[New York, United States] Soba-ya – Duck & Uni Soba!

13 07 2014

Listed in Michelin’s 2013 Bib Gourmand list that honors good cuisine at reasonable prices, dinner at Soba-ya was my most enjoyable meal for the week in NYC and my best soba experience thus far. It was no wonder the restaurant was sporting a full house on a Thursday night at 930pm.

Hot Tempura Udon (US$18++)

While some of my friends had great things to say about the Hot Tempura Udon (US$18++), which came with Shrimp, Shiso (from the Mint Family) and Shishito (Japanese Green Pepper) Tempura, I would highly suggest going for the Kamo Seiro (Sautéed Sliced Duck & Japanese Green Onions in Hot Dipping Sauce) with Cold Soba ($16++) instead. The duck broth was more flavorful and rich than the hot soba/udon stock and I amused myself as my friends took their first sips of my duck broth after having tried their “basic” stock, watching as their eyes widened in amazement.

I also ordered an unbelievably affordable saucer of Uni (US$6++) on the side, which went surprisingly well with the soba.

Left the restaurant totally satisfied with an involuntary grin. I’m sure I will be back before my month in NYC is up.

Soba-ya

229 East 9th St. New York, NY 10003

Tel: 212 533 6966

Website: http://www.sobaya-nyc.com/wp/

Advertisements




The Flying Squirrel – The Unlikely Chirashi

23 06 2014

He used to be known as Mr Siva, a well-liked PE teacher from Raffles Junior College. Now he is better known as Rai of the singer-songwriting duo Jack and Rai. Multi-talented and adventurous these two are, as they (together with Jack’s wife Angelina) took a leap into local F&B scene early last year by establishing  a modern Japanese restaurant named The Flying Squirrel.

On the menu, conventional Japanese options such as the Chirashi, Sushi and Curry Rice appear next to less traditional options such as the Foie Gras Aglio Olio and Seafood Eggplant Gratin, immediately triggering an alarm in my head. Could such a place really deliver on a decent Chirashi or Sushi?

The answer is a resounding yes. For $25+, the TFS Chirashi was of extremely good value, comprising of slices of Salmon, Tuna, Swordfish, Sweet Shrimp, Scallop, Ikura, Octopus, Tamago and an entire Anago (saltwater eel) over a bed of pearly rice.

Another alternative is the Salmon & Ikura Chirashi ($20+). Again, the eatery is rather generous with the salmon slices and roe.

The Miso Gindara or Grilled Black Cod ($26+) we had was delicious too as it wasn’t too salty and retained some smokiness, though the portion doesn’t fill you up as much as the chirashi.

Given that it was my first day at work in the Tanjong Pagar area today, I returned for a lunch visit. This time, I tried the Summer Chirashi Bento ($25+), only available during lunch time. The main difference between the lunch chirashi and the TFS Chirashi is that the lunch Summer Chirashi Bento uses diced sashimi instead of slices (think along the lines of bara chirashi) and does not include the higher value items of shrimp, scallops or anago to my dismay. However, the bento does make up for it with 3 pieces of fried chicken karaage, salad and fruits. In my humble opinion, ultimately I still derived greater satisfaction from the TFS Chirashi.

As the restaurant is rather small, seating no more than 20 people by my estimates, hence reservations are encouraged.

The Flying Squirrel

92 Amoy Street, #01-02

Tel: +65 6226 2203

Website: http://www.theflyingsquirrel.com.sg/





Salt Grill & Sky Bar – Where Memories are Made to Last

8 06 2014

You have to agree that to a large extent, the best litmus test of what constitutes a great restaurant lies in whether or not one remembers the food eaten there, a couple years down the road.

Having been at Salt Grill & Sky Bar two years back for restaurant week, the vivid image of an amazing appetizer, the crab omelette with enoki mushrooms is still left imprinted in my mind. It’s no wonder it’s been kept on the menu through the years as one of the restaurant’s signatures.

