Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Sunny Cafe @ Springvale, Melbourne

At the rate  I am blogging, I think I might have to blog till 2013 before I finish writing up about my USA adventures; with so many places to go like Peter Luger, the household name for porterhouse steak in NYC, Eleven Madison Park, ranked no.10 in the world, dining in Vegas and the awesome Southern food in Alabama. So since it's going to take me till 2013, I might as well take my time and will be dedicating one entry a week to my food escapade while transiting back to Melbourne food. 

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So back to Melbourne, shall we?

One Saturday morning, we found ourselves looking at each other, both knowing what the other will ask "what's for breakfast?". With only so many poached eggs, bacon and toast you can eat and the other alternative being yum cha, we challenge ourselves to think of something out of the blue. We wanted something Asian and the next best thing would have been a bowl of pho but no, we wanted better. 


A quick search on Urbanspoon and we found Taiwanese. Imagine xiao long bao, fried cruller wrap with a roti-like pancake, beef noodles and hot soya bean for breakfast! 


Although a bit of a deal breaker due to its location in Springvale, you will not be disappointed if you do end up driving up to the Sunny Cafe. Having eaten the original items in Taipei before, we can say some of the items here are quite original. However, the place is small and fits maybe 10-12 people at a time so you have been warned if you intend to walk up and imagine seats waiting for you.  


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Start off with soya bean, sweet and/or savoury. The savoury version is similar to the one I had in Taipei, curdled with some vinegar and topped with some fried crullers. 

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It was still early Spring and it was one of those days when the weather couldn't make up its mind and decided to be chilly as Winter, so a bowl of hot steaming beef noodles was in order. Not the best broth or the most tender beef you will get but one can't complain since you can get this early in the morning. 

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One of the things we had the most in Taipei was this egg roti-like pancake wrap and how could I resist when I saw this on the menu. Nothing like a bit of oil to start the day. 

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Not the best xiao long bao but heck to get to eat this for breakfast early in the day, I say its a good choice. 

Simple satisfying Taiwanese breakfast. Now I wonder what else Melbourne can offer?

Address and contact details:

The Sunny Cafe on Urbanspoon

Verdict: 4 stars out of 5 stars. Let down by the bloody long drive but won't hesitate when the craving for that roti like pancake kicks in!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Momofuku Ssam @ East Village, NYC

With a booking at a three Michelin star restaurant the day after, we realised that there was no stomach and wallet space for David Chang's fine dining establishment; Momofuku Ko, a 125 dollar per person dinner before drinks and tips (not to mention, reservations can only be made one week in advance and also requires an utmost precision in timing the mouse click). You would think surely a person like me, could have soldiered past a 125 dollar meal and time a reservation? I guess I could have but at the back of my mind, I knew there was after all a sibling in Momofuku Seiobo, just an hour flight away up in Sydney. 

But to be in NYC and not visit any of its establishments seem a little lacklustre for a foodie, granted he's one of the trendier, upcoming and famous chefs of today. Luckily, he has built quite a stable of restaurants over the last couple of years and during the flight into NYC, I read up over Wi-Fi (how cool is that?) on the profile of his places and decided to go back to his roots, Momofuku Ssam Bar; the second place he opened up, ranked #38 in the World's 50 Best Restaurants, the place where Anthony Bourdain reviewed in No Reservations back in 2009 and a stumble across his latest Momofuku Milkbar (more on that later).   


There's a theme in most of his restaurants, a few substantial items that are available with pre-ordering (imagine whole duck, pork butt or two fried chicken), a few larger items for sharing and a number of tapas sized and priced dishes. Cuisine wise, some call it fusion, while others call it an asian inspired posh version of dude food (whatever that means). If anything, its like Korea meets America on a small plate. 



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We started off with some fresh oysters paired with a kombu mignonette, a vinegar dressing. As fresh and tasty as good oysters would be.

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Next was an interesting take on sea urchin in an edible wrapper, with heirloom tomatoes, cantaloupe and shiso. At first glance, it looked like there were too many things on the plate to distract the sweetness of the creamy delicacy but put everything together, we still got the freshness of the seafood complimented by whatever was on the plate. A good start. 

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David Chang is well known for his love with pork and him being a Korean means putting both together in an apple kimchi and bacon side if you would. Not as pungent and tarty as traditional kim chi would be for the purists but you can see why people can get so worked up over his style of cuisine.

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In Italy, you eat prosciutto, In USA, you eat ham. Served alongside some bread and a savoury coffee paste that tasted more like toast. We all agreed that the ham was way too salty for our liking (personal preference). 

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What we were all waiting for, the infamous Momofuku steam buns - pork belly, cucumbers, scallions and hoisin sauce. I can see why this was so famous back in the day with the locals but since young, we have been dipping man taos in braised pork sauce and eating it with pork ribs / belly, so this was nothing special. Matter of fact, we couldn't detect the hoi sin sauce and the chilli sauce didn't exactly make it better.  

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I vaguely remember this as an off cut piece of pork but was impressed how it turned out to be so elegant; slow cooked and deep fried, genius. 

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A staple Korean product, duboki or rice cakes. Deep fried here and tossed along with some spicy sausages and sprinkled with plenty of fried shallots. This dish was moreish despite the fact that it was rather fiery too. 

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Somewhat disappointed at the server's suggestion of the whole fish; porgy (sea bream) with fish stock and topped with a myriad of vegetables. The fish stock tasted more like a watered down soya sauce dressing that we get when you order steam fish in a chinese restaurant. While the toppings was refreshing, light and a hint of citrus, it didn't do enough to lift the dish beyond average. 

So dinner didn't exactly end on a high note. Did I think it was worth the #38 spot in the world 50? No. Would I queue hours? No. 

However given that we barely had to wait 5 minutes for our table, had a good time, left the place, paying around 40 dollars a person and the right to boast that I have dined in one of David Chang's restaurant, I would still come again in a heartbeat (but be a little tactical with the dishes). 

Address and contact details:

Momofuku Ssäm Bar on Urbanspoon

Verdict: 3.5 stars out of 5 stars. I guess the closest thing we have got in Melbourne in terms of style (and that I have been to) is Huxtable or to a certain extent a Korean version of Chin Chin. If I have to compare, Momofuku Ssam on some levels were heaps better (thinking the sea urchin and the off cut pork) while I definitely had a better cod dish in Huxtable (compared to the steam porgy). To each its own. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Kat'z Deli @ Lower East Side, NYC

If there is one place to have a meal in NYC, whether you are local or a tourist or haven't heard of the movie "When Harry met Sally", it is Kat'z Deli. Besides the point that you get to potentially dine at the same table where Meg Ryan sat faking an orgasm (I admit I haven't watch the movie before but I did youtube the infamous scene), this place is also a piece of NYC history. Having opened since 1888 and fed generations, they are famous for none other than their (drum roll), pastrami sandwiches. 

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Just look at the queue!

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The place is a chaos, queue outside and once you get in and get a ticket, don't lose it. Once you get inside, you have two choices, order at the counter like you would at McDonalds or go further in and get table service. I say queue.

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Despite having to queue to get to your sandwich, there seem to be a tipping system here. Put a dollar or two in the bucket (make sure the server sees it) and while he prepares your gigantic sandwich, you get to sample a slice or two, maybe three of their signature smoked pastrami. (You can risk not tipping and see if you can still get a slice or two to try).

Remember the ticket? The server writes what you ordered on it and you take it to the cashier when you leave.

For 15-16 dollars a sandwich, this is no cheap sandwich and the original plan was to share two between four thinking it must be huge for the price tag. How wrong I was, it's huge but you just wouldn't want to share a pastrami sandwich or at least the version at Katz if you could.

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We wanted variety so we ordered a brisket, this was good meat but a little dry in certain bits. 

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I say stick to this. Whether have it plain or rueben (swiss cheese and sauerkraut), it's mind blowing. There's something about the melt in your mouth texture, how tender it is, how flavorsome it is and how simple it is. A plain meat sandwich yet almost an icon in its own right. It was so good, I queued again for 15 minutes to get another one. Looking at it, all I am thinking is having one for lunch, one for dinner and maybe one for tomorrow's lunch (ok, maybe that's a little too much)

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Just don't come here expecting hip, cool or have a date (unless your girl is into pastrami), its packed to the rafters, noisy as a club and let's just say the ambience makes you feel like you have just gone back in time.

Address and contact details:

Katz's Deli on Urbanspoon

Verdict: 4 stars out of 5 stars. Its freaking expensive for a sandwich, although granted you get close to a pound of meat in it. However there's something in that smoky juicy meat that you can't put a price tag on and I think it would almost be a sin not to give this a try if you are in NYC.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Ippudo @ Fourth Avenue, New York City

Swimming through my photos on Flickr, I realised that I still have a whole bunch of photos yet to be uploaded from the trip. So without going in order, from Los Angeles, we head East, straight to NYC.

Those who have been reading from my Brisbane days would know how we love our tonkotsu ramen and at one stage having it for every weekend for weeks. Moving to Melbourne, we have tried a few places but nothing has come close. So when my friend suggested ramen as one of the must have meals in NYC, we didn't laugh it off as some people would butmade it a point to satisfy that craving there and then. 

Ippudo is the name and as it turns out from a simple google search, its from Japan, its got franchises all over the world with NYC being the first one, lucky readers from Malaysia can take a 3 hour drive down to Singapore and have a bowl and soon I can take a 1 hour flight to Sydney to have some! 

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Famous for their tonkotsu ramen, a peek in the menu shows they do a couple of options, a mix of classic and modern if you will, from the classic tonkotsu ramen to a modern version that is spiced up with miso paste and garlic oil. On top of that, there's the steam pork buns made famous by David Chang from Momofuku (can't wait to blog about that one) and other appetisers to start.

One warning though, there are terribly long queues for this place and I have heard and read nightmare stories about how you need to wait 2 hours or more for a spot. Walking to the place at 12 noon (they open at 11 am), we still had to wait 15-20 minutes (so there you go, I have told you the perfect time to visit this place). 

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The hirata pork buns; a piece of soft pork belly sandwiched in between a soft white steam bun, flavoured with a sweet and slightly spicy sauce, japanese mayo and 2 pieces of lettuce. What I can say is apart from it being fabulous, that it also ranked higher in our books than the original Momofuku version. 9 dollars will get you two pieces.

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Shiromaru Hakata Classic - The original silky "Tonkotsu" (pork) soup noodles, toppped with pork loin chashu, sesame kikurage mushrooms, menma, red pickeled ginger, and scallions. For $14, I would eat this every day as long as my wallet can support the habit. Whatever words you can think of to describe a near perfect soup; creamy, rich, silky, robust, tasty, explosive, etc. For a glutton like me, I had to top it up with some kakuni (braised pork belly) as well. If there was one complaint, the chashu which is made from pork loin was too lean for me. 

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Akamaru Modern - described as the original silky "Tonkotsu" (pork) soup noodles topped with Ippudo's secret "Umami Dama" miso paste, pork chashu, cabbage, sesame kikurage mushrooms, scallions, and fragrant garlic oil. Compared to the original, the miso paste bought it a slightly salty tinge to it and the black oil made it so fragrant that it wasn't funny. This was topped up with an egg. 

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Leaf mustard is another form of top up for $3 which was a little expensive given the portion and remembering that our favourite Brisbane stall gives it out for free.

With top ups, the buns as starters, tips and taxes, a bowl of ramen will set you back closer to $20-25 a bowl. Pretty expensive but heck (considering that I will have to pay for flights to Sydney to get a bowl, its cheap) and it's so many times better than the ones we get in Melbourne. I would give anything to have a bowl right now (maybe drive down to Singapore when I go back to Malaysia for Christmas).

Address and contact details:

Ippudo on Urbanspoon

Verdict: 4.5 stars out of 5 stars. A star ramen and you can see why they are so famous; satisfying the purists with their ramen and that broth and creating this hype about how eating ramen is cool especially in a city like NYC with their fit out and long queues. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Providence @ Los Angeles

Read this blog from my earlier days and you would know that my first Michelin star experience was at Nobu (the London outlet, not the Melbourne one). Looking back, it was pretentious, the food was average and service was rather snobbish. Not to mention I had a ridiculous 10 dollar foie gras gyoza in one bite (without knowing). 

Fast forward years, I guess it was time for another Michelin star experience. Now, technically speaking, the Michelin Guide has stopped reviewing Los Angeles since 2009. However back in 2009, Providence was one of the only four restaurants that held two Michelin stars, bearing in mind that no restaurants in LA had three stars as at 2009.

So yes it's been 3 years but surely, this still counts as a Michelin star experience?

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This came recommended by the Wife's cousin and upon checking out their website, it looks like their executive chef, Michael Cimarusti was once upon a time on Top Chef Masters (the proper cooking show with world renowned chefs, not amateurs). It's nice to place a face to the man behind the restaurant. Google his name and one article (or blog entry) commented that he was "the West Coast Eric Ripert (chef of Le Bernadin, 3 Michelin Stars)". 

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The focus here is all about seafood, whether fish, crustacean, shells, you name it, they cook it.

Now opposed to n/naka, we actually started with a couple of complimentary amuse bouches.

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Now, the amuse bouche will always change (excuse for not remembering what this was) but let's say it was a gazpacho of sorts, served alongside a cheese topped profiterole.

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This made a deeper impression on me, salmon skin crackers (amazing how its been pressed flat and crisp like (duh, a cracker) with a dip of salmon roe cream and chives. Just look how fine the chives has been sliced. Delicious.

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To complete the trio of amuse bouche, a palate cleanser, a pressed watermelon cube flavoured with some alcohol and a refreshing frozen grape.

At this point, bread and butter is served, although I was quite disappointed at their brioche roll (not as buttery as how I like it).

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The Wife's cousin played gracious host and upon hearing that I haven't had caviar before decided that I should give it a go at her expense. For a small princely sum, you get 30 grams and a whole assortment of ingredients to eat it along with. Let's see, you have egg yolk, egg whites, chives, onions, sour cream, blinis and if you ask, brioche slices too.

So what can I say about caviar (sustainable by the way)? Its tastes like the sea with a briny aftertaste (a bit like a really good and fresh oyster minus the chewing) and in all honesty, a luxury (thankfully) I can live without but of course wouldn't mind indulging in once in a blue moon.

On to our courses. There's a bit of flexibility here with the menu, you can start with 3 courses and go all the way up to 9 courses. Since we had 9 courses at n/naka just the day before, we settled in with 3 courses.

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For starters, there was a dungeness crab with melon, mango and black bean mayonnaise. I didn't get to try it but I did noted that there were a few cartilage bits that were left in the pieces of crab which seemed a little careless, you would think.

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The Wife loves all things octopus so it was only logical she chose the warm grilled octopus salad. Note the plating, one of many dishes where you will see that the chef plates everything on one side / corner of the plate. She mentioned that this was good but not mind blowing.

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From what I read, this is one of their signature dishes, the ugly bunch. For something called the ugly bunch, this was a beauty. Slivers of crunchy geo duck and abalone, juicy pieces of prawns, salmon roe and pretty herbs and leaves sits on top a bed of creme fraiche panna cotta. Though this looked perfect (the seafood was brilliant), the panna cotta was a little too generous and over powering.  

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For mains, the Wife had the duck breast and fig. There was no flaws in the cooking, pink and juicy duck and the familiar sweet and savoury combination using figs in the sauce and as a side. Unfortunately, it appeared to be an ok dish which didn't seem to evoke much comments from her. 

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For a 15 dollar supplement, I had the maine lobster and it was scrumptious, basted in juniper butter and mushrooms done two ways, pickled and cooked. The lobster flesh was sweet in the seafood way and had a meaty bite, one of the nicest lobster dishes I had.

