A Whirlwind Trip: Getting into Milan

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

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.

IMG_1815

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.

IMG_1811

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.

IMG_1813

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. 

IMG_1816

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.

IMG_1817

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.

IMG_1825

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.

IMG_1819

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.

IMG_1821

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.

IMG_1823

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.

Quick Eats: Japanese Pasta at Bentendo

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

One more in the Japanese series before we head on to another theme. We brought DC’s grandmother to Bentendo because she loves mentaiko. Out of the other mediocre pastas we had, the mentaiko one with ika and shiso was pretty outstanding. I liked how the salty richness of the mentaiko played out against the bracing greenness of the shisho and the soft yield of the raw squid. The seaweed topping added another briny dimension to it. Here’s where every ingredient, including the garnish, worked well to make a creative and very delicious whole.

DSCF7347

The rest of the pastas didn’t fare so well. DC’s uni pasta was too creamy and the uni wasn’t fresh. DC’s grandma loved her mentaiko cream pasta but I found it too rich. We also had a sashimi salad starter that was quite good. The iceberg lettuce was crisp and fresh and the salmon, tuna and tako bits were fairly fresh. Topped by wafu dressing, it was a decent start to the meal. Next time I go, I’ll have the salad and mentaiko shiso pasta, and I’ll check out the Japanese pizzas.

Bentendo
1 Kim Seng Promenade
#03-32/33 Great World City
Tel: 6235 5606

A Tatsuya Birthday Dinner

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

In a fit of extreme generosity, Dad brought us to Tatsuya’s for my birthday dinner. We went for the seasonal omakase, which was many kinds of sublime. The thought that all the seafood had been flown in either fro Tsukiji or Fukuoka fish markets made the food even more delicious.

The first course was a duo of anglerfish liver and fresh ikura (salmon roe). The anglerfish liver was made into a pate. Smooth and unctuous with just a touch of fishiness to remind you that it’s fish not fowl, it was contrasted delicately with a light vinegar sauce. Sorry Kiraku, this version rocked my socks. And the ikura! As it is, ikura is one of my all time favourites. This version came with every single delicate egg sac intact and only very lightly sauced. The only pity was that there were two or three eggs that weren’t as fresh as they should be. It was still good though, because the others, each so incredibly bursty, made up for it.

IMGP1720

Next up was probably the best dish in the meal. I know the picture below doesn’t do it justice, but the crab tofu with century egg sauce was out of this world. I felt like I was eating crab chawanmushi because the tofu was so thick and rich. The crab formed a matrix that held the tofu together – succulently, just sheer crabily. The textures and flavours came together beautifully from the softness of the tofu to the yield of the crab and crunchiness of the shrimp roe to the earthiness of the century egg. It’s the one dish I’d go back for again and again.

IMG_0186

The sashimi plate came next. The fish was all fresh and good, though the otoro and amaebi weren’t the best I’ve tasted. I liked the yellowtail and swordfish, especially the dressed yellowtail in special sauce. I also liked how the waitress told us that everything on the plate could be eaten. The sprig of tiny pink flowers tasted vaguely of lavender and was an excellent interlude to the fish.

IMG_0188

The next dish was what we all felt was the weakest link. It was the simmered item: Japanese yam cakes with yakitori chicken and leek then sprinkled with yuzu. The yam cakes were still slightly crisp from the deep fryer (!) and had a very pleasing slightly starchy texture. I’m glad it didn’t have the gummy texture of the raw version. Now the rest of the dish somehow seemed unbalanced because the chicken was far too sweet and salty and the leek too pongy for my taste. I didn’t intend to have onion breath from a Japanese dinner!

IMG_0189

What followed was better than the preceding dish. Grilled barracuda topped with mentaiko mayonnaise and pickled ginger stem was quite good. It was a bit too rich for Mum and she pushed it to Dad. DC loved it though, mentaiko and especially mayonnaise are his favourites. I liked how the fish was grilled: slightly charred on the outside, moist perfection on the inside. The mentaiko mayonnaise was rich and full of oily fishy goodness.

