Sunday, October 31, 2010

Beijing - Hatsune

It's a pretty hip place.  But it's not pretentiously so.  It's casual, it's fun and has a huge menu.  So you get a nice representation of all things modern Japanese, but with a huge emphasis on rolls.  Yes, you get more than just the Californian here.

And of course, gimmicks make it fun.  To start, you get to choose your tools for the night.  In Japanese dining, that means chopsticks.  Even if this place is Californian in feel.

A balanced diet should start with a salad.  The Tobiko salad seemed tasty and it was.  With enough saltiness from the roe, and of course great texture from them popping on the tongue, then crunchy julienned daikon, carrots, cucumbers, alfalfa and crabstix lightly married with Japanese mayo made for a light and refreshing start to the meal.

The white fish carpaccio was reminiscent of eating raw fish in the good 'ole days, with a squeeze of lime and sesame oil.  A testament to the adage "why fix it if ain't broke".  The lime and oil bring out the freshness of the fish here, and the vegetables add crunch to each bite.

Carrying on our raw theme, we thoroughly enjoyed the quality of our beef.  Thinly sliced, and well done  so as to dispense with any need for chewing despite an only slightly marbled cut, this was excellent for its beefiness in taste.  I am not a fan of raw garlic so I passed on them, but any fears of mad cow diseases were put aside for this.  Excellent.

Our finale of course had to be a roll - they have like a gazillion varieties so it took us a while to settle on this one. Actually D was just kind enough to give me the veto vote.  Of course, I cannot remember the name of the roll, but the combo of crab meat, shrimp tempura, topped with Uni, flying fish roe and chives is good enough to make any mouth water.  Finished with a sweet sauce akin to what they use for basting eel with, this was yummy.

There's a lot going for this place, especially if they keep the service friendly and happy (harder to get nowadays in China), fresh ingredients, and spacious interiors that have clean lines and cute paraphernalia from Japan.

  • S8-30 (opposite Element Fresh), Bldg 8, Sanlitun Village South
  • 19 Sanlitun Lu, Chaoyang District
  • 朝阳区三里屯路19号三里屯Village南区8号楼S8-30
  • Tel: +86-10-6415 3939

Beijing - China World Summit Wing's The Lounge

One of the best things I got to do in Beijing recently was hang out with my buddy D from school.  Needless to say, especially for those who know me, that's quite a while ago.  And even more precious, D changed her flights to get home a day later so it turns out to be a great time together, even after all these years..

Given her line of work, we had every excuse to sit on the 80th level of the new China World Summit Wing and enjoy a glass of Rose, Moet of course.  With rumbling stomachs, reminiscing wasn't enough so...

We took a while to convince our server to get us a snacks and bites menu, which I think they finally took from the neighboring wine bar.  Apparently, the lounge had their own menu but we didn't think that scones and cakes went with the alcohol..

The order of deep fried salmon skin was a decent start.  The size of each piece, aside from convincing you that the skin is from a big fish like the salmon, was thin and crisp although the chef could have drained it a little better since there were oil droplets at the bottom of the bowl, making those parts less than crispy.  The tangy and laced-up ketchup was a nice break to the grease but not enough to make this go the distance.

We much preferred the Jamon Iberico ham with melon.  The twist to the usual is the slightly dehydrated and preserved melons sprinkled with olive bits to make it slightly savory but not overly so to detract from the natural sweetness of the melon.  Our only complaint was that there wasn't enough ham to go round - thin and long but definitely not long enough to make up the lack of girth.

A nice new place to hang and look out into Beijing city from a bird's eye view.  A clear day would have been a bigger bonus although one cannot complain by Beijing standards.  Just don't expect blue skies and white cloud all the time.

Level 80
No.1 Jianguomenwai Avenue
Beijing 100004
Tel: +86-10-6505 2299

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Hairy Crab Season

Still on the hairy crab season and theme, we decided this time to get down and dirty with the real McCoy ie. steamed whole and eating with bare hands (assisted only by crab scissors).  And the best place and best value place to eat it is at home.  During the season, many places in Hong Kong offer free delivery above a certain order and all you have to do is steam it, get ready the condiments, and enjoy.  Of course, lazy people like me with small kitchens prefer to have everything done and delivered.  All I have to do is unpack and enjoy!  Piece of cake!

