Monday, March 31, 2008

Casual, Fun Japanese Food Bazaar

Folks who thought that the Marche concept is dead should think again. While Vil'age has almost copied Marche's concept wholesale, a new kid on the block has given it a refreshing twist.

Shokudo offers causal, affordable Japanese food in a lively and fun setting. You'll soon see why it's concept mirrors Marche's to quite an extent though not as blatantly as Vil'age.

Upon entering, diners are each issued a card. This card is to be used for the purchase of food and should be presented upon ordering. Loss of this card will result in a $100 penalty which goes to charity.

Select your table (free-seating) and place this reservation token/tablet on it to mark your territory.

To start off lunch that Sunday, we had the Beef Miso Stew Served with Baguette ($6.80). The pale-looking baguette was pale-tasting, with an uncomfortably too soft texture. The stew was more decent. Thick and warm, it eased nicely into the stomach. The single chunk of beef was also tender and I enjoyed the gelatinous bits. I didn't detect much miso though. Oh and the potato was crunchy. I hope it was not meant to be that way. It definitely needed more time simmering in the stew.

Moving along to a pasta dish, the Crispy Sakura Ebi Spaghetti with Wafu Sauce ($8.80) certainly packed a powerful punch. For intense garlic-lovers, this would be your heaven. For those who are adverse to garlic or prefer a milder tone would do best to avoid this dish...and the person eating it for that matter. While I found the garlic taste too strong, I do like the aroma that it adds. The Sakura Ebi was just slightly crispy and had this subtle savoury 'seafood' taste. A simple dish of spaghetti tossed in a light Wafu sauce (with loads of minced garlic) and topped with Sakura Ebi.

Marche fans would remember their rosti. Pan-fried shredded potato served with sour cream. What's not to like? Shokudo's Plain Rosti ($4.80) was average and nothing to shout about. It could have been fried longer to get that crisp outer coat and seasoned a with a little more salt. But still, as it was, I could polish off another plate, or two. Carbo-lust.

The Robatayaki counter caught my attention with its offerings of skewered meats and seafood. The whole Grilled Squid as well as the Saba looked tempting and were priced very reasonably. But seeing that dinner would be in 3 hours, I decided to give them a pass. Sob.

What I did get to try was the Shishamo ($3 for 3 pieces). Grilled lightly and seasoned even more lightly, it tasted fresh if a bit bland.

The other item from the Robatayaki counter I ordered was the Pork Asparagus ($2.50). Again, the flavours were kept very light. No heavy sauces or seasoning. A pity the asparagus was a tad fibrous.

While I can do with little salt, I feel that a bit more was needed to really enhance and bring out the flavours of some of the food items.

On the whole, Shokudo appeals to me as a comfortable place for casual and affordable Japanese food. Though the competency of the food could do with more tweaks, one should probably not nitpick (unlike me here. tsk tsk.) nor expect too much at these prices. My comments were meant to be some sort of feedback and I thik Shokudo needs a bit of time to iron out the kinks. With that being said, the variety of food here is huge so do come in a bigger group to be able to sample more of their dishes.

The interesting twist to a popular concept makes dining here a little more pro-active (you hunt for your own table and food) and fun! Btw, do remember to return the reservation token/tablet at the cashier.

Shokudo Japanese Food Bazaar
Raffles City Shopping Centre
Tel: 6837 3793
Opens: 11.30am - 10pm daily.

Chew On This: Parents with kids can entertain the little tots at the play corner, near the exit. More places are indeed becoming increasingly kid-friendly. :)

Friday, March 28, 2008

Post-ValenWine 2008 Dinner

After the mooooonths of hard work planning, drafting, liaising and putting together the bits and pieces to organise ValenWine 2008, it was time for the organising committee to celebrate its success. Having a few bottles of wine given to us and wanting to share it among the committee, I volunteered to have the celebratory dinner over at my place. It would make more cents sense as it'll be cheaper than dinning out, plus we needn't worry about corkage.

