Saturday, March 31, 2007

A Delightful Cookie & Cake Surprise


I have blogged about Lea's Cheesecake before and now a few months later, I have the privilege to try her cookies too. A bag with two jars of cookies and a box of cheesecake plus a simple but heart-warming card that simply stated 'Enjoy.'- it was a lovely gift from Lea to my mum.


As before, her Double Baked Cheesecake still takes the cake! A smooth and creamy cheesecake with a crumbly cookie base, I had to try to keep the word 'moderation' in mind. Pardon me if the cake looks smudgy on one side. It had to bare the stress of air transport.


The Double Chocolate Chip Cookies had a rich cocoa taste and a rather heavy salty punch thanks to the fleur de sel. The saltiness, though a tad too much for a cookie, lifted the cookie and complemented the chocolate well. Texture-wise, it was buttery crumbly. Not a big fault but I generally prefer my cookies to have a more crunchy bite to them.


I left the Oatmeal Cookies in the fridge and what a good move that was. The coldness seemed to compact the sweet oaty flavour while enhancing a buttery aroma. The fleur de sel worked its magic here too, imparting a very savoury touch. And interestingly, white chocolate chips and Dutch cocoa were added to this cookie. But don't worry about the chocolate dominating the oat taste. I can just barely detect but a hint of chocolate here. It must have been in small (but effective) amounts that had induced a subtle sense of temptation.

It's times like this that I feel the bliss of cookie monster.


Cakes & Co
http://www.cakesnco.com/home.html

Chew On This: Lea uses gourmet ingredients such as French butter, fleur de sel, Dutch cocoa, Madagascar vanilla beans and dark and white chocolate chips in her products. Now it really is good to be a cookie monster!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Another Blow From the West: No Knock-Out This Time


Well it's got to be a surprise that I'm yet blogging about a place in the west, twice in succession now. This time it was Daniel's invitation for his birthday dinner held at Rocky's (No, not Sylvester Stallone.) Pizza.

In the Rocky's, a battle between the fastest finger and the manicured one for the dough raged. The more civilised ones watched as lightning flashed from the Lumix FX3. Roars from angry stomachs deafened thunder.

After this blogger got his shots, all around the table reached for a slice and ate quietly. In fact, partly also because of the angry grumble of my stomach, I didn't get as many shots as I had wanted. A constant battle between hunger and patience, hand and stomach, needs and desires.

Seven of us shared two X-Large 16" pizzas. The Kentucky's Nest ($25.40 for X-Large), shown in the picure above, had chicken, green peppers, mushrooms and cheese. I felt this lacked flavour.


On the other hand, the Mexican Sunrise ($30.20 for X-Large) was more flavourful. Beef, onion, olive, jalapeno pepppers, garlic, chilli flakes and cheese topped the pizza. I like the heat from the jalapeno peppers but a few felt it was a little too hot. The melted mozzerella cheese had a stringy-like consistency when a slice was pulled from the rest of the pizza.


The pizza base was pretty good. It was thicker than the thin-crust type but yet thinner than the thick pan-pizza variety. Soft and chewy, it made for a solid base. Small burnt spots added a slight 'burnt' aroma which was inviting. Kind of like the base of a good claypot rice.

Rocky's Pizza wasn't too bad. But I would have liked more tomato paste and a stronger flavour. For me to travel from the east just to eat this pizza on my own? Probably not, unless I'm invited by a friend.


Rocky's Pizza
392 Upper Bukit Timah Road
The Rail Mall
Tel: 6468 9188

Chew On This: Rocky's Pizza claims it 'evolved from the many pizzerias scattered throughout Italy'. But some how it feels more American to me. Blame it on globalisation. Bleah.

Friday, March 23, 2007

My Kind of Extra-Value Meal


It's ironic that although I've been more of an eastie, my place of work (camp and now campus) seems to be drifting me off to the West. Even still, I feel that the East has more charm, and better food places. But I have to concede that places like Holland Village, Chip Bee Gardens and, not too recently, One Rochester are thriving and injecting a positive energy boost in the West.

That energy attracted me to travel all the way from the East for a weekday lunch with my parents. I rarely give up a rare chance of eating a weekday lunch out especially when there's no school that day. And we decided on Au Petit Salut.

Au Petit Salut is a French restaurant which is very popular for their set lunches. Diners get to choose either a Set Lunch ($22) or an Executive Set Lunch($38), both of which comprises an entree, a main course and a dessert. The main difference is that the Executive Set Lunch has 'pricier' items like Lobster Bisque with Lobster Ravioli, Red Wine Braised Beef Cheeks and a deliciously-sounding Warm Melted 70% Chocolate Cake with Dark Chocolate Sorbet and Redcurrant Jam.