Since Benson does the latter, inclusive of steaming the crabs, and delivering them complete with chopped ginger, a bottle of vinegar, and home-made ginger tea, it was perfect.  As a bonus, we bought extra crab scissors and scoop, as well as a bottle of aged Shaoxing wine.

The Shaoxing wine can be warmed up if you like (which I do)..  comes across as more fragrant and smooth, and overall more comforting to drink up.  Since the hairy crab is believed to have an abundance of "yin" energy, it is important to balance it up with some "yang" and the wine helps.

I verified with the dealer and they confirmed that it is the season for male crabs so we each decided to have 2 male crabs.  It took me a full 2 hours to get through them..  the premium to enjoy the creamy yolky goodness of the male sperm mixed with the roe.  A glorious combination.  Although the meat from the hairy crab is nothing to shout about, this is really secondary since it is prized for the roe under the shell.  While any description with references to the sexual anatomy and product of the crab does not sound the slightest bit appetizing, people who have had a taste of the manna is likely to want to have more.

Overly rich by itself, the special vinegar for crabs from Zhejiang, spiced up with the heat from the ginger, it is a perfect accompaniment and facilitates a sustained feast of the crustacean.

Finish off with a cup of warm and sweet ginger tea to replenish lost "yang", relax, reflect and savor God's gift from the Yangcheng lakes just outside of Shanghai.  And then, wait for the female season to arrive (soon!) before doing this again.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Hong Kong - Casa Fina

For the love of just wanting to try something new, and some place which would take us at little notice on a Friday evening, we ended up at Casa Fina.  The fact that we got in without difficulty on a weekend is no reflection of the place.  We decided to eat early and got lucky.  After we settled in, its central location in the heart of Causeway Bay meant that many had to be kept waiting even if they made a reservation.

Oysters were pretty impressive, especially the Black Pearl variety.  I'm no oyster expert but I know what I like.  Not too fleshy but slightly "minerally", with a sweet finish and a nice blend of meat and muscle.  Bingo!  Added bonus: the 1-4-1 promotion makes it a really good deal.

After a cold start, time to warm the tum tum as I ready myself for the main event.  The Cream of Mushroom soup was delightfully fragrant from what I suspect to be a few mushroom types used, sauteed and then pureed down with some good stock.  Given a little lush finish by the drizzle of olive oil, this would warm any heart.

Next up: the baked escargots.  The snails by themselves were pretty ordinary but the bed of mash made this outstanding.  A little lumpy from the fact that this was probably hand mashed rather than through an electric blender, and gives you that pleasant surprise of biting into spud bits.  And lifted by the tomato-based sauce dressing up the other blander items like the lightly sauteed spinach and mushrooms.  The cherry tomatoes were a little too tart for me, and so I avoided them until I remembered Mommy's advice to eat my tomatoes..  but only at the end.

The reason many rave about and come to this place is the Linguini with Foie Gras and Wild Mushrooms.  Despite the generous use of liver, it was not overly greasy and instead lent a wondrously rich taste to both the perfectly al dente pasta and the mushrooms.  The shrooms also had no qualms soaking up the goodness of the liver and the result was an enhanced fatty goodness, highlighting them.  This was well executed for want of a better description since I could very well imagine a botched job would send this review down the tubes so kudos to the boys in the open kitch doing their thing before us.

As far as I can tell, the peeps who dine here order almost the same thing.  So if you like the selection in a vibrant but dimly lit joint that's casual, this is your place.  And if they keep doing that 1-4-1 oyster promo, this could get even more crowded.  Don't forget your reservations.

