Friday, November 19, 2010

This blog takes a short break...

I will be back in early December, hopefully with some interesting food stories from down-under.

佛跳墙 in Sekinchan

We were having dinner with some relatives one day when the conversation drifted to (Buddha-jump-over-the-wall), a popular and expensive soup made from quality Chinese delicacies. Ah Seong enthusiastically told us about this place in Sekinchan that serves reasonably priced and good and offered to take us there. Why not? I had never tasted genuine and this was a great opportunity to blog about it too.

So off we went for lunch that Sunday. We drove in 2 cars. Sekinchan is a coastal fishing town in northern Selangor. We drove along the coastal road, passed Sungei Buloh, Kuala Selangor and Tanjong Karang, and finally reached Sekinchan after about 2 hours. At Sekinchan, we made a left turn and we were soon at the restaurant. The name of the restaurant is Guan Seng Long. It is located along Jalan Bagan. The co-ordinates are N3 30.325' E101 05.975'.

The place was rather quiet when we reached there. We were early and the workers were still having their meal and were apparently unprepared for us. We were the first customers of the day.  

We took our time to settle down. A table was efficiently prepared for us. Soon the food that Seong had pre-ordered the day before, started to arrive.

The first on our table were individual bowls of 佛跳墙 (BJOTW). They were quite large bowls. Before we even opened the lids, the emanated aroma was tantalizing. Opening the lid, the soup was clear and rich. It was so very sweet and genuine. In it were pieces of chicken, abalone, sharf-fin, conpoy (dried scallops 乾瑤柱), fish maw, mushroom, and I know what else. The 佛跳墙 absolutely did not disappoint. It was better than I had expected. We took our time to savor every spoon of it.

After the soup, a combination dish of 5 varieties was served. In the dish were dim sum, sharf-fin omelet, fish patties, deep fried mussels and a yam pot. The servings were not as refined as those we find in KL or PJ, but the portions were generous and the taste was very good. We enjoyed the various food items. 

The steamed prawn was another delightful dish. The prawn were of good size and were very fresh. They were steamed in a nice sauce and some egg white. They were delicious.

Like the prawns, the pomfrets were very fresh. They were plainly steamed in a light soy sauce. I enjoyed the freshness of the fish, something that is so difficult to find in KL and PJ restaurants.

In the midst of all the wonderful dishes, the fried rice initially appeared rather ordinary and even out of place. But it was not to be so. The rice was very well done indeed. It had some small shrimps and bits of vegetable and it was delicious. We cleaned up the plate.

The last dish was the crabs. By then, I was stuffed. The crab was prepared "kam heong" (金香) style. As expected, the crabs were very fresh. I managed to accommodate 2 pieces of the crabs in my full stomach. And they were delicious. Yum.

The dessert was one of a kind. It was the Teochew oo-ni (芋泥 - a yam paste) inside a pumpkin with some gingko. The oo-ni in the pumpkin was steamed for a prolonged period of time. Before serving, the yam paste was mixed with the soft pumpkin inside and it formed a most delicious dessert. It was smooth, sweet and very pleasant to the mouth. I have never seen oo-ni cooked like this. Absolutely fabulous.

What a meal! I seldom indulge like this for lunch. The 佛跳墙 (BJOTW) and the freshness of the seafood made the 2 hours drive to Sekinchan all worthwhile. But it was not cheap. Our thanks to Seong and wife Sharon.

After the makan, we strode across the road to buy some fresh fish. Apparently the boats return from sea at about 2pm. There was a "shop" selling the catches. But the selection was not many. Still I managed to buy some pomfrets and a nice grouper. They were comparatively cheap. And you won't get fish fresher than these. Unless you catch them yourself.

It was a good Sunday outing. Good food and fresh fish. We are already planning our next.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Teluk Intan failure

I came across this eatery in The Star food review article on their Metro section. It was about a small restaurant established by somebody from Teluk Intan, apparently serving "specialties" from that small Perak town.  The town used to be known as Teluk Anson (安顺), and is still fondly referred to as TA. Many years ago, the authorities restored it to its earliest name, but removed the Mak from the original Teluk Mak Intan.

