Pizzeria Mozza

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It’s not easy to get a table at Mozza. The first time we went, it was an impomptu treat from a regular and we had no idea of the privilege we had then. The next time, we called, hoping to get a reservation for the following evening, only to be told that we had to wait till the week after. So wait we did, and it didn’t disappoint. Make  sure you order lots of antipasti, they’re generally very good. We started with the chicken livers, capers, parsley and guanciale bruschetta ($17). The coarsely chopped liver paste on crisp toast is one of my favourite starters here, I love the not-quite pate texture of silky yet not completely smooth. The bacon crisp on top of guanciale (apparently bacon made from pork cheek) really was gilding the lily. Yummy. If you have space, also try the fagiole one, that’s pretty decent too.

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It seems a bit of an overkill to order bread to go along with our starters especially after the bruschetta, but the  fett’unta ($6) was really quite something. It’s a peasant-style bread cooked in a pan with olive oil to a very crisp crust, very yummy but also on the oily side. Eat with plenty of the next starter…

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… the prosciutto di parma and buffala mozzarella ($32). The buffala was creamy yet not heavy and was the perfect accompaniment to the salty prosciutto. We walloped it all with the bread. If you’re not so keen on ham, try the house made mozzarella with tomatoes, really excellent too.

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The marinated baby peppers with tuna ($16), while decent, was a bit of a weak link. It tasted like a starter on a hotel buffet line, which is not to say it was bad, it simply didn’t blow anything out of the water. Over-priced.

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We went for the pizza with ricotta, oyster mushrooms and shallots ($33). What I like about the pizzas here is that they are made to order and the ingredients are fresh, fresh, fresh. They even make their own ricotta in house. The ricotta was creamy and beautifully yielding, the perfect contrast to the crisp, fragrant bread base. Here, the pizza base is quite substantial, not the same as the thin crust variety that is so a la mode. This way, you get to really taste the bread and remember the pizza is in the end, bread with toppings, rather than toppings on a bread base.

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For dessert, the three of us were quite full from all that bread, so we share the banana gelato pie ($17). It’s basically banana ice cream on a biscuit base that’s topped with whipped cream, dark caramel sauce and plenty of toasted hazelnuts. I liked how it wasn’t as tooth-achingly sweet as the butterscotch budino we tried the last time, but considering how it’s really just a slab of ice cream with caramel sauce and hazelnuts, it’s expensive, no?

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Service-wise, this place is fairly OK as the staff are responsive and quick to take orders. I do, however, have the feeling that it’s not as good as when it first started. Maybe they aren’t able to retain good staff. Aside from that, though, there is this tendency for them to watch our plates like hawks and whip them off once empty, even if others at the table were still enjoying their food. Prevalent as the pratice is, I find that rather rude and offputting. I suppose they train their staff to do that to keep people moving. Doing that encourages people to finish quickly and get out, rather than lingering.

Considering how expensive this place is, I think it really takes away from the experience. I like the food, but I do not like the prices. I suppose one pays for the fresh produce and the privilege of dining at Marina Bay Sands.

Pizzeria Mozza
B1-42/46 Shoppes @ Marina Bay Sands
Tel: +65 6688 8868

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A Whirlwind Trip: Getting into Milan

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I went for a work trip in July last year and was lucky enough that it involved a whirlwind trip of the shopping capitals of Europe, with the first stop being Milan. We took the red-eye flight which meant that we got off the plane early enough to have breakfast at a bar just before our first meeting. We were thankful for the Italian custom of drinking espresso like water and helped ourselves to copious amounts of the brew to keep us awake in the business discussions.

One of the companies we met was very hospitable and brought us to Trattoria Del Drago for a very welcome lunch. The trattoria was set in a little garden and there was a lovely relaxed vibe to it. We had a lovely white wine to go with our lunch, the Picol 2008 (14%). It was a light and crisp sauvignon blanc with a lime flower nose and plenty of slate in the finish. It was a lovely accompaniment to our appetiser.

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And what an appetiser it was! A typically Milanese starter of seafood carpaccio, this is Italy’s answer to sashimi. There was impossibly fresh salmon, tuna and white fish with two types of prawns. It was all dressed lightly in olive oil and was wonderfully tasty, each bite bursting with the sweetness of the sea. I would definitely go back there just for this dish, far away as it may be from the touristy areas of Milan.

