Saturday, January 31, 2009

Laksa showdown, Balik Pulau

After days and days of sedentary feasting, we figured it was time to put to use them trainers we lugged back from KL. So off hiking to Monkey Beach (Muka Head) we went.

Penang National Park, gateway to some of the lushest offerings of Penang, away from its street food and crazed drivers. We took it slow and easy, as the other two had just been dragged out of bed from a very late alcohol-fuelled night.

The mid-point of the hike, at USM Beach. I found this stretch nicer than the final point of destination, Monkey Beach.

When we got to Monkey Beach, it was nearly 2.30PM and we were eager to get on to the next item of the itinerary for the day. So we called Pak Atan, resident boat operator and arranged for a boat to take us through choppy waters back to the jetty.
From there it was a 20-minute drive through the leafy, winding roads to the small, sleepy town of Balik Pulau, where the showdown of the two famous laksa stalls rages on. Much has been argued for and against either camp but we were intent on making our own judgement this visit.

First up was the Chuan Heong laksa stall, previously operating outside wet market opposite.

They had run out of Siamese laksa, so we all went for Assam Laksa. Upon first taste, a distinct hush of disappointment fell over the table. It was a pretty mean bowl of laksa without a doubt but having heard all that we had, and our levels of anticipation multiplied from that hike, it just didn't hit the mark. The kopitiam did serve up very reinvigorating fresh nutmeg juice though, which we downed with relish.

Next stop was Nan Guan's equally coveted offering, right across the road where we got our "cham" fix (mix of both Assam and Siamese laksa), washed down with yet more nutmeg juice.
The single stall, single-handedly wowing hordes of visitors to the sedate little town of Balik Pulau.

The verdict? Nan Guan triumphs, hands down. It packs a punch and a half, the bowl teeming with beautiful, simple ingredients, swimming in that bountiful fishy soup. We didn't hike just for this, but we could've and it would've been well worth it.

Monday, January 26, 2009

I think we're alone now...

Sushi Zanmai, the Gardens, pre-CNY: Tiny booth featuring dark woody interior, a lone 60-watt-or-summat lamp, affording unusual privacy in a crowded, high-traffic restaurant. Mel referred to this as the perfect setting for an extra-curricular rendezvous. Somehow, Richard Ashcroft singing "God knows you're lonely souls" comes to mind.

We had met up for yee sang and by golly we were going to have us some yee sang, even if it was all but two of us, at a sushi joint. The festive menu offered up the perfect deal - salmon yee sang for two! A trio of lemon juice, olive oil and honey drizzled on a bed of very fresh salmon sashimi and fresh shredded vegetables and tempura fritters.

Humble in size but big on taste! Am usually indifferent to yee sang, but this one really stood out, due to the use of fresh vegetables and the absence of those more commonly employed, highly-pigmented bits and pieces (what exactly ARE those anyway? Flour crackers? Plastic squiggles?)

I'm not a huge fan of the sushi here, hence we did noodles to bump up our meal instead. Mel ordered the tempura udon, which came a way smaller portion than expected.

My hiyashi chuka ramen - refreshingly cold and generously topped with a variety of all-time favourite Jap ingredients like wakame, kanikama and chuka kurage.

Mel demonstrates creative use of Sushi Zanmai's packaged napkins, for love refugees and runaway lonely hearts staying incognito from the disapproving eyes of this crazy, crowded season.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Feeding season begins at Green View, SS2

I am pleased to say that I followed up and compensated at a CNY reunion dinner with previous co-workers, nary the inhibitions that had so plagued my last unimpressive food outing.
The agreed time for the group to meet and kick off the lou-sang was 7.30PM at Green View in SS2, located near the Rothmans roundabout, which needs little introduction. The first two to arrive, N and I decided to proceed to order, with me engineering the conversation with the seasoned uncle in my halting Cantonese and N nodding or shaking his head.

The place was jumping, hungry people getting fed delicious meals and while we contended with chomping on peanuts, we stared enviously and cursed our missing dining companions. A flurry of traffic excuses and misdirections later, we were finally able to start our meal at 9.00PM.

To a great year of health, wealth and happiness!

Taste-wise, I'd never been truly won over by the sickly sweet concoction that has come to define this seasonal offering. But this had fresh pieces of salmon, so...ummm.. this was OK I guess?

Next up was Green View's much-celebrated Sang Har Meen (fresh water prawn noodles) starring five of them slippery lil' suckers swimming in a thick aromatic broth. We dug in with much relish.
Stir-fried bamboo clams (Kam Heong style). Undoubtedly a hit!

Vegie medley of brocolli, fat juicy mushrooms, bean curd skin, carrots and water chestnuts.

