Archive | July, 2012

Blackbird | Chicago

30 Jul

Blackbird’s prix fixe lunch is one of the best lunches in Chicago. Grab it for only $22 prix fixe.

Chilled White Onion Soup with Sturgeon Belly (4.5/5) – Nice cold texture. A single plop of fish. Makes use of the “drowned world” soup plating technique, where a mini-Atlantis of ingredients is smothered at your table with soup.

wood-grilled sturgeon with green cabbage, enoki mushrooms, walnuts and kaffir lime (4/5)

Interesting sour walnuts (I thought them pickled walnuts). Enoki mushrooms were fried and added crisp. Sturgeon was bland, but easily disguised by heaping the generous kaffir lime mayonaise on top.

Blueberry Buttermilk Affogato with Blackberries and Cinnamon Basil (5/5) – Fantastic buttermilk biscuits, with blueberry sorbet and cinnamon basil ice cream. Drowned in blueberry sauce. Deserves to be mentioned with Charlie Trotter’s Thyme-Glazed Brioche with Georgia Blueberry Compote & Lavender-Blueberry Sorbet (5/5).

Weekly Food Events around Chicago

27 Jul


  • Lula Cafe (Logan Square) has a Farm Dinner ($34)


  • Burger night at Publican Quality Meats
  • The Globe (best pub quiz in Chicago) has a quiz at 8pm


  • Every last Wednesday of the week, Quartino has a Monthly Wine Bash


  • The Green Lady (very good pub quiz in Chicago) has a quiz at 8pm



  • Frontera Grill (Loop) has their weekly brunch, which they only do for Saturdays (opens 1030am)




  • Supper clubs, like Clandestino, (~$75) hold meetings every so often.
  • Blackbird has a $22 prix fixe lunch
  • XOCO’s hot chocolate perks you up. Check out theobromine vs caffeine.)


Charlie Trotter’s | Chicago | 12/07/12 | “last hurrah”

24 Jul

Address: 816 W Armitage Ave, Chicago, IL 60614

Phone: (773) 248-6228

One of the better meals of my life. Much has been written about Charlie Trotter’s closing his restaurant after 25 years in operation. But the menu is delightful. The kitchen tour afterwards surprised me. It was cramped and in a small space, and it was a wonder that so many dishes were able to come out of that small kitchen.

One of the breads was incredibly delicious. It was a crispy bread drizzled with maple syrup on the outside, and had tender bacon cuboid strips on the inside. I dub it the “Baconator”.

Big Eye Tuna with Charred Red Onion & Mussel Vinaigrette (5/5)
Wine: Champagne Pehu-Simmonet “Selection-Grand Cru” Brut, Verzanay NV (pairing: 3.5/5)

Boston mussels, sweet pea sauce.

Hamachi with Green Tomatoes, Avocado & Kalamata Olives (5/5)
Wine: Santorini Assyrtiko Domaine Sigalas 2011 (pairing 4.25/5 – sweet I think)

Avocado-lime sorbet. hamachi with squid ink. Incredibly tender, white hamachi.

King Salmon with Sweet Potato, Horseradish & Myoga (4.5/5)
Wine: Parr “Sanford & Benidict” Chardonnay, Sta. Rita Hills 2008

King salmon and myoga (Japanese ginger) paired well. King salmon lightly seared to perfection The salty horseradish and sweet potato lent body to the dish, but the horseradish amount could have been pared down. It ended up being a bit starchy for my taste.

Muscovy Duck with Smoked Coconut, Spring Onion & Venezuelan Chocolate (5/5)
Wine: Amarone della Valpolicella Classcio Tomasso Bussola 2006 (5/5)

A crisp lightly caressed of duck fat appeared on our slices of duck. Coconut, Chocolate were supporting actors for this play. Wine was deliciously complex, as if all the noxious fumes of uncracked petroleum were transmogrified into sugars.

Elysian Fields Farm Roasted Lamb Saddle with Toasted Espresso, Crispy Veal Tendon & Boudin Noir (4.75/5)
Wine: Soliste “Out of the Shadows” Syrah, Bennett Valley 2008 (2.75/5)

Tender veal. The lamb had a background sourness that only looking at the menu in hindsight I realised was espresso. The pea ravioli next door (you can spot the dark green ravioli peeking out behind the cracker) was delicious.

Wine tasted like a generic red.

Raspberry Sorbet with Lemon Verbena Cream & Raspberry Tart (4.75/5)

The tart was made like a baklava. An ode to raspberry.

Thyme-Glazed Brioche with Georgia Blueberry Compote & Lavender-Blueberry Sorbet (5/5)
Wine: Jorge Ordonez & Co “Victoria-#2” Moscatel, Jorge Ordonez, Malaga 2005 (5/5)

Triple Criollo Riviera Cake with Lemon Balm Puree & Strawberry-Tonka Bean Sorbet (4.75/5)

Wine: Dash “Late Harvest” Zinfandel, Dry Creek 2009 ()

The Tonka Bean sorbet tasted like an artificial strawberry candy, but the riviera cake sandwiching the lemon balm was divine.

Verdict: A fantastic meal, a great triumph. Some of the best classical cooking in Chicago.

Memory: Blueberry Compote with Thyme Brioche,

Overall Rating: 17.5/20

The Publican | Chicago

11 Jul

Porcine pleasure is said to reign at the Publican. Feeling peckish on a Saturday, I decided to try their Saturday brunch. I later found out that they have a renowned Sunday brunch, which is distinct from their Saturday brunch however. I spoke to a couple dining next to me, and they also informed me that their oysters are worth trying out.

******** Saturday brunch

Burton’s maple syrup-braised publican bacon. (4.75/5). Excellent bacon. An actual slab of the real stuff, which was also cured to a delicious (and it must be emphasised, not overly salty) state. The meat was tender, the fat delish.

Oeuf jeannette (baked eggs, Swiss chard, parmesan and tessa) (3.25/5). The bread was nice and crisp, and the eggs were well done. The cheese was a bit overpowering, and what looked like red cabbage was leaching was tasted like tannins into the dish. Average.

2001 vintage oak barrel aged pu-erh (started 4.5/5, rapidly deteriorated to 1.5/5). The pu-erh was surprisingly non-acidic, with a thick soupy consistency. However, that was due to the staff boiling the tea in a single pot, and not bothering to separate the tea leaves after the tea had been made. This allowed tannins from the tea leaves to leach into the tea. As the British would say, “it tasted like piss” afterward. I’m afraid if the tea was as good as it looked on the menu – and the first sip have drained the tea leaves, put the tea in a different pot, and let the tea stand without the leaves.


Kenneth’s 3 rules of tea.
A. After making the tea, put the tea in a different pot. Make sure tea leaves are drained, so less tannins emerge.
B. If you’re using a teabag, don’t leave it in after you make your tea!!! You’re going to get a papery taste otherwise (h/t Daniel Gildenlow)
C. If you can control your temperature, use sub-boiling water (90-95 degrees). I have heard 93 degrees is optimal. (h/t Taiwanese tea shop)


Verdict: The non-porcine items were a bit disappointing here. I might come back for one of their dinners/Sunday brunch – but probably not Saturday brunch.

XOCO | Chicago

10 Jul

XOCO | Chicago

Tortas (Mexican sandwiches), chocolate (xoco), and churros (fried dough) is what Rick Bayless’s casual place adjoining Frontera is all about.

******** Breakfast

Huevos Rancheros (4/5): “2 eggs, roasted tomato-serrano sauce, corn tortillas black beans, homemade fresh cheese.” Eggs and salsa really make the dish delicious, and the corn tortilla with black bean paste

Churros: (4.5/5). Well done. I don’t particular like donuts, but this was relatively non-greasy, crispy, and coated in delicious chocolate flecked sugar. Technically, excellent.

Chocolate drinks are fantastic at XOCO – in fact they give the restaurant its name! They grind their cacao nibs fresh. These are some of the best chocolate drinks I’ve ever had.

Authentic (4.75/5): “Fresh-ground Chocolate + Water”

Aztec (5/5): “fresh-ground chocolate + water + chile + allspice” A spicy sour-tinge in this chocolate gives it a kick above the normal authentic

Iced Chocolate with Bayless Garden Mint (5/5). As perfect a mint chocolate as I’ve ever had. Cacao nibs mixed with actual mint leaves. Rich, and delicious.

******** Lunch/Dinner

Chipotle Chicken Torta (4/5): Gunthorp chicken, chipotle-roasted tomato sauce, artisan Jack cheese, avocado, black beans, arugula. A good chicken sandwich, if a bit spicy.

Pork Belly Torta (3.5/5): Dark salsa negra glaze, bacon, arugula, queso anejo. A bit too sparing on the pork, you can taste more of the bacon strips in this one.

Chicharrones (5/5): Chicharrones, Tamazula hot sauce, queso añejo, onions, cilantro. Chicarrones is pig skin, seasoned and deep fried. The chicarrones here is fluffy. In Singapore, if we don’t roast our pig skin to a crisp (roasted fatty pork, pork knuckle or suckling pig), we usually eat it wet with yong tau foo. This is one of the few time’s I’ve eaten crispy yet fluffy pig skin.

