Sunday, March 28, 2010

Hong Kong - Cookies Quartet

What goes with coffee?

These yummy palmiers from Cookies Quartet.  Not the usual overly buttered ones, these are light, fragrant and not overly flaky...

Someone did tell me this is a healthy recipe.  Whatever it was, these were seriously addictive.

G/F , Shing Ping House
62 Shing Woo Road
Happy Valley
Tel: +852-2575 2282

Hong Kong - Zeffirino Ristorante

Zeffirino's has been around a while - I haven't been back in a number of years.  The decor is the same - tall ceilings, great views overlooking Causeway Bay, but just a tad tired.  But the comfy chairs, and the nice generous space is a nice place to enjoy quiet conversation (the live singer isn't bad and her rendition is not so that it's in your face).  

I was still in a bind - tummy wise - and advised by the doctor not to push it.  But I still stuck to signature dishes, which coincidentally features their house special pesto.

The Ministrone soup turned up green, laced with the pesto, and was surprisingly comforting and tasty.  Carefully executed to not take into much oil from the pesto, it was a nice vegetable based stock and garnished with a little crouton over the top.

My pasta as a "paffurello" (maybe puff in Italian) was a delicious ravioli stuffed with mixed meat in a pesto cream sauce.  The pesto cream was slightly on the creamy side and I would have preferred a little more of the pesto to come through instead of being engulfed in cream.  But overall, pleasant and the rolled parmesan crisp over the top was a very nice touch.

My tiramisu was prettily served in a martini glass but I would have fancied more lady's fingers soaked in coffee.  The mascarpone was delightful but was a bit too much after my pesto cream.  But if you like your cheese and cream, this one's for you.

31/F, Regal Hongkong Hotel
88 Yee Wo Street
Causeway Bay
Hong Kong
Tel: +852-2837 1799

Hong Kong - Kong Hing Restaurant 港興大飯店

It's been more of a miss than a hit with the past few post-tennis dinners with the gang but last night was a pleasant surprise.  At 10 in the evening, the place looked more run-down than it would ordinarily and walking into just 2 tables of patrons was not the most inspiring.  We sat down and quickly ordered, realising that they shut at 11pm.  Ok, that might be why.  So we got a few of the Hakka staples on the menu and waited...

Hakkas are known for their tofu and this one stuffed with minced pork did not disappoint.  Soft, smooth, and tasty, it was not salty nor greasy, and was as the place touts - home-cooked.  Our confidence was gaining with this first point in the restaurant's favour.

Another staple - the salt-baked chicken.  While not the best I've had, it was by no means a write-off.  Still tender for the most part and had the nice fragrance of a "free-range" chicken from the mainland fed with steroids (LOL).  Perfect when eaten with the spring onion and ginger aioli.

Stewed belly pork with sweet preserved vegetable (mui choy).  Well done - the best part was the skin - still nicely chewy.  Only complaint, the meat sections were a tad tough.  Overall tasty - I had one full bowl of rice just with this dish alone.

This was the pleasant surprise for me.  Pig's tripe and gingko cooked in an almond-based soup was so smooth and yummy - no foul smell at all from the tripe just the nice crunchy texture to provide contrast to the smooth soup.  If you're familiar with Cantonese desserts, it's much akin to drinking a savoury version of the bean curd skin, gingko and barley soup.  This was executed at the expert's level.

The other addictive dish was the 8-treasure duck - ironically not for the duck, but the very tasty glutinous rice encased on the inside, with "8 treasures" including Chinese sausage, mushrooms, chestnuts, etc.  Surprisingly ungreasy for a well and truly deep fried dish.

An out-of-the-way treasure trove of authentic Hakka goodies which makes the drive to Shatin worthwhile.  Pleasant surprise - looks can be deceiving indeed.