The uncle who took our orders (sneaky, sneaky fellow who suckered us into ordering way too much food) recommended this fish, promising a delicious "new" way of preparing garoupa. Well the fish turned up in some half-arsed curry concoction which was neither spicy or sour. And to top it all off, the fish wasn't the freshest, its texture rubbery and unpleasant. Next!

Deep-fried salted chicken. This was actually rather good on its own, but somehow got edged out by the other winners on the table.

They waited until the very end, when we'd started struggling to present the Sweet and Sour Crabs. At this point, we were stumped by the excess. The crabs were sweet and as always, a lot of messy fun. However, they used Indonesian crab which somehow seemed rougher in texture and less flavourful to me than Sri Lankan crabs I'd tried at other seafood joints. Still crustacean love knows no boundaries! We persevered.

Deep-fried man tou to soak up the gravy. I would've prefered the unfried ones but at this point, we were just blindly shoving it in so it didn't matter no more.

The bill arrived at nearly RM600 for 7 of us, to a choir of whoops and jaw drops around the table! We really outdid ourselves and I felt a private sense of pride. We stayed on chatting and generally enjoying ourselves until way past 11, when one steely glare after another from staff members shutting up the place finally got to us and we scurried out into the night.

Gong Xi Fa Cai, everyone! May this year for each and every one of you be filled with lots of love and good living!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Nasi Lemak at Angie's Kitchen

Traditional Malaysian Food From The Heart - reads the tagline of Angie's Kitchen, located on 17 Mount Street, Auckland Central (ph: 09 368 1618). One of the two places to have significantly upped my food enjoyment in Auckland in the past year, Angie's Kitchen delivers the authenticity one appears to be promised from the H-A-T-I. It's a strange solitary two-storey block sandwiched in between student accommodation apartments; it used to house another much-loved food institution, the Mount Street bakery.

This is the Nasi Lemak; the rice has a blue tinge served with two types of sambal, roasted peanuts and the chicken curry or beef rendang. (Mr.Paris, take note!) Over the ten years or so I have spent in New Zealand, this has to be the most effective method yet of staving off food depression. Most of us in Auckland understand that you need to travel to the outskirts for the real stuff so I understand any reservations/sceptcisim applied here: so I will emphasize this is really good, not just by CBD standards. The prawn noodles (Hokkien Mee) & Assam Laksa are fantastic too. I take my hat off to JB HI FI for the initial recommendation, my life in Auckland has changed for it.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Reservations are for wimps, Fong Lye at Desa Sri Hartamas

No reservations should be tolerated when ordering at a curious new place, whatever the circumstances. Just started a new diet? Restart tomorrow. Just ate? Don't care, skip next meal. Eating with company that requires a high sense of decorum? Never mind, always good for others to see and love the REAL you.

Unfortunately, I exercised no such lack of caution at Fong Lye's flagship outlet in Desa Sri Hartamas, over which I'd let myself get into a tizzy with curiousity. Determined to upend that less-than-stellar experience at Siew Fong Lye in Mid Valley, I made a beeline for Fong Lye one afternoon, two dining companions in tow.

We settled down to a table in the centre of the room, where we got plenty of natural light from the wall-to-wall windows.

Appetizer promptly appeared before us - braised slices of lotus root with dashings of sesame seeds and sliced chillies. This was simple yet so delightful!

The highlight of the meal for me was this lovely blue china teacup, receptacle to the equally lovely Xiang Pian (Jasmine) tea. I cannot say enough about what a difference tableware adds to the meal.

Now dishes that followed next were by no means bad. Eating out requires gumption, it calls for a a sharp acumen for lines that can or can't be crossed and the executive decision-making to cross them anyway. Alas, we had none of that! We missed the point of dining at Fong Lye altogether by trying to space-save, be healthy, aiya-maybe-too-much-la, and ended up ordering a tragically ordinary meal. No lines were crossed, reservations had won this round, unfortunately.

For some reason, I cannot remember what this vegetable dish is called. It was a toss-up between this and the "mosquito" chives dish that was recommended here but when we asked the very polished, articulate waiter which one he preferred, he actually went with this. Can someone help me out here to identify what type of green vegetable this is, in its chopped up , masticated-looking glory? It was quite tasty, nonetheless, every mouthful flavoured with bits of juicy fried bean curd.

Homemade tofu on a bed of steamed bok choy, topped with a minced meat & preserved vegetable gravy. We probably should've, could've skipped this; I think you can find a similar dish at your local dai chow for half the price.

