Saboten: Finally a Contender for Tonkichi’s Title

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

I was thwarted yet again by the long queue outside the tonkotsu ramen place at Parco Marina Bay and opted to give Saboten a go instead. This chain from Shinjuku seems like a slighter more upmarket version of Tonkichi. Bizarrely enough, its name means “cactus” and it was chosen to represent vitality of all things. Go figure.

Anyhow, the free flow of finely shredded cabbage and yummy salad dressing made me very happy from the beginning. The cabbage was fresh and the two dressings so yummy I couldn’t quite decide which was better. The black stuff was soy, vinegar and yuzu dressing and the creamy brown one a sesame-based one. I ended up mixing the two so the salty soy-yuzu one was ameliorated by the creamy sesame. What a promising start!

IMG_0732

I went for the curry loin. The loin came with an immense amount of rice and curry sauce. Just too bad that the curry sauce was very authentically Japanese because it was a bit too sweet for my taste. Thankfully, DC was there to save the day and he appreciatively slurped up quite a bit of it on my behalf. Now the loin was very tasty, made from fresh pork and fried to perfection. I liked how the fried panko crumb bits had some heft to it, matching the pork nicely. This is not a dish for dieters as the loin was rimmed with a fairly substantial layer of fat. It gave the meat an interesting gradation from meltingly tender near the fat to substantial and almost tough towards the outer part. All good in my book!

IMG_0735

DC had the oyako don and he liked it. In his words, it was sticky and sweet. The meat was tender and flavourful, just too bad that the panko crumbs were a bit soft by the time it got to him. Special mention has to be made at this point for the pickles. While they don’t come free flow, the freshness and quality really shone through. I finished them in a flash and was dismayed when the waiter apologetically told us that they had to charge for extra if we wanted more. Oh well.

IMG_0736

At least there was dessert to compensate: green tea ice cream in nicely chilled bowls. Not bad, though we were there for the tonkatsu, not the ice cream!

IMG_0738


Saboten
#P3-01 Parco Marina Bay, Millenia Walk
Tel: 6333 3432

Seoul Eats: YongSuSan

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

Another day, we had lunch at YongSuSan, famous for its classy traditional Korean fare. Being on a budget, we limited ourselves to the lower end of the set lunches, but it was enough to wow. There seemed to be endless courses of appetisers. First up were the “translucent mung bean noodles, crunchy pickled cucumber, threads of sweet marinated beef and julienne mushroom and julienne mushroom, sprinkled with black-green seaweed” and the “Kaesung style mixed vegetable salad of crunch bean-sprouts radish spinach and slices of dried persimmon.” Both were spooned directly onto our plates and after a bit of prodding and sniffing, we wolfed it all down. Which was just as well because the next appetiser was soon spooned onto our plates: “gold strands of jelly-fish with crisp pears and cucumber in a mustard dressing.” It was so redolent of wasabe that I couldn’t finish it (no picture, it looks just like below except pale wasabe green).

DSCF7209

A soft creamy pottage served with water kimchi came next. It tasted just as it looked – bland.

DSCF7210

It wasn’t too bad considering my tongue needed a respite from the early wasabe starter.

DSCF7211

For many of us, the highlight of the meal was “a plate of steamed tender pork belly chunks, served with cabbage and radish marinated in a red chili pepper.” The pork belly tasted very familiar. It also helped that fatty pork with kimchi is one of those heavenly combinations, a match made in heaven. Soon after I took this photo, the plate was wiped clean.

DSCF7213

The next dish was more of a palate cleanser: “seasonal fresh vegetable and lettus salad in a Korean dressing.” A pity that the Korean dressing seemed more like Thousand Island Dressing to me!

DSCF7214

I missed out taking a picture of the “soup with snowball shape rice pasta” as it was simply salty soup with a glutinous rice ball in it. Nothing much.

I quite liked the “traditional pancake dish a la Yongsusan” though, it was chewy like nian gao and deep fried. Not much to dislike her. The “seasonal brochette marinated in a Korean sauce” was a skewer of grilled vegetables, nothing much really.

