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Monday, February 27, 2006

A classic cult café

One of the most unique restaurants in Singapore is the Colbar. This 58 year old, out of the way, non-air-conditioned, and inexpensive restaurant has been a cult favorite of locals and (especially) expatriates for decades. I'll admit right away that I'm a bit of a Johnny-come-lately to the Colbar. While I've known about it for years, I've only started going there very recently--which means that I've only eaten there in its present and new location on Whitchurch Road.

For generations, the Colbar--allegedly short for "Colonial Bar"--was on Jalan Hang Jebat, a small street in a part of Singapore that once housed British soldiers. However, in a very Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy moment, the Colbar was threatened with closure because of a planned highway extension that would overrun this sleepy street. Thankfully, Colbar regulars petitioned the powers that be and not only was a new home found for this quaint eatery, but the building that housed it was declared historically important, taken down and completely rebuilt on its new premises, just 5 minutes from its old home on Jalan Hang Jebat.

The Colbar serves both Western and Chinese food. The food's pretty basic. You won't get fancy, plated gourmet fare here. What you will get, though, is very well made versions of popular classics like chicken and pork chops (pictured at the top is an order of chicken chop with beans and chips), steak and chips, and a number of omelets. Some dishes in particular are stand-outs. I'm told the full English breakfast is excellent. My brother's girlfriend adores the ox tongue sandwich. But the dish that I, and many others, go to the Colbar for is the chicken curry.

I love the chicken curry here. It's made just the way I like--extremely lemak (meaning, with tons of coconut milk) and very mild. Locals consider this kind of curry very Chinese, as opposed to Malay or Indian. The meat is incredibly tender. The portion, as you can see, is pretty healthy. And at just S$7, it's a real bargain. Some days, the curry even sells out by mid-afternoon.

The Colbar attracts a pretty eclectic clientale. It's very popular with expatriate families. Go for lunch on the weekend and you'll be surrounded by dozens of well-dressed foreign children digging into their food or playing at the nearby tire-swing. Its also popular with young local couples with a penchant for nostalgia. And, of course, its a pilgrimage spot for local foodies.

The space itself is pretty unique. The Colbar is located in a large field in one corner of Wessex Estate, a tree-filled, artsy, residential neighborhood. The restaurant is essentially a kitchen and a couple of rooms, none of which are air-conditioned. There's a big open area in the back with several tables and even more tables around one side and in front of the restaurant. It's a fantastic throwback to another era and a little piece of Singapore that I hope is still here and still serving great curry after another 58 years.

9A Whitchurch Road
Wessex Estate, Singapore
Tel: 6779 4859
Open Tues-Sun, 11am-830pm

Burger update

Following up on my recent post on my continuing quest for a great burger, my brother W, he who worships In'N'Out, recommended I check out the new Premium Burgers menu at One Ninety, the casual restaurant in the Four Seasons (Singapore) Hotel. They serve, he told me, some pretty tasty mini-burgers.

S and I made a beeline there this past Saturday, eager to check out them out. It's a good concept. For S$23+++, you get three tiny burgers with your choice of toppings. There are 6 possible options: foie gras with fig glaze; wild mushrooms and chives; shallots and micro green herbs; black truffles and port wine; kikorangi cheese with caramelized onions; and sea urchin and wasabi. Each order also comes with a salad and fries.

I tried the foie gras, the truffle and the kikorangi cheese burgers. S ordered the wild mushrooms, truffle and kikorangi cheese ones. The burgers, I have to say, are really, really small, much smaller than I had imagined they'd be. Each patty was maybe 2.5 inches wide and .75 inches tall. Despite their diminutive size, the patties were delicious--perfectly seasoned, deliciously juicy, and cooked just right, i.e. medium rare. Of the ones that I had, the foie gras burger was the clear winner. The liver was wonderfully creamy and the sweet fig glaze added a nice contrast. The truffle was pretty much tasteless and the worst of the bunch. S liked the kikorangi cheese the best. To me, it was good but not something I'd crave--mostly because I've never been a big fan of blue cheeses. That said, this New Zealand blue is very nice, with a mild nuttiness that makes it one of the more accessible blues. Unfortunately, neither the salad nor the fries that came with the burgers were anything special.