But the Set Lunch offers more choices and varieties. While we were thinking of what to order, a waitress brought a basket of warm bread and butter to the table. Water was also poured into wine glasses. That definitely made a good start to the meal and a positive sign that service here was way above average.


Dad surprised me by picking the Mixed Green Salad with Fresh Herbs in a Walnut Dressing for his entree. Not that he doesn't like his greens but just that he generally prefers them cooked and in an oriental style. The mesclun leaves tossed in a walnut oil dressing was delicately light yet at the same time full of flavour. Large pieces of walnuts provided a crunchy counterpoint.


Mum had the Half Dozen Baked Burgundy Snails with Tomato and Garlic Butter which was well executed. The shelled snails were cooked in chopped tomato, minced garlic and butter. The butter imparted a savoury salty taste which was balanced with the tart and sweet tomato and the fragrant garlic. Again, while I'm no hardcore fan of shellfish or snails for that matter, this could change my preference in due time.


For myself, I chose the Home-Cured Salmon served with Couscous Semolina, Humus and Rocket Salad. It sounded interesting enough for me to pick it. Three thick slabs of salmon were cured (as in tasted like smoked salmon) and plated on a bed of couscous. A small handful of rocket set atop the salmon and a few swirls of humus encircled around the sides. The fish tasted relatively bland though firm and juicy. The couscous had a really fresh, herby taste that was uplifting. And the humus, with its assertive dose of cumin and spices added another dimension. I felt that all this worked beautifully together to produce an entree that whetted my appetite.


For his main course, Dad had the Crispy Duck Confit with Mashed Potatoes and Green Salad. What? Another serving of salad for Dad? Maybe the Health Promotion Board's efforts have not gone to waste after all.


I tried a piece and wondered which aspect of it was crispy. It was a tad dry and generously salted but through that a pleasant gamey taste made it nice. In fact the saltiness seemed to enhance the taste. I like the mashed potatoes too, with their small chunky bits.


Mum went with the Pan-Seared "Onglet" Beef served with Confit Shallots and French Fries (this is a French restaurant, no?). The tasty pieces of beef were not as tender as expected but this slight resistance to the teeth provided a pretty enjoyable texture and chewiness. The beef had an intense, almost concentrated taste. A pity the french fries were disappointing.


My main course of Seafood Risotto with Scallops, Prawns and Clams fared well. The creamy risotto had flavours of seafood and the rice grains were bound by butter and cheese. Quite a lethal combination. Though small in size, the scallops and prawns tasted fresh. Thankfully, the rocket leaves did help to cut the richness of this dish.


Desserts came after all three finished our main courses. Dad being old-fashioned nostalgic, decided on the "Banana Split" Coffee Ice Cream, Chocolate Sauce, whipped Cream and Hazelnuts. It certainly did not look like the banana split I had in mind. I found it pretty ordinary but the few whole pieces of hazelnuts were a plus point.


The "Petit Pot Au Chocolat" 72% Dark Chocolate Ganache with Whipped Cream went to Mum and what a sinfully rich dessert it was. The ganache was thick and smooth, dark and rich. The whipped cream softened the chocolate's bitter edges nicely and the chopped pistachios and crunchy chocolate balls added, for a lack of a better word, crunch.


I opted for the Passion Fruit Souffle which turned out to be like one of those Chinese steamed egg custard (minus the pork) which had a sourish tinge that was countered by the icing sugar sprinkled over the dessert. The light passion fruit taste was not over-whelming but was instead pleasant.

All in all, I really think the Set Lunches here at Au Petit Salut are really valued-for-money. Though it seems like essentially a 3-course meal, consider the basket of bread and either coffee or tea thrown in and it works up to a bit more. Don't expect refined French haute cuisine here, you're not going to get any. Instead, the charm of Au Petit Salut lies in their hearty Southern French cooking which has more of a rustic, countryside warmth.

I have to highlight and compliment the excellent service here. Water was consistently topped up and the cheerful staff appeared knowledgeable with regards to the food served here. Recommendations were made when it seemed difficult to choose which dish to select. Efficient but yet remaining unintrusive, the service is one of the best I've experienced around. While the restaurant exudes elegance and understated classiness, it certainly is not one of those chi-chi places that makes me uncomfortable with an air of fake superiority and pretence.

Suddenly the West doesn't seem that bad.


