Novus Restaurant II – Avant Garde Contemporary European Cuisine

30 07 2011

*This tasting was paid for by Novus Restaurant

Summer hols. A time for work and a time for play. It has always given me ambivalent feelings. I had always wondered what was it’s purpose exactly? To give undergrads the opportunity to toil away doing internships to boost their CV, or simply a few months break before racing for that elusive illustrious GPA once again? It has always been a compromise, the use of one’s time.

For some friends I know from the SMU Gourmet Club, they have struck a fine balance between both, embarking on a project to publish a food guide during this summer hols, where work meets play. It might sound simple but really, it’s no mean feat, from literally walking the grounds to filter out restaurants to be covered, to getting sponsorships and writing reviews. Having spent most of summer overseas, I was eager to get back and lend a helping hand.

One of the places we are going to cover in our food guide is Novus Restaurant, a fine dining eatery located in the National Museum of Singapore, just opposite the SMU School of Economics and Social Sciences.

Specializing in avant garde Contemporary European cuisine, the absence of the same boring ubiquitous European dishes in Novus’s menu comes as a breath of fresh air and is sure to leave one tingling with anticipation of what’s to come next. A fine dining restaurant with a modern chic interior, Novus’s 2-Course and 3-Course set lunches are priced reasonably at $32 and $40 respectively, a small price to pay for mind-blowing novelty.

Novus bakes their own bread. Kudos to that.

For our complimentary amuse bouche, we were treated to a cooling drink of Beetroot and Ginger with Creme Fraiche.

My favourite starter is the umami-rich and hearty Duck Tea, a clear consommé chocked full of enoki mushrooms, smoked duck breast, quail egg and truffles. This western take of our chinese Bak Kut Teh is great when you are having a hangover.

While Parma Ham is more commonly found in many Singapore restaurants, Novus’s executive chef Stephan Zoisl believes that it is the Joselito Iberico Ham which is the best meat product around the world, as it is aged for 4 years to attain a truly umami flavour. Served with assorted olives, char-grilled capsicum, toasted bread and gazpacho, lovers of Portuguese and Spanish cuisine will definitely take a fancy to this dish.

I’m a fan of all things raw, with no exception to the Black Angus Carpaccio. The raw beef is thinly sliced and sprinkled with summer truffle, truffle scented buffalo mozzarella, chives and topped with a poached egg.

Another appetizer that stood well with me was the Foie Gras Anglaise, but well, I’m a sucker for anything foie gras. It’s served as a custard, like a western chawanmushi, made with duck consomme, goose liver parfait, ginko nuts, truffle, stuffed morels, duck confit, and slices of foie gras that had been previously cooked sous vide style before being pan seared and then incorporated within the custard.

For mains, the Boneless Crisp Duck Confit  is served with organic Quinoa (a grain like crop grown mainly for its edible seeds), black summer truffle, leek, baby spinach and baby turnip. However, I felt the meat was on the tough side and the skin could be slightly more crispy.

Compared to the duck, I much preferred the Snow Cod & Zucchini Flower. Covered in sliced zucchini arranged like scales of a fish, the pretty looking cod cooked in a sous vide style had been only lightly seasoned, allowed its natural flavours to be accentuated. The Zucchini flower served alongside the cod was stuffed with aubergine, tomato and char-grilled capsicum, tasting much like salsa.

Chef Stephan has free reign in the kitchen in naming and experimenting on new dishes, always ensuring his cuisine remains playful and fresh. The Black Angus Beef Meets Black Summer Truffle is a clear indication of his playful wordplay, where black angus tenderloin meets wild mushroom duxelles, black summer truffles, rocket cress and a side of triple cooked fries. The beef is pretty standard stuff, but what enthralled me was the fries. Its preparation is no simple task. The potatoes are first rinsed in cold water, boiled till soft and chilled, then fried to attain a crisp outer crust and chilled a second time. When ordered, it is then deep fried at high temperature to finish. I’m not sure if some truffle oil was used in the deep frying or was the earthly flavour a result of being fried twice, but this is possibly the best fries I have ever sunk my teeth in, with contrasting textures between the crisp outer shell and mashy inner flesh.