So a Saturday evening was picked and the committee descended for dinner. I have to apologise for not being able to release the menu until dinner that evening as I was working on a very tight schedule. And in case the food was that bad that it was difficult to tell what was what, I've listed them down to de-mystify any doubts. :p

Dinner had no particular theme and it had a mix of Mexican, Chinese, Japanese and French influences. Oh wait a minute. I remember one lady who requested for the dinner to be a low-carbohydrate one, whatever that means. Haha. So it was toned down on the 'filling' aspect as the main stomach-filling carbohydrates were pulled out.

Dinner kicked off with the Chilled Japanese Tofu with Tobikko, Mirin-Soy Sauce.

Hungry people gobbled up tofu. Quickly came the Guacamole with Corn Chips. A hint of carbo to line the stomach perhaps.

And to warm stomachs up, a small serving (okay, almost all the servings were small as I've had diners "complaining" about too much excess in past dinners) of Brown Shimeiji Mushrooms in Clear Chicken Broth made its way to the table.

For that bit more carbo to line the stomach against the wines, we present the Smoked Salmon Bruschetta. I used the smoked salmon that sis bought from Canada. It tasted rather similar to canned tuna actually.

Miso Red Snapper Fillets with French Beans marked the first meat dish. I was too busy juggling the cooking and entertaining that I forgot to take the photo of the plated fish...and beef. Good thing Jun Yan took photos of the cooking process which featured a bit of the fish and beef.

Talking about beef, having three beautiful ladies surrounding the ribeye steaks makes me a happy cow. ;)

Brazilian Ribeye steaks were seasoned with orange-ginger salt and black pepper (thanks Cora!) before sizzling away on the cast iron grill pan. Thinking back, I should have gotten more beef but that would need an increase in the budget I was working on though. Non-beef eaters were served a Rosemary and Lemon Pork Chop. Both beef and pork chop were served with Roasted Garlic Potatoes.

And thinking of the waistline, dessert came in the form of Wine-Stewed Pears with Berries and Mascarpone Cream. It was my take on Weylin's recipe, using Bosc pears and varying some of the ingredients and amounts. This I say is a rather healthy dessert which I like for its just-right sweetness.

Wines of the night.

The organising committee (Danny is missing in this photo but he was definitely there!). Zhang Feng was missed but I can imagine the workload of a PhD student. I salute him for putting in the effort and time for ValenWine even when doing his PhD!

A big thank you to all for coming (to the east) and allowing me to feed you. Guinea pigs not easy to find leh. Oops. Haha. Hope you guys enjoyed the food, wines and company.

Suddenly I have visions of planning a menu, grocery shopping, preparing and cooking again...

Encore anyone?

Chew On This: ValenWine will definitely be back next year. Keep. A. Lookout.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A Steamboatless Reunion Dinner

For the past 24 years, CNY reunion dinners have always featured the extended family members gathering around a steamboat bubbling with prawns, fish maw, fish balls, tofu, meat and vegetables. Chopsticks dash in and out of the pot like the bills of ducks, fishing for the missing piece of squid. A perfect chance to see and catch up with uncles, aunties and cousins. "Are you still in the army?" anyone?

But 2008 was to be different. My dad, mum and sis were heading to Vancouver to visit my uncle during the CNY period and would miss CNY's eve. So while I still went for the reunion dinner with the extended family, the immediate family decided to hold our own reunion dinner in advanced before they flew off.

Not wanting to do the whole buy-clean-prepare-wash routine just days before a long-haul flight, mum suggested eating out. And out we ate.

Having nothing but lip-smacking memories of the mussels and fries we had before, it didn't take long before we booked a table at Brussels Sprouts.

The Mussels Vin Blanc ($38 for main size of about 700g) were as good as before. These were not huge mussels. In fact, they were not even big. But sweet and juicy they were and happy I am. The white wine, celery, onions brought out the sweet flavour of the sea in the mussels. Yum yum yum.

Deciding to try an Asian flavoured pot of mussels, we opted for the Tom Yum ($38 for main size of about 700g). The lemon grass, galangal and chili added a spicy, pleasantly acidic zing to the shellfish. It is very interesting that they've given the dish a definitive Asian twist that yet blended well with the mussels. As the Tom Yum has stronger flavours, it would perhaps be good to start with a relatively lighter-tasting one (like the Vin Blanc) before this.

