Saturday, August 30, 2008

Small Potatoes Make The Steak Look Bigger : Year Two

Another year has passed for Small Potatoes Make The Steak Look Bigger. And here I sit, wondering to myself what should I say for this marker entry that places a milestone of 2 freaking years of taking pictures with my trusty old camera phone. Some changes are surely bound. I cannot really say when and how, but it will happen. Just like it has all along. Sometimes behind the wheel - the machinations that drive this blog, and sometimes, the digital canvas that you read upon. Hopefully, the unchanging constant would be that - the show must go on.

"The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can..."
as sung by Gandalf the Grey

Friday, August 29, 2008

The Omnivore's Hundred

Andrew, an English food writer and also the co-author of the blog called Very Good Taste has come up with a list of food that he feels all omnivores should at least try once in their life. He calls this list The Omnivore's Hundred. Apparently the response to this list was quite good so I'm going to do this just for the heck of it. To join in the fun, one simply just has to...

  1. Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
  2. Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
  3. Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
  4. Optional extra: Post a comment at linking to your results.
Here's mine with some commentary in italics where applicable.

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros - I'm gonna count this in
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht - not the traditional beetroot kind though
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi - I've always gotten the sweet one
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar - ...but not together
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat's milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu - assuming it's just the sashimi version
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald's Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV - Amsterdam's Maximator!
59. Poutine - this has got to qualify
60. Carob chips
61. S'mores
62. Sweetbreads - I'm not too sure of this but...
63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs' legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake - I've had churros
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain - goreng pisang!!
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini - not together
73. Louche absinthe - not tried this version, only a less potent one
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake



Awesomeness! The recent less than satisfactory experience in "thosaimediocrity" has been pushed away to be forgotten by this redemptive egg & ghee thosai and its onion counterpart from Sri Kamala Vilas. Needless to say, there was certainly a whole world of difference to be found in this freshly made crepe with a crisp exterior and warm insides. The buttery flavor of that ghee did occur to me to become quite cheesy tasting when taken with the mildly sourish thosai. Not to mention, that those lightly cooked onions were sweet as well. Need I also mention the tastier accompanying sambar and coconut chutneys. This meal felt so good that I followed up with a vadai. Despite them being a little cold at the end of the day, the vadai remained soft and dense. I shall quest for some fresh vadai someday.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

A trip down Kelantan Lane......

It's been a while since I last ate here and I usually don't often find myself around this vicinity very often. But since I am, there wouldn't be any reason not to grab a bowl of that famous Sungei Road Laksa sans the "hum" (Blk 31 Kelantan Lane, #01-12 Seng Chuan Eating House, tel: 9690 8184) and refresh my memory of how it actually tastes. And that turned out to be one of those good things for the recent cool and rainy weather that's been around these couple of days, slurping thick rice vermicelli with that laksa gravy. However, I noticed that this laksa gravy doesn't quite match up to the richess and viscosity of the various (clones of) Katong Laksa that's popping up everywhere these days. A more generous inclusion of bean sprouts would have made it better as well. The side of mackerel otah that the stall was also selling wasn't very special neither.

Since I was there taking advantage of the cooler weather and eating stuff that I tend to avoid in the usual heat, I thought why not a steaming bowl of that Sin Min Rd Bak Kut Teh as well from the neighbouring stall. This bunch of bai kut wasn't too cheap coming at $9, but I guess it was worth it while tearing the soft meat dipped in the chilli padi soy sauce, off the bone. These are the moments I enjoy using my hands and getting them dirty. I was enjoying this hot peppery and garlicky broth so much that I asked for refills.

Madam Saigon, Liang Seah Street

My faith in Vietnamese food has been somewhat restored by this fortunate decision to head down to Madam Saigon (30 Liang Seah Street, tel: 6333 9798). There was certainly very little that I could find myself disagreeing with this restaurant. Also, I'm not too sure about whether some of the stuff here are actually part of Vietnamese cuisine, but I've to say that I'm pretty pleased with what I've had so far and a re-visit is definitely in order since I didn't fulfill my original intention to try out their pho after getting distracted by the rest of the menu.

