A Good Brunch at db

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We’re not sure how it happened, but one Sunday I found myself at Daniel Boulud’s swanky cafe at Marina Bay Sands with DC, Shinta, KK and Eeyore. We opted to share some starters and then proceeded to our own main courses. The first appetiser was the quail ballotine en croute ($22), basically a baked pate of quail and foie gras enclosed in a pastry shell. It was well executed and tasty. Maybe I’ve had too much airline food but this reminded me a lot of the stuff you get on the plane if you eat just the quail part. But with the foie gras centre, things are all good and yummy. I quite liked the pickles at the side, especially the bit of shiitake pickle – a refreshing change to the usual carrot and cucumber pickle.

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The spicy tuna tartare ($23) was good in that the ingredients were impeccably fresh and flavourful. The chef had a very light hand in the spices as it was hardly spicy to my palate, yet paradoxically heavy on the salt. Perhaps he was going for the cured salmon style while I was expecting more sashimi salad.

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The chop chop salad ($15) cost more with shrimp ($21). We counted 4 shrimp, making them $1.50 each, which isn’t too bad considering that they were, as is the standard at this restaurant, fresh. What I enjoyed throughout the meal was that every ingredient in each dish seemed to burst with freshness and was pretty much picked at its peak. I normally tolerate bits of wilted salad leaves here and there, sometimes even at the best places, but at db, it seemed like they did a proper freshness QC. Very good! Here, again, the salad was very tasty and fresh, though nothing inventive or mindblowing. $15 for a fresh salad with watermelon, sweet and juicy though they were, seems a bit steep to me.

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For mains, DC went for the piggie burger ($24) which had a beef patty topped with pulled pork. My tasting portion of beef patty was well seared on the outside and nicely juicy in the outside. I didn’t taste much pulled pork and think the patty is delicious enough to have on its own. Maybe I’ll go for this one next time.

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KK and Eeyore both had the original db burger ($35), which had braised short ribs in the middle of the meat patty and foie gras on top. I didn’t find my tasting portion very special and didn’t even notice much of the short ribs. One thing though was that the foie gras was tiny and I was very lucky that the piece KK cut for me had a tiny sliver that barely caught my attention had it not fallen onto my plate. But the fries at this place are da bomb. I think they’re probably the best fries I’ve had in recent memory. These are definitely twice fried, they’re super crisp on the outside and somehow slightly waxy and moist on the inside. I wouldn’t call it fluffy, but somehow the texture worked really well. The flavour was great too, and they salted the fries just so. I wonder if they put beef or goose fat in the oil to make it taste that good.

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Shinta had the barramundi grenobloise ($34), again an impeccably seasoned dish. My tasting portion of fish had a lovely crisp crust of skin that really added to the juicy fish. Excellent.

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Finally, my dish. I went for the grilled yellow fin tuna ($36), which I felt was the weakest link of the main courses. The tuna was of decent quality. I’m belabouring the point here, but the produce offered at this restaurant is faultless. However, the flavour of the tuna somehow didn’t sing and I felt that the corn fricasee was a tad too stodgy despite being lifted by the spicy, mustardy watercress. Plus, I could hardly taste the hedgehog mushrooms that I ordered the dish for (yes I put dishes with mushrooms at the top of my order list). While it was a decent rendition of tuna, it was sadly very forgettable.

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For dessert, we were stuffed and none of the other desserts appealed to us, so we went for the warm madeleines for the table to share ($8). Considering that the rest of the dishes were fairly pricey, we were expecting no more than one madeleine per person in that portion. We were very happily surprised that the madeleines came piping hot instead of warm and there were plenty to go round. Even Shinta, who was on a no-carb diet, dipped in and there were so many that no one fought over the last piece (a rarity in this crowd). I liked how each delicate little cake had almost crisp edges of darker golden brown that really added to the tender texture of the morsel. The subtle orange peel flavour added to the yummy ending to the meal.