It intrigued me when the menu listed lobster consomme as an ingredient in the Tom Yum. The cooking liquid did have a bit of that shellfish/crustacean essence to it but I still couldn't tell if it was lobster consomme. I think I would have preferred lobster consomme on its own lah. Heartache.

Golden, hot starchy fries make me happy and that must mean it's good for the heart too. Oh dear, what am I saying. The thick-cut fries remain one of the best I've tasted even though it wasn't too consistent on this visit. But make your heart happy and chomp on these fries which comes free-flow with an order of the mussels.

Speaking of which, mussels may be delicious but they are ridiculous for filling the tummy. We all know 700g of mussels and a 700g steak may weigh the same but they don't settle in the stomach in similar proportions. We humans don't eat shells after all.

As such, the Braised Meatballs with Dark Beer Sauce, Onion, Mustard served with Pommes Croquettes ($22) made its appearance at the table. Those expecting Ikea type of meatballs would be stunned. There were only two meatballs but each of them was really big. I suggest to not try popping one into the mouth. We humans can't voluntarily dislocate our jaws a la pythons.

The meatball was moist and herb-flavourful. The meat could have been less minced but that's a small issue. The dark sauce was rather strong. Apparently made from dark beer, it gave me the impression of a burly, strong dark knight. Batman maybe? But illusions aside, I didn't really take to this. The Pommes Croquettes at the four corners of the plate however were crisp shells of potato that were gobbled up in seconds.

The Belgians do their beers, seafood and fries well. So I was thinking how their fish & chips would turn out. After all, it's a combination of all three yea. Named Vis en Frites ($22) on the menu, it was disappointing. The batter was soggy and while the large flesh of the white fish was firm, the whole thing tasted flat. Bits of herbs were incorporated into the batter but it only mustered a visual appeal. Alas.

Still, the evening out with my family over this newish sort of reunion dinner was splendid. Cool breeze from the near-by river met the bustling energy of people hanging out, colleagues chilling after work and families gathering for dinner. I love the vibes here.

Brussels Sprouts
#01-12 The Pier @ Robertson
Tel: 6887 4344
Opens: 5pm - midnight (Mondays to Thursdays)
Noon - 1am (Fridays and Saturdays)
Noon - midnight (Sundays)

Chew On This: To add on to their already impressive stock of Belgian beers, Brussels Sprouts has expanded that list to currently boast more than 100 different beers! à votre santé!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Tossing Yusheng with DAC Main Commers

While digging into my back-log, I came across this picture of the DAC main commers tossing Yusheng, the Chinese New Year raw fish salad. I must thank Becky for the very thoughtful gesture of providing this fun albeit messy festive item, and for the (in her own words), peekture! CNY may be over but never too late to Huat ah! Haha.

Monday, March 17, 2008

An Old Flame Surfaces

There lies a powerful taste that is deeply embedded within the human psyche. One that lies dormant till struck by a familiar scent, sight, sound or taste. It varies from individual to individual.

Oh yes, the taste of nostalgia.

I chanced upon this beef noodle stall in Tanglin Shopping Centre and its name just captured my heart. Not known to many, my love relationship with beef noodles began eons ago (when I was 1/3 my current height) at Orchard Emerald Food Court. It was there that I first fell in love with springy flour noodles drenched in a thick brown sauce topped with beef and beef balls.

Oh man. I guess first love is kinda hard to forget. And devastated I might have been when the food court went for a renovation and my beloved beef noodle stall went missing, I was glad to have found the one at Lavender.

Now would this stall which has been operating at Tanglin for the past three years be my first love?

For about $4 (sorry, the exact price slipped my mind), one gets the beef and beef ball option. As a personal preference, I opted for chor bee hoon and had it 'dry'. The gravy was nothing robust. Instead, it was not as gooey as some places and tasted rather light. Perhaps after years of eating the version at Lavender, my taste buds had gotten accustomed to the heavier, darker, gooe-ier and more intense tasting gravy.

But nonetheless, I found this bowl of beef noodles more than decent. The slices of beef were tender and the shredded salted vegetables added flavour to the light-tasting gravy. A pity the beef balls were pretty much just flour though.

