Friday, November 30, 2012

Nam Nam Noodle Bar, Wheelock Place

Here's a mixed beef pho from Nam Nam Noodle Bar down at the basement of Wheelock Place. I must disclaim that I have not had pho in Vietnam and have no real basis for comparison except for our local Vietnamese joints. This was actually quite disappointing in terms of flavors from the broth. One could say it was a little bland. Coming from Annam (and by that virtue, Les Amis as well) I expected better quality control over the preparation of their ingredients. Sure the tripe was tasty and the miserable portions of sliced beef were nice and pink, but the briskets were rubbery and tough that I couldn't eat them at all. Is this how pho is suppose to taste like?

I would also recommend a pass on their Viet "drip coffee".  It didn't taste anything like it. I'm not sure I could bring myself back again even if I was curious about the bahn mi.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Smoke Shack, Republic Plaza

the New Yorker

I have been wanting to try the sandwiches at Smoke Shack (9 Raffles Place, #B1-06 Republic Plaza, tel : +65 6557 2214) for the longest time. Due to the cosmic alignment of their operating hours and the place that I work, it was really impossible for me to. Then chance presented itself one day.

I suppose I had been expecting to be impressed rather than just thinking that they weren't too bad. I wouldn't mind eating them again if the opportunity presented, but I guess we weren't left with "I need to come back again and soon".

Honestly, these guys are indeed on of the better sandwich places along with what I remember of Simply Bread. Sadly as well. Brewerkz still takes the cake for their pastrami fillings to date.

the Reuben

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Nasi Lemak Kukus, Upper Thomson Road

It's amazing how difficult it can be to find good nasi lemak rice these days. Most vendors today have either succumbed into sloth or subscribed to the religious fear of cholesterol causing their food downright bland and /or mediocre.

I'm not saying that Nasi Lemak Kukus (908 Upper Thomson Road, tel : +65 8222 9517) falls in either ends of the spectrum. I think they did a pretty decent job being somewhere favourable in between.

Their rice was moist and fragrant with the coconut, had a very decent & savory sayur lodeh and treated the ayam goreng in the correct manner that the meat wasn't overly dried out and fell off the bone with relative ease. I enjoyed their mutton rendang too, though their dry and very chewy paru goreng really wasn't my style at all.

I guess what else was attractive of it was that we got to serve ourselves (free flow of rice?) what we wanted and there were options for the sides. Their appeal altogether so far has gotten me to drop by twice. But all that came with a cost as well since it doesn't cost anything close to cheap for their food. Still I think this stall is doing something in the right direction.

Wok to Walk, La Rambla, Barcelona

We were to an extent, pretty amused by this dinner of Chinese food from a chain stall in Barcelona. Wok to Walk (95 La Rambla, Barcelona, tel : +31 02 06250721) does Chinese stir fried noodle and rice takeouts in those iconic little paper boxes that does not exist back home as a container. I don't think that people in China use them too, but I could be wrong. It was for the first time in our lives, eating with them.

How this place works is for the customer to select their choice of carbs from a small variety of noodle type or rice, followed by additional ingredients and then a sauce of choice. The bar of little ingredients looks like something from a pizza place, but seriously, most if not all Chinese food places don't even provide options to this level. This does and in a way, is great. And one shouldn't scoff at them since we had seen real Chinese cooking videos uploaded by tourist from the streets of Beijing and they cooked exactly like those street hawkers in China!

In any case, the food was actually reasonably tasty. No surprise considering the consistent queue and crowd that this joint generates even off the peak meal hours. Their hot sauce was expectedly a little milder than I had in mind, but the options of chilli that one could help themselves with resulted in a respectable heat more fiery than any chilli char kuey teow I've ever had.

I normally avoid faces in photos in here, but I thought these guys that were sweating behind the bar churning out endless orders of stir fried noodles looked amusingly bored.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Casa Guinart, El Raval, Barcelona

We walked by this location (La Rambla, 95 Barcelona, tel :   93 317 8887) a couple of times and noticed it because it looked notches better than most of the eating places in the vicinity and we remembered because it was just across from a Chinese food place that looked interesting. Not to mention too that it was located just beside Mercato San Josep where a certain very popular Bar Pinotxo can be found.

The other thing that piqued our interest was the progressive direction of the food which honestly, was not in abundance around this region. Food that looked a little more fun, welling from traditional roots.

We had some crusty bread rubbed in tomato and olive oil. Fruity from the oil and refreshing from the cold tomatoes that were stained onto the bread. It was a nice refreshing start for a meal.

Grilled squids from House Guinart were excellent. I would have preferred a little more char, but I guess the meat would also have turned out less tender than they would have wanted to serve.