DSCF7217

And we finally finished the starters and got to the astonishingly simple main dish. Koreans seem to have a rather strange concept of main course. Anyway, mine was “five grains of rice cooked in a bamboo bowl” with “soybean vegetable soup with various kinds of side dishes.” The wrapping was so pretty.

DSCF7219

The rice really seemed to be only five grains of grain on unpolished rice. It was an incredibly elegant wholegrain dish with rather forgettable miso  cabbage soup.

DSCF7221

Desserts were “Korean rice cake and cookie” with fresh seasonal fruits. I can’t remember what the brown thing was like except sweet. The cherry tomato encased it what seemed like the stuff from snowskin mooncakes was rather original I felt. Quite yummy.

DSCF7223

And last of all, to round off every Korean meal is the very yummy “seasonal fruits punch of variant style.” I really digged how cute the little flower shaped pear punch-out was!

DSCF7225

YongSuSan Taepyungno
Seoul Finance Center

Seoul Eats: Traditional Hotpot Noodles and Porridge

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

One of our contacts brought us to a delightful place in the Seochu area. I have no idea how to get back there as it’s in a back alley in a business district. On first glance, the place looked like a barbecue place as it consisted mainly of long private rooms where people sat in the sunken area around similarly long tables. I was surprised and relieved that we weren’t having barbecue for lunch as I wasn’t looking forward to an entire afternoon of business meetings smelling like charred beef.

First came the typical side dishes. There were a few types of kimchi: cabbage, turnip and one that the locals themselves argued about. It was a spicy salad of Korean shiso leaves, but not fermented, hence the hot debate. There was also oddly enough fried spam and a sort of potato salad with sweet thousand island dressing.

DSCF7180

Next, the hotpot was cooked in front of us, with plenty of beef slices, leek, Chinese cabbage and siew bak choy. There were also mushrooms, noodles and plenty of spice. Strangely enough, we didn’t do anything ourselves. Having the pot in front of us was strictly ceremonial as the waitress quickly whisked the pot away when the noodle soup was done and portioned them out into individual servings.

DSCF7178

Each serving was huge as it is. It was a hearty and simple noodle dish that hit the right spot of warming and spicy. Deep inside, I wondered if it was a tad too simple for a business meal.

DSCF7184

Of course, the Koreans never stint in their hospitality. That bowl of noodles was only part one! There was plenty of stock left in the noodle pot and they mixed in rice, seaweed and other yummies. This was all done away from the table so we had no idea what else went in. This porridge was even more delicious than the noodles and we happily slurped it all up despite the premonition that food coma plus afternoon meetings did not add up well!

DSCF7187

Braise

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

DC took me to Braise for our anniversary dinner. It was a lovely place with the best service I’ve experienced in Singapore: warm and attentive yet unobtrusive. They noticed that I was cold and not only gave me a shawl, they also made sure that my hot water was topped up all the time.

It was too bad the tasting menu wasn’t very exciting, so we went a la carte. Still, the chef sent out an amuse bouche of some kind of pate on a sliver of toasted baguette. I don’t remember what it was, all I know that it was rich, very tasty and left us both wanting me. I suspect it’s a fish rillette of sorts. We’ll have to see whether it makes its way to the main menu before telling.

DSCF7092

DC’s starter was just his thing: a rich and unctuous pairing of foie gras and sweetbread. I wasn’t sure of the spongey-grainy texture of the sweetbread, but DC loved it. It’s pretty difficult to get parts like pancreas in Singapore.

DSCF7098

I had half a dozen fines de claire oysters au naturel. They didn’t even need the lemon, they were so fresh. I loved how the sharp, slightly briny taste mellowed into mouth-filling savour. It was a pity they didn’t have a muscadet to go with it, that pairing is made in heaven. I was so sad when I ate my last one, enjoying the aftertaste for as long as I could. It’ll be a while before I get oysters of that quality again.

DSCF7101

Now for the mains. Mine was a straightforward roast beef in jus, paired with braised beef cheek, savoy cabbage and decadent, decadent buttery mash. It was a good dish that tasted far better than it looks in the picture. (The problem with romantic settings is that pictures just don’t come out well at all.) The beef was nicely rare, just as I like it, and the beef cheek the expected melt-in-mouth tender. Coupled with the very buttery mashed potato, it was a tad on the rich side, which DC quite predictably loved. Needless to say, I finished the savoy cabbage quite quickly as it was a good foil to all the butter and fat.