We started off with some light and crunchy Vietnamese summer spring rolls which was accompanied by a sweet brown dip with crushed peanuts. I've always known these rice rolls of noodles, basil, mint and prawn as their regular spring rolls and didn't expect the variety which was available. Certainly, I hadn't expect to see fried ones which were on the menu.

These are known as bolalot skewers and are basically sticks of shredded beef in betel leaves. Unfortunately, I couldn't really make anything out of those betel leaves which came across like some kind of tasteless seaweed. Does anyone know how these are supposed to be like? Interesting on a superficial level, and actually tastes great with the chilli/vinegar dips. But at $10 a pop, these weren't cheap neither.

This chicken and sweet potato curry was something that I didn't expect seeing on the menu. I didn't associate chicken curry with Vietnamese food in the first place and that it was actually sweet potatoes that were used instead of regular ones. This turned out to be interesting enough that I wouldn't mind ordering them again, given the opportunity. The use of sweet potatoes must have imparted a gauze of sweetness into the only mildly spicy, and coconut laden curry. And for some moments, I had believed to have tasted that subtle sweetness in the meat of the chicken as well. That certainly made short work of the accompanying rice.

Being fairly light on the taste and mostly crunchy on the texture beneath the slightly crisp skin, I found the Vietnamese pancake which was loaded with beans sprouts, spring onions, shreds of chicken and some prawns to be a rather good call. That means that this is something I could see myself ordering again if I make my way back. It actually reminds me of some kind of poh piah. Any concerns about this stuff being too bland can be simply vanquished by the chilli/vinegar dips that seems to be served with most of their dishes. The said dips are truly appetizing.

If anyone's wondering about the coffee, I've got to say that the brew is fairly thick (not Turkish coffee thick though), but lacks much of any uplifting fragrance that would have made it great. I'll definitely be back for the pho another day.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Poutine from Yella Fellas

I had once enquired of a friend who had spent 6 years in Canada about the possible availability of poutine here. To which, he texted me back in reply and said that I should inform him if I ever find out. A lesson in lateral thinking here for those of us who subscribe to the train of "ask and thou shalt receive". Hi Stan. This endeavor bore no fruit until recently, when I came across Yella Fellas (#B1-K6 Bugis Junction, 230 Victoria Street, tel: 9863 1404) doing a "poutine" version of their fries.

To be realistic, one cannot expect the version that the Canadians make since this place is very obviously, a fries and topping place rather than a joint that specializes in poutine. They have substituted the curd cheese topping with cream cheese instead, citing reasons of the more expensive cost for the former which is also more difficult to procure. Which to me means that it would outprice their market if they would do it and have to charge us more. Nonetheless, this was the best (or only) I could find, which was better than nothing indeed.

I would say that this poutine was not too bad for taste, but no comparisons will be made since I've never had the original versions. There was some generosity with the cream cheese toppings, however, the beef gravy was kinda flat and mostly just salty. The fries were just decent and these guys apparently weigh each serving on an electronic scale. The potatoes must be expensive.

What's wrong with Casuarina Curry?

This almost would have been a satisfying cheese and egg masala thosai from Casuarina Curry (136-138 Casuarina Road, tel: 6455 9093) but for a couple of gripes. The first glaring issue was that the thosai arrived barely lukewarm which I do not feel should be the case. These are suppose to be made upon order and there is absolutely no reason for them not to be warm. The same can be said for the vegetable masala fillings and further evidented by the barely melted (though generously portioned) cheese on the inside. Have I been served something that's already pre-fabricated to be tossed into the pan for a half hearted attempt at heating? I guess it's fortunate that there are plenty of other options around since they've fallen this far.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice, Maxwell Food Centre

The queue borders almost on crazy. If not for the fact that I had come specially to eat at Tian Tian (12 Murray Street, #01-10 Maxwell Food Centre), a queue like theirs is an almost guarantee that I wouldn't bother. I personally found it hard to believe that I have no recollection of having eaten at this stall before, but aye, such is apparently the case. The christening of this place by a certain celebrated executive chef of Les Halles Brasserie on his visit some years back as a shrine of chook and grains did much to cement their reputation - up notches for certain.

