Sunday, July 27, 2008

Shanghai Ding, New World Park

Eating out starts to get repetitive after a while. Especially when we're pining for good la mian and we're in Penang. We found ourselves back at Shanghai Ding's branch at New World Park, despite having had a less than stellar dining experience there a while back. It was one of those lazy afternoons where we just couldn't think. Plus, based on the fun we had at their original outlet near Queensbay, we figured this one deserved a second chance.

And the verdict? Meh. More of the same, unimpressive, cookie cutter chain store disease.

Noodles with Minced Pork. The la mian was decent, but the minced pork sauce was a sickly sweet sour variety that tasted bottled. Next please.

Plain noodles with spring onion, served with peanut sauce. Probably one of the very few redeeming features of this branch is this... they manage to get it right because really, how many ways can you get something this plain wrong? The delicate flavour of the sauteed spring onion blended extremely well with the chunkier peanut sauce.

Shanghai Meat Dumpling. Have had better. The filling was too scarce and simply not quite soupy enough.

We ordered Kai Lan to balance out all the carbs but this came sorely overcooked and limp, practically fell apart when held by chopsticks. I like my vegetables to maintain a bit of crunch, unless to mask the lack of freshness.

Prawn dumpling, which came looking more like Siu Mai than the traditional Har Gao. We did dimsum here shortly after it opened and excused the frozen taste of the dumplings then, opening glitches and all. Nothing has changed. Still frozen, still tasteless, still looking like mangled pet food. Under NO circumstance should one order dim sum here. You have been warned.

Papa Chow ordered a Claypot Spare Rib rice (not pictured), which came in a serving fit for half a child. Carbo-driven Papa was NOT happy.

The bill came up to RM48, which was borderline reasonable, considering the location. I would come back for the plain noodles, but not much else.

Faux Mexican, Blue Diamond Cafe, Chulia St

The other evening, we decided to swing by Blue Diamond Cafe on Chulia Street to try out the Mexican stall.

We were accosted by the drinks' lady from the word go, whose primary purpose was to get us to purchase tons of bottled beer. We went for iced lemon tea, much to her chagrin. The drinks arrived while we were perusing the menus, and it was horrible, obviously having been prepared with some disgusting, expired powder mix.

The menu consisted of a few Mexican staples in name, i.e. enchiladas, nachos, quesadillas, burritos, all available with beef, chicken or vegetarian. The place has a weird ordering system. Despite being laid out like a regular kopitiam, the drinks lady', obviously from a separate operation as the Mexican stall dude, takes our order and informs the latter, situated no more than 2 metres away from our table. I believe she gets a cut from the food purchase, probably because she speaks better English, for the benefit of the largely backpacker clientele.

I went for the Chicken Quesadilla while MS went for the El Monterey Enchilada. What ensued was an order cock-up, thanks to the lady who either forgot or chose not to relay one of our orders to the dude. So I got my quesadilla and was almost done before MS got her enchilada. Not good.Chicken Quesadilla (RM8). I really didn't mind this, apart from the sogginess of the bread at the bottom. It was a just-nice portion, with plenty of chicken and peppers. It just didn't taste Mexican.

Some time later, the El Monterey Enchilada (RM9) arrived. It looked like a right mess from the start, the entire plate drenched with an unidentified heavy sauce and topped with a sunny side up with clearly burnt edges.

A closer look at the enchilada filling... basically the same chicken filling I got in my quesadilla, in a messier presentation. Needless to say, on top of the order mess and delay, MS didn't enjoy total mess.

Although the quesadilla was a step up from the disaster that was the enchilada, I wouldn't come back. That pushy drinks' lady alone sets my off my rage-o-meter.

Monday, July 21, 2008

747 Restaurant, YMCA Macalister Road

Yet another in the series of the old favourites revisited. 747 Restaurant has been in existence at the YMCA building on Macalister Road for as long as I've been alive, at least. The reason I can confidently say this is because Mama Chow firmly remembers our visits here when I was an infant and we lived across the road, in the massive, run-down bungalow on the lot where Island Hospital now stands.

The place was packed to the brim on a Sunday evening but we managed to secure a just vacated table.Cool mural on the wall. Reminds me of my age. Vintage!

They didn't offer menus here; the guy just stood at the table asking us what we wanted. Because it'd been a while, we had to go mostly with what he recommended.

Steamed chicken with special soy sauce. This came strongly recommended by the waiter as a house special. While the chicken was tender enough, it certainly didn't taste like the best they could whip up.

Assam Fish Curry. We've been having this just about everywhere we go but the olds insisted. I hate to slam this because I would love to believe that this place and other places who have stood the test of time did so because they served honest good food. But this was really NOT very good. It kinda fell short on all its notes - spice, sour, consistency.

Some stir fried greens. Looked about as appealing as hospital food.

Char Hor Fun. I insisted on not doing the rice and dishes thing because I really felt like something else. This was barely passable, almost like char hor fun under duress. What really ticked me off was the nerve for the RM12 price on the bill. This was SINGLE serve, mediocre hor fun, something that would cost no more than RM5 at other similar establishments.

In fact, the total bill was on the high side, for a restaurant with minimal frills, i.e. cool airplane murals and ratty tablecloth they threw over the tables. Oh and over-air conditioning the place, to make up for the bad ventilation from low ceilings. Although we probably didn't taste enough from the menu for this to be a well-rounded opinion, I'd have to pass on another visit.

Homemade Apple Pie, Dinner at MS'

Over the weekend, MS finally committed to donning her apron, seeing as it was almost time for me to pack up to move back to KL. After months of her teasing with aiya-maybe-nexttime-probablys, I was beside myself with joy. Partly because I couldn't remember the last time I was invited over to a friend's place to be entertained and fed but mostly, from what I've heard, this girl can cook.

We arrived and the table was all set, the house enveloped in a heady aroma screaming "there's some good grub in here!"
Table all set for a rollicking good feed.

She dished out two types of dip with slices of French loaf and garlic tortilla, guacamole and salsa. One gorgeous, the other heavenly. Loved the guacamole, could've eaten this as the main course. But of course, there were basic table manners to contend with and 'sides, plenty more was in store!

Something to dilute all that wine that kept finding its way down my throat - water flavoured with mint, cucumber and lemon slices.

While we chomped on bread and dip, MS whipped up the starter like she was a veteran on the set of a cooking reality show. Seafood sauteed in garlic and herbs on a bed of greens, a neat and fresh little starter that got our appetite really going without filling us up too much.

I am a horrendously picky eater and MS was accommodating enough to work her recipes around my many culinary derisions. Her Carrot & Pumpkin Soup minus the cream turned out lighter and pulpier than the original recipe, and it was just as nice and hearty, if not better.

The main was chicken, yet another homage to the scant and no doubt, oppressive list of what I DO eat. The chicken thighs were lemon infused, oven roasted to tender perfection and served with sauteed vegetables on a bed of mash. I was overjoyed with this and cleaned my plate rather too quickly, only to then proceed to stare forlornly at Fat Tulip polishing off his extra piece of chicken, which I didn't get. I had been sternly made aware of the need to space-save for dessert so this was a wise move, I suppose.

Dessert was finally revealed, after my futile attempt to look for it in the fridge, behind the cupboards and in the kitchen drawers - apple pie! I have always been a huge fan of apple desserts but had pretty much stayed away from store-bought pies in recent years. Nothing quite cuts it like apple pie homemade from scratch and unfortunately I've not met many people who can be arsed with all that work.

After the reveal, there was a brief (painful) wait for the pie to be heated up in the oven, which led to more wine bottle emptying and impatient pacing back and forth the table and the kitchen. Get on with it, I ordered MS snottily.

Finally, ting! went the oven. MS cut into the glorious golden dish and served it up with vanilla ice cream. The crumbly, buttery crust broke into a moist, lustrous apple and cinnamon filling. My first bite made me think of butterflies, ferris wheels and toffee apples - every thought an apple pie ought to invoke. It broke my heart to not be able to stomach another helping so I had to kidnap the rest of the pie back home. I can't think of much else that could've ended the evening's ravishing meal quite as beautifully.

My sincerest thank you to the gracious hostess for such a wonderful evening, and here's hoping there'll be many more to come!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Aji Noren, Prima Tanjung

Food in films is probably one of the best things to live for. We settled in at home last night to watch the Japanese classic Tampopo, a deliciously hilarious movie consisting of vignettes about food and all related fixations. The main story is that of a widow who runs an inferior, sorry ramen shop who seeks the help of a kind-hearted mysterious "cowboy" and various other characters to serve better ramen and turn her business into a success.

We loved the movie and naturally, the ramen craving that took us to bed last night kicked into high gear come lunchtime today. There aren't many ramen options in Penang and we've pretty much written off most of the ones we know, i.e. Yataimura, Aji Sen. There was just one which we felt OK returning to, Aji Noren in Tanjung Tokong.

It's been a while since our last visit and I got excited to see in the menu some of my all-time favourites, apart from ramen, such as Omu Raisu (also wickedly featured in Tampopo).

Fat Tulip studies pretty extensive menu

However we came strictly for ramen and only ramen it was! They had reasonably priced ramen sets so both of us dived straight for that.

Fat Tulip's Miso Ramen.

Slurrrrrppp.... Tampopo style!

My Chashumen Ramen. Essentially same ingredients but my broth was somewhat lighter than the thick and murky Miso Ramen's. We'd both been spoilt rotten by our ramen experiences in Japan so we weren't expecting this to blow our minds but nevertheless, we were overjoyed that the ramen was of decent quality and the serving was generous enough to satisfy our massive post-film craving.

Both sets came with a serving of Gyoza. This was flavourful and full of bite but again, not out of this world.

For RM20++ each, including an uninspiring salad (basically shredded cabbage with a dollop of slightly-off thousand island dressing) and fruit, I'd say this was fair enough. While the ramen probably did not go through the refining process as Tampopo's, I'll be back for the Omu Raisu.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Old Friends, Nagore Rd

For lunch today, we ended up at Old Friends, located on Nagore Road. I'd been here previously, a pleasant enough experience which was unfortunately not documented because camera battery decided to throw a tantrum then.

Old Friends' menu is a refreshing take on the regular contemporary kopitiam... almost like a non-halal version of Old Town. It offers a variety of rice and noodle dishes, served either as a set or just on its own. They've also got perennial kopitiam favourites, toast and eggs.

We went for the sets, which came with a choice of main meal, a drink, soup, side dish, fruit and dessert. All of us went for Lemon Tea, which came in generous glass tumblers.

Each set comes with the following - soup of the day (a hot & sour one today), finger slices (?) of banana cake, sliced green apple. Each of us also got served a runny omelette side dish halfway into our meal.
Our main meal came after a fairly short wait. I would dearly love it if restaurants took the initiative to serve everyone at the table at the same time. In this case, one meal arrived not long after we ordered, the second arrived about 5 minutes later and the third much, much later.

Stir Fried Udon with seafood. This arrived in a jiffy and it passed with flying colours. Good sized shrimps and a good sprinkling of nori to deliver it home. The truth is, it's a really hard dish to screw up.

Hot & Sour Shanghai noodles. My first go at this, and I liked it, lumpy, vinegarish broth and all. Really liked the handmade noodles. It came with plenty of preserved vegetables, mushrooms, carrots, shrimps and slices of fish. A very hearty and spicy meal.

Nasi Lemak. I didn't have a taste of this but the reaction from the diner was Ohhhkay-lah. To be fair to Old Friends, we have far too many splendid versions of nasi lemak available on every corner of the island that it's near impossible to elicit much shock value from this dish.

