Sunday, December 21, 2014

Singapore's BLUE GINGER more Peranakan in paradise (12-21-14)

Our last evening in Singapore before the cruise today (we will return here at the end of the cruise) took us to another Peranakan cuisine hideaway that has the highest ratings in town for this rare cuisine found only on the Malay Peninsula. The BLUE GINGER ( is an assuming spot that belies its
hidden talents. We arrived and came through the door to see a crowded small room with only locals. After we checked in the hostess told us to head through a door and up the steps. Our joke to ourselves was, "oh, they stick the tourists upstairs." WRONG! On the second floor was another room, a bit less crowded and not one Westerner in sight. We were taken to a nice table looking out over the street, but seconds later asked to move to an alcove to make room for a larger group. No problem. I marveled at the paper napkins on the tables, as linens are only found at the rare fine dining establishments or fancy hotels. Only one of the employees, clearly the manager or such, spoke decent English, but the bi-lingual menu helped us to try and make some decisions.
We ordered a bottle of wine from the very short list and again agreed on the Sauvignon Blanc, this time Black Cottage from New Zealand, as this usually works well with the intense local spices.
A note on the menu said that $2,50 (1.65$US) is charged per person for rice, pickles and Sambal Belachan, that spicy chili-shrimp paste that we are in love with.
In the end they only charged the adults, which was fine. The pickles are yummy with spice and a bit sweet and sour, as well as a hint of peanut (a la Thai). They were crunchy and made up of carrots, cabbage and much more that we couldn't decipher.
Sam ordered the Crispy Chicken Bites (think nuggets) with Asian chilli dipping sauce, and devoured them quickly but without the sauce. I tasted and decalred the sauce divine. Will ordered KUEH PIE TEE or shredded bamboo shoots and turnips in a pie tee cup with a mini-shrimp garnish. It was a tasty simple dish with four little pastry-like cups that you popped into your mouth and got lots of different flavors. I went for the OTAK OTAK or Fish Cake as I do love the Thai version. Well, these are completely different as they are made with turmeric, galangal, chilli, candlenuts and that lovable shrimp paste then cooked in lime leaves a la tamales. They even have the same consistency but tons more flavor and of course are fish-based.

Main courses included Sam's simple SATAY BABI or fried pork satay which really were slices rather than skewers. Will chose the AYAM PANGGANG 'BLUE GINGER' which was made with dark chicken meat, coconut milk and spices. Each is served family style and the server comes with a huge rice basket which is served to each person in massive portions on your plate which you then add the various dishes o along with condiments. I could not decide between two Tiger Prawn dishes and the guy who spoke English said the UDANG NONYA was spicier and drier rather than the UDANG MASAK ASSAM GULAI which had a tamarind gravy. I chose the NONYA with preserved bean paste, fresh garlic, chilli and spring onions. These Tiger Prawns are not huge but the portion of five with heads and tails on dressed in chili paste filled me up fast. The spice was just right and I had to suck the superb sauce off each head.

A trip to the WC gave us the non air conditioned section with no paper towels, but it was clean, as almost everything is in Singapore.
Dessert for me was Soursop over Shaved Ice which was divinely refreshing. I had this fruit recently in the Turks & Caicos and adore it now. Will chose the GULA MELAKA which is chilled sago (think barley bubbles) with honey sea coconut. I was too full to taste, but he said it was also quite refreshing and light.

Off to bed and wishing we could just eat more of the great food.
At least the hotel breakfast here at the Fullerton Bay Hotel offers many superb local dishes from chicken curry to sweet pork buns, spring rolls, wontons, dumplings and more which change each day. We avoided the congee, but loved the variety of Eastern & Western delights!

Slinging around in Singapore; yummy hawker food and so much more...(12/20&21/14)

Our two days in Singapore have been spent with our guide Phil who really knows local food well. The first day he pulled his car right up to a storefront and we sat ourselves on small stools at a table by the road for DUCK/RICE. Now every Eastern Asian meal has rice, so many of the meals are called simply duck/rice, fish/rice or the most famous chicken/rice; each vendor of course has his or her own recipe.
This was the most delicious one in town for sure and came with pickled cabbage (like sauerkraut), tofu, and the most yummy cooked peanuts with slices of duck breast all over a mound of rice in a rich duck sauce. It was divine and all for $4.50 Singapore per portion (that's about $3.35US each monster-sized place) which is amazing. Of course, chili-prawn paste and garlic-lime sauce were on the side; I could use these every day. The drinks we chose were A&W root beer for Sam and a superb aloe-vera tea-like drink loaded with chunks of aloe fruit at the bottom, which were sweet and reminded me of lychee.

