Three

Didn’t tell chef Nicolas it was my birthday but he remembered and surprised me with this cake. One of the reasons why I love that restaurant. Have been celebrating my birthday there for the last 3 years.

The blog turns three today! There are only two posts since the last birthday. That’s pretty bad. For you who have checked back often, I apologize for the lack of posts and thank you for still following. There are some posts that are near completion and should be out soon; Swedish food and the state of food public relations, Japanese/Italian food forming a sort of third culture cuisine, and my recent adventures which I’ll disclose in a coming post.

The year has been quite a journey for me, with food playing a huge, if not central role in my life. Again, I don’t want to let the cat out of the bag, but you’ll read about it soon. Once again thank you for stopping by.

Dave.

Birthday tart, L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon. Comes with a side of happy birthday in French from the service staff.

Monday food porn. A taste of Noma (desserts) in Singapore.

Bitters Dessert… Winter Version. Whey discs, bitters syrup, milk crumbs, sorrel.

I know. Its been some time since I posted. For those of you coming back and always seeing the same post from some time ago, I apologize. I’ve been busy with an exciting new job that has kept me busy. You’ll find out more in a future post (it might be some time.) But I just wanted to leave you with some food porn while waiting. Last Wednesday night I tasted the desserts of the acclaimed restaurant, Noma, by way of pastry chef Rosio Sanchez, who was in Singapore for the World Gourmet Summit at 2am Dessert Bar. This is not my usual post. Forgive me if it’s brief and it breaks my rule that every post should tell a story, but like porn it’s purely gratuitous. I hope you enjoy it.

Hay Parfait & Strawberries. Chamomile broth, lemon balm, oregano, bronze fennel.

Chef Sanchez pouring in the chamomile broth.

Milk & Grains. Milk ice cream, biodynamic grains & birch syrup.

Chef Rosio Sanchez and the team from 2am Dessert Bar converging to plate our desserts.

Huldreost Brown Cheese & Beet. Brown cheese custard, beet granite, licorice.

Pic with chef.

The Times They Are A-Changing: db bistro moderne Singapore

The Original db Burger

I can’t pinpoint the specific instance when I decided I would spend the rest of my life in New York. There were many: spring break my freshmen year and I was absolutely electrified by the buzz of the city. Or my semester abroad junior year, reading Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential. Perhaps it was the Wednesdays when I religiously picked up the New York Times for its dining section. (Although at Newhouse we were “encouraged” to read it everyday, not just for its dining section.)

In my last days in the city, I fell in love with it even more. I was on borrowed time. I remember the specific day, when I embraced everything the city had to offer. Lunch at David Burke, Monty Python on Broadway and then dinner at db bistro. I remember having that last glass of sauternes and walking out to hail a cab that I would, like a lover separated, miss and long for this city. I never got a chance to visit those restaurants again, I haven’t been back and I don’t think I will for some time. Time hasn’t healed those wounds.

When I think of New York, I think of my friends, the city and its food. I don’t think there is a better restaurant city in the world. But Singapore is becoming a great restaurant city too, and probably the best foodie city in the world.

Singapore, with its already amazing street food scene is fast developing a sophisticated fine dining one as well. It makes for an unmatched range of food. The Integrated Resorts have become a pantheon for the Michelin-starred giants, Guy Savoy, the late Santi Santamaría (who unfortunately had a heart attack at his Singapore restaurant) and Robuchon. Lacking stars, but equally acclaimed, Tetsuya Wakuda. Many other famous chefs have deemed Singapore important and set up shop here. Top Chef filmed its season 7 finale here, the first outside the States. The recent Madrid Fusion featured and focused on Singapore. It is an exciting and heady time.

Daniel Boulud is here.

I didn’t need to go back to New York for db bistro. It came to me.

Cross-section: Sirloin burger filled w/ braised short ribs & foie gras. Parmesan bun, pommes frites.

When I was in New York, I wanted to try the famed db burger. But K-Dubs ordered it so I took something else, to sample more of the menu.  3 years later, in Singapore, I had my burger. It was a towering stack: minced sirloin, braised short ribs and foie gras. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was juicy; the braised short ribs gave an extra hit of that mineral beefy flavor. Although the texture of the ribs was slightly mushy, not a bad thing, it is after all braised. But I prefer my burgers solid. Still it was a fair tradeoff, texture for taste. This burger was better than the one in New York, which K-Dubs said was dry.

Amuse bouche: Fried rice balls. Arancini? In a French restaurant?

The word bistro in db bistro is a bit of a misnomer. Don’t expect rustic working-man’s fare here.  What you have are elegant interpretations of bistro classics, like bumping into an acquaintance or friend at a club all dressed up, sometimes you have to do a double take. It is not necessarily a bad thing.

It’s executive chef, Stephane Istel’s responsibility to dress up the food at db bistro moderne Singapore. The food is executed with the same verve, as when I tried it in New York. The native of Alsace seems to be chef Boulud’s standard bearer (in more than the normal sense of the word) having been the head chef at db bistro Vancouver before this.

Amuse bouche:  gougères

The first indication that I was in chef Istel’s good hands was the amuse bouche that mark the start of the meal. It is a looking-glass into the chef and his kitchen, his ideas and their competence. On one visit they were crisp fried rice balls, a very satisfying snack. On another visit they were airy gougères. Both executed perfectly.

Assiette Lyonnaise

Charcuterie is good. There are good quality cured meats in the Assiette Lyonnaise, which included a great terrine and a prized pickled mushroom. Another terrine, made with foie gras was smooth, well seasoned, with a hint of sweetness. But I remember the same dish in New York having a more defined flavor. Perhaps the quality of foie in Singapore just isn’t that great.

Foie gras terrine. Black mission figs, mâche, toasted house made brioche.

Tomato tart tatin. Puff pastry, tomato confit, goat cheese, frisée, basil pesto sauce.

The tomato tart tatin is a winner. The tomato confit bursts with concentrated sun-kissed (or rather heat kissed) flavor. Goat cheese adds a heady-funk and body. Fresh cherry tomatoes brighten up the ensemble. Combined with the basil pesto sauce, it is what I would imagine the south of France would taste like.

db Tartiflette. Pommes Boulangeres, bacon, Reblochon.

The db Tartiflette didn’t fare as well. There is nothing wrong with its execution. The Reblochon had a light broiled veneer, the bacon crisp and juicy at the same time, the potatoes cooked just right, tender with just the slightness hint of a bite. However the dish was one-dimensional. Potato-cheese-bacon, a classic combination, but it hits you over the head again and again. It is heavy. Order it if you like that sort of thing.

Alsatian rabbit “Fleischnecke.” Baby spinach, black trumpet, grainy mustard jus.

Alsatian rabbit “Fleischnecke” was smooth and moist. The mustard jus gave a sharp counterpoint to the meat.

Snail & chicken oyster fricassée. Hazelnut späetzle, parsley.

One of my favorites was the snail & chicken oyster fricassee with hazelnut späetzle. I love that they used chicken oysters, an often neglected but flavorful and tender part of the chicken, on the back, near the thigh. The skin was crisp, a sprinkling of salt highlighting, lifting and intensifying the chicken. The späetzle was subtlety nutty with a gnocchi-like chew. So many flavors and textures served on a canvas of bright parsley.

Burger, this time a little dry.

I tried the burger again, this time ordered medium. It was a mistake (never go above medium-rare,) it was dry and lacking in flavor compared to the one on my previous visit. The fries though were excellent on both counts with a crunchy exterior and pillow-y soft interior.

The John Dory bouillabaisse was another disappointment. The John Dory as well as squid, prawns, mussels and clams weren’t overcooked and you would think with all those ingredients it would be robust, but it lacked flavor. (Sadly I have no pictures of this as my camera fell on the soup bowl; thankfully there was no permanent damage to the lens or body. Or to the dish.)

Coupe au poire. Fresh & confit pear, candied walnuts, Verbena tea foam, cassis-pear sorbet.

db bistro is one of the rare places in Singapore that dessert doesn’t feel like an afterthought. Pastry chef Ludwig Hely does a great job; most of the desserts are excellent, head and shoulders above what most restaurants offer here.

The coupe au poire, served in a glass looks like a miniature terrarium. It was refreshing and light, a contrast of different textures. The Verbena tea foam and cassis-pear sorbet paired beautifully with the pears and walnuts.

Profitteroles au café. Hot chocolate sauce, dulce de leche, coffee rocky road ice cream.

Profiteroles were decent; airy and decadent, if a bit over the top with the chocolate sauce, dulce de leche and coffee rocky road ice cream.

Ile Flottante. Lemon floating island, apple confit, armagnac crème anglaise.

There was an ethereal Ile flottante, the lemon floating island dissolved in my mouth, it’s like eating a cloud. It came with a sophisticated armagnac crème anglaise.

Gateau chocolat-myrtille. Bittersweet chocolate mousse, crunchy praliné, blueberry-orange blossom ice cream.

A multi-layered Gateau chocolat-myrtille was moist and luscious. Each layer had a distinct role of either taste or texture. The blueberry-orange complemented and eased the richness of the cake.

Sundae Exotique. Pineapple, mango, lime marshmallow, vanilla cookie, guanabana-mango sorbet.

Pineapple, mango and guanabana/soursop might be exotic in New York or Vancouver (although probably not Miami) where there are other db bistros. But definitely not in Singapore. Which might be why it isn’t on the menu anymore. But it was light and refreshing, the medley of fruits didn’t compete with each other and I loved the little surprises of candied ginger, which with its slight spicy heat elevated the dessert, like Louboutins on women, it made it sexy.

Sundae aux marrons. Chestnut ice cream, speculoos cookie, milk gelee, Baileys.

Even though I liked the sundae exotique, I’m glad it’s off the menu because it made way for the sundae aux marrons, which is fantastic. I’m not usually a fan of chestnuts, but this had all that chestnut flavor without the “pastiness.” The ice cream was smooth on the tongue. No ice crystals there. The swirls of chestnut puree too felt smooth, refined.

Warm madeleines.

The db bistro in Singapore doesn’t give mignardises at the end of the meal like I had at its New York branch, but an order of warm madeleines makes it a moot point, you wouldn’t want anything else. It amazes me that something so simple as butter, eggs, flour and sugar can, with an expert hand, be turned into something so delicious, so satisfying yet always leaving you wanting more.

Wanting more. I’ve been hoping for this, a restaurant like db bistro. The Singapore dining scene, though blossoming, has been relatively insular. I’ve seen the same dishes on too many menus, the same inadequate technique. It seems that’s the way things are done and chefs take it with them from restaurant to restaurant. Culinary inbreeding is never a good thing. Sure the menus at the various db bistros are similar, but it is quite unlike what you get at French bistros here. It is elegant, well-conceptualized, well-executed food.

I’m hoping that in the years to come, technique and talent will trickle down to other restaurants in Singapore. It’s already an exciting time for Singapore’s dining scene. But I’m waiting for when the mid-level chefs at these restaurants, the db bistros, Guy Savoys, Robuchons and Santis would open up their own restaurants. Hopefully one of them will define Singapore cuisine.

db bistro moderne

Basement 1, across from the Theater. (Wonder why there isn’t a specific address)
The Shoppes (as in ye olde?) at Marina Bay Sands
2 Bayfront Avenue
Singapore 018972
Tel: 6688 8525
http://www.danielnyc.com/dbbistroSingapore.html

HOURS Monday to Friday, lunch, noon to 2:30 p.m.; dinner, 5:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, brunch, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; dinner, 5:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.

PRICE RANGE Appetizers, $13 to $26; mains, $26 to $45; db burger, $38, with black truffles, $88; Cote de boeuf for two, $150; desserts, $4 to $15.

RECOMMENDED DISHES Foie gras terrine, tomato tart tatin, snail & chicken oyster fricassee, db burger (nothing above medium rare), coupe au poire, Ile flottante, sundae aux marrons, madeleines.

