Friday Food Porn: The original carpaccio, from Harry’s Bar, Venice

Carpaccio from Harry's Bar in Venice

I love carpaccio, the raw beef “salad” that has become one of the must-have dishes on all Italian restaurant menus today. It’s actually hard to believe that the dish is only 62 years old; which makes it a baby compared to most of Italy’s equally famous dishes, most of whose recipes have been passed down from grandmother to daughter to granddaughter for generations. Carpaccio, unlike most of Italy’s most famous dishes, was invented in a restaurant. In one of my favourite restaurants in the world in fact — Harry’s Bar in Venice. Continue Reading →

Friday Food Porn: Crabmeat pasta from Il Lido, Singapore

crab pasta from il lido restaurant

A quick snapshot of a good friend tucking into a plate of some amazing linguine with fresh crab at Il Lido restaurant in Sentosa (Singapore). Il Lido’s always been a favourite of mine and my wife’s. Continue Reading →

Sweltering days: a Pinot Grigio and a Rosé to cool off with

Up and coming white wine, Pinot Grigio.

Ah, Summer. The season of dressing light, ditching the covered shoes and bringing out the flip-flops. Hit the beach and bake the skin to a crisp brown. This may sound great for most people in the world but when you’re actually here in the midst of drowning humidity between 80 to 90 per cent and combined with average temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius, it’s almost as if Singapore is a giant dim sum steamer. Continue Reading →

Risotto with Treviso radicchio

I don’t know about you, but after I come back from a place in which I’ve eaten really well, I’m often still craving the foods from that city or country for the following few weeks (if not longer). It doesn’t matter that I most likely overindulged (and that’s putting it mildly) while travelling. I just want to keep enjoying all the yummy local, seasonal dishes from those great places for as long as I can.

I know, on the flipside, some travellers experience food fatigue when overseas for too long. I remember, as a child, being dragged into Chinese restaurants in Europe by my own mother. “Enough!” She’d exclaim after going without Asian flavours for too long. A proper meal, in her mind, meant a meal centered around steamed white rice and a variety of savoury dishes. Cream sauces and big plates of one kind of meat just didn’t make sense to her.

My darling wife S and I, however, have the opposite problem. Inevitably, whenever we come back from a trip to Japan, we’ll spend the next 2-3 weeks recreating dishes and flavours, using both ingredients we’ve carted back as well as sourcing stuff locally. Similarly, since coming home from our pre-Christmas trip to Venice, we’ve been dipping into our various regional Italian cookbooks and been whipping up an endless parade of Venetian dishes, for ourselves and for friends.

One of the dishes we’ve really been enjoying is a simple risotto made with Treviso radicchio. (Keep reading)

Venice December 2009

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I don’t care how cliched it may be, or how overrun with tourists it can get, Venice is still (and probably always will be) one of my favourite cities in the world. Maybe it’s the lack of cars, the addictively delicious tramezzini that stare out at you from countless cafe windows, the couples smooching openly everywhere, the stunning Byzantine-influenced buildings and palazzos, the bellinis, or the simple silliness of walking around and getting lost in the city’s labyrinth-like streets… I don’t know. I love being in Venice. Love being there for the craziness of the Biennale, with the hot sun pounding down and the glitterati of the art world fussing over themselves at exhibitions during the day and madcap parties come dark. Love being there at winter when, for once, the locals outnumber the tourists and cold winds batter at you ceaselessly. It’s a city of romance and splendor, and if you look hard enough, gastronomy.

My vicacious wife S and I, and several friends, spent a good part of last week in La Serenissima. We were there to attend the wedding of some very close friends. Of course, I also made sure that we planned a long enough break so that we could visit some of my favourite eating haunts and shops. I had a good reason for this. While I’ve been to Venice probably a half dozen times in the last decade or so, S has only been once, way back in 2000. I had brought her there in December 2000 in order to propose to her. We arrived on 26 December, got engaged just outside of Saint Mark’s Square, and saw in the new year there. But we didn’t eat well. In fact, except for a meal at Harry’s Bar, all of our other meals were less than memorable. Back then, I didn’t know Venice well. And my previous trips to the city were as a backpacker, when eating at good restaurants wasn’t really a priority. Since then, despite my insistence that there is great food to be found in Venice, and my postings on this blog, S has always been a tad skeptical. With this recent trip, I was determined to convince her that Venice has great food. (Keep reading)

Buon Ricordo, Sydney

There are a small handful of dishes, cooked by an equally small number of amazing chefs, that I’d travel for. At the top of my list is Chef Armando Percuoco‘s fettuccine al tartufovo. Chef Armando’s fettucine with cream and parmesan, topped with a fried truffle egg, and tossed at your table, is one of those life-altering dishes. To me, it might just be the best pasta dish I’ve ever had, anywhere in the world. This ridiculously simple yet rich and oh so delicious plate of food is, quite simply, worth flying all the way to Sydney for.

Of course, there are many other gustatory reasons to go to Sydney–like Kylie’s duck, Tets’ ocean trout, Bill’s scrambled eggs, Peter Gilmore’s Sea Pearls, or this week the Sydney International Food Festival’s World Chef Showcase. But none (to me) are as addictively appealing as Armando’s truffled egg pasta. I’ve actually written about this heavenly plate of food back in 2005; in fact, it was my 10th post. But that was just a little reminiscent musing. This weekend, thanks to Tourism Australia, Tourism New South Wales and the Food Festival bringing me in for a little song and dance on stage, I’m getting the chance to revisit some favourite restaurants, as well as try a few new ones. Of course, the first place I ran to, within hours of landing on the ground, was Buon Ricordo. (Keep reading)

Forlino Fabulous

Some restaurants, when they first open, need time to mature. Too often, restaurants open before they’re actually ready for public scrutiny. The food disappoints. The service is slow and inefficient. Sometimes, even the decor isn’t properly finished. But when an experienced, successful and talented restaurateur decides to open a new signature restaurant, chances are high that he will make darned sure that before his first paying customer ever steps foot into his new place, every single detail would be perfect.

Such is the case with Forlino, the new stunning Italian restaurant opened by Beppe de Vito and Chef Osvaldo Forlino. My always hungry wife S and I had the great pleasure of dining at Forlino on opening night and, well, quite simply, we were blown away. Forlino is stunning. It is easily one of the sexiest and chicest looking restaurants in Singapore. The floors are clad in a classic, polished black and white diamond-shaped pattern. The wood-panelled and ornately decorated walls are a warm bluish-grey. The furniture is rich and elegant. The overall space exudes power, sensuality and elegance, a rare thing for restaurants here today. (Keep reading)

An itty-bitty Venice guide

I know I promised to write about the amazing tonkotsu ramen I had in Fukuoka, and I will get to that within the next few posts, but I thought It would be fun to share something that I had created for a friend with all of you.

A really good buddy of mine told me a couple months ago that she and her husband’s family were going to be heading to Italy this Spring for an extended vacation. One of their stops was going to be Venice, which long-time readers will know is one of my all-time favourite cities in the world (seriously, top 5). She asked me to email her a list of recommendations. More specifically, she asked me, if I only had a couple days, which restaurants would I visit?

The answers, to me, were pretty clear. Emailing her a simple list would be easy. But I wanted to create something that she and her husband could slip into their pockets and carry with them as they travelled through La Serenissima. So, late one night, while watching TV, I spent a couple of hours fiddling away on Adobe InDesign and cobbled together an itty-bitty — well, technically it’s A7 — dining guide to Venice.

The guide should be printed on a sheet of A4 paper. You’ll need to print on both sides of the same sheet; there are instructions on how to feed the paper into your printer so that the alignment is correct. There are also some instructions on how to fold the paper up so that the guide reads properly.

Anyway, I’ve uploaded the guide to my server. You can download it here at http://chubbyhubby.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/venicedining.pdf. I had fun putting this together. And I was really stoked that my friend liked it. I hope you guys do to.

La Strada, new interiors, new beginnings

There are some restaurants that, no matter how good the food is, just don’t work. You might attribute their lack of success to bad feng shui, a case of ugly interior design, poor service, a less than desirable location, too much nearby competition, or a number of other reasons. Unfortunately, way too often, when a new restaurant is suffering, its owners don’t have the vision or experience to nip the problems in the bud, i.e. move in decisively to make smart changes that will put the restaurant on the path to profitability.

When Singapore’s well-known Les Amis restaurant group first opened La Strada a year ago, the group had high hopes. The restaurant offered two dining options in one location, a casual pizzeria and a fine-dining Italian. The food, I have to admit, was good but I never liked the space. The fine-dining area looked like a high school theatre set, i.e. slightly exaggerated and very temporary. And given the prices of the food, I couldn’t justify paying for a not-that-cheap meal in a space that just simply wasn’t appealing. As it turns out, I probably wasn’t the only patron who felt this way. The restaurant simply did not do well.