DSCF7105

I think DC may have had the more interesting dish. His grilled fish with capellini was quite different as fish and cheese are not commonly paired. The pasta was doused in a very cheesy stock that wasn’t at all stringy. It was as if the essence of cheese had been distilled and used to flavour the pasta, without having any actual cheese in it. I can’t even imagine how they made this. The fish itself was good too, with a nice gratinated crust. It was ordinary in a good way.

DSCF7106

Dessert was a bit of a pity. I didn’t understand why they had to deconstruct a trifle. I liked the apple jelly and granite, it was just a pity that the custard was starchy. It showed that either the head chef was off-duty or hadn’t any confidence in his custard-making skills or both. I liked the cinnamon donut, but wasn’t sure of the point of it. Yes yes, I know that it’s the deconstructed trifle sponge, but it didn’t really add anything to the dessert. Braise would do better if they hired a better dessert chef.

DSCF7107

In summary, we’ve got outstanding starters and very competent, somewhat creative mains. Avoid the dessert and you’ll have a fabulous dinner.

Braise
60 Palawan Beach Walk
Level 2 Sentosa
Tel: 6271 1929

Pseudo-Japanese Noodles

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

I don’t call myself an expert on Japanese cooking, but when I feel like cooking Japanese for myself I make noodles with miso paste and dashi powder. Both are easily available from Japanese supermarkets. Miso paste comes in a bewildering number of variations. While the white version is more common, I like the deeper flavour of red miso. Dashi powder is simply Japanese fish stock powder. You could try making it from scratch, but since it’s msg and bonito anyway, I don’t bother and just buy it from the shop.

I like both soba and udon for this dish, but soba is easier to have on hand as it comes dried, unlike udon that needs to be bought fresh. I like the subtle flavour of green tea in chasoba best as it offsets the rather earthy flavour of buckwheat rather well.

One variation on the theme had me using some fancy Japanese tofu from Meidiya and some pork ribs I unearthed from the freezer. It’s definite worthwhile paying the $1 extra for good tofu, and this hits the spot for comforting and fairly healthy.

DSCF6004

Ingredients:

6 pork ribs
2 bundles of chasoba
1 tsp dashi powder, or to taste
¼ Chinese cabbage, cut into small chunks
1 box good Japanese tofu, cut into large chunks
2 tbsp red miso paste

Method:

  1. Put the defrosted pork ribs in a saucepan, cover with water, bring to a boil and simmer for about 30 mins or till tender. Remove the ribs from the stock.
  2. Cook the noodles according to packet instructions, then strain and run under the tap. Put into serving bowls.
  3. Bring the stock to a boil and add the dashi powder and Chinese cabbage, simmer till tender for about 3 minutes, then add the tofu.
  4. In a little bowl, mix the miso paste with a couple of spoonfuls of hot stock to dilute. It should be a runny paste before you add it to the soup.
  5. Bring the soup to a quick boil before ladling out onto the noodles.

Serves 2.

Dinner Party Solutions: Apple, Cabbage and Caraway Salad

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

This is another one of those dishes that can be made a few hours in advance so you can have guests come over early for drinks without any need to fuss over the food. It’s a kind of grown-up coleslaw, made healthier with yogurt instead of mayonnaise. Carrot is a good idea too, but only if you enjoy the extra work.

dscf3403

Ingredients:

100 ml yogurt
¼ cabbage
2 apples
lemon juice
2 tsp English mustard
1 tsp caraway seeds, or to taste

Method:

  1. Drain the yogurt over a sieve for at least two hours.
  2. Finely slice the cabbage. Dry thoroughly in a salad spinner.
  3. Finely slice the apples and toss in the lemon juice to stop it from browning.
  4. Combine the sliced cabbage and apple with the yogurt, mustard and caraway seeds. Mix thoroughly and season generously with salt and pepper.
  5. Leave it in the fridge for an hour or more to allow the flavours to mingle.

Serves 8.