Ahogada Torta (4.25/5): “Golden pork carnitas, black beans, tomato broth, spicy arbol chile sauce, pickled onions.” Make a crispy sandwich pork. Promptly dump it in a spicy chili-tomato soup. You get a delicious mess that is hard to eat. I was surprised the sandwich didn’t fall apart in my hands.

Special mention must be made of the salsa, which is also made on Rick Bayless’s rooftop. A rooftop in Chicago, apparently. Now, rooftop gardens are all the rage. Gracie’s in Providence once carted a lot of soil up Peerless Lofts to make fresh herbs.


Verdict: Frontera’s sandwich cousin. Sandwiches are good here, but the real stars are the chocolate, churros, and chicharrones.


In order:

Chipotle Chicken sandwich 1,
Chipotle Chicken sandwich 2,
Iced Chocolate w/ Mint,
Pork Belly sandwich 1,
Pork Belly sandwich 2,
Aztec Chocolate,
Huevos Rancheros,
Ahogada sandwich,
Authentic Chocolate,

$$$$ – price ratings

10 Jul

In an effort to make my blog more user friendly to the cost-conscious diner, I’m going to tag each post with a $ rating. Taking a cue from the triangular numbers,

  • $ = $1 – $10
  • $$ = $11 – $30
  • $$$ = $31 – $60
  • $$$$ = $61 – $100
  • $$$$$ = $101 – $150

and so forth. All prices are per person.

For example, Andre in Singapore ($320/person) would be rated “$$$$$$$$” or “$ (x8)”

Since the $ in Singapore and the $ in US have roughly equal purchasing power, I’ve decided not to translate each to a common standard. Prices remain in their original currency for USD and SGD. East-Asian nations (incl. SEA, China, Japan) will be converted to SGD terms. All other countries will be converted to USD terms.

Frontera Grill | Chicago

8 Jul

Brunch Menu

Being located 3 blocks away from Rick Bayless’s tri-conglomeration of XOCO, Frontera Grill, and Topolobampo has its perks. One thing is that good Mexican is never far away.

Rick Bayless, as a primer, was studying for a PhD in linguistics at the University of Michigan, when he moved to Meixco from 1980-1986. There, he learnt Mexican cooking, and then brought it back to Chicago. When Obama was inaugurated, Rick Bayless was apparently in the running to be White House executive chef.

I’ve been to Frontera twice now. (and XOCO 4 times). So far, I have not been disappointed.


Chilaquiles al Guajillo (5/5) – “Quick-simmered tortilla “casserole” with rustic red guajillo chile sauce, homemade crema, aged Mexican cheese (queso anejo), sunny-side up egg. Tangy baby greens.” Savory and fresh greens, great tasting sauce. Tortillas were semi-crisp – after sitting in sauce, they were a delicious mess.

Duo de Flanes (4.25/5) – “A duo of caramel custards: coconut milk-lemongrass flan with honey Manila mango salsa, plus silky Mexican vanilla. ” had a rich, sticky texture, in the region of peanut-butter stickiness. The custard cake contrasted well with the mango and wisps of coconut.


Lamb Shoulder in Black Mole (4.5/5) – “Grill-seared lamb shoulder braised in black mole, Nichols Farm potatoes, grilled calabacitas, anejo cheese.” Mole means sauce in Mexican. For this dish, I believe the “mole” here is a chocolate sauce. It was rich, and there were quite a few potatoes in the dish. It went excellently with tacos – the only minor complaint might be that the potato-lamb ratio was skewed in favour of potato.

Duck “Carnitas” Flautas (4.5/5) – “Crispy, crunchy taquitos of slow-cooked duck carnitas, (grilled white onions, garlic mojo). Tangy red chile escabeche, orange “shoots salad.”

Ceviche Trio – “Frontera Ceviche (albacore, tomato, olive), Yucatecan Ceviche (shrimp, squid, orange, cucumber), Tropical Tuna Cocktail (big eye, avocado-tomatillo, mango salsa)”
Yucatan Ceviche (4.75/5) – nice and limey, good contrast with shrimp and squid
Tropical Tuna Cocktail (5/5) – out of this world, perfectly salted avocado. Sweet mango complemented tuna perfectly
Frontera Ceviche (4/5) – another sour one.

Smoky-Creamy-Spicy Mushrooms (4.75/5) – “Brown beech, hedgehog, oyster, shiitake & black trumpet mushrooms, white sweet potato, Oaxacan pasilla crema, epazote.”

Verdict: Just go. Frontera only serves brunch on Saturdays, so it’s a once-a-week thing. Rick Bayless’s Mexican is magical.

