Friday, May 27, 2011

E San Thai Kitchen

Isan is the north-eastern region of Thailand, largely bordering Laos in the north and Cambodia in the south. According to Wikipedia, this area has a lot in common with its Laotian neighbour - in language, music, customs and food. The latest Thai restaurant we visited takes it name from this Thai region, with the name spelled with an E instead of an I.

E San Thai Kitchen is another of our neighborhood restaurant. It is owned by Mr Prawat, a distant neighbor who lives in our community. The restaurant is located on Jalan PJU 1A/3, Ara Damansara, PJ. If you drive into Ara Damansara from the Subang Airport road, the restaurant is clearly visible in the first row of shop houses that you see on your right hand side. At night, this restaurant is hard to miss as its bright light stands out in that deserted row of shops.

Although this makan place is just in our neighborhood, we somehow did not get around to eating there for a long while. And when we finally did, we were very pleasantly surprised. The restaurant is very nicely furnished. It is bright both in and outside. They have 2 dining areas. And the walls are adorned with many works of art, which I believe are also for sale.

The complimentary pre-meal tit-bit in this restaurant was a plate of assorted edibles - chili, dry shrimps, serai (lemon grass), lime, peanuts, onions, garlic, etc - all cut into small pieces. They were eaten wrapped in daun kaduk (wild betel leaves) with a sweet sauce. The combination was very nice. The daun kaduk incidentally is grown in abundance at the front of Mr Prawat's home.

Our first dish was the Thai laksa. It was also complimentary - from Mrs Prawat who attended to us. The laksa was delicious. It was not unlike our Malaysian variety, with fish as the base. Only it was not sour and had a santan (coconut milk) flavor instead. I enjoyed this appetizer, not because I did not have to pay for it, but because it was genuinely very nice.

I am no fan of tom yams. It is normally too spicy and sour for my liking. But the tom yam here was different. Unlike most tom yams in other Thai restaurant, it was not fiery hot or sour. This was one I could easily handle. It was mild and pleasing to the palate. It was a clear soup and had the normal prawns, squid and fish meat in it. A real pleasant departure from the norm.

The crispy lemon grass fish was a deep fried siakap, with a very nice gravy in which I detected santan (coconut milk) and grounded peanut. It had a handful of deep fried lemon grass over it. I didn't know if we were supposed to eat the lemon grass as well. I tried it, but it hard and too fibrous. So we left it aside. The fish was deliciously fried and the gravy complemented it very well.

The otak-otak (a fish paste) in a fresh coconut was delightful. It was easily the most delicious dish of the meal. The otal-otak was cooked with seafood (prawns and squids) and slices of fresh coconut flesh and served in the nut. It tasted wonderful. The coconut fresh was particularly splendid. It was soft, smooth and so delicious in otak-otak paste.

I also enjoyed the mango salad. The mango was crunchy and the dressing was sweet and pleasant. It was simple and not at all spicy. Pieces of peanuts in it made it very delectable.

The dry green curry was superb. I liked that very much. It was so different from the green curries we get from other Thai restaurants. There was not much gravy it in, and whatever we got was rich, creamy and very flavorful. There was a choice of beef or chicken and we opted for the later. It went very well with the rice. Such rich taste.

The egg salad was ordinary, yet unique. It was ordinary in that it was the normal fried eggs. And unique because the eggs are then cooked in a very nice sweet sauce. I found it very appetizing.

Lastly, we had the grilled beef. It apparently is a specialty of the house. But I did not find it extraordinary. It wasn't bad. It was served with a chili sauce. But it tasted just like any ordinary grilled beef.

And then it was time for dessert. I always look forward to desserts when I am in a Thai place. The Thais make such good desserts and sweet delicacies. The first we had was the ever popular pulut (glutinous rice) and mango, served with some coconut milk. Apparent Isan is famed for its sticky rice. But the pulut here was not spectacular. So was the mango. I believe they used the ordinary chokanan mangoes which did not have the fragrance. I judged this dessert to be just ordinary.

We also shared the pumpkin pudding. The pumpkin was filled with a nice soft and sweet pudding and then cooked (perhaps steamed) till it was nice and soft. It was a very uncommon dessert and we enjoyed it.

The next 2 desserts were not so great. The water chestnut and yam pudding were very average. Nothing to shout about. We found the santan (coconut milk) rather strange - like it was from a can. There was no reason for them to use canned santan. Perhaps it was not totally fresh. Overall, the desserts here were not up to my Thai expectations.

The E San is not the usual run-of-the-mill Thai restaurant. The food here is mild and pleasant, and not strong or fiery spicy like a lot of Thai establishments. Our dining party that night was unanimous that the food was very good. Perhaps it is the Laotian influence. If it is indeed the case, I think I like Laotian food already.