My personal favourite dish here however, is their signature Valrhona Chocolate Test, comprising tasting portions of 5 chocolate desserts, namely mousse (38% cocoa), soufflé (55% cocoa), crème anglaise (66% cocoa), truffle (72% cocoa) and sorbet (85% cocoa). It’s best savoured according to the increasing cocoa contents, which effectively minimizes the risk of any high-cocoa desserts from becoming too cloying.

We managed to sample 2 new additions to their dessert menu as well. The Snowball & White Peach Sorbet was a crisp snow ball Meringue stuffed with Pistachio Ice Cream, served atop white peach sorbet and shreds of pomello fruit.

The other new addition was the Verrine of Nectarine, Green Tea & Sauternes, which is daintily served in clear glass, showcasing the multiple colourful layers of sauterne jelly at the base, green tea panna cotta in the middle and nectarine espuma (espuma means foam) at the top, with a blob of vanilla ice cream just lazing away atop a thin biscotti.

Credits to S for taking most of the pictures 🙂

And thanks to Novus for sponsoring this meal for SMU Gourmet Club’s summer publication!

Bon Appetit!

Novus

93 Stamford Road, #01-02 National Museum of Singapore

Tel: +65 6336 8770





[New York] Beso – Spanish Tapas Restaurant

25 07 2011

New York is a pretty interesting place. Initially, I imagined it to be just one large metropolitan city, with similar settings to scenes from “How I Met Your Mother”, where professionals would gather at neighbourhood bars surrounding Central Park to unwind and catch up after a hectic day at work. However, I guess that scene is probably limited to Manhattan, the most upclass of the 5 boroughs in New York. For the other 4 boroughs, Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens and Staten Island, life is just so much more down to earth. Oh I would think that a borough is roughly the same as a supersized GRC (half to 2.5 million people per borough) in our local context.

A few islands surround New York as well, namely Liberty Island where the Statue of Liberty is located at, Ellis Island which is just a short ferry ride from Liberty Island and formerly used as a immigration checkpoint, as well as Staten Island which is a large island that houses about half a million New Yorkers. There’s a free 24-hour ferry service to and fro Staten Island though so that these people aren’t left stranded. The subway operates 24 hours a day too, maybe that’s why New York is called the City that Never Sleeps.

Anyway, my friends and I took a short ferry ride over to Staten Island to try out one of their Spanish Tapas Restaurant and it was pretty awesome. Having just did a short tour of Madrid last month though, I personally felt that the food served here wasn’t very authentic but very much fine tuned for the American palate instead.

From the outside, Beso looks rather dodgy and quiet but the whole scene changes stepping inside. Dim lighting allowed for casual conversations, and the vintage decor with red brick walls added a quaint charm that appealed to me.

Sangria is fast becoming my alcohol of choice. It’s light, fruity and refreshing, very much a fun party drink.

Red Sangria (US$26 per pitcher)

The 3-course dinner set is reasonably priced at US$20.11. There’s quite a decent selection – 4 choices for appetizers, 3 for mains and 2 desserts.

One of the set dinner’s appetizers, the Tuna was overseared but still pretty tasty.

Dinner set 1st course: Sliced Seared Tuna served with sun-dried Tomato Salsa and drizzled with Soy Sauce

I’m usually skeptical about set lunches and dinners so I went for ala carte instead. The lamb chops here are one of their signature appetizers and it’s not hard to see why given that it was so juicy and flavourful. My friends sampled the lamb and cajoled me to stop being so prim and proper and just use my hands to pry the residual meat off the bone so as not to waste it. It took iron will to avoid being swayed by them and stick to proper dining etiquette.

Lamb Chops (US$10.95)

Like a bandito pocket from KFC.

