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



Sri Kamala Vilas, thosai
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 a whole world of difference to be found in this freshly made crepe that had a crisp exterior. Served warm as should be as well. The buttery flavour of that ghee was quite cheesy tasting. Not to mention, that those lightly cooked onions were sweet as well. Need I also mention the tastier sambar and coconut chutneys. This meal felt so good that I followed up with a vadai. Despite that they were a little cold at the end of the day, the vadai remained soft and dense. I shall quest for some fresh vadai someday.

Sri Kamala Vilas, vadai

Thursday, August 28, 2008

A trip down Kelantan Lane......

It's been a long while since I last ate here. Don't find myself in this vicinity very often. But since I was, 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 tasted. That sounded like a good decisions for the recent cool and rain that's been the weather these couple of days, slurping thick rice vermicelli with that laksa gravy and all. In retrospect, I also noticed that this laksa gravy doesn't quite compare to the richness and viscosity of the various (clones of) Katong Laksa that's popping up everywhere these days. More generous portion 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.

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. The bai kut wasn't too cheap at $9, but I thought it was worth it while tearing the tender rib meat dipped in the chilli padi infused soy sauce off the bone. These are the moments I enjoy using my hands. Enjoyed this steaming peppery and garlicky broth that I asked for refills.

Madam Saigon, Liang Seah Street

My confidence in Vietnamese food has been reinforced by this trip to Madam Saigon (30 Liang Seah Street, tel: 6333 9798). Was rather happy with what we've tried so far and a re-visit is definitely in order since I didn't get to try out their pho after being distracted by the rest of the menu.

We started off with some light and crunchy summer rolls which were accompanied by a sweet dip with crushed peanuts. Never realized that there were fried versions which were on the menu.

These are known as bolalot skewers; basically sticks of beef in betel leaves. I couldn't detect any flavour from those betel leaves. They came across like tasteless seaweed. Does anyone know how these are supposed to taste like?

This chicken and sweet potato curry was something that I didn't expect to see and never knew was Vietnamese. I've never associated chicken curry with Vietnamese food. This turned out to be interesting. In fact, I wouldn't mind eating them again since they were kinda nice. The sweet potatoes imparted a mild sweetness into the mildly spicy coconut laden curry. I wasn't sure but I thought some of that sweetness crept into the chicken as well. This dish made short work of the rice.

Their Vietnamese pancake was light and pretty crunchy beneath the slightly crisp skin, loaded with stuff like beans sprouts, spring onions, chicken and some shrimps. I could eat this again. It reminded me of a kind of poh piah. The accompanying dips were good with them.

If anyone's wondering about the coffee, I've tried it and I thought their brew was pretty thick (not Turkish coffee thick though), but lacked fragrance that might have made it great. I'll 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 bad for taste but no comparisons will be made since I've never had the original versions. They were quite generous 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?

Casuarina Curry thosai
This could 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 was that the thosai arrived barely lukewarm. That should not have been the case. These are supposed to be made upon order and there was absolutely no good reason for them not to be warm. The same could be said for the vegetable masala fillings. To further compounded was the barely melted (though generously portioned) cheese inside. Have I been served something that was already pre-made to be tossed into the pan for a less than half hearted attempt at heating? It's fortunate that there are other options around since they've fallen this far.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice, Maxwell Food Centre

Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice, Maxwell Food Centre
The queue bordered on crazy. If I hadn't been here specially to eat at Tian Tian (12 Murray Street, #01-10 Maxwell Food Centre), a queue like theirs would be a guarantee that I would not have bothered. By the way, I have no recollection of having eaten at their stall before. Their christening by a certain celebrated executive chef from Les Halles Brasserie some years back as a shrine of chook and grains did much to cement their reputation.

If I had to say it, this was not bad as chicken rice went. What was also true was that a significant measure of the reputation at Tian Tian was overblown by the media. The chicken was deliciously tender and the grease soaked grainy rice was pretty hearty. Good, but I wouldn't say it's the best. Whatever that best might be. What was arousingly refreshing was the lime spiked chilli sauce that was invigorating with heat and citrus. I smell a winning formula here.

We also had a side of crunchy blanched bean sprouts was expertly done with no indication of rawness. Would I come back for this again? I couldn't say no, but there are other options aplenty.

Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice, Maxwell Food Centre

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

Pow Sing, chicken
This was an old school restaurant (65 Serangoon Garden Way, tel: 6282 7972 / 6286 4813) that serves, and is known 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 pictures of dishes that were displayed at the front of the restaurant. Besides, the crowd density indicated 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 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 shop. Behind the glass screen,the chef was carving the birds onto platters for serving. No squashing of the chicken meat with the cleaver in this place. As it turned out, the chicken breast which was ordered was quite tender and dare I say, succulent. Paired with a none too heavy rice that held a prerequisite greasiness and sufficient aroma, I was pretty much already sold.