IMGP1737

The next dish redeemed all the sins of the preceding dishes (bar the crab tofu of course). The sushi was amazing. Start first with the amberjack topped with caviar. Savour the unadulterated freshness contrasted with the dark, deeply savoury caviar. Then go for the swordfish aburi. Enjoy the contrast between cooked and fresh fish, and charred rice. Now have the sweet shrimp topped with prawn roe. Can you detect that special aroma of almost burnt crustacean? Ready for the otoro aburi? It’s pretty good but save the scallop with foie gras for the last. It’s that good. Smooth sweet scallop with fatty foie gras coming together in perfection in your mouth. Mmm…

IMGP1741

The waitress came round and asked if we were full. If not, she suggested the house temaki specialty. We were full but not about to pass up the house specialty. The waitress returned, urging us to quickly eat before the seaweed got soggy. My initial thoughts on the first bite were “quite normal what, salmon skin, prawn roe, cucumber, rice, what’s the big deal?” Then it dawned on me. The textures were an epiphany. There was firm rice, crispy salmon skin with a touch of rich mayonnaise, crunchy bursty roe, and fresh crisp cucumber. Wrapped with freshly toasted seaweed, it was an exploration of four kinds of crispy. Amazing.

IMGP1746a

We ended the savoury courses with a fantastic miso soup made with fresh baby clams. It was amazing how many clams I could fish out of one regular bowl of miso soup. The clams made the soup amazingly deep and richly seafoody yet not at all fishy. The miso rounded it all off nicely. Another coup for the chef.

When we finally surrendered to the waitress, she brought out the dessert of sweet pear, pomegranate and persimmon. The first two weren’t particularly special, but I liked the persimmon. It was sweet and yummy, though I’m not sure it’s that much nicer than a regular one at the peak of ripeness.

IMGP1748

One strange thing about this place is that while the food is posh and incredibly expensive, the waitresses talk quite loudly and seemed to treat us like friends, not so much customers. It nice and we felt at home quite quickly, but it seemed rather out of sync that the waitresses practically shouted orders at each other, so it’s not a place for a quiet dinner. It took a bit of getting used to though!

While of course not perfect, the meal was very good. DC said it’s the best Japanese he’s had in Singapore and he’s an authority given his extensive eating at these places. Definitely a place for celebrating birthdays and bonuses.

Tatsuya Japanese Restaurant
Goodwood Park Hotel
22 Scotts Road
Tel : 6887 4598

Sake-To-Me Indulgence

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

It was Mfluder’s birthday and the inimitable Tricia, together with Mr and Mrs Sailorboy, put together an amazing dinner at then-new Kiraku. (Sorry Mfluder for posting this late, happy birthday plus 8 weeks!) Almost 20 of us took up the centre of the restaurant (not enough space in the private room) for Mfluder’s Sake-To-Me Night of Indulgence and made enough noise for 40! Mrs Sailorboy arranged for a special menu and the restaurant graciously gave us, among other things,  little bites to start the meal. The first little bite was fish liver. It tasted like rather fishy foie gras, not too bad but I probably wouldn’t want more than the few morsels in the bowl.

DSCF6964

Then they probably ran out of fish liver because the rest of the late ones streaming in got this rather nice unagi starter. Boy were Hypodermically and I pleased that we got there early as we got two types of nice bites!

DSCF6970

Because Hypodermically and I couldn’t wait for the rest to arrive so dinner proper could start, we ordered a very competent sashimi salad that was very fresh and left us hankering for more.

DSCF6961

The first dish was the star of the entire dinner: oyster chawanmushi like nothing we’d tasted before. This truly brought chawanmushi to a new level. The uber-soft egg custard lay under half an inch of clear broth. Taking an exploratory spoonful of the broth, I tasted dashi broth and ginger. Dipping my spoon gently into the custard, I got ready for the egg part. And the silky yielding custard was an epiphany of oyster. I don’t know how they got it so soft and how they got the oyster bits just cooked without tasting at all fishy, but this is top of my list in chawanmushi. It’s the best one I’ve had. Ever.