13/F, Henry House
40-42 Yun Ping Road
Causeway Bay
Tel: +852-2504 2928

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Hong Kong - Benson Cuisine & Wine

Autumn...  hairy crab season!  My first taste of the crustacean this year since I discount the negligible morsel in my xiao long bao.  First taste and no messy peeling necessary.  Benson does a Shanghai Hairy Crab Set Menu this season where it's not quite the traditional way of eating Hairy Crab but uses the crustacean as a basis for a Modern European meal with Italian influences to create a pretty decent dinner.

Shanghai Hairy Crab Set Menu

Seasonal Fresh Oyster (2 pcs)
Prawn Bisque with Shanghai Crab Meat
Shanghai Crab Ravioli with Spicy Tomato Sauce
Shanghai Crab Linguine or Risotto
Ginger Soufflé
Ginger Tea

At HK$680 per person, it's pretty good value since there are quite a few courses, and at least 3 of which come with the crustacean.  Here's my take:

1. The oysters were fresh..  but think they weren't the best.  Especially since my recent experience at Casa Fina is still in my mind.

2. The prawn bisque served in a coffee cup, was a very tasty but not heavy concoction just lightly laced with cream.  And there was more than just a couple of pieces of crab in a fairly tight space and the first tastes of the crab meat were that they were firm, sweet and certainly very much this season.

3. The sherbet was forgettable.  Way too creamy to be sherbet for me, and so a tad much.

4. I liked the crab ravioli.  The skin was al dente with the right amount of bite and chewiness, and the crab meat this time was broken down further with bits of crab roe.  Served on a light tomato pureed sauce, there was also a side dish of Zhejiang vinegar with chopped ginger to add a little acidity and heat.

5. My favorite was my choice of the Shanghai Crab Risotto (see pic above).  There was a generous serving of a well sauteed mix of crab meat and roe over a bed of al dente risotto.  So tasty I had to make it last.  So generous I had no problems doing so.  I would have preferred a Japanese sweetish vinegar with this since the Zhejiang vinegar had way too much heat from the aged ginger that they used and interfered with the freshness of the crab after a while.  

6. Ginger souffle and tea were ok, nothing to shout about.  I am not the hugest fan of ginger but since Chinese believe that the hairy crabs have an overly cooling element, one must consume ginger to balance out the "yin" from the crabs.  So I dutifully do so. 

My only complaint to the meal is that since it's supposed to be the season to consumer male crabs, we did not get any male specimen, which we eat for the gelatinous "sperm".  Instead, we only got the orange roe from the females, which aren't quite seasonal until in about 2 to 3 weeks or so, as I'm told.  

Good thing Benson has a supply outlet just across the restaurant that we might just order from.  They steam it for you and deliver for free if you're in the Happy Valley area, complete with the vinegar, and ginger tea.  Tempting for a Sunday dinner this weekend..

No. 12 Sing Woo Road
Happy Valley
Tel: +852-28936900

Singapore - Ice Cream Chefs

So, on a recent trip back home, I went to yet another ice cream shop since Udders at Siglap had a queue.  Ice Cream Chefs was crowded although a little more manageable.  The 2 teen girls in front of us were milking the counter literally, trying every flavor, and trying the helpful staff person helping them.  So we decided to forgo the in-house experience which includes the "fry-up" and buy a pint home.

The "fry-up" as I coin it, is actually what the Ice Cream Chefs call a mix in.  So all you do is select your ice cream flavor(s), select your choice of toppings, then the "chef" smashes them into one big mashed up glob on the Chef's Rock.  A twist to just having your toppings sprinkled over, huh.

Our pint of Durian Decadence was pretty decent.  It is creamier to what I generally prefer which is a milkier finish but I know there are fans of the creamy version out there.  The emphasis is more on the ice cream here and so I felt it was about converting the durian fruit into a palatable ice cream flavor.  By comparison, Udders' Mao Shan Wang was more about the fruit and it was using the ice cream medium to bring out the fruit so the emphasis felt a little different.