Saturday, May 21, 2011


Mr Lim Kit Siang described the food served in this restaurant "vintage Hainanese cuisines". I may be wrong, I believe this veteran opposition leader is Hainanese. And he most definitely is a very busy man. His blog is almost totally of serious political stuffs. Yet he took time off to recommend Sukico to his readers.

Sukico is a small quaint restaurant in PJ Uptown. "Suki" in Hainanese apparently refers to a family or fellow Hainanese and "co" means brother. It is located a few shops away from the Uptown Public Bank on Jalan SS21/60. It had been quite awhile since we last visited the shop. We started patronizing the place after we read about it in Mr. Lim's blog. It used to be a bakery mart cum restaurant - selling baking ingredients as well as serving food. But now the bakery mart side of the shop is gone. It is now exclusively a restaurant.

The place is simple, pleasant and unpretentious. The crowd was surprisingly good. They have a celebrity corner - with pictures of some apparently well known patrons who, I am afraid, I did not recognize - including an Elvis wannabe.

But Mr. Lim's endorsement is unmistakable.

In our few visits to this shop, we did not meet the owner Cowboy Tan, mentioned in Mr. Lim's blog. We had always been attended to by a sweet old auntie, who I believe is Mrs. Cowboy Tan.

You have to be patient and cool when you dine in this restaurant, for it is not well known for its efficiency and good service. The place is obviously under-staffed. And the auntie is often muddled and forgetful. Do not be irritated if the service is slow, or if the wrong dish is served on your table, or if your drinks do not arrive. Many customers I observed, were very tolerant. I have seen customers passing dishes of food to the correct tables when they were wrongly delivered to them. It is really difficult to get angry with a sweet old lady like her.

At our last visit, we ordered a potpourri of dishes - sharing and tasting a bit of each. Mr. Lim had recommended the claypot lamb stew. I have tasted it before and believe me, it was very good. We ordered two pots to share. But sadly they were sold out. We settled for the chicken stew instead, which was equally delicious. The stew was thick and flavorful. I tasted a lot of spices in it. I believe this is a typical Hainanese stew.

We also shared a chicken chop, which was served with vege, salad, fries and mushroom sauce. It was old-fashionably nice.

Likewise the fish fillet...

And the lamb chop was real yummy. The portion was generous and the mint sauce that complemented it was superb.

We also had some Asian fares - starting with the Hainanese fried mee. It tasted better than it looked. The gravy was the winning grace.

We also had a couple of plates of Hokkein mee. They looked messy. But like the Hainanese mee, they were surprisingly good.

Finally, we had some veges which were quite ordinary.

Ole to Hainanese cooking and thanks to Sukico and Mr. Lim.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Oriental Pavilion in Jaya 33

We were invited by a good old school friend to his son's wedding dinner. The dinner was in the Oriental Pavilion in Jaya 33, PJ. I had been a couple of times to this restaurant and had been pretty impressed with the food there. I wanted to blog the wedding dinner but was hesitant. I did not want to inconvenient other diners by repeatedly taking pictures of the food. So I told my wife - if we were in a table with friends, I would do it. Otherwise we would give it a pass.

We were allocated to a table of old school mates. I knew everyone of them. So I whipped out my camera and this posting is the outcome.

The newly wedded was a charming pair. Equally elated was our old friend, the groom's father - the guy with the suit in the picture above.

The Oriental Pavilion is really a very nice Chinese restaurant. Its ambiance is grand and conducive. It belongs to a chain of 8 restaurants of The Oriental Group of Restaurants operating in KL and PJ. It occupies a large area on the 1st floor of the Jaya 33 shopping complex in Section 14, PJ.

Pre-dinner was nice chit chat and catching up with old friends. The feast was great partly because of this good company. Before long and without much ado, dinner was served.

The opening dish was the Three Treasures Combination. The 3 treasures were salad prawn, deep fried tofu and deep fried meat-fish balls. The dish was a great appetizer. It was simple, yet so satisfying. The fried tofu was particularly good. The flavor was rich and aromatic. After this teaser, we looked forward to the other dishes.

The soup was probably the best serving of the meal. It was a double boiled coral shark-fin with dried scallops and Chinese cabbage. It was individually served and in each bowl were generous portions of shark fin, conpoy (乾瑤柱 or dried scallop), mushroom, chicken and Chinese cabbage. The soup was sweet and delicious, almost like a bowl of 佛跳墙 (Buddha jump over the wall). I enjoyed it to the last drop. Wished there was more.

Following the soup was a most unique fish dish. It was the ying yang pompret. It was a pomfret cooked in 2 different ways. The meat was sliced and stir fried with green beans in a spicy sauce. The skeleton and head was deep fried to a crisp and mounted vertically in the plate. I enjoyed both styles of cooking and it was the first time I had fish in this combination.

The roast baby duck was served with a vegetable roll. The menu listed the duck as "baby" but it did not look like one at all. There was a lot of meat and the head looked big. It was definitely a full-grown adult duck. Anyway, the meat was not great and the vegetable roll was also mediocre.

The not so great duck was compensated by another fantastic dish that followed. It was the braised abalone with dried oyster and seafood in a winter melon. The abalone were not of very big size and together with some broccoli, they surround a winter melon in which were braised dried oyster and seafood. The dish was magnificently done. I enjoyed the abalone. Who wouldn't? The winter melon was obviously steamed to a nice soft texture that complemented the braised oyster and seafood beautifully.

I have always enjoyed soft shell crab, especially deep fried. The next dish was exactly that. Somehow it did not taste that very good. Perhaps it was the overdose of other great food. The crab was served with steamed buns, eaten with some celery and sweet sauce. I would rate the crab slightly better than the duck.

The closing dish was the pineapple fried rice. By then, I was stuffed. I could only manage a small bowl. It was not bad at all, but pineapple is never my favorite in fried rice.

Two desserts were served. The first was a double boiled honey dew with red dates. It was served cold and was sweet and soothing after a heavy meal.

The other was a combination of lotus bean buns and "thousand layered cakes". I particularly like the layered cake. It was soft and had a kind of peanut flavor in it. In spite of the heavy meal, I had 2 pieces of it.

This wedding feast is among the better ones that I have experienced. I compliment our hosts for the menu selection. The dishes were all very unique - away from the stereo-typed fried chicken, steamed fish and buttered prawns. And the restaurant did a fantastic job too. I don't think I will wait till the next wedding invitation before I return to the Oriental Pavilion in Jaya 33.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Abalone meal at the Dragon-i

It had to be a special occasion to have a meal like this. And it certainly was. We were in my in-laws' place in Sungei Petani during the CNY festivities. To get away from the hustle and bustle of the big extended family, my wife and I drove all the way to Penang for our quiet celebration.

We parked ourselves at the Queensbay Mall and the restaurant we selected was the Dragon-i. The Dragon-i is a chain of 9 restaurants in Klang Valley and Penang. It has a sister chain called the Canton-i. Both the -i's are available at the Queensbay. The Dragon is located on the second floor while the Canton is on the ground floor. We arrived at the Queensbay in the early afternoon, and noticing the rows of chairs outside the restaurant for waiting patrons, we had the presence of mind to make booking for our dinner table.

And were we glad that we did! For the place was full when we later turned up for our dinner. The restaurant actually occupies part of the circular concourse of the shopping complex's second floor. It is very tastefully furnished with a number of imposing terra-cotta figurines.

At the entrance, was a glassed-off kitchen where smartly dressed chefs prepare the dumpling and other goodies.

We perused the menu. The options were many. Not easy to decide when everything look so good. We finally went for the "Super Value CNY Set Menu". It looked wonderful - abalone, shark fin, sea cucumber and all the wonderful things. But it was at a ridiculous RM138++ per person, apparently down from an even more ridiculous RM198.

The tea was elegantly served in a porcelain pot over a small candle stove. What a considerate idea. Kept the tea nice and warm.

The first course was the steamed meat dumpling (小笼包). It was meat dumpling with some soup in it. Bite onto it and the soup flows into the mouth. Such a nice and delicious feeling. But there were only 4 dumplings for the two of us. At RM138++, I would imagine they could afford to serve a couple more.

Next was the shark fin soup. It was again miserly in serving. There was hardly a bowl each. And it was not great. I tried hard to locate the shark fin. I wasn't very successful. The taste was so-so. Made me feel guilty too - those poor sharks.

The lap mei fan (腊味饭 - glutinous rice with preserved meat) was delicious. It had small pieces of preserved meat (腊味) and 2 types of lap cheong (腊肠 - Chinese sausage). The rice was soft and well seasoned. The meat and sausage were fragrant.

The finale was the abalone. We were served 2-head (grade 2) abalones. This means the size of the abalones were 2 pieces to a catty (600 gms). Very good size. The abalone was cut into 4 pieces and each piece was quite a good bite. The abalone was cooked in a rich sauce with pieces of sea cucumber (海参), mushroom and broccoli. The dish was delicious and we took time to savor the abalone and sea cucumber, which are so very expensive nowadays.

Dessert was glutinous rice ball in almond broth (杏仁露汤圆). There was red bean paste in the rice balls. The almond broth was sweet. The combination of almond and rice ball was nothing extraordinary but nevertheless was a nice dessert.

The overall meal was great. I could not help but compare to a similar meal we had at Ah Yat Abalone Forum about a year before. I look back at what I wrote in my blog posting. Except for the soup which was much more superior at Ah Yat, I feel the Dragon-i served a better meal. But I think they have one thing in common - both were not worth the value of the money I paid.