We probably hit all of one tiny nail on the head with this dish - the Three Cup Chicken, which came bubbling and frothing in a claypot, and had fresh basil leaves mixed in at the table. I can't say this is the best version I've tasted, but it's still a mighty fiery dish indeed. Makes everything else on the table (save for pretty teacup) disappear in a forgettable "poof!" under the fine Saturday afternoon sunlight.
And we couldn't miss the plain sweet potato porridge, for the last few morsels of the Three Cup chicken begged accompaniment. This was fine, but I think at RM6 (?!), it proved a little hard to stomach.

At about RM80 for the 3 of us, I would be hard-pressed to repeat ordering any of the dishes. Like I said, we had no affinity whatsoever with the menu that afternoon. We were passive. We were defeated. If new to curious restaurant, order no less than the WORKS! Pork leg! Whole freaking whale of a fish! Crazy cholesterol and fat content! Reservations (not the booking type) are for the sad race of people who, like forgettable dishes, incite no fervour and no joy, and pale into oblivion against the bleak city landscape. I think if we'd gone crazy instead of try be demure on day one of our newly revived health regimen, we'd have had a more rave-worthy dining experience and done Fong Lye's menu a lot more justice.

We walked out of the restaurant that day, our heads hung low in deepest shame.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Rasta Food Court, TTDI

Rasta's new location next to the Penchala link is definitely an improvement from the tight squeeze next to the Mobil station at TTDI.
The rainy spell's really freshened up the dreadry weather all around, so Rasta's very airy, extremely open concept was perfect to enjoy some fancy-free, food-court grub in cool, KL evening breeze and parade our flip flops and faded post-office appearances. The setting imparted a strange sense of pliable well-being, enough for me to be persuaded to overlook my disdain of Jason Mraz's Malaysian format radio casualty and agree to go to his concert in March. I hope I know what I'm doing!!

Waffles with ice-cream arrived first - impressive amount of ice cream on lovely waffles, not at all like the stuff they make outside hypermarkets.

Yoda's Bihun Sup - Yoda wasn't ill but his meal suggested otherwise. Very generous vegie quota though, which seems to be an aversion by hawkers everywhere.

An order of Nasi Goreng USA came drowned in gravy of the accompanying beef slices, rendering its consistency porridge-like 1/3 into the meal. The dish owner proclaimed this good though, licking the entire plate clean.

From the famed Azim's Burger Shack, I ordered the Grilled chicken burger. For RM7, it isn't your standard mat burger pricing, but this was real tender, superbly marinated chicken tenderloin, not patty, served with healthy dosage of lettuce and tomato. Knowing their tendency to go crazy with sauces, I asked for less mayo and the result was beautiful. Could've done with a slightly larger bun though!

The requisite Koay Teow goreng made an appearance on the table. Apparently, this was only so-so, with no more than one lonely shrimp gracing the plate.

Rasta is extremely reasonable and there are plenty of halal menus to choose from, including dimsum, kampung curries and even shisha. We paid RM40 for 5 of us, including drinks. Like that there's the tacit trust factor in place, in the form of the eat-first-then-pay self service counter.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Kimchi fried rice, above Mid Valley mediocrity!

Whingefest about mall work location persists around lunchtime or when I'm returning from meetings offsite. Having kept in check all expectations when it comes to Mid Valley dining, I was pleasantly surprised to have stumbled upon this very delicious kimchi fried rice at Ko Hyang Korean Country Delights.

Ko Hyang is one of the kiosks that has opened up at the Gardens end of the LG floor, in front of Din Tai Fung. Run by a Korean family, it offers a simple pork-free menu, with bibimbap, hot and cold noodles, even the elusive reasonably priced Korean pancake.

Kimchi fried rice (RM13.90++) appears to be one of those ultimate Korean staples, yet I've not had any that tasted this good since the Upper Queen St. Korean restaurant boom back in Auckland. The standard Korean sticky rice grain is mixed in with what appears to be barley rice, fried with great gusto on that humble four-burner stove in the kiosk. The egg is golden perfection, the liquid yolk breaking upon point of contact to slowly slither into the rice and add another flavour dimension.

Standard panchan - 2 dishes and one seaweed soup. Staff quickly topped up dishes without being asked, which was a nice touch. I really hope this doesn't fall into the mall food disease trap!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Fishmonger, Kohimarama

Happy New Year to all! Fast forward a few weeks, Weird Dude and I have become firm friends with our shared love of food. Last week, we went to the Fishmonger at St Helier's Bay, where Weird Dude insists, the Best Fish and Chips can be found. We ordered and took a very short walk down to the beach to eat our meal.

Here is my Shrimp and Corn Fritter with Rangitoto Island in the background: this was a sign of things to come - tasting a little on the floury side, not as crisply pan-fried as it could have been; it just didnt feel properly warmed up.

