Crunchy Bottoms

Striking the caloric balance. Barely.

Category Archives: Japanese

Koh Grill & Sushi Bar – Eye on the Maki

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Rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated.

I am alive and well, much to the disappointment of many, I’m sure.

This writer’s block of mine, however, I have underestimated. I had likened it to passing a brick out my behind, among other unsavoury metaphors, and have woefully declared to all unfortunate enough to listen to my rants that I’d much rather endure physical pain. My friends have gotten the brunt of my frustration.  They still love me though, I hope.

I realise I need to start small. So this is me, attempting (once again) to sit myself down on my metaphorical ceramic throne, and do the deed. It’s a small consolation for me if you happen to find this hilarious. It turns out that I’m still capable of entertaining.

Over the past few months, I have been frequenting Koh Grill & Sushi Bar at Wisma Atria. It’s a gem of a place within Food Republic. A friend had insisted that I needed to try this, and that, in spite of knowing of my sky-high benchmark for Japanese food,  she was still willing to place a huge bet on this place. Well, thank you Joyce. You have ruined me.

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It’s impossible to dine at Koh Grill & Sushi Bar without ordering the Shiok Maki ($16.80 – first picture). This maki is not to be trifled with. Make fun of its name only once, and never again after you’ve eaten it. It has been named appropriately.

Its core is stuffed with unagi and avocado, and then wrapped in a thin layer of rice, draped in thick slices of salmon, drizzled with mayo, and blowtorched to a sizzling marvel. I have not come across another maki with all my favourite ingredients. Admittedly, I could do without the mayo, but that mound of tobiko (flying fish roe) is almost too good to be true, and I suspect that they must have very chummy ties with their suppliers. There can’t be any other possible explanation for being that generous! I’ve thought very deeply about it.

This is a maki that has been thoughtfully created and balanced with much textural deliciousness. It’s crunchy, gooey, moist, and incredibly flavourful. I have brought many friends along for a meal there, and I have seen them being reduced to slobbering messes in front of me.

Contrary to its name, the Crappy Maki ($18.00 – second picture) is another wonder. It’s stuffed with crispy soft shell crab, crunchy seaweed, topped with layers of swordfish belly, and finished with the mandatory shower of roe. The Pi Tan Maki ($15.00 – not pictured) is another crowd-pleaser, and if the thought of century egg sauce makes you cringe, then all I can say is…well, get over yourself and eat it. Take my word for it.

There are plenty of other dishes on the menu, but due credit must be given to what I think are the rockstars in this sold-out concert. It’s obvious that the makis have been lovingly crafted and contemplated on in both the flavour and textural departments. I adore such attention to food.

I also wanted to keep this a secret. There may well be a death warrant hanging over my head by now, but it’s helping the brick on its way out.

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Koh Grill & Sushi Bar

Address: 435 Orchard Road, #04-21 Wisma Atria Shopping Centre

Tel: 91803805

Aoki – Other-worldly Set Lunch

It’s a little difficult to wax lyrical about Aoki now for two reasons, the first being that this lunch was more than half a year ago, and the second being that it’ll only be about another week before I fly of to stuff my face proper with sashimi in Japan. But see, this post will never go up if it doesn’t right now, because I’m afraid Aoki will lose its charm, its Zen minimalism, its serenity, after I get back.

Aoki is under the Les Amis group of restaurants, but stands out in its austerity, and although it is situated in the row of the Les Amis Empire (as I like to call it) to the side of Shaw Centre, its easy to waltz by without a second glance, if you even gave it a glance to start with. I had to peek past the drapes, and ask if it was indeed Aoki, before proceeding into dark corridor and into its hushed interior, half expecting to be walloped over the head and taken to see the Yakuza.

I didn’t dare snap pictures of the interior. And if you’ve been in Aoki, you’d understand why. The entire restaurant seats no more than perhaps 28 people, with private rooms hidden out of sight, I’m sure. All you’ll see are three or four partitioned tables, and then the sushi counter down a short flight of steps. It’s so small that any new arrival warrants everyone’s attention. I wasn’t about to whip my camera out anytime soon.

It’s minimal, furnished in lightwood, lit mostly by the bright ochre lighting atop the counter seats, and shrouded in a reverent sort of silence. Yet, the activity is a sight to behold – hushed, diligent, confident, and directed, from wait staff and Sushi chefs alike. It’s another world, where time slows down, where you sit back and let people take care of you, and where you’ll notice thin rice cloths hanging from the ceiling, swaying lightly in gentle drafts.

I made reservations a few days in advance for lunch, where their lunch sets go for $35++ in contrast to their dinners that rocket past $100. I’d advise that you do, for the counter seats especially, because these seats give a show more spectacular than a conveyor belt of listless-looking sushi. You see the chefs in action, blowtorches blazing, razor-sharp knives deftly slicing equally portioned slices of sashimi from slabs of fish, and the swift, almost effortless formation of sushi. It’s $35++ for amazing quality food, and meal-time entertainment. You don’t get that at many places.

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Rakuzen

There’s never a dearth of Japanese restaurants in Singapore. But if it’s quality you’re looking for, then perhaps this very abundance is going to be more of a hindrance than a help since most seem to be aiming to outdo the rest with even-more-value-for-money menus while ditching quality. I will admit that I do sometimes cave in for more wallet-friendly sushi, just because they’re there and I’d gnaw a finger off if I didn’t get any.