From a price point perspective, perhaps a fairer comparison would be against Udders' D24, which is the cheaper pint and closer in price to Durian Decadence.  Between the 2, perhaps more would take to the Decadence simply because it feels richer from the creamy finish.  The D24 is fairly light and for those who like their durian and cannot get any but are slightly more lactose intolerant, then that's your choice fix.

In short, to each his/her own.  But I would go back and try ICC's other interesting flavors like Kaya Lotee and Milo Peng for that local twist.

520 East Coast Road
#01-06 Ocean Park
Tel: +65-64466355

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Singapore - Gourmet Plus

Sometimes, all you want after a brutal long week of traveling is to eat somewhere comfortably casual, in the neighbourhood, and a big bonus, broadcasting a Federer match live!  The latter was a huge bonus, but this is definitely a casual neighbourhood joint with a very decent menu to speak of so you shouldn't tire of coming here if bistro fare is your thing.  Service was crisp, knowledgeable and un-intrusive.  My only complaint was that it was little too dark to be romantic since I do like to check out what I'm eating..  but to each her own.  Because of the dim lighting, photo quality suffered (small price to pay).  

We started with fresh oysters, served with lemon wedges and a bottle of Tabasco on the side.  Fresh they were, and although not introduced to us, likely to be of French import, given the salinity, minerality yet sweet finish.  Very enjoyable especially with the condiments.

Of course, since Feds was playing, ordering the Raclette in his honour was a given.  And we were pleased with it.  Although I couldn't be sure that it was true Raclette cheese (it had the texture but wasn't pungent enough for me), the offering was authentic with air dried beef, baby spuds, gherkins and pickled pearl onions.  Yummy if you order a bubbly or crisp white to go with.  

Presentation of the Caesar Salad was impressive.  With the 4 towering leaves of Romaine encasing chopped up lettuce, with shaved Parmeggiano, Baco bits, croutons and a hard boiled egg.   Traditional enough although we've been spoilt so I would have preferred a 63 degree egg.  Although lettuce was crisp and fresh, the same could not be said of the Baco bits, which were just a tad "off".  While not quite yet rancid, but it was almost there, and the croutons might have followed suit.  Dressing was a little garlicky and I would have preferred the presence of a little more anchovies over the garlic.  

Our main of the special squid ink pasta with seafood was definitely straight from the sea. We ordered capellini which absolutely soaked up the excellent seafood and very lightly tomato base sauce, while co-mingling with the squid ink to lend a d rustic sea smell and taste to the whole dish.  Very enjoyable, even if it could have been salted a little more.  

To end, we were strongly recommended to take the last portion of the night of the dessert du jour.  We did not regret it as the French pear was well poached in the red wine it was soaked in, and given a creamy finish with high quality vanilla ice cream and given textural finish by the almonds (which I didn't care for as much since they weren't roasted enough to release any almond fragrance).  But the pear, wine and ice cream were an excellent combination, which even if you had a full dinner, you would still manage to finish comfortably and happily since it was so good and light.  

Overall, an enjoyable place to dine at if you want fuss free, dress down, bistro fare in an old residential neighbourhood.  Added bonus, Federer won in straights, avenging his last loss to the Djoker.  

117 Frankel Avenue
Tel: +65- 6441 1120

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Hong Kong - Wakayama Japanese Restaurant

Since I have this mission to exhaust all F&B outlets at IFC - helps with the movie outing thing, I had to try Wakayama despite the lukewarm reviews.

Started well enough with my favorite drink of the moment.  More Japanese restaurants should stock it.  My tolerance for a yogurt based soda is higher than it is for Sake so all Japanese restaurants please take note!  And if you're not a Japanese restaurant and you stock this, you get extra brownie points!

For starters, the grilled ox tongue was tasty enough although a couple of pieces were overly chewy and took away from the experience - hate it when that happens.  What's the point of chewing on something that cannot be broken down and then having to gingerly set it aside back on the plate.  So what's the etiquette on this?  Do you do that or do you just swallow?  But the couple of pieces aside, the rest was decent enough and kept us busy until the main came.