79-81 Tsuen Nam Rd
Tai Wai
New Territories
Tel: +852-2691-6726 /2601-2982

Hong Kong - Yo Mama

For those coming of age, ice cream can be heavy if a regular feature.  But with the summer heat fast approaching, a cold dessert is always welcoming.  Good news: the frozen yoghurt revolution is here to stay.  Thanks to the increasingly health-conscious in all of us.  I'm not saying ice cream is out - it will never be because nothing is a replacement but frozen yoghurt is great as an intermission to break the excessive sugar and fat.  And a huge bonus: it actually tastes good!

My new fave is Yo Mama!  Their outlets do a brisk business for good reason.  And with the smiling cow, why not?

Although there are only 2 flavours (I prefer original over green tea), there are a myriad of fruit and other toppings to choose from.  It can be a serious decision, or you end up with a cup so full of toppings you can't see the yoghurt.  For the kid in me, coco pops and mochi balls are great, and I leave with a smile on my face...

16 Wing Fung Street
Wan Chai, Hong Kong
Tel: +852-2865 5600

Hong Kong - T'ang Court 唐閣

The company does not organise DnD's any more...  apparently it's too expensive to find a venue in HK which accommodates the close-to-600 people we have, and then hire an entertainment company to set the tone for the night's activities and then obviously feed everyone decently.  And so, every employee gets HKD500 to bond with others usually by department.  Pretty tidy sum and as good "HongKongers", what better way to spend it than eat it!  And so, off we trot to our favourite Chinese restaurant nearest the office.

T'ang Court, appropriately awarded 2 Michelin stars is Chinese fine dining at its best.  With tables sparsely positioned, the restaurant can be as quiet as any fine dining restaurant you would expect, so you can actually have a decent conversation without raising a decibel so it's a favourite with businessmen in the area.

I was all about quality and not stuffing our faces at lunch but you quickly realise, that even with HKD500, it doesn't go a long way with the ala carte selections especially with the sharks' fin servings averaging about HKD500 per person!  So we very quickly zero-ed in on the executive lunch where we would have a very decent lunch, and still have change left over.

We started with a bowl of superior sharks' fin with crab meat laced with birds' nest.  Extremely good value with a generous clusters of the precious fin in a a superior stock.  Definitely one of the better places to indulge your politically incorrect cravings.

This second dish was a delight to bite into.  Well fried with a black bean sauce and asparagus, it was extremely tasty and everyone was amazed at how well done the "chicken" was - crunchy, juicy and sweet, unlike any chicken they've eaten.  I was still savouring my sharks fin soup and so I said it was a "gwai gai" (Cantonese for weird chicken or colloquially used to describe a weirdo).  I said it a bit loud and was promptly politely corrected by our server that it was lobster, to the laughter of everyone, including the neighbouring table.  It was probably the loudest I've heard at T'ang Court.

The good thing about eating fish at these establishments is that for those who don't like to manoever through the bones, it's deboned for you so all you have to do is just pick up the well steamed, firm but not hard, and breaks only in the mouth soft and sweet flesh and enjoy.

For the fish lover, fret not.  The best parts ie. the head and the tail are reassembled and put on the lazy susan so you can still have at it if you like.  More for me!

The most unexciting dish for me was the stir fried chicken with abalone mushrooms, but even then it was well executed and actually if I wasn't pacing myself, would have ordered a bowl of steamed rice, and downed the whole bowl without difficulty as it was very tasty.

I love "mai fun" or rice vermicelli, especially a well fried one.  This version had good wok hei without the "burnt" taste at most places, a slight sacrifice especially at Dai Pai Dongs.  But this was so well done, the combined flavours of the char siu, eggs, with crunch from the chives and bean sprouts, as well as the perfectly al dente mai fun, was a delight to savour as everyone happily tucked into it.  I could have had another serving, in fact, I think everyone could have.  We were just thinking how fortunate for us that H had the connections to get us this in place of the e-fu noodles which were on the original menu, which everyone frowned on.

As H continued to work her connections, we got to enjoy one of T'ang Court's signature desserts, the almond tea with egg white florets.  The fragrance is a dead giveaway that it is made from freshly ground almonds, and not the paste or syrup you might get in a lot of establishments on account of less labour and effort involved.  Perfect finish and not too sweet.