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"Plating on one corner"was on display again, this time with my dessert. Crème fraîche, sable breton, financier, chestnut jam, vanilla mousse was I think what it was called and in all honesty I expected an old fashion cake from what was being described to us. What appeared before me was like abstract art, thankfully unlike abstract art, I enjoyed it.

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The Wife had another fail proof combination; ice cream and dark chocolate cake. Again, when questioned, she seemed to have given it a nod and a shrug which I assume meant good but not brilliant.

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I am going to refrain from commenting as I have no clue what the Wife's cousin ordered and their online menu doesn't seem to have an item that resembles the picture.

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Dinner is finished off with petit fours; a rather scrumptious macaron, a mini caramel tube and grape jelly (this was just genius). With that was the end of our dinner at a two michelin star worthy restaurant. Was it what I expected?

Food was good with a few flashes of brilliance, service was good although somewhat too formal at moments  and ambience was pleasant with a whiff of formality (guys dressed in suits). 

The price for a 3 course dinner is $85, closer to $110 after tips and taxes which is certainly very competitive (given the reputation of the chef and restaurant), compared to Melbourne dining. 

With my observations, begs the question, if Melbourne was part of the Michelin guide, would similar restaurants that we have eaten at (in terms of food quality, satisfaction and prices) be picking up stars too?  

Address and contact details:

Providence on Urbanspoon

Verdict: 4 stars out of 5 stars. Well cooked fresh seafood (especially my choices), playing to the strengths of the restaurant and the chef's expertise in seafood. Coupled with decent prices, this is worth recommending to my Australian dollar earning readers.  

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Umami Burger @ Santa Monica, LA

The Wife woke up early one morning, still jet lagged and decided to pour through the hotel magazines instead of trying to sleep. Flipping through the pages, she came across an article on "Umami Burgers" and whatever was written about it, she decided that burgers it was for lunch. 

As much as I have said before about my love for chain restaurants, it did sound quite unique to pass on (then again my personal beliefs are not rock solid). We were going to go to be in Santa Monica during lunch and luckily (since it was a chain), we found an outlet that was a 5 minute walk from the jetty.


The concept of "umami" has been around for donkey years, first "created" so to speak by the Japanese. If you ever wondered how it taste like or what it resembles, some say try a konbu or dashi broth. If that's not possible, I remember watching Heston Blumenthal on TV talking about how mushrooms and tomatoes are some of the more common ingredients that packs a lot of umami. 


If you still have no idea what it is, walk into the busy casual diner and take a deep breathe. That's umami.


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It may be a chain but that doesn't mean its dirt cheap. A burger is below average in size yet will set you back almost 12-15 dollars (plus tax and tips). However, once you sink into the juicy patty, the price won't even come to mind. There's a lot of "umami" and almost on the verge of overwhelming in a good way (turns out they sell bottles of "umami" extract that you can spray on your meats). The bread is on the sweet side, brioche like. Before you know it, the burger is gone and you are like, damn should I order another one?

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We resisted that thought of course but I remember reading a review that recommends you to have at least 1.5 burgers to be a complete meal. Out of the burgers we had, the Umami and the Truffle, I prefer the Truffle version for words I can't seem to describe (just like how I can't seem to find the correct words to describe umami). 

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There's a set that you can order which comes with chips and a drink. Now, it doesn't say so on the menu but if I can recommend, ask them for some truffle sauce (they will know what you are talking about). Obviously this is not real truffles we are talking about (well, a minute portion, may be), so this can be terribly over whelming or absolutely lip smacking (depends on which camp you are on when it comes to truffles). 

Wash it down with some cold beer and you are set to go back to the Santa Monica Pier (or which ever outlet you are at) and enjoy the sun.

Last I googled, they are even opening up in New York so let's hope in the near future, they will consider Australia!

Address and contact details:

Umami Burger on Urbanspoon

Verdict: 4 stars out of 5 stars. Made me wish that I bought a bottle of that spray they use on their burgers. Drooling, at the thought of it.