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My main was an orecchiette in a tomato cream sauce and a meat I cannot recall, probably chicken. Sadly, it wasn’t mindblowing and it was forgettable in my seafood-dazed, jetlagged stomach.

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Trattoria Del Drago
Via Pusiano, 63, 20132 Milano, Italy
Tel: +39 02 2720 9849 ‎

Our last meeting was, curiously, in an old Roman building that housed the Milanese headquarters of a high tech company . We got through that aided with plenty of hot espresso from thermos flasks, drunk by the shot in tiny plastic cups. We thankfully sank into Hotel Spadari al Duomo, probably the most reasonably priced 4-star hotel of that standard in the area. It was a lovely and very modern hotel, with large enough and very comfortable rooms. 

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In contrast to the Duomo just around the corner, even the artwork on the walls was modern. I liked how the minibar was included in the price of the room (non-alcoholic drinks only), so I didn’t have to worry about finding a convenience store for water. It was a lovely touch especially coming in on a hot day.

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But the feature I liked best was the shower. There were three showerheads in there: a regular handheld shower head (not shown), a rain shower and a waterfall shower! It was fantastic standing under a wall of warm water after a long, long day simply enjoying the pressure of water against skin.

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It was a great hotel with very prompt and excellent service, from emailing for reservations to getting our excellent breakfast every morning to making reservations to depart for the airport. Well worth it!

Hotel Spadari al Duomo
Via Spadari 11 20123 Milano
Tel: +39.02.72002371
Email: reservation@spadarihotel.com

But no rest for the greedy. Before long, we had to regroup for dinner. We went for an early dinner nearby so that we could head back to crash out. An institution and therefore tourist hangout in the area was Trattoria Milanese, a pretty down home type place with unfortunately less down home prices. Still, it was considered reasonable for the area.

We started off with a mix of appetisers. On my plate are parma with melon; tomato with mozzarella and basil; and half a perfectly ripe, luscious summer fig. While not super fantastically good, I think the ingredients travelled far less than it would have if we had the meal back home in Singapore, making it fresher and tastier somehow.

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I made the classic glutton’s mistake of ordering osso bucco with risotto. Mind you, it was yummy and very well made, especially the osso bucco with its unctuous marrow just begging to be sucked dry. The risotto was no slacker either, al dente and richly aromatic. I managed to finish about a third of the plate and tried to parcel as much away to my dining companions as possible. It was such a pity that I couldn’t take away any for later.

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Full to bursting as I was, my greed yet again overreached and I found myself not simply ordering apple sorbet for dessert, but also nodding amicably when the waiter asked if I wanted it doused in Calvados. Unfortunately, the sorbet wasn’t at all tart and was a bit flat on taste, and the apple liqueur was more bitter than aromatic. Still, it sozzled me nicely and at the end of the meal I had to walk carefully so that I wouldn’t stumble on the cobblestones and fall flat on my face in front of the highest ranking person in my organisation.

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Trattoria Milanese
Via Santa Marta, 11, 20123 Milano, Italy
Tel: +39 02 8645 1991 ‎

Thankfully, I made it back to the hotel in one jetlagged, sleep-deprived, espresso-ed out, stuffed-to-the-gills and pretty much sozzled piece. Another lovely waterfall shower later, and I was fast asleep, dreaming of my weekend to follow.

OChre: Flawed but Good Value

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DC’s father insisted that we try out OChre despite us wanting to dress down. We finally got round to getting me out of my usual casual garb (think T-shirt, three-quarter pants and slippers) and into a nice dress and heels. We were pleasantly surprised by this place as the food is pretty good and the prices pretty decent. The cooking is almost classic Italian, with a Japanese sensibility to it. No surprise from a Japanese chef trained in Italy. There’s a restrained elegance to the dishes done well, and a disconcerting feeling of blandness and not quite bringing out the ingredients’ full potential in those not so well executed.

We opted to share the antipasti and primi plati before having our own mains. The first appetiser of tomatoes and bufala was decent as the tomatoes were ripe and sweet and the bufala creamy and fresh. I wasn’t sure about the tomato jelly as it was basically solidified tomato soup that didn’t add much to the flavours and didn’t help to unify the dish. Decent but no a reorder.

