Venice and a reborn local restaurant

This is a really quick 2-part post.

1. I’m off to Venice (Italy) this weekend, there for 10 days for work. While I’ve been pretty successful in sussing out some good restaurants and cafes, I’m sure there are many, many more I don’t know about. So, if any of y’all out there have some suggestions and recommendations, please, please tell me about them. Post them in my comments or email me! I especially want to find some great, affordable places. Thanks!

2. Over this past weekend, while wandering around looking for a place to eat before catching a film, my wife and I wandered into the recently refurbished Oriental Hotel (in Singapore). The redesign is fantastic and shows what a good, well thought out renovation can do for an aging hotel (for an example of the opposite, visit the Pan Pacific). The new interior is sleek, dark, and sexy. It’s also very Asian. Finally, the hotel looks like it belongs in the Mandarin Oriental group (which it does)! While walking around the hotel, we checked out their new buffet station cafe/restaurant Melt (gee, is every hotel in Singapore doing this now?) and then went up a floor to look at the newly re-opened and renovated Cherry Garden. We loved the new look–styled to look like a chic but zen courtyard house–of this classic Cantonese and Sichuan restaurant and were tempted to try it. And I’m glad we did. The food was very good. We had, as an amuse-bouche, a duck roll with honey, followed by carrot cake with XO sauce, some of the best siu mai I have eaten in a long time, pan-fried Shanghainese dumplings with a gorgeous, finely spun crust, spinach beancurd with crabmeat, cai miao poached in a superior stock, and cheong fan with shredded abalone. The service was also excellent and the restaurant was quiet and calm (possibly because we were eating at noon). I hate noisy, crowded Chinese restaurants with kids running all over the place. Cherry Garden, by comparison, was entirely civilized. I can’t wait to try it again. (Oh, sorry, no photos. I wasn’t carrying my camera with me.)

Cherry Garden, tel: 68853538

Comfort Food 1

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Okay, it’s not the world’s greatest photo or the world’s prettiest dish, but this is my all-time favourite stay-in-and-have-a-simple-meal-at-home food. It’s a steamed egg custard with minced pork and salted duck egg yolks and is one of the few things that I’d be more than happy to eat a couple times of week for the rest of my life.

I grew up eating this, thanks to a Cantonese “amah” that cooked phenomenally well. My mother, of course, makes a killer version. And, more recently, my wife has mastered it. (I should admit that while it is in fact a relatively easy dish to prepare, I’ve only made it myself a few times. My wife is much better at preparing Chinese food than I am—Europhile that I am—and this dish has become a solid part of her vast repertoire.)

To make this dish (for two), you’ll need:

150g minced pork
3 eggs
400ml chicken stock
2 salted duck eggs
1/2 onion or some shallots
2 cloves of garlic

You’ll also need on hand for flavouring some light soy sauce, sugar, Chinese wine, and sesame oil. Spring onions are a nice addition as well.

Prepare necessary equipment for steaming. Ideally a large wok with a steamer attachment. Get the steam going over a high heat. Marinate your pork with a bit of soy sauce, Chinese wine and sesame oil. Finely dice up your onion and garlic and stir-fry it with the minced pork. Add a pinch of sugar to taste. You should decide how much you want to add. The pork should be savoury with a subtle sweetness. Spread the pork mixture into a heatproof bowl. Wash your salted duck eggs, and crack them open. You only want to keep the semi-hard yolks. Nestle these in the pork mixture, either whole or broken up in bits. Beat the eggs with a pair of chopsticks. Combine it with the stock. Add a pinch of salt to taste. When the mixture is well blended, strain it into the bowl with the pork and duck egg yolks. Steam the bowl over high heat for 5-10 minutes, then reduce to a low-medium flame/heat and steam for an additional 15-20 minutes. The custard should be wobbly and set, but not hard. Sprinkle some soy sauce and sesame oil over the finished custard as well as some chopped spring onions. Eat it with rice.

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When done right, the silky smooth custard mixed with the savouriness of the pork and the salted egg yolks forms an unbelievably delicious combination. It is, as I mentioned, a simple dish. The whole process, though, does take a bit of practice, especially calculating just the right timing for how set you want your custard. (Of course, figuring out steaming temperatures on your own kitchen range can be tricky for some.) Ideally, the best way to make this is to do what I’ve done. Convince a loved one to learn how to make it for you.