Sunday, December 25, 2011

Charcoal Steamboat

I remember this place to be a western style restaurant and pub. We frequently passed by the area. It did not interest us then - until recently when I realized that it had changed to a steamboat restaurant.

Charcoal World Steamboat Restaurant is located at the busy junction between Lebuh Bandar Utama and the Sprint Highway in Petaling Jaya. It is actually at the corner of Kampung Sungei Kayu Ara in PJU 6. If you drive from the Centre Point in  Bandar Utama in the direction away from 1Utama, you won't miss it. It is at your left side as you drive down into the Sprint Highway.

It is a big restaurant, occupying a whole big building. Parking was ample. They even have a basement from where we conveniently walked from our car straight up into the restaurant.

There were several dining areas on different levels. And they were all brightly lighted. There were air-conditioned rooms on the main and lower levels. However on the weekend evening that we were there, the rooms were mainly empty. Most people dined in the open terraces which were cool and breezy - ventilated with large air outlets at various locations.

As its name suggested, the place specializes in charcoal steamboat. It was the charcoal that attracted us to this place. Most steamboat places use gas. We wanted to experience charcoal like the good old days - to see if it is any different from gas.

This was the room where they keep their charcoal and light the fires.

The restaurant serves fresh seafood for their steamboats. In fact, most items in their menu were seafood. They even offer live creatures from their aquarium, if you are willing to pay for them.

We had some non-steamboat starters before our meal. First was the cheese fish cake. It was 6 pieces of deep fried fish cakes with cheese in it. It had a pleasant flavor and a good appetizer.

The fresh oysters were absolutely fabulous. They were totally fresh. I don't know how they keep it so fresh because they must had imported them from somewhere. They were good size too - much bigger than most fresh oysters that I have eaten. Taken with squeezed lemon and tabasco, they were simply marvelous. I think these oysters were the highlight of the meal - not the steamboat. But they were expensive - at a whopping 8 bucks per slurp. Crystal said they were worth it. I wasn't too sure because I had to pay the bill.

We had the herbal soup for our steamboat. The soup was good - sweet and aromatic. I detect a strong flavor of dong quai (當歸 - angelica sinensis). I liked it. It made the soup very pleasant.

The various dishes we had for the steamboat were all very fresh. We like the good quality of their food. Like these lamb slices that we took trouble not to over cook. They were delicious.

The sotong (squid) balls were fresh and springy to the bite.

These fresh scallops were somewhat over-rated and expensive. They may look pretty but I didn't find them extra-ordinary for the price (RM15) I paid.

The jellyfish was very nice and crunchy. I liked the texture.

The prawn sui kow (水饺) were ordinary. I didn't think they were well made for they quickly became soggy in the soup.

The tofu puffs were stuffed with prawns and some chicken. Like the sui kow, they were not great.

This plate was labelled "Homemade Chicken" in the menu. I don't how they make chicken in the home. I thought we all buy our chicken in the market. Anyway, they were ordinary.

The fish slices were very very fresh. Again, we did not overcook them. I enjoyed the freshness.

For greens, we had tong ho (唐蒿 - garland chrysanthemum), spinach and needle mushroom.

There was 4 different sauces for our food. Three were chili based while the fourth was a fu yee sauce (腐乳 or fermented tofu paste). All the sauces were good, but I was partial to the fu yee. I liked the flavor especially with the lamb slices.

Now, how does charcoal compare to a gas or electric steamboat? Food taste-wise, I really could not tell the difference. They were the same. However, we found the charcoal fire painfully slow. I am not sure if it was because they did not give us enough charcoal or if our equipment was not good. It took a long time for the steamboat to come to a boil. There simply was not enough heat. Towards the end of the meal, it took a long time (maybe 2 to 3 minutes) just to cook a piece of sliced fish. There was a sign on the table warning against touching the hot pot. I put my fingers on it and did not feel a thing.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Ciao Italia

Perth is apparently famed for its Italian food. I did not know that until I learnt about it in a promo video on the MAS aircraft as we were approaching to land into Perth. In Perth, my nephew KG recommended 2 Italian joints - Ciao Italia and Little Caesars. We couldn't possibility patronize both during our short stay. We did however, manage to eat at the restaurant near to where we stayed - the Ciao Italia.

Ciao Italia is a very popular restaurant on Mill Point Road in southern Perth. It is not a very big place and does not accommodate a lot of tables. And there is always a long queue. On weekends, according to KG, the wait can be as long as 2 hours. To queue 2 hours for a table - the food must be good. We passed by the place a number of times before we finally went there to eat. The queue was typically like this...

We were there on a Thursday evening. We were a bit kiasu and arrived there very early - about 5.00 pm. I have never been for dinner so darn early. But we were not willing to queue. We were in fact the first in the restaurant that day. We were greeted by a friendly Italian guy. He apparently had been in Indonesia for some years and spoke passable Bahasa. When we told him that we were still waiting for someone (KG, who could only join us after his work), he was reluctant to give us a table. But after some small talks with him in Bahasa, he relented and showed us a nice table for 6. He later even posed for me and gave me free rein take pictures of the restaurant.

The restaurant is modestly furnished. There is a large counter and enclosure in the middle. And an even larger kitchen at the back. I thought they could had better utilized the space to create more room for dining tables since they are so very popular.

We settled into our table, but held back ordering of food while waiting for KG. When he finally arrived, the waiter gave him a "ma-ma-mia" as we were actually hoarding value table time. As we waited, the restaurant started to fill up rapidly. In no time, there was a queue outside.

We started the meal sharing a tiramisu. Most out of the ordinary. It was Kathy's (Crystal's Aussie friend) dining oddity. She likes to start her meals with something sweet. The tiramisu was absolutely fabulous. It was soft, creamy and the flavor was superb. Like I mentioned in my previous posting, the Aussies make great cakes and pastries. This was better than great.

Then the serious eating began. The first to arrive on our table was the pizza. We had the Toscana. It had Italian sausage, grilled capsicum, sun-dried tomato and the normal Mozzarella cheese. The pizza was simply beyond words. Perhaps the best pizza I ever had. Take a look at the visual. You can see the delicious-ness. This was the first time I had sun-dried tomato. Never even heard of it before. The desiccated tomato was so very nice. It was slightly chewy but the texture and flavor was marvelous.

Did the Caesar Salad originate from Italy? Julius was definitely Italian - i.e. if at all this salad was named after him. In any case, the Caesar Salad at Ciao Italia was excellent. It was a very fresh plate of salad with croutons, anchovies, a generous amount of Parmesan cheese, flavored with olive oil, wine vinegar and a nice (I don't know what) white sauce. It was a most genuine plate of salad.

We also shared a Bistecca Alla Trevi. It was a steak, cooked medium rare, served with bacon, mushroom and  mixed vegetables in a creamy black pepper sauce. The dish was heavenly. The meat was tender and the sauce was creamy and absolutely delicious. It was easily one of the best steak I ever had. It is meat like this that makes people want to queue for 2 hours. Total unconditional compliments to the chef.

The next dish was a little behind the rest. It was Gnocchi ala Bolognese. It was a dumpling-like pasta cooked in a tomato based sauce with minced beef. This was another first-timer for me. I had never tasted gnocchi, and I didn't quite like the texture. I found the pasta rather starchy. The bolognese, compared to all the other good dishes we had, was rather ordinary.

The next pasta we had was a totally different story. It was the Fettuccine Ciao Italia. It was the signature pasta dish of the restaurant and apparent also the most popular. And I could see why. It was served in a rich creamy sauce, with strips of chicken (free range, according to the menu) and sun-dried tomato. The fettuccine was great. The texture was perfect. I have never been able to cook pasta to this kind of texture. I wonder what the secret is.

For dessert we revisited the tiramisu and a bowl of strawberry ice cream. These together with a nice cup of long black coffee, ended a most gratifying meal. 

It was just turning dark when we finished our dinner. As we walked away from the restaurant, I could not resist taking a parting shot of the people who were still waiting for a table. 

I don't know how long they had to wait. But I didn't feel sorry for them; for just as the best part of our evening was over, theirs was yet to come.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Food we ate in Perth

We have just returned from a week's holiday in Perth. The place is so very quiet and laid back. Shops close at 5 and the city is practically dead in the evenings and during weekends. My nephew KG lives there. And he likes the place and the pace. The city is beautiful and we enjoyed the easygoing holiday.

Food was an important element of our holiday. But they were expensive - easily 3 times the prices in Malaysia. Still we did not stinge. We had our fill of Perth food. A number of times, my wife and I looked at the menus, the prices and then at each other. But what the heck. We were on holidays. We proceeded to order.

On the first evening of our arrival, KG drove us to a popular Vietnamese restaurant in pursuit of the famed beef soup noodles. Australia has a large Vietnamese population and I have found their pho bo (Vietnamese for beef soup noodles) to be very authentic and good. I was hoping to get some noodles that would be just as good as those in Melbourne.

But the pho bo at the Tra Vinh Noodle House on Brisbane Street, Northbridge, did not quite measure up. The noodles were served with generous portions of beef, tripe and ligament. And a plate of raw bean sprouts and mint leaves. The beef was "medium rare" - still somewhat reddish. It was tender and succulent. However the soup was not a wow. I think the shops in St Albans, Melbourne did a better job.

My wife does not like beef. She had chicken instead.

And while we were there, we also had some Vietnamese "popiah" and stuffed chicken wings. Both were nothing to shout about.

On the second evening, we were at the Windsor Hotel on Mill Point Road in South Perth for some Aussie food. The Windsor Hotel is actually more of a drinking place. I don't know if they do have rooms for hire. On that Sunday evening, the place was jollily packed. The bar was doing a roaring business. We found a quiet table. There was no waiters or waitresses. I had to look around for a menu myself. And then ordered our food with the bar tender.

The place is apparently known for its Wagyu beef burger. Wagyu (a.k.a Kobe beef) is the Japanese meat that is famed for its fine quality and high prices. It is relished for its superb marbled texture. So it seemed sacrilege to mince it up and make it into patties. The Wagyu burger at the Windsor did not taste exceptional. The meat was indeed a little finer and tastier, but since it was all minced and meshed up it was not heck of a difference. And surprisingly, it was not that expensive. At about 29 Aussie dollars, it was not more expensive than the other burgers and sandwiches.

I opted for the Angus steak sandwich. The meat was tender and succulent. It was a fine piece of grilled meat. The taste was enhanced by nice pieces of bacon. There was no doubt that this actually tasted better than the Wagyu burger.

My beef-detesting wife had this chicken burger and she enjoyed it thoroughly.

Crystal went out with her friend Kathy on the 3rd day. So my wife and I drove to Fremantle. It is the port city about 30 minutes south of Perth. It is a charming coastal town. We headed to the E-shed Market which was by the harbor. Unfortunately it was closed. It apparently only opens during weekends. We then drove around and ended at the Waterfront for lunch.

We shared a seafood platter. In it were fish, shrimps, squids and a shellfish (not sure what it was) - all battered and deep fried. There was of course, french fries and a small bowl of mussels. It was a huge plate. We even added a tub of coleslaw. Still we managed to clean it up. The mussels were rather small - not much larger than 10 sen coins. The food was so-so. Deep fried battered seafood. How good can it get? But everything was absolutely fresh. It was a most relaxing meal, sitting alfresco at the edge of the water. That was life.

As we finished our meal, my wife saw a guy walking pass carrying a different plate of seafood - with a lobster in it. "How come ours do not have lobster?" she asked. We then realized that the adjacent outlet served a better seafood platter. Too late to regret. But we told ourselves we would be back for the lobster. And we did...

Two days later, we went back to Fremantle - this time with Crystal. It was already late afternoon - about 3 pm - way past lunch time. But we were determined to have the lobster seafood platter. I headed straight to Kailis' Fish Market and ordered it. No regrets coming all the way back. This seafood platter was infinitely better than the last. The only hitch was that we got only half a lobster. Not the whole animal. The seafood in the plate were not deep fried in batter. They were grilled. The lobster was fresh, succulent and marvelous. There were 4 fresh oyster (yummy), grilled fish in skewers, boiled prawns, grilled squids, french fries and a small bowl of salad. The squids were particularly good. They were grilled to a crisp. The whole plate costed us 67 bucks Aussie - i.e. about RM210. Damn bloody expensive. But like I mentioned - what the heck, we were on holidays.

I also ordered a bowl of seafood chowder. Another marvel. The soup was creamy and delicious. There were chunks of fish, shrimps and squids. It had been a long time since I had a nice bowl of chowder like this.

We visited the aquarium at Hillary's Bay Harbour. It is about 30 minutes drive north of Perth. The aquarium is not great. But they do have a long underwater glass tunnel where we enjoyed the sea lives on a moving conveyor.

We had lunch in the aquarium cafeteria. I know it was an odd choice. But it turned out to be pretty good. I have a roast pork roll. It was thick slices of roast pork in a large sesame bread roll. The roast meat was fabulous. It was juicy and tasty. And the bread was vey nice too. I wish I had flipped open the sandwich and taken a picture to show you the meat.

Crystal had this meat pie. It was actually a pastry over a bowl of beef stew. They call it a pie. Anyway, it was delicious. I had a taste of it and I liked it very much. Still I thought my roast pork roll was the better choice. The "pie" was served with some potato salad. It was very good too.

My wife's choice was this chicken croissant. I did not have a taste of it. I think she enjoyed it.

On our last day, we took a day trip to Rottnest Island. It was a 2 hour boat ride from Perth - down the beautiful Swan River to Fremantle and out into the sea. Rottnest is a charming idyllic island where there are no cars and everybody moves around on bicycles. It is so well conserved. We spent the morning in a fast boat sightseeing round the island.

For lunch, we went to the Aristos seafood restaurant. It was a most pleasant dining place. At that time of the day, it was busy with the lunchtime crowd. We picked a table near the waterfront. Very considerately, they installed a netting around the restaurant to keep the seagulls away. But it did nothing to the pesky flies that were so numerous in the summer heat.

Lunch was quite ordinary. We shared a salad with slices of chicken and sprinklings of bacon. The salad was mediocre. I didn't particularly enjoy it. I had a craving for chicken that day and wanted the grilled free-range chicken Greek style. The girl told us that it was a whole chicken and we backed off for fear of too much food. In the end the dishes were not that big and we could had easily handled the Greek chicken. Regrets, regrets.

The shrimp and fish plate was miserable. One piece of deep fried fish, two meagre shrimps and fries. For 20 Aussies, they surely could had done better.

We had a kilo of spicy mussels. Another one of the "what the heck, we are on holiday" indulgences. It was very expensive - about 35 Aussies - over RM110. The mussels were very fresh. They were very well prepared. The sauce was wonderful. However most of our kilogram were shells. Like those we had in Fremantle, the mussels were small. I had had much better mussels than these. I remember Alan bought some real big mussels when we were in Geelong last year. Perhaps this was not mussel season.

The Aussies make some awesome cakes and pastries. I do not have a sweet tooth and generally do not care for sweet things. But I enjoyed some really nice pastries and desserts while I was in Perth. Below are visuals of some cakes we had in a cafe that KG brought us before he drove us to the airport for our flight home.

The food in Perth was generally very good. Besides the above, we also had some dim sum (点心) and Italian food. I will write more about those later.