Dinner set 1st course: Fried Chicken Tortilla

Dinner set 1st course: Tomato simmered with cucumber, jalapeno peppers, bell peppers, cilantro and onion served chilled

Dinner set 2nd course: Sauteed Pork Tenderloin in Spanish Sherry Wine topped with fried Eggplant and melted Mahon Cheese, served over dirty mash

Dinner set 2nd course: Mussels, Clams, Chorizo, sauteed in white wine sauce over Penne

I remembered the Bass being really good, but it was still a shade off the Seabass from Rick Stein’s The Seafood Restaurant in Cornwall, England.

Filet of Bass served with sauce of sun-dried tomatoes, caramelized onions, garlic, capers and lobster broth, accompanied with saffron rice (US$19)

I was torn between ordering the Osso Bucco and Paella so I let the waiter choose for me. The Osso Bucco turned out above average, but what actually won me over was the thinly sliced fried onions.

Osso Bucco (US$24)

Something I noticed about Beso is that they love playing with fire. I saw one of the bartenders pour ignitor fluid or alcohol over the bar counter to allow a couple to roast marshmallows. And they did the same for our set meal desserts. Creme de Catalan is the spanish form of the more common Creme Brulee and they ignited the top of it to allow it to caramelize into a lovely warm shade of brown. Theatrics aside, the Creme de Catalan wasn’t to my liking and I felt it was much too solid (like chawanmushi) rather than viscous (like thickened condense milk).

Dinner set 3rd course: Creme de Catalan

The cheesecake was alright but the overkill of caramel sauce just made it much too cloying.

Cheesecake topped with Brown Caramel Sauce (US$7)

We were very satisfied with the appetizers and mains, alongside the reasonable prices. Definitely worth the trouble of a ferry ride.

Bon Appetit!

Beso Restaurant

11 Schuyler Street, Staten Island, New York

Tel: 718-816-8162





[New York] Bouley – Skipping out New York’s Restaurant Week for this!

20 07 2011

Restaurant Week 2011 for New York is held between 12th to 25th July, but instead of going for discounted set meals (US$24.07 for lunch and US$35 for dinner) offered at some restaurants, I figured that this week would divert some attention away from the many Michelin Star restaurants not participating in restaurant week and provide the opportunity for successful last minute reservations. That’s how I stumbled upon Bouley, a French Michelin 1-Star fine dining restaurant.

On a side note, given the success of Singapore’s Restaurant Week in March 2011, a 2nd installment will be held here in October this year, making it a bi-annual affair.

Unlike the chichi restaurants in Singapore and those I visited in London, the dress code for fine dining in New York is more strictly enforced, so even in the heat of summer where temperatures soar as high as Singapore’s, formal jackets are still required for gentlemen dining at Bouley.

My group of 5 was seated at a dimly lit side of the restaurant so the photos are kind of grainy and dark even after some editing 😦

From start till finish, service was top notch and bordering on stifling but after getting some awesome food in our tumtums as the meal started, we immediately abandoned our unusually reticent selves in unending ravings.

Bouley offers ala-carte lunch as well as a 5-Course Tasting Menu (US$55). Given that a 2 course ala-carte meal here already costs more than the Tasting Menu, almost everyone in the restaurant opted for the tasting menu.

Can’t remember the exact constituents to the complimentary amuse bouche but there was definitely Celery Sorbet, Beetroot, Avocado with Cherry Sauce. A truly refreshing dish with great complementary natural flavours. Even my friends who usually avoid celery proclaimed that this was good and cleaned out their bowls.

Amuse Bouche

All except one of my friends ordered the trio of sashimi as their starting course. Kampachi is a Hawaiian Yellowtail best known as Almaco Jack which tastes and looks almost exactly like the Tuna. My favourite sashimi though was the white flesh from the Striped Amberjack which had a much fattier and creamier texture.

1st Course: Carpaccio of Kampachi, Young Big Eye Tuna and Striped Amberjack (Mediterranean style)

This was prepared with the Flan (custard) at the base, with the dashi (soup stock) poured over it. While we often use Sri Lankan crabs for our local Singapore dishes, the Dungeness Crab, named after the the town of Dungeness in Washington, is most often used in the Pacific Northwest which includes areas such as Vancouver, Seattle and Alaska.