I was back here again for an unraveling of the restaurant’s new menu offerings and post-renovation works. Shan’t bore you too much with the nitty gritty details and let the pics do the talking of the restaurant layout. Essentially, the key difference is the repainting of the pillars to a more rustic hue and the relocation of the Sky Bar from the 56th storey (where in its place is now a private dining area) to the mezzanine level (between the 55th and 56th storey).

Private dining area on the 56th storey (2nd level of the restaurant)

As mentioned above, the restaurant is perched on the 55th and 56th floor of Ion Orchard, providing a spectacular view of the Singapore skyline. You can even see MBS in the distance. To access the restaurant, diners will have to take a private lift from the 4th storey of Ion.

Evening view from the restaurant

As this was an invited tasting, most of the dishes served today were tasting portions rather than full portions, just in case you are wondering why the portions look so petite.

The complimentary Bread selection here is made in-house and served with olive oil and dukkah (a mix of Macadamia, Cashhew, Sesame, Cumin, Coriander and Salt).

To kick off our meal, we had the Coconut broth with Sydney spice (Kaffir lime leaves, Lemon Myrtle, Tumeric, Ginger, Galangal, Chili, Garlic and Salt), which tasted much like an amalgam of a rich frothy seafood bisque and green curry. An interesting blend that definitely aroused my appetite.

One of my favourite dishes that night was the Sashimi of Kingfish, ginger, eschalot & goats feta ($33++). While the preparation for the dish is seemingly simplistic, the flavours brought forth were in perfect symphony. I liked how clean the sashimi tasted, indicating it’s freshness. The sweet ginger also paired well with the fattiness of the kingfish. I would already have given it full marks without the feta, as I felt that the pungency of the feta added little extra value.

While not terrible by any standards, the Baby vegetables, goats curd, ginger bread crumbs, dried black olives ($31++) came across as the least impressive among the dishes I had that night.

As a blast from the past, the ‘Glass’ Sydney crab omelette, enoki mushroom & herb salad, miso mustard broth ($33++) remained stellar as ever, with sheets of velvety omelette encasing slivers of sweet crab meat that complemented the briny broth well. The earthly enoki mushrooms also added a nice crunch to the overall texture of the dish.

The Tea smoked quail, almond cream, prunes, grains, grilled shallot, sorrel ($31++) was noteworthy too, made even more impressive by the fact that well-executed quail can be rather hard to come by. I particularly like the flavours of the Earl Grey Tea that was infused particularly well onto the glaze, interestingly it reminded me of the deepness your senses perceive from a Garrett’s Caramel-flavored popcorn sans the sweetness.

In the case where diners are interested to order a steak, the staff may wheel out a trolley of the different cuts available, facilitating the decision making process for diners. For ourselves, we had the 300-day grain fed Sirloin from Rangers Valley, New South Wales, which was marinated with Moroccan spice and served with sauté spinach, eggplant puree and red wine sauce ($74++). With a marbling score of 2+ (out of a possible 5) based on Australian grading standards, what I got was an average quality cut of beef that wasn’t extremely marbled and still required some chewing. Personally, I thought this was appropriate for such a cooking style and as a main course, as an overly marbled piece of beef often leaves one feeling awfully oleaginous after just a few slices.

Another one of Luke’s signatures that we tried was the Liquorice parfait, lime ($18++). While I’m not fans of liquorice, overall the dessert proved to be a success. The outer layer of the parfait was liquorice flavoured but the inner core of the dessert tasted somewhat like an extremely mild frozen cheesecake which effectively toned down the liquorice.

From the various drinks I tried, I would highly recommend the Salt cooler ($14++), a mocktail concocted from Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, lychee, apple, cranberry juice and lemonade. Extremely refreshing without the envisioned tartness nor astringency from the berries.

The restaurant’s signature cocktail is known as The Australian by Luke Mangan ($18++), made from Lime segment, lime leaf, ginger, cognac, gin, cranberry, shaken with Luke’s syrup. Found it a little on the strong side with strong hints of lime.

Cocktails of the day are sold at $15++ and the one featuring that night was The Chocolatini, made from Vodka, white chocolate sauce, green apple syrup and creme de cacao white (Usual Price, $18++). Similar to The Australian, I found this a little on the strong side. On the plus side, this Chocolatini was really thick, unlike some watery versions I have had in neighbourhood bars.

