Monday, December 15, 2014

Mamak

After all this time, I've only just got around to eating at Mamak. I remember the hype surrounding the restaurant when it first opened, and the corresponding lines, and I shudder just thinking about it. The experience was much more pleasant now that it's no longer the darling of the Melbourne dining scene (especially with the massive expansion of Pappa Rich everywhere).

I arrived there for an early 6pm dinner with a friend and were promptly seated. The restaurant was relatively empty and fairly spacious, although the tables were smaller than I was entirely comfortable with (I need space to make a mess after all!) but not a-typical of an inner city restaurant. The menu is very Malaysian and very manageable - just what I wanted.

On to the food. I couldn't dine at a Malaysian restaurant and not order some Roti.

Roti Canai
The Roti was perfectly flaky and I had great fun feeling the layers off the roti ball. The curries were pretty uninteresting being both thin in texture and flavour, but luckily I'd ordered some additional curry in anticipation.

Kari Kambing
The lamb curry was rich and tender, with the faintest hint of spice (rather than what I'd call 'spicy'). I miss Australian lamb (the lamb in the USA isn't as flavoursome, tender or as abundant) and was incredibly happy with my order. In hindsight, I should have ordered more roti to soak up the juices.

Rojak
My friend ordered the Rojak, a Malaysian-style salad with prawn and coconut fritters, fried tofu, hard-boiled eggs, yambean (jicama) and cucumbers and the requisite peanut sauce. I've never been particularly fond of Malaysian-style salads, but my friend demolished it in record time, which suggests that they liked it a lot.

The food was delicious (especially the roti), prices were reasonable and the service was fast. The nly blip was the confusion of whether iced black coffee should or shouldn't contain milk (some things just get lost in translation). I can understand the attention Mamak garnered when it opened was mostly worth it, but I think the lack of lines certainly makes for a more enjoyable dining experience.

Mamak
366 Lonsdale St, Melbourne
Sun-Thu 1130am-230pm, 530-10pm
Fri-Sat 1130am-230pm, 530pm-12am

Mamak on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Healthy Fruit Cake


Oh my what a busy few months it's been. Oh my what a long time since I last posted! With a trip back to Australia just around the corner, I've been inspired to make more of an effort on this dear blog. 

What better way to revive the blog, and oneself, this time of year than with a fruit cake. Growing up, I was never a fan of fruitcakes; I found them all too sweet, all too dense and all too boring. A few years ago, I stumbled upon a recipe by Teresa Cutter than was neither too sweet, nor too dense, and definitely not boring. 

Last time I made this, I had to make a few adjustments because 1) I didn't have exactly the right ingredients and 2) I felt like adding my own ingredients. It still worked out superbly. 

First in the bowl is a medley of dried fruits: I used apricots, dates, raisins, goji berries (a Chinese herb/fruit) and longans (another Chinese herb/fruit which I absolutely love). 

Variety of dried fruits
To this we add eggs (fresh from the chickens in the backyard in this case), with a whole orange and Christmas-sy spices (nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon and cloves). I snuck in a little bit of liquor here, but I won't tell if you don't. There's double the amount of eggs called for by the recipe in the photo because I made a double batch.

Eggs
Some flour/nut meal of your choice - I used freshly ground almond meal here which resulted in a coarser than usual texture. 

Almond Meal
Mix it all together...

Fruit Cake Mix
...then prepare for baking!

Fruit Cakes Ready to be Baked


Healthy Fruit Cake
Adapted from Teresa Cutter

Gluten-free

Ingredients:

  • 650g dried fruits 
  • 1 whole orange, peeled
  • 3 free range eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract/paste
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 100g flour or nut-meal
  • 120g melted butter or oil
  • 80g nuts (optional) 
Method:
  1. Preheat oven to 150 C.
  2. Combine dried fruits in a large mixing bowl.
  3. Crack eggs into a blender and add the peeled orange, vanilla, nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon and cloves. Blend until smooth and combined.
  4. Pour the liquid mix over the top of the dried fruits and add melted butter/oil. Mix in well.
  5. Add flour/nut-meal and mix through. Optionally add nuts to the mix. 
  6. Line a 18 cm ( 7 1/2 inch ) baking tin with baking paper.
  7. Spoon in the cake mix and flatten over the top. 
  8. Bake for 1 hour and 20 minutes or until cake is cooked through.
  9. Remove from the oven and cool.

Healthy Fruit Cake


Friday, October 17, 2014

Villagio

You know that moment when you're stuck in a mall, and can't find anything other than fast food? Yeah, I hate that and avoid it at all costs. So what I end up doing is organising any essential mall trips (and by essential, I mean there's stuff I need, but don't know where to get it from) around meal times. 

As was the case last Sunday, I organised to meet up with a few friends for lunch, then tackle the shopping list. For convenience sake, we ended up at a mall restaurant that was relatively well reviewed on Yelp, Villagio, that's tucked into a corner of the upper level of Fashion Outlets of Chicago. 

It's fairly obvious that the restaurant is part of the mall, but if you choose an inner table, it definitely doesn't feel quite so much like a food court.

The best thing by far at the restaurant was the bread baskets.