Honestly, this was pretty quite decent as chicken rice went. But deep inside I had already guessed for a fact that a significant measure of the reputation at Tian Tian was overblown by the media. The chicken was rather ordinary but tender and the grease soaked grainy rice was quite hearty I must say. It possessed none of the fluff factor like of certain Hainanese chicken rice store in Yishun but I guess that in their very own ways was their appeal. What was arousingly refreshing was the lime flavored chilli sauce that was bodyful with its spiciness and citrus. I smell a winning formula here.

The side of blanched bean sprouts was expertly done with no indication of rawness while retaining a nice crunch. Would I come back for this again? I couldn't say no, but there are options aplenty and many of which, offers a similar satisfaction.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Monster Mash Cafe, Holland Village

smokey pork and apple w garlic & mushroom mash

I had the distinct impression that the retro styled Monster Mash Cafe from Edinburgh (26A Lorong Mambong, Holland Village, tel: 6463 4610) was British, but apparently from what I saw over at the place on a little bit of their history, the owners hail from Scotland. Nonetheless, the idea of the "cafe" seems to be of straight forward food with minimal frills and elaboration as evident from the menu. They even mention the Bird's Custard and Wall's ice cream that they use. Generally, the main draw of this place is their sausages and mash amongst a bunch of other fare like pies, burgers and British styled breakfast. I saw some vegetarian haggis on the menu which I didn't think to try since it was vegetarian.

One basically just chooses from the list of available sausage, mashed potatoes (real mealy mashed potatoes) and gravy from the menu and whatever's up on the specials on the blackboard. Unexpectedly, the accompanying gravy tasted a little bland. I was thinking that the flavor would be robust or at least, more salty. The onion gravy option did differ from the regular monster gravy by being noticeable sweeter from the onions, but that was pretty much it. The sausages were quite decent with the morrocan lamb being more flavorful than the other.

moroccan lamb

The bread pudding was frankly, very enjoyable with the piping hot custard that came on the side. The afternoon rain probably contributed to that, but I was quite surprised that nothing was excessively sweet. There wasn't the usual feeling of sugar overload at the end which was a good thing for me. That goes for the Baileys caramel shake which while wasn't the coldest or creamiest shakes around, was quite enjoyable with the flavor of the namesake liquor.

I've no qualms coming back again for more of their food. The cheese burger from the kid's menu on the neighboring table looked pretty good too. Lol.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Pow Sing Restaurant, Serangoon Garden

Apparently, this is an old school looking joint (65 Serangoon Garden Way, tel: 6282 7972 / 6286 4813) that serves, and is somewhat famed for their Peranakan food and Hainanese styled chicken rice. Part of the reason I was drawn to this place was because of the way it looked and the array of dishes that were displayed on the front of this old restaurant. Besides, the crowd density showed the place to be pretty healthy and that indication alone meant that things cannot be that bad. I hoped. In the end, this turned out to be a good call (a revisit in order!) as the food was indeed rather tasty and prices were very affordable.

Another reason that drew me into Pow Sing was the chicken rice which looked good already from the front of the store. Behind the glass screen where the chef was carving the birds onto platters for serving. The squashing of the chicken meat with the cleaver was never a good practice in my books and this place didn't do just that. As it turns out, the portions of the chicken breast which was ordered was quite tender and dare I say, succulent for that cut. Paired with a none too heavy rice that held a prerequisite greasiness and what I felt to be sufficient aroma, I was pretty much already sold by the offerings.

Still we were compelled to pick some items off the menu.