Before calling it a night, I would also recommend having a Grasshopper ($18++), a cocktail made from Creme de menthe, creme de cacao white and milk, tasting much like an “After Eight chocolate” and minty like Colgate, leaving your palate cleansed from the hearty meal.

Grasshopper (Left), Chocolatini (Right), Half-drank Salt Cooler (Far right)

Special thanks to Salt Grill & Sky Bar for the invitation. You made my Wednesday night.

Salt Grill & Sky Bar

2 Orchard Turn, 55 & 56 Floor Ion Orchard, Singapore 238801

Tel: +65 6592 5118





[Taipei, Taiwan] 馬辣 – A Hotpot Buffet with Hagen Daz, Movenpick, Wine & Beer

28 05 2014

A hotpot buffet with 8 flavours each of Hagen Daz Ice Cream & Movenpick Ice Cream, Red Wine and Beer, do I have your attention yet?

While Taiwan might be known for its scenic tourist spots like Tarako Gorge, Sun Moon Lake and the various hot springs, the highlight of my Taiwan trip turned out to be buffet hotpot restaurant 馬辣, much to my Taiwan friend E’s dismay who adamantly insisted that Taiwan has much more to offer than a mere hotpot restaurant.

Anyhow, I first heard of 马辣 from my mum, and subsequently as a recommendation from an adjacent Taiwanese passenger on the flight to Taipei. It’s a pretty popular place usually packed to the brim during mealtimes, with 5 outlets currently in operation in Taipei that are all very much accessible by public transport. Our first visit left us so impressed (and lazy to search for other alternatives), that we decided to come back to celebrate T’s birthday here as well.

The buffet is priced at 498NT++ for weekday lunches and 598NT++ for weekends/dinners (or roughly S$25++), for a time limit of two hours. However, the staff seemed pretty lax on this policy and allowed us to stay on for more dessert, drinks and idle chatter since there was no one else in the queue then. Buffet items include a host of meats (Angus beef, Boston Pork Should, Chicken Thigh…), Seafood (Oysters, Scallops, Prawn, Crab…), Vegetables, Dipping Sauces, Drinks(Fruit Juices, Soft Drinks, Beers, Floral Teas…), Desserts (Cakes, Fruits, Ice Cream…). Diners are also allowed to bring their own booze with no additional corkage charge, overall a pretty good deal if you ask me. Heck, I would pay that price for just the free flow ice cream and beer.

With the exception of the dipping sauces, drinks and desserts which are self-service, other items require diners to physically tick a checkbox and pass it on to the wait staff, who will then have the indicated items brought to your table, ensuring that whatever arrives is relatively fresh and not left in the open for prolonged periods of time.

So to cut long story short, 馬辣 is an incredibly value for money hotpot buffet if you are in Taipei that I would definitely recommend visiting.

Fuxing Location
Address: No. 152, 4F, Fuxing South Road
Hours: Monday to Sunday, 11:30AM-5AM
Phone: (02)27727678
MRT: Zongxiao Fuxing

Xining Location
Address: No. 62, 2F, Xining South Road (台北市西寧南路62號2樓)
Hours: Monday to Sunday, 11:30AM-5AM
Phone: (02)23146528
MRT: Ximen

Tingzhou Location
Address: No.86, Tingzhou Road Section 3 (台北市中正區汀州路三段86號)
Hours: Monday to Sunday, 11:30AM-5AM
Phone: (02)23657625
MRT: Gongguan

Zhongxiao Location
Address: No.4, Alley 10, Lane 233, Zhongxiao East Road Section 4 (台北市忠孝東路四段233巷10弄4號)
Hours: Monday to Sunday, 11:30AM-5AM
Phone: (02)27212533
MRT: Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall

Songshou Location
Address: No. 22, 3F, Songshou Road (台北市信義區松壽路22號3F)
Hours: Monday to Sunday, 11:30AM-5AM
Phone: (02)27205726
MRT: Taipei City Hall