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Next was the tonno vitello, slow poached veal topped with tuna sauce. Everyone else seemed to like it, but as it’s not my favourite dish, Ican’t quite comment on the execution. The only thing is thatI felt that it wasn’t a great deal different from the  more downmarket version at Riciotti. I liked how the veal was tender and didn’t like how the cooked tuna in the sauce made it all quite rough in texture.

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The last appetiser was the crowd pleaser: Hokkaido scallop carpaccio with parma ham. The scallop was impeccable, sweet and very slightly briny at the same time. The parma ham was passable, not great, and somehow didn’t quite go with the delicate scallop. Eaten separately, I think this works well, but not both ham and scallop in the same bite.

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I think the ravioli is where the chef really shone. I don’t remember much of the filling (was it kurobuta pork?), just that the little parcels were nicely al dente with chewy, salty filling, and oh the sauce! The sauce was a creamy mushroom sauce with ceps in them. I cannot tell you how much I love the soft texture and gently yet seductively woody flavour of ceps. Cooked into the amazingly creamy sauce, this really made my evening.

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The oyster and saffron risotto was a decent rendition, again not much different from a version at another restaurant, this time Prego’s. I liked the asparagus bits in it, but wasn’t too enamoured by how they couldn’t bring out the clean briny flavour of fresh oysters in this dish. While the oysters were definitely fresh, there was a hint of fishy that I can’t quite place or explain. Perhaps cooking the oysters slightly affected the delicacy of the risotto. Perhaps I also didn’t like that the rice was a bit too hard for my taste. Who knows.

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The chef’s specialty is the duck risotto. I thought it was quite different as it broke away from the mold of risottos being defined by the stock it’s cooked in. This time, I think the chef used water instead of stock and the rice had a very clean taste, quite akin to that of watery porridge made with Thai jasmine rice. Studded in the risotto were cubes of smoked duck, lending little taste explosions of gamey salt to the tongue. It was a good dish but again the rice was too hard. I prefer it cooked a tad more, probably 30 seconds more stirring in the pot and I’ll be a happy camper.

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On to the mains. DC and I shared a beef with foie gras and they portioned them out nicely onto two plates. The funny thing was that they didn’t ask how we wanted the beef done and protested that we should go with the chef’s preference of medium rare. We both like our steaks Bloody and vetoed that in favour of rare. It was almost comical how the waiter kept asking if we were sure. I liked the steak and accompanying vegetables very much, it was all very well executed and the natural flavour of the beef shone through. The foie gras I felt was superfluous and added nothing to the dish. I’ll give it (foie gras, not steak) all to DC next time.

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For dessert, DC and I shared a mille feuille, which we felt was the best dessert of the evening. (There was also panna cotta and creme brulee, which seemed slightly disappointing to the rest.) It was puff pastry with pistachio semi freddofilling. The semifreddo was excellent, being smooth, creamy and full of toasted pistachios. The pastry was a bit too difficult to handle: while crisp, it was a bit too hard and impossible to cut out to eat with the semifreddo filling. Nonetheless, taking a bit of pastry and a bite of semifreddo, this was a great dessert.

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A few last words on the service: fairly attentive though a bit lacking in the common sense department. One chose to make slightly disparaging comments of the very old Burgundy that DC’s father brought for dinner, not realising that though it wasn’t a Bordeaux (hey Bordeaux doesn’t automatically make a wine good!) it was a good vintage from a respectable vineyard. Later when asked our opinion on the food, one of them rather snippily said that the risotto was done that way in Italy. That certainly wasn’t the case in my recent trip to Italy (more on that later, oh my, one Michelin star heaven!) where risotto was done al dente rather than just off the verge of crunchy. Last, they didn’t do anything to clear away the bread basket that was obviously in the way, just says that the attentiveness is a bit of a show.

OChre’s definitely flawed, but the food has lots of promise, just having one or two things in each dish that if tweaked, would take it right up there in the good food stakes.

OChre
181 Orchard Road
#11-03/04 Orchard Central
Tel: 6634 0423

La Nonna: Good but Flawed

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La Nonna’d been on my to-try list for a while. We went there one gloomy Sunday for a pick-me-up lunch. I liked how hot bread came quite swiftly. There was the crispy flat bread and the softer bun to choose from. The bun was very tasty with the olive oil and balsamic vinegar provided at the table. Nothing like hot bread to start a meal. The only problem was that the flat bread wasn’t that great and the bun was the type that would go stale once cold. Everything had to be eaten hot and eaten now.