Still we were compelled to pick some other items from the menu.

Pow Sing, fried tofu
The Nonya deep fried tofu was deep fried egg tofu. Was not bad. If there was additional flavouring 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 the first bite.

Pow Sing, sweet sour duck
This was described as a sweet and sour duck on the menu. We wondered at what the dish was about so we ordered a portion of it. Didn't turn out far from the described name but the sauce wasn't the sweet and sour variety that was commonly stir fried with pork and sliced fish that I had in mind. This was stewed duck in a broth of some spices and shredded onions that were boiled to a pulp. The onions gave the sweet taste but I couldn't identify what made the dish slightly tangy. This wasn't too bad - the meat was just a little tough.

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

Getting seconds of their chicken rice was a good indication of how much I enjoyed the food. Can definitely see myself making plans to return.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

New York Strip from Astons Specialties

Astons Specialties, new york strip

Astons Specialties, new york stripWe've been 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 steaks. I think they represented good value for what they charge. 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 to try their New York Strip which was a 250g cut for an affordable $14.90. Had leaner meat than the ribeye and a very enjoyable strip of fragrant charred fat on the side. Thumbs up to them. This was the kind of entry level steak places that we all need without burning holes in the pockets. Service was a little spotty and the meat was a little more cooked than requested but there was little else to fault.

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, I felt that I must have seen or heard of this place before. I made the call to step in for some bee hoon goreng and mutton murtabak.

Unfortunately, my instincts failed me this time. The bee hoon goreng didn't quite look as red as I had imagined and the portions were a little small. It packed very little of the spiciness I was hoping for and their ground mutton portions were so little that it would not have made a difference if they hadn't put them in. Didn't like those root end pieces of cabbage they threw in. The slightly soggy murtabak appeared quite generic and felt flat. There wasn't any additional pan frying to bring out those ground mutton inside and the onions were a bore. And there was an equally flat teh tarik which was made from a weak tea that didn't taste milky. Definitely the dampener here. I'll cross this place out for the future.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Tandoori Restaurant, Serangoon Road

Tandoori Restaurant, Serangoon Road
Tandoori Restaurant, Serangoon RoadThis was a rich lunch I hadn't expect getting. It was also our first visit to Tandoori Restaurant (320 Serangoon Road, #01-26 Serangoon Plaza, tel: 6294 2232) which had been around for as long as I can remember. That I suppose warranted a visit. By virtue of long standing, I thought they ought to be at least pretty decent. The vibes when we sat down didn't feel quite the same as before we walked in. This restaurant felt a little westernized if you know what I mean. Despite appearances.

I was 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. We also had a glass of overly sweet lassi and very bland cup of masala tea.

Tandoori Restaurant, butter chickenbutter chicken

Tandoori Restaurant, paneer butter masalapaneer butter masala

The chicken and cottage cheese tasted much as I had imagined. If I had to describe a little more, their butter chicken wasn't "not spicy" as they had claimed. I was hoping for a mellow smoky version similar to Jaggi's (yes them again!) but this was still quite tasty even though the chicken lacked the smoky aroma from the tandoor.

Tandoori Restaurant, kashmiri pulaoKashmiri pulao

Their Kashmiri pulao turned out different from what I had in mind. I was thinking dried fruits and nuts which are the common descriptions of ingredients. To my surprise there were also bits of pineapple, little round balls which tasted like papaya and even nata de coco (aka sea coconut). In the end, I found myself enjoying this fragrant fruit rice. So much that I ate them without any gravy. Portions were sadly quite small for a single order.

Tandoori Restaurant, raitaraita

Tandoori Restaurant, naancheese naan

The raita had onions on the side instead of in the yoghurt. There were barely any cucumbers. Wasn't quite what I had in mind when I ordered it. I had thought we would be getting a yoghurt drenched salad. Instead, we got ourselves just a refreshing watery yoghurt. The cheese naans looked deceptively boring like stale pizza rather than naan. Fortunately, it was quite delicious.

It's a tough call to consider this place again seeing that the lunch set us back by $55. I know there are cheaper options around, many of which I've yet to explore.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Chooks, grease and grains...

A $2 chicken rice was made known to me down at the Lobby Cafe at Toa Payoh Central. Seeing that it wasn't something that turned up to often, I gave it a go. The stall only does take away so one has to find their own spot to eat. Now this wasn't close to any of the better chicken rice which I've had but it also wasn't too shabby for the cost. Flavours were little thin on the rice but the stall was pretty generous with their chilli. The portions 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

Chuan Yang Ji Mutton Soup Steamboat, Balestier Road
Chuan Yang Ji Mutton Soup Steamboat, Balestier RoadThe 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.

Chuan Yang Ji Mutton Soup Steamboat, Balestier Road
Chuan Yang Ji Mutton Soup Steamboat, Balestier RoadThe 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 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.

Chuan Yang Ji Mutton Soup Steamboat, Balestier Road