Stellar @ 1-Altitude – Wine Lust Sunday Brunches

19 03 2014

Following its popularity since its debut in December 2013, Stellar @ 1-Altitude has decided to continue hosting its Wine Lust Sunday Brunches into 2014. This is pleasant news because from what I have seen so far, they seem to be doing it right. The brunch buffet features a good mix of International cuisines, ranging from Japanese Sushi, a meat carving station, cold cuts, western brunch items and most importantly, a free flow of red/white/sparking wine. Adding to that, wine aficionados will also be glad to know that a tasting table of up to 10 wines (different from those on free-flow) will also be set up by a different wine supplier each week, allowing for wine tastings and bottle sales during the course of the brunch. And if you didn’t already know, at 62 floors above ground level, the view from Stellar is simply breathtaking too. How many restaurants can actually boost looking down towards Ku De Ta @ Marina Bay Sands?

At $110++ per pax, Wine Lust is competitively priced against other Sunday alcoholic brunch buffets such as The Line @ Shangri-La Hotel ($138++), Equinox @ Swissotel ($148++) and Clifford @ Fullerton Bay Hotel ($148++). Two reasons might explain this price discount. Firstly, Wine Lust does not offer Champagne but personally, a good non-Champagne sparkling wine offers equal, if not higher utility. Secondly, Wine Lust offers less variety in menu options, doing away with the ubiquitous raw seafood lineup. What Wine Lust offers however, is something unique and what I find to be the key differentiating factor going for it; a larger proportion of live cooking stations and made to order items.

Do not make the fatal mistake of underestimating the menu. While the entire list of food items is categorically displayed on a single page, by the end of the meal, it is likely that you will still end up having trouble standing up, as the individual items listed can become pretty substantial when summed and secondly, since many of the items are made to order, the quality and taste follows that of ala carte and you will likely finish up the entire serving because wasting good food is a sin.

Wine Tasting Table

According to the retailer, the wines were “boutique” Western Australian wines, with prices in the general range of $30-$40

One of the items I found particularly good was the made to order Salmon Benedict. The saltiness of the smoked salmon was controlled and perfect for my tastes. The poached yolk was flowy and the hollandaise as rich and creamy as it gets.

Salami & Salad Bar

Another brunch item worth getting is the French Toast with Caramelized Bananas. It might potentially be one of the best renditions you ever laid your taste buds on with its crisp exterior and airy interior that doesn’t fill you up too badly.

Omelette & French Toast cooking station

I had no complaints with the Sushi section either and found it quite a few notches higher than the usual hotel buffet, possibly because the sushi is made in small batches to ensure that the stock of sushi displayed is always fresh.

One of the highlights of the buffet was the Claypot Chicken Rice. Just like how they do it in traditional dim sum restaurants where you see the staff pushing a cart of fresh dim sum up and down the restaurant for diners to order, the same thing is done with the Claypot Chicken Rice here, where it is pushed around on a trolley whenever a fresh batch is made. To give it a little twist, the rice is served in a piece of lettuce with Tomato Belacan and Cucumber Relish on the side. I was advised to pair it with the Sauvignon Blanc and man did it make a difference. The Claypot Rice tasted a whole lot more fragrant with a hint of sweetness that I did not get in the absence of the white wine.

The mini tacos were also made to order, so they arrived crisp but both CJ and myself found it a little too sourish from the sauce used.

The biggest disappointment for the brunch was the carving station. While the meats (Spatchcock Chicken aka Roast Chicken, Roasted Pork Belly, Rosemary Roast Lamb Leg, Roast Duck) scored high aesthetically with the meats and duck skin glistening from the lighting, they were awfully dry and lacked flavor.

Hopes that the made to order Wagyu Rump would redeem the meat section were quickly dashed as I found the beef extremely sinewy and difficult to cut. Of the two options of sauces (mushroom or red wine), I much preferred the red wine sauce since it complemented the beef way better than the bland mushroom sauce.

Pastas are also made to order, with the option of Carbonara and Aglio Olio. We chose to share the latter since we were pretty stuffed and found it pretty mediocre. Would have loved a stronger garlic flavor and more olive oil, since it came across as a little dry. That said, I was pretty surprised when the chef came over and asked if we would like to have truffle shavings with our pasta, which may cost in the range of $10-$20 per gram in local restaurants. No points for guessing our answer nor our enthusiasm.

The dessert lineup was decent as well, featuring Lamingtons Drive (a type of sponge cake dipped in chocolate and rolled over coconut), Lemon Coconut Cake, Orange Carrot Cake, Chocolate Tartlets, Hazelnut Praline Cake, White Chocolate Raspberry Cake, Strawberry Crumble and Anzac Cookies (an oat cookie). My favourites were the Strawberry Crumble, which is served warm and the Hazelnut Praline Cake (which looks like a chocolate cake in the middle of the dish).

No wine brunch is complete without a cheese platter.

With more hits than misses, I thoroughly enjoyed myself with the entire brunch experience. Service was great and so was the food and ambience. Unbuckling my belt upon reaching home never felt better…

Special thanks to Shasi and Stellar @ 1-Altitude for the invitation.

Stellar @ 1-Altitude

1 Raffles Place, Level 62, Singapore 048616

Tel: +65 6438 0410

Website: www.1-altitude.com





[Prague, Czech Republic] Alcron – Degustation Delight

22 02 2014

Its been about a month since I departed Europe for my sunny little island home (to finish up my last semester of SMU life) and I guess it’s about time I posted about Alcron, a 1-Star Michelin restaurant in Prague where I indulged for a final time as closure to my unforgettable exchange program.

The first week of term in SMU had already commenced then but as my schoolmates were hard at work, here I was dinnering at this chichi 24-seater restaurant, still living in my bubble I call “post-exchange”.

Just 6 tables (24 seats) for the entire restaurant

Located in the posh Radisson Blu Hotel, Alcron specializes in seafood, though there is a selection of meat dishes on the menu as well. Here, diners are invited to create their own degustation meals, ranging from 3-courses (CZK 1100 / c.40 Euros) to 7-courses (CZK 1900 / c.70 Euros) by selecting items from a short menu. This leaves lots of room for flexibility so if you are a dessert person, you may simply choose to spam dessert courses if that’s the way you like it.

As one of the most highly rated restaurants in Prague, you can expect service to be top-notch without being over-intrusive. During my meal, the staff left me to my own devices while I dined but kept an observant lookout from the entrance of the restaurant in case any diners required further assistance.

I was utterly smitten with the restaurant straight from the start, when I was presented with a complimentary Bread Basket that had about 6 types of breads to choose from. What’s best is that the breads are all freshly toasted before they are brought to each table, made possible because of the small capacity of 6 tables. I thoroughly enjoyed the round bread ball encrusted with Parmigiano Cheese and even opted for a second serving. That says a lot because I usually avoid overloading on bread, so as to better appreciate the higher-value courses served later. An interesting assortment of butter flavored with Seaweed, Chili and Lemon was also served alongside the bread.

The complimentary amuse bouche was Escargot with Garlic Chips. Was quite fond of the garlic chips which reminded me of the prawn crackers that my family fries at home for Chinese New Year.

I opted for a 5-Course dinner initially but was so taken by the initial 4 courses that I later decided to top-up with an additional course.

The dishes on the menu are categorized as either cold or hot dishes and are listed in the order of their suggested consumption. I much prefer warm dishes for dinner so I only chose a sole cold dish, which was the Ceviche of Scottish divers Scallops with cucumber, cucumber jelly, fried lotus root, chili and hazelnut dust. A dish with very light flavors to whet the appetite.

I liked the interplay of sweet vs savoury, crunchy vs crispy from the different elements in the Crayfish Bisque. It didn’t bore because every now and then, I would bite into pieces of sweet crunchy sweet corn, while at other times, I would scoop up pieces of crispy savory popcorn. Bursting the poached yolk also made the bisque considerable smoother and more palatable.

While I’m a die hard foie gras fan, I felt that the Pan-fried Duck Foie Gras Escalope with pumpkin chutney, marinated pumpkin and Tonka bean foam was underwhelming. The marinated pumpkin tasted somewhat like pickles and didn’t complement the foie gras well in my view, given that it was too sharp and acidic.