And just for good measure, the "petit deux" in this case was the red bean/coconut pudding cake (which I didn't care much for although it was very smooth), and my favourite, baked egg tart.  Perfect with the freshly brewed cup of tea at the end of the meal.

Until next time, this meal was great team-building over superb food, where Chinese food does not have to be hearty and greasy.

1/F, Langham Hotel
8 Peking Road
Tsim Sha Tsui
Kowloon, Hong Kong
Tel: +852-2375 1133

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Hong Kong - Fandango Spanish Restaurant

Toy House in TST has always been known to house only Japanese cuisine, the most famous probably being Sushi Hiro although the others have decent reviews too.  So Fandango stands out like a sore thumb but as we realise, not so sore after all.  We went for lunch and being our first time, were recommended F and I try the set lunch and order the main that we both so wanted to share - the roast suckling pig.

The set lunch starts with tapas, which we were eagerly anticipating since there have been a few very good reviews about them.  But for the price of the set lunch, we should have known that they would not include the "good stuff".  But the potatoes topped with a spicy sour cream, garlic mushrooms and olives were acceptable to get the juices going.

The Mediteranean Salad was pretty decent although on the salty side.  But the combination of greens with the signature tuna chunks and hard boiled eggs drizzled with a balsamic and oil dressing was a refreshing change to the heavier tapas starter.

Our choice of the Paella with chicken as the main course to our set lunch was a very generous portion.  Although looking very charred when it arrived, the rice was nicely al dente with enough of a bite and made tasty from the chicken and vegetables in the same pan.  My only complaint was that the chicken was very tough and I left most of it, while eating just the rice and veges.

The piece de resistance was the Crispy Suckling Pig.  And oh my, what a hearty portion too.  With a well roasted skin which had most of the fat dripped away, and the surprisingly tender meat underneath, the combination was an impressive effortless bite, which had the fragrant slight gaminess from the pig and the herbs in the marinade.

And only because of this well executed dish, we will be back.  I'm just not sure I would do a set lunch next time.  If the pig is anything to go by, I am definitely back for the very exciting tapas menu, and a Sangria or 2 to match.

9/F ,The Toy House
100 Canton Road
Tsim Sha Tsui
Kowloon, Hong Kong
Tel: +852-2957 8797

Hong Kong - Noodle House Ippei-An 麵屋一平安

4 hours of intense tennis later, my legs are feeling like lead.  I rush to get off the court so I can meet my buddy S who's in town for a weekend of intense Pilates instruction.  Staying in a TST hotel, we decided to meet at the Miramar Shopping Centre, renovated recently to reveal a little freshness and more to offer in F&B.  I had read about Noodle House Ippei An and decided to see if it was possible to grab a comforting bowl of noodles.

At quarter to 10 in the evening, our wait was about 5 minutes, which I'm told isn't too bad.  After much deliberation, we settled on the house specials.  

The Nagasaki Ramen (長崎拉麵) can feed 2 hungry people easily especially if you order sides.  The other choice which we passed on was the Higomonzu Ramen.  This is the ever popular pork bone based soup stock which is full of flavour and served generally with well stewed pork and liquid-centred coddled eggs.

Back to Nagasaki - which lived up to our server's description of a very rich and flavourful stock, but with hardly a trace of grease.  You can drink up without any guilt here.  The well balanced toppings of pork slivers, white-neck clams, squids, Japanese fish cake and a farmer's field of cabbage, chives and mushrooms made for a hearty but healthy supper.  My only complaint was that the noodles weren't as springily al dente as I usually like them but I suppose we could have made that request upfront.

Our starter the Ippei-An salad (一平安沙律), chock full of garden greens, topped with corn, Japanese crab stick, roe and a side of mash, was delightfully chilled and fresh.  Wonderful appetiser.  