Second time around, no major bad points and I'm still sitting on the fence on this one. The set meal averaged about RM12.90 each, a pretty good deal. The menu's varied enough and the staff attentive, though the minimal table occupancy probably explains it. Something's missing somehow... can't put my finger on it but I'll be more than happy to return to find out exactly what.

Sin Kheng Aun, Lorong Chulia

We visited yet another of Papa Chow's oldie-but-goodies, Sin Kheng Aun off Chulia Street a few nights ago. Papa refers to it as the "70-year old" restaurant although a quick search on the Internet reveals that Sin Kheng Aun was established in 1941, which makes it 67 years old. Close enough, I suppose.

We had the usual staples. I was still reeling from a (horrid) heavy lunch with Mei Shean so I was really dragging my feet here. Luckily Fat Tulip was in the house and he's very good at polishing up remnants.

Stir fried tofu and leek. My position on leek remains, i.e. do not understand it, did not touch it.

Hainanese chicken chop. Grease, chicken and spuds... what's to complain?

Curry pomfret. To be honest, we've been over-doing the curry fish of late. I am divided on this -I'm not a fan of the use of pomfret in curry but I can' fault the classic-ness of this dish.

Assam Prawns. Lovely, juicy, flawless. Still, if I had to pick, I would go for Hot Wok's.

Cabbage soup with fishballs and meatballs. Really nondescript. It tastes of nothing but boiled cabbages. Which is not a good thing in my books.

Nice enough meal, and yes we'll be back but in the mean time, a break from visiting the old, old haunts would be nice, eh?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Home Cooking #2, Dryden Street, Auckland

Chocolate Cake Casey at Work Under Strict Supervision From Bridget

All Eyes on Cake!

Chocolate Cake + Chocolate Sauce + Boysenberry Ice-cream Dream. Thanks Team!

Home Cooking, Dryden Street

From the folks at Dryden Estate, Pasta Bake - Cheesy is My Friend in Winter. Cheesy is Perfection. Cheesy is Good Tasting. Cheesy is Expensive.

This make me hungry and Sad this is not what I am having dinner tonight. All I want is Cheesy Goodeness.

Lady Leah introduces us to Pizza - Kate made these with bases and all, supremely yum.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Chilli Corner, Nagore Road

I was in the mood for some weekend tomyam. The thing about tomyam is when you want it, you really gotta have it, nothing else will do. So Fat Tulip obligingly took me to Chilli Corner on Nagore Road, this Thai place he'd visited before and had obviously approved.
As soon as we sat down, a plate of ulam and spicy sambal appeared in front of us. Love raw vegetables, love sambal and love this as an appetizer, especially when they do not scrimp on the serving, even if there were only two of us.

As we scanned the menu, I worried that my tomyam craving may have gotten the better of me. The items were pricier than the average Thai haunts, like Maa Roy Thai or Sri Sawadee on Sri Bahari Road. And we have been feeling poor for a while, and cheap cheap eats are all we're comfortable paying for. We decided we'd go easy and keep to two dishes, since we did down a moreish breakfast just a couple of hours ago.
Green chicken curry. Tender pieces of chicken thigh meat in a thick, nutty gravy. Total awesomeness. I have always been a breast person but there is so much goodness I cannot deny in the use of thigh meat in curries.

Seafood Tomyam. This serving for two came with a price tag of RM22 but it was filled to the brim with FOUR huge ass prawns, fish and baby octopus. We were paying for quality and I declared, after slurping a few spoonfuls of the fiery liquid, that I would happily foot the bill! Fat Tulip's sweat glands went apeshit as we worked our way to the bottom of the pot. It was intense!

We were stuffed and sated but when we saw they were serving small bowls of Tab Thim Grob for only RM1, our cheap receptors went to work and we each had one bowl. Plenty of water chestnut and chunky jackfruit strips, no complaints whatsoever.

I was still a little taken aback when the bill came up to RM43 and found that they charged heftily for rice and the lovely ulam appetizer. Quality does come with a price so I would probably come back only when my wallet's fatter.