Tavolo

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We found this understated gem of an Italian restaurant sandwiched in the middle of several Japanese restaurants on the third floor of Parco Millenia.  As it’s directly opposite Nantsuttei, we’d had ample opportunity to scout it out and we noted that the restaurant was suffering from a serious lack of clientele.  Originally we’d put it down to poor food quality, but eventually we decided to give it a try – mainly because the poor Italian chef sitting at the restaurant looked so desperately despondent!

The menu was a bit unusual, so we tried a little bit of everything.  We noticed that there was only one soup option, so we had to have it.  Nothing that special, it was a simple cream of zucchini but it was well-executed and not too salty or creamy.

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The next thing we tried though was something else.  It was advertised on the menu as a “piadina”, or pizza bread.  Intrigued, we ordered tomato and mozzarella version.  It was delicious!  The bread crust was nicely toasted, crispy and flavourful.  The ripe tomato and especially the rich mozzarella topping complemented the bread’s flavour perfectly. DC particularly liked it and almost overate before getting to our pasta course.

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Next up was the homemade fettuccini with squab ragout.   It’s quite hard to find squab in Singapore, so I was a bit worried that the dish wouldn’t be well-made.  But it turned out perfectly.  The sauce was a nice thick consistency and a little bit nutty and full of meaty, slightly gamey flavour.  It definitely didn’t taste like chicken, though if I was told it was beef, I’d believe it. The only thing that gave the squab away was the occasional little  bone that I had to pick out from the sauce. I liked the pasta immensely. It was freshly made with plenty of egg yolk and cooked till just al dente. Excellent stuff.

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DC went for the fettuccine with sea urchin and bottarga (salted cod roe).  The waitress warned us that some people didn’t like this dish as it was rather fishy, but DC’s always up for a challenge when it comes to food; plus for him, the fishier the better.  True enough, the dish was rather fishy due to the bottarga. After getting over the first fishy mouthful, he reported that the unique flavour of preserved fish roe and sea urchin really hit the spot. I wasn’t too convinced as I’m not fond of the slight whiff of ammonia that accompanies sea urchin that isn’t absolutely fresh from the sea (an impossible feat in Singapore), though I can understand how the umami and sheer in-your-face essence of the sea can really hit the spot.

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So far, we’d had two unique dishes – the piadina and the bottarga/sea urchin pasta.  We were looking forward to the dessert.  DC ordered a chocolate sausage, while I ordered semifreddo.  Unfortunately, the chocolate sausage, while interesting-looking, was a bit of a disappointment. The log of chocolate and bread (panettone?) was crying out for intense dark chocolate to be used and for far less of a sugary crunch. It was an unfortunate but immediate fail.

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The semifreddo, on the other hand, was something else altogether.  The semifreddo, half pudding, half  melting ice cream, was smooth and caramelly with plenty of almond for crunch. I especially liked the burnt caramel sauce that rounded it all off nicely on a slightly bitter-sweet note.

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If you’re interested in good Italian at a reasonable price (Citibank had a discount running here!), heck out Tavolo.  Unfortunately, most people go to Parco Millenia for Japanese food and give this place a miss, so I don’t know how long this restaurant can survive.  Catch it quickly before it’s gone, especially the piadina!

Tavolo
9 Raffles Boulevard
#03-07 Parco Marina Bay, Millenia Walk
Tel: 6423 1123

Saboten: Finally a Contender for Tonkichi’s Title

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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!

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

Ramen Showdown: Nantsuttei

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It’s official. Nantsuttei is now top of my list of best ramen in Singapore. It’s also pretty reasonably priced as far as ramen in Singapore goes. The queue here isn’t as feral as the one at Ippudo. For lunch, as long as you avoid 12.30 to 1.30 you’re all good, and for weekday dinners after 8pm is normally OK too.

I first tried the comes-with-everything noodles plus an egg. It came with a huge sprinkling of spring onions that seemed to occlude the rest of the toppings of chashu, beansprouts and special garlic oil. The first thing I bit into was the egg and it was eggy goodness all the way as the white was lightly salty from the braising and the yolk just set so the very inside was still slightly runny. So far it’s the best egg of the major ramen shops. As far as the chashu was concerned, it was rather run of the mill. Nothing much to write home about on the taste and tenderness.

Next was the noodle. It was just the right firmness for me, with enough bite for interest and not so hard that I felt that it was undercooked. The wonderful thing about the doneness of the noodles was that the noodles still tasted good when I got to the bottom of the bowl.

Then the soup. I wasn’t sure about this because it was quite salty and not particularly rich as ramen broths go. It was pretty acceptable though. I also wasn’t too keen on the slightly burnt and carcinogenic taste of the black garlic oil that makes the place famous.

