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

March in Laos: Eating in Luang Prabang

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Laos in general and Luang Prabang in particular had lots of great food. Siamesecat and I started off one misty morning with a glass of thick, sweet and strong coffee chased down with a glass of steaming hot tea. Sitting on a wooden bench watching the morning bustle while sipping hot robust coffee was one of those subliminal moments of the trip.

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After having our caffeine and sugar fix, we table hopped to the next stall and tucked into the typical breakfast of foe (yup, almost exactly like Vietnamese pho). I don’t know how they make it so tasty, but thin flat rice noodles with hot broth, topped with herbs and raw vegetables to your preference hit the spot for me every day.   This morning the noodles came with pork strips and tomato. I could have noodles three times a day and not get sick of it. The trick was to experiment with the toppings provided at the table. They typically have salt, sugar, msg and chilli powder but there’s normally lime, basil, coriander, mint, sweet chilli sauce, various types of belachan (fermented shrimp paste) and fish sauce. I especially liked trying out the pongy variations of belachan at the different places.

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Foe is normally served in really small portions, which was fine with us because it gave us all the more reason to snack along the street. Here I’m stuffing my face yet again at a barbecue stand selling grilled animal parts like spicy minced pork patties, water buffalo jerky and belly pork. It was all mmm good.

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For lunch, we again had noodles, the one here a beef version with popped rice cracker-cakes on the side. If you look carefully you’ll spot the two small tubs of belachan on the table. One was the typical shrimp one and the other made of tiny river crabs. We noticed a lot of Lao people take a chilli padi, dip it in belachan, take a chomp and double dip it while waiting for their noodles. I guess the heat from the chilli kills the germs.

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Heavily fortified by all this food, Siamesecat and I proceeded to wander the streets. It was evening when we came across this vampire-phobic cat lying on a bed of garlic. It was obviously bed time.

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It looked incredibly satisfied at the end of that yawn!

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As the sun began to set, Siamesecat and I decided that we really should have something quite special. While we both loved noodles and never got tired of them, we had to try the slightly fancier food too.

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We found a restaurant along the Mekong and enjoyed the view while waiting for our food.

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This place served mainly set menus catering to tourists. We figured that it was as good as any other. Not having any locals to take us to truly authentic places, at least this would allow us to try a bit of everything.

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The set dinner started with watercress salad, a fresh minty salad with sharp watercress and other herbs dressed in a type of mayonnaise. Then it progressed to dried pork sausage with very spicy buffalo skin dip. The pork sausage was like a slightly less fatty salami with lovely smoked overtones while the dip had strips of rather tough buffalo hide bound by a fiery chilli paste. Crispy sheets of dried riverweed with sesame seeds helped to balance out the fire but the extremely spicy beef stew didn’t help things out.

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Siamesecat and I then hit the night market for incredibly cheap buys like a beautiful silk and cotton mix pair of fisherman pants for about USD2.50. There were pretty handicrafts and all sorts of ethnic and hill tribe knick knacks on sale. Apparently a lot of these items were brought over the border to Thailand for sale in their own tourist markets.

I stopped to buy something that couldn’t be exported easily to Thai tourist markets: more food. Supper that night was baguette filled with ping kai (barbecued chicken) and lettuce. It was up to me to choose my sauces again. This time it was at least three kinds of chilli sauce, two of which had some kind of fermented seafood incorporated within, and two types of soya sauce. Amazing.

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The Art of Stir-Fry

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Stir-frying is actually quite simple, as long as you’re quite brave too! Most home cooks only do it on medium heat, resulting in food that’s more steamed than fried. Stir-frying requires a very hot wok and all the ingredients, in small quantities, on the ready. This makes sure that the food is fried quickly and you get that barely charred taste.

Here’s how to do it. First, heat a dry wok till very hot. Then add the oil, swirling to coat most of the wok. Wait till the oil starts to shimmer and barely smoke. Make sure the ingredients are ready. Add the aromatics, like chopped garlic, and stir like mad. When it’s fragrant, add the rest of your ingredients according to how long they take to cook, and keep stirring. Turn off the flame and then season.

Here are some ideas:

Almost Sambal Kang Kong

Ingredients:

2 tsp belachan (about thumb-size)
1 tbsp oil
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 chilli padi, finely chopped
1 bunch kang kong

Method:

  1. Toast the belachan in a dry wok until brown on both sides. Crush using a mortar and pestle.
  2. Add oil to the hot wok and when oil is shimmering, add the shallots and fry till fragrant.
  3. Toss in the chilli padi, belachan and kang kong and fry till kang kong turns deep green.

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Watercress and Tau Kwa Stir-Fried in Tau Cheow

Ingredients:

1 tbsp oil
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 cake tau kwa, cut into squares
1 bunch watercress, torn to small sections
1 tbsp tau cheow, crushed

Method:

  1. Heat the wok and the oil till oil shimmers, then add the garlic. Fry till fragrant.
  2. Add the tau kwa and fry till tau kwa is browned but not burnt.
  3. Add the watercress and tau cheow and fry till the veg turns deep green.

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Chicken, Mushroom and Bean Fry

Ingredients:
1 tbsp oil
as many mushrooms as you like, cut into strips
1 chicken breast, cut into small chunks
handful fine french beans, cut into sticks
2 tbsp shaoxing wine

Method:

  1. Heat the wok and the oil till shimmering. Add the mushrooms and fry till browned.
  2. Add the chicken and fry till browned slightly on all sides.
  3. Now add the french beans and fry for a few seconds.
  4. Add the shaoxing wine and stir till it stops bubbling, then turn off the heat. Add salt to taste.

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All recipes serve two. (Or one greedy person.)

Cream of Watercress Soup

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I love homemade cream soups. This watercress one is a heavily modified version of  Mum’s recipe. In the original, she uses a leek and potato soup base and bacon. I try to use as little meat as possible, but here I couldn’t make it vegetarian because I generally find vegetable stock too weak to make flavourful soup.

I make this when I have chicken stock and lots of yummy watercress from my usual vegetable stall. Try to get younger bunches with finer stems. Coarse stems would result in a rather fibrous soup.

The recipe itself is very simple although you’ll need a liquidiser. Mine comes as an attachment to my Kenwood mixer, normally used for baking. I suppose you could use a stick blender or a food processor, just that it’ll probably take a bit longer to reach the right pureed-ness!

This soup is also very freezer-friendly. I’ll make up a huge batch for lunch with salad and freshly baked bread, and then stick the rest in the freezer. Homemade soup is such a nice thing to go back to after a long day at work!

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Ingredients:

25 g butter
3 onions, chopped coarsely
1 stick celery, chopped, optional
3 tbsp flour
400 g watercress, torn to small pieces
1 litre hot chicken stock

Method:

  1. In a heavy cast iron pot, melt the butter and sweat the onions and celery on low heat till they turn translucent, about 5 minutes.
  2. Sprinkle over the flour and continue stirring over low heat for another 5 minutes. The paste should turn slightly golden but not brown.
  3. Add the watercress, stir to incorporate, and then pour over the chicken stock so it just covers the vegetables. Top up with water if necessary.
  4. Bring the soup to the boil and simmer for a few minutes. Allow to cool slightly.
  5. Blend the soup in batches. Here’s where you can freeze it for later or heat it up, then check seasoning and serve.
  6. Garnish with a dollop of sour cream or pesto or both if you like.

Serves 6.

[edited on 20 Apr 2009 11.10 am to include method. My apologies for the ditzy moment.]