Next came a platter of beans sauteed with diced jamón. The flavors came from probably a splash of vinegar and the smokiness of the ham that was cooked together with the legumes, brought together by some salt.

We were given a rather unusual knife for the food. The sharpened side was the straight side, not the curved. Most of the other people here still used the blunt curved end to cut their food.

We ordered seared chutoro for just to see how Casa Guinart does them. The flavors were decidedly very oriental with soy being a baseline note for the flavors. The insides of the tuna belly were fortunately still rare.

The tapas sized house burgers from Casa Guinart looked pretty interesting. I'm not too sure what went into them, but the flavors weren't as beefy as I liked and it was probably due to the heavy handed fruity/tart flavors that the makers tried to instill in them. I'm thinking it had to do with the onions, grain mustard and possibly the crystalline globules which I didn't know what it was. It was all a little too jam like for something that had beef and didn't have enough flavors of the cow as a balance.

The only thing that was truly disappointing came in the form of their baby lamb ribs. I was thinking grilled rather than breaded and deep fried since the menu describes nothing about how all their food is prepared. It just says baby lamb ribs. The flavors of the lamb were non existent and we were mostly chewing breading off bone that was fried in oil that had been sitting in the fryer for quite a while. We left it mostly untouched. The best part of this dish was their super airy aioli which was for dips.

These guys handled feedback quite graciously and didn't bill us for the lamb

Would I come back? Probably for some other things that I have yet to try.

Kapadokya, Rambla del Raval, Barcelona

It was a Sunday, many of the places weren't open and we definitely weren't interested in shops trying to rob us off more money than what it cost back home to eat paella. We had missed the opening hours for Suculent because we found out too late and in the end, ran into this really nice spot for kebabs (Rambla del Raval, 15, Barcelona). Just a 15 second stroll across the road right from our hotel. It seems that the Raval district is filled with kebab joints and I hear that they're pretty good.

It also didn't elude our notice that the name of this joint was a variant of Cappadocia.

The food here was affordably priced, good but not out of this world and came in hearty portions. Just what we needed after a series of disappointments of the dearth of options. If I could gripe, I only wished that their doner kebabs came in lamb options. But I wouldn't. The juicy köfte was skillfully spiced with enough flavors that didn't threaten the flavors of the lamb. It was such a pity that we only had one meal here and didn't have more time to explore the other similar joints of the neighbourhood.

Monday, November 26, 2012

My first taste of tapas in Barcelona

We stopped by this place, Cerveceria Baviera (La Rambla 127, Barcelona) right in the midst of the Ramblas. Touristy?  Sure, very. Atmospheric as well. Some of their bites were however pretty good though. The food was grounded, old school and a tad pricey for what they charged; but I didn't really have anything else to complain about. They were actually plenty on the options which was really what drew us in initially.

The grilled gambas were actually very tasty and so were the peppery blood sausages. The deep fried strips of potatoes coiled around shrimps were pretty good too.

Osteria Bancogiro, Campo San Giacometto, Venice

This was our last dinner in Venice before flying the next day to Barcelona and was also pretty much unplanned. We were initially at St Peter's Square gawking at the eye widening prices of the Murano glass chandeliers (the diabolic ones are actually beautiful!) and decided to let fate handle our dinner as we headed on foot to the Rialto Bridge. Just so that we could tell everyone who asked that we had been there.

Bancogiro (Campo San Giacometto, 122, I-30125 Venice, tel : +39 041 5232061) was one of two that we shortlisted near the Rialto Bridge. The menu looked quite appealing and the proprietors were rather helpful even though they pretty much had their hands full in the cicchetti bar. Which was fairly packed and looked very very tempting by the way. Alas, we skipped it and headed upstairs where they were kind enough to seat us before dinner started.

The menu leaned a little toward forward thinking in contrast with what they served at the bar which looked a lot more down to earth. Still, the ingredients that they were great and we were really spoilt for choice from all the options.

We decided to start with cuttle fish stuffed with curcuma (a genus of plant where tumeric belongs) spiced ricotta. The flavors of the ricotta stuffings were interesting and contained a mild hint of what my brain processed to be ginger, but everything else was fine otherwise. What wasn't described on the menu was the mille feuille if you will of sorts, of sliced eggplant and yoghurt potato mash that served as a bedding for the thinly crisp cuttlefish. The potato mash was awesome!

Antipasto number two was a seabream tatare and smoked tuna with a raspberry and xérès sauce. The flavors here tasted quite Japanese from the soy and those little flower bits that they added on the edges actually provided a "floral tea bouquet". Assuming that one didn't just leave the flowers alone as just decoration. Fish was definitely fresh. Raspberry and xérès sauce was quite tart.