Bread
Not satisfied with just giving out slices of crusty, warm bread, they're also generous enough to provide flat bread with a delightful, vinegar and tomato-centric bruschetta topping. If you do happen to devour the basket and plate like we did, then they're happy to provide you with more. 

The menu is extensive and focuses on Italian cuisine. There are cold platters, warm appetizers, salads and soups kick the meal off, followed by the usual pasta, pizza and Italian-style meat mains like Parmigiana and Scaloppini, and paninis.

Seeing as I'd gorged  myself on the bread, I ended up ordering a seafood soup.

Zuppa Mare e Monti
With mixed fish, rice, calamari, shrimp, clam broth, tomato and zucchini, it really is a throw-whatever-you-can-find-into-the-pot kind of soup. While warming and flavoursome (the seafood and tomato combination just works), I was hoping that it would both be thicker in texture and larger in size. 

The dishes enjoyed by my companions were much more substantial:

Pizza Pepperoni
Linguine Nettuno
I  tried neither of the pizza or pasta dishes but what struck me most as they came out where how big the servings are. This is America after all, so I shouldn't be surprised. 

The pizza base was unfortunately soggy, but apart from that, both companions seemed to enjoy their meal enough. Both ended up with take-home boxes of food.

Dessert was somewhat disappointing.

Tiramisu
While pretty enough to look at, the tiramisu was heavy on both liquor and cream, and lacking in substance and interesting flavours. What a shame in my eyes, because tiramisu isn't really that hard to get right.

Villagio does decent food for a decent price. Given its location in a food court, it certainly stands a class above the other options. The service was friendly, although somewhat haphazard (requests were frequently forgotten) and that seemed to be due to the inexperience of some of the servers. Regardless, we came out with our bellies full and happier than if we had eaten at the food court so I'd definitely recommend Villagio if you're in the mall. I'd skip dessert though. 

Villagio
Fashion Outlets of Chicago
5220 Fashion Outlets Way, Rosemont, IL
Mon-Sun 1130am-11pm


Villagio on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Penang Malaysian Cuisine

Ever since moving to the USA, I've been struggling to find decent Malaysian cuisine. Coming from Melbourne, Australia, we have so many choices for cheap, cheerful and quality south-east Asian food that the dearth of anything that isn't generically just 'Asian' is somewhat depressing.

Luckily, after moving to the Chicago area, a friend introduced us to Penang Malaysian Cuisine.

The menu still reads slightly like a mish-mash of various cuisines, but given that Malaysian cuisine really is from a melting pot of different cultures I can forgive that. The dishes themselves also have the punch you'd expect, with customisable levels of spiciness to suit your taste.

I didn't take any photos from my first visit, but for the record the roti was perfectly oily and flaky. The wonton-mee was decent with plenty of juicy wontons and a mass of egg noodles in a heart-warming soup and was certainly better than any I've had recently, although not quite as satisfying as one from a street-side noodle shop in Hong Kong.

On my return visit however, we explored the menu a little more and were certainly rewarded for our efforts.

The highlight was the Curry Lamb Shank.

Curry Lamb Shank
A lamb shank cooked slowly in a coconut broth until it was melt-off the bone tender, the flavours of the dish were vibrant and absolutely spot on. The spiciness could have been greater for a chilli-lover like myself, but it was rich and satisfying.

Equally satisfying, although not 'quite' as impressive was the Curry Mee.

Curry Mee
The cooler weather really has brought out my noodle soup cravings, and what better way to warm up than with a slightly spicy and coconut-ty curry mee. Once again, with a generous amount of chicken and prawn, this was a delicious dish. 

After the richness of the first two dishes, we attempted to balance things out with an order of Clay Pot Seafood and Tofu.

Claypot Seafood & Tofu
My only annoyance at this dish were that the pieces of tofu we too large compared to the other elements of the dish. Otherwise it was a reasonably seasoned with a dash of soy sauce, made with ingredients that were fresh enough (although obviously not straight from the farmer's market or sea) and healthy enough to assuage the guilt. 

Overall we had a great time at Penang Malaysian Cuisine. The decor is nothing to rave about, but the servers are friendly and the food comes out quickly. For the price and especially for the food, it really is a great local restaurant. I'm definitely coming back again anytime the craving for authentic(ish) Malaysian food hits.

Penang Malaysian Cuisine
1720 W Algonquin Rd, Arlington Heights, IL 60005
Mon-Thu 11am-3pm, 430pm-10pm, Fri-Sat 11am-11pm, Sun 11am-9pm

Penang on Urbanspoon

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Update - September

Just a quick note to let you know I'm still alive. Between the move to Illinois and a hectic work travel schedule, I haven't really had a chance/motivation to blog. I have been keeping myself entertained making new (to me) recipes, but there's been no recipe development what-so-ever unless you count throwing random ingredients from the fridge and/or pantry in a bowl and calling it lunch 'development'.

Dublin

Dublin

Dublin

No-Knead Bread

Braised Duck



Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Krimper Cafe

You know when I said the my last post was final entry in my Melbourne series? Well, I lied. Not deliberately of course, but there was one more review hiding in my drafts.