The Nonya deep fried tofu was pretty much deep fried egg tofu. But it was good. If there was additional flavoring added to the exterior of the fried skins, it was lost to me. This dish was recommended by the server as a popular item and I could guess why after having the first bite.

This was indicated as a sweet and sour duck on the menu. That alone gave justification to pause for a short moment wonder at what the dish was about, so we ordered a portion of it. The dish didn't turn out far from the simply described name, but the sauces wasn't the sweet and sour variety that was commonly served with pork and sliced fish that I had in mind. This was some sort of braised duck in an broth of some spices and shredded onions that were boiled to a pulp. The onions were the main give of the sweetish taste, though I couldn't identify what made the dish slightly tangy. Now this wasn't too bad, the meat was just a little tough.

These deep fried crispy squid were generally a no brainer and I don't think that much can go wrong with them. Pow Sing's rendition was quite good. In fact, it was very appetizing after the a squeeze of that juicy lime.

Two servings of their chicken rice was a very good indication of how much I enjoyed the food and I can definitely see myself making plans to return some time.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

New York Strip from Astons Specialties

I've been up to the newest outlet of Astons Specialties (2 Handy Road, #04-03 The Cathay, tel: 6887 5889) a couple of times in the past few days for their steaks and I have to say that they represented good value for their cost. Still. Reliving the extra cut prime ribeye gave me a better experience this time round with a fatter looking cut and darker char markings. I also decided opted for their New York Strip which unexpectedly arrived at a 250g for an affordable $14.90. It was leaner meat than the ribeye and had a very enjoyable strip of fragrant charred fat on the sides. Thumbs up to them for their good work. This is the kind of entry steak places that we all need. Service was a little spotty, and the meat was a little more cooked than requested, but I guess there was little else to fault at all.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

RK Eating House, Kensington Park Road

I happened to be wandering in Serangoon Gardens looking for dinner and came across RK Eating House (1 Kensington Park Road, Serangoon Garden Estate, tel : 6289 5379) and I thought to myself "cool, this could be someplace good". Almost subconsciously in my head, I felt that I must have seen or heard of this place before and after deciding that nothing was really of interest for the moment, I made the call to step in for some bee hoon goreng and mutton murtabak.

Quite unfortunately, my instincts led me to someplace very unremarkable this time. The bee hoon goreng didn't quite look like the deeper orange I had expected and the portions were a little small. It packed very little of the expected spiciness I was hoping for and the ground mutton was simply such a token handful that it probably would not have made much of a difference if they hadn't put them in. And I really didn't like those root end pieces of cabbage they threw in. The mildly soggy in the centre murtabak appeared quite generic and felt flat for some reasons. There wasn't any additional pan frying to bring out those ground mutton inside and the onions too, didn't quite uplift anything. And there's a equally flat teh tarik which was made from basically a weak tea that didn't taste milky. Definitely the dampener here, but I guess I could cross this place out for the future.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Tandoori Restaurant, Serangoon Road

This was certainly a rich lunch that I didn't expect to find myself ordering in the late morning. It was also my first visit to Tandoori Restaurant (320 Serangoon Road, #01-26 Serangoon Plaza, tel: 6294 2232) which has been around as long as I can remember seeing it down in Little India. Hence I suppose, warrants a visit since by virtue of its long standing presence. It ought to be at least pretty decent. The vibes however didn't feel quite the same as they prompted us for orders of drinks right at the start instead of the end that most places does. This place feels a tad westernized if you know what I mean. Despite appearances.