I was actually not surprised that I didn't get sick of pasta after having them for so many days in a row now. Pasta here can be so good. Here's a cocoa fusilli with wild boar ragout, cubed pears and sheep ricotta. The fusilli was pretty tasty with the cocoa curtaining as a background aroma in the aftertaste. The pears provided breaks in the umami bed of flavors from the boar ragout, but most of the cheese was lost in translation for me.

Then, a black tagliatelle with king prawns with sage pesto. While I think I like this, I would have to admit that I prefer the similar rendition over at Vecio Fritolin where the ink flavors were prominent and the scampi tails were much sweeter.

From the meats, came a pork loin that was described as cooked in low temperature and stuffed with Gorgonzola cheese and nuts. Nuts were probably crushed and mashed into the cheese. I'm not too sure though which type of the blue cheese that they had used since a lot of the salt from the Gorgonzola wasn't even present. What I know is that the meat would have benefitted with more salt to taste and a sear for caramelization would have done wonders. 

But then,  the scoops of mash they had served with this pork loin were exactly the same yoghurt potato mash that was from their stuffed cuttlefish. Have you ever experienced feeling stuffed and yet wanting to stuff more food into your mouth? It's like that here.

Here's a last dessert for the last dinner in Venice. Of a innocuous looking chestnut muffin in a hot spicy chocolate hazenut sauce. And the sauce was, wow, packing a respectable heat from the spiciness. And done so in a very good way that worked with the rest of the sugars too. Since this wasn't anything close to the run of the mill sauce for dessert, I'm entitled to one use of a superlative here. Best dessert spicy sauce ever!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Al Vecio Forner, Dorsodura, Venice

It was only by happenstance (again!) that we came across and had lunch at this osteria (Campo San Vio, Dorsodura 671/A, Venice, tel : +39 041 528 0424). Story goes, we were trying to get to a particular water taxi stand to reach a gondola point. That stop happened to be under repairs and we had to go one stop further and then cross a bridge to trek back for a ride which we were getting late for. The gondola ride service was kind enough to postpone our ride to a later timing and we had time for a leisurely lunch. End of story.

I suppose the food was pretty atypical much like we expected when we ordered. I had finally gotten to try the Venetian styled livers which were essentially stewed with onions (heart cloggingly rich and delicious by the way) and grilled polenta reminds me more than a little of chai tao kuey. It all tasted fairly homely and basic.

fegato alla veneziana

grilled vegetables

more baccala, three ways

a tiramisu that was much better than the last

The best fritto misto in Venice according to Mark Bittman

If Theseus had to navigate like I had to reach Vecio Fritolin (Calle della Regina 2262 - Sestiere Santa Croce, 30135 | Calle della Regina, Venice, tel : 041 522 28 81) from the hotel via his method through the labyrinth to the minotaur, his ball would have run out of string. Seriously. 

My incompetency in directional mapping in the early dark of Venice's autumn aside, I had discovered this osteria the night before while valiantly trying to navigate my way back to the hotel. The place had somehow attracted my attention so I walked in and asked for a business card and promptly made reservations the next day after taking a peek at their menu.

candied almonds?

Mark Bittman had once written a number of years ago in NYT that this place (which dates back more than a couple of centuries if what I had read were true) had the best deep fried seafood in Venice. I was pretty sure he hadn't eaten in all of Venice, but the point was not that. It's just that this was an opportunity to put the words of a food channel celebrity to the test and see if we share the same taste. Heh!

To start, we tried their deep fried crab and artichoke which were in season. As tasty as they were, I thought a little salt would have gone ways in making them taste better. No complains about the crispy little crustaceans and vegetable though.

The first of the two pasta we had was an egg spaghetti with baby squids, black cabbage leaves and garlic cream. Venetians are really subtle with the garlic thing. I tasted more of the squid in the sauce. Still, I thought it was pretty good until the next pasta arrived and impressed me off my feet.

Vecio Fritolin's black tagliatelle was an amazing pasta, redolent with the flavor of squid ink like we've never had in pasta before. Paired with nicely boiled cauliflower and freshly sweet chunks of scampi tail to boot. I'd recommend this in a heartbeat to anyone and I only wished that the portions were double of what they served.

The item to order here as recommended was their platter of deep fried seafood and vegetables. I had noticed that it was seen in almost every other table. Even on the one of the closest neighbouring that freakily ordered exactly the same items as we did. I suppose it was all very decent fried seafood, again in need of some salt to elevate the flavors. It's also a first time for me that a large amount of fried stuff I'm having are really babies of the actual seafood.

But anyone that thinks that what they did here is amazing (Mr Bittman!) needs to visit Porta Porta for comparison.

Dessert was a very innocuous but wonderfully robust and creamy saffron creme brulee that I could order again if I ever get the chance to come back.