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On another visit, I tried the dragon ramen. It’s basically the same ramen minus the OTT spring onion topping and with spicy bean and minced meat paste. Now this may not be particularly traditional, but it made all the difference to the soup, making it my all-time favourite. I liked the flavour of the spicy paste because the taste of the fermented bean really came through. It also muted the burnt garlic taste, making it Very Yummy.

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Nantsuttei doesn’t have a great deal to offer in terms of sides, only chopped chashu rice and gyoza. The gyoza isn’t too bad, it’s nicely burnt in parts on the outside and meatily juicy on the inside. Decent enough when you’re hungry and want more than ramen to fill the belly.

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Nantsuttei
P3-06 #03-02
Millenia Walk 9 Raffles Boulevard
Tel: 6337 7166

Keisuke Ramen

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Level 3 of the newly opened Parco Marina Bay has half a floor of Japanese restaurants, with two ramen shops, a tonkatsu place, Japanese Western (that’s Ma Maison), a regular diner and a sushi deli. DC and I chose the ramen shop with no queue: Keisuke Ramen. It’s quite an interesting proposition, having prawn-based broth instead of regular tonkotsu (pork bone) stuff. Everything on the menu was prawn-something, even down to the salad. Go only if you like prawn.

The first thing DC noticed were the special chopsticks. Notice how they’re pentagonal, presumably to help hold on to the noodles better.

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On further inspection of the chopsticks, we noticed that there was a special rough finish to the bottom part, again helping to grip the noodles better. This place certainly is very serious about its noodles!

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Another special touch was the distinctive shape of the bowls. The opening is slanted, making for an oddly private viewing of the diner’s progress of the meal.

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Ordering any “special” ramen would involve the extra toppings coming on a side plate. There was pleasantly briny pickled lettuce, rather disappointingly hard-boiled egg and chilled boiled chicken. They all went decently with the ramen but did nothing to steal the show.

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Now the ramen itself is quite different. Check out the dramatic presentation, complete with pretty deep-fried chilli shreds. Aside from the regular toppings, there was also prawn wanton in the special ramen and yuzu bits. I quite liked this version, it was a vaguely Japanese yuzu-y twist on your typical hawker haemee broth. The noodles were very decent, not quite al dente but still chewy. I liked them.

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I felt that the miso prawn broth was something else altogether. The creaminess of the miso gave the broth quite a different dimension. That, added to the  special garlic oil, yuzu and earthy burdock bits, made it all quite complex and at times a bit confusing to the palate. On the other hand, it made for many changes in taste as I progressed to the bottom of the bowl.

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Keisuke Ramen
P3-02 Parco Marina Bay, Millenia Walk
Tel: 6337 7919

Ice Cream Round Up

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It’s great that there’s plenty of good ice cream around, especially with so many local ice cream makers around. Tom’s Palette is one of the lesser known yet one of the better ones. I like their inventive flavours and sheer variety. Each time I go, there’s an interesting flavour to try out. Over the Chinese New Year period, they  not only had the usual “surprising” pineapple tart flavour, but also had stuff like tau sar piah flavour.

I also like their generous portions. In this picture there’s ba bao cha (eight treasure tea) sorbet and my favourite salted caramel cheesecake. The ba bao cha flavour wa a flavoured ice, nothing particularly special except it being served as sorbet. Now the salted caramel cheesecake is something else altogether: incredibly rich and cheesy, with bits of crumbled cookie base and the most luscious salty caramel flavour. Other flavours of note are the wasabi lime (a combination that works amazingly well, but not in too large a dose!) and passionfruit sake for the clean flavours.

Tom’s Palette
100 Beach Road #01-25
Shaw Leisure Gallery
Tel: 6296 5239

Galta Gelato at Parco Marina Bay is pretty decent too. The fridge is a funky cylindrical contraption with the ice cream laid out in a turn table of sorts.

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The gelato is very smooth and drippy. The fior di latte (milk) flavour was a bit too sweet for my taste, a pity. On the other hand, the ciocolate flavour was intense and unctuous, very excellent stuff especially considering that I’m not a big fan of chocolate ice cream. Try the other flavours and let me know whether they’re good!

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Galta Gelato Italiano Artigianale
P1-08 Parco Marina Bay

Last on the list is what DC think is the grandaddy of local ice cream: Daily Scoop. Their ice cream is always very smooth with the finest crystals, favourite flavours being coconut and butterscotch (I wonder what a combination of the two would be like!). We were delighted to find out that they served desserts and found that the brownie went amazingly well with the Salted Mr Brown. Somehow the salted creaminess worked a charm against the foil of warm chocolate. The butterscotch was buttery and caramelly and lovely with the brownie too, but far lovelier on its own. Bliss!

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Daily Scoop
41 Sunset Way
Tel: 6463 3365