Today our lunch was at the Maxwell Hawker's Stalls which is a covered hawkers' center with what must have been hundreds of storefronts in four rows or so of an indoor market. Many were closed as it was Sunday, but the selection was still amazing. Samuel migrated immediately to the steamed and fried dumpling stand and Phil and I headed to the CHICKEN/RICE, but you must choose from almost a dozen of these. Phil explained the long line was for a place that Gordon Ramsey and Anthony Bourdain had both declared the best in town, but that the chef there had since left and opened his own stall 3 doors down (where many news articles graced the stand declaring 'CHICKEN WARS' in Singapore between the two vendors) that's where we headed. There are sauces and clear chicken broth as well with each dish and while it was nice, it was not an historic dining moment. The egg & oyster omelet was good, although Will did not like its slightly slimy consistency. The hit dish was Hokkein Noodles with shrimp & calamari. A fried banana was had for dessert and then we headed to the smoothie stand where dragonfruit/passionfruit smoothies were in store for Sam & I and Will chose the drangonfruit/yoghurt smoothie as it proclaimed to help with weight loss and memory recall!
It was a yummy two days in Singapore for sure....and we shall return here after our cruise for more tasty local tidbits.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Singapore's CLIFFORD PIER proves perfect for Peranakan Cuisine (12-20-14)

While staying here in Singapore for a couple of days before our cruise we are having the opportunity to taste many types of amazing Asian cuisine. Our first night, we were exhausted from the long flights, so we dined in our hotel at the Clifford Pier which is a huge 1933 pier over the water on Marina Bay which has been lovingly restored to great colonial grandeur with modern décor. The huge arched steel ceiling is awesome as are the massive chandeliers. The chairs are lushly upholstered in silver and there are banquettes curved with tons of pillows that give "casbah" feel. Sam settled into his corner of the banquette and quickly drifted off to sleep missing dinner completely!
We loved the fact that the sparkling water was our favorite, Badoit from France. A bottle of Yalumbia "The Y Series" 2013 Viognier was extremely rich and a wonderful match to our rich and spicy seafood dishes.
At first the service was slow; we had to turn around multiple times to get someone to bring a wine list and take our order, despite the fact that the room was swarming with servers with earpieces, looking very Asian CIA.
First came a starter of UNI GLASS NOODLE, a true modern take on Pernakan (the mélange of Malay/Singapore and other local cultures) noodle dish served cold with Sea Urchin, Salted Egg, Salmon Roe, a tiny black fish roe (smaller than most caviars) in a truffle sauce with shaved truffles. Decadent, yes, but awesome flavors that exploded in your mouth.
We shared two very traditional Pernakan main courses. I ordered the CHAR KWAY TEON, fried mixed noodles (there were several different sizes), prawns, squid, Chinese sausage, chives, egg in a sweet chilli soy sauce. There is also pork in the dish and it is traditionally fried in lard for extra flavor. This one was excitement in the mouth and my favorite dish of the night. Will loved his dish more which was LAKSA, a soup of prawn, rice, vermicelli, quail eggs, fried bean curd puffs, and bean sprouts in a spicy coconut broth.
A side of KANGKONG BELACHAN (not related to King Kong:-)), but a stir fried green veggie akin to a bok choy/string bean/spinach cross but called Morning Glory here in a spicy chilli sauce with dried shrimp Belachan. The belachan is the shrimp chilli paste used here for everything which I adore and the dried shrimp are like bacon bits in it.
Speaking of dried...there were fish toasts on the table when we sat with four sauces(no one ever told us what they were), and one sported dried softened peanuts and small dried anchovy like fish which was yummy as could be.
Will ordered the Feh Tariq Ice cream which was like a coffee/honey flavor and served with gooey yummy Honey Comb Crunch....even though Samuel had just woken up, his braces could never have gotten through this delicious treat.
We rolled back to our room to head to sleep, looking forward to another day of new food discoveries.


Tuesday, December 09, 2014

BENOIT in NYC is the bistro for brunch (12-7-14)

On Sunday I had a good amount of spare time for brunch prior to a 4 hour opera performance and really wanted to fuel up. I chose BENOIT ( located at 60 W 55th Street, just off 6th Avenue and very central to everything.
I arrived early at 1145am and the dining room was quiet, when I left at 130pm, it was jammed with a line waiting for tables, so always reserve.
BENOIT is the baby of French uber-Michelin starred chef Alain Ducasse, but this is basic French bistro at its best, nothing over the top, not even the prices.
The room has a beautiful faux ceiling of blue skies with clouds and lots of B&W period French photos from the mid-20th century and earlier. There are those large bistro posters and lots of French staff, so you feel truly in a classy French bistro with lots of blonde wood tones, crisp linens and red velvet.
My server was French-born with a truly wonderful accent to boot and the pumped music is simple French chansons of all types, but never loud.
The menu is simple with starters, soups & salad, fish, meats and breakfast type brunch items, which I usually avoid, although the little girl next to me ordered the French toast and it looked awesome piled high with marinated fresh fruits.
I was greeted with a small plate of piping hot crispy cheese gougeres which were so welcome on one of the coldest days of the year so far.
The bread came slightly warmed in a cloth basket to keep it warm and was sliced baguette as well as brown country. The butter was nice, but it was not the quality of good French butter.
Due to that cold I started with the French ONION SOUP which arrived steaming and covered with a gooey stringy browned Gruyere that was the best I have ever tasted outside of France. The soup was scalding hot and again I welcomed this on the bitter cold day as I warmed up so fast. I had asked my server to hold off bringing my main course and he was spot on with his timing. The magnificent plate of Hand Chopped PRIME BEEF TARTARE with a Watercress Salad on the side. The meat was speckled with salty capers and used mustard and pepper well for spice. Small baguette crisps sliced thin and crispy were on the side for crunch and shmearing. The Dijonnaise vinaigrette on the salad had the requisite mustard and reminded me oh so much of my time in cooking school in Dijon, France decades ago. The glass of GIVRY 1er Cru 2010 (not 2007 as listed on the wine list) "Clos Saint Pierre" from Thenard was ideal with the tartare and I was in no mood for a chilled wine with the bitter wind outside.
I looked around at the many varied dishes and the portions were large (even the side and main salads), as mine was, and everyone seemed to be VERY happy with their choices from burgers, to charcuterie to omelets. Only the brunch drinks (at $12+ each) seemed to come in small chintzy glasses....stick to wine.
I ordered some coffee and was way too full for dessert, but then the manager brought over two slices of marble pound cake that was the most buttery I have ever tasted. He said that the pastry chef makes him a loaf to eat for breakfast each week.
I was thrilled he offered me a taste of this  simple yet divine creation.
We return to NYC as a family in March, and I think Benoit beckons for dinner or another brunch!

Thursday, December 04, 2014

multiple bravos for BRABO venerable Virginia wine dinner (12-3-14)