The peeps come here for the ramen.  Here's my take:  the pork soft bone ramen is probably the signature here.  I liked that the pork soft bone was as it should it - well braised to break down easily on the palate, a delicate crunch from the cartilage to give the entire piece of meat added texture, and then just enough fat to seal it off with a touch of grease.  The ramen itself wasn't bad - retaining enough springiness but apart from that, nothing to write home about.  The soup base was unusually clear by today's standards but had enough flavor from the bonito, a difference from other ramen joints.  So this is definitely a healthier version than most so there's less guilt in drinking up.  Plus, there is significantly less salt.

We ordered the Wagyu beef ramen to try too, but alas, this was disappointing for the meat that is supposed to be Wagyu.  First of all, I don't think it was the freshest piece of meat.  It had a little off smell/taste, not by a lot, but you can definitely discern it.  Secondly, it wasn't melt-in-your-mouth quality which you might expect if it's in ramen.  So other than a nice stock with a generous sprinkling of corn kernels, which I like, I would not order this again.

Finally, but oddly so since this was meant to be an appetizer, our shrimp tempura roll arrived.  Overly mayo-ed, it was decent enough but a little blah since the shrimp had been sitting out for too long, and the rice a little sad from accompanying the shrimp.  Edible anyhow although again, didn't do much to get us excited.

Overall, if you really have to have ramen in the complex, Wakayama is fine.  Just don't go in with high expectations.  I don't really think it's a ramen joint that's worthy of being called that, and perhaps that's why there's no mention of it in the restaurant's name.  An average joint, and perhaps great for those who do an airport check-in.  It is better than Ajisen at the airport, or at least, it's a healthier option.

Shop 3020, 3/F, IFC Mall
1 Harbour View Street
Tel: +852-2295 1221

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Singapore - Cacio e Pepe Italian Restaurant

Another one of those places where your GPS device comes in handy.  Off Upper Paya Lebar Road, this is literally a neighborhood joint.  Other than the next door coffee shop, I didn't see much else going on other than a pretty flat residential hood in there.  The advantage, we could still get a table at the last minute on the weekend.  Not that it was empty - there was still a good crowd going when we got there closer to 9pm.

Service was a little spotty although friendly but we were thankful for the bread which arrived fairly quickly, since we were starving.  Although it looked a little dry when it did, it was a nice chewy texture and was much better than it looked.

The Spinaci salad with bacon, mushrooms and Feta tossed in a Balsamic Vinaigrette was tasty..  perhaps a tad too salty even after losing sodium from 2 hours of tennis.  Plenty replenishment there.  However, we were pleased with the quality of the spinach and tomatoes which were crisp, fresh and sweet.  The bacon and Feta added dimensions to it and because these were salty too, we could have done with less salt overall in the dressing.

This was my least favorite dish of the evening but I can imagine it to be a hit with a lot of Singaporeans who like their food spicy.  There was way too much chili heat in the Linguini al Cartoccio for me to handle.  I thought it covered whatever seafood taste from the seafood sealed within the aluminum foil while being cooked.  While the Calamari was done best, the rest of seafood was unfortunately not catch-of-the-day fresh, and the linguini was not al dente and so a tad soggy.

But we made up for it with the Quattro Stagioni pizza topped with artichokes, spinach, anchovies, ham, black olives and mozzarella.  A well balanced pizza that wasn't overly salty, it had a combination of slightly tangy from the artichokes, contained by the salt from the anchovies, ham and olives, then texturised with the mozzarella on a slightly charred smoky pizza base.  This was still good the next day after you heat it up on a pan lightly.

Although our sweet ending was a little burnt, probably from a over enthusiastic blow torch, the custard itself was actually the kind I like - very eggy, not overly sweet.  The berries were a little dead from the off season but once you get over the charred top and dried fruit, the custard is all you need to concern yourself with.

Overall, an "ok" for a neighborhood joint and at fair prices.  A little reminiscent of Al Forno in the good ole days before they sold out (it's pretty abysmal now) and the has the makings of a nice alternative to fighting for a reservation in the more popular spots on the weekends.