In May this year, the restaurant closed its doors in order to recreate itself. Re-opening on 12 June 2007, the new La Strada is a chic, hip, trattoria that serves good, modern Italian dishes. The new space is modern and cool. It’s neither too stuffy nor too casual. It looks like the kind of well-designed space that you’d head to with friends and colleagues for a fun lunch or dinner. There’s a small al fresco area that is surprisingly breezy and a private room if you want to host a special meal or a business dinner. On the menu, there’s a well-rounded selection of starters, pizzas, pastas, main courses and some delicious desserts to choose from. Since La Strada has re-opened, it’s been buzzing. Every time S and I have been, it’s been pretty much full, proving that sometimes what a restaurant looks like is as important as the food being served — which is something way too many local restaurateurs often forget.

As said, the food is very good. Chef Leandro Panza, a young Aussie-Italian, has a deft hand at creating hearty yet refined classics. Dishes that we recommend include Chef Panza’s fritto misto, 4 perfectly battered and fried pieces of seafood, plated elegantly with some warm saffron mayo, capers and herb salsa; his quail and foie gras raviolo, which is served with chanterelle mushrooms and roasting jus; the pappardelle with asparagus, avruga and grated egg yolk, and served with a parmesan beurre blanc; and the coral trout baked in a coal fire oven with clams, potatoes and cherry tomatoes. My current favourite dish on the menu, though, is the homemade spaghetti carbonara (pictured above), which Chef Panza makes with truffle butter, Spanish ham and a soft-boiled egg. It’s a deliciously elegant yet sinfully rich dish which I’d be more than happy to have weekly (if S would let me, that is). S’s fave, on the other hand, is typically feminine; she loves the French baby spring chicken, which is marinated then char-grilled and served with some salad. I have to admit that the chicken is delicious but the overall dish is a tad too healthy for me.

Finally, Chef Panza’s desserts are really good. I had heard great things about his opera style chocolate and salty peanut caramel with chocolate feuillitine dessert, which is served with a milk sorbet (pictured above). And I was thrilled that it more than lived up to its hype. In fact, I’ve now had this dessert 3 times in the past 2 weeks and am already planning my next visit to have it again; it’s that good! Also good is Chef Panza’s Italian doughnuts filled with orange curd and served with warm chocolate sauce. (The flavours also reminded S and me a little of the doughnut dish that S created for last year’s New Year’s Eve dinner.) The peach and almond tarte served with truffle honey ice-cream is good also. The pastry could be a bit thinner and more delicate, but the ice cream was heavenly.

The new and very much improved La Strada is a nice addition to the Singapore dining scene. It’s nice that the restaurant seems to not only have found its feet, but is sprinting ahead of many of its competitors.

LA STRADA
1 Scotts Road,
Shaw Centre 02-10/11
Singapore
Tel: 6737-2555

Fave recipes: Squid Ink Risotto

risottosquid.jpg

In a recent post, I mentioned that my darlin’ wife S and I have a pretty big collection of cookbooks. And while some books are rarely used, there are others that have become well-worn kitchen companions. We all have favourite recipes and favourite cookbooks that we turn to first when looking for something to make for friends, loved ones or even if we’re just cooking for ourselves. Over time, these books become worn out, their pages over-thumbed, occasionally dog-eared, and often speckled with sauces; their spines cracked and their jackets frayed and wrinkled. Books that we use the most will open to our favourite recipes when flipped open on a desk. If the recipe is one that S particularly likes, chances are that it will be annotated (in pencil) with her own notes and conversions. If the recipe is one that I gravitate to regularly, while I’ll keep the book open while cooking, chances are I’ll deviate from the specified amounts or instructions a fair bit.

While both S and I have common favourite foods, i.e. dishes we both love to eat, we enjoy cooking pretty different things. If we were to list the recipes–and the cookbooks they’re from–that we’ve come to love making the most, those lists would be completely different.

One of my all-time favourite cookbooks is The Harry’s Bar Cookbook. It was one of the first cookbooks I ever bought. I picked it up when I was in university, after having been taken by some of my parents’ friends to dine at Harry Cipriani in New York. (Back then, this small but ultra-chic Fifth Avenue restaurant was Cipriani’s only outlet in the Big Apple; today, they have five branches.) After just one visit, I was hooked. I loved everything about the restaurant, its signature Bellini cocktail; its excellent and efficient service; its dignified air; and most of all its delicious, traditional but elegant cuisine. The Harry’s Bar Cookbook was the third cookbook I had ever purchased for myself. And over the years, it has remained one of my favourite and most trusted resources for great recipes.

