Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Li Bai: Poetic Cantonese Cuisine!

I know I really shouldn't accumulate backlogs, but the amount I have on hand will probably kill me if I am to write them all by this year! So perhaps I shall close a very filling 2010 with a write up on Li Bai Cantonese Restaurant, which I visited with the same family friends who brought us Hairy Crabs!

Situated within Sheraton Towers, Li Bai prides itself in Cantonese cuisine and is well-known enough for the friends to hear about it even from Hong Kong. The name however, slightly confused me as I was pretty sure the famous poet wasn't even Cantonese! It was only later that I found out it was due to the executive chef drawing inspiration from his works to create dishes!

With exquisite decor, the place was pretty quiet on a early weekday evening, though it did fill up gradually as the night settled in. Since it was our first visit, the attentive staff recommended the $108++/pax dinner set for a greater variety.

Complimentary tidbits

We were served sugar-coated cashew nuts to nibble on, tasted even better with the fragrance of sesame seeds. The later customers were also served prawn crackers on their tables, not sure if I had to make a request for it.

Fruit Salad with Prawn and Scallop

A very colourful appetiser, the sweetness of the juicy mango, kiwi and melon cubes balanced the fresh, saltiness of the seafood nicely. Made me look forward to the upcoming courses already!

Clear Boiled Shark Fin with Fish Maw Soup, Abalone with Mushroom in Thick Sauce

Thanks to the sea delicacies, the soup was light yet robust in flavour, warms you really well from within! As always, chewy abalone was just alright for me, while I appreciated the juicy mushroom, beancurd skin and broccoli more as they mopped up the savoury sauce.

Pan-fried Lamb Chop with Mint Sauce, Pan-fried Beef Steak

Slightly charred on the surface, the lamb meat had a nice smokey crunch as I cut into the tender, juicy meat. Served with a light mint sauce, I liked how it was paired with a slice of tulip that further ease the greasiness of the dish. Good stuff!

The steak was a replacement for the same course as my mom doesn't take lamb. Taste-wise, it was really good being well-marbled and had the melt-in-your-mouth effect. Visually, I thought they could do a lot more than to just serve it naked.

Fish Noodles with Shredded Meat and Preserved Vegetables

I have seen this many times in Hong Kong, but a first for me over here. The noodles were not your regular flour and egg types, but made entirely of fish paste. The result was one with smooth, slurpy texture and bouncy bite. The soup base was pretty hearty and had a familiar, homelike taste after the previous courses. That should fill you up!

Mango Pomelo, Hot Tea

The dessert was nice but not necessarily the best rendition I had, while I liked the simple tea afterwards that cleansed and signified the end of the meal.

For the price paid, I felt that it was worthy for the quality of ingredients used and the ambience of the restaurant, similar to the afterthought of Ritz Carlton's Summer Pavilion. A place to consider for intimate Chinese indulgence!

And in case I don't write till 2011, have a great eve celebration everyone! May the new year be a fantastic one for you!

Li Bai Cantonese Restaurant
39 Scotts Road
Sheraton Towers Singapore
Tel: 6839 5623

Taken with Nikon D70
Sunday, December 26, 2010

Homecook: Christmas Eve Party 2010!

Every Christmas Eve, I will invite my buddies over to my house for incredible feasts that always end with everyone 'da-paoing' something home. This year, reinforcements came in the form of a Sheraton Towers Christmas Hamper, lovingly given by a family friend. With more dishes whipped up by my mom, we stayed full all the way till Christmas Day itself!

Clockwise from top left: Brown Gravy, Strawberry Sauce, Mashed Potato, Long Beans, Apple Sauce

As with all feasts at home, you can count on my mom's kitchenware to make things pretty. Her latest Le Creuset garden collection nicely held all the accompanying sauces and side dishes that came with the hamper. The creamy mashed potato stood out well while we particularly loved to pair the thick apple sauce with meat cuts!

Black Pepper Duck Breast (Promo: $7 for two), Salmon Sashimi ($22.00/kg)

We ordered takeaways as well to save more hassle of cooking! The pre-cooked duck breast from Nex's NTUC Xtra turned out amazingly well with its moist, tender meat and strong pepper flavour. Most of my buddies loved sashimi so we always order a huge slab of sashimi grade salmon from Fassler, much cheaper when you slice it yourself!

Bisol Bel Star Prosecco, Mariestads Export

We needed some alcohol to make things merrier! The hamper champagne was light and bubbly, while a friend brought Swedish beer that could fight with Hoegaarden in terms of smoothness!

Creamy Pumpkin Soup, Hand-beaten Prawn Rolls

In the past years, Green Pea Soup and Borsch Soup had made their appearance. This time, pumpkin took centrestage as Mom boiled and blended a huge one, adding fresh milk and cream to make it rich and thick. Intensively good!