Battered Fish & Chips. Whilst we were ordering in the shop, another couple had asked if the fish was "fresh" - seeing we were in the middle of the Christmas/New Year break, "freshness" was a rather tall order - and were told honestly that the fish were pre-frozen for this period. That wasn't what let this meal down, it just tasted as though our order had sat uncollected for 15 minutes, it looked right but it just wasn't crisp or warm enough - the chips had soggy-ied by the time we sat down on the beach. This is too soon, a matter of minutes, for a takeaway meal to decline so seriously in quality.

Weird Dude with Fish Burger. I tried this and thought it was the best thing that we ordered - it tasted fresh, good balance of ingredients. Weird Dude was less convinced.

We hypothesized that the disappointing meal might have had to do with the fact that they were understaffed (common issue for this period), possibly stressed out with longer cooking times required for frozen stock, or quite likely, that they had missed our order and it had been ready to go for a while before we were called to collect it. I am definitely not dismissing Weird Dude's claim that this is where the best Fish & Chips is to be had, the time period sandwiched in between two stretches of statutory holidays is not the best to judge a place by. It was not their best - we were pretty disappointed and proceeded to have a sulk at the beach.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Fishing for Attitude at Song River, Gurney Drive

They say the grilled fish at the infamous Song River Cafe on Gurney Drive is not like any other in the world. And the guy who makes it isn't like any other grilled fish hawker either. Tread carefully with him, they say, for you never know what his erratic mood swings will throw your way. The list of don'ts when ordering from menopausal uncle is endless, but the key ones are: don't mince your words, don't hesitate at point of ordering, don't ask for something he isn't "feeling" like grilling (this can be quite tricky), don't remind him if you've been waiting long for your order unless you're ready to risk not getting it at all.

He arrives and opens his stall as and when he pleases. On this particular visit, a large group of us arrived at 9PM with great anticipation, armed with BYO wine, and contented ourselves for a long wait ahead.

While we waited, we stocked up on some other Song River goodies, which are abundant and thankfully not entirely the domain of difficult divas.
The much sought-after grilled chicken wings - smoky, smoky sweetness! Multiple rounds of these were ordered.

Char Koay Teow, equally inspiring with three may-jah fat pink prawns.

Hokkien Mee. I didn't taste this, but the soup looked a tad too clear for my liking.

The wait went on. More bottles were opened to soothe frayed, impatient nerves.
A camera-friendly uncle came by, hawking plastic containers of arrowroot chips, signalling the arrival of the rambunctious pre-CNY season. One container was purchased for RM18, finished with gusto paired with refreshing Tiger, having polished off the wine.

Still no sign of Uncle and that charming attitude. We were getting restless. And boisterous. Oysters are kinda shellfishy, so one plate of fried oysters appeared to help tide us over.
It barely helped. Oysters were aplenty enough but much too oily, eggs overfried and generally not what it was remembered to be.

Finally, the eminent fish griller swanned in at 10.45PM but wait, no hassling him while he takes his own sweet time setting up. Come 11.15PM, KJ meekly approached him to place his orders in the way that only KJ knew how. More waiting ensued. Finally...
Grilled fish belly, begging the question, how can such a disagreeable demeanour produce something so tender and delicate? Silence fell over the table as this disappeared almost instantly.

Stir-fried lala - the lalas were extremely malnourished but never mind, the heavenly coating rendered the shells good enough to swallow.

Someone mentioned grilled brinjals. KJ had asked for this earlier, only to be told there weren't any. Spurred on by Dutch courage, a group approached Uncle Attitude. A bellowing negotiation ensued, with the kind of chutzpah that would only apply in Hokkien, and it went something like this...

"We wondered if you have any brinjals?"

"NO! I told you I don't have any! Stop pestering me!"

"OK, in case you do have some, and you felt like preparing it later, please let us have some."

"I don't feel like it! I never feel like brinjals on weekends!"

"Right, in case you felt differently tonight..."

"If you want brinjals so badly, leave me alone and go on over to the mainland... you'll probably find some THERE!"

Defeated, we settled for an additional order of grilled fish. Same deal with the earlier belly, exquisite flavours beyond compare. 5 minutes tops, and the plate was empty.

Paying him proved to be just as big a challenge. Apparently, money isn't motivation enough for him to be nice. We asked to pay about three times, each time knocked back with a barked "I'm too busy right now!" Apparently, the story goes that he actually holds down three jobs - one as a fisherman, two as a fishmonger during the day and three, as grilled fish diva at Song River at night. Could explain the attitude, but seems to me he enjoys torturing the lot of grilled fish worshippers who remain unfazed by the ill-treatment.

Certainly a dining experience for the memory cards. Would love to return for the brinjals but I don't know if I could handle Uncle with as much aplomb minus the group.