Au Petit Salut
Blk 44 #01-54
Jalan Merah Saga
Tel: 6475 1976 (Reservations recommended)
http://www.aupetitsalut.com/home/

Chew On This: The chef behind Au Petit Salut is Patrick Heuberger who hails from Switzerland and began cooking at the age of 15. He has worked in a number of established restaurants, including a few Michelin-starred ones in Europe.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The True Singapore Kebab


Satay is undoubtedly the true kebab of Singapore. Few can resist the aroma of these marinated skewered meats grilling on open charcoal-flames, hand-fanned by the forceful strokes of a rattan fan.

This time, I met up with Helmy and Fahmi for dinner. It has been a while since army days and so we decided on a mini get-together at Lau Pa Sat (literally means old market). And one thing that we simply couldn't avoid ordering was the satay.

After hearing several favourable reviews of Fatman satay and partly because that was the only store with a picture of Michelle Chia, we thought it would be good to try them out to see if they were actually as good as reported. We ordered several sticks of mutton, chicken and beef satay (50 cents each) and two Ketupat ($1) which is a Malay palm-leaf-wrapped compressed rice dumpling.

Fatman's satay was tender and the marinate characteristically sweet and slightly spicy. Small charred bits gave the satay an addictive smokey edge. But I was disappointed with the sauce. It was watered-down and uncomfortably smooth in texture instead of the usual spicy, nutty sauce that contains coarse-chopped peanuts that empowers it with a rich taste and texture. This boo-boo was a big put-off for myself.


Fatman Satay
Stall No. 1 (along Boon Tat Street)
Lau Pa Sat
Opens 5.30pm-12 midnight daily.

Chew On This: There seems to be an unspoken rule of the Lau Pa Sat Satay fraternity that some people may not be aware of. It decrees that patrons are free to sit where they wish but have to order satay (if they do) from the respective stall which the seats are zoned to. O where art thou, Freedom Fighters?

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Glorious Fish Bee Hoon


Here's another gem at Maxwell Food Centre. I've, for the longest time, given this stall a miss due to their long queues. But after seeing only two people that made up the queue on an early Sunday lunch, my feet can't help but to shuffle to become third in line.

This was my first time tasting their Fish Bee Hoon(vermicelli) ($4) and I was excited seeing that I had the chance of eating at this popular stall without queuing for ages. Call it cheap thrill but it adds on to the pleasure.
The stuff here certainly did not disappoint.


The Fried Fish Bee Hoon here at Jin Hua consisted of smooth, chewy thick Bee Hoon accompanied by green stalks of Kai Lan (mustard leaves) and thick chunks of fried fish. The fried fish chunks were well dusted with flour and deep-fried to a nice golden tan. And probably the best part was the soup that all these yummy fish chunks swam in. It was a milky, potent broth that tasted slightly sweet and well-balanced with ginger and pepper. I was also pleasantly perked up with the aromatic scent of Hua Tiao Jiu (Chinese cooking wine) that hovered over the bowl.

Personally, I feel that this is one stall whose queue justifies its food. So the next time you see a long queue, get in line and consider no further for a glorious bowl of Fish Bee Hoon.


Jin Hua Fish Head Bee Hoon
#01-77
Maxwell Food Centre

Chew On This: As soon as I had finished my $4 bowl of Fish Bee Hoon, I started to regret. I should have ordered a bigger bowl instead. So I had a second round, rejoined the queue and ordered a $5 serving. And again I regretted. I could tell no difference between the $4 and $5 portions. So you have been warned.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Basil!


It's surprising to find what's in my backlog of posts to blog about. It's even more amazing to literally find Basil Alcove. Jenny, Ewan and I had walked past it without realising. But it was probably as the place was closed at that time.

Basil Alcove is a small hole-in-the-wall kind of restaurant. The inside only seats about six people comfortably, the majority of the patrons dine al fresco. I recommend the al fresco option. On a cool evening, sitting out beside a busy road can really help unwind. Helmed by Chef Xander, who by the way is 24 years old, Basil Alcove has been touted to serve 'budget gourmet food' by some. Don't let his relative young age fool you. I think he has creatively good potential.

So after we found Basil Alcove's exact location, we returned the following week with the League to try them out.


Unfortunately, quite a few items including the soup and the salads ran out. But we did manage to get a Red Chicory Salad with Squid ($9.80). The salad was an interesting combination of slightly bitter red chicory, sweet slice of peach and tangy chopped tomatoes. The squid that came with it was rather bland and I think could benefit from a quick grill to give an added smoky dimension.


The next shared starter was the Mix Mushrooms ($6.80). Simply but elegantly plated were a few pieces of sauteed white button mushroom pieces and two whole shitake mushrooms (one stacked on the other) separated by a serving spoon filled with a balsamic dressing. I quite like this simple starter with the unmistakable earthy notes of the fungi tamed a little by oil and balsamic vinegar.


