Sunday, February 28, 2010

Los Angeles - Dinner at KS'

Ironically but never surprisingly, the best meals are at home.  And so, with great fortune, I got invited to KS' on my last night in LA.  Beautiful home not far from the water on Redondo Beach, it boasted a nice big kitchen and since we were rushing a little so I could catch my flight out (sorry K), K got to work as soon as we got to the house.

K's other half H, had been great to have already made light work of a beautiful salad as well a pot of French Onion Soup on the stove.  Even with entertaining his best friend L and his lovely wife J from Missouri, he managed to to do all that.  What a lovely man.  And the stories of H and L are great - they've been best buds since 1969, how many people can boast that!

And Tigger was waiting patiently in the kitchen - didn't get to photograph Charlie - he always seemed to be busy...

In between sips of Francis Ford Coppola's vintage, which is almost as good as his movies, K started to roll the dough and patiently layer on the Black Forest ham, and Swiss cheese, after spreading a generous layer of whole grain mustard.  Sealed, glaced, the whole pastry was popped into the oven while we sat down with our glasses and started tucking into our salad, followed by the hearty soup.

Nicely balanced between the onions and the essence from the meat in the broth, it was made better by the good quality Parmesan which was allowed to congeal over the top, and accompanied by a nicely chewy sourdough slice (good thing there were seconds).

And it was with great timing, that after enjoying the soup, the pastry was ready  - moment of truth - it rose perfectly and was crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside, made even more deliciously so from the Swiss, and well seasoned by the Black Forest ham, with enough meatiness yet not salty as it would have been had we eaten this dish in a bistro.

And as any good host, K provided 2 desserts - no need to choose, just have both.  I was stuffed and so I had the vanilla ice cream with the sweetest raspberries ever.  The cupcakes looked inviting but unfortunately I had no room.   Must be sure to pace myself next time - I was assured we will do it again!  YESS!

Wonder what what surprises are in store next time...

Monday, February 22, 2010

Washington DC - Tachibana

After a couple of days eating as a gwai lo, it's nice to have a spot of Asian, just to break the richness and the monotony.  So we drove out to McLean, in Virginia to have Japanese at Tachibana.  It's authentic and good value for what you pay.  Don't expect the moon, this is DC, but the number of Asians, and the Japanese wait staff with heavily accented English lends plenty of credibility to the place.

If they have Ankimo (monk fish liver) on the menu in the US, I am assuming a fair bit of authenticity already.  It's by no means the best or freshest I've had but it was decent and firm but creamy.  And there was suitably enough ponzu dressing to lift it, plus crunch from the sweet julienned Daikon.

Our other starter of the Kurobuta (Berkshire loin or Black pig) Katsu, was also fairly good.  You won't get the best cut for the prices they charge at lunch, but it was a tasty piece of meat, and well deep fried to leave no trace of oil on the bed of cabbage.

My main of the Saba Oshizushi was good with the generous piece of mackeral on the top of each piece of pressed sushi.  And while not as plump as the good ones are, this was a good effort.  Only complaint: they used rice which was too mushy and sticky and not the good grade where every grain is distinct.

E and C each had the Chirashi which again was fresh, and great value.  Bonus: the marinated pieces of salmon in the foreground, added to the novelty of Tachibana's interpretation of the dish.

Great value for lunch and the variety keeps it interesting.  But by the same token, don't expect specialist quality here.

6715 Lowell Ave
McLeanVA 22101
Tel: +1 (703) 847-1771

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Washington DC - Montmarte

Brunch is a big thing on Capitol Hill.  So a place serving brunch would be a best seller, and French bistro style like Montmarte, means waits of up to 40 minutes on the weekend for a table, if you have a party of more than 4.  But if you are patient, it is a pretty worthwhile wait for the classics on offer.  It's not a big menu but everything sounds yummy, so it takes a while to settle on your choices.

Can't do without eggs on the weekend so Eggs Benedict with spinach and hollandaise on a muffin topped off with crisp pancetta seemed like a logical choice.  Surprisingly served up with a seriously runny egg (I thought the salmonella scare in the country would still make restaurants think twice but glad they didn't!) and a hollandaise which had a subtle hint of white wine perhaps but whatever it was, it took the heaviness of the dish away.  Spinach which was not overcooked was a nice fibre add.

Our other French staple of the buckwheat crepe with spinach, tomatoes, eggs and swiss cheese, with a choice of prosciutto was also very yummy.  The red onions added crunch and a little pungency for balance and again, the runny egg bound all the flavours together.  Well executed.

Since it was a lovely day out, we decided to live dangerously and have dessert.  We ordered the creme brulee which was decent, but not the best I've had.  The top was a tad too burnt for my liking but otherwise, competent enough to finish the meal on a happy note.

Overall, it was worth our 20 minute wait.

327 Seventh Street SE
Washington DC 20003 
Tel: +1-202-5441244

Washington DC - Belga Cafe

How do you know it's a Belgian place?  Because the beer list is longer than the wine list and the food menu.  Indeed it was impressive.  But it was the middle of the day, and I was totally zombified from my 20 hour journey, and so we stuck with the food.

In the US, my rule of thumb:  always share so you don't eat yourself silly, or at least if you have to, have variety.

It's a Belgian place, so we had to have a mussels pot.  So we did, and we order the classic Mariniere, with plenty of white wine, shallots and garlic.  Mussels were of the small, sweet kind with the right textural combination of bite and creaminess.  The "soup" was also tasty albeit a tad salty.  Alright if you have a beer.  Fries were disappointing though - not hot nor crispy enough and had too much salt on them.  But dunk in mayo and you might overlook that.

The B&B Burger isn't an American burger and it shouldn't be.  I don't know if it was authentic Belgian but it was very good beef, done medium rare, as we ordered it.  Sitting comfortably on half a brioche, and topped off with a baked Parmesan crisp, and deep fried onions, it was juicy with a nice kick from the cheese.

For dessert, we order the Liege Waffle with cinammon-cooked apples.  The waffle wasn't as chewy as I liked and had too much icing sugar on it.  But overall, a pleasant enough ending to a casual lunch.

Worth a shot if you're in the hood.

8th Street SE
Washington DC
Tel: +1-202-5440100

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Lunar New Year - Traditions Part 2

If I had to play my family's lunar new year (or for that matter, most Chinese's lunar new year), it would be a repeat of everything, except maybe the hairstyles and clothes we wear, but everything else is a constant.  Some take comfort in the constancy, but others bore of it.  But whatever it is you feel, you have to feel that as you recall, a large part would be what you eat, and the food you identify with each household you visit.  

I tried to capture that today although I was too hungry and too quick to tuck into Gramma's yummy Lor-Hon (罗汉斋)stewed vegetables tossed with a mid-sized vermicelli, akin to the size of a slightly thicker capellini, enough to soak up the gravy to become at one with the stew, before I could even take one snapshot.  Add a little sambal belachan for heat and this one dish meal makes for a healthy start to the new year).  Dessert is gingko and snow's ears soup (雪儿银杏糖水).  A soup to lower the body's heat to ready it for all those new year goodies we readily consume with abandon this time of year (and pay penance for later). 

From my Sei Yup side to my Chiu Chow Shantow side, my aunt is now the sole disciple in the family of my paternal grandmother's braised duck.  Bless my grandmother soul, this is probably the best in Singapore - none of that thick gooey stuff with strong whiffs of herbs that the likes of the South Buona Vista folks claim to fame, this is the real McCoy where it's all about the fragrance of the spices that are rubbed on, the texture of the duck once treated right, and finally the quality of the soya sauce it bathes in prior to being served.  A process which should not take less than 48 hours, the results speak for themselves.  Tender, and effortless chewing, with hints of the spices as you ingest, this is sadly becoming a lost art in Singapore.  I look to Hong Kong to satisfy my cravings since there are more Chiu Chownese there and where the poultry star is goose (fatter and more succulent than duck).  I regret not becoming disciple of my late grandmother and will have to somehow take the time to learn it from my aunt soon enough.  

Dessert is also a Chiu Chow tradition of Steamed yam paste with gingko and pumpkin  (芋泥).  With bits of yam still in the paste, you know everything is handmade and not thrown into a blender.  Interspersed with generous amounts of soft pumpkin and gingko to give it added texture and taste, it was a nice finish and not cloyingly sweet as they do them in restaurants.

Lunar New Year - Traditions Part 1

Part of the attraction of the lunar new year is clinging on to traditions, and for me, traditional foods bring to mind the very many memories of growing up.  Isn't that part of life?  Just a collection of memories that you hope you are lucid enough to bring with you when you leave?  And hopefully leave behind with loved ones after you go?

The humble radish cake is a tradition embraced more tightly by HongKongers than Singaporeans but is becoming increasingly popular with the sprouting of the many Hong Kong Canto restaurants in Singapore.  This new year's, I was gifted one from the Panda Hotel in Hong Kong by E.

I decided to cut it up roughly into chunks, throw it into a pan to slightly brown, and stir in an egg for added taste and fragrance.

Then dress it up I did, to make it healthier, and of course pretty for the camera.  A tad salty but chock full of conpoy and Chinese sausage.  A humble but yummy brekkie to ring in the new year!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Singapore - The Marmalade Pantry

I was never impressed when they were at Palais Renaissance.  Competent but not wow!  And certainly not at those prices for what I consider to be fairly ordinary deli/cafe food.  I've always had a weakness for their nutella cupcake though...  Also, it is a nice and comfy place to wile away over a leisurely lunch.  So OK, ION is a new outlet so why not give it a shot.  I think it is for lack of competition that they still do well.  PS Cafe's new outlet at Palais gives them a run for their money but face it, it is still a pretty choiceless market in this space so it looks to continue to do well - at least it was a very decent crowd at lunch today.