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We ordered a couple of specials as appetisers. The first was pan-fried mozzarella wrapped in pancetta. It was a rather decent dish that was pretty well executed especially with the drizzle of balsamic vinegar as a finishing touch. Two flaws marred the dish: first, the cheese was a rather run of the mill mozzarella. Next, the cheese wasn’t oozy at all. The best part is that if the cheese was good, it wouldn’t matter if it wasn’t oozy. And conversely, if the cheese was oozy, it wouldn’t matter if it wasn’t very good!

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Next up was the spicy sausages. These were very tasty, but I felt that they were so heavy-handed with the spice that I couldn’t quite enjoy the meaty flavour. A little more restraint with the chilli and it would have been just perfect. The new potatoes on the side were excellent, particularly paired with the mustard. Again, another dish where a little tweak would have made it just perfect.

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Next came our main course of the house special pizza. It had asparagus, truffle and a runny egg on it. The combination was very good, especially the truffle and egg. I liked how the truffle aroma was just right, enough to entice but not too heavy to drown out everything else. By now you must be wondering about the downside. It was the crust. It tasted and looked frozen as the edges were too uniform and the flavour too flat. Freshly made pizza dough always has the most amazing medley of smells which this version lacked. Again, such a pity.

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After the mains, we had a cappuccino to recuperate. Here I had no complaint as the coffee was rich and robust. Thumbs up.

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And then dessert. DC and I are split on this. I liked the crust but wasn’t sure about the apple filling. DC found the crust too hard and liked the filling a lot. He also liked the rather novel combination of chocolate ice cream with apple tart. I wasn’t sure. Here, it wasn’t so much good but flawed, it was more good but controversial!

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La Nonna seems to be a restaurant that’s on the brink of going downhill. There’s lots of promise in the food and good flavours to be found, just that the chef needs to be vigilant and not cut corners. All its flaws are very much fixable, I hope they do something about it soon.

La Nonna
76 Namly Place
Tel: 6762 1587

A Socially Awkward Dinner

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Some nights I crave something very strong-tasting and assertive, food for non-date nights and when you really don’t care how many vampires or other nasties you scare away with your repellent breath. On nights like these, I cook something starting off rather innocuous: pasta with grilled courgettes and mozzarella. Things go up a notch with the addition of sharp rocket, but we’re hardly anywhere near the pongy breath zone. Slip in mustard to dress the pasta and the arrow of the pong-o-meter barely registers a tick upwards. Now add in the garlic and copious amounts of anchovies and we’re talking (with hand firmly over mouth)! Try it at your own risk, remembering that you have to like the ingredients before using them (silly!) and that you can always dial down the intensity by either using less of the ingredient or in the case of garlic, sauteeing it gently in olive oil before throwing it into the dressing. Are you game?

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Ingredients:

½ courgette, sliced into thick diagonals
linguine
2 anchovy fillets
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 tsps prepared mustard
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp peppery extra virgin olive oil
1 generous handful rocket leaves
¼ ball of mozzarella, torn into rough strips

Recipe:

  1. Heat a grill pan over the stove and grill the courgette slices on both sides till you get black bars on each side. Set aside and wrap in a piece of aluminium foil to keep warm.
  2. Cook the linguine till al dente in unsalted water.
  3. Get on with making the pasta dressing. In a mortar and pestle, grind the anchovy fillets and garlic to a paste, then stir in the mustard and combine well. Add a touch of balsamic vinegar, then a couple of good glugs of good olive oil. Taste and adjust the seasoning either with more mustard or more vinegar.
  4. By now your pasta should be about done. Drain and toss in the dressing till well coated.
  5. Assemble your dish. First the rocket leaves, then quickly flip over the noodles so that the rocket wilts slightly in the heat. Then the grilled courgette on top, followed by torn bits of mozzarella. Finish with a sprinkle of olive oil and the leftover dressing. (Go easy with the dressing, it’s very very salty). Devour.
  6. Brush your teeth when done.

Serves 1.