A nice casual joint, set like a bar rahter than a noodle house with very soft down lighting to enjoy a ramen fix.  I had a quick glance but the rather big sake/shochu menu keeps it interesting too.

Shop 11, 2/F
Miramar Shopping Centre
132 Nathan Road
Tsim Sha Tsui
Kowloon, Hong Kong
Tel: +852-2375 5330

Strawberry Season

It's strawberry season!  Ok, I'm not a huge fan of this lush and pretty fruit, but often that's because you can't really eat it all year round despite what the farmers and grocers tell you.  If it ain't season, it ain't tasty and who wants to bite into something pretty and end on a sour note - anti-climactic.

But it is season now and these slightly mutant-sized ones are imported from Japan from my trusted Happy Valley grocer that all the rich and famous head to for their supply of fruit and vegetables.  They were tastier than they looked - nature is fair!  Juicy, sweet and not too mushy since it still has a little bit of crunch but not so as to make it taste unripe.

Of course, there are a guhzillion other ways to treat your strawberries right if you don't like them neat.

This strawberry cake from Patisserie Yamakawa was light fluffy and fruity.  You forget about all the calories from the sugar and cream (it was fresh!) and focus on how something so yummy can actually be healthy (women get slightly delusional from desserts - it is how we are made).

Even the traditional have embraced the fruit and this mochi ball from City Super had the slightly tart and crunchy fruit, balanced by the smooth honeyed red bean paste, encased by a pink chewy glutinous home to deliver a burst of different textures and flavours.

Happy strawberry season y'all!  Enjoy!

PS.  Both Patisserie Yamakawa and the Mochi balls can be found at the City Super Times Square outlet down in Causeway Bay.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Hong Kong - Ramen Santouka

Ramen Santouka has invaded TST with its newest outlet at iSquare.  2 things I look for in a good bowl of ramen.  The soup and the noodles.  I consider everything else a distraction.  Sure it's nice to have soft cha siu and nicely-done liquid-centred eggs, but these are secondary if the basics are not done right.  Santouka comes pretty close to a good bowl of ramen.  The secondaries were very mediocre - eggs were overcooked and the cha siu pretty ordinary.

I ordered the original "shio" or salt flavour, pretty much unadulterated unless you consider salt to be sin.   A hearty bowl of stock which has been on the boil for a good 10 hours (at least) - an amalgamation of pork bones and other sweet root vegetables, onions, etc which you can no longer detect as together, they've taken on another identity.  And considering a pork bone based stock, it wasn't greasy.  

The ramen is fragrant and you can smell it as soon as you use your chopsticks to lift them.  Heavy on the eggs, and surprisingly not soggy and heavy.  It still had a good bite (I think you can let your server know how you like your noodles) which considering I didn't place an order, is probably the way Santouka san (if he exists) meant for it to be eaten.  

The lunch set comes accompanied by a bowl of rice topped with bonito and spring onions and alfafa, laced with soy sauce.  A great combination except that there was just way too much spring onion and alfafa that the heat from the 2 overpowered the tiny little bowl of rich and sprinkle of bonito.  An unfortunate episode of generosity killed this pup.  Was dying for a coffee to douse the heat after lunch.

Overall, a good option for lunch so long as you get there before the crowds do.  

Shop 608, 6/F, iSquare
63 Nathan Road
Tsim Sha Tsui
Kowloon, Hong Kong
Tel: +852-2721 1298

Shenzhen - Futian Shangri La

The Futian area of Shenzhen has really developed quite nicely - or anything in comparison with LoWu has got to be heaven.  Very metropolitan and the collection of decent hotels in the area are testament to the quality of the area.  I was in week long meetings held at the Futian Shangri La - newly launched so even their Italian restaurant Angelini wasn't open - only complaint is that I had to walk all the way to the other wing to find that out!

The view from 2618 wasn't bad..  I was fortunate to be there with clear blue skies and white cloud, not often captured in South China.

People like staying in good hotels for the buffet breakfasts in the morning.  The spread here won't disappoint.  Good variety and decent quality.  Juices are made fresh to the order, and yogurt jars are tempting - I had one every morning I was there.  There was even a station offering up fresh oysters scramble, which is a dish I quite love, and although not typically a breakfast food where I hail from, was a delight to savour with the congee and pastries on offer.  So thoughtful are they that you can even grab pastries at the exit and a coffee to go before you hit the work day.

What is most carefully thought out are the little sticks at your table with your table number on it, so you can take it to the different stations and leave it with the chef with your order, which miraculously shows up at your table minutes later, unlike many hotels which have disappearing orders at peak breakfast hours.

At the end of the day, I worked out at their very decently equipped gym and had room service, which was surprisingly good as well.  The Caesar salad has crisp Romaine, and pancetta bits, although the cheese wasn't the best.  The Foccacia stick was also a tad stale.

But the giant ear pasta shells with a Bolognese sauce was great comfort food and tasty.  Shells were also nicely al dente.

Overall, a decent hotel with decent F&B to boast of.  Good option if you're in Shenzhen for business.

Hong Kong - Whisk

We were led to our seats by the window at Whisk, where our view were the crystal balls hanging over the dining area of Cuisine Cuisine one level below.  I suppose it's a decent enough idea since the streets of this side of TST aren't that appealing and if you focus on your fellow diners and only watch the dizzying balls once in a while.  Cute way to start the meal and will certainly form a part of the opening conversation for first-timers.

There was some high anticipation since this was Justin's Quek's (of Singapore's Les Amis fame) first foray into Hong Kong.  I always like to order the chef's specialties since if the chef cannot get those right, then it's almost safe to assume that the rest of the menu are write offs anyway.

I generally don't waste time on salads since they take up space and I can do a better salad at home - it's really about the produce.  But the gourmet salad here was marked with a chef's star and so I succumbed.  The combination of artichokes, sweet cherry tomatoes and mangoes with garden greens, topped with aged parmesan and drizzled truffle oil was a fresh start to the meal and was able to entice and excite the palate.

The Chef's selection of appetisers was decent enough but wasn't a wow for me.  My favourite was the beef carpaccio for the quality of the beef - lean and beefy but you can savour it without any effort chewing.  Of the other 3, the foie gras chawanmushi was good but offered no surprise, the artichoke soup was better than expected (probably gifted an extra dimension by the use of mushrooms), and the crab couscous was a weird disappointment.  For those who cannot decide, the selection is still a worthwhile order.

The lobster bisque souffle was unique in its presentation.  Most have had the puff pastry top but the souffle top made for a uniquely fragrant delivery.  The whiff of farm fresh eggs from the souffle was very inviting and I could not wait to sink my spoon into it.  But there was a little bit of an anti-climax since the aroma was the winner.  The bisque was fair but because of the delivery, you would just expect that much more out of the dish.  At the risk of making it overly heavy, a more robust bisque would have been a more worthy match to the souffle top.

The special of the roast sucking pig was as good as I thought it should be.  The crackling was crisp and matched the tenderness of the cut we were given, and a bonus for me was the presence of a little cartilage, to add to the bite.  Pleasantly surprising was none of the piggy gaminess which one might expect from pigs in this region - I forget to ask where the baby pig was from.  Well executed and the balsamic based sauce is a nice way to cut through the otherwise heaviness of the dish.

The highlight of dinner was dessert.  The ultra thin flaky pastry with apples and toasted almonds, topped with custard and delivered in a copper pan, almost pizza style was excellent.

Cut into pizza style wedges and served on a plate with ice cream, it is a delightful way to finish the meal.  Thin and crisp with the moist apple slices in between the pastry and the toasted almonds, drizzled with a custard sauce, a nice contrast of flavours and textures.  2 complaints - the sides were a tad too burnt and the ice cream had the consistency of whipped cream (which I don't fancy) and as a result melted by the time it made it to our table.  Too light, and lent nothing to the almost perfect pastry.  And instead of tasting light, it just tasted a tad oily for me.  While we were assured that the recipe is home-made and natural, my only comment is that each home is different.  In mine, we like our ice cream the traditional creamier way.

