Sunday, April 30, 2006

Burger binge at Carl's Junior

I’ve been dreaming of a good juicy burger for about 2 weeks so as a follow-up to my burger binge in NYC, I did venture out to Carl’s Junior. I gathered a few never-been-Carl-Juniored before people together for a collective virgin outing to this fast-food burger joint that is known for its comparatively huge burger portions. In this case, size does really matter. For its prices, the burgers seem relatively huge, but in reality I think the only thing that is upsized are the burger buns. The meat patties are relatively thin, moderately juicy but too small to stand its own against the two large bread walls it lies between. The only way around this is for you to order a double patty burger, which means it will cost more and it might be too much for one to stomach.

We sampled a range of burgers—chilli cheese burger, guacamole bacon burger, super star with cheese, portobello burger—along with the whole shebang of sides. This is my verdict: among the sides, I liked the onion rings best, the chilli fries were too salty and the deep fried zucchinis were nothing to shout about. And the burgers, well, let’s just say it didn’t give me enough return of investment to get me to go back. I’m off burgers again.

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Friday, April 28, 2006

Don’t forget to salt!

Simplify simplify simplify. Let’s make cooking really simple. This week during one of my food geek conversations with a fellow foodie, we compared out latest cook book acquisitions, discussed about how we often bought faster than we could read and basically hoarded more books rather than cooking from them. I will admit, I’m a “book hoarder”, I buy and hoard for all sorts of reasons from the frivolous such as the pictures are so pretty to the more practical ones such as those recipes are easy to follow and to cook from. Books with gorgeous photographes and food that make me want to lick the pictures of the pages are usually flipped through, drooled over, thought about and then placed back on the shelf. The main reason being, if I really wanted to successfully execute the recipe, I might have to either build myself a commercial kitchen and hire and army of kitchen help or spend a few good days sourcing for the perfect ingredients. I sometimes like painless cooking (ie. no real slaving behind the stove necessary) with perfect results. I’m pleased to share that I’ve found one fantastic fun way of cooking. All you need are 3 different items and an oven!

Fresh fish
Egg whites

I had the privilege of working with a super yummy and fresh Murray cod so that made my job even easier. The Murray cod is a freshwater fish that is found in the Marry-Darling Basin in Australia. This fish is farmed and wild forms are available but are harder to come by with over fishing. Nonetheless, sometimes it is hard to screw up when you start with good fresh ingredients. Don’t try anything stupid like putting a super complex sauce on it that make take 5 hours to make from start to finish (stock included) that would steal the attention of the ingredient’s natural flavours. Just try to bring the ingredient to life and don’t waste it, after all, it did give up its life for the purpose of being food.

Here’s the shamelessly simple recipe:

Salt Baked Murray Cod
Serves 4

1 Murray Cod
8 Egg whites
2 kg Salt


1. Preheat oven to 200°C (400°F). Line a baking tray with parchment paper.
2. Using a large mixing bowl, mix egg whites and salt together until well combined.
3. Spread about one-third of the salt mixture onto the baking tray, spreading out evenly to form a 1-cm (½-in) base.
4. Place fish on salt base and cover the cod completely with remaining salt mixture. Firmly pat in salt mixture into fish.
5. Bake in the centre of the oven for 40 minutes. Remove to rest for 15 minutes.
6. Crack open salt crust and clean off as much salt as possible. Transfer to a serving plate.

* This recipe is an adaptation from the Salmon baked in Salt recipe from Paul Bertolli, Cooking with Hand.

Instead of Bertolli’s recommended Prosecco sauce, I served the fish with a crispy potato gratin stacks. The two worked well together as the high butter content from the gratin was “self-saucing”.

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Saturday, April 22, 2006

It boils down to stock

River South (Hoe Nam) Prawn Noodles
31 Tai Thong Crescent
Singapore 347859
Opening hours: 6.30am – 4.30pm
Not open once a month on Monday

When it comes to good cooking, it usually boils down to one basic thing, good stock. Skins, bones, shells and hard work are the building blocks for a good stock. It is a hell a lot easier to walk out and to purchase stock cube or concentrate but sometimes there is no real substitute, good food needs some commitment. Stock-making is one of the acts that I would perform to train my patience level and to learn that sometimes in our super-fast paced world there is some glory in delayed gratification.