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Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle | Singapore

5 Jul

In my 2 years away from Singapore, people often ask me – what’s good to do in Singapore? Usually, I answer – “eating, shopping – maybe gambling”. [An unusually pessimistic Quora answer claims this is the extent of it all]

My answer usually prompts the follow-up: “So what’s the food you miss most about being in Singapore?” Apparently the top two answers are usually chilli crab and chicken rice. The foods that I miss though, are Bak Chor Mee and Nasi Lemak.

So I bought Leslie Tay (ieatishootipost)’s hawker food guide – The End of Char Kway Teow, and this led me to Tai Hwa pork noodle, located about 400m from the Immigrations and Checkpoint Authority building at Lavender MRT.

$6 Bak Chor Mee (4.5/5). Noodles are QQ (AKA al dente). Black vinegar makes a nice contrast with noodles. Crispy salted fish bits are a nice surprise. Soup has snowflakes of pork collagen drippings. Overall it’s the best bak chor mee I’ve tried anywhere in Singapore!

Address: Blk 466 Crawford Lane, #01-12 Tai Hwa Eating House, Singapore
Tel: +65 6292 7477

Le Chasseur | Singapore

4 Jul

Le Chasseur means “the hunter” in French. It’s a weird name for a cze char place, which usually involves romanisation of Chinese names. It turns out that the owner used to stay in Mauritius, and took the name from his stay there.

I went to Le Chasseur the day it was featured on ladyironchef’s blog (the advantages of a flexible schedule) and was raring to try its signature dishes.

Ngor Hiang (4.5/5) was crispy, and paired well with sweet-spicy sauce.
BBQ Live Prawn (2.5/5) was just a skewered prawn that may have been live. It was a bit rubbery and tasteless. I think it was overcooked.
Eggplant with Salted Fish (3.25/5) was standard.
Pork Knuckle (4.75/5) was very crispy and tender. The lady boss was teaching us how to eat the pork knuckle. take a piece of crispy pork knuckle, and spoon some cucumber-pineapple-soy-vinegar sauce. A winner
Claypot Rice (3.5/5) tasted average for me, contrary to what most people claim. Some nice charred bits, and nice dark sauce, but most of it was just dark sauce rice with lap cheong and chicken.

Verdict: Go for the pork knuckles and the ngor hiang. Claypot rice isn’t bad, but nothing special.

Le Chasseur
31 New Bridge Road
Tel: +65 6337 7677
Daily: 11am – 11pm

Sin Huat Eating House | Singapore

3 Jul

His crab beehoon is lavishly praised. It is also notoriously ex ($340 for 4 pax). How good is Chef Danny’s Crab Beehoon?

Before last month, I saw at least 3-5 reruns of Anthony Bourdain coming to Singapore and trying the hawker food. The culmination seems to be when he drives up to this grimy Geylang place, Sin Huat Eating House. What culinary magic resides in Lorong 35?

Honestly, I don’t quite know. “crab beehoon” (4/5) ended up being disjoint. “crab and beehoon” would be a more apt description. at no point did I actually eat crab and beehoon together. The eating process went:

1. pick up piece of crab
2. crack piece of crab
3. try to suck out crabmeat and spit out crabshell
4. put down piece of crab
5. take chopsticks and eat beehoon
6. put down chopsticks and repeat

The sauce, which got all over my chopsticks was a nice shallot crab-roe based sauce. It tasted abit lard-y as well. (I have no idea if any of this is true).

The beehoon got in the way of my enjoying the crab, and the crab got in the way of enjoying the beehoon. I’m a bit puzzled as to why people rave about it.

earlier in the evening, chef danny, while taking our orders at the table, went down a prepared list of dishes.

“scallops?” “okay”
“gong gong” “er small one can?”
“you can do a large one. I’ll do a large one.”
“prawns” “er…okay”
“fish?” “no, no that’s enough”

he’s been called a food nazi, but chef Danny just strikes me as a nazi.(Frontera Grill in Chicago – which according to one Yelp review prevents takeout even by dine-in diners because they can’t “assure quality” is a “food nazi” place. Chef Danny just seems more focused on ticking the boxes.

Scallops (4/5) – smothered in sweet bean sauce, served on the shell (and with all innard intact)
Gong Gong (2.5/5) – Steamed shellfish, with a sweet chili sauce. Sharp claw at the end. Use a toothpick to spear the meaty parts, or most of it stays in the shell.
Garlic Prawns (3/5) – Standard fare.

One rule I’ve found is that prawn dishes in cze char restaurants, unless they are making oatmeal prawns, is blah. The prawn isusually flavourless and tough. I suspect this is because they don’t usually fully shell the prawn, and often overcook it as well.

Maybe try it once, just to see what’s the hype’s about. But it really isn’t THAAAT great.