Not whisked away, but a floatingly happy experience overall.  Might go back if I'm looking for options in the TST neighbourhood.  It is a nice place to entertain though - quiet enough and the service professional.

5/F, The Mira
118 Nathan Road
Tsim Sha Tsui
Kowloon, Hong Kong
Tel: +852 2315 5999

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Los Angeles - Salt Creek Grille

One Monday a month, the office has happy hour at Salt Creek Grille.  It was my first but as you enter, the inviting fire place at the end of the hallway is an immediate lure and the generous couches there are a perfect match to the warmth from the fire.  Sit back, order a drink or 2, and you're set.  

Don't forget the baked goat cheese marinara.  The ball of goat cheese in a generous bowl of marinara sauce balances perfectly against each other.  Smooth, creamy slightly pungent cheese, against a robust, salty and tart sauce, and served accompanied by wood fire oven toasted foccacia crostinis, it is a perfect appetiser for happy hour and gets those communal juices running with everyone dunking into the bowl.  

The other appetiser of the Ahi Tuna Stack wasn't too bad either, with generous tuna sashimi slices stacked up interspersed with avocado, served with sesame ginger soy and wasabi but wasn't spectacular compared with the goat cheese starter.

When we adjourned for dinner in the dining room, I had the Cheese Burger, which was highly recommended by our server for the night.  Thick juicy burger, slapped with mustard and mayo, with melted cheddar over the top, it was certainly a good choice.  I think I was the happiest at my table with others complaining the braised short ribs being too fatty.  The petite filet mignon did win praise though.  

Not a spectacular place to eat but decent if you're in El Segundo.

760 S Sepulveda Blvd
El SegundoCA 90245
Tel: +1 (310) 335-9288

Los Angeles - Taiko

I was happy that C introduced me to Taiko on this trip.  I tend to have a craving for Asian food, and Japanese always hits the spot anytime.  Taiko is close to the office and is always a good fallback option but make no mistake, it is better than just a fallback.  Huge menu offering the gamut of Japanese specialties including sashimi, sushi (complete with American influence rolls), noodles of all kinds, yakitori.  You name it, they have it, and at surprisingly good standards too!

After a lot of meat on the trip, I chose the seafood udon (after 15 mins of deliberation - I wanted to try everything!).  Extremely generous with seafood, it boasted 2 kinds of fish, salmon and a white fish, fish cake, mushrooms, spinach and cabbage, and topped off with a well done tempura prawn.  Broth was clear, healthy but tasty and was pure comfort food after a long day, and a cool evening at that.

This will definitely be a regular feature for me on work trips to LA!

2041 Rosecrans Ave
El SegundoCA 90245
Tel: +1 (310) 647-3100

Los Angeles - Tin Roof Bistro

Manhattan Beach is a cool place to hang in LA.  Tin Roof Bistro is a cute place in the area, drawing its decor from the Northern Californian region, with a huge emphasis on wine country.

Old crates are used to make the tables, used wine bottles now used for serving water to diners, and they even have a mini vineyard where they're trying to grow grapes at the entrance.  Unfortunately, I didn't see any though.

I went for lunch where they have a typical American cafe menu but spruced up to have modern influences from other lands, with tuna spring rolls and tapas goat and honey.  

We were in a hurry so I chose the Pizza Bianca with Prosciutto, without the garlic.  But the rest of the mozarella, fontina, parmesan and balsamic were a nice combination against the salty prosciutto.  My only complaint was that the pizza base was a little greasy and burnt but if you like it rustic, you would be happy.  

The dinner menu is a lot more bistro like with classics like Steak Frites and sounds enticing enough for a second visit.  Perhaps on my next visit in June..

3500 N Sepulveda Blvd
Manhattan BeachCA 90266
Tel: +1 (310) 546-6180