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I like db Bistro Moderne and think it’s got good, fresh, well executed food and efficient, attentive service. Price-wise, it’s not cheap as we paid $66 per person for all the food above plus a glass of wine and a fruit punch (don’t order the fruit punch, it tastes just like the type you get at post-event buffets). However, I’d say it’s quite worthwhile, as opposed to truly value for money, as the produce really is fresh (there, I’ve said it yet again!). I’d return, though probably for a chi-chi splurge than for a regular work-night dinner. Oh yes, and I’d return for the fries!

db Bistro Moderne
B1-48 The Shoppes Marina Bay Sands
Tel: 6688 8525

Quick Eats: Good Value at Huber’s Bistro

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DC and I wanted something quick and not bank-breaking in the Dempsey area and we were surprised that something like that actually exists! It’s Huber’s Bistro, same place as the Butchery. We were very happy to see the reasonable prices and, being absolutely famished, made our choices quickly. My veal sausage with spatzli ($12.90) was decent. The sausage was of the more-meat-less-filler variety, definitely German-style as I like.  The spatzli was pretty decent, I liked that it had been pan-fried with some browned edges. The problem was that it was a hot day and I was soon stodged out by the spatzli. It’s much better suited to much cooler weather.

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DC was much less blinded by hunger when he ordered and wisely chose the daily special barbecued beef brisket panini ($8.90). It was tender and nicely marinated in crisp, toasted panini. I liked that they cared enough to create more interest with crunchy red cabbage, soft lettuce and tasty browned onions. Very good.

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Huber’s Bistro
18A Dempsey Road
Tel: 6737 1588

April in The Philippines: Wrecks and Good Food

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Coron is less than an hour away by plane from El Nido. By ferry, however, it takes an eternity. I caught the morning ferry and only got there 10 hours later. Nothing much happened on the way, save that we saw an eagle of sorts kept as a house bird.

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The scenery wasn’t quite as good as that in El Nido. The limestone crags were still draped with lovely green, but the cloudy skies turned the water a dull grey-blue.

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We finally arrived as the sun was going down. Thankfully I’d booked ahead and the dive resort was right where the boat dropped us.

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Coron is famed for its wreck diving. An island surrounded by shallows, its warm waters are ideal for diving year round. It was this same shallow water that stranded a whole fleet of WWII Japanese warships and all of them went down under Allied fire. I didn’t yet have my underwater camera at this point, so all I have is this photo of the dive brief.

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I wasn’t particularly keen on wreck diving. All wrecks look pretty much the same to me and marine life on wrecks hardly seems varied enough to sustain my interest. I feel that wrecks, being dead things, are very unnatural and it’s quite spooky even in the day time to go there. The idea that people died there, that I’m diving a grave site is quite unnerving.

Obviously, I enjoyed mealtimes a lot more. The crew made excellent food and there was plenty to go round.

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Aside from the food, other things caught my fancy too. Here is the entrance to Barracuda Lake. The lake is enclosed within the island and to get there, we had to scramble up and down craggy rocks. Only some bits of the way was a proper path connected by wooden planks. And if that doesn’t sound hard enough, we had to do this with full scuba gear on. OK fine, so we hung the fins round our necks, but you get the idea. It was awful!

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The dive itself was fantastic though. I didn’t see the barracuda, later someone told me others had spotted it on the other side. What an experience it was! Fresh water running into the saltwater lake somehow forms a film on the top which traps heat from the sun. It results in (relatively) cold water of 30ºC at the top and warm water of 38ºC at the bottom. It felt like diving in a nice warm bath. I loved it. At 10m, there’s a halocline where salt water and fresh water meet in a hazy muddle. It’s really strange to pass through that transition. I saw the bottom at the shallower part of the lake and it was made of a strange kind of earthy, soft sand. You could dig your arm right inside and still not reach anything hard. Squeamish about odd encounters with the unseen, I only reached in up to my elbow. The dive guides told me that someone had once taken a photo with his head buried in the sand like an ostrich!

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As usual, the food was excellent, with fresh grilled fish at practically every meal. It was great.

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While we’re still on the topic of food, there was this great French place on Coron that served up amazing food, especially considering that we were hours away from freshly imported gourmet food. I had the booziest coq au vin ever, so full of red wine that I had to go back to my room to lie down before heading out to check my email and then head back Coron Bistro for some very good apple tart.

Relish

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It was raining so instead of our usual running date, DC and I went to stuff our faces with beer and hamburgers. Oh joy.