DSCF6972

Next came assorted sashimi, which was fresh, though not astoundingly fresh like on lucky days when you intercept the shipment straight from Japan. I liked it even more when Hypodermically agreed to swap her maguro for my salmon. The sweet prawn was quite nice…

DSCF6979

… but even nicer was Mrs Sailorboy making sure that everyone surrendered their prawn heads for frying. Now these deep-fried prawn heads made for an ideal snack to go along with sake…

DSCF6982

… which by now everyone was downing. The owner gave us what seemed like a free flow of very good, very smooth sake that kept coming. I don’t remember very much what it tasted like because DC didn’t let me take more than a few sips. Before you think he was being evil (though he normally is, heheh), he didn’t want me to repeat a Smokin’ Frogz. We also shared a small bottle of very lovely (even better than the free flow stuff!) sake between the four or five of us in the vicinity.

DSCF6986

Next up was the tempura, nice and crisp. Good standard, though not particularly special.

DSCF6984

But the sushi was very good. Somehow the rice was done perfect: balanced perfectly on the edge of hard and flavoured with just the right amount of vinegar. The three here beat my Singapore gold standard of Isetan supermarket sushi (go try it for yourself before you scoff). Excellent.

DSCF6988

Emboldened by the excellent sushi, we rather paradoxically ordered more sashimi. The otoro was amazing. Having not been to Tsukiji market, I obviously don’t know what otoro is supposed to be like, but this one was another epiphany. Even DC was uncharacteristically uncharitable: we had to split the last piece. Being on the more despotic side of the relationship, I obviously got the slightly bigger and therefore better half.

DSCF6995

It was a pity that my favourite ikura gunkan didn’t fare as well. Here, they soak the salmon roe in sake which gives it a rather interesting alcoholic edge. I prefer it done the normal way where you can really taste the fish oil. It didn’t help that the sacs were quite thick, so the ikura wasn’t as bursty as I like.

DSCF7012

Everyone else oohed and aahed and loved the oyster sashimi. It was so big that it had to be served cut into little bits. I felt that it was a competent and fresh enough oyster. However, it just doesn’t beat oysters in the half-shell that still taste of the sea. This one somehow didn’t. It felt more like it belonged in a (very) high-class or luak.

DSCF6996

The savoury courses finally came to an end with sukiyaki and shabu shabu.

DSCF7001

True to form, ours wasn’t any old sukiyaki or shabu shabu. It came with wagyu beef…

DSCF7006

… and kurobuta pork.

DSCF7007

No pictures of the cooked product because we were busy squabbling and fighting over who was hogging (pun intended) the beef and the pork. All’s fair in love, war and eating. Amen.

Now the last course was something off-menu. Even the owner only tasted it the night before when the chef had finished the cake. It was a lovely strawberry cheesecake, very rich and homey tasting. It was unanimous, everyone wanted it to be put on the menu.

DSCF7015

Kiraku
55 Market Street
#B1-01
Tel: 6438 6428

Spruce: A Birthday Dinner

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

The DC’s birthday was long overdue so I booked a table at Spruce so that we could try their famed ahi tuna starter and their supposedly famous burgers. The ahi tuna certainly didn’t disappoint. It’s a western twist to negitoro: chopped tuna sashimi was seasoned and dressed with olive oil for unctuousness and sprinkled with chives, then eaten with some of the best baguette I’ve had in a while. Creamy avocado slices on the side lifted it to sublime. I’d go back there again just for that one dish.

DSCF5906

The problem with having the best dish first is that the rest of dinner, though competent, was a bit of a letdown. I liked the squid salad with rocket and roast lemon. I hate to complain about such a minor detail like fiddliness, but it was a bit of a mess trying to get to get the lemon juiced. It was a nice touch though, and enhanced the herby sharp rocket very well. The squid wasn’t too bad, but I’d prefer it a bit more charred so I can taste the smokiness.

DSCF5903

The burger wasn’t too bad either. The staff noted that we were sharing and were nice enough to instruct the kitchen to divide it up and skewer each half carefully. DC liked the tender patty, it was quite juicy and tasty, with good beefy flavour. I liked the chips: soft and fluffy on the inside and nicely crisp outside.

DSCF5909

The meal went downhill after that. There was a side of what were supposedly grilled mushrooms drowned in a lacklustre and vaguely vinegary (wine?) sauce, then a ginger steamed sponge. I don’t know why the presentation was so bad because the ice cream was half melted by the time it got to us (see the picture). Presentation aside, the cake itself was decent, though nothing to shout about.