2nd Course: Porcini Flan, Alaska Live Dungeness Crab & Black Truffle Dashi

2nd Course: Wild Alaskan Salmon with a Rainbow of Early Baby Beets & Macadamia Nut Dressing

2nd Course: Black Cod marinated with Pistachio Miso, Organic Buckwheat & Ginger Aromatic Sauce

B ordered the chicken which she gave positive feedback on. I thought it was good, but not great. Pain D’Epices is a type of bread or cake so I’m not really sure how the dressing for this dish is made. B thought that the dressing tasted like a mere pumpkin puree sauce though. Chanterelles are a type of mushroom commonly used in French Cuisine and had a notable earthly flavour.

3rd Course: All Natural Pennsylvania Chicken, Spring Carrot Ravioli, Chanterelles & Pain D'Epices Dressing

3rd Course: Organic Long Island Duck Roasted with White Truffle Honey with Puree of Organic Dates and White Turnips

I think most of us got fooled that this was Kobe beef given the name of the dish but judging from the extent of marbling, I highly doubt it. Still, everyone found it very tender and tasty, going well with the Gnocchi which acted as a staple for this dish.

3rd Course: Slow Braised Kobe Style Beef Cheeks with Blue Kale Gnocchi

This really reminded me of the Honeydew and Rock Melon Sago dessert that we get in Chinese restaurants, especially after the Ricotta Sorbet started melting and replacing what would have been the Coconut Milk.

4th Course: California Organic Orange Flesh Melon Soup with Fresh Ricotta Sorbet

My friends called this “Heaven on a Plate”, nuff said.

Hot Valrhona Chocolate Souffle 2011 with White Coffee Cloud and Chocolate Sorbet

Hot Caramelized Anjou Pear with Valrhona Chocolate, Biscuit Breton, Hot Toffee Sauce, Lemon Verbena and Tahitian Ice Cream

Petit Fours

Gems such as Bouley are best left for special occasions when you want everything to be perfect, but since perfection is relative, never should meals here be an everyday affair.

Bon Appetit!

Bouley

163 Duane Street, New York

Tel: 212 964 2525





[Vancouver] Blue Water Cafe + Raw Bar – The Food Orgasm

11 07 2011

Summer School came and went in the blink in an eye and despite spending the most carefree days of my life here in Vancouver, I had been left high and dry in my pursuit for yumyums due to the packed schedule and inertia to travel too far off campus. And as a result of gastronomic imbalances, I found myself a victim of my cyclical PMS (Peter Mood Swings) towards the end of the month.

It starts at Phase 1: The Guilt Trip. That occurs after a flurry of heavy consumer spending, be it on food or shopping. One feels utterly guilty and decides to hold off the splurging temporarily, eating economic rice and at home, forefeiting restaurant meals.

In Phase 2: The Mount of Annoyance, one feels increasingly annoyed because of the absence of nice meals. Economic rice starts to get really monotonous.

This annoyance comes to a climax in Phase 3: Deprivation and Frustration. Some time has passed since the period of excessive spending and one is ready to go out for a posh meal. However, one finds it hard to do so given one’s (or one’s meal buddies) hectic schedules, leading to deprivation. Alternatively, some hyped up meals turned out disappointing, leading to frustration.

In Phase 4: The Food Orgasm, a meal finally hits the spot, but the hefty price tag brings you back to Phase 1: The Guilt Trip.

I haven’t really been having really great food during this Vancouver trip, so dinner here at Blue Water Cafe was definitely Phase 4 for me.

The PMS (Peter Mood Swings) Cycle

Blue Water Cafe + Raw Bar specializes in seafood, which is prepared in a “east meets west” fusion nature. The ambience is classy, though no compulsory dress-code is enforced.