First, the beers. DC had the German Konig Ludwig Weissbier (5.5%) that was light, wheaty and smooth. I didn’t fancy it that much because it was a tad characterless and hadn’t much in the flavour department.  But true enough to the suggested pairing, it went well with his burger (see ginormous later).

I had the Belgian Titje Blanche (4.7%), also smooth and light but much better than the Konig Ludwig. It had a sweet and rounded fruity taste that I liked a lot. Slightly hoppy, it had a bitter aftertaste that balanced off the flavour profile very nicely. A worthy pairing with my seafood burger.

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DC ordered the bacon and cheese burger with guacamole on the side. It really is as huge as it looks! It was a rather decent burger: juicy though vaguely lacking in beefiness. I liked it together with all that sinful melted cheese, bacon and even more sinful guacamole. Accompanied by fries and mayonnaise, this probably negated our exercise gains for the month.

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I went for the seafood burger. It worked surprisingly well as the prawn, crab, squid and fish (?) combined very well.  Tasted good and had lots of texture from bouncy prawn to soft crab to rubbery (in a good way) squid. Enhanced by the lime mayonnaise it’s definitely a keeper. I’m coming back for this one.

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It was Wednesday, where there was some kind of ladies special. DC mock pouted as I tucked into my free chocolate cake. He’ll just have to come back wearing a skirt! For the record, it was very good. There was something a bit dense about the cake, as if there was too much cornstarch in the mix. Now don’t come telling me that molten choc cake is supposed to be dense. It’s not. Molten choc cake is supposed to be rich. Rich and dense are two different things. Anyhow, I’ll stop knocking the rather flavourless cake, it was free after all.

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501 Bukit Timah Road
#02-01 Cluny Court
Tel: 6763 1547

Greenwood Oysters Galore

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Hypodermically wanted to eat cheap oysters so we went. By the time the gang assembled at Greenwood Fish Market, they’d been cleaned out of their $1 oysters. No biggie because they offered us the ginormous Baron Point ones at $3 each. Thus our group of seven cleaned out their $3 oysters too.

They came piled high on the plates. Since we’re all on Facebook, we had a field day alternately taking pictures and cam-whoring. Pride of place of course were the two massive platters of massive oysters.

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Just so you can get a handle on how big these suckers were, here’s a picture. J-thing said they were as big as a yeti’s paw. (Like he’s seen one before.)

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Of my three oysters, one was absolutely sublime. It had a clean seafood flavour with the characteristic metallic oyster tang. It slid down my throat like a dream and my only regret was that I was on a budget and I couldn’t have a glass of muscadet to go with it. Nonetheless, there were a few priceless seconds where only discreet slurping was heard at our normally too-loud table. Of course it all ended when we reduced the oysters to this.

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Now for the bit on the downsides.

  1. Service was abysmally slow. We were a loud boisterous group and it took ages before we managed to catch someone’s attention to make our order. Even though we kept flagging down the servers, they weren’t allowed to take orders and were too harried/distracted to get a manager over to take our orders. It had to get down to this: J-thing called the restaurant on his mobile phone to get someone to come over!
  2. Two of my oysters were a bit… ripe. So was one of Cheshirefeline’s. He paused dramatically mid-oyster and very drily said “Uuuhhhh… I think I just had what my oyster last ate before it died…” I had the runs the next day. Yup, you got it right. The one who indiscriminately eats Southeast Asian street food had the runs from eating $3 oysters at Greenwood. Perhaps I didn’t have any alcohol to kill the oyster cooties, but this really shouldn’t happen.
  3. Nowhere on the menu did it say that everyone at the table had to order a main dish to enjoy the $3 oysters. Some of us health freaks only wanted (expensive, mind you) salad and others wanted to share. It’s fair enough if the restaurant was upfront about it, but we only knew when we tried to order. Luckily we were a bunch of yaw gwees and the restaurant |”closed one eye” to let us order one less main. Uh, yeah, fine. Whatever.

Anyhow, Tristella and I shared the fish and chips. It was decent, but not particularly memorable. Good chips, OK fish and too sweet salad dressing. Meh.

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Greenwood Fish Market and Bistro
34 Greenwood Ave Singapore 289236
Tel: 6467 4950