Monthly Archives: December 2009

The Measure Of My Powers (2008-2009)

All the food in this post was eaten by me alone in one sitting! Clockwise from top left: Fried oysters, sauteed smoked duck breast, grilled squid, sashimi (mackerel, surf clam, salmon, sweet shrimp, swordfish), grilled sanma, unagi sushi and tempura.

I always order their teppanyaki lamb. It’s fatty with bits of gristle and full of flavor, a cheap cut but totally delicious.

Ordered a prawn to try. Had to be very selective to conserve stomach space.

More sashimi! Love vinegared mackerel and swordfish.

Couldn’t resist another helping of their impressive tempura. Whoever made these knew what he was doing in the kitchen.

Ice cream to top off all that food. Pretty good for one person huh!

I know what you are thinking: A second Japanese buffet post in a row!?! Sadly this is of the now deceased Edogawa at Novena. It used to be my favorite Japanese buffet. The pictures you see here are from a meal I had by myself. I remember coming down the escalator right after working out at the gym and I thought why the heck not. I could do a buffet by myself, order anything I wanted.

But the post isn’t about the restaurant. This post is about food and how it makes us feel. How it becomes something more than just nourishment. How it becomes a force in our lives.

For me it is an anesthetic, a source of inspiration and a focus for hope.

D M K Koh

(Not how I really sign off, just a tribute to someone.)

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Japanese Buffet Entropy Theory: Shin Yuu

Shin Yuu special aburi salmon sushi

Growing up, Japanese food was expensive, usually a rare treat. Which is why I love the guilt-free (at least financially) abundance of the Japanese buffet. I remember my first, it was at the then Hotel New Otani. The highlight was the all you can eat sashimi. It was served on a large wooden boat. You had to be quick or all you would be left with was… well the wooden boat.

Soft shell crab spider roll

Over the years though, lots of budget Japanese restaurants have sprouted up in Singapore. Now the thought of all you can eat sashimi wouldn’t raise an eyebrow. My love for the Japanese buffet never diminished. Put the words “Japanese” and “buffet” and I’ll be drawn in like a mosquito to one of those ultraviolet light zappers. It will be the death of me one day.

Aburi salmon with crispy salmon skin

In all my eating, I’ve noticed that these Japanese buffet places usually start out great. They are generous and the quality of their ingredients is relatively good. But then one of two things happen. Either they do well and in order to capitalize on their popularity, they start to cut cost to maximize profit. Or they don’t do well and cut cost to minimize the hemorrhaging.

Raw salmon with crispy salmon skin. The aburi-ed one is better.

So my Japanese Buffet Entropy Theory states that the quality of a buffet place will only go down with time. My ex-favorite place used to have all the sashimi items I love, swordfish, mackerel and surf clam. Then slowly one by one the items would be pulled. It closed down a couple of months later.

Tuna belly with spring onion hand roll. Decent, but would have liked it to be more luscious.

Recently I found a new place. It might be my favorite yet. A poster said that the Japanese buffet came with a complimentary serving of toro (tuna belly) and fugu mirin boshi (puffer fish.) The pull grew stronger and I felt my belly gravitate towards the door. But they weren’t open for another 30 minutes. I had a packed schedule so with surprising self-control I didn’t indulge. I was back the next day with K-Dubs.

Otoro or chutoro? Just toro? Not the best I’ve had. But it’s free! Picture from my latest visit. Didn’t bring my camera the first time.

There was indeed the complimentary toro. It was a piece of aburi-ed sushi. We were instructed not to dip it in soy sauce; there was already sauce on it. I love gastro-dominatrix talk.

Yes Master I will not dip it in soy sauce!

Another picture of the aburi-ed salmon. I eat around four or five each time I’m here.

I was surprised to hear that at a $35++ buffet place. I was first introduced to that kind of banter at Tatsuya, not quite a year ago, where my meal was almost ten times that price. But that’s a story for another post. After the toro came another aburi-ed gem. Salmon sushi with a sweet cod roe cream sauce, and this time I could have as much as I wanted. It set the tone for the rest of my meals at Shin Yuu. Their food is slightly progressive and well executed. Progressive because you get items like the aburi-ed sushi, which is almost unheard of at mass market places. (Well actually the restaurant isn’t that big, but its cheap price is mass friendly.) Their special makimono, a unagi and avocado sushi roll is like the over-the-top rolls I used to get back in the States, very different than traditional rolls but just as good. It’s big on flavor and toppings. Julienned cucumbers and sweet unagi at the core rolled with rice and seaweed then topped with avocado and slathered in special sauce and a dollop of mayo. God it’s good. I could eat the whole roll by myself. And because this was a buffet I could. The only drawback here is that there are quite a few usual treats to check out too. I had to carefully ration out my stomach real estate.

Special Makimono. Unagi and avocado, amazing combination.

The menu is divided into nine sections; seven of them are headlined with a Shin Yuu special. Most of the specials are delicious. The only exception was the special Chawanmushi from the appetizer section. It was decent but there wasn’t anything special about it.

Special chawanmushi. Ehh, wasn’t impressed.

The salmon aburi was the special for the nigiri sushi and the Unagi and avocado for the makimono. I usually stay clear of spicy tuna sushi, it’s just too easy to merchandise off old tuna. But I’d make an exception for their special maguro karashi temaki. The hand roll was dressed in snappy-ly crisp seaweed with tuna in a sauce that was surprisingly complex, boldly spicy but balanced with just the right amount of mayonnaise for body.

Spicy tuna hand roll

The beef short ribs special in the yakimono / grilled section are very good, if a little thin. The special from the agemono / deep fried section is a dory fish fillet topped with cheese. Top anything fried with cheese and you have a recipe for a tasty-tasty dish.

Special gyu karubi. Grilled beef short ribs

Special Sakana Chiizu. Fried dory with cheese

I can’t seem to make up my mind about the pan-fried prawns with miso mayonnaise, the special for the teppan and nimono / pan-fried and braised section. It’s an intensely flavorful and rich dish, almost too rich though, it sat very heavily in my stomach.

Special Ebi Miso Mayayaki. Prawns with miso mayonnaise sauce.

The sashimi section doesn’t have specials and the variety is pretty limited: Tuna, Australian king fish / hiramasa, salmon and octopus. But they have my favorite, swordfish, so I’m not complaining. Wish they had mackerel, sweet shrimp, surf clam and squid. I’m not complaining, just stating.

Sashimi. I always order it without the tuna, which I’ve never liked here. The rest is good.

Most of the other dishes on the menu are solid and well executed. In all my visits I’ve only had one dish that I didn’t like, an aburi-ed cheese and smoked pork sushi roll. It sounded good on paper, but blow torching ham and cheese just didn’t work out. Still it’s quite an impressive batting average with only one strike. There were quite a few home runs on the menu too.

Above average tempura

Competently grilled mackerel with salt

Grilled pork loin with miso sauce. Once it was really dry, another time it was good.

Sawara misoyaki. Grilled Spanish mackerel with miso sauce

I forgot which one this was… Shishamo / Japanese Capelin? So much to eat that I didn’t have time to take all the notes I wanted.

There’s a jellyfish appetizer that is for me, addictive. I love the textural crunch and its sweet and slightly spicy flavor. I order multiple helpings on each visit.

Jellyfish. Addictive.

Almost equally delicious baby octopus.

The grilled scallops topped with the same cod roe sauce from the aburi-ed salmon are also a winner.

Hotate Mentaiyaki. Grilled scallops with cod roe sauce.

Even though the teppan and nimono part of the menu had that questionable special, it’s actually one of the restaurant’s strongest sections. There is a delectably tender wafu steak and flavorful masu ni, a quick fried and braised grouper. The pork belly looked dry but was actually quite succulent.

Wafu tenderloin steak. It’s tender.

Masu Ni. You can have a whole grouper! Fantastic deal!

Buta Bara Koshio yaki. Pork belly. It looks dry but it’s actually quite succulent.

There isn’t any dessert on the buffet menu, but I was given a yuzu sorbet once and it was a great way to end a heavy meal. It was well made and you can’t really go wrong with yuzu.