Would I go back for these? Sure, but only if I was planning on spending the rest of the day shopping or hanging out in the Four Seasons neighborhood. At S$23+++, they're not cheap, but they are good, if a tad small. It's just a shame the salad and fries were so disappointing.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

IMBB23: Gigot a la Bordelaise

This month's theme for Is My Blog Burning? is "French regional cuisine and a glass of wine". It's hosted by the marvelously talented Laura of Cucina Testa Rossa, who, as you might guess, has the great and enviable fortune of living in France.

For this month's challenge, S and I dipped into a book we've owned for quite a while but hadn't actually cooked from before. Paula Wolfert's The Cooking of Southwest France is an excellent compendium of delicious regional recipes. Inspired by a gorgeous, fresh leg of lamb that we picked up at our favorite market, we decided to try making Ms Wolfert's Roast Leg of Lamb in the Style of Bordeaux (Gigot a la Bordelaise).

From what I gather, lamb's been a traditional meat, ceremonially eaten at Easter, in Bordeaux and other parts of France for centuries. Pairing wine with lamb is also classic. So, choosing lamb for this month's challenge was sort of a no-brainer.

Ms Wolfert's recipe incorporates vinegar and shallots, both in the cooking process and then as the basis for a sauce. While I was hesitant about this at first, the vinegar-based sauce was perfect. It's tartness cut through the meatiness of the lamb as well as lifted the dish, adding a new and delicious dimension to it.

To go with the lamb, we polished off a prized bottle of Quintarelli Valpolicella, pictured above. I'd picked this up on my last trip to Venice (along with the other edible goodies in the photo). For the uninitiated, Quintarelli is one of Italy's most-respected cult wine labels. Its Amarone is second to none, almost impossible to find, and ridiculously costly. Its Valpolicella is almost as hard to find, a tad bit cheaper, but equally stunning--robust, fruity, and powerful. It was the perfect wine to pair with our lamb.

Gigot a la Bordelaise
(serves 6)

1 whole leg of lamb
2 large garlic cloves, peeled and cut into thin slivers
1 teaspoon course salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons rendered duck or goose fat
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
3/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
3/4 cup unsalted chicken stock

Trim off excess fat and tough outer skin from the lamb, leaving a thin layer of fat. Make about 10 incisions near the leg bone and insert garlic slivers. Rub the meat with salt and pepper, then coat with the fat and oil. Massage into the meat. Refrigerate, loosely covered with plastic wrap, for at least 3 hours or overnight. Remove from the refrigerator 2 to 3 hours before roasting.

About 2 hours before serving, preheat the oven to 500ºF. Place the lamb on a rack in a large roasting pan. Set the pan in the top third of the oven and roast for 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and let the lamb rest at room temperature for 30 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350ºF.

Meanwhile, in a small nonreactive saucepan, combine the vinegar and shallots; bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until reduced to 1/3 cup, about 20 minutes. Strain, reserving the shallots and vinegar separately.

Pour the vinegar and 1/2 cup water into the roasting pan. Return the lamb and roast, basting with the pan juices every 5 minutes, for 30 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 135º to 140ºF for medium-rare.

Remove the lamb to a carving board and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes. Meanwhile, make the shallot sauce: Add the stock and reserved shallots to the drippings in the roasting pan and bring to a boil on top of the stove, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Slice the lamb and serve with the shallot sauce.

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Monday, February 20, 2006

Do try this at home

I really enjoy miso cod. I love the taste and the texture. I'd even go so far as to say that it's one of my favorite dishes. Despite my preference for it though, it's one of the very few things that I adamantly refuse to order in restaurants. I know that sounds odd. But I don't see the point of paying good money--heck, usually a lot of money--for a dish that's ridiculously easy to replicate perfectly at home. It's one thing to go to a fancy restaurant and be totally wowed by amazing things that you'd never, no matter how many cookbooks you read or cooking classes you take, be able to make. It's another to go somewhere and order something you could put together in minutes, blindfolded.

A lot of good restaurants around the world serve miso cod. Many claim it as as a signature dish. You can get it most famously in any number of Nobu restaurants around the world. Nobu charges US$17 for a portion. In Singapore, restaurants charge almost the same. The ingredient cost of a portion, however, (at least here in Singapore) is somewhere between US$6-US$7. That's a 150% mark-up.

Which is understandable. When you pay for a dish in a restaurant, you're not just paying for the food. You're paying for the labor costs that went into turning the raw ingredients into something delicious; you're paying for the service staff that so politely took your order and then brought you your food; and you're helping to pay for the restaurant's rent and utilities. Even though I understand all of this, because miso cod is so easy to make, I have a real problem accepting it.

Preparing miso cod is as easy as making Jell-O. You only need to be able to do three things. First, you need to be able to measure ingredients. Secondly, you need to be able to turn on your oven. And lastly, you need to be able use a watch. It's that simple. And it's pretty foolproof.

Over the weekend, I noticed that my favorite Japanese supermarket has begun stocking a whole range of yuzu-flavored products. Inspired, we bought some yuzu pepper sauce and some yuzu miso paste. I used the yuzu miso, mixed with some shiro (white) miso, to marinate two lovely pieces of black cod. With the cod, we served some butter braised leeks. It was a lovely meal, worthy of any restaurant menu, but at a fraction of the cost.

Black Cod with Miso
(tweaked from nobu the cookbook)
serves 4

4 black cod filets, each about 230g
150ml mirin
450g white miso paste
225g granulated sugar

Bring a little sake and the mirin to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Boil for 20 seconds then turn off the heat. Let the mirin-sake mix cool to room temperature. When cool, mix in the miso paste and the sugar.

Pat the filets dry with paper towel. In a shallow bowl, cover the filets with the miso paste mixture. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave it in the fridge for 2 to 3 days.

The day you want to eat, remove the cod from the fridge 2- 3 hours ahead of cooking. Preheat your oven to 200ºC (400ºF). Wipe the miso off the cod (do not wash or rinse it) and place on a baking tray. First place the fish on the grill, or in a broiler pan, and grill or broil until the surface and skin begins to brown. Then bake for 10-12 minutes. That's it!

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Blogs to visit

Boy do things move fast in the blogosphere. It was only a few months ago (September in fact) when I wrote about some of my favorite new blogs. Now, some of those, like the always sharp-witted Monkey Gland (aka Jam-Faced) and the brilliantly talented Chockylit are considered veterans and role models for newer bloggers!

I thought I'd share two new blogs that I've become a big fan of and one slightly older blog that I love and admire. Curiously and perhaps coincidentally, both of the new blogs that I've become enamored with are written by people with professional links to the creative industries--the first is by a marketing professional who deals with the f&b industry and the second is by a professional magazine and book editor and writer.

photo from Matt Bites

Matt Bites is a big beautiful blog. Created by a marketing and design professional, it, of course, looks great. It has a slick, strong but clean layout that I like, gorgeous photos, and a really nice use of fonts (I'm slightly obsessed with typography). Matt also writes very well, with just the right mix of humor, passion and humility. He clearly loves food and life and his blog is brimming with energy. I have to admit it's also nice to see another bloke blogging on food. There are just too few of us.

photo from Greedy Goose

Greedy Goose is written by a friend, ex-colleague, and fellow dog-owner. The blog's creator, Annette, rightly points out in her very first post that she "eats like a man". This is a really delicious blog, filled with great photos, wonderful stories on pigging out, dining out, and cooking. And lots and lots of humor.

illustration from Kokblog

Kokblog is probably the most unique blog in the food blog world. Unlike the other two mentioned above, it's not that new; from what I can tell, Johanna started it in July 2005. A trained architect, wizard artist and passionate foodie, this blog is a pictorial journey through Johanna's favorite recipes, most of them Swedish. I love that instead of photos--like most of us--Johanna accompanies each post with the cutest illustration. I can only imagine that in a few months, smart food magazine editors will be commissioning drawings from her to accompany articles in their publications. I know I would. Johanna also writes clearly and succinctly--no rambling for 1000 words on the history of obscure ingredients for this gal--which is something I really appreciate as a reader. Sometimes, brevity is best.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Cheeseburger cheeseburger cheeseburger

If I were told that I had one last meal before I died and then I was given the choice between a super chic 15 course degustation meal cooked by Thomas Keller, Tetsuya Wakuda, Ferran Adria and Joel Robuchon and a perfect cheeseburger, the choice would be easy. I'd pick the burger without a moment's hesitation. Because while fancy fare is fun to eat and the theater of a top restaurant is often memorable, nothing beats a good burger.

I love burgers. Part of my fanaticism is my mother's fault. When I was younger, she made some pretty amazing cheeseburgers—chopped sirloin patties with American cheese on toasted Thomas' English Muffins. Even today, when I think about some of my best times as a kid, many of them involve me sitting at the kitchen counter, burger in hand. And in the mouth.

It's hard to define what makes a good burger. Is it the bun? Or is it the meat? Should it be hand-chopped? Should there be anything blended into the meat or should it be beef with nothing more than salt and pepper? What about a bit of pork in the patty? Ketchup or "special sauce"? What kind of cheese is best? Just how many toppings should the burger have? Should it be a total salad like so many Aussie burgers have in them or should the toppings be limited to the traditional combination of lettuce, tomato and onion? What about a fried egg on it?

Honestly, what makes a great burger is a pretty individual thing. Three of my favorites can be found in Margaret River, Western Australia, St. Helena, California and New York City. The burger served at the Green Room Surf Café in Margaret River is gorgeously Australian. It consists of a large patty topped with 3 inches of salad—alfafa, beetroot (a typical Aussie touch), lettuce, etc—cheese and bacon, served on a bacon cheese bun. Taylor's Refresher, in St. Helena, a small town in Napa Valley, is a slice of the American past. I mean, what could be more retro than a roadside burger shack? I especially like the Patty Melt, a burger with swiss cheese, grilled onions, mayo & dijon on grilled rye. Corner Bistro is something of an institution in New York. And for West Village residents—which I was way back in the mid-nineties—it's where you go when all you want is a good cheap beer and a great, greasy burger. Despite its name, the Bistro is a good old-fashioned dive bar, open from around lunch time until 4AM every day of the week. It serves cheap drinks—including microbrews for just $2 a mug—and a simple menu of burger, cheeseburger, bacon cheeseburger and fries. Regulars have no problem standing in line for an hour for a table and one of their no-frills burgers, served on paper plates.

One of the few people I know who is even more obsessed with burgers than I am is my brother W. As an ex-Los Angeles resident
like just about every person I've ever met who has lived in L.A.—he's obsessed with In'N'Out Burger. He talks about their burgers all the time. And when he does, it's with this eerie reverential tone reserved only for Ducatis, miniature long-haired dachshunds, epoisse, Terence Malick movies and his girlfriend. I, however, have never had an In'N'Out burger, so I can only imagine what one tastes like based on W's descriptions. And from reading various descriptions on the web.

From what I've gathered, an In'N'Out burger is small. It's made with really fresh ingredients and served with a "secret sauce". And lastly, it's stacked in a specific order—from bottom up, bun, sauce, tomato, lettuce, patty, cheese, grilled onion, bun. Since I've never eaten one, there's no way I'd be able to replicate it—it's a bit like trying to sing a song without ever hearing it first. But because I was kind of curious what the fuss was all about, I did decide to take what I had read and come up with a burger in the spirit of In'N'Out's double double (two patties, 2 slices of cheese) but made my own way.

I made a bunch of small patties, each about a half inch thick (In'N'Out's are supposedly a quarter inch). I blended a sauce together using ketchup, mayo, Japanese mayo, Champagne vinegar, worcester sauce, sugar, salt and pepper. We served the burgers with the sauce, romaine lettuce, tomatoes, Kraft Deli Deluxe American cheese slices, grilled onions and small butter buns fried in salted butter. I though the burgers were delicious. And I loved the small size; it made them easier to eat.

Of course, when I served one to W, he said it tasted great but wasn't anything like an In'N'Out. Which, I think, is pretty okay with me.

The Green Room Surf Cafe
113B Bussell Hwy, Margaret River
Western Australia
(Note that the café only opens at 5pm)

Taylor's Refresher
933 Main Street
St. Helena, CA

Corner Bistro
331 W 4th St
New York, NY 10014

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Super simple Valentine's Day dinner

I'm one of those guys that doesn't really buy into the whole Valentine's Day shtick. For two reasons. First, I believe that if you're with someone you really care about, then every day together should be a special day. Which leads me to the second reason. I consider Valentine's Day to be an artificial, commercial creation used to con you into spending extra money on overpriced meals by restaurants you normally wouldn't patronize to begin with. I'm one of those oddball romantic yet cynical blokes that scorns Valentine's Day but likes buying his wife gifts for no reason at all. Why should she have to wait for a birthday, anniversary, or other so-called special occasions for me to do something especially nice? In fact, it's a hell of a lot more fun when she doesn't expect anything. And it doesn't have to be big. My latest present to S, in fact, was a gorgeous walnut wood clutch (purse), handmade by a wizard artist named Tadd Sackville-West, that I discovered while surfing design sites. While I briefly considered waiting till Valentine's Day or her birthday (which is in a few weeks) to give it to her, I decided to give it to her as soon as it arrived in the mail. (It was, quite simply, gift from me for no other reason than that I adore her.)

As an anti-Valentine's Day person, most years I eat dinner on the 14th with S at home. Which is something I would advocate to anyone and everyone, regardless of your views of the day in question. I say this because, as alluded to above, restaurants like to sell Valentine's Day packages. Unfortunately, these are usually rather bland, over-priced set menus, with a few cheesy, romantic items--rose petals on the table, a glass of bubbly upon arrival, an annoying violinist in the corner of the room, etc--thrown in to justify the hefty price tag. Maybe I'm strange, but I don't find the idea of sitting in a room filled with other couples, all of us eating the same over-priced food, very romantic.

Instead, consider cooking a small, light dinner for your loved one. He or she will appreciate the effort. Eating at home means you can tailor the mood to your exact specifications, i.e. you can pick the music, the table settings, how bright or how dim the lights should be, etc. I suggest a light menu because after a romantic dinner you want to have the energy for a little romping around. Big dinners are great for greedy gourmands but suck if you're trying to get jiggy with someone. Because I know all I ever want to do after having eaten till bursting is lie down and take a nap. A light dinner ensures that both you and your companion have the energy for some good old-fashioned cardiovascular fun.

Also, don't kill yourself in the kitchen. Cooking a meal from French Laundry is fine if you have a team of kitchen elves, but for the solo home-chef, it's hell. You want to look your best on Valentine's Day. You want to feel and look rested. The last thing you want to do is to exhaust yourself before you even sit down to eat.

For those of you in search of a fast, easy but delicious and very, very sexy Valentine's Day menu, I've taken the liberty of suggesting one. (Regular readers will recognize two of the three dishes and the images, which have appeared in previous posts.) The whole dinner shouldn't take you much more than an hour or two of prep and each of the two savory dishes only requires a few minutes to cook. I'd serve the whole dinner with a bottle of bubbly. I recomend a bottle of Krug Grand Cuvée or a bottle of Taittinger Comte de Champagne.

Scallops with bacon and parmesan, grilled in their own shell

This recipe is inspired by one from Nobu's second cookbook, Nobu Now. You'll need to buy some good, fresh scallops. Make sure they come with their shells. In addition, you'll need soy sauce, garlic, butter, lemon, bacon and parmesan. The bacon should be chopped into tiny pieces and fried ahead of time. The parmesan must be fresh. Grate a little and set it aside as well.

Clean your scallops, disconnecting them from their shells and then after patting dry, place each back on a shell. Add a tiny amount of butter on the scallop, a drop of soy, a little grated garlic, and a little bit of bacon. Sprinkle the scallops with the freshly grated parmesan and pop them into a preheated oven and cook at 200 Degrees C for 4-5 minutes or until the cheese is nicely browned. Please note that if using a convection oven, place your scallops on the highest rack, so that the cheese is nearest the hot metal conductors. Serve the finished scallops with a wedge of lemon.

Confit of Salmon topped with hijiki and ikura, served with mushrooms

This dish is a variation of Tetsuya's famous confit of ocean trout--the cooking method is the same. You'll need some sashimi-grade salmon, grapeseed oil, fresh coriander and basil, some chopped garlic, an orange, shiso-flavored hijiki (which you can buy in packets at Japanese grocery stores), ikura, nameko mushrooms, mirin, butter, salt and pepper.

Marinate the salmon for a day in a bowl that's been filled with grapeseed oil (the oil should just cover the fish). In the oil, add some coriander, basil, garlic, pepper, and the zest of one orange. When ready to eat, take the salmon out of the oil, pat dry and then place on a baking tray or baking dish. Cook the salmon for 7 minutes at 100 degrees Celsius. Chop the hijiki into tiny pieces and then cover the top of the salmon with it. Then add a small spoonful of ikura.

The mushrooms are really easy. Melt a pat of butter in a sauté pan over medium heat. Toss in your mushrooms, and stir. After a minute of cooking, add a splash of mirin and cook for another minute or two. Add salt to taste.

Chocolate Red Wine Soup with Strawberries

This recipe comes from Michel Richard, a French chef based in Washington DC, where I lived between 1984 and 1990. It's an utterly sexy, easy-to-make and yummy dessert that needs to be made ahead of time--it needs to chill for 4-6 hours before serving. This was my favorite "date night" dessert for years.

You'll need 1/2 cup sugar, 1 cup dry red wine, 1 tablespoon vanilla extract, 1 pint strawberries (hulled and thinly sliced lengthwise), 2 ounces bittersweet chocolate (finely chopped) and some strawberries for garnish.

Mix the sugar, red wine and vanilla in a large bowl. Add the strawberries and marinate for 2 hours. Melt the chocolate in the top of a double boiler above gently simmering water and stir until smooth. Strain the strawberry mixture, reserving the strawberries. Heat the marinating liquid in a medium saucepan to the same temperature as the chocolate. Whisk several tablespoons of the marinating liquid into the chocolate and stir until smooth. Then whisk in the remaining liquid. Strain back into the bowl through a fine sieve. Cool to room temperature. Add the reserved strawberries and refigerate until well chilled, 4-6 hours.

To serve, ladle into a small cup or soup bowl and garnish with 1 strawberry.

After dinner, if your companion's looking a little sleepy, serve him or her an espresso. If s/he doesn't need it, grab an extra bottle of bubbly and adjourn to a much more comfortable room for some post-dinner fun.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Simple weekday Caesar

I'm not a big fan of salads. A plate full of raw vegetables just doesn't do it for me. That said, I really like Caesar Salads. My wife S, of course, likes to complain that a Caesar, like a Cobb, is hardly healthy and I really shouldn't be pretending that by ordering one I'm watching my ever-increasing weight.

The Caesar, for fascinated food historians, was reportedly invented by Caesar Cardini, an Italian restaurateur in Tijuana, Mexico, and first served on 4 July, 1924 to a group of vacationing Hollywood stars. Also noteworthy is that the original Caesar didn't have any anchovies in it. The original contained just Romaine (Cos) lettuce, coddled eggs, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, olive oil, freshly grated Parmesan cheese, croutons, salt and pepper. When the achovies were added is kind of a culinary mystery. These days, the classic Caesar uses an achovy-accented dressing and often includes bacon. Many restaurants also top their Caesars with pan-seared salmon, chicken or prawns. My favorite Caesars in town are the ones made by Project Shop Café and the garlic prawn version that chefs Jimmy Chok and Anderson Ho used to make at Fig Leaf restaurant, way back when it was in Central Mall.

The great thing about a Caesar Salad is that once you've made your dressing, it's actually a cinch to make. We like to use Thomas Keller's dressing recipe, found in his French Laundry Cookbook (and transcribed below). Keller's Caesar, of course, is tres chic. But this dressing works just as well on simpler versions. For our weeknight quick fix, S and I used baby Romaine, maple-smoked bacon, poached eggs, freshly grated parmesan, and prawns dusted in salt and flour and then quickly fried. Easy, healthy (well, healthier than a slab of pork belly at least), and quick.

Thomas Keller's Anchovy Dressing
(makes 2 cups)

1.5 tablespoons chopped garlic
1.5 tablespoons chopped shallots
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
2 salt-packed anchovy filets, deboned, soaked in milk for 30 minutes, drained and patted dry
1 large egg yolk
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup canola oil
freshly ground pepper

Purée the garlic, shallots, vinegar, mustard, lemon juice and achovies in a blender until smooth. Transfer to a mixer with the paddle attachment and beat in the egg yolk. With the machine running, slowly drizzle in the oils. Season with white pepper. Cover and refrigerate. This can be stored for up to 3 days.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Majestic restaurant

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a little bit about the new Majestic restaurant and its chef, Mr Yong Bing Ngen. Since then, I've been fortunate enough to dine at the Majestic three times, twice pre-opening and once post-opening (last night to be more exact).

To be completely honest, the first time, the food was good but not great. It was simply well-cooked Cantonese food. In other words, it wasn't distinctive at all. But because I'd eaten great food cooked by Chef Yong, at both Doc Cheng's and Hai Tien Lo, I figured he was still getting used to his new kitchen and new team. The second time S and I ate the Majestic, the food was much better. But it still wasn't amazing. Of course, the restaurant wasn't open yet and our meals were being hosted by the restaurant's owner in order to get feedback from a trusted group of greedy gourmets pre-opening. S and I, earnest critics that we are, wrote our host a 3 page confidential letter, sharing our thoughts on what worked and what needed to be improved.

Since opening though, it appears that Chef Yong has really hit his stride. The meal we just had was stunning. The dishes were elegantly but not pretentiously plated. The food was both traditional and contemporary at the same time. And almost every dish was delicious. We were thrilled with our meal. And ecstatic that within just a week of its official opening, the kitchen team has come together so well.

We started our meal with a combination of crispy prawn with wasabi dressing and Peking duck served with pan-seared foie gras. This was a great first course. The prawns, while commonly served at other Modern Chinese restaurants, were exellent. The foie gras and Peking duck pairing, though, was even better. The liver had a lovely caramelized crust and was deliciously runny inside. Paired with the crispy duck skin, it was a sinfully rich mouthful that left us panting for more.

Our second course was a double-boiled lobster broth with lobster meat, asparagus and mushrooms. I'm not a big fan of Chinese soups, but this was very well-executed. For my tastes, it could have had a touch more salt, but I noticed that the gals at the table were very pleased with the more subtle flavoring.