The Venison Loin Sous-vide with gingerbread ball, chestnuts truffle-puree, apple and celery ragout, chocolate and cranberry infusion brought the meal back on track. Special credit has to go to the chestnut truffle puree for its harmonious matrimony with the venison.

With just a dessert left to go, I thought that it would be a waste not to try the Anjou Pigeon breast, Confit and Liver with braised shallot and blackberries. Pigeon isn’t exactly easy to find in Singapore after all. Texture-wise, it was pretty similar to duck, albeit slightly leaner.

I ended the meal with the Buttermilk Panna Cotta with pear and walnuts. It was a pretty light dessert and not very sweet, much like a mild-tasting yoghurt. Perfect given that I was bursting from the insides.

As I called for the bill, a last complimentary dessert course showed up in the form of a Chocolate Praline that I popped into my mouth straight away, a Coconut Macaron and a home-made Chocolate-coated Vanilla Ice Cream (like a Magnum Mini). I actually liked these better than the Panna Cotta.

Personally, I would consider this the 2nd most enjoyable meal I had during the 5-month duration whilst on exchange. Prices weren’t terribly expensive compared to other Michelin Starred Restaurants since it was in Eastern Europe. Perfect ending to a perfect exchange.

Alcron

Štěpánská 624/40, 110 00 Praha 1-Nové Město, Czech Republic

Tel: +420 222 820 410

Website: www.alcron.cz





Ristorante Da Valentino – Italian at its Finest

13 02 2014

If you had asked what my view was on opening a 134-seater high-end Italian restaurant at Turf Club a couple years back, I would most likely have said that it would be an incredibly brave but foolish endeavor. After all, the location isn’t exactly in the most central of areas and with such a huge restaurant without any nearby offices, where would the demand be coming from?

Two years on and I would have eaten my words…

Given that it was my first ever visit to Valentino, I was immensely surprised that for a restaurant this size, I was unable to secure indoor seats for a mere 2 pax on a usually slow Tuesday night, even by calling in advance. My surprise was compounded by the fact that this wasn’t even a new joint and there didn’t seem to be much hype about it in online circles in recent months. It wasn’t long before I found out the reason behind this phenomenon…they served quality food.

Catering mainly to the white-collared working class, as evident in their menu pricing, a 4-course dinner bill easily runs up in excess of $100 (excluding drinks) as I found out on this occasion. Just like how off-balance sheet liabilities contributed to the global financial crisis, likewise, off-menu items contributed to the hefty bill, busting my initial planned expenditure for the meal.

The Garlic Bread ($8.80++) and Burrata Cheese ($45.90++) were the said off-menu items. They were both good, with extra points going to the amazingly sweet tomatoes.

If there’s one item to try out here, it would definitely be their signature Squid Ink Fettuccine with Crabmeat in Creamy Tomato Sauce ($29.90++). The well-balanced sauce complements and does not overwhelm the subtle sweetness from the generous chunks of crabmeat. Surely one of the best pastas I have had to date.

While I wasn’t particularly fond of the Osso Buco ($42.90++), I couldn’t deny that its execution was without a doubt, masterful. The meat was insanely tender to the point that a knife was rendered useless, since a sole fork was all that was needed to pick away at this splendid creation. The accompanying sauce tasted lighter than it looked, with a distinct taste of stewed carrots.

The sole disappointment that night was the Seafood Pizza ($26.90++), which was slightly soggy and lacked a distinguishable seafood flavor that one so often finds in other seafood pizzas such as at Pepperoni’s Pizzeria.

As I personally prefer my Tiramisu ($14.80++) not too soggy, this rendition suited me perfectly.

The Chocolate Lava Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream ($18.80++) was awesome as well with ample lava flow.

While the meal wasn’t exactly cheap, I left feeling truly satisfied with the impeccable food, service standards and great company (was doing a catchup session with Ad, whom I hadn’t seen in more than half a year).

Ristorante Da Valentin0

200 Turf Club Road

Tel: +65 6462 0555

Website: www.ristorante-da-valentino.com/








%d bloggers like this: