Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Si Wei Mao Cai

I have been on a food blogging hiatus, as you know (my last post was sometime in 2016). 

But Si Wei Mao Cai is a place that's just so delicious, I had to blog about it. 

I've been eating alot of Sichuan food recently. The good Sichuan food places (such as Si Wei Mao Cai) is not just about heat. Yes, of course there's heat (spice), but there's also lots of complex flavours that come together to form a harmonious whole. There's also some sweetness, saltiness, acidity, and all sorts of other flavours. The lesser Sichuan places - unfortunately - only have spice and not much else.

Si Wei Mao Cai (located along Mosque Street) is reputedly one of the best Sichuan restaurants in Singapore. I've visited 3 times, and I can see why it's so highly rated. The flavours are bold, complex, and yet well balanced.

Take the appetizers of Kou-Shui Ji pictured below; and the Fuqi Fei Pian. 

The Fuqi Fei Pian (beef lung in chilli oil) pictured here is one of my favourite dishes; it's just really tasty from the use of fragrant chilli oil and garlic and it really makes you want to keep on eating it. (8.5/10) I've eaten many Fuqi feipians from other Sichuan restaurants but this is the one to beat.

On the left is "kou shui ji". This is chicken in chilli oil. Pretty decent as well.

The other appetizer we tried was a pork with garlic and chilli oil. Again, pretty spectacular. But I guess if you've eaten the fuiqifeipian and the koushuiji, you don't need to eat the pork with garlic and chilli oil since it's doused with a similar chilli oil dressing.

On to the main dishes, then.

Our favourite of the night was the fish with dried chilli flakes. This was seriously amazing. I tried a version of it the first time I visited but alas it wasn't so fragrant that time round. This time, it was really amazing; lots of strong flavours, incredible fragrance. All the spices in harmony with each other. This is a stellar dish: 8.5/10

Their stewed duck with potatoes was also another winner. Although the duck parts were not so tender, the stewing sauce that covered the duck paired very well with the duck and accentuated the duck's natural flavours. 8.25/10

We had some gan-chao (dry-fried) mushrooms as well, with some aromatics. Pretty decent. I enjoyed trying the various shapes and sizes of wild mushrooms, with enough heat to keep things interesting. 8/10

"Mao Cai" is a stew-like dish originating from Chengdu comprising a variety of vegetables and meat in a mala sauce. I guess that's where the restaurant got its name. Their maocai was pretty good as well and was certainly tasty, although the consensus was that the other dishes were perhaps more interesting.

We also ordered some cold bittergourd which was refreshing, as well as a sour soup with mustard greens and beef.

All of the dishes were done very well.

At a previous dinner there, I had the si-ji-dou (long beans) which is a quintessential Sichuan dish, which was also competent. The la zi ji (not pictured) was also excellent - tasting of popcorn chicken (remarked a dining companion of mine).

I can see myself coming back to Si Wei Mao Cai again and again. Thinking of going back this week if there's anyone to go with. Yums! 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Bistro Du Le Pin, Orchard Plaza

Bistro Du Le Pin is my kind of place - very homely, a hole-in-the-wall, a good selection of food and drinks, and coupled with an intimate setting resulting in a good interaction between the chef and the diner. The place is actually located at the 2nd floor of Orchard Plaza - it's quite a "dingy" set up with very few shops open at night. However, I think the rent is cheap, which means that consumers like us get to benefit from lower costs. In fact, the prices paid here were very reasonable - they have an omakase set going at SGD60, and a huge chunk of Miyazaki beef went only at SGD65 (photo below). I'm happy to frequent such places where I don't have to pay for the landlord's sky high rentals.

We decided to go for ala-carte instead of the omakase, and here's what we had:

Potato Salad was pretty good - tasty, with good savouriness from the mentaiko. (7/10)

I really adored the hokkaido scallop with butter. This was an amazing dish. The scallops themselves were expectedly tender and succulent. And then there were chunks of ikura in the dish, which went surprisingly well with the butter sauce - providing that umami and salinity. And moreover, the scallop corals themselves were so delicious, tasting like sea urchin, having that same floral mineral taste of the sea. And the pieces of garlic in it were just so tasty as well. (8.75/10)

The Miyazaki beef then arrived: it had a good beefy taste, with sweetness and butteriness. Pretty good (can't compare though to the beef I had at Nakamura). The portion was very generous (7.75/10).

Uni pasta was next - this was quite superb, boasting al dente pasta and a savoury rich sauce that coated the pasta well. And large chunks of uni! (8.25/10)

Not so fond of the baby lamb cooked with a buttery peppery sauce - the lamb itself did not have much flavour. (6.75/10)

Last up, as my friend was still hungry (and looking for carbs), we ordered an oyakodon. This was quite decently done. (7/10) though I would have preferred more onions!

Overall, Bistro Du Le Pin is a hidden gem and well worth exploring. It wasn't full when I went (there were still some tables), and it's a shame because it ought to be more well-patronised. It reminds me a bit of Nobu-Ya at Fortune Centre (Middle Road) - similar vibe. 

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Namikibashi Nakamura, Shibuya

We just had a splendid meal at Namikibashi Nakamura in Shibuya, which was a truly spectacular meal with many highlights and an example of what good "gastro"-izakaya dining is all about. We certainly had to make a reservation, since I came here last November without a reservation and it was impossible to snag a table. We were seated at the counter, in front of an affable chef from Kanazawa prefecture who could speak some English. We later discovered she was the head chef, which was quite a surprise as she didn't exude the "head chef" vibe but appeared very affable and friendly.

Since we are "gaijin" and cannot speak Japanese, we had to choose between two "course" or pre-fixe menus, where they pre-select the food for you and you simply enjoy the dishes as they come.

We first had some sake: the Juyondai Junmai Daiginjo was perfect, of course - floral, fruity, ricey, with hints of strawberries, and it was very elegant and very drinkable - too drinkable in fact. 
(Do I even need to rate Juyondai? How about a 9/10).

First dish that we had was a conger eel salad. It was basically salad leaves dressed in a very light and flavourful dressing of soy sauce and sudachi (like a ponzu), paired with conger eel (anago) which was just lightly grilled. The contrast between the warm eel and the cold salad worked very well. (8.25/10)

The sashimi platter came next, and the sashimi platter was excellent with most of the pieces having incredible flavour, even for a sushiya let alone an izakaya. The chutoro (medium fatty tuna) from Nagasaki was intense, sweet and floral, with a great depth of flavour. The kampachi (greater amberjack) was again flavourful, sweet, and had good depth. The esaki (grunt) was lightly seared with good sweetness and a slight smokiness from the aburi process. The katsuo (bonito) had strong rich flavour and yet it was clean - excellent. The ika was good too, quite tender. The otoro (fatty tuna) was also lightly seared, and it was very flavourful, with sweet tuna fats, good depth of flavour, and a long finish. Overall: (8.75/10)

We were also served some baby sardines with a slight bitterness. Not particularly enamoured by the dish but it wasn't bad (7.5/10)

We then had a different sake: "Machi", which is slightly sweeter and yet very fragrant with hints of almonds.

Next up, we were served with Kyoto vegetables and king crab in tempura. The vegetables were very delicious - they were very fresh and had good flavour particularly the bamboo shoots which were tender and the tempura batter was very light just the way it should be. The king crab was good too. Overall: (8.5/10)

Fresh eggplant with a herbaceous and slightly grassy flavour was next, with scallops. Overall fresh eggplants have an interesting taste, but I'm not sure I'm a fan. (7.75/10)

The standout dish then appeared, A5 wagyu from Saitama with teriyaki sauce, which was a standout - no, make that a knockout. The beef had an intense and robust beef flavour, with a desirable creaminess and sweet butteriness - very rich. There was just the desired level of funk - perhaps like a good liver. The mouthfeel was also great - the beef had just the right amount of chew. And then the teriyaki sauce was just so savoury, almost like a demiglace. This would put many a steakhouse to shame. (9/10)

We finished off with a kinmeidai sushi roll which was alright - some "rice" to finish off. (7.5/10)

Green tea ice cream with azuki beans was the dessert. Pretty good as well. (7.5/10)

Namikibashi Nakamura is a prime example of the heights that good food-focussed izakayas can hit. The food is excellent even for Tokyo. I would certainly come back again, especially if I'm with a big group which would be conducive for trying more sakes. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Otomezushi, Kanazawa

One of the most famous food personalities in the Instagram world - at least in Asia - is Little Meg Siu Meg, who seems to own a money tree or printing machine, since she eats at famous and posh restaurants almost every day. She's either at Sushi Saito, or at Noma, or at Matsukawa, or at some other posh restaurant. And her descriptions are really involved, and sometimes downright hilarious - I remember once she likened a piece of steak at Kawamura to Megan Fox's sweat and exclaimed "I died!". I also died from laughing. 

But I digress, because we're not here to talk about Margaret aka siu meg, as interesting a life as she may lead. Rather, we are here to talk about one of the best sushi restaurants that I have eaten in my lifetime. I've eaten at Harutaka, Tokami, Sushi Ya, Sushi Suzuki, Sushi Iwa, so far, hardly the who's who of sushi but I think that's a respectable collection of sushiya. But Otomezushi, in Kanazawa, has catapulted up to the top of the list, at least in my humble opinion. 

Kanazawa is a city of about 500,000 people located in Ishikawa, on the North side of Honshu island facing the Japan Sea. It is said to rain all the time here, and indeed it hasn't stopped raining since we arrived a few hours ago. We took the Hokuriku Shinkansen from Tokyo and it took us about 2 and a half hours to get here. We are planning to explore the famous gardens here tomorrow, and the 21st Century Museum of Modern Art, and perhaps one of the samurai neighbourhoods. But the reason why Kanazawa is famous for its seafood is because it apparently sits at the convergence of the cold current and warm current.

To get to Otomezushi is no easy feat: the entrance is a hole in the wall with only the name of the shop printed on a wall to direct you to the restaurant. Thankfully, we are in the era of Google Maps and wifi, which made the journey that much easier. But entering the place was like stepping into an oasis of calm: the decor is warm and inviting, with lots of wooden panelling and a large sushi counter. It reminded me a little of Tatsuya in Singapore in its layout.

The sushi master chef of Otomezushi is Kazuhiko Tsurumi - from online articles, he's the 3rd generation chef of Otomezushi. He was really friendly throughout, and always smiling. He asked what we would like to eat - we just said "omakase". Let the games begin.

The first sushi piece we had was amaebi - sweet prawn. This was just so good, very tasty and sweet, with an intense prawn flavour, topped with a slightly sweet glaze which complemented the prawn perfectly, allowing the prawn to shine. This was just yummy. (9/10) 

The next piece was just as good: Ara, a tasty fish, very fresh and sweet with very clean flavours, with a lovely chewy texture and a long sweet aftertaste. Very elegant, and certainly a highlight. It's hard to even describe the taste but it was really good. (9/10)

 Toro from Katsura in Wakayama prefecture was next. The toro (from the portion in between the O-toro and the Chu-toro) was just sublime: the tuna flavour was intense, deep, rich, and sweet, with a long finish, and somewhat delicate. Truly awesome toro. (9/10)

Next up: Ika with ginger and sesame, pretty delicious, although ika isn't one of my favourite pieces in the sushi hierarchy. (8.25/10)

That was followed by Noduguro, which is one of Kanazawa's specialties. This was really deliciously yummy as well, full of flavourful fish oils, clean, sweet, and rich oily flavours. So good. (9/10)

Next up: baby tuna, smoked lightly in a tataki-style, delicate and tasty. Not bad. (8.25/10)

Bafun uni with a sweet glaze. Floral, pretty tasty. (8.5/10)

 Torigai came next: metallic flavours, and yet clean tasting. I'm not such a big fan of tori-gai but I understand that it's in season now, and it's always interesting to try different fish. (8.25/10)

The kohada was excellent as well: clean and tasty, yet rich and sweet, truly capturing the essence of the sea. Very flavourful. (9/10)

Another standout was the botan ebi, which was just insanely creamy, sweet, rich, and full of prawny flavour. (9/10)

Next up: aji with spring onion and ginger - the entire piece was very harmonious. (8.25/10)

Unagi hand roll was superb. I really liked how the sticky, tasty and sweet glaze complemented the eel which was grilled perfectly for a great charred flavour. (8.5/10)

Kegani (hairy crab) with its roe was another standout piece - very intense, rich, creamy and fresh, with a really deep flavour of the sea. A standout piece, and truly incredible. I don't think I've eaten crab this sweet before. (9.25/10)

Amadai marinated in konbu - clean and delicious flavour, with the kombu providing some needed umami. (8.25/10)

The penultimate piece was sea snail: crunchy and fresh. (8.25/10)

Last up: tuna hand roll, capping off a most amazing meal. (8.25/10)

Overall, I was very impressed - even blown away - by the standard of the sushi at Otomezushi. I can safely say that Otomezushi has been one of the most impressive sushi restaurants I have ever visited (in my short gourmet sushi eating career), and dare I say, has probably catapulted to the top of my list. Each piece was a highlight, and there were just so many mind blowing standout pieces. And yet, overall, the meal was very consistent, and in my view the chef's treatment of the seafood was masterful in that he allowed the natural flavours of the seafood to shine and complemented it perfectly by introducing other elements to bring the seafood to the next level. But, overall, throughout each piece, there was a sense of balance, harmony, and elegance - never overpowering the seafood with disparate elements and always ensuring that the final piece had great depth of flavour. Amazing and if this was in Tokyo, it'd be far harder to book and certainly in the Tabelog Top 10. I only paid 10,000Yen for lunch and I already ordered far more than the normal "lunch" menu. Would certainly come back! 

Overall: 9/10

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Vatos Urban Tacos, South Beach

I had high expectations for Vatos Urban Tacos, since Rubbish Eat Rubbish Grow, a blog that I always have time for, named it as one of the Best Casual Restaurants for 2016. I visited the place sometime last week for some drinks and tacos and to see what the fuss was about.

Pretty good fuss, it seems. Everything was done very well, spot on, and we had an enjoyable time. The place was lively but not too noisy, and the drinks were, well, potent - but so refreshing. I had two  - a makgeolita (makgeolli with tequila) and a normal margarita. the makgeolitas were so good - so refreshing, but hey, pretty darn potent. It went down like a charm, refreshing and citrusy. 

Some food was in order. we ordered the Baja Fish Tacos - the homemade flavour of the corn tortillas was very appealing, and tasted very fresh. The fish itself was alright, but what uplifted the dish was the accompaniment of the tart apples, creating a light and refreshing combination. (8.25/10)

I also enjoyed the chimichurri chicken tacos - this was slightly spicier, but pretty delicious as well. Anything with those corn tortillas, please. (8/10)

My friend wanted to eat some tamales, and so we had some; I'm glad we ordered them. These were filled with carnitas (pulled pork), again with some more of that corn meal which tastes so good. It went very well with the salsa that was provided. (8.25/10)

Lastly, we had some honey bourbon wings - delectably good. Sweet, zesty, and flavourful. (8.25/10).

I can't wait to come back to try the famous fries. Perhaps one of these Friday nights when I'm not busy working. Highly recommended especially for a guys or ladies' night out.