Rakuzen, as I was pleasantly surprised to find out, has most of its ingredients imported directly from Japan, from its sashimi to its rice. No middleman is involved, so all you get is quality food without the burden of carrying any extra costs because of reselling. Their lunch and dinner sets are especially notable for that value-for-money quality that seems to be a constant criteria for most people.

Their second outlet at Tampines opened on the 14th of September, just a month or so back. The restaurant is welcoming, bright and airy, with light wood finishings and a pleasant ambience, and when I was invited to dine there for lunch on a weekday, I must say that their lunch crowd looked incredibly promising. It’s no wonder, really, when their set lunches (usually bentos) start from $14 onwards. 

This beauty right here is but one of Rakuzen’s Special Broiled dishes, the Fire Mackerel ($16). The saba arrives lightly scored in diagonal cuts and is marinated for at least two hours with tangy rice wine vinegar before being wrapped in konbu for extra umami.

Now, I love pyrotechnics. Put me anywhere where there’s a light show, flames, and sizzling fat, and my eyes will be satisfied. All dishes from the Special Broiled section of the menu will arrive looking pristine and … pure … before a wait staff – armed with a blowtorch – starts searing each piece, the skin blistering and charring, releasing a beautiful smoky aroma, and then suddenly your dish has attitude. You know, the golden-brown, crisp, yet fatty and tender kind.

It’s your choice whether to drape a thin slice of sweet, pickled ginger over the mackerel, but personally, I loved how there was sweet crunch with smoky, tender fish. A slice of the saba alone is light, delicate, doesn’t particularly reek distinctly of mackerel, and should be savoured with the ponzu sauce that accompanies the dish.

We weren’t served this first, of course, we started out with appetisers, but I felt that this was one of the highlights of the meal and I have to share the cool stuff first.  Read more of this post

Bakerzin (United Square)

Bread Basket

The first time I went to Bakerzin was about three years ago, perhaps four. 

Now if I had known that they had a bread basket, and that helping yourself to copious amounts of ciabatta, whole grain and rye breads, and slotting them into an adorable roller-toaster of sorts was completely unlimited (provided you order a set meal of $13.80+), I’d have frequented them sooner – and perhaps would have made a huge dent in their revenue. 

Come on. It’s bread. Fresh bread with balsamic vinegar and olive oil to go with. Now we’re talking carbohydrates. 

I would admit though, that the main reason we ended up consuming about five to six plates of bread could really be blamed on my over-enthusiastic delight of dropping the slices into the toaster, watching them roll across the red-hot grill and waiting on bated breath for them to plonkplonkplonk and slide merrily down the little metal slope to a stop before my eager plate. It’s kind of like a grown-up version of how I used to slot every single coin I could find when I was a little tyke of 3 or 4 years-old into the air-conditioning vents of the family car, to the point where my parents had to practically yank them out and exhume the damn pipes before they could sell the vehicle off. I’ve always been a rascal, except that I’ve grown more practical and responsible over the years (I don’t pee in convenient stores and break toilet bowls anymore) – I made sure to finish every single slice. 

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Want cheap ramen?

A noodle spree cannot be styled into a classy picture. Period.

Forget about my hunt for Singapore’s best ramen.

Why spend an average of $15 in one sitting, to pick out the subjective best from what seems to be dozens of new ramen joints flowering up all over the country, to guzzle high sodium, fat-saturated soups and slurp up ramen portions which are clearly out of my league? And they seem to all be, to quote Anthony Bourdain, “A hideous, generic sprawl of soul-destroying sameness”.

If I want to find the Best _______ (insert appropriate latest food fad), I’m not about to sacrifice my health thank you very much.

But that isn’t to say I’m never eating ramen out ever again, only that I’ll do so when I feel like it. And hey, if I happen to stumble across the ramen that blows my socks off to the Land Of The Rising Sun, well good for me. I’ll be sure to let you know all about it.  

In the meantime, I think my current ramen, udon, soba windfall from Scotts Isetan on Saturday should tide me over till my future fateful encounter.

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Tampopo

Tampopo

I’d passed by Tampopo several times before on my increasingly frequent –and hence the inversely proportionate number of updates  – trips down to Clarke quay, and never once has its presence made an impact on me. You would think it odd, really, that large, bold letters, almost obnoxious with their neon green halo, would have failed to grab a second or two of my attention during all my Japanese grocery shopping indulgences in Liang Court, Meidi-ya.  

You can’t miss it.  

Unless, of course, you enter Liang Court from entrances other than the one from Clarke Quay, because even to park there, you would have to drive by it on the way into the car park.

The only reason why I knew of its existence was because of one fateful Sunday family lunch in which we decided against waiting for twenty minutes for a table and ended up dining at BOTEJYU Okonomiyaki on the second floor.  Then coincidently, the class boys wanted to have a Sunday dinner there on the fifteenth of Chinese New Year, out of the blue. Since my family hadn’t any plans that day, camera in arm, I was dispatched under strict order by Ashley and my mom to return with a review or not return at all. An insane ramen craving does this, I am aware, and if I weren’t curious myself from the numerous positive reviews of Tampopo smattered all over Hungrygowhere, I wouldn’t bother, even if it meant I would be relegated to the corner with liquid food to last me.  

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