Last night I skipped down to Alexandria where we had an awesome meal at BRABO ( about a year ago. I am so glad I got the email about their Virginia wine dinner as this was indeed a special event and I was thrilled I signed up. On arrival we were ushered into the intimate lobby of the Lorien Hotel (where Brabo is located) as they had set us up for about 35 people or so in a private dining area there.
We were served THIBAUT-JANISSON "Xtra Brut" Blanc de Chardonnay which I had tasted before, but forgot how impressed I was with this awesome sparkling wine which is probably the best in the entire state. Winemaker & Co-Owner Claude Thibaut was circling around the room and we had the chance to chat with him about this terrific wine.
Soon we were ushered into the dining room and I was seated next to Jason Tesauro who is the Chief Sommelier & National Brand Director for one of my favorite wineries, Barboursville. Jason was a replacement at the last minute for the venerable Luca Paschina, who has been making spectacular wines for decades in Virginia, and in Italy prior to that. We've know Luca for a long time, and while I was sorry he was not there, I found Jason to be so lively and ebullient that I was thrilled to meet and sit with him. We drank more of the Xtra Brut as the amuse bouche of SMOKED TROUT PANNA COTTA, Verjus Mirroire & Trout Roe arrived. While this treasure was indeed amuse size, I could have eaten a dozen; I just wanted more, but I knew many courses were to follow and I restrained. The creamy panna cotta had many folks thinking this was going to be sweet, but I was not fooled, and the flavor burst from the cream and roe was divine.
The first course was a RABBIT BALLONTINE, Roasted KURI SQUASH, Asian PEAR & Pepitas which wowed everyone. The encased rabbit fillet was tender and delicate and the wine was so restrained it was an ideal pairing. Jason introduced the Barboursville Vineyard "Reserve" Vermentino 2013  and joked that the room was denser with sommeliers then a Vegas dining spot. Indeed, since Brabo is owned by Chef Robert Wiedmaier, his chief sommelier, Ramon, from Marcel's in DC was heading up the staff who meticulously cared for all our wine needs. The bright white wine was dry yet full of tropical flavors in the first pour, which did get lost in the colder temperature refill (but I warmed it up quickly with my hands and was very happy again).
The second course was a Stuffed VIRGINIA QUAIL Breast, CHANTERELLE Mushrooms, Grilled PEARL ONIONS & BACON JUS. Simply said, I chewed every bit of meat off the tiny leg and left not a dribble of sauce on my plate. We joked about asking for bread to insure there was no sauce left, but then remembered more was coming and wanted to avoid those filling carbs! Rachel Martin of Boxwood Estate Winery in Middleburg introduced her "TOPIARY" 2011 as a blend of 68% Cab Franc and 32% Merlot which was a ready to drink now red that I could enjoy with our without food. She explained that the blending percentages vary by year and that while Boxwood is known for reds, they will be unveiling their first white very soon. I was not familiar with Boxwood, other than by name, and am so happy we have another fantastic winery to visit so close to DC.
Third was a FOIE GRAS GATEAUX with Sauce Bordelaise which was Hudson Valley Foie gras enrobed in Chicken Mousseline. Need I say more? The wine was RdV "Rendevous" 2009 which was the only winery without representation. I had RdV's extremely high priced wines at a dinner over a year ago (also in Alexandria at Eve) and while I gave in and purchased 3 bottles of this same wine at $100 each(!!!), I reminded myself that it really needs a while in the bottle as it is a huge Bordeaux style blend of Merlot, Cab Franc & Petite Verdot. I felt this was a bit too overpowering for the foie gras, but many folks felt it was a great pairing; wine is so personal!
Next was a Juniper Dusted VENISON LOIN accompanied by Smoked CHESTNUT PUREE, Swiss CHARD, Glazed BABY BEETS & Red Wine Jus. I knew winter had arrived and anything with venison or chestnuts wins me over in two seconds flat. This dish was no different. The meat was perfectly seared just past rare and oh so tender; the puree enveloping and the veggies divine. The Barboursville Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2012 is my first time with this particular vintage and it has always been my favorite Cab Franc on this side of the earth, perhaps indeed anywhere. This vintage is great and I'll have to make sure we get some in the future, when there is space in the cellar :-)).
Dessert from pastry chef Erin Reed showed her prowess with a Caramelized BITTERSWEET CHOCOLATE CUSTARD, Jivara LEMON CREAM, HAZELNUT BRITTLE & Frangelico Pearls that was not only delicious, but gorgeous to look at. THIBAUT-JANISSON Blanc de Chardonnay was served, and while I do like champagne, I would have loved a nice sweet dessert wine.
As we finished up Chef Harper McClure who is the chef de cuisine at Brabo emerged along with DC uber-chef Robert Weidmaier to massive bravos, applause and cheers. They deserved much praise for the fine work, dedication and attention they gave to this truly special dinner and event. BRAVOS to BRABO!

Monday, December 01, 2014

The SMITH in NYC(@Lincoln Center) is not totally up to snuff (11-28-14)

While in NYC over Thanksgiving our other dinner in town was at THE SMITH across from Lincoln Center as the three of us were headed to La Boheme at The Met.
I have always enjoyed my meals here, despite the noise and crowds. On Friday night, the quality was down a bit and I may rethink my next visit to the Smith.
The very nice SALMON TARTARE was the spicier of the two according to our server, but not too spicy. It comes in a mason jar, as so many items here do, and has jalapeno, sriracha and scallions for spice on the side. I loved the flat lentil
crisps rather than more bread as they had flavor but not heft. Will adored his Roasted TOMATO SOUP with Cheddar Melt, and it's always nice to munch on the tasty mini-baguettes that come in mini-paper bags with excellent butter.
They also provide complimentary bottles of house filtered sparkling and still water on arrival.
Since I adored the chicken pot pie on my last visit, Will went for the Pennsylvania Dutch TURKEY POT PIE with Cheddar Chive Biscuit Top, and it seems to have shrunk in size, but is still a winner of a dish.
Samuel ordered the FILET MIGNON with Fries which he asked for medium rare. the crust was tasty and crunchy, but while the center was medium rare, the edges were dry, chewy and past medium. He complained it was too dry and chewy for a good steak, and he was indeed spot on.
I chose the Friday night special of LOBSTER ROLL & Chips. The homemade chips were awesome with a spicy kick and while the roll was a good size, it was a bit soggy and messy to eat and leaked all over the place as I took each bite.
The accompanying Agave Lemonade was declared as way too sweet.
Samuel ended with the monster-sized HOT FUDGE SUNDAE which was Vanilla Ice Cream over flourless Chocolate Cake, a nice chunk of Almond bark and a very not fudgey (more thick chocolate sauce) hot fudge topping.
Will liked his STICKY TOFFEE PUDDING that came in a skillet with caramelized apples and vanilla ice cream. The coffee here always gets high marks.
We'll seek other options in the area next time, and maybe return to The Smith at a later date.