4/6 Rochdale Road
Tel: +65-62811905

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Singapore - U.d.d.e.r.s. Ice Cream

The rage of Singapore's ice cream scene has moved into the Siglap neighborhood and so made it easy for me to grab a pint over a short visit.  Ice cream artisans as they call themselves have developed a range of ice creams which more than 6000 people have "liked" on Facebook and probably counting.  Mom raved about the Durian ones she tried.

There are 2 - the classic range's D24 but since I had a limited window, I went with the Connoisseur's range of Mao Shan Wang (猫山王) or King of Cat Mountain Durian.  The Mao Shan Wang is a stronger durian fragrance and taste over the D24.  The latter, when made into ice cream, tended to be sweeter but a little flatter, probably made so by the milk.  On its own, the D24 is good, but when the server gave me a lick of the Mao Shan Wang, the choice was obvious.

The King of Cat was way slicker and hit the palate like a swift leopard would.  Obviously durian but with a lingering fragrance and taste that I would hazard to say even neutral durian eaters would enjoy.  But if you're a beginner, go with the D24 first.

Either way, these are great if you can't get access to the real thing since it's probably going to be as close as you can get.

87 Upper East Coast Road
Tel: +65-64488732

Friday, October 1, 2010

Singapore - Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant

Happy National Day, China!

So how apt for me to do a post about one of China's greatest inventions.  The dumpling.  Although Nanxiang seems to have done the literal translation of 包 which is bun.  I guess they do buns too.

I try and avoid Chinese food when I visit Singapore since I always feel that I can get much better in Hong Kong, where I live, and for greater value too.  I also try to avoid Bugis Junction since the parking is horrendous.  So on this very odd occasion when the 2 no-nos met, Mom and I found ourselves at Nanxiang.

It's a fairly comfortable place to eat at - bright (read stark white and made even brighter with natural lighting in the day).  First time - so we limit our order to "chef favorites".

To start, we got the Homemade Tofu.  It was surprisingly very firm - almost bouncy - from the abundance of meat and seafood infused into the tofu.  So it was really a slab of meat/seafood roll infused with tofu.  Served with a sweet chili dip, it was pretty tasty - most deep-fried things are.  Personally, I would have preferred the presence of more tofu and a softer texture though.

The Bean Sauce Minced Pork Noodle (炸酱面) was mediocre if you have had the same in Beijing.  This is a less oily version but while the mince was salty enough to give the noodles a little bit of lift, it was a pretty flat taste.  Hardly a hint of anything else to allow the eater to think about what else went in to make the sauce.  The noodles were borderline firm enough, and the julienned cucumbers were a tad soggy even if chilled.

The stir-fried string beans (干煸四季豆)were pretty addictive though.  Well fried to still retain a good juicy crunch, even if this ain't the most healthy way to eat vegetables, it sure is tasty.  There was just enough minced pork to give the beans a salty and smoky flavor, they did not overpower.  Would be nice with steamed rice but not too salty to have on its own.

Our finale was the quintessential reason for this place's existence.  The Crab Roe and Pork Filling Steamed Bun (蟹黄小笼) is 2 prices up on the traditional pork only but what the heck, the other being the crab meat and pork filling.  Note the little wooden sign in the bamboo basket which says crab roe in Chinese - so there is no confusion in delivery.  The skin was thin enough for the most part, but I had to spit out the part where they pinch it at the top of the bun to make the ripples down the sides of the bun.  It was far too thick and had been dried out for some reason so it tasted crusty.  The filling had a little more pork bite than the traditional which I tend to like, since it's not so fatty, but the roe was probably not the best kind as it did little to add any hint of the sea at all.

Overall verdict: if you happen to be stuck in the area, it's ok to grab a quick one here.  There are definitely noticeable differences in standards from its home in Shanghai, and I think you can probably get better ones, even in Singapore.  Besides, the price point at Nanxiang isn't low enough for that to even be a consideration.

200 Victoria Street
#02-53 Bugis Junction
Tel: +65-68357577