To diversify their risks as first time diners here, R and Nana opted for the BC Tasting for 2, comprising tasting portions of 4 appetizers (Dungeness Crab Salad, Scallop Ceviche, Tuna Tatare, and Smoked Salmon Terrine) for 2 pax.

BC Tasting for 2 (C$37)

Cooked within White Asparagus Panna Cotta and topped off with Green Apple Foam, I found little symphony between the mild individual flavours.

Dungeness Crab Salad

Ceviches’ are what I consider to be Central America’s answer to Japanese sashimi. My 2nd favourite amongst the 4 BC Tasting appetizers.

Qualicum Bay Scallop Ceviche

Very similar to the Ahi Tuna I had at the now defunct Raw Kitchen Bar (which has now reopened under the new name “Kilo”), though I find the Albacore Tuna to be much fattier and hence tastier.

Albacore Tuna Tartare

The Smoked Salmon Terrine was served with “Golden Caviar marinated in Sake, Green Onion Creme Fraiche, Pumpernickle & Toasted Filberts”. I was amazed at how “chim” the description was when I read it myself. Pumpernickle is a type of rye bread, and filberts are a type of hazelnut. While this scores average on the taste-o-meter, it does look pretty, no?

Smoked Sockeye Salmon Terrine

Baked with Tomatoes, Olives, Capers and Thyme Lemon Butter, I took pleasure in every bite, wishing if only the scallops could be larger.

Gulf Island Swimming Scallops (C$15.50)

Since its a seafood restaurant, it isn’t surprising that the Kurobuta Pork Cheeks wasn’t up to standard. Cooked in a “Milanese style with Cauliflower Couscous, Golden Raisins, Hazelnuts and Brown Caper Butter”, most of us felt that that the pork cheeks were insufficiently marinated and hence bland. We were slightly appeased as the portion turned out fairly large for an appetizer portion though.

Kurobuta Pork Cheeks (C$16.50)

Noticing that every table had a bowl of sliced lemons, it became clear that one of Blue Water Cafe’s strengths lies in their Oyster Menu, which offers almost 20 different breeds of oysters, originating from British Columbia in Canada, Washington and the East Coast of the US.

Based on the waiter’s recommendations, we tried the Effingham Oysters which the white larger ones and the Kumamoto Oysters which are the dark small ones. R and Nana preferred the Effingham ones which started off with a strong saline taste, before giving way to a subtle sweet aftertaste. I preferred the Kumamoto ones because I’m a fan of distinctly sweet rather than salty oysters and these ones.

Effingham Oysters (C$2.75/piece) and Kumamoto Oysters (C$3.75/piece)

Served with Morel Mushrooms, Artichokes, Pearl Onions and a Madeira (a type of fortified sweet wine) reduction, I found the risotto to be excellent, with the sweet wine complementing the cheesiness well.

Pearl Barley Risotto with Okanagan Goat Cheese (C$24.50)

Given that the lobster was uber fresh and really sweet, this was probably the best lobster dish I have ever tried. A light dip into the cream base and taking a bite out of that crunchy pincer is simply orgasmic.

Poached Live Lobster (C$60)

I’m not really into Halibut because I find the meat too firm and chewy that reminds me of the fish served in airline meals. Still, the crisp pan fried exterior provided some consolation.

Day's Special: Halibut

My first time eating Arctic Char. I found the flesh rather lean and flaky, which is possibly best enjoyed with a light seasoning to appreciate its natural delicate taste. Although it has been touted as an alternative to Salmon, I still prefer the latter which possesses a richer taste and is fattier too.

Arctic Char (C$29.50)

During the past 2 months of traveling, I learnt that there are quite a few species of cod around the world. In Singapore, the “cod” that is usually served is actually Chilean Seabass. In Europe like London, Spain and Portugal, the “cod” used is usually Salt Cod aka Baccala (in Italian) or Bacalhau (in Portuguese). As for Black Cod, it is also known as Sablefish and it was what I had for my main. Glazed with Miso and Sake, this is the best Miso Cod I have eaten, where the flavourful miso had been infused well into the cod without being used over excessively.

West Coast Sablefish (C$36.50)

Although the mains were filling, going at how well the meal had progressed so far, we decided to order a side of Truffle Fries before moving on to dessert. Nothing much to comment about though, apart from the fact that truffle fries seem to taste the same everywhere and loses its novelty quickly. I started feeling kinda “gelat” after about 20 fries. So, this is best for sharing.

Truffle Parmesan Fries (C$9.50)

Finally, time for desserts!

While the desserts weren’t bad by a long short, it didn’t give me the same “oomph” factor that I got while eating the sablefish or lobster mains.

Mandarin Cheesecake (C$12.50) & Warm Dark Chocolate (C$11)

Warm Dark Chocolate (C$12.50), Lemon Tart (C$11.50) & Raspberry Creme Brulee (C$11.50)

Complimentary cakes given to us after we finished our desserts 😀

Truly impressive world-class fare!

But after blowing C$100 on this well deserved meal, it’s time to move back to Phase 1: The Guilt Trip again.

Bon Appetit!

Blue Water Cafe + Raw Bar

1095 Hamilton St., Vancouver, British Columbia V6B 5T4, Canada

Tel: 604 688 8078





[Vancouver] Caminetto di Umberto – Tuscan Cuisine in Whistler

1 07 2011

I was really quite excited about the weekend trip to Whistler, which had been consistently voted best ski resort in North America and for some polls, the world. My previous visit here was more than 10 years ago, during which bad weather meant that the mountain was closed and I had to contend with simply gazing longingly upwards towards the mountain range. There’s so much to do here as a visiting tourist. For the right price, you could participate in an extensive range of activities such as skiing, snowboarding, ziplining, dirt biking, whitewater rafting, and explore the mountain on an ATV.

The entire village is dotted with F&B outlets and shopping boutiques. Not to mistake the two sister restaurants located just opposite each other, Il Caminetto di Umberto (which we dined at) is the fancier of the 2, serving authentic Tuscan cuisine while Trattoria di Umberto features rustic Tuscan cuisine amidst a more casual setting. Tuscany is a region in central Italy so Tuscan cuisine is pretty much synonymous for Italian.

With just shreds of salty duck meat, the Duck Confit Salad was slightly disappointing with the absence of the crispy duck skin.

Duck Leg Confit with Green Beans, Walnuts & Maple Vinaigrette (C$18.95)

The waiter suggested the Veal Piccata, saying it was one of their signatures here. It was pretty good though it’s a bit expensive for just a veal cutlet spaghetti.

Veal Piccata alla Parmigiana (C$30.95)

Though I love cheese, this mild version fared just as well, exceeding my expectations throughly. Scallops were fresh and seared evenly, and the risotto somehow had a hint of kelp, adding to its coastal flavour.

Green Asparagus Risotto & Sear Scallops (C$26.95)

What was special about this osso buco was the fatty bone marrow lodged within the bone, in which a small thin fork was provided for us to dig out this treasure. Most of the time, the marrow dries up and hardens from overcooking, but not so for the osso buco here. The saffron risotto took a while to get used to but grew on me as the meal progressed. Anyway, did you know Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world (by weight)? It’s even more expensive than Truffles!

Slow Oven-braised Osso Buco alla Milanese with Saffron Risotto (C$38.95)

Ricotta Cheese Cannelloni alla Florentina (C$19.95)

Linguine Pesto with Basil and Toasted Pine Nuts (C$19.95)

The chocolate cake wasn’t as good as it looked. The layer of sponge was too thick while the chocolate wasn’t rich enough to blow me away.

Dark Valrhona Chocolate Ganache Cake with Creme Anglaise (C$11.95)

I think the secret to Caminetto di Umberto isn’t its flare to whip up orgasmic dishes with excessive flavouring but rather, to use simple natural flavours that requires slow and quiet contemplation to appreciate.

Bon Appetit!

 

Caminetto di Umberto

4242 Village Stroll, Whistler, British Columbia

Tel: 604 932 4442








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