One recipe in particular that I love to both make and eat is squid ink risotto with squid. To prepare this traditional Venetian dish, you have to first make a batch of squid cooked with squid ink. For this, I use Cipriani’s recipe, which is pretty much faultless. The resulting squid is tender, savory and truly delicious. You can eat this over some polenta but I prefer it mixed into risotto. The finished risotto is gorgeously dark and deliciously comforting. More importantly, it’s the kind of dish that you can make over and over again, for yourself or for friends, without ever tiring of it.

Squid Ink Risotto with Squid
serves 8-10 small portions

Risotto
1 small onion, diced finely
300g arborio or carnaroli rice
1.25 litres chicken stock (preferably home-made), heated
1 batch of the squid cooked in squid ink
45g unsalted butter
20ml vermouth or dry white wine
110g grated Parmesan
salt and pepper

Squid cooked in Squid Ink
675g cleaned squid
100ml olive oil
1 large celery rib, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
4 plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
400ml dry white wine
125g finely chopped fresh herbs (basil, parsely, oregano and thyme)
salt and pepper
3 sachets of squid ink (approximately 12g worth of ink)

For the squid (adapted from The Harry’s Bar Cookbook): Cut the cleaned squid into small pieces, roughly 2/3 cm each. Set aside. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the celery, onion, and garlic, and cook until soft and golden but not browned. Add the tomatoes and cook for about 3 minutes. Turn the heat to high and add the squid. Stir the squid, cooking it evenly for a few minutes. Then add the wine and herbs and bring the liquid to the boil. Turn down the heat. Add the ink from the sachets, season with salt and pepper to taste and cook over low heat, partially covered, until the squid is soft and tender. This should take about 90 minutes. Stir occasionally.

For the risotto: Cut 20g of the butter into small cubes and keep chilled in the fridge. In a wide or deep pan, heat the rest of the butter over medium heat. When foaming, add the diced onion and cook until soft but not browned. Add the rice, stirring it for a minute or two until lightly toasted but also not colored. Then add the vermouth or dry white wine, stirring continuously. Turn the heat to low and then add one ladleful of the stock. Stir constantly. When the liquid has been absorbed, add another ladleful of stock, then add the squid that you made earlier. Cook until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Then add another ladleful of stock. Continue to cook this way, adding stock whenever the liquid has been absorbed. When the rice is soft but al dente, and the liquid has been absorbed, turn off the heat. Then quickly beat/stir the chilled, cubed butter into the rice (preferably with a wooden spoon). Then beat/stir the grated parmesan into the risotto. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve hot.

Tagliatelle al ragù alla Bolognese

bolognese.jpg

What do you cook when the person you delight in sharing the pleasures of the table with most isn’t with you? Sardines on toast, baked beans on toast, cheese on toast—you get the idea. I actually lose my appetite when CH isn’t around. The only thing that inspires me to get into the kitchen when he’s away is the prospect of cooking the meals that we will share when he returns. This accounts for the supply of duck leg confit, pork prime rib and Italian sausage stew, and home made stocks crowding our refrigerator and freezer right now. This past week, I had a craving for home made pasta, but going through all that trouble for just one person didn’t make sense given that I was also juggling a bunch of projects at work.

Nonetheless, the prospect of having home made pasta some time in the near future kept me going. I decided to attempt Giuliano Bugialli’s tagliatelle al ragù alla Bolognese because I love tomato-based pasta sauces, but CH doesn’t (he prefers his sauces cream-laden). Bugialli’s ragù offers a happy marriage of both. It also reminds me of a similar sauce the original chefs at La Smorfia on Purvis Street served in their seafood spaghetti when they first opened (sadly, this great restaurant is now long gone). It also gave me the opportunity to pull out my new KitchenAid meat grinder for a spin. It is truly easy to use as long as you remember to cut the meat into long strips that will fit easily into the feeding chute. Semi-freezing the meat makes it easier to cut into strips and freezing the strips after that also makes grinding them easier.

It took significantly longer to prepare this dish than the spaghetti Bolognese I used to make as a university student (back then, my taste preferences were limited to Dolmio’s), but I must declare that it was well worth the effort. The blend of ground bacon (it was easier to find than pancetta and prosciutto), pork and beef provided a tasty mix of richness, smokiness and subtle meatiness. The long, slow-cooking made it tender and moist. And the inclusion of stock and cream tempered some of the astringency (if one can describe it as that) of the tomatoes in the sauce. In all, it tasted like an enthusiastic welcome home to me. I hope CH thinks so too! (He’s actually standing behind me, reading this over my shoulder, nodding vigorously; he had some for lunch today and he said it was “awesome!”)