I was actually kind of disappointed that their paneer tikka wasn't available for order so I had to settle for the closest substitute, which was paneer butter masala. Along with the butter chicken, cheese naan, kashmiri pilau, and some refreshing raita. And then, a glass of overly sweet lassi and very bland cup of masala tea.

butter chicken

paneer butter masala

The chicken and cottage cheese arrived and tasted pretty much as expected. If I had to describe a little more, their butter chicken wasn't "not spicy" as they had claimed. I was actually looking towards something along the lines of Jaggi's (yes them again!). But I guess this was still quite tasty. The pieces of chicken glaringly lacked the smoky aroma from the tandoor as well.

kashmiri pilau

This lightly spiced basmati rice with fruits turned out quite different from what I had in mind. I was thinking along the lines of dried fruits and nuts which are commonly used; but there were also bits of pineapple, little round balls which tasted like papaya and even nata de coco (aka sea coconut). And in the end, I found myself really enjoying this fragrant fruit rice to the point that I could just eat it all without any gravy. Portions were sadly, quite small.


cheese naan

The raita came with onions on the side instead of in the yoghurt and there were barely any trace of cucumbers. This wasn't quite what I had in mind when I ordered it, thinking it to be the crunchy salad of cucumbers and onions in yoghurt. Instead, we got a refreshing watery yoghurt. The cheese naans looked deceptively boring like stale pizza, not like a naan as I know it. Fortunately, it was quite tasty.

It'll be a tough call to consider this place again seeing that this lunch set me back by $55. I know there are more economic options around, many of which I've yet to explore.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Chooks, grease and grains...

I was made known to a $2 chicken rice down at the Lobby Cafe at Toa Payoh Central, so seeing that it wasn't something that turned up to often, I gave it a go. This place only does take away and you'll have to find your own place to eat. Now this wasn't close to any of the better chicken rice which I've had, but certainly, I must say that it wasn't too shabby for the cost. With flavors being thin here on the rice, the store was rather generous on the chilli. The portions likewise were a little too skimpy for me that I had to look for something else to fill me up.

Which drove me to Mooi Kee (Blk 183, Toa Payoh Central) for another plate that turned out much more satisfying. This sure didn't look like the factory roasted variety of chicken and was much more tender and glisteningly greasy in a good way. The likewise greasy rice wasn't of the fluffy variety and sat heavily, but it was still all good. Strangely, the chilli was mostly just salty.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Chuan Yang Ji Mutton Soup Steamboat, Balestier Road

The general rule of behaviour for broth in steamboats is that it tends to get better towards the end. The simple explanation behind that is due to the enrichment of the soup flavours from the "essence" of all the bits and ends of meats and vegetables that has been cooking in it. This results in the broth becoming more deeply flavoursome or "sweet". That's when it gets tasty. This however didn't quite turn out to be the case here at Chuang Yang Ji Mutton Steamboat (432 Balestier Road, #01-434 Public Mansion, tel: 90033244). And I didn't mean it in a bad way.

The broth in this steamboat was a milky looking concoction of a mutton based soup with herbs which restaurant had explained, takes around 6 hours of preparation. We were all requested to enjoy the soup right at the start before cooking anything to experience the flavour which turned out to be moderately light on the sweet herbs and balanced on the other end with the taste of mutton. I thought that this was quite enjoyable. The food menu was relatively simple; which consisted mostly of lamb (thin sliced meat, ribs, tendon, spare parts and mutton wanton), vegetable options for steamboat and some spicy Szechuan based dishes which we ordered a couple as starters.

There was a chilled saliva chicken and another dish that was described as mixed sliced meats, but the latter was basically thinly sliced beef and tripe. Both are dressed in some spicy and savoury sauces that includes chilli oil and neither was really numbing the palate. Apart from these side order options for the dishes, the only other spicy thing from the restaurant seems to be the dried chilli condiment which looked like a mixture of dried chilli flakes, sesame seed and salt which I used for the meats from the steamboat. It was initially spicy and quite aromatic, but progressively got quite salty that I had to ignore it in favour of eating without condiments instead.

I have to admit that I liked this place enough to seriously consider coming back another day. The next time, I'll probably do with less of the vegetables which made the soup much too sweet for my likings. I'll definitely forgo the mutton dumplings which had thick starchy skin, was filled with meat that I couldn't quite identify as lamb and had some chopped herb that I didn't personally enjoy. All in all, it was a pretty good steamboat and at this point of time, quite the unique place since I don't know of any other mutton hotpots around.