Prawn noodle stock is actually a prawn-pork based stock that is made from boiling down pig’s tails, pork ribs, and prawn shells. River South (Hoe Nam) Prawn Noodles is probably the best prawn noodles store we have. The stock at this stall is rich and sweet and terribly sinful. Simply put, liquid cholesterol never tasted this good. Perspiring from the heat, I bent over my bowl of noodles and alternated slurping down the chilli-laced noodles and spooning the flavoursome soup into my mouth (burning my tongue in the process). Lunch here was painfully delicious.

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Sunday, April 16, 2006

Burger Binge in NYC: The cheap, the hidden and the disappointing

Our visit to the land of McDonalds, Burger King, Carl’s Junior and White Castle would not have been complete without biting into a few juicy burgers. I will first confess that I’m not a big fan of burgers. I grew up associating burgers with Mc Donald’s and let’s admit it: we don’t really know what is in that stuff. This trip has made me slightly more open to the thought of burgers and maybe I even venture out to Carl’s Junior some time this year. What makes a good burger? "Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun?" I don’t think McDonald’s was too far in identifying the basic elements of the burger—bread, patties, cheese, sauce and its condiment. As for me, the two most important elements are the beef patty and the bread and the others are up to interpretation. Our burger binge in NYC covered a fast food joint, a hole-in-the-wall burger diner and an expensive famed burger.

The Cheap: White Castle, Cheeseburger, Price: Less than $1 per burger

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Why did Harold and Kumar go to White Castle? Sometimes nothing beats cheap and good. This historical burger joint, established in 1921, have been serving small-sized burgers with proportional price-tags. The bun was soft and the beef patty was surprisingly juicy with a pickle and ketchup and mustard added to taste. If I remember correctly, the smallest meal set starts with 4 burgers and if you are up to it, you can purchase a crave case of 30 burgers. The only thing to watch out for is that they are made fresh, when soggy, they can be disappointing. The other thing that we tasted that I would recommend having while you are at White Castle is their deep-fried clam strips.

The Hidden: The Burger Joint, Cheeseburger with the works, Price: Less than $5

Tucked away behind a grand velvet curtain in the posh Le Parken Meridien Hotel hides this most unexpected hole-in-the-wall burger joint. Named the Burger Joint, identified by its neon burger signage, this place is straightforward about what it serves, burgers, cheeseburgers, brownies, milk shakes, beers and fries. Know what you want before you get to the counter, with ketchup and mayonnaise or without pickles or either everything. Present your burger request to the cashier when you get there if not be prepared to take a hike to the back of the queue. This small burger joint packs a steady after work dine-in and take-away crowd and the burger states why. The best part of the burger joint is that everything is made to order. The hot steamy bun soft without a hint of staleness and the patties are substantial, meaty and juicy, nothing beats freshness. Enjoy with a house milkshake or plastic cup beers.

The Disappointing: DB Bistro Moderne, The Original db Burger, Price: $29

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For a whopping $29, The Original db Burger consist of a Sirloin Burger filled with braised short ribs, foie gras and black truffles, served on a Parmesan bun & with pommes frites. Sounds like the mother of all luxury burgers, no? Well, it reads like a song but in reality it all bark and no bite. The tall burger’s thick braised short ribs patty was bordering on being dry and other than the rich tasting short ribs, you would be lucky if you could taste a hint of foie gras or black truffles. I only found the foie gras after about 4 bites and that was my last taste of it. Other than the burger, the rest of the food (we had the lobster bisque, frog's legs and stuffed pig’s trotters) was average and expensive, and the service was terrible. Save your money, this place is worth a miss.

The Burger Joint
118 W 57th St (between 6th and 7th)
New York, NY 10019
Tel: (1) 212-245-5000

DB Bistro Moderne
55 W 44th St (between 5th and 6th)
New York, NY 10036
Tel: (1) 212-391-2400

White Castle
525 8th Ave
New York, NY, 10018
Website: for other locations

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Saturday, April 15, 2006

NYC Delis and Sandwiches

Barney Greengrass will always be special to me because it was here that I had my first real experience with the snout fish, the sturgeon. This long fish might be better known for its prized eggs but when properly smoked, it transforms into a delectable oily, firm and white-coloured flesh. Barney Greengrass, the self-proclaimed New York City’s “Stugeon King” have bragging rights. The traditions and secrets of treating sturgeon have been passed down from generation to generation since 1908 from mother to son to son. The current third generation Greengrass that run’s the place is Gary Greengrass.

Famed for their smoked fish platters in particular the sturgeon, what you should also try is their chopped chicken liver (although I recommend that you share the chopped liver because it is a large mount to finish by yourself). Smoked sturgeon or sturgeon omelette or only egg white omelettes, which ever you order, I urge you to try it. First apply a coat of cream cheese to your bagel, step two generously slap on the sturgeon or sturgeon omelette then lay aside your cutlery and enjoy eating with your hands. Other Jewish comfort foods such as Matza Ball Soup are also served here. We liked it so much we ate breakfast here twice.

We also did a taste test between the Pastrami Sandwich between Carnegie’s Deli and Katz’s Delicatessen. Between the two, I liked Katz’s better both in terms of food and ambience. To me, Katz’s has some sort of an old world charm with less of a fuss. Pastrami against pastrami, Katz’s pastrami had a fuller taste and a good amount of fat. The smoking and the spices used would differ from deli to deli, so as a personal preference, the end product at Katz’s was better. Other items that we tasted at these Deli’s: corned beef sandwich at Carnegie’s Deli, Rueben’s sandwich and cheesecake at Katz’s Delicatessen.

Another awesome sandwich had we had was the Barbequed Pork sandwich at the Blue Ribbon Bakery. This corner shop has an awesome brick oven that is hidden from the street level (you won’t see it when you walk in, only if you dined in the lower level or decided to use the bathroom). The menu here is eclectic, with a long list of sandwiches and mains such as sweet breads. Other sandwiches we tasted and liked here: Serrano ham with brie cheese and duck club sandwich.

Barney Greengrass
541 Amsterdam Ave (at 86th Street)
New York, New York 10024
Tel: (1) 212-724-4707

Blue Ribbon Bakery
35 Downing St
New York, NY 10014
Tel: (1) 212-337-0404

Carnegie’s Deli
854 Seventh Ave. (at 55th Street)
New York, New York 10019
Tel: (1) 212-757-2245

Katz’s Delicatassen
205 E. Houston Street
New York, New York
Tel: (1) 212-254-2246

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Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Lobsters' High Calling

Pearl Oyster Bar
18 Cornelia Street
New York, NY 10014
Tel: (1) 212-692-8211

Lobster roll

After being out in the cold since 7ish in the morning labouring as a hardworking tourist, attempting to inch out the hoard of tourist at Liberty Island, we made a collective decision and concluded that enough for enough, let’s have lunch. There was however one large problem, we were stuck on a ferry and it would be a good 30 minutes or so before we made it back to Manhattan. Stuck on the ferry, hungry and with nothing much to do, we begin to fantasise about lunch at the Pearl Oyster Bar. My pre-conceived notion of the lobster roll was something similar to a Vietnamese spring roll—lobster flesh wrapped in rice paper wrapper and herbs—something really light and filled with herbs, oh how wrong was I!

Thankfully, we eventually get off the ferry. In fact, I think we meandered our way to the front of the ferry to position ourselves as the first 50 of so people off the ferry and brisk walked our way to the main road to flag a yellow cab down. To Bleeker Street, to the Pearl Oyster Bar to seek the famous lobster roll that owner/Chef Rebecca Charles makes. We find the restaurant with ease and are seated at the last table available. It iscozyosy place that has a bar and an adjacent dining area.

Scratched on the blackboard along Today’s Specials is the item we are looking for, the market price of the lobster roll, $24 with a serving of shoestring fries. The lobster roll was nothing like I imagined. No rice paper wrappers, no forest of herbs, nothing close. Instead, what arrived was a warm and crusty to touch but soft on the inside hot dog bun that was crammed with shards of mayonnaise dressed red and white flesh that was accompanied by fireworks of shoestring fries. I wonder how many lobsters were sacrificed for this roll. It was ethereal. The lobsters died for a good cause.

The other sea creatures that we sampled were equally delicious. In the raw we had Market Oysters and Little Neck Clams. Both had a higher natural salt content that what I’m used to tasting, different but good. As for the cook items, the Salt Crusted Shrimp was as it sounds, salty and crunchy (it made a good cracking noise when cut) on the outside with a sweet tasting shrimp inside and the New England Clam Chowder with Smoked Bacon was rich, with a slight powdery texture, warm and comforting, re-charging me to be a better tourist for the rest of the day. Lunch at the Pearl Oyster Bar was superb; it warmed the cockles of my heart. (haha)

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Saturday, April 08, 2006

I met Thomas Keller at Per Se

Per Se
10 Columbus Circle
4th floor
New York, NY 10019
Tel: (1) 212-823-9335

Per Se was our last big meal in NYC. The logic was simple– we wanted to save the best for last. What a treat we had! We arrived 10 minutes before our reservation and with a stroke of luck; we bumped into Thomas Keller at the front door of his restaurant! Being the food geek I am, I was a little awestruck and uncontrollably blurted out, “Thomas Keller?” Thankfully it was him, if not I would have been a bumbling idiot. So just for the record, I met Thomas Keller, I met Thomas Keller!

Coming here was special. French Laundry the cookbook (arguably one of the porniest food books out there) gave an insight as to how Thomas Keller works and thinks about food. I might be stating the obvious, but I gather that he is so good because of his eye for detail, allowing him to understand intricate cooking processes and the high reverence he has for ingredients. To a certain extent you feel like you know him because you know him because understand his food philosophy. Plus, after watching Anthony Bourdain, Eric Ripert and Scott Byron–renown chefs in their own right–eating at the French Laundry and later gushing about that awesome meal, you just know it is a mecca for foodies. The restaurant was elegantly decorated with a view of central park. I imagine it would be prettier in the day but the night view of the skyline of the Upper west side has its own calming charm. The restaurant only has 16 tables so for that night, you will feel very special as the selected few.

"Oysters and Pearls"

Our tasting menu started with the Thomas Keller’s signature Salmon Cornets. At the risk of sounding corny, it was almost like having a food fairy tale book come to life. My face lit up the second I saw the waiters come with the amuse bouche. Visually, it was meant to evoke memories of ice cream but once you tasted it … who cares about ice cream! Salmon tartare, in a sesame cornet filled with sweet red onion and crème frâiche, is minced and not diced like other places, giving it a velvety consistency of intense taste. Lemon oil added to the tartare giving it that extra zing to lift it to the next level. The best part of it all, no formalities with forks and knives, straight from your hand, into your mouth. I wanted another and another.

Next was another signature, Oysters and Pearls. This monochromatic plate–creamy pearl oysters were crowned with some black caviar jewels–was quite a sight. I have never ever seen so much caviar on a plate or served so much caviar! In this dish Thomas Keller really pampers you with gems from the ocean. The Island creek oysters were plump and creamy and the Sevruga caviar was just sexy. Taste wise, it was amazing; it had very strong individual flavours that came together in perfect harmony. The sabayon of pearl tapioca made with oyster juice provided texture and gave the oysters a richer fuller bodied taste, while saltiness of the caviar to enhance the clean taste of the oysters. As Thomas Keller says tapioca, pearls, pearls, oysters: logical. Yes, I now see the logic. With that as our first course, WOW, what a meal we were in for.

As for the third course, Liver and Onions, personally, I like my foie gras sautéed for that ‘crispy on the outside, melt in your mouth on the inside’ palate sensation and was secretly hoping he would be serving whole roasted foie gras. Instead, we had a “Terrine” of Moulard Duck “Foie Gras”, Duck “Cracklings”, Rue-scented Sweet Onion “Gelée”, Pickled Pearl Onions and Tellicherry Pepper “Brioche”. Again, they really spoil and seduce you with the food and their service. The foie gras was sinfully huge with sprinkling of more crunchy and full flavoured duck crackling. Secondly, the method of foie gras au torchon really does give it a smooth as butter consistency. The brioche was warm, crunchy and peppery against the velvety foie gras. It was so pleasurable. After the initial “Mmmm, oh man this is sooo good”, there was no more need for conversation, just let me be alone to savour my food. The only distraction I had was when the waiters removed my brioche when I was only halfway through my foie gras, only to return with a fresh slice of warm toasty brioche. It was a little over the top indulgence but I’m not complaining.

Sturgeon is something that we, as a family, had really started appreciating this trip after repeatedly eating at Barney Greengrass and so I thought it was apt that we had one sturgeon dish here. When the plate arrived, Hot Smoked Columbia River Sturgeon teased with smoky aromas but didn’t look quite ordinary. Once we ran our knives through the fish it told a different tale. The sturgeon was perfect cooked. The flesh was firm and was juicy and succulent on the inside. The smoked fish was complemented sweet braised apple, bringing together a classic “apple smoked” combination that was contrasted with a mildly spicy horseradish sauce.

The Sweet Butter Poached Nova Scotia Lobster was another, wow (!), delicious but educational plate. The art of butter poaching lobster was another Thomas Keller cooking technique that I really wanted to taste firsthand. Truly as what he explained, when lobster is gently poached in butter, the resultant meat is exquisitely tender unlike the usual tougher texture. The accompaniments of Kumquat confit and caramelized endive added good sweet and bitter tones to the super tender lobster.

The next plate incited both thrills and giggles at our table. Sirloin of Hallow Farm’s Rabbit was a lovely play on ‘sirloin’, how Thomas Keller likes to serve rabbit like a steak. This plate was whimsical and elegant, on it stood the tiniest rack of rabbit ribs, a fillet mignon of rabbit topped with half a rabbit kidney served in its jus. Rabbit does not taste like chicken; they are close, but rabbit is slightly gamier. I’ve always been a fan of entrails so I appreciated the richness and difference in texture. The Rabbit was roasted to perfection and serving the different parts of the rabbit allowed us different taste of the darker and lighter meats of the rabbit (think how taste differs in turkey legs and turkey breasts). Thoroughly fun and delicious.

Although well executed and cooked to a perfect pink the Rib-eye of Nature Red Veal “Rôti à la Broche” paled in comparison to the above dishes. For me, the most exciting things on the plate were these bluefoot mushrooms, from Oregon. These mushrooms were pretty interesting fungi, they had a purplish tint and a very full-flavour that matched the veal. Good, but not spectacular.
Our cheese course came with a slight twist; oddly, it came with a complimentary glass of beer. It turns out that “Winnemere” is an artisanal cheese that is washed in beer and brine and so was naturally paired with a beer from Vermont (can’t remember the details). The wedge of cheese was semi-soft, creamy and slightly pungent went down well with the full-bodied sweet red wine braised cabbage. I like cheeses so sampling an artisanal cheese was a treat, but for other non-cheese lovers at the table were not too hot about it.

*More information on the cheese.

The first of the desserts was Apricot Sorbet with rose syrup, Earl Grey “Nuage” and “Sablé crumble”. It sounded weird to me, but it tasted pretty awesome. I really like the Earl Grey foam. Together the sorbet and foam tasted really refreshing and the sable crumble added texture and richness. To me, it was an interesting interpretation of having tea on a plate.

Next up was a chocoholic’s delight. “Tentation au Chocolate, Noisette et Lait”– milk chocolate ‘mousse’, a hazelnut biscuit of some sort with condensed milk ice cream and a banana twirl–was delectable because ‘chocolate-something’ is usually my dessert of Despite sounding like a heart attack waiting to happen, the condensed milk ice cream was surprisingly not too sweet and pleasant. The chocolate banana twirl tasted as it sounded, but the show stopped was the milk chocolate ‘mousse’ decorated with salted hazelnuts; incredibly smooth with mousse-like texture but a very deep intense chocolate flavour. Seriously, with scrumptious chocolate like that, who could say no to that temptation.

Just to make sure you leave happy and on a sugar high and to sweeten the deal, dinner ended with mignarises. They first served the ladies crème brulée and the men yoghurt with apple jam, following which they came with a platter of truffles and packed macaroons for the road. They really really spoil you here.

Is Thomas Keller’s restaurant a food mecca? Yes. I think to a certain extent the meal changes you. Here you can sense his deep reverence for food and you learn to do the same. For me, although the food was absolutely gorgeous and seductively delicious, the whole meal was a rather distinctive step in my culinary learning journey. Ok, now I really want to go to the French Laundry and Bouchon.

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Sunday, April 02, 2006

A la cuisine!

Food binds people. Food binds my family. I spent many after school hours watching English dubbed Iron Chef and their re-runs with my brother. It was one of those programmes that we never fought over for the television remote controller. We spent many hours enviously watching the tasting panel, listening and laughing at the badly translated platitudes, fantasising how the food tasted and talked about our own mini Iron Chef type of competitions we would have. Our competition never took place, but my brother once attempted an Iron Chef Day with lamb shanks, that day is etched in my memory, but not for delicious reasons. After that day, I think we decided it was best to experience the Iron Chefs (culinary dreams of dining at all of their restaurants before we die) rather than trying to BE the Iron Chef. At one stage of my life (I think I might have been 17) I was convinced that the judges were predisposed to vote for the Iron Chefs since they were the victors 85% of the time but now on hindsight and first-hand tasting experiences, at Morimoto by Masaharu Morimoto (Iron Chef Japanese) and at Babbo by Mario Batali (Iron Chef America Italian), I now am a little older and hopefully, wiser.

Morimoto by Masaharu Morimoto

Foie gras chawan mushi with shabu shabu duck

This 3 month old, 160-seater, über chic restaurant’s deco is quite something. We arrived 15 minutes before our reservation so they first led downstairs and sat us at bar area. The furniture was interesting to say the least—the sofa looked like a cool-but-not-very-comfortable plastic white sofa but it turned out to be some sort of foam that was firm and soft—it was fascinating. The thing that really blew me away were the super-tech-savvy toilet seats where it had auto-flush, auto-seat-warming and auto-close functions among the others that I could not quite make out. It is crazy, no?

The place looked cool and so did some of the dishes on the menu: morimoto tempura with gorgonzola cheese sauce, oyster foie gras, kakuni (ten hour pork, congee, soy-scallion jus, duck, duck, duck (foie gras croissant, roast duck, soft duck egg and red miso sauce) and tuna pizza alongside the sashimi and sushi list. We elected for the morimoto omakase and a carafe of one of Morimoto’s sake.

Dinner started off with indulgence. Specifically, an o-toro tartare in a bamboo box with condiments: puréed seaweed, crème frâiche, wasabi, shiso, avocado purée and rice crackers, and accompanied by dashi soy, a bamboo spoon and a mountain berry to finish off. It was fun and yummy to eat. Use your bamboo spoon/paddle and mix o-toro with varying amounts of condiments to your own taste. First I did a tasting of how each individual condiment tasted with the o-toro. Second I mixed a few combinations of condiments, and then finally I figured that it tasted best with everything. It was fatty tuna goodness with creamy and crunchy textures.

Two dishes in one arrived next. The waiters placed a raised plate of sashimi on the table then lifted the sashimi plate of young snapper, and stripped bass to reveal two gems of kumamoto oysters, one with cocktail and the other with citrus sauce. The ingredients were super-fresh and yummy with the richer tasting dashi soy.

The third courses was poached lobster salad with diced potatoes and pumpkin purée. The cooking technique demonstrated was excellent, the lobster was poached to perfection, retaining its natural sweetness and tenderness. It tasted fantastic on its own, but was even better with potatoes the sweet pumpkin sauce.

Next up was a morimoto maki—tamago and tuna maki wrapped with procuttio—with dashi foam. It was a good balance between the sweet egg and tuna, and the salty stronger tasting proscuttio and the dashi foam was a good and airy substitute for the usually soy sauce.

The intermezzo was a black sesame macaroon and individual mini tea cups of matcha that was graciously prepared with traditional bamboo whisk at the table.

Next up was foie gras chawan mushi with shabu shabu duck breast, fresh wasabi and sweet soy sauce. The foie gras chawa mushi was rich and but was a light mousse texture. The shabu shabu duck breast brought the richness to another level and was well balanced by the wasabi.

Following we had a plate morimoto “surf and turf” (as I term it) of grilled kurodai (red snapper) and wagyu beef. The snapper flesh was sweet and the sweet melt-in-your-mouth teriyaki wagyu was balanced with the slightly bitter bok choi. To finish off the savoury section, we had a sushi platter of chu-toro (medium fatty tuna), hamachi (yellowtail), sayori (needlefish), kanpachi (amberjack) and anago (sea eel).

For dessert, the Chocolate cheesecake with lychi (wolfberries) and pear that was served was ok. The chocolate tuile was nice, but other than that, the whole dessert was too sweet for me to finish, but then again, I don’t think desserts were his strong points.

It’s a pity we never got to sit at the omakase bar (someone has on numerous occasions!), nonetheless this is one of those meals that will be etched in my memory.

Babbo by Mario Batali

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Fernando’s Pyramids with Passato di Pomodoro

With the empire of restaurants that Mario Batali has, we were not quite sure on how to tackle this iron chef. With too many choices and too few days, we narrowed our choices down to either Lupa or Babbo and decided to go with the latter since it is his flagship restaurant with a unique and legendary pasta tasting menu.

My previous experiences with homemade pasta have not been too pleasant. The first time I was 19 and I ambitiously attempted making my own pasta was without a pasta machine. Honestly, I don’t know what I was thinking. I didn’t make good pasta, my end product was horrible, my mother opened the pot and was horrified, “Why are there these fat worm like things in the pot?!” There has not been a second attempt that has been rain-checked until I acquire a pasta machine. Mario Batali has made all that right and has inspired me scribble making good pasta on my “things to cook before I die” list.

*Warning: the below is not for those on anti/low-carb diets.

We started with an amuse bouche of chickpea bruchetta arrived and away we went with pasta tasting! We started off the tasting menu with Black Tagliatelle with Peas and Parmigiano. The flavours were simple and light. The peas were crisp and crunchy was complemented the creamy but light pea creamy sauce. I had no problem finishing my peas in this dish.

Pasta 2, Asparagus and Ricotta “Mezzalune”, was equally delicious. Real simple and clean flavours—creamy goat ricotta, crunchy asparagus, al dente mezzalune and scallion oil—worked together well and kept the flavours light.

The next dish was served with what our server termed “wine for wimps.” She nicknamed it so because this soft and gentle flavoured wine is one of her favourites and her sommelier joked that she liked it because of it was not full bodied but rather gentle, soft, a pretty wimpy wine. “Wine for wimps” accompanied Garanelli with “Funghi Trifolati”. As the plates were sat down, the waiters returned with a large knob of cheese and microplane graters, (this is my favourite part) and informs us that the chef highly recommends that this dish is finished off with grated goat’s cheese. The funghi aroma waffled up to my nose giving me my first “taste” of it. The actual taste of it was even stronger, very earthy and smoky, which was balanced well against the fresh tasting herbs, pasta.

When the servers placed the pasta dish no.4, Fernando’s Pyramids with Passato di Pomodoro, on our plates, they stressed that it these beef-filled homemade raviolis were Fernando’s pyramids rather than Batali’s creation and topped with freshly grated romano percino cheese. The homemade raviolis were filled with a yummy braised beef that simply melted away in my mouth and served with a sweet tasting tomatoes emulsified with olive oil and fresh parsley.

The last of the pasta dishes was Pappardelle Bolognese. To finish off the pasta courses, this homemade Bolognese, homemade Papperdelle, the rich beef sauce was good comforting homemade mama’s food. The pasta courses stayed true to the Italian way of cooking, super fresh ingredients and clean-straightforward-focused-on-flavour cooking. The pastas were to a certain extent impeccable: perfectly al dente pasta and executed sauces. A side note, the courses did push us to the limits in terms of stomach space; I struggled with the last pasta plate.

The first of the dessert courses was Espresso Panna Cotta “con Amarena”. The velvet smooth panna cotta had a sensational kick of espresso. Following after was a whimsical Chocolate “Salami” with “Zabaione al Moscato”. The chocolate salami was packed with pistachios, biscotti bits and orange zest. I was not too big a fan of the Zabiaone sauce, the chocolate salami was just decadent enough to eat on its own.

For the last and seemingly final dessert, our server was so gracious to give us a dessert tasting menu within our last dessert course and the order to take and bite and pass around rotate our plates. The menu dessert of Ricotta Cake “Macchiato” with Bergamot was accompanied with its other sweet companions, walnut and date cake with vanilla sauce and ice cream, ricotta cheese cake with pineapple and flourless chocolate cake with hazelnut ice cream.

My experience at Babbo was pretty damn good. It was a good way to mark my first experience with true homemade al dente pasta. The wine pairing with the pasta tasting menu was also pretty phenomenal; we drank a range of Italian wines that were carefully handpicked to echo the flavours. To top it all the dancing service staff—armed with their microplane graters and delicious knobs and cheese—were terribly funny and friendly. The only reservation we could get was at 5.30pm, too early a time to eat dinner, but it is well worth the trouble.

Kudos to Iron Chefs.
2 Iron Chefs, check, a few more to go!

88 10 Avenue
New York, NY 10011
Tel: (1) 212-989-8883

110 Waverly Place
New York, NY 10011
Tel: (1) 212-353-8064

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