Our third course was gorgeous. It was a soft shell crab served with a creamy milk and lime sauce. Honestly, just thinking about this wonderful dish is making me hungry. The crabs were served hot and crispy. The sauce was rich but it was used sparingly, giving the dish a lightness you don't expect in a milk-sauced dish. The crabs were also brilliantly juicy and meaty. This was a real winner!

Course number four was a grilled rack of lamb in a Chinese honey sauce accompanied by fried carrot cake. This was also perfect. The lamb was juicy and tender. The sauce, while powerful, gave the dish a nice strong accent. And the carrot cake... the carrot cake was heaven! It was, without exaggerating, the best carrot cake I have ever eaten in my whole life. In fact, Chef Yong's carrot cake was so good that our table asked for an extra portion for each and every one of us.

Our fifth course (or sixth, if you count our extra carrot cake portion as a course) was a fried egg noodle with Teochew goose slices served with yellow chives and bean sprouts. This course really made me smile because it was, in some ways, pretty similar to my own roast duck noodles. Except of course, Chef Yong's was better.

Dessert was a cold mango soup with pomelo, sago, ginkgo nuts and vanilla ice cream. This was the only course I could have done without. It was okay but not great. Actually, I wouldn't have minded another helping of carrot cake instead.

The Majestic is a modern restaurant, with wood floors and tables, a green and tan palette, beautiful custom-designed chairs, and exquisite Flos lights. The room is casual but cool. The music is swinging and the service staff friendly and polite. Including several private rooms, the restaurant can seat 100. The thick but well-designed menu offers two degustation menus, a large variety of traditional Cantonese dishes and a smaller number of Modern Chinese courses.

Based on our most recent meal and discussions with both Chef Yong and the restaurant's owner, I believe that within a few weeks, the Majestic will be consistently churning out course after course of beautiful food. And while Chef Yong is adept at cooking traditional Cantonese fare, I still believe it's his more modern recipes that will make him famous and that will make the Majestic a real destination restaurant.

Of course, it's not exactly fair of me (or anyone for that matter) to review a restaurant within a week of opening, but since I know Chef Yong's food, having eaten meals made by him in three different restaurants; since I've visited the Majestic not just once but three times; and since I'm perfectly willing to accept that it takes a good 6 weeks for any restaurant to really come into its own; I'm happy to say that I'm impressed. And that I'll be coming back. Because I'm really looking forward to seeing how the restaurant evolves over the next few months.

Majestic Restaurant
New Majestic Hotel
31-37 Bukit Pasoh Road
Tel: 6511 4718

Friday, February 03, 2006

Simple creamed spinach

My favorite vegetable is spinach. I like it cooked and I like it raw. In fact, it's one of the few vegetables I enjoy raw. I really love spinach that's been sauteed in olive oil and garlic. Whenever I'm travelling in Italy and it's in season, I try to order sauteed spinach as often as possible. I'd have a portion with every meal if I could. I'm also a big, big fan of a good spinach salad, dressed with a warm vinaigrette with bacon and chopped egg.

My favorite style of spinach--much to my health-conscious wife's horror--is creamed spinach. I love this dish. I love the rich heartiness of it and I love the taste. It's the perfect accompaniment to almost any meat or seafood dish. And it's great on its own, spooned directly from the saucepan into my mouth.

I recently tried out a new technique to making this classic sidedish. Instead of sauteeing the spinach and then adding the cream sauce, I steamed the spinach first. I also used baby spinach which meant I did not need to do any chopping. In a large saucepan, I made my bechamel sauce (melt butter, stir in flour, add cream, cook and stir) which I flavored with a bit of salt, pepper and ground nutmeg. When the sauce was just the right thickness and tasted perfect, I stirred the steamed baby spinach into the hot bechamel. I let this heat up for just under a minute, stirring, then turned off the heat and served it. It was fantastic. Unlike with some creamed spinach recipes, in which the spinach is overcooked to death, this spinach still had a lovely fresh taste. I ate it, poured rather gluttonnessly over a nice piece of grilled ribeye.