What I felt was excellent here was the chili sauce. The balance of spiciness, acidity and tanginess made this so comforting to eat with the slices of beef. Add a bit of the chinchalok (fermented shrimp sauce) for that slight fermented punch.

So I think the Orchard Emerald Beef Noodle of old still beats this one. The name and, to a certain extent, the taste did give me a nostalgic shot but it fell short of the one embedded in my memory. Perhaps one thing cruel about nostalgia is that no matter how good the current one is, nothing seems like the good ol' version.

Orchard Emerald Beef Noodle
Tanglin Mall Food Court

Chew On This: The other one of my old flames that I am seeking is the beef noodle stall that used to be in Changi Airport canteen. Think the stall name was Sing Chew or something along that line. Anyone?

Friday, March 14, 2008

Feburary Charity Makankakis Dinner 2008

It's already the middle of March and I'm just done posting last month's Makankakis Dinner. Eeks. In fact, I reaslised there's another 2 posts on CNY that is on the 'please-spend-some-time-and-blog-me' list. And that's only CNY! Tsk tsk. Haha.

Oh well. Unlike one popular female blogger, I'm not a full-timer. :p

Last month, the monthly Makankakis Dinner took a different twist. We ate and drank in the name of charity. Makansutra kindly sponsored the food for all 56 of us and all the proceeds went to our selected charity- the Breadline Group.

It's cool to know that 100% of the donated amount goes to benefit the charity. A big thanks to Makanguru Seetoh for sponsoring the food.

A welcome drink of Freshly Squeezed Sugarcane with Lemon was such a treat after the journey from Boon Lay. In fact, I gulped it down and forgot to take a photo. Oops.

Dinner started with Earthen Hot Pot with Mushroom and Assorted Vegetables. The claypot sat on an old-school charcoal stove. A bonus point for using charcoal I say!

The very healthy-looking plate held leafy greens, long cabbage, beancurd, golden mushrooms, tomatoes and slices of Osyter King mushrooms (I think). Very healthy indeed. I like it as a warm and light prelude to dinner.

Next came the Assorted Satay in Banana Leaf Cone. Sticks of beef, mutton and chicken satay were grabbed fast. Slightly sweet and savoury, each stick of meat had a nice firm bite. The accompanying peanut sauce was also thick and spicy and deliciously paired with the satay.

Now, BBQ Chicken Wings are everybody's favourite. And to get a sub-standard one would be disappointing. I was disappointed. The ones here were lacking in taste. I think somehow the marinate had not permeated the meat well. The chili sauce was a tad to sharp for my liking and failed to save the wings in distress.

Fortunately, its partner, the Chili Chicken was much better. Crispy deep-fried pieces of chicken dipped in a tangy chili sauce makes one wanna ask for rice.

The next dish really puzzled me when I first saw it on the menu. Fishball noodles? I was wondering how it would be shared since all the items were served in one plate and placed in the centre of the table for communal sharing. Honestly, silly me was hoping to be amused by a big bowl of fishball noodles in the middle of the table. But thankfully, the organisers had more sense. A small bowl was served to each diner. One word- decent.

Another one word- indecent. The Black Fried Carrot Cake was way to soft and tasted one-dimensionally sweet.

It's fairer cousin failed too. Sadly, there wasn't enough kick in the White Fried Carrot Cake too. No crispy edges, no smokey notes and insufficient chai poh (preserved raddish) made this flat.

My heart sunk after the poor showing by the fried carrot cakes. The sight of the BBQ Stingray was met by lowered expectations. Luckily I found comfort in the meaty flesh of the stingray despite the average chili.

There was a buzz as Orh Luak (Oyster Omelette) made its way to the table. I didn't eat the oysters but the pieces of fried tapioca starch with eggs, dipped into the spicy chili sauce were good.

For desserts, we had the Roti Kaya Fondue. I felt it was a bit of a misnomer as it was simply sticks of bread to be dipped into a small container of kaya. The word 'fondue' probably brought to mind something else. On the whole, I would think it was a fun take of the usual kaya toast.

Part two of desserts was a choice of either Cheng Tng or Chendol. I picked the former and requested for it to be iced. Even with the shaved ice, the Cheng Tng was still too thick and syrupy for me. The ingrdients of white fungus, lotus seed, gingko nut and dried persimmon strips were good though.

I took a spoonful of Chendol from Ewan and found it to be rich. The coconut milk was ample and the gula melaka (brown palm sugar) evident.

Wines for the night.

Nice to meet Tangawizi, Laurent and Sandra! I think this has got to be the post with the most mention of 'chili sauce'.

Makansutra Gluttons Bay
#01-15 Esplanade Mall
Opens: 6pm to 3am

Chew On This: This may not be, IMHO, the best place for local food but the central location, close proximity to Cityhall, late closing hours and the lovely evening breeze from the near-by river add to the appeal.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Modern Singapore Fusion Food

Being perched atop a hill offers peace and tranquility amidst lush surroundings. However, it poses accessibilty problems too. That kept me from checking out Wild Rocket on Emily Hill...till now.

The meal started off with complimentary warm cubes of bread accompanied by a very nutty olive oil. I must say that the texture of the bread was interestingly more like kueh- chewy and slightly sticky. This was an indication of the food to come.


The Oregano Grilled Octopus Rocket Salad with Mirin ($12.50) was very delicious though I didn't quite detect much oregano. The tender octopus was dressed in a mirin-olive oil combo with bits of finely-grated ginger that added an intense fragrance and also some heat. Small cubes of tomato and orange provided colour and some tang. Rocket-lovers would love the flavours here that combined nicely with the sharp, bitterness of rocket.

No visit to Wild Rocket would be complete without trying their signature Laksa Pesto Linguini with Tiger Prawns and Quail Eggs ($17.50). The mucky green colour would put some people off but close your eyes and slurp up the pasta. Each strand of firm linguini was coated with a film of rich, nutty pesto that had light hints of the laksa leaves. I would have preferred for it to be a little more moist though. The tiger prawns were overly-crunchy/springy (a la those found in dim sum and Cantonese restaurants). Something I do not take to. But over all, this dish is really interesting and surprising light on the laksa flavour. To be honest, I usually avoid laksa leaves due to its strong aroma that can be over-powering at times.

Another fusion pasta dish we tried was the Spicy Conpoy & Fresh Scallop Spag with Dried Shrimps ($22). When the plate was brought to the table, an alluring aroma from the dried shrimps brought me back years ago before my grandma hung up her apron strings. Grandma's hae bee hiam (spicy dried shrimps) were the best I've tasted. Expecting the spaghetti to be spicy, it tasted more sweet instead. The spiciness faded, ensued quickly by sweetness. The scallops were disappointingly tiny but boasted sweetness and freshness nonetheless.

Dad does a mean olive rice and seeing olive rice being offered on the menu, we decided to try out the one here. The Baked Catfish with Green Curry and Black Olive Rice ($25.80) was decent though I found the black olive rice bland, even with bits of lup cheong (Chinese sausage) and dried shrimps. The catfish fillets were really good. Soft, white flesh that flaked easily and a coconutty green curry sauce are new best friends.

The meal ended with the much-talked-about Strawberry Cheesecake ($9). The version here was served deconstructed in a chilled martini glass. The layer of flavours progressed from a sticky, savoury cream cheese, sweet ice cream (gula melaka?), firm biscuit base and finally tart strawberry compote at the base. Oh yes, a good way to end the meal.

The food so far here for me was interesting, with a local Asian twist to popular favourites. Quite a feat considering the Chef-owner, Willin Low, is a lawyer-turned-cook and is self-taught.

I have to compliment the service staff here for their attention to details and their polite, non-intrusive service. I didn't have to ask for a refill of water (yes, it's complimentary water here). Each time my glass was half full, a staff would quickly top it up. A change from warm to iced water resulted in a change of glass. Not that I'm that particular but these small touches sure are a bonus. Good staff stuff.

Wild Rocket
10A Upper Wilkie Road (Mount Emily)
Tel: 6339 9448

Chew On This: The above post reflected the serving size, price and part of their selection from the brunch menu. I had initially wanted to try the Wild Rocket burger but it wasn't on the brunch menu. :( A perfect excuse for a trip to Relish, hopefully soon!