The Mussels ($4.80 for 1/2 dozen) were sweet and slightly chewy without being like rubber. Without any fishy smell and with the company of chopped garlic and parsley, I think this is one happy mussel. I'm no big fan of shellfish in general but this mussel I like.


For mains, I ordered one of their three highly-recommended dishes (Duck, Cod and Lamb Rack), Basilico Duck with Pesto Oil and Red Wine Dressing ($13.80). In fact, I was surprised when asked how I would want my duck to be done. You mean I had a choice for duck doneness? It was my first time. But I was a tad disappointed when my medium-rare duck looked over-done with the more brown than pink flesh. Tasting, however, proved that the duck was still tender and more interestingly, had less of the gamey taste that I had come to expect from ducks. But because of this gamey loss, I felt that the duck fell short of the factor that most people eat game for. The balsamic dressing (dubiously seems the same as the one for the mushrooms) and the pesto oil added a nice touch to the otherwise flat-tasting duck.

The rest of the mains were ordered by the League members who went and I had just a bite of each in quick succession. As such, I'll not write too much about them.


Jenny had the Pan-Baked Cod with Beetroot Cavier (I think they meant Caviar) and Balsamic Onions ($16.80) which I felt was a rather generous portion of two fairly thick slabs of the fish. The beetroot cavier turned out to be finely chopped beetroots that provided a globular albeit grainy feel in the mouth.


Ewan decided on the Roasted Lamb Rack ($16.80) which was sufficiently tender and had just a mild lamb taste. This lack of powerful lamb taste in the meat appealed to me.


Neil went ahead with the Bratwurst Sausage with Balsamic Onions and Dijon Mustard ($8.80). I was horrified to see the Bratwurst cut in a criss-cross pattern similar to that of some squids and mangoes. Cut = Ripped Skin. I love sausages and I feel that no dignified sausage worth its skin should be allowed to be cut this way. It just takes away the joy of clamping down on a taut skin and hearing the snap of a crunchy sausage.


The BBQ Pork Ribs ($10.80 for Small) went to Ivy. Lesson of the day: Dainty girls should not order ribs.


Hushie ordered the Shrimp with Orange and Basil Sauce Linguine ($8.80) which was really nice. Melted cheese and juicy shrimps... need I say more?


Over-all, what I felt proved to be the winners that night were the pastas. The Mushroom and Bacon Aglio ($5.50) which the table shared was also equally well done with the flavours of the olive oil, bacon and garlic shining through. And at $5.50, the price can be comparable to places like Pasta Mania.

With curry-spiced potato cubes and Phuay Leng (literally translated as Flying Dragon but it really is a spinach variant) that were the sides of most main courses, I can't help but suspect that a little fusion influence was at hand. Most of the stuff such as the balsamic dressing, beetroot cavier, curry-spiced potato cubes, phuay leng, pesto oil and tomato cubes on one dish re-appeared on another. But I don't blame them as their kitchen size is smaller than some toilet cubicles. Instead, I'm held in awe at the number and quality of dishes that the tiny kitchen churns out. Truly amazing.

It would be useful to know that Basil Alcove does not accept any other forms of payment except cash so be prepared. Not that the meal would cost an arm or a leg anyway.


Basil Alcove
#01-07
Fortune Centre (Opp NAFA)
Tel: 63361318

Chew On This:


Basil Alcove also has a number of beers that are pretty unusual. Ewan and I shared the Beer To Dine For ($14.20 for 750ml). This beer brewed with Tettnang Hops, tasted light and fruity. Definitely refreshing and a hit with the ladies.
Ewan has told me that Basil has some problems with the import of this beer and so currently does not serve it. But fear not as other equally intriguing ones are also available.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Jappy Lunch With the Grandparents


The recent passing of Dennis Meyer came as a sudden shock and a stark reminder that life is ever so fragile. I will certainly miss the man whom I met when I was 14 years old. As we have not been in touch these few years, we were planning to organise a match to gather all the 'old-timers' for a good catch up. But cruel life turned out such that although he was informed of the match, the match never did materialise. And I greatly regret that.

This brought to mind that it has been a long time since I last brought my maternal grandparents for a meal. And I'm not about to leave anything for regrets. After their Hokkien service, I arranged to meet them and brought them to Waraku at Marina Square.

It was so nice to see them smiling and happy to see me and especially more for my grandpa who enjoys Japanese food. So over cups of green tea we chatted (using my rusty Hokkien) and soon my order of Suzuran ($16) arrived.

One thing I like about Waraku is that whenever I can't make up my mind on whether to eat rice or noodles, I can jolly well choose an option that has both! The Suzuran was basically a combo which included a bowl each of Oyako Don and Beef Curry Udon. The Oyako Don was flavoured nicely with onions, chicken thigh pieces and scrambled eggs. The sauce was a tad sweet for me though. Served in an understatedly stylish black ceramic bowl, the Beef Curry Udon had chewy udon slathered with a thick Japanese curry. The typical Japanese-styled curry was slightly sweet and savoury. Pretty mild in fact. Thin beef slices that topped the udon, provided a meaty element and went down well with the curry.

The portions were not huge in their respective rights but considering that both bowls were essentially part of a combo set, it more than made a substantial meal. No regrets.


Waraku
#01-213
Marina Square Shopping Centre (various other branches)
Tel: 68831123

Chew On This: Besides their branches in Cuppage, East Coast, Katong and Marina Square, Waraku has a newly-opened branch in Central at Clark Quay.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Cartel- Better Off Being A Diamond


Quite a few of us gathered at Cafe Cartel for a Friday farewell dinner for our dear Marcus, who was leaving for Australia. While I'm not a huge fan of Cafe Cartel, I gladly went because my friend selected the place for dinner and also as I had not eaten there in a long while, I thought it would be good to re-visit and see how the place/food/menu had changed.

Cafe Cartel is known for its free-flow of bread that accompanies every main course. This, I enjoy. Crusty bread with olive oil or butter helps to fill me up. But somehow the bread seems to be warm only on certain visits. Oh and now the waiters slice and bring the bread to the table.


Remembering the delicious Pan-Fried Linguine that I had here eons ago, I decided to give it another go. The Pan-Fried Linguine ($11.50) is slightly more expensive that what it had cost the last time. And while the price has gone up, the portion size has sadly decreased beyond what I would have ever expected. In fact all they have to do is throw in a bottle of Yakult and it'll be a kid's meal. Now you know why I really appreciate the free-flow of bread.

Besides the size, the Pan-Fried Linguine looked the same- nicely done pasta with oil, dried herbs, slivers of green and yellow capsicum and pieces of chicken. But it tasted a little bland this time. Oh Cartel, with all that variations, you really confuse me sometimes.

Fret not, Marcus. Soon it'll be all over. :)


The Cafe Cartel
#01-49/50
Raffles City Shopping Centre (various other branches)
Tel: 63362209

Chew On This: For those who, like myself, do not frequent Cafe Cartel, please note that there is now 10% service charge and the the staff will take your orders and later present you the bill instead of the old system of self-order via an order sheet and making payment at the cashier.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Post CNY Guilt-Free Food


So CNY was filled with nian gao, pineapple tarts, kueh lapis, love letters, cornflake cookies, sugee cookies, cashewnut cookies, sweet drinks blah blah blah. Good once-a-year fun. But post CNY and people start to count back calories (Too late. Don't bother.), worry about that dreaded visit to the doctor and all the damage that the influx of fats, sugar and cholesterol has done. The increased number of female joggers in NTU might be a good indicator.

What do you do? No, please discard the Slim10. One starts to subconsciously eat healthier, cutting back on fatty stuff and opting for more cheng(light) foods. Porridge comes to mind (as usual) and that was what I had for dinner at this kopitiam(coffeeshop) in Joo Jiat.

I've heard quite a bit of Soon Teck Teochew Porridge but on my visit there, I found nothing that fantastic. It could be because they were just 30 minutes to closing and so there were not much food left. I saw a few duck heads hanging by the display window but they had ran out of duck as well as Chai Poh Omelette. Alas.

What my family and I ordered for four persons that night were Sotong(Squid)($6), Bittergourd($3), La La(clams)($3), Salted Duck's Egg ($1.50 for two), Tau Guah(70 cents) and Tau Kee(Beancurd Sheet) with Stewed Peanuts($3). Each bowl of porridge costs just 30 cents. The auntie didn't agree to give me a bigger bowl so I had to keep ordering repeatedly for my six bowls of porridge.


The food was'nt bad and was pretty cheap too. And it felt nice to eat something less greasy and less rich after all the festive gorging. But I should re-visit earlier the next time.


Soon Teck Teochew Porridge
304 Joo Chiat Road
Tel: 92372189
Opens Daily 10am-10pm.
Closed on Alternate Saturdays.

Chew On This: Mr Chia, the owner, has been selling Teochew Porridge since he was 10 years old. The recipes he used are handed down from his father.