Now I declare this as the best prawn rolls ever. Why? Because we used fresh market prawns, de-intestined, flattened and mashed them with the side of a chopper, before hand-mixing with water chestnut and lard. The result was the crunchiest, most flavourful prawn rolls which you can never find outside as commercially, it takes a hell lot of work and they always cut costs by adding large quantities of minced pork. Disappeared as soon as they were served!

Honey Glazed Gammon Ham, Roasted Boneless Turkey Breast

Now for the hamper roasts! As we reckon that we would never make it past 2kg worth of Gammon Ham, we only cut 4 thick slices and pan-fried them for a minute before serving. Pretty good stuff!

I have never been a fan of turkey and yet we could never quite escape it during Christmas. The meat was again painfully tough as juices flowed only from certain parts. On the bright side, this was already deboned so cutting was made a lot more easier.

Seafood Baked Rice

Having eaten this two Christmas ago, we gleefully saved stomach space for the reappearance of this huge monster. Using a Fried Rice with Luncheon Meat base, we added loads of squids, prawns, giant scallops and broccoli before baking it with mushroom cream sauce!

Though the cheese layer was accidentally burnt, it gave a surprisingly nice crunch as we dug out the piping hot treasures within. Oh my, if only the weather was colder to make it even more heavenly!

Yam and Sago in Coconut Milk

To round it up, mom conjured a sweet Chinese dessert to fully fill all stomach compartments. Never a better way to end off the feast!

Hope everyone had a great Christmas with their family and friends, sharing bundles of love this festive season! Now let's greedily look forward to another feast on New Year Eve!

Taken with Nikon D70
Thursday, December 23, 2010

大闸蟹: T'is The Season to Get Hairy..Crab!

Christmas is really round the corner! While everyone is preparing for the upcoming feast, I want to highlight a Chinese food item that is almost out of season now: Shanghainese Hairy Crab!

Hairy crab, or 大闸蟹 in Mandarin, is a really small burrowing crab that is worth so much because of the creamy roe. Frankly, Singaporeans have been rather slow in picking up this dish, though we can see restaurants like Min Jiang, Pu Tien and even Food Junction (that was last year though) boasting more efforts in promoting them.

Around end November, a family friend brought over a whole live load of these prized crustaceans from Hong Kong, which I literally forsaken exam preparations just to go home for them!

Steaming them at home is really simple as Mom did it to a perfect orange. The classic accompanying dip would be vinegar with diced ginger, and a cup of ginger tea afterwards to balance out the 'coldness' (寒) of the crab.

Just a little trivia: The best hairy crabs hail from YangCheng Lake (阳澄湖) and can cost really expensive these years due to overdemand and limited supply. Producers even micro-chipped tagged them to boast of their authenticity! Though the crabs have been reproduced in Tai Lake (太湖), the flavour is still a tad off from the originals!

Of course, in a restaurant they will provide you with all the useful tools and a pair of gloves for your convenience. But the only thing I need is a set of teeth to slowly break open every bit of its shell and savour the fresh, delicate meat. Takes training and patience!

And according to Mom, how to tell that the hairy crab you ate is considered good:
1. The tiny strands of hair on its legs are close to a golden colour.
2. The whole house brims of the crabby smell after you steamed it!
3. You can't get rid of the stain and smell in your fingernails afterwards, even with toothpaste!

See that white jelly-like substance with traces of orange goo? That's right, the amount of that roe in each crab is what really determines the value! Drizzled with just a bit of vinegar and take it all in with one mouthful..

Sticky, creamy and bursting with rich ol goodness, the taste is quite out of this world and unlike any other crab roe out there. Packed with cholesterol, this is the second most sinful thing next to Foie Gras!

Clearing about a third of those in the fridge by myself, I think I need an awful distance of running to burn them off. When I'm done, its time for next year's batch already!

Taken with Nikon D70
Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Dunearn II: Lovely Dinner Sets!

For her birthday dinner, the girlfriend made a seemingly general request: Western with good ambience. Yet she didn't want the usual fish and chips or burgers, or the menu to be just limited to one cuisine. Thankfully, I knew just the place that would fit the bill. Off we cab to The Dunearn!

Complimentary Foccacia Bread, as warm and fragrant as ever.

Located within NUS Bukit Timah Campus, I came earlier in the year for lunch and walked away feeling most impressed. This time, we took the indoor seatings that was more cosy and not too fine-dining imposing, manned by friendly staff who were quick to attend to our needs.

We shared one monthly 5-course Set Dinner ($39.80) and a Mix and Match 3-course Set Dinner($49.00) that allows you to choose any one item of Appetiser, Main and Dessert from the ala-carte menu. Plenty of selections to play with!

Chilled King Prawn with Avocado Salsa, Chickpea Cream Soup

The 5-course set was off to a good start as crunchy prawns were served with a sweet Thai chilli sauce, and a mini stacked salad with creamy avocado and juicy tomato. In a suitably smaller serving, the soup had a smooth, rich flavour that didn't overwhelm as I lap up every drop of it!

Tuna Tartare Tempura

We chose this as appetiser simply because how interesting it sounded, and we were definitely not disappointed! Served with Wasabi Mayo, the light batter coating was still slightly crispy despite the moist content, the tuna itself was perfectly seared on the outer rim with a pink centre. Very nicely done!

Braised Lamb Topped with Cheesy Potatoes

Part of the 5-course set, I liked how the tiny cubes of capsicums added colour to otherwise dull, unappetising look. The lamb meat was finely minced, mixed with cheese and abit of potato gratin, though the gamey taste was still faintly detectable. Not that I mind anyway!

At this point of time, we were also served a shot of Sour Plum Sorbet, refreshing us for the main courses ahead!

Braised Oxtail in Garden Vegetables, Oven Baked Chilean Cod with Almond Rice Ball

I have a soft spot for oxtails, so I was really glad that they served this as part of the monthly menu! Simmered so wonderfully in Red Wine Sauce, I was enjoying every chunk of tender, moist meat with traces of sticky bone marrow. Quite simply, I'm loving it!

The baked cod was so fresh and melting good that in the girlfriend's own words: "It melted my heart". Darn, a fish does it better than I do! The almond rice with raisins didn't exactly come in balls, but it oddly reminded me of Fish and Co's flavoured rice, in a good way.

Poached Apple Melba with Rosemary and Vanilla Gelato, Phyllo Apple with Cinnamon Dust and Vanilla Ice Cream

The first one came with the monthly set. With warm folded crepes, apple slices and gelato, the sweet and sour combination worked alright for me, though it was slightly more on the sour side.

Girlfriend chose the other one from the ala-carte menu after eyeing it from other tables and was most satisfied with it. Flaky pastry with warm apple fillings, it was much like an apple pie done well. On a side note, I really couldn't tell the difference between the ice cream here and the geleto on the other dessert!

Coffee, Tea, or Me?

Bill for two was $104.52 after taxes. As we both thoroughly enjoyed our dinner, The Dunearn had once again proven itself with excellent quality at a really good price. Given our habits, we probably won't be back too soon for another special occasion, but I'm pretty sure any revisit will be a satisfying one!

The Dunearn
1F Cluny Road, Bukit Timah Guild House
Tel: 6586 3263
Check their website for monthly menu
Open to public, dress code applies

Taken with Nikon D70
Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Food in the Room: Pasta Time!

As much as we shouldn't eat too much instant noodles, it really is the easiest and fastest way to settle a growling stomach late at night. My roomie and I got crazy and tried almost all kinds and brands; soup, dry, local, Japanese, Taiwanese.. Our verdict? The original IndoMie's strong flavoured Mee Goreng and Nissin's XO seafood for that extra kick!

But when you are so sick of mugging and just want to take a longer break, what's a more healthy and yummy alternative? Pasta cooking!

In typical budget student style, we scouted only for the cheapest and weekly offer items in NTUC, experimenting with our own seafood pasta! Now for a fusion twist, let's do away with the cream or tomato sauce; stir-fry with laksa paste!

Laksa Penne with Crabstick, Diced Fish Cake and White Clams

Now either we were too hungry after spending time in the pantry, or this really turned out good instead! Give everything a quick boil, cook the white clam meat in melted butter, add a large dope of laksa paste and fry till dry with everything back in. Spicily filling!

Carbonara Butterfly with Meatballs

Too fusion for you? Alright lets try the more conventional one! Essentially tasting the same, I loved how we could play around with different pasta shapes, though they do have slightly different cooking time (Another attempt with shell-shaped ones took longer with its thicker edge). A good ol bottle of carbonara sauce, stirred with two raw eggs before serving. Bon appetite!

Minced Meat Patty with Salted Egg Yolk, Muar Otah, Fassler Soups

Besides pasta, we did stock up on other noodle complements to make the study nights less miserable. Mom made awesome minced meat patties that was marinated with from-Taiwan-only soy sauce, and we discovered New Moon's frozen otah was really good with a firm, meaty texture!

To fully utilise our freezer compartment, we brought frozen soup packs from Fassler that could be instantly served after microwaving. If I'm not wrong, you don't usually see Fassler selling this in supermarkets. How did i get them? That's a story for another time!

Four more days to freedom!

Taken with Nikon D70