Yuzu sorbet

Fried squid tentacles

Fried croquettes

So how does Shin Yuu tie into my entropy theory? Well the first time I was there, we had the complimentary toro as promised by the poster at the door, but no fugu. On my second visit there wasn’t any toro, in its stead were fried squid tentacles and croquettes. My third trip came up empty on any complimentary dishes. Yet the poster was still out there. I had a creeping fear that the restaurant which opened in August was starting its inevitable decent. However on my fourth lunch at Shin Yuu last Sunday, when it was almost deserted from what I guess was a Christmas weekend exodus, the restaurant came out with guns blazing. A row of those aburi-ed toro sushi bites, the perfect amuse, were laid out even before we had finished ordering. Followed in quick secession with raw salmon in a plum-like sauce, fried squid and tiny shrimp, plus two beautifully grilled hamachi collars. Both mine and my brother’s favorite.

Salmon with a plum-like sauce. Very nice.

Fried squid

Tiny shrimp, thats why they’re called shrimp

Grilled hamachi collar. One of my favorites.

Asked them to aburi some swordfish sushi. Next time I’m going to order a bunch of sushi and ask them to aburi everything.

I hope my Japanese buffet entropy theory is wrong because Shin Yuu, considering its usual offerings, almost pitch perfect performance and relatively cheap price tag, is a real gem.

 

Shin Yuu

16 Greenwood Avenue

Hillcrest Park

Singapore 289209

Tel: 6763-4939

Their Facebook page

Hours

Open daily for lunch from noon to 2:30 p.m. last order. For dinner from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. last order.

Recommended dishes

Seasonal jelly fish; special unagi and avocado sushi roll; special aburi salmon sushi; wafu steak; masu ni grouper; special grilled beef short ribs; grilled scallop with cod roe sauce; special fried dory with cheese.

Price Range

A la carte buffet lunch for an adult, $35++; child, $20++. Dinner, $48++; child $28++.

Ramen Boy: Ippudo, Santouka, Miharu, Tampopo and Noodle House Ken

Ippudo’s thin Hakata style ramen noodles.

Ok, I’ll admit that the ramen boy title is a bit misleading. I’m no ramen expert. I’d my first bowl of ramen only after coming back to Singapore. I’ve grown to like it though, more than any Japanese noodle. Luckily for me, Singapore is becoming quite a ramen city. Ramen shops have been sprouting up around Singapore, the latest being Ippudo, the famous Japanese ramen chain. It’s their second branch outside of Japan, their first being in my beloved New York City. Which I think speaks volumes on how Singapore is becoming a major gastronomic destination.

Pork Buns. Ippudo

But enough navel gazing, back to Ippudo, I joined June and her brother on a Sunday night during their soft opening to try the much hyped ramen. 9 p.m. and there was still a pretty long line, gratefully it was relatively fast moving.  June’s brother could hardly contain his excitement when we were finally seated. He was almost gleeful with anticipation to taste Ippudo’s ramen again. I like ramen but I’m not really a fanatic, so I wasn’t really infected by his enthusiasm. But after our pork buns came, I started to buy into it. The pork was tender and the bun, pillow-y soft, which contrasted with the crisp snap of the lettuce. It had a really flavorful sauce and… mayonnaise! Which made such a delicious flavor combination. It reminded me of the Samurai burger that MacDonald’s served in Singapore a very long time ago. (That comparison to MacDonald’s is a good thing, the burger remains one of my favorite food memories.)

Akamaru Modern. Ippudo

Our ramen arrived and it was quite a sight. My Akamaru Modern had a reddish-orange blush, a slick of black garlic oil and vivid green from the scallions, all set against the milky fat emulsified off-white broth. I was excited to eat it.

Hakata mini pork dumplings. They were indeed tiny. Ippudo.

It was good. But I expected more. Maybe it was the hype, or maybe it was because I’m a ramen noob. Maybe I just couldn’t grasp the intricacies, nuances of their ramen. It felt as if the ramen was lacking something but I didn’t know what.

Meltingly tender pork cheeks and fixings for the ramen. Santouka

As I started looking at my photos and writing this post around lunchtime the following Monday, I felt the sudden urge to eat ramen again. I needed another gauge. I called up a chef friend who has been urging me to check out a ramen place that serves theirs with pork cheek, one of our favorite meats.

Char siew pao with teriyaki sauce. Santouka

He picked me up and we drove to Hokkaido Ramen Santouka at The Central. They offered pork buns as well and we just couldn’t say no to that. This rendition had two slices of pork belly, a much more defined sauce and better fixings. The pork wasn’t as meltingly tender as Ippudo’s and I wished that there was mayo. But overall I preferred this one at Santouka.

Tokusen Toroniku Ramen, Shio. Santouka

It’s difficult for me to describe ramen broth; I don’t feel I have the right vocabulary, having been introduced to it so recently. So bear with me as I try.

My shio (salt) ramen with the fixings mixed in. Santouka

Imagine flavor being like a car and how fast it’s going as its intensity. My bowl at Ippudo was flavorful, but there was so much going on that everything got a little drowned out, a little diffused. It was like a car traveling fast but constantly making radical turns. There is speed but it doesn’t really get anywhere. Santouka’s broth though was like a car steadily accelerating on a straightaway. It started off not as aggressively as Ippudo’s, but the flavor was definitely more focused. The beautiful pork taste was well defined, and it lingered in my mouth.

My favorite noodles. Miharu

I also preferred the noodles at Santouka. They were a little thicker and chewier. More Q as the Chinese like to call it. Noodles at Ippudo were straight and thin, made in the Hakata style. But my favorite noodles are still from Miharu. They are yellow, curly and have just the right diameter, which makes for a substantial noodle that has the perfect chew.

Miharu

Miharu

Gyoza, Miharu

Gyoza innards, Miharu

Kyushu ramen original. Tampopo

But the highlight of Santouka is the pork cheek, which is meltingly soft and flavorful. I usually prefer my pork cheeks with more of a bite, a crunch to them, but these in the context of ramen worked.

Isn’t that a beauty? My favorite piece of pork. Tampopo

However my favorite ramen pork accompaniment is from Tampopo. Tampopo sometimes gets a bad rep. Some of it might be justified but take a look at the picture of that piece of pork. Doesn’t it look fucking good? It is. I love the alternating layers of fat and meat. I’ve always had very solid pork from the place. Their tonkatsu is pretty good as well. It’s crisp on the outside and succulent on the inside. It makes up for the fact that I can’t get enough of that rolled pork in the noodles. I always wish I had one more slice.

Black pig shabu ramen. Tampopo

Tonkatsu. Tampopo

One of the things that Ippudo does right is that they’re generous with their slices of pork like Noodle House Ken. There were quite a few pieces submerged below the soup of my Akamaru Modern.

Lots of pork at Noodle House Ken

You might have noticed that I never declared a favorite ramen joint. It’s not a cop out. As a food writer I firmly believe in putting your balls where your mouth is. (Ha ha ok that didn’t come out right.) What I wanted to convey is that writers should have the guts to stand by what they write. One of my pet peeves is reading a blog that reviews restaurants, only to state a disclaimer that all taste is subjective.

The thing I’ve learned while eating my way though Singapore’s ramen shops are that there is a multitude of ramen styles available. It’s like comparing apples to oranges. It wasn’t apparent to me at first. I thought ramen was ramen. But each region of Japan has its own variation. What makes it so fun and exciting is that I can eat across Japan, experiencing and celebrating all that ramen diversity within a few square kilometers in town, here in Singapore.

Check out all the different styles of ramen here.

Ippudo Singapore

#04-02/03/04 Mandarin Gallery

333A Orchard Road

Singapore 238867

Open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily.

Tel: 6235 2797

Hokkaido Ramen Santouka

#02-76 The Central

6 Eu Tong Sen Street

Singapore 059817

Open from 11 a.m. to 9:45 p.m. last order daily.

Tel: 6224 0668

Miharu Sapporo Ramen

#01-11 The Gallery Hotel

1 Nanson Road

Singapore 238909

Lunch from noon to 2:45 p.m.; Dinner from 6 p.m. to 9:45 p.m. last order. Closed on Wednesdays.

Tel: 6733 8464

Tampopo

#01-23/24 Liang Court Shopping Center

177 River Valley Road

Singapore 179030

Open from 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. last order daily.

Tel: 6338 3186

Noodle House Ken

#01-17/18 Orchard Plaza

150 Orchard Road

Singapore 238841

Lunch from noon to 2 p.m.; dinner from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. Monday to Friday. Saturday lunch from noon to 3 p.m.; dinner from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. or till sold out.

Tel: 6235 5540