Friday, December 31, 2010

Skinny Pizza

Two months ago, I'd decided on a new career path. This job may not be as cool as Anthony Bourdain's but it does appear to be more exciting than the previous one. To celebrate this occasion, we headed to Skinny Pizza after I officially contracted myself to this new institution. I should be happy, for I'd finally plucked enough courage to venture into the unknown after all these years. However, at the table, there was also this melancholic tinge that stemmed mostly from the thought of missing my old colleagues that had taught me so much, on both professional and personal levels. Perhaps I've still not lived long enough to understand that changes are inevitable but it does appear breezy for some.

For the reasonable price, I shouldn't be complaining about the truffle fries that seemed to be a little shitake-scented. It was the other side dish, the grilled prawns with cauliflower couscous, that had me all perked up. The combination of juicy prawns and couscous cooked with garlic, herbs, nuts and raisins was a delight. It came greasier than usual but that was easily overlooked by the smoky aroma of the prawns and combustion of flavours in the couscous mixture. Talk about smokiness, the stir-fried lobster linguine with crab meat, black pepper and a variety of roes was certainly full of it. Just another sprinkling of salt would have made it even tastier, I thought. Lastly, there was the signature squid ink pizza topped with calamari, prawns, tomato salsa, arugula and red onion rings. To me, it wasn't a pizza because the base was a crust, just. There wasn't even a slight chewy fill that defines a pizza base. In fact, I thought it was a pappadam more than anything else. But that's not to say that it was bad. As a dish in general, I enjoyed its novelty and the layer of creamy sweet sauce that reminded me of the mayonnaise used in those chicken floss buns.

It's intentional that I make this my final post for 2010 because this move to a new working environment is certainly the most significant (and hardest) decision that I'd made in recent years. And while I don't usually go all gooey and cheesy in retrospecting the last 365 days, I must say that 2010 has been exceptionally kind and generous. In the past year, I'd crossed 3 of the 10 countries that I'd planned to visit in this lifetime, experienced driving on the other side of the road, ran my first half marathon, discovered laundry detergent powder, finally gotten myself a law certificate after much struggle, reconnected with some old friends, had some of KL's most famous Hokkien Mee and, for the better, had a change of mindset that some people call maturity. I call it a miracle.

Folks, have a happy and healthy 2011!

Skinny Pizza
3 Temasek Boulevard
#01-002 Suntec City Galleria Singapore
Tel: (+65) 6333 9774

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Old Naples Italian Restaurant, Doc's Saloon and Grill, John's Diner and a Shoofly Pie.....

I used to joke that in this town of Pennsylvania, you can defy the law and park your car perpendicular to the allocated parking space, and it won’t make a difference simply because land is aplenty here. Houses are big and far from one another, and supermarkets as well as restaurants are located miles away from the residential areas. I’m really glad that I managed to get my international driving licence prior to my departure. Or else, it would have been solely Irish food in the hotel or the limited number of restaurants nearby for 7 weeks. And when I say nearby, it’s still at least 1/4 mile away.

But I’m not complaining about the food in those restaurants, of course. In fact, in this last installment of my trip to the USA, I’m dedicating it to them - our regular afterwork spots to dine, relax and rant.

Old Naples Italian Restaurant

It’s quiet in here. I hope their business had picked up since, because it’ll be a pity if they decide to close for good. Their complimentary Country Salad is a simple recipe that works - parmesan emulsified in Italian dressing to give a creamy texture that goes well with the vegetables, peperoncini (!) and crostinis.

What made us return again and again, however, was the Seafood Spaghettini. I was skeptical at first, knowing that pomodoro will always be, well, just a light tomato sauce. And I was wrong. Perhaps it has been American-ized (like Western Chinese cuisine?) because the sauce was thick, robust in taste and hot. As the picture depicts, the variety and amount of seafood thrown in was amazing too.

The selection of dolci’s pretty good, with the raspberry cheesecake topping the list. The sourish sauce cuts through nicely that rich taste of cheese. Keep doing what you do and best of luck, Old Naples!

Doc’s Saloon and Grill

The previous visitors highly recommended the signature grilled baby back ribs but I wasn’t paying attention when they mentioned it. And I’d mistakenly ordered the prime rib instead. Doc’s Famous Prime Rib, which was roasted for 17 hours, was a good mistake though. A 3/4 pound of succulent piece of meat that was savoury ‘til the last bite. As for the French onion soup, I think the ratio of mozzarella to soup was approximately 1:1. Seriously.

John’s Diner

I get a tug at my heartstrings as I recall the countless dinners I had here. It’s more than just the delicious pickled roasted beetroot at the salad bar, seafood chowder, orange duck, ham with bone, spaghetti marsala, Philly cheesesteak, chocolate bomb cake, etc. The owners and staff (well, most of them) made us feel at home. It was just the courteous how are we doin’ today? at first and soon, conversations extended to include the weather, weekend activities and better choice of desserts. You can tell that this diner, despite the simple interior and menu, is a favourite among the locals when it still packs in a crowd even at those odd afterhours.

On my last visit in a late evening, I had a piece of Shoofly Pie, not knowing that it's actually a Pennsylvania Dutch classic dessert. The base and top usually consist mainly of brown sugar while the filling is of molasses. Despite the saccharine ingredients, the pie was surprisingly just aptly sweet. Very interesting!

And this certainly was, the perfect ending to my stint here in the USA.

Old Naples Italian Restaurant
110 Limekiln Road, PA 17070
Tel: (+1) 717 920 3627

Doc's Saloon and Grill
110 Limekiln Road, PA 17070
Tel: (+1) 717 920 3627

John's Diner
146 Sheraton Drive
New Cumberland, PA 17070
Tel: (+1) 717 774 5004

Friday, December 24, 2010

Some of the stuff I ate in NYC....

With just 2 weekends in New York, I'd decided to concentrate on visiting as many interesting sights as possible, instead of turning to the stacks of colourful city guides for a gastronomic tour. Afterall, how much can one really eat in 48 hours, right? Take it from this big eater, really.

Weekend No. 1's meals were mostly what we could find along the way - burritos, pizzas, burgers and noodles. Despite the presentation, the below bowl of ramen really tasted more Chinese than Japanese.

By the second weekend, the shutterbug died a lethargic death while the appetite grew.

Weekend No. 2 started at Momofuku Noodle Bar. Despite the modest size and simplicity of the facade, it was still easy to find, thanks to the hordes of customers gathering in and out of the restaurant. Having read David Chang's NO PHOTOGRAPHY policy at Ko (one of his many other restaurants), I asked the staff if I could take some photos of my sexy, hot plate of steamed buns. The friendly dude said, Of course!. Cool.

The thick slabs of pork belly lived up to my expectation - soft, slightly sticky thick layer of fat atop the flaky meat. It has a cleaner taste than our usual Dongbo pork. And it's not complete without their chilli sauce that's only slightly sour but (surprisingly) hot. A slice of the pork belly was included in the Momofuku Ramen too, which was great. It was more of a chicken (and perhaps pork bones too) stock than the usual tonkotsu, miso, etc. I liked the taste and named it a bowl of thinking ramen, not because it had me contemplating on the soup base but the ideas that went into making this version of ramen. Not an expert here but I've not seen ramen served with poached egg (except for the chilli pan mee in our part of the world) and shredded pork shoulder (which reminded me of the usage of minced pork in our clear soup noodles) that was pretty flavourful. I was looking forward to their soft serve of the day - snow pea (!) but the machine was down, so I settled for the chocolate chips cake truffles.

It was only on my last day here that I had my first New York bagel at the historic cafe called Zabar's on Broadway. The window seats provide a good view of the busy streets, especially in the morning when runners are seen crossing this part of upper Manhattan as parents and their kids in strollers head to their usual restaurants for brunch, and locals (I presume) returning from their morning shopping at the nearby markets or grocery stores, carrying large brown paper bags filled with fruits, vegetables and baguettes. I had their signature bagel with cream cheese and nova salmon (lightly cured and smoked), apple crumble and orange juice for breakfast that Sunday, before starting my strenuous (but fun) day at the museums along the Museum Avenue. Zabar's had an amazing display of golden bakes, which most looked rather appetizing. Ah, if only I was able to sample everything.

I was at Flor de Mayo, just a few hours before returning to Harrisburg. What attracted me to this restaurant was the description - Chino Latino cuisine. What!? Looking at the menu, I realised that there's nothing fusion, just one that offers both Chinese and Peruvian food. The Chinese menu does seem highly exotic when read in Latin but I should have known better than to order the Chow Mein de Carne Ahumada, Arroz Frito y Egg Roll, which really means roast pork chow mein, fried rice and egg roll. (-___-). On the other hand, the starter of Aquadito Chicken (a Peruvian cilantro rice soup) was bold on flavours. I found some recipes on the web that include beer in the stock. Sounds good, doesn't it?

A brief moment at Wall Street later, I was back at the Port Authority bus terminal, awaiting to board my bus to return to Harrisburg. Into the first hour of the journey, while searching for some reading materials in my bag, I found the remaining half of my apple crumble from Zabar's. And I happily munched away, reminiscing the short but fantastic weekends in New York. It'll be more about the food next time, I promised myself.

Momofuku Noodle Bar
171 First Avenue (Between 10th and 11th St.)

2245 Broadway, 80th St.

Flor de Mayo
484, Amsterdam Avenue

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Central Park, New York City

Perhaps I was the only one in the group that wanted to visit Strawberry Fields at Central Park, where a memorial was built for John Lennon. I’m glad I did. It’s veered westward from Sheep Meadow and some climbing is required. A round mosaic, decorated with the word “Imagine” in the center, basically defines the memorial. That late afternoon, as we ascended the rather hilly path, a group was gathering around the mosaic, strumming and singing to the tunes of Imagine, Hey Jude, Let It Be and other timeless songs from the Beatles.

You might find this unbelievable, but the truth is, I had a feeling that I’d meet Yoko Ono at Strawberry Fields that day. We were walking down the hill, making our way to the Lake and the Great Lawn when we crossed paths with this woman in a striking white suit, donning one of those funky hats spotted on celebrities and clubbers these days. We met face to face and naturally, gave each other a smile. Unmistakably, it was Yoko Ono. Not intimidated, but rather out of respect for one’s privacy, I’d decided not ask for a photo with her. But seeing how willing she was with an American couple, I went up to her and politely requested for one. And she obliged.

I guess my colleagues were confused as to why I wanted to have a photo taken with Yoko Ono. It was nothing about being starstruck but really, to capture this significant moment in Central Park celebrating the music and life of a great musical talent, mourning his tragic death at the nearby Dakota Apartments and meeting his wife, Yoko Ono.

And this is just one of the many fond memories of Central Park, including.....

.....resting on one of the many benches around the Bethesda Fountain

.....seeing another ancient Egyptian obelisk, Cleopatra’s Needle, after Paris and Luxor

.....soaking in the sun, just like them New Yorkers

.....the beautiful view of the Lake

.....being mesmerized by the music and passion, the joie de vivre

.....wishing I can do my regular 10 km runs here in the future

.....and meeting a fairy in the park.

For me, Central Park is New York, where life is fun, exciting and full of possibilities. To cover this area in a day seems difficult, if you plan to include the nearby Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim along Fifth Avenue, and the American Museum of Natural History on 79th Street, Central Park West. And these upper Manhattan museum.....

.....are worthy of a brand new post.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Lunch at Iggy’s

Ikura, yuzu jelly and hojisho.

This took place roughly 12 hours after returning from Kathmandu, 30 hours before my half marathon attempt and 54 hours to my first day in a new working environment. What a week it had been!

Hirame with burrata, tomato and pomelo.

Of course, I was looking forward to this meal at Iggy’s (reservation was made 2 weeks in advance) but fresh memories of Kathmandu’s sights and sounds were distracting. I guess that had indirectly lowered my expectation of this highly praised restaurant. As we sat down, I quickly browsed through the December menu, decided on our orders and starting talking frantically about my trip. If I was at Kathmandu that particular hour (we’re 2.15 hours ahead of Nepal), I would have already visited a temple/durbar and had started looking for an interesting Nepali or Newari lunch spot.

Wagyu carpaccio with rocket, parmesan and truffle mayonnaise.

Off the menu was a complimentary amuse bouche. The fragrance of yuzu had tricked me into expecting a sugary taste of jelly, which naturally, should provide a nice contrast to the savouriness of ikura. But it was not! Tasting like light soy sauce, the jelly was a surprise and went down delightfully with the bursting ikura. The pairing was lightly perfumed with what I believe to be hojisho buds since it tasted very much similar to the Japanese perilla. A brilliant combination.

Tagliatelle with seasonal mushrooms and egg.

Cappellini with tomato and basil.

Lamb with ratatouille risotto.

The rest of the courses didn’t disappoint. Both the tagliatelle and capellini were exemplarily al dente. My soft piece of wagyu carpaccio came laurel-wreathed with arugula, parmesan and, my favourite part – truffle mayonnaise. I’m now inspired to make some truffle aioli to go with my fries or salads, even. Be it the execution or just pure bad luck, I’ve never had good duck dishes in non-Chinese restaurants. The meats were usually too hard and/or bland. Iggy’s pinkish duck piece that afternoon was soft, flaky and came with crispy skin that was lightly sprinkled with coarse salt to enhance the taste. The side of potato mash and chips (and mesclun mix) complemented the duck well, both in flavour and texture.

Duck with Yukon Gold potato and meslun.

Perhaps I’d made the wrong decision of selecting two rich-tasting desserts. In the end, both tasted rather similar. Having said that, to combine chocolate, cinnamon, mandarin and vanilla custard (quite unique a component, I think) was smart. Same goes for the pain d’epices. If only I’d replaced one of these with the soursop served with cherry, baby tomato and mascarpone, it would be even more fantastic, given the polarizing tastes of the main ingredients of these desserts.

Pain d'epices with bourbon, caramelized banana, nutmeg and toffee.

It was just one lunch, so I shouldn’t deduce as if I’d tasted the full-blown degustation dinner menu or like I’m a regular here. But from the menu that Friday afternoon, I feel that it’s not just about the freshest, most expensive imported ingredients. A lot of brainwork was involved in creating these exquisite, though simple-looking dishes. I’ll gladly return for more when I can afford it. Serving portions aside, if I may suggest, tea or coffee should have been included in the menu. That’s not too much to ask for a lunch tagged at S$85++, isn’t it?

Chocolate with cinnamon, mandarin and vanilla.

Just like Kathmandu and Iggy’s, I’m happy to report that both the half-marathon and first day at work went well. Now, if only every week can be just as fun and exciting...

The Hilton, Level Three
Orchard Road, Singapore
Tel: (+65) 6732 2234

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Manhattan, New York City

The journey to New York City from Harrisburg isn't that different from my weekly return trips to Kuala Lumpur from Singapore. Both take about 5 hours, with monotonous sights along the way. Passengers consist of many ethnics, mostly looking minutely into their watches, sighing and hoping that the journey will end soon. And there are those that, like me, doze off into the first hour of the ride.

We were at New Jersey, about to cross the Lincoln Tunnel when I was awakened by the blinding sun. And Manhattan looked stunning from across the Hudson River. I could just imagine the fun weekend there - circling in the maze of famous skyscrapers, in the company of colourful New Yorkers (and visitors).

The crossing was slowed down by the many vehicles making their way into Manhattan. The good thing was that the Port Authority Bus Terminal, along the Eight Avenue, was not too far from the tunnel's exit.

New York has an interesting coordinate system in locating a particular address. Seventh Avenue, 42nd Street (pretty cool, isn't it?) for example, is where the perpetually crowded Times Square is located. This is a happy place, where tourists come to immerse in the vibrancy that is New York. Not forgetting other icons such as Central Park, the Rockefeller Center, Grand Central Station, Wall street, Fifth Avenue, Broadway, Chinatown, Radio City Hall, Madison Square Garden, the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, etc. Stretching further, we find the Ellis and Liberty Islands. I'm sure we've heard about at least a dozen of these names from the movies.

Many sang about NYC - Frank Sinatra, Christopher Cross, Jay-Z & Alicia Keys, Billy Joel, John Mayer, Tom Waits, Fleetwood Mac, The Strokes, Bruce Springsteen, etc. There must be something that makes this place so incredibly inspiring, right?

New York City, such a beautiful disease (New York City, Norah Jones).

At the hotel's frontdesk, I asked of the subway's schedule. The subways run 24 hours, said the kind receptionist.

Coming from my part of the world, diversity is nothing new but here in NYC, I've met more Hispanic and African Americans than I had in the last 30 years. Diversity is a gift and I can't think of a better way to celebrate that than to laugh at ourselves (and others) at the many stand-up comedy clubs, a staple entertainment here. Many had cautioned me of the rowdiness of certain groups and high crime rate but I guess the trend is similar given any big city in the world. In fact, I felt safer here than in some European cities that I'd visited in the past.

On a Saturday night, at the 86th floor of the Empire State Building, I witnessed the spectacular, quiet skyline. After a while at the observatory, a saxophonist (a weekend special) began rendering soothing melodies that best accompany the night and that, to me, represents the sophisticated Manhattan that I'd always imagined...complete with the cooling summer breeze.

It's not easy to summarize NYC in mere few words. There's always something worth mentioning as you walk down the street; the quirky people, the latest gadgets, the food, the towering buildings, the music and the enclaves of different ethnics that form this city. And all these reminded me that anything's possible in this delicious big apple.

You can never take away the resilience and determination of the New Yorkers. Despite the melancholy that surrounds Ground Zero, there brims hope that NYC will once again, emerge stronger than ever.

I came to NYC to just have a moment in one of the best cities in the world and left energized and inspired. There are only a few cities that I wish to be a part of. This is definitely one of them. New York, you rock!