I was happy with my order of the Capellini with Sakura Ebi and White Radish.  Al dente pasta well coated with the garlic infused olive oil, tossed with Japanese dried shrimps.  A tasty combination although there was a tad too much oil so the bottom was not well coated but there was a shallow pool of oil, so I left the last bit untouched.  I liked the addition of the crunchy white radish which was sweet and added another dimension to the dish.  I would give this high marks for creating the combination but discount it just a little on execution.

The Pantry Club sandwich was my second choice so I was happy that someone else ordered it so I pinched a deck.  The ham and egg section was yummy - especially since they used a fluffy omelette, but the chicken section was a let down since the mayo was too sweet for me.  Of course, this went well with the separate order of fries, which was pretty decent (although the garlic aioli fries at PS Cafe wins hands down).  

Other staples like the Crab Caesar and Crab Linguini are still popular choices, which M and C still dig.  But I'm a little over them to be honest.

The Sticky Date and Toffee Pudding never disappoints if you like your puddings.  Of course it's going to be sweet - it is dessert!  But if you order an espresso, you're all set.  

The Old Fashioned Chocolate Fudge Cake was decent enough but with slow service, and coupled with just being a tad too dry, was not inviting enough to be finished and we left a fair bit of it untouched.  

All in all, a nice place to chat over a competent meal but don't be expecting the moon here.  

2 Orchard Turn
#03-22 ION Orchard
Tel: +65 6734 2700

Friday, February 12, 2010

Singapore - Ah Kow Mushroom Minced Pork Mee

I don't crave hawker food when I am away..  but the flight to Singapore tends to set me thinking about how to make the most of my visits - gastronomically that is.  Sometimes I want to hit the new joints and see if the new kids on the block are lifting the game, and sometimes, I get nostalgic and just want to hit my old favourite hawker haunts.  Seeing that I took a morning flight this time, I stepped off the plane in time for a late lunch.  So off loaded luggage, hop into car, and off I drove to Hong Lim Centre.

This is one of the better ones around town.  Not as famous as Tai Wah but this is my choice comfort bowl of bak chor mee (minced meat noodles).  Ah Kow wasn't around so the stand-in's ratio of vinegar to oil and soy sauce wasn't as precise but it was still pretty darn satisfying.  Noodles still al dente and generous amounts of minced pork, 2 dumplings and stewed mushrooms made for a good first meal back home.

531A Upper Cross Street
#02-43 Hong Lim Food Centre


Sunday, February 7, 2010

Chiu Chow Hop Shing Dessert 潮州合成甜品

Continuing on my Chiu Chow theme and going into one of the Chiu Chow enclaves in Kowloon City, Chiu Chow Hop Shing Dessert is a renowned old hand.  Also known as the King of Lotus Seeds, and I don't particularly like lotus seeds, this is where they get it right.  They are steamed soft and break down in the mouth without any chewing.  

On this occasion, I ordered the split green beans with lotus seeds and a nicely chewy jelly, slightly more so than Konnyaku (綠豆邊蓮子清心丸).  The broth was light and not too sweet, with the green beans providing most of the texture.  The lotus seeds added another dimension of fragrance and sweetness and the jelly (清心丸) breaking up the monotony every now and then.  

For Singaporeans who are used to having their split green beans with cut up dough fritters, don't fret.  This is the real McCoy and there are no distractions.  So, stick to the Chiu Chow staples here and you'll be guaranteed a uniquely sweet experience.  

9 Lung Kong Road
Kowloon City
Tel: +852-2383 3026

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Hong Kong - Chiu Chow in CWB

Sometimes all you want is something simple.  That simple bowl of rice porridge, no not congee as the Cantonese eat, but more akin to gruel.  A cleansing of the palate and warmth to the soul, it is certainly comforting to say the least.

Of course, pair with usual Chiu Chow staples like preserved vegetables with fish (this one had the bonus of generous fish roe too) and stewed chicken feet with peanuts.

The highlights here were the white bait omelette which was perfectly fried with a generous layer of white bait laced with spring onions in between.

The Golden Squid was really deep fried squid which has been coated in batter flavoured with salted egg.  Looks like nothing but tastes like everything.  Very fragrant and addictive especially if you order a cold beer.  Sinful but good.

Of course, I happily ate without looking at the sign nor taking a business card, so I have no idea what it's called.  I haven't been successful getting the address online either, but if you walk into Tang Lung Street from the Canal Road East side, it's the first lit shop on your right.  Can't miss the many tables outside on the driveway, with smokers still enjoying the limited places to dine and still light up.