Teluk Intan is my home town and in all my years growing up there, I was not aware of it being famous for any "specialty" food except the chee cheong fun (猪肠粉). Still I was curious and without wasting much time, I gathered my kins and we were there the very same weekend after the newspaper article to find out what the place was all about. The name of the restaurant is rather unusual - Anson Food Company. It is situated on Jalan 17/10 in PJ. It is a "remote" part of Section 17 where there are only three short rows of shops and which many PJ folks may not even know exist.

The place was spartan in decor and furnishing. It was gray walls, cement floor, plastic chairs and likewise table tops. It was devoid of niceties and decorations. Still it was doing a good business, possibly the immediate aftermath of the newspaper article.

The menu was impressive with a good variety of selections and was beautifully illustrated. Perhaps they were a little over-ambitious, attempting to serve too many dishes that they somehow could not cope.

We took a bit of time going thru the menu. The dished looked very good in pictures. We made our selections and then waited, and waited. Nothing came to our table. No fork, no spoon, no plate, nothing. Not even our drinks. We had to remind the waiter a couple of times before the drinks finally came and only after the food was served. No, we didn't asked for any hard-to-prepare drinks - just plain water and Chinese tea.

After the arrival of the food, we asked for some chili. The waiter muttered that they didn't have any but he would look for it. He later came out with a small plate of pickled green chili. No, we said, we wanted chili padi or red chili. No sir, they didn't have any other chili. No chili in a Malaysian restaurant - to me it is a cardinal failure.

The first dish to arrive was the tofu in "Anson special sauce". The tofu was most ordinary and we did not find anything special about the sauce - certainly not in taste.

We had asked for their crispy duck which I read was apparently their signature dish. But the waiter returned to tell us that it was sold out. OK, we converted our order to the Anson braised duck. It looked very unappetizing. I did not taste any flavor of duck meat at all.

So was the soya sauce chicken. When both the dishes were on the table, we could not tell which was the chicken and which was the duck. They tasted the same. The chicken did not look at all like how it was presented in the menu. The actual dish was like this...

... while the picture in the menu looked like thus. We had to ask the waiter if he gave us the right chicken. He confirmed that ours was indeed the soya sauce chicken.

The Hakka pork belly and yam was perhaps the most palatable dish that evening. It was flavorful but the meat was too fatty for us.

The sambal-stuffed fish was rather dry and did not have enough sambal in them. There was no sambal kick. Our daughter was not even aware that is was sambal-stuffed. She thought they were ordinary fried mackerel.

Our last order was the plain kai lan (芥蘭). It was so ordinary. Really nothing to write about.

Towards the end of our meal, the waiter brought us a dish of vinegar pork knuckles (猪脚醋) - compliment of the house. I wondered why they needed to compliment us. I was not sure if they did the same for other tables. The waiter also asked us if everything was satisfactory. Perhaps it was because I went around taking pictures of the restaurant, and of the the dishes. With the recent The Star article, perhaps they thought I was another pressman also doing an article of the place.

Anyway, the vinegar pork knuckle was not good. It was mostly bones. Whatever meat in the dish was soft and mushy. Looked like it had been cooked and re-cooked for many days.

All in all, it was a most unsatisfactory meal. The bill was even more so. The duck was RM26. The chicken was RM25. The Chinese tea (not refillable) was RM2 per cup. Far too expensive for a place like that.

There was nothing positive that I can write about this makan place - not the ambiance, not the service, not the price, and certainly not the food. To me, this was one big home town failure.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Tenji Japanese buffet

It was our daughter's 19th birthday dinner. Being an ardent enthusiast of all things Japanese, she opted for a Japanese buffet at Tenji. This buffet restaurant is located at the Soho KL shopping complex at Jalan Solaris, Mont Kiara, KL. We checked their website for a contact to make a reservation. They had an unique SMS reservation system and we were supposed to make our reservation 3 days in advance. What utter 3-days-advance nonsense! Regardless, I texted them (per a set format in their website) the night before our dinner and still received a confirmation of our reservation.

I had no idea where Soho KL was. Never been to the place. Armed with my brand new Garmin, we soon reached a big impressive shopping complex that I didn't even know existed. Up a flight of escalator, and we were at the entrance of Tenji.

The entrance was indeed impressive. A guy at the counter checked our reservation. He then collected the money from us before we were allowed into the dining hall. It was not cheap - RM88++ per pax. Fortunately I had a Public Bank credit card. For that we were entitled to a 30% discount.

We walked through a passage leading to the dinning hall. It was another impressive sight. The decor and lighting were very pleasant. The passage overlooked down a busy highway. There were food stalls along the way.

Entering the dining hall, we were a little awe stricken. The place was really big and it was crowded. There were food counters all over the place. We couldn't locate our table and a waiter showed us to a nice cosy corner away from the crowd.

Settling down, we proceeded to explore the food counters. There were many of them, serving not just Japanese but Chinese, western and local foods. Below are visuals of the various stalls and the food they offered. The quality of some pictures were not very good. I took them without the use of flash to avoid inconveniencing other diners and food servers.

The displays were splendid. But our hype and enthusiasm soon faded when we got down to the actual eating.

The fresh oysters were the natural first choice. I love them. But I was uncertain on their freshness. I could not say that they were unfresh, yet I did not really taste the same freshness as some raw oysters I had before. In any case, it had been awhile since I last slurped fresh raw oysters and I enjoyed them regardless.

This was followed by sashimi. The fish were not top grade. The maguro (tuna) were not too bad, but the salmon was a bit mushy. I did not think very highly of the raw fish here.

More oysters and some scallops. Overdose of oysters? Hey, there were 3 of us and we were entitled to our share!

The baby octopus was OK.

We had some soups - Chinese herbal chicken, tofu and corn.

The soba, especially the sauce, was kinda odd.

These were big clams cooked in a soup and some vege. I did not find it good at all.

I found these scallops with fish roes rather dry and a little chewy.

The western fares were slightly better. I enjoyed the beef and the lamb.

I really don't know what this was. It was some meat of fish cooked Chinese style with some vege and mushrooms.

These Japanese fried stuffs were pretty hard and tasteless.

The blanched kai lan (芥蘭) was rather ordinary.

My wife ordered 2 pieces of steam fish. They turn out to be disasters. The cod was not entirely fresh and tasted bad when steamed. The grouper was even worse. Not only was it not fresh, it was also hard and tough. I took a bite of it and spitted it out.

At this point of our meal, at around 9.00pm, there were repeated irritating announcements over the PA advising diners that the dinner session would be over at 9.30pm and that patrons were expected to leave. We had arrived at the place at 8.15pm and after only 45 minutes, we were being shooed away. I was quite upset. Apparently they have 3 buffet sessions - lunch between 11am to 4pm, dinner between 6pm and 9.30pm and supper between 9.30pm and 12.30am. But we didn't know about that. They didn't advise us at the entrance.

I approached a guy dressed in a jacket - presumably the honcho of the waiters. I told him we were not leaving. We had not finished our meal and we were not going to be chased away after paying so much for it. After some hesitation, he told us we could stay as long as we liked.

After this little incident and also in view of the poor quality of food, we were in no mood to eat further. We then proceeded with desserts. The sweets we ate are best described in these pictures. Like the food that we had earlier eaten, they were not great. I only liked a small selection of the desserts we took.

There is one word that best describes our experience in Tenji - failed.  The place did appear impressive, even a little awe inspiring at one point. But the quality and freshness of the food were sadly lacking and did not commensurate with the aura of the place.

Even after the Public Bank credit card discount, we paid quite a substantial amount for the dinner for 3 of us. With that kind of money, we would had had a much better meal, rather than the bits and pieces that I have imaged above. The meal we ate was certainly not worth the money.

We also did not have the luxury of dining at our own time and leisure and certainly minded very much at being shooed away in the midst of our meal.

Good bye Tenji.