Saturday, April 19, 2008

Las Vegas, USA - ARDA

The ARDA (American Resort Development Association) Conference Week is upon us again and the conference which all shared ownership players congregate at the industry's largest global conference is back at the Venetian on Las Vegas Blvd. And this is one hectic week of meetings, seminars, and of course, meal after meal after meal with my great colleagues from the global team.

In the US, I realise that old ways still withstand the test of time and after many years, the cold seafood platter is still a popular starter... so much so that I had it every single night I was there (or rather, it was ordered for us every night). Living in Asia, I don't realise how spoilt I am that I don't have to eat frozen seafood. In the US, unfortunately, even the most succulent lobster or crab claw has to be thawed before being poached. I guess that's where the cocktail sauce and tabasco come in handy.

I ate at some pretty good places this time and wanted to capture them here so I don't forget. I got in only 4 hours late on the first night despite a bad experience with US Air, thanks to some nice fellow passengers who got me on a pleasant Virgin flight, without whom I would have been waiting at the San Francisco airport for 10 hours! Again, living in Singapore and Hong Kong, these things are not commonplace and when they do happen, you are in a great state of the art facility with enough shops and restaurants to keep you distracted from the frustration at hand. Anyhow, I did make it to dinner at the Grand Luxe Cafe (which I will end up again) inside the Venetian for a humongous chicken pot pie, which was a fluffy crust over a large bowl of creamy chicken. Hearty food which hit the spot after approximately 19 hours of travel time.

The first day was an enjoyable great weather day at the Angel Creek golf course hanging out with my colleagues rather than really golfing. Just the bonding time and laughter made lugging my golf set 10,000 miles worth it. While we never made it for a massage, we did have a great dinner at Aqua Knox (also inside the Venetian) where the attractions are not the size of the portions! An extensive menu of predominantly interesting seafood dishes, I had the lobster bisque and fillet mignon. The bisque was creamy yet light and flavoured with a touch of cognac, taking any heaviness from the cream totally away. The fillet mignon was perfectly executed pink and oh-so-tender. I would have finished it all if not for my brain getting the better of me to stop me from suffering the consequences of overeating.

Lunch at the Enoteca San Marco (St Marks' Square at the Venetian) was a nice change from the usual cold cut sandwiches we have to suffer for the usual work-through lunch meetings. With an authentic southern Italian menu, boasting of a guhzillion cheeses, it was disappointing that we could not indulge. I settled for the pasta with rape and sausage, a Sicilian specialty. Healthy for the rape (lacking in real greens - salads not in the count) and tasty for the home-made sausage, and accompanied by very al dente pasta, it was an excellent lunch dish for its lightness.

To watch Cirque de Soleil's Ka at the MGM Grand, we made reservations to dine at Emeril's at the MGM to save any travel time, especially with the horrendous traffic on the Boulevard. Emeril's is Cajun in style with a menu heavy on seafoods. It was here I decided to try Gumbo for the first time. I also reaffirmed my dislike for the sliminess of okra which made the dish too gunky for me. While I was told that it wasn't all too authentic, I don't really care to try gumbo again for the okra factor. My meal was made all the better by the crab cakes and the mac and cheese with bits of smokey ham. The Ka adventure took us about 2 hours and taking the monorail back to the Venetian (cleverly beating the post show taxi crowd), we rewarded ourselves with a huge piece of choc fudge cake and bananas foster back at the Grand Luxe Cafe.

No trip to the US is complete without a burger and I had my fix back at the Grand Luxe. Getting over some hiccups with service and delayed food arrivals, I happily tucked into it and completely neutralised the hour-long workout prior. oh well, back to the drawing board...

My last night - and we booked into Postrio's - Wolfgang Puck's cafe at the Venetian. By this time, it's been too much eating and I decided to skip the main course and just wait for dessert. I was not disappointed. The chocolate souffle was well worth the wait and is probably one of the best I've ever had with a vanilla sauce when poured straight into the souffle, made heaven seem that much closer...

Hong Kong - Hana Sakazuki

One of the rare finds in Causeway Bay which never ceases to disappoint. Although more known for its teppanyaki fare, Hana Sakazuki is accomplished in almost every department. Its sushi is one of the best in town, with traditional and new concept creations, which if nothing else, is by far the freshest and always cut immaculately. Every piece is melt in your mouth goodness. My favourites are the toro (tuna belly), hamachi (yellow tail) and the foie gras sushi topped with balsamic sauce.
Cooked food items like the crispy conger eel bone, the teppanyaki meats and the grilled skewer of ox tongue are always gratifying - always succulent and never overdone. If you prefer something softer, the ox tongue wrapped in cedar with an interesting sauce with a sweet miso base and sprigs of spring onion is an exciting burst of flavour.
If you have room for more (and we always do!) the 3 best alternatives to carbo load are the creamy spagetti with cod roe, the grilled beef on rice bowl, or special order of beef with inaniwa udon soup.
While most Japanese restaurants stick with a limited menu of dessert, Hana Sakazuki offers a very competent warm chocolate cake with liquid centre, which is up there with the best continental restaurants, and is worth the calories to end the meal on a bittersweet note.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Singapore - new jewels

You would think that working in the CBD area in Singapore, there is no end of choices for lunch. However, stepping out of PWC Building on Cross Street, the perrenial question is always where to go. Unless you want to sweat it out in drycelan-only office garb in the 2 excellent hawker centres at Telok Ayer and Hong Lim Centre, there really isn't much else to shout about.

However, when I was there last week, I did chance upon 2 new possible jewels. They both merit a return visit so that more can be sampled from the menu.

The first is Satowa - a new Japanese hole in the wall at the end of China Square (nearer Hong Lim Centre) serving Hokkaido cuisine. I had the ramen in a shoyu broth. Very tasty and the noodles were al dente. The cha-siew was a little tough but not overly so and the generous bamboo shoots and shredded Japanese spring onion added to the crunch.

The second is Old Shanghai - a coffee shop type environ on Temple Street. It had obviously been reviewed several times before judging from the various articles posted at shop front. We ordered the Shanghainese specialties of drunken chicken, meat and vegetable dumplings in soup and fried baby bok choi. Everything was very competent and not very oily at all, as is the case with Shanghainese food generally. A welcome change!

The drunken chicken was tender and had enough of the Hua Diao wine without being overpowering. The winner in my opinion was the dumplings which were very al dente, with a good balance of minced meat and chopped vegetables stuffed in there - a meal in itself which even Grandma would be proud of. My colleague was also impressed enough with the Zhejiang imported vinegar to bring one home with her.

When I am next back in Singapore, I wil try out these 2 places again and take more off the menu. Hopefully, they are good enough to elevate to gem status.

Singapore - Wahiro

I hadn't been back to Wahiro at the Katong Mall in a while. Tonight, I felt a sense of loss... while the offerings are still competent as mid-scale Japanese restaurants go in Singapore, the lack of touch by Hozumi Kazuhiro was sorely missed. Kazuhiro san who spends most, if not all his time at his newer Goldhill Plaza outlet, seems to have neglected his first child.

Cardinal sins of unchewable pieces of hamachi and flying fish, sometimes with bones sticking out, speak to the inexperience of the chef in waiting. This local chappy is such a nice guy and understands what to recommend and is an almost adorable baby face over the sushi bar but his lack of years come through, especially when it gets busy, and he has to rush through his routine. The freshness of the fish was never in question, especially since it just flew in earlier today.

The cooked food was still good and the new creation of crab meat and crayfish tempura roll was light yet tasty and filled with the freshness of the crustaceans who died for it. However, it looks like I still have to make the drive to Goldhill Plaza to feel and taste the love of Kazuhiro san... unless he chooses to invest in one as seasoned as he to take over the reins in the East...

... lest more of us begin to question the price of expansion. And for a restaurant, quality assurance is certainly too high a price to pay.