Friday, December 25, 2009

Tis the Season for Katsudon Perfection

Warm Greetings for the Holiday Season!

Eating and drinking in Japan to wrap up another year of great (and not-so-great) eating comes pretty close to perfection. We've eaten tons in the past week and I fear I will never get around to sharing everything in the detail that the experiences warrant. However, I didn't want to forget this, the last meal we had before we departed from Osaka yesterday for Xmas eve dinner back at Mag's.
Tonharu is one of the many tiny food joints lining the underground arcade of Namba station, one of Osaka's main transportation stays. The place was packed with hungry and grouchy salarymen, a sign of good things, surely. Every table was tucking into one combo tonkatsu dish or another, served with rice and steaming bowls of miso soup.
Both of us ordered the Katsudon (840 Yen each), one of the most substantial rice bowl dishes known to mankind. We knew we'd done right by our tired and hungry selves when both bowls arrived, wobbling in gleaming, golden glory.

The dish is standard deep fried pork cutlet, on top of rice with gravy and smothered with a runny egg topping but Tonharu's version was the best we've had to date. The pork cutlet was thicker, crunchier and the fail-safe rice-gravy-egg mixture a heartstopping rendition of all things right for the season - warmth, substance and delicacy, wrapped in love.

We made the train and back in good time to cheer our first of many glasses of bubbly with Ollie, Mag and Taka.

May your holiday season be filled with many moments like the one Tonharu's Katsudon offers. A very Merry X'mas and a Happy New Year to you, you and YOU! See you next year!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Serving the Beast Within at Thai Sabye Sabye, Old Klang Road

The Man is essentially an animal, his primary and greatest stake invested in his (or her) own survival. And when that survival is threatened, all the additional complex emotions as well as the ability to rationalise or apply logic become entirely expendable.

Case in point: One night, a desperate craving for Thai surfaced out of the blue. And with all things tinged with desperation, the advanced thinking, feeling human approach goes out the window when it came to the need to assuage that craving. Like a stiff drink. Or sex. No rest until you crack the code. Need it NOW.

I consulted the usual suspects in the blogosphere for guidance and found plenty of good things said about several Thai joints - a few were closed on Mondays and a few others were simply too far away in the horrendous rain-addled traffic. And then, just as I was on the brink of self-detonation in despair, I stumbled upon this lone post on Thai Sabye Sabye located on Old Klang Road, a stone's throw away from home for now.

The old unassuming outlet, located within Lucky Plaza (which houses Pasaraya Central, right before OUG turn-off) facing Old Klang Road, was a mere 5-minute drive away. I was giddy with excitement at the prospect of placating that incensed animal within.

The place was nicely filled up with families who looked like they had returned again and again to order the same items on the menu every single time. The worn-out furniture was reassuring, as was the wearied, yet comforted disposition of the other patrons.

We started with the Four-angle Bean Salad. Scrumptious with both dried and fresh shrimps providing a nice contrasted punch, coated with generous dousing of nam pla and citrus. Very refreshing stuff.

We couldn't possibly do without tomyam, especially on this chilly wet KL evening. Sabye Sabye served their tomyam soups in single serves (RM6 per serve) which allowed us to try two different types. He had the Tom Yam Chicken with Coconut Milk. It was creamy and comforting but it wasn't entirely mind-blowing.

I went with the Clear Soup Tomyam with Seafood. Again, despite my enthusiasm for this place, I felt the tomyam fell a wee bit short on the crazy spicy & sour front. The abundance of sliced bird's eye chillies brought on a coughing fit at one point but I saw that as just bad swallowing action on my part, not entirely great tomyam preparation on theirs.

Otak-Otak was a radiant serving of seafood coated in egg, coconut milk and turmeric. Went down too easily with white rice.

Deep fried Squid with Salted Egg dispensed the kind of joy one couldn't shy from when met with one's kindred soul. You want to get right under the skin and discover what you can't possibly know from muted appearances.

The soul of the evening had to be the Petai Fried Rice which arrived looking as placid as frozen peas but once we stuck our fork in to release the aroma, we were done for. I dare say I've not had petai marriage with carbs as zesty as this!

If you want to pay for only things you order, refuse the towel, the appetizer and jelly they serve as soon as you're seated, as they'll all pop up on the bill later. It's a token amount extra but still... you know what I mean. Meal rounded up to RM70 for two of us, which we were only too happy to fork over. The human in me laid comatose while the animal licked its paws and exhaled with gusto.

Thai Sabye Sabye
G62, Ground Floor, Lucky Plaza
Old Klang Road, KL
Tel: 03-7981 2887

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Journey to Being Better, Country Farm Organics, Bangsar Village I

The year-end season is surely one of contradiction. On one hand, we have the assault of parties and gatherings all imploring indulgent and gregarious misbehaviour. On the other hand, it's also time to ponder the past twelve months, probe the failings of the year and warily resolve that, next year "I'll simply have to be better!"

Having recently recovered from a bout of poor health, I was forced to examine how I've chosen to take care of (or rather, heedlessly abuse) my body. Thankfully, I have Hui, who had successfully embarked on a journey to revamp the tired lifestyle that I still live today, offering me inspiration and purpose beyond the party season.

So one evening, with Mei Shean in town, we decided to try something radical - instead of the usual protocol of hitting up a bar for one too many drinks we'd most certainly regret the morning after, we went organic. In alcohol-ridden Bangsar, no less!

Hui ordered the Country Farm Organics' Volcanic Fried Rice. It had promised spice in the menu and it delivered, in the form of tiny, deceiving chopped up chilli padi and pepper mixed into brown rice and plenty of vegetables. One spoonful sent me screaming for my carrot juice!

Mei Shean went for the Guang Dong Noodles, which arrived a healthy incarnation of Wat Tan Hor - brown vermicelli doused in eggy sauce filled with fresh vegetables. She was pleased with the thick golden eggy sauce and the generous portion.

I went with the Dory Fish noodles, which arrived a huge bowl of brown rice vermicelli soaked in soup flavoured with sour preserved vegetables, neutralised with soy milk. So non-organic versions would blow this out of the water but for all its intent, this was flavourful enough and proved that not healthy eating does not equal bland eating!

They also proudly feature a bevvy of soy shakes, two of which featuring berries as key ingredients.

Country Farm Organics sits bright and proud right across from the hazardous call of the Daily Grind at Bangsar Village I. Meal for the three of us came up to about RM70, a steal in this neighbourhood. They also have a well-stocked organic food store adjoining the dining area.

I wouldn't mind revisiting again, and look forward to eating and living better. Let's hope that I find the moxie to strike moderation for the rest of this month!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Personality Test at Kar Heong, Subang

Partaking in a simple meal can make radical changes to perception, offering invaluable insights to a new character beyond the possibilities of Myers-Briggs.

He ordered Siu Yoke (Roast Pork). And ate every last sliver of porcine fat on the plate. with relish. Yes this could be LOVE.

He asked for the hor fun with prawn wantan to be replaced with blah yellow noodles. But horfun rules in this joint! What would compel a person to go with insipid yellow noodles over the silky smooth hor fun? I raised a mental eyebrow but refrained from being too judgemental. This is as much a personality outing for me as it is for him.

I stuck to hor fun and I was smugly pleased. Rice noodles coated with lardy love, chives and spring onion. He remained unimpressed. Hmmm...Stubborn, much? Score to Kar Heong, none to him.

The dumplings spoke to me in volumes. I needed a slam dunk and this was it! Check out the size of the prawns involved.

And when it comes down to it, aren't the concealed fillings all that matter?

A meal at Kar Heong isn't going to deliver all the answers about a person but it does bring you one slice of fatty siu yoke closer to the truth.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Pork and Beer Health Boost at Nonbei, Hartamas

I had been plagued with a series of physicial ailments and dining out seemed like a distant concept. So when it came to catching up with Fat Tulip one night, I was happy to just jump in his car and go with whatever came up.

We arrived at Nonbei in Desa Sri Hartamas with little expectations, other than some mid-week recuperation in familar company. Like Asahi, poured into Sapporo glasses. This must surely be blasphemy in certain quarters but we didn't complain.

The staff were very helpful in offering recommendations from the izakaya-like menu but we insisted on groping along. But we did succumb to the suggestion of the Buta shabu salad (Boiled pork slices with salad) to our favour. It arrived a hearty serving of greens and slices of marginally fatty pork, in wafu dressing. I was happy enough with this. We had also ordered the potato salad but it was so unremarkable and forgotten before the first beer was downed.

Then came the question about pork - there was the deep fried black pork, the braised pork and the grilled pork and each one of those spoke to us in volumes. Alas, there were only two of us, both highly prone to widening girths. We settled for Buta Miso Tsuke Yaki (Grilled pork with miso), which proved to be a sound choice. Very tender slices of fatty pork, thoroughly seeped in marinade and grilled slowly over a slow fire, sweet to the bite and absolutely lovely with beer.

He insisted on Salmon kawa (Salmon skin crispy crackers) only to be disappointed that they arrived not much more than flavoured rice crackers.

The twinskewers of Asupara Bacon (Bacon-rolled asparagus) and Enoki Bacon (Bacon-rolled enoki mushrooms) were fatty, juicy, tons of fun!

We sat and watched the very accommodating waitresses tend to a healthy traffic of middle-aged male Japanese patrons and wondered if we had somehow stumbled unwittingly into KL's version of a kyabakura. Eventually, as the evening wore on, we decided we were severely misplaced and paid the RM163 for the two of us, which covered the meal and a couple of rounds of beers.

Nonbei is celebrating its anniversary this Wednesday, 25th November 2009 by offering a RM110++ deal for all-you-can-eat (drinks up till 10PM). For reservations, call Fiona at 03-6201 6771.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Keep it Simple Stupid, Hai Onn Reminds

Hai Onn made it to the top of my to-eat list during my last Penang trip, after repeated reminders from the island quarters of its nostalgic charm, the way real old Penang used to be before it too became all about colossal malls and grotesque "beautification" projects.

We had been warned that service here was notoriously slow, on account of the kitchen & floor team of largely octogenarians, whose pace of life remained staunchly pre-war.

We arrived just a little after noon, hoping to beat the lunch crowd and hopefully keep the waiting time to under an hour. While we waited for the white-haired auntie to shuffle slowly to the back of the kitchen to shout out our orders, the resident Lor Bak stall, already fired up, kept the anxiety & hunger pangs away. The fried tofu cubes were remarkably silky and palatable. A very well-prepared plate of goodies.

To evade Mom's questions about my current love life at the table, I went around checking out the vintage nooks and crannies around the shop. Fittings like these historical electric switches practically commanded a kind of reverential salute.

After about 30 minutes, the Roti Babi arrived. Hai Onn's version was the real deal, packed full of the turnip-carrot-shrooms-and-pork filling heavily accented by five spice. None of the halal sort that you would find at Senior Citizens' or Chinese Recreation Club, the other two places in Penang that immediately came to mind.

Shortly after, the Chicken Chop arrived, the crunchy egg batter languishing in simmering gravy. The sight of this excited me to no end, but to be perfectly honest, the taste hardly justified the wait or the anticipation. This was rather colourless as a dish, the gravy plain starchy and paltry.

Same deal with the Pork Chop which featured tough, overcooked, underseasoned pork tenderloin and same monotonous gravy. We discussed our disappointment later and figured that the simple taste of yesteryears probably got hopelessly lost on our spoilt and over-fostered tastebuds, much like the haphazard development blueprints for the island. Either that or the octogenarians are losing it!

The Hokkien Char looked handsome, but again tasted as dull as hospital food. Struggled to finish this and eventually gave up.

The Sambal Kangkung was the only dish that arrived with too much flavouring. In fact, it was wayyyy too spicy and salty that it ended up a nice pairing to the weak noodles.

Despite being a generally mediocre meal, I was glad to have paid a visit. I hope it sticks around for generations to come, if only to remind Penang what potential it once had, as the rest of the island sinks into utter disrepair playing catch-up.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Return of the Bride, Vishal's Brickfields

Vishal in Brickfields had been unknown to foolishly ignorant me until one recent sunny Sunday morning, on the occasion of the return of our lovely (and soon to be blushing bride) Li Ann, back from her working holiday stint in the UK, tightly escorted by strapping groom-to-be Benji.

Li Ann and the disgustingly fit Benji, fresh from walking the Terry Fox run, jumped into my car and provided directions down the narrow streets to Jalan Scott, where Vishal's occupied the unassuming lot opposite the temple.

The immediate word that came to mind when we entered was "mess hall", in its most charming interpretation. Most of the dining seats in the house were lined up on one side of the long tables to minimise traffic obstruction. Not the best for a five-way conversation so we were lucky to secure one of the few regular 4-seater tables.

As soon as the rice and vegetables were heaped onto our individual leaves, I knew this was no regular BLR joint, what with the gorgeous shades of greens and reds. Like Christmas almost! Li Ann explained that Benji favoured Vishal's for its heady curries. I watched transfixed as the staff splashed fish curry & dhal on mine, all the while muttering "banjir, banjir."

Benji knew his curries all right. The curries here were not as viscous as Kavitha's but it was certainly no less commanding. We were stunned into silence for a few minutes while we paid respect to the blazing spread in front of us before we resumed firing questions about her Continental adventures.

The Poppadum and stuffed chillies took some time to arrive. I am a staunch devotee of the freeform style poppadum rather over the square cracker variety but it's a trivial flaw so will let it pass. Still crazy crunchy even when mixed in with all that soggy rice.

Riz also got the curious-looking minced sharkmeat & egg dish, nicely flavoured with spices and curry leaves. I had long-standing misgivings about sharkmeat but this was a nice, albeit dry repeal.

We finished with Rassam, sour and substantial, not the watered down variety to which I had been wrongfully inducted. I shall forever repent for pooh-poohing this digestive after BLR, for this prevented me from a melancholic, would've-been highly regrettable nap that same afternoon.

Welcome Back Li Ann, and may this be the start of another wonderful adventure right here at home!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

My Tasty Hall of Shame in Penang!

Just a quick one to showcase my personal Hall of Shame over the weekend in my lovely hometown Penang - after copious amount of alcohol with some lovely folks, we proceeded to do what inebriated souls do best apart from drunk-dialling/texting/tweeting and emotional outbursts... eating!!

We headed to Green House ("Cheh Chu"), perennial favourite supper stop along Burmah Road. I don't recall having been back here since C&C Music Factory was the biggest act on the charts ("Everybodddy Dance Now!")! Mei Shean, having just consumed pasta at watering hole earlier, ordered an extra-lite serving of beancurd, shrooms and pork balls from Beng Kee Bak Kut Teh. She struggled, understandably, and my barmy appetite, released inevitably by Penang, dove in to lend a helping hand.

My Hokkien Mee from the stately stall parked on the shopfront arrived with my slurred orders to add fishballs (fishballs?? I don't even LIKE fishballs) and pork ribs! Fiery, porky and powerful! I was wide awake once this bowl went down, fish balls and every last drop of the lovely broth.

Got my second wind for the night so after bidding my earlier companions goodbye, I raced over to Chulia Street to meet Jenny and Mel having a chinwag at Banana, one of the numerous backpacker joints over some beer. I didn't want to drink anymore and in my intoxicated wide-eyed restlessness, immediately eyeballed the Ramly burger stall parked outside. Rallied the other two to join me in approaching the rather stoic-looking guy working the grill and although rather full at this point, I ordered the Double Chicken Burger with Egg. This was a glorious mess, overflowing with mayo and ketchup but regret set in only after I finished every last crumb.

I paid for this binge dearly, kept up by indigestion all night! Reminder of why I had forsaken the post-drinking munchies for so long... they're deadly!!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Steamy Comfort & More from Pho Hoa, Tropicana City Mall

One particular Saturday, I had wanted to push myself a little beyond my usual repertoire of hungover hibernation so I lined up appointments back to back, only to find myself constantly out of breath and running late from one place to another. I arrived late at Pho Hoa, second stop of the evening, for a review, courtesy of invitation from Sidney from Big Boys Oven.

I had actually been to the Pho Hoa outlet at the Curve about a year ago and walked out sorely disappointed by the meal then. Everything I had expected from a Vietnamnese bowl of noodles - the steamy, fragrant broth, interspersed with the delicate assortment of fresh herbs, bestowing the comfort of old, seasoned kitchens - did not materialise. In fact, the meal consisted of two dreary bowls of limp rice noodles swimming in LUKEWARM flavourless broth. Needless to say, when the invitation came to visit its new outlet at Tropicana City Mall, I was curious to see if this was going to be a repeat of that insipid experience.

We were served a selection of their three appetizers (sold separately) consisting of deep fried Vietnamnese spring roll, lemongrass chicken and fish cake. Even though the spring roll appeared the most pedestrian, I found the flavours interesting because it wasn't your standard radish filling. Found out later from the manager Dennis that the filling was a mix of minced chicken, yam and carrots. I tasted anise too, along with a host of other spices.

The standard Vietnamnese rice spring rolls, served with a sauce that was heavy on the fish sauce. This was alright but I've had better.

I requested for the Pho Ga or Chicken noodle soup, since I didn't do beef. With my last Pho Hoa experience clearly in mind, I really appreciated that this time, the rice noodles were cooked just right, still offering plenty of bite and spring. This was served with a hot chilli sauce which I learned was to be dumped into the bowl from the start, together with the raw bean sprouts and basil.

Next came individual bowls of Bun Ga Nuong, grilled chicken served with plenty of fresh vegetables, crushed peanuts and vermicelli, with a light fish sauce-based dipping sauce. I would have liked to enjoy more of this but by this time, had consumed almost three quarters of the full bowl of chicken pho that I had to leave this unfinished.

The beverages:
Vietnamnese Coffee, served in the single-cup filter. Some of the others at the table enjoyed this enough for seconds.

When asked for recommendation to quench this out-of-this-world thirst I had acquired from earlier studio session, Pho Hoa's staff pointed to the Salty Plum Soda. It worked!

Some went for Blended Avocado Juice. I can't be sure what the blend was but it sure looked a shade too yellow to be pure avocado.

Apart from the generous portions which were more than enough to keep me going for the next couple of appointments until the wee hours, I was also pleased to find that the earlier experience at the Curve's outlet was not entirely representative of Pho Hoa's potential. Also discovered a couple of other hits on its menu, beyond just noodle soup.

Pho Hoa's outlet at Tropicana City Mall is located on the first floor, on the Borders' end of the mall.

Thank you to Dennis and team for hosting and to Sidney once again for the invite!