It's a cliche, but one of things I miss most about Melbourne is the coffee culture. The little laneways, the hidden cafes, the great waft of fresh coffee as you walk through a heavy wooden door into a warehouse-like space. Sound familiar? This description could apply to every second cafe in Melbourne but that doesn't stop it from being impressive/comforting never the less.

Krimper Cafe
The menu is of course very different now to when I dined there with some wonderful friends, but at least one things stays the same: the coffee.


Espresso
A delicious roast by Proud Mary. You just don't get that type of coffee here in the States!

The lunch options on the day we dined there were varied and could easily be classified as modern-comfort food. Taking a quick look at the current menu, at least that theme hasn't changed with hearty sandwiches, a duck-meat shephard's pie, green risotto and winter salad on offer.

We dined on a glorious rendition of salmon and eggs:

Salmon & Eggs
Crispy skinned salmon that was lightly seasoned, fresh greens, sweet grilled cherry tomatoes, a slice of potato (because you always need some sort of 'hash brown'), pickled onions and of course, a crumbed egg.

Yolk, Glorious Yolk
Not quite as perfect as a Scotch Egg (because meat mince makes it inevitably better) but delicious anyway. Look at the runny yolk and try to not be seduced by it. Well, younger me would have hated it but I was much picker in my teenage years after all. 

Also ordered was a board special (so you'll have to excuse my memory) featuring duck. 

Duck Dish
You can see that it's slightly pink, and I did find that the meat was slightly on the tough side, but where else can you get a generous serving of duck for <$25? Well, I could never go past half a roast duck from Chinatown but this is a little bit classier and had a much more refined taste. The salad was a refreshing counterpoint to the oiliness of the meat as well. 

Krimper is one of those cafes I could see being a regular haunt if I worked in the Melbourne CBD. With an interesting variety of dishes, friendly staff,  funky atmosphere and most importantly, great coffee, it's got a lot going for it. The location is a little hard to track down, but once you've found it, it's definitely worth a return trip. 

Krimper Cafe
20 Guildford Ln, Melbourne
Mon-Fri 7am-5pm, Sat-Sun 8am-4pm

Krimper on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Lake Chalet Seafood Bar & Grill

It feels like every week I'm in another place, and something always gets in the way of blog posts. So after trips to Australia, Brazil, the UK and a semi-permanent move to Illinois, I'm finally getting around to blogging about a celebratory Sunday brunch in April. Yes, four months ago.

Given the new circumstances as well, there's likely to be a bunch more cooking rather than restaurant reviews appearing in the blog which is both good (hooray practical) and bad (less impressive food). Without further ado though, let's recap a fun meal at the Lake Chalet Seafood Bar & Grill in sunny Oakland, CA.

Firstly, what a location right by/on Lake Merritt. No photos unfortunately, but ask for a table by the window for full effect. When we arrived for our reservation, we were promptly seated in a quiet two person table along one side of the restaurant, and settled in with a glass of sparkling while we peruse the menu.

On to the food. As the name suggests, there's a focus on seafood dishes. There are also non-seafood options for those that prefer steak, pasta, burgers or chicken.

Smoked Salmon Deviled Eggs
Before getting into the taste of these, can I just say I love the presentation. I'm not sure I've ever seen seaweed as a purely decorative accent and even though the deviled eggs had nothing to do with the sea, it was still a fun dish to have arrive at the table. The eggs themselves were nothing to rave about although I did like the 'pop' of the roe. A restaurant meal is about taste and presentation, so this comes dish out about even.

Local Rock Cod Ceviche Verde
The cerviche was a much more interesting starter. With green herbs, shaved radish & cucumber, avocado, jalapeno and a bucket load of lime, this definitely delivered a kick of flavour. Unfortunately, the textures clashed and the tortillas were a little dry, so this dish still wasn't a winner.

The mains were fortunately an improvement on the starters.

Organic Chicken with Spring Asparagus & Truffles
I love truffles, so that probably biases my judgement of this dish but luxury ingredients aside, I thought this was a good dish; the chicken was tender and slightly sweet, and the asparagus was crisp and fresh. A great interpretation of spring in my opinion. Such a pity that spring was so long ago, and autumn is slowly creeping up.

Pan Roasted King Salmon
The salmon with clams had both good and bad; the shellfish-based broth was well flavoured, with an enjoyable kick of curry chilli, but the salmon was unfortunately dry. Once again, it was a decent dish, but nothing spectacular.

Bread Pudding with Lemon Sorbet
To end on a sweet note, we shared a bread pudding with lemon sorbet; a mix of indulgence and refreshment and which was definitely satisfying. Something to replicate at home perhaps?

Overall we had an enjoyable meal; the atmosphere was lively with beautiful views, with great service, but the food was only average. Nothing great, and nothing terrible. So if you're just after a fun meal at a reasonable price without caring too much about top-tier dishes, then the Lake Chalet is a decent option.

Lake Chalet Seafood Bar & Grill
1520 Lakeside Dr, Oakland
Mon-Thu 11am-10pm, Fri 11am-11pm, Sat 10am-11pm, Sun 10am-10pm

Lake Chalet Seafood Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon