Saturday, January 26, 2013

Tong Juan Kemaman

We were driving back from Kuala Terengganu in a convoy of 3 cars after a 4-days retreat at Pulau Redang. We did not stop for lunch. Eddy remembered a makan shop in Kemaman that we all wanted to revisit. By the time we reached this small coastal town, it was nearly 5 pm. Fourteen hungry stomachs growled for food. But to our utter dismay, we found the shop closed.

We lingered around in the opposite car park. There were a couple of other people apparently also wanting to eat in the shop. They told us the shop would open for business at 6 pm. We knew Kemaman is a little laid-back. I didn't know the pace was this slow.

So we had an hour to kill. We wandered to the nearby fruit stalls. The mak-cik had the makan shop to thank; for almost all us had something to carry back from her stall.

And the durians were too difficult for Alan, Jonathan, Benson and Eddy to resist.

At 6 sharp and not a minute earlier, the doors to heaven opened.

Restoran Tong Juan is located on the main trunk road, Jalan Suleiman in Kemaman. If you are heading north, it is on the left hand side. Opposite as mentioned, is a large car park and the fruit stalls are slightly ahead of the car park.

We were their first customers that evening. But soon the people began to pack in.

There was no table big enough for the 14 of us. So we combined 2 tables, and double-ordered our dishes.

This shop is apparently famous for their stuffed crabs. They had a URL on a display board. I checked it out but there was no such site. Anyway, the dish was not fantastic. They were shells of sea crabs stuffed with crab meat and other goodies; and then deep fried with a light batter. The dish was rather dry. But being the first dish after a day-long starvation, we enjoyed it nevertheless. Then someone wondered aloud if they re-cycle the crab shells....

This was followed by a large bowl of fish ball soup. I liked that very much. They were very generous with the fish balls. I thought the fish balls tasted better than the stuff crabs. They were very fresh, springy to the bite and tasted delicious. The soup had some Chinese cabbage and was most refreshing.

The tiger prawns were fabulous. They were skewed in satay sticks, and baked in butter and garlic. The prawns were of good size. They were very fresh and the meat were succulent - not the least overdone. They baked the prawns perfectly. Absolutely delicious.

So were these deep fried squid rings. The squids were soft and tender - not rubbery overdone. The batter was crispy. They were immensely popular and did not last very long on the table.

I honestly cannot remember what this dish was. It definitely was not pork as this shop is pork free. I think it was mantis prawn, deep fried and cooked kung-pao (宫保) style.

This steam fish was half the fillet of a red snapper. Must had been a really big fish. It was really fresh and broke off in flakes. The simple clear steaming brought out the essence of the fish. It tasted very good.

We had 2 vege dishes.

It was a big meal. All these dishes - times 2 - for the 14 of us. Plus unlimited supply of rice.

The day ended well. We left heaven as it turned dark. And it was another 4 hours to home.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Checkers at Damansara Heights

SP had more than one reason to celebrate. So he bought us dinner - all 13 of us. And it was one heck of a meal.

Checkers is located at 19 Lorong Setia Bistari 2 in Damansara Heights, Kuala Lumpur. Co-ordinates N3.1444, E101.6562. It is really not difficult to locate. But  if you are looking for a name board when you get there, forget it. They don't have one. This is one restaurant that does not publicise itself. You just look for a shop that looks like this...

... and walk in. This place apparently has no name. You have no clue that you are in Checkers until they give you the menu.

Inside, it was a cosy little restaurant, brightly and cheerfully decorated and with lots of memorabilia on the wall. The tables were elegantly clothed but the chairs were plastic. There were not many of them for the space was limited and crammed. I had problem getting in and out of my seat to take pictures and to go to the loo. I kept backing on the people at the next table. 

We started our feast with some mini pizzas. There were mushrooms, bacon and herbs in them. They were delicious. A superb starter. They gave us 3 of these to be enough to pass around the 13 hungry mouths. I managed to grab 2 slices. 

Next was the mesclun salad. It was an assortment of greens with bacon and lots of sesame. It came in French dressing. It was very pleasing. Again, they served us 3 portions. But unlike the mini pizza, they took a longer time to disappear.

These were bacon wraps. Another fabulous starter. The bacon was so very well done. I think you may almost sniff the aroma from my picture. It was that very good. 

This was our final appetiser before we got down to earnest eating. It was baked mushrooms. The mushrooms looked uncooked when they landed on our table. They were really quite pleasant. I didn't know they can make mushrooms like this. My first time.

Our first serious meat was this roast pork loin. It was also the best meat of the meal. The loin was roasted to perfection. It was not overdone and the meat was tender and succulent. It was served with peas, salad, sauerkraut and mashed potato. It was pork at its finest. The crispy skin was simply heavenly - almost something to die for. The dish was served with a sauce of cauliflower. This roast pork loin is going to be a must for my next visit.

The Jamaican chicken looked very overdone. It was 2 grilled drumsticks with an equally over-grilled plantain (banana). It was served with some salad. The plantain tasted quite good - very popular and quickly snapped up. But the chicken was just so-so. To me, the overdone char was a bit of a turn-off.

This roast pork knuckle was a bit of a disappointment. Roast knuckles everywhere else in the world are so much to hype on. I was looking forward to the crispy skin. But it was not to be. The skin was flaccid and the meat was somewhat overdone and hard. I felt the accompaniments tasted better. Like the roast loin, it came with sauerkraut and mashed potato. I particularly liked the mash potato. It was buttery smooth and very delicious.

Our final meat was the Lord of the Ribs (LOTR). As the name implied, this was meant to be the finale. It was a rack of pork ribs, marinated and roasted. It was accompanied by an array of salads, slaw, sauerkraut, chickpeas and mashed potato, and 2 types of sauces. The meat was very well done. But I did not think it matched the roast loin. I felt it was over-marinated and I could not taste the essence of the meat. I actually enjoyed the accompaniments more. 

By this time, we were all ohs and ahs with meat. Could we still manage dessert? Not forgetting there was still a cake to cut. But the cendol in this place is renowned. SP went ahead and ordered a few bowls to share. It was absolutely awesome. It was easily the best cendol I had ever tasted. It was cendol in ice-cream and rum. In it were nuts and beans, topped with some almond waffles. The rum gave the cendol a slight bitter aftertaste - a real nice feeling in the mouth. But it was also the most expensive cendol I ever had. At 22 bucks per bowl, it is spoonful by spoonful to relish.

What a meal. We walked out of the restaurant with a normal week's fill of meat. I wish SP has more occasions like this to celebrate. 

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Sale Pepe Pizzeria in Sydney

I ended my Sydney food sojourn in a pizza joint. Peter was my gracious host for the last 4 days of my stay. For my bye-bye dinner, he took me to an Italian place. It was the Sale Pepe Pizzeria on Sydney Road in Seaforth, in the northern suburb of Sydney. 

It was a small modest place; but was bright and cheerfully furnished. Like a lot of Aussie restaurants, the kitchen and service counter took up a big part of the shop, leaving a rather limited space for customers dining. 

They had a small wood fire oven in which they make their pizza and bread. I guess it has to be wood to give the bread that flavour.

We made our selection and then settled down to sip red wine and nibble on pickled olives.

There wasn't a lot of crowd. Still we had to wait for quite a long while. That was because they had a lot of delivery and takeaway business. The waitress sensing our unease came over to apologise. Later she brought us a plate of focaccia - compliments of the house - as compensation. It was a very nice gesture indeed.

The focaccia was superb. There were sprinklings of herbs on the top. Freshly baked, it tasted absolutely wonderful. Before we could finish the bread, our dishes started to arrive. First on the table was the rocket salad. In the rocket were slices of pear with crushed walnuts and shaved parmesan. It was served in a lemon and olive oil dressing. I enjoyed the aromatic rocket. The walnuts made it particularly good.

We shared a plate of pasta. It was penne, stir fried in olive oil with prawns and zucchini, and a sprinkling of fresh herbs. The flavour, to me, was just so-so. It did not wow me. But the penne had a very nice springy texture.

Peter ordered 2 large pizzas. The first was the napoletana. It had prawn, squid and zucchini, in a rich tomato sauce topped with fresh rockets. The bread was a delicious thin crust. The flavour was excellent. I liked the taste of the fresh rocket with the pizza. 

Next was the meat lover. Indeed it was totally meat. It had beef pepperoni, bacon and minced meat in a tomato and mozzarella sauce - on the same crusty bread. It was awesome. The flavour and aroma of the bacon complemented the pizza beautifully. 

It was a hefty and fulfilling meal for the four of us. The Italian essence in this small Aussie joint was very authentic. I enjoyed my final evening in Sydney. Next day, I boarded a MAS airplane and returned home.