Turning Two!

Happy Birthday!

Its been two years since I started this blog to chronicle my departure from New York. It’s a story I tell though the meals I eat. Perhaps that is why I love food, because it’s not just about nourishment but of hope. To those reading: Thank you for stopping by.

Dave

Standing Still

Can you guess where this Hokkaido king crab, uni and ikura chirashi is from?

I’ll be honest. I never wanted to stay Singapore. And I’ve had the privilege to spend half of my life away. But recently a friend had a blank ticket by Singapore Airlines to “go somewhere far far away where I’ve never been before.” I thought, what if I had that opportunity? Where would I go? Surprisingly I had no urge to jet off anywhere. And I love to travel. For the first time, I realized that I was content to be here, that I might have found home.

I’ve been moving around too much. I’ve never stayed in one place for more than three years since I was twelve. It felt good to just stand still. Last year, on my birthday I was given a ticket to Sydney for the purpose of eating at Tetsuya Wakuda’s restaurant. I haven’t used it, I didn’t need to go Sydney, Tetsuya was coming to Singapore!

I’m excited by and for Singapore now. There is a vibrancy that I never noticed before I left for college. And a big part of that is the food. Singapore is the only place I can think of that offers such an incredible range of cuisine. It has excellent street food, but also excellent fine dining options, making this truly a city for gastronomes.

The sushi lunch set at Aoki. No the chirashi above isn’t from here. (Click on the picture to enlarge and see the green specks of yuzu in the Ikura.)

Last week I was at Aoki on Les Amis Lane for lunch. It was good, especially considering that it was $30. There was ikura perfumed with yuzu zest, toro. But I was most impressed with the deep red akami. I’m usually not a fan of lean tuna, too little flavor and a soft texture. I must have been eating lousy tuna all my life because this specimen was so spectacularly different. It had a flavorful iron tang and was firm and meaty.

Stunning huh? The king crab, uni and ikura chirashi from the Hokkaido fair at Isetan.

I was still hungry after lunch. Walking around, I realized that Isetan was having a Hokkaido fair. They were selling the Hokkaido king crab, uni and ikura chirashi in the picture at the top of this post for around $25. What a steal!

Gratuitous food porn.

Nanohana nishin, pickled herring.

Another stall sold various pickled seafood. My favorite, the nanohana nishin had herring, sweet and tart with vinegar balanced by the spice of ginger. I liked the squid too, koika tobiran, flavored with glutamates from the seaweed and popping with brininess from the gems of roe.

Koika tobiran, squid with tabiuo eggs.

The truly impressive part was that all this was offered in a supermarket and that this roving fair goes to the heartlands of Singapore too. It shows how sophisticated Singapore’s epicurean scene has become. It is encouraging and one of the reasons why Singapore has seduced me into staying. That standing still isn’t a bad thing.

Restaurant Trends I’d Rather Not See: Sleeveless Chefs

Chef  Ryu Takashi Inoue. Picture by Piotr Redlinski for The NYT.

I love Wednesday’s because that’s when The New York Times publishes its dining section. I read it religiously. It’s one of the few tethers to a past life. And last Wednesday while reading Sam Sifton’s review of Takashi, a restaurant that speaks to my heart about all things beef and offal, grilled and raw. I noticed that the chef, Takashi Inoue, was sleeveless.

Chef Alvin Leung of Hong Kong’s Bo Innovation also goes sans sleeves.

That’s a very bold (fashion) statement in the kitchen where there are very strict rules about hair and how it should always be covered up. Yes hair. The chef is sleeveless remember.

When I spent a day in the kitchen of St Pierre, I had to wear skullcap, which just looked ridic. But everyone wore something to prevent their hair from falling into the food. So are chefs Inoue and Leung wearing hairnets for their armpits? I don’t think so. Maybe they are shaven, I don’t know. I certainly wouldn’t want hair from there to fall into my food.

Lady: Could I get a side order of ha-DOU-ken please? Picture by Piotr Redlinski for The NYT.

Demon chef. No as in he really calls himself that. Must be something to do with the purple shades and hair.

“Don’t worry it’s cool, I’m wearing a hairnet for my armpit so I can safely stand over the food without worrying that hair would fall on the food.” Picture from Facebook.

Unrelated to this post except that it came from the Demon Chef and something I wouldn’t want to see as well. So real it’s not appetizing. Chef to snarky bloggers: “I just jizzed in your food. No for real.” Read more about it here.

Melancholy Monday? Sweeten it up!

Exquisite white russian macaron by Macarune. My favorite so far.

Two weeks ago, on a Sunday night, I picked up another variety pack from Danielle Chong’s Macarune. Coincidentally I received a box of ET Artisan Sweets’ macarons too from a friend. In addition to that my cousin brought some Krispy Kreme donuts from Jakarta. It all made for a very sweet Monday.

I invited a chef friend to try Danielle’s macarons (which I raved about in my previous macaron post) and cookies. He’s on the savory side, but makes really good desserts and macarons as well. He was pretty blown away with Danielle’s White Russian macaron, decadently rich fruit and nut chocolate cookie with its moist brownie like interior and the sophisticated flavor of the Earl Grey tea shortbread.

I started with the Tahitian vanilla bean and raspberry macaron at the pickup party and then the hibiscus and Persian rose tea macaron later that evening, well 1 a.m. Monday morning, when my friend came. The hibiscus-rose one was lovely with its delicate floral notes. But the White Russian macaron was superb. Danielle said it was a tribute to The Big Lebowski, where Jeff Bridges’ character drinks nine White Russians, cocktails made with vodka, kahlua and cream. The same flavors are in the macaron. Danielle uses Absolute vodka and Kahlua. Working with alcohol takes considerable skill. Too little and there isn’t a point to it, too much and it will be harsh. The amount here was perfectly calibrated. I could pleasantly taste it, but it wasn’t so harsh that I could feel it. She really nailed down the cocktail and transformed it into a macaron. It was exquisite and my current favorite. It might stay there for some time. It’s going to be a hard one to beat.

I tried all of ET Artisan Sweets’ macarons later that morning and they were excellent. Crisp shells with a moist, chewy interior but best of all, a generous filling of buttercream. Like I said it my previous macaron post, these are my favorite store bought macarons and again I ate them too fast to take any notes on individual flavors. But Danielle’s White Russian macaron is still the top. I loved them so much I went back again on Tuesday for more.

Assorted cookies, donuts and 25 macarons in 36 hours. That could almost beat my oyster binge.

From top left: Vanilla bean raspberry macaron, Tahitian vanilla bean and Californian freeze dried raspberries; White Russian macaron, hazelnuts, Kahlua, Absolut Vodka, Valrhona cocoa and Illy espresso powder; Hibiscus and Persian rose tea macaron, hibiscus flowers soaked in Persian rose tea. Macarune.

Clockwise from top left: Fruit and nut, Valrhona 64%/70%, Australian pecans, apricots, Californian walnuts and raisins; coconut crisps; TWG Earl Grey tea shortbread with freshly grated orange zest; Japanese matcha powder and Valrhona white chocolate shortbread; Hiding beneath the green tea sablés are double chocolate (Valrhona 55% & Valrhona cocoa) sablés with fleur de sel. Macarune.

Valrhona white chocolate to nibble on while at the pickup party. Macarune.

Macarons from ET Artisan Sweets.

I later ate them all up in one go. Loved it. ET Artisan Sweets.

Lots of buttercream. ET Artisan Sweets.

Pretty colors. ET Artisan Sweets.

I feel like pacman. ET Artisan Sweets.

Double flavored fillings. ET Artisan Sweets.

Krispy Kreme for the trifecta.

Went back for more on Tuesday! Macarune.

Hibiscus & Persian rose tea macarons. Macarune.

 

Macarune
Contact Danielle Chong: macarune@gmail.com

ET Artisan Sweets
32 Holland Grove Road
Singapore 278807
Tel: 6468 6700
www.etasweets.com
HOURS Monday to Sunday, 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.