind Astons Specialties which he re-opened at East Coast Road just this August after shifting from an older unit. It caught my attention while on the bus not too long ago. Anything new along that stretch is just too eye-catching, especially when the queues are long. The first visit to Astons Specialties was with Ewan who kept egging me after battling burger fantasies I suppose. We arrived at nearly 9pm on a Friday and joined the human snake for about 15 minutes before we got a table. I re-visited the place again the following week at 7.30pm on a Saturday and this time the human snake seemed to have grown. It took me almost 30 minutes to get a table for four.

Aston's seating capacity is rather limited and a group of 10 would easily occupy a third of the place. There is no fancy cutlery, no nice table cloth, no lit candle on the table, and even the air-conditioning seems almost non-existent. But at Astons Specialties, it is really all about the food or more specifically, the beef.

The first item up for review has got to be the ieat Super Burger ($12.50). Named after fellow local flogger (food blogger), ieat. Apparently the burger was so in demand that Aston has decided to place it as a regular item on the menu. And it did not disappoint. No minced rubbish here. What sits on the barbecue-sauce-smeared bottom halve of the bun is a hand-chopped 200g sirloin patty. In other words, pure beef sans fillers and binding agents. Slapped atop the sirloin patty are slices of cheese and two rashers of bacon. Next followed the battered and fried onion wisps. This is one ingredient that I've seldom come across (most just use fresh sliced onion) but it added such a nice oniony sweetness to the burger. It seems that frying the onion strips had tamed its astringency, making it more palatable and less harsh. A dollop of mayonnaise and terriyaki sauce were added which enhanced the burger, giving it a creamy, savoury flavour. For a slight respite from the grease, a slice of tomato and a leaf of batavia lettuce were inserted before the top halve of the burger was capped. I definitely rank this as one of the best burgers around. One look at the inviting juices leaking out and it doesn't take much to convince anyone that this is one juicy burger. Take it from a hungry cow. One bite and you'll see why. In fact, I had to ask the waitress to cut the burger in halve, for easy sharing and more manageable eating but in the process it had made the burger look flatter in the above picture.

For starters, I ordered the Soup of the Day($2.20) which turned out to be pretty forgettable cream of mushrooms. It tasted rather similar to the instant powdered soups found in packets. But I discovered that with an order of a pasta, the soup would come free. And thus ordered the Spaghetti Bolognese ($5.90). The spaghetti was not soggy, but I would have preferred it to be more al dente. The sauce that bathed it was rich and had hints of the sliced capsicum in it. Decent but not fantastic, I feel.

My dad had the Grilled Lamb Loin chops ($13.90). I was expecting a rack of lamb with the bone still sticking out from the chops but what greeted me looked like those chicken chops from western foodcourt stalls. Thankfully, it was tender and not too lamby. The Grilled Pepper Fish ($5.90) went to my mum. The dory fillet was a little burnt on the sides and would have tasted bland if not for the powerful black pepper sauce that accompanied it.

My sis tried the Hickory BBQ Chicken ($5.50) which was a nice piece of chicken thigh but I found the BBQ sauce a tad too overwhelming. Perhaps they could have marinated the chicken more and reduce the potency of the sauce, letting the flavours of the chicken and the marinade shine. (Sorry for the intense flash that made the coleslaw glow. I assure you it's not radioactive.)

What Ewan and I shared besides the soup, spaghetti bolognese and super burger was the Prime Ribeye Extra-Cut ($14.90). This was 250g of ribeye with nice fat marbling, grilled to medium-rare perfection. Was it good? You bet. The black grill lines imparted a smokey touch to the tender beef. Although there was a mushroom sauce that came with it, I recommend eating the steak on its own to savour its taste.

On my second visit, I ordered the current month special, corn-fed USDA Choice Ribeye Extra-cut ($28.90). This steak was also ordered medium-rare and I would have got a picture of its beautiful pink insides if not for the fact that I was too hungry and greedy. This was a bigger slab of beef at 300g but still was incapable of defeating my stomach. Lawry's Diamond Jim Brady at almost 500g was a piece of cake. Seriously, they don't call me a four-stomach animal for nothing.

Back to the meat, this cut had a higher fat content than the regular ribeye, making it jucier and succulent. But I'm a little adverse to foods with too much oil or in this case, too high a fat marbling. Too tender a meat and it starts to feel like soft mush in the mouth. I like a good-sized steak with enough fat to keep it tender yet able to retain its firm meaty texture. In my opinion, if one likes beef as tender as say, fish, then my advise is to go order fish. Having said that, the steak was by no means bad. Each bite was full of beefy goodness but pity it was too soft for my liking. Alas.

By the way, each meat (beef, lamb, fish, chicken) main course comes with a choice of two sides. Sides include choices like fries, onion rings, mashed potato, baked potato, pasta salad, baked beans, green salad, tasty rice, potato salad and coleslaw. What I would recommend is the pasta salad. Simply drizzled with what I suspect and hope to be olive oil and sprinkled with pepper and a bit of herbs, this is evidence that food kept simple can taste delicious.

Considering the well-affordable prices and the quality of the steaks, it doesn't take a cow to explain the queue. Absolute valued-for-money. Personally, I feel that the standard of the non-beef items can be improved. With a little tweaking, I'm sure Aston's will be a winning formula of good food at good prices.

Astons Specialties
119 East Coast Road
Singapore 428806
Aston Soon: 91474627
(Closed on Mondays)
Opens Tuesday-Thursday 12pm-1am and until 3am on Fridays and Saturdays.

Chew On This: If you are a fan of wagyu beef, rejoice that this prized choice of beef is also available here for about $39. On the menu, it's called Celebrities Cut. Call to enquire its availability to avoid disappointment. Aston is also open to food requests for your gatherings there.