DSCF5914

Service-wise, this place had great intentions. It was sweet of them to bring out a ginormous piece of chocolate cake for DC. The waitress came out with the candle ablaze and singing the birthday song. It was a pity that this was only after I’d asked for the bill and was preparing to go. Nevertheless, it was a nice touch. I’ll definitely be back for the ahi tuna and perhaps for other starters, but I’ll give the sides a miss.

Spruce
320 Tanglin Road
Phoenix Park
Tel: 6836 5528

MOF@Suntec

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

I went to Suntec to meet up with some friends for lunch. Shinta suggested MOF, so Japanese it was.

I was quite disappointed that a lot of items on the menu were unavailable. Just my luck, but the most delicious stuff were the ones they didn’t have. Shelving my plans for negitoro, I had Maguro Sashimi Juu ($10.80) instead. Look at how pretty the serving is. Too bad the taste didn’t match its looks. I’m used to fresher stuff from Sun and Isetan supermarket, so this one was a bit of a letdown. It wasn’t stale, but the tuna tasted a bit flat and the salmon roe was slightly flabby. The little balls of delicious fish oil should be bursty and firm. It was a pity, this dish could have been so much better.

dscf4241

I liked the dessert there. We ordered a Mango Mixed Imo ($6.80) and changed the soft-serve ice cream to green tea red bean ice cream for an extra $1.50. The ice cream was excellent, it was silky and smooth with just enough green tea kick and bits of red bean to chew on. The deep-fried sweet potato and yam were both good, a bit like a more sophisticated (and more expensive!) goreng pisang. The batter was nice and crisp and the tubers were softly grainy, a good combination with the ice cream. I think the two measly strips of mango didn’t go very well with the rest of the dessert though.

dscf4246

MOF My Izakaya
3 Temasek Boulevard
#B1-40 Suntec City Mall
Tel: 6338 5523

Ramen Showdown: Tampopo

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

Tampopo at Liang Court gets mixed reviews for its ramen. Some people rave and others despise it. It’s my friend’s boss’s favourite and also near her office, so we met there for lunch.

We ordered their specialty,  Shabu Shabu Black Pig Ramen with Chilli. It arrived incredibly fast. Instead of the usual chashu, it comes with boiled kurobuta (black pig) slices, menma (preserved bamboo shoots) and spring onions. No egg, no seaweed.

dscf3860

A spot of hasty half-hearted food-styling later, I finally got to taste my noodles.

dscf3861

I liked the noodles very much. These Kyushu-style noodles were springy and almost crunchy. Excellent. The toppings were OK. The black pig to me tasted like decent pork. I don’t see why we should especially rave about black pig since regular pork should be good too. The fact that this pork is better than regular stuff in the market just means that our importers are bringing in the everyday stuff from inferior sources. The response should be to pressure our shops to stock better sources than to especially shell out for kurobuta.

Soup-wise, this version was only up to standard. It was strong on umami and salt, and was overall rather tasty. My friend commented that it was a bit too porky for her. I disagreed. Something was missing and I realised that it wasn’t rich enough. It needed either more collagen like the tonkotsu-style, or a bit more oil.

Overall, it was a bit telling that neither of us could finish our noodles. Surprising for her because my friend was famished; shocking for me because this Noodle Monster never leaves noodles in her bowl.

We ordered a sashimi plate to go with the ramen and oddly enough, it came quite a while after the noodles. The sashimi itself was awful as it wasn’t fresh. We couldn’t even finish it.

dscf3866

Now the gimmicky-fun bit about this place is the conveyor belt. It’s not just any old conveyor belt because it links all the way to the table. There’s a little indicator light on the table to show that the food is arriving. Too bad we were too engrossed with catching up and analysing the ramen to notice our sashimi sliding up onto our table till it was too late!

dscf3867

It’s a cute touch though a bit of a waste of manpower and technology. The moment the sashimi arrived via conveyor belt, a staff member stepped up and removed the metal disc from under the plate and set it down again. How bizarre. Why not just take it straight out from the kitchen by hand?

Anyhow, there’s still some fun with Japlish stuff: Please don’t put your hand in the conveyor tunnel all the time. I suppose it’s OK if you do it sometimes.

dscf3868

Tampopo
177 River Valley Road #01-23/24
Liang Court Shopping Center
Singapore 179030
Tel: 6338 3186