Sunday, 28 July 2013

KomPassion – Not a lot of it for your wallet

No. 5, Jalan SS20/11, 47400, Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia

KomPassion is the new fusion restaurant by ridiculously popular Thai restaurant chain My Elephant.

This apparently means uber-cool industrial-chic d├ęcor; the exact same IKEA-bought, black-and-white photo of New York City my boss has on his office wall; intriguing combinations like tom kha carbonara linguine and stir-fried angel hair with salted fish; and prices that… well…

Now, I wouldn’t normally be so fixated with the price if the food had been stellar, but it just wasn’t – not really. Not all of it was bad; there were some pretty awesome dishes, but a few of them seemed to miss the mark by quite a bit.

Anyway, my folks rolled into town last weekend and we wanted to take them someplace nice for dinner. This place seemed like a good choice – it’s got great reviews (which may have raised my expectations a little too much) and it’s located in Damansara Kim, a place filled with great food that I just don’t visit frequently enough.

This two-seat table was placed right up against the glass at the front of the restaurant... because no romantic dinner is complete without total strangers passing inches away from you while you're trying to act all cool and suave.

The meal began with complimentary watermelon cubes sprinkled with powdered ikan bilis. An auspicious start, both because of the red of the watermelon and the nice balance of sweet, refreshing fruit against the spicy/salty sprinkles. It really wakes your tastebuds. And we’re not talking a gentle shake, either. No, this is full-on, bucket of ice water on the head kind of stuff.

This complimentary watermelon snack beats the crap out of the pre-packed peanuts which many other restaurants usually provide (and charge you for).
We wanted to try as much variety as possible, so went for a weird combo of two pasta dishes, a salad, two bowls of rice and a curry pork dish. How was it? Let me break it down for you.

The stir-fried angel hair with salted fish had generous amounts of seafood but didn’t taste enough of salted fish. In fact, you only get a hit of it when you bite into one of the little pieces of salted fish hidden among the noodles like salty landmines. There weren’t enough little pieces so the dish tasted largely like a plate of Chinese stir-fried noodles. I also thought the prawns were a little overcooked. It was the dish I was most interested in when we ordered, and while it wasn’t bad, it didn’t really turn out as I had hoped.

Stir-fried angel hair with salted fish... might have been a lot more true to its name if that big chunk of fish at bottom right had been salted fish instead of regular fish.

The tom kha carbonara linguine was a great deal better. The carbonara sauce was rich without being overly heavy, balanced off by just the right hint of spiciness from the tom kha. The pasta was not al dente, but the softer texture seemed to work well in this dish. This was again a seafood-heavy dish, with fish, mussels, slightly overcooked prawns and more.

Tom kha carbonara - flavours as carefully balanced as a tightrope walker without a safety harness.

The pork panang curry was my least favourite dish of the night. The pieces of pork were tender and nicely cooked, but I found the rich panang curry to be overly sweet. The day before, I had lunch at My Elephant and tried the fantastic duck panang curry there. That one had grapes and lychee in it, but still didn’t taste half as sweet as the pork one at KomPassion. 

Panang pork curry - so sweet I thought it was dessert.

Brown rice which was actually kinda purplish in colour... and quite pricey at RM3.50 per small bowl.

Finally, let’s end this post on a relatively high note with the bacon, smoked salmon and kimchi salad. This one was a riot of textures and flavours that made my tastebuds feel like it was on some hallucinogenic substance. Pumpkin seeds, cashews, fresh crunchy lettuce, generous amounts of salty smoked salmon, some tangy dressing, a hint of mint, white sesame, black sesame, cilantro, bits of bacon and more stuff I couldn’t identify. It was great! Only two complaints: there wasn’t enough bacon (but then, can there ever be enough bacon?) and I didn’t really taste the kimchi at all. Why put kimchi in the name of the salad if it wasn’t going to feature prominently in its flavour profile? It might make more sense to call it the smoked salmon, bacon and cashew nut salad, no?

Bacon, smoked salmon and kimchi salad - kind of like a Thai fusion yee sang.

So that was our meal. It was above average but not great. It might have been better if I’d ordered those dishes that other food bloggers were raving about, like the smoked duck and pomelo salad. But I’ll have to wait till I’m feeling a little wealthier first…

Industrial chic: single-handedly making zinc roofing sexy since 1968.

Snack-sized review
Thai fusion food that offers up interesting new combinations. Prices are a little on the high side, and not everything is fantastic, but you should check it out if you want something completely different from what you get at most restaurants.

Hours: 12:00 to 14:30 / 18:00 to 22:30

Price: Quite high. Signature dishes cost up to RM70 or so. Pastas are about RM20. A meal can set you back from RM30 to RM60 per person.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Chong Toong Kee – When slimy is good

No. 5-1, Jalan PJU 8/5I, Damansara Perdana, Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia

The word ‘slimy’ has been much-maligned. Undeservedly so, in my opinion… especially where food is concerned.

Some of my favourite foods are slimy. Fresh raw oysters and okra stir-fried in sambal, for example… and also the dry Ipoh hor fun at Chong Toong Kee.

Smooth, slippery strands of flat rice noodles covered in a thick, sticky sauce that adds a mild saltiness. Sliced prawns, shredded chicken and scallions finish the dish. The dry hor fun comes with a small bowl of MSG-laden soup that has a few stalks of boiled choy sum floating in it… striving valiantly (and in vain) to raise the nutritional content of the soup. There’s nothing strongly-flavoured in there at all… aside from the small saucer of cili padi and soy sauce. So for me, eating this hor fun is very much a textural experience.

Or, rather, it would have been if it weren't for one of my all-time favourite combos: cili padi and soy sauce. 

When the dish arrives I always start by tossing it like a salad, separating the strands of noodles which tend to clump together, adding spoonfuls of soup as necessary for lubrication. The whole thing slips and slides and squishes as I mix and mix and mix and coat everything in the dark sauce.

It squishes a little more as I pick it up with chopsticks. Then the slippery noodles are in my mouth, the strands so light, paper-thin and soft it almost feels like pudding. I hardly have to chew it before it slides smoothly down my throat. Rinse and repeat. The whole plateful disappears before I know it.

This massive amount of hor fun is actually a 'small' serving. Wonder how many families a 'large' serving can feed.

Aside from the hor fun, I also like their steamed chicken. The meat is tender and juicy and it comes covered in the same dark sauce they put on the hor fun. I normally order a portion as a side order to have with the hor fun.

Lady Fartsalot and I need to get our fix of the stuff regularly, so it’s a good thing that they’ve opened a branch at Damansara Perdana, within walking distance of where we stay. Also, it seems easier to get a table here compared to the one at TTDI – possibly because fewer people know about it.

Right, that’s what we like about Chong Toong Kee. Now we move on to our complaints.

Do note that as we haven’t been to the TTDI branch in a long time, we don’t know how the food is like there. Our complaints are only based on eating at the Damansara Perdana branch.

First, though the texture of the noodles remains consistent, a longstanding gripe of mine is that they could have at least spent 2 seconds to ladle a little soup onto the noodles prior to serving to keep them from drying up and clumping together.

Next, prawns. They’re overcooked, they have little to no flavour, and there are only a few thin slices – cut lengthwise – with every plate of hor fun. Believe it or not, that wasn’t the complaint. No, the complaint is that they’ve removed prawns entirely from the hor fun! They could’ve raised prices to keep the prawns in, or gotten smaller and cheaper prawns. But no, they’ve just dropped the prawns altogether. That’s cold.

They could've cut the veggies out instead, but noooooo... they had to get rid of the prawns.

Last, also prawn-related: the prawn wantans. This is another side dish I like to order, but recently I noticed a disturbing change. There used to be a whole prawn in each wantan. It was about 50% prawn and 50% wantan skin. Now, there are tiny bits of chopped-up prawn that probably didn’t even make up 20% of the total volume of the wantan. And the wantans aren’t exactly cheap: RM7 for 10… and they couldn’t even give me a decent amount of prawns?

It took a great deal of excavation to finally dig these tiny bits of prawn out of the voluminous folds of wantan skin.

So now I have a sort of love-hate relationship with TK Chong & Co. Slippery, slimy noodles are nice… all this corner-cutting most certainly is not.

They still do steady business in spite of their unscrupulous new business practices. Good for them, I suppose... because otherwise I'll have to drive to TTDI to satisfy my slimy hor fun addiction.

Snack-sized review
Ipoh hor fun with a thoroughly enjoyable smooth, slippery texture. Lately, they’ve been cutting corners rather egregiously, but I’d still go for the hor fun and chicken. Damansara Perdana branch is less well-known, so there should be less waiting.

Hours: Morning till about 3pm.

Price: Not too expensive. You can get a meal for one for around RM10… depends what you order. And how much you eat.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Warung Leko – Indonesia’s saving grace

The Curve, Mutiara Damansara, Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia.

 Quick! What comes to mind when you hear the name Bill Clinton?

The more informed among us may say he’s one of the most competent presidents the USA has ever had. He won a Rhodes Scholarship, widely regarded as the most prestigious in the world. He presided over the longest period of peacetime economic expansion in US history. He was the first Democrat since the great Franklin D. Roosevelt to win a second full presidential term. His government recorded a budget surplus in the last 3 years of his presidency. He has the highest end-of-office approval rating of any president since World War II. He is a highly sought-after public speaker and an accomplished musician who plays the sax (perhaps indicating a bit of an oral fixation there?).

But too many people, far more than any of us would be proud to admit, will immediately identify him as the President who served up protein shakes (straight from the tap, mind you) to a White House intern right in the Oval Office. Some (me, for one) might add that the intern in question was extremely – to put it charitably – ordinary-looking. And that, if he was going to do something high-risk like that, he should have at least gotten a hot girl to do it with.

It’s unfortunate but true: no matter what you’ve accomplished… most people will latch on to one thing, or two, or three – the things that affect them the most, or that have been sensationalised the most – and that’s all you are to them.

What I’m trying to say – having taken a trip round the world to finally come to the point – is that I am fully capable of having woefully uninformed, totally prejudiced opinions. Such as my opinion of our longtime neighbour, Indonesia.

So what do I think of Indonesia?

Well, their construction workers build your house; their domestic helpers clean your house; then in their spare time, they break in and clean out your house. They regularly export tons of choking smoke that poisons entire countries and shortens lifespans by years. And if you visit there you better be very, very careful; or have a bodyguard handy – especially if you look a little too well-off, or are the wrong colour, or believe in the wrong god.

Do ya semmelllllllllalalalalalalalalalala.... what the Indons, are, cookin'?!?!?!?! 
In case I wasn’t being clear: I really do not like Indonesia. Not one bit.

Until recently.

On a whim, for variety’s sake, we went for dinner at Warung Leko one weekend and I was delighted by what I found.

Heavenly beef ribs resting on a bed of hellishly hot sambal that hurts sooooo good.
They proclaimed themselves ‘Spesialis iga sapi penyet’ – specialists in flattened beef ribs. And boy, did they deliver. Let me describe this amazing dish. The ribs came in three meaty chunks, still on the bone. The meat was perfectly marinated, fragrant, flavourful and tender enough that they didn’t need to provide a knife like most restaurants normally do when they serve you beef. They also had a tiny amount of fat left on them that was so melty and delicious, it made me want to ask for a whole plateful of just the fat alone. The crispy, deep-fried garlic slices were more than mere a garnish, adding a garlicky fragrance and just the perfect hint of bitterness. The actual garnish of raw cabbage leaves and cucumber slices were crunchy and fresh, and great for cooling off the burn from the other star of the dish: the sambal.

The sambal was so good, I finished every last bit of it. By sheer coincidence, I happened to be wearing a T-shirt that warns those with low tolerance for spicy food to stay away unless they want their digestive systems set on fire... both ends of it.
Ah, yes, the sambal. I read somewhere that it’s made fresh to order, and only one person is tasked with making it to ensure consistency. A thin layer of it covered the whole surface of the earthenware platter the dish was served on, and everything else rested on top of it. You get to choose from 3 levels of lethality: non-spicy, spicy and very spicy. Being Malaysian, I naturally scoffed at the non-spicy version. The first time I ate there, because I knew Indonesian chillies are no joke, I decided to err on the side of caution and picked Level 2: spicy. The heat was just nice, assertive enough to cut through the richness of the beef, but not so overpowering that it blocks out other flavours. Since then, I’ve been back a few times but have yet to pluck up the courage to go all the way up to Level 3.

On a subsequent visit, I tried a variation of the ribs cooked on a hot plate and covered in a special sauce. It was just as good. The sauce – which I have come to think of as a sort of Indonesian barbecue sauce – added a nice layer of sweet-and-sour flavour to the beef. This dish also came with some sliced shallots, diced tomatoes, some sambal (of a different variety) and a wedge of lime. I didn’t think these added much to the flavour of the ribs, which were already perfect, and I rather missed the killer sambal they use on the regular ribs.

Some of the special sauce has caramelised on the hot plate and got slightly burnt. It tastes great, too - so be sure to scrape it off and add it to your rice... don't waste any! 
Now, as I’m allergic to being stabbed, I have not visited Indonesia to try out the beef ribs there, but I really can’t imagine it being much better than what we can find here at Warung Leko.

Besides ribs, they also do a pretty good ayam penyet that’s almost on par with Ayam Penyet Ria in Sunway Mentari (which will be the subject of a future post). Crispy, tender, tasty chicken; nice accompanying sambal; you know how it goes. If you don’t eat beef this is a good choice.

Ayam penyet - fried and flattened to tender, juicy, tasty perfection.
Or if you’re allergic to chicken like a (very unfortunate) friend of mine is, you might want to go for the fried tilapia. It’s marinated in soy sauce and deep fried till it’s so crunchy, you can eat the smaller bones like crackers. In spite of this, they’ve somehow managed to keep the flesh juicy and moist. It comes with a mild sambal that very nicely complements its more subtle flavour.

Fried fish with a very literal twist.
Need to fulfill your veggie quota for the day? The stir-fried kangkung is pretty good. It has a soy sauce-based flavour that’s a refreshing departure from the sambal kangkung we commonly find in Malaysia. It’s different, but good.

Stir-fried kangkung - not too big on presentation, but certainly big on taste.
I can’t say the same for the drinks, however. They had interesting names like Soda Gembira (sort of a carbonated ais bandung), Es Jeruk Degan (orange and coconut that tasted like an overly sweet orange juice with some slices of coconut flesh in it), and Teh Botol (which also comes in a box, and which I personally do not like). Most of them weren’t bad, just… different. Not different in a way that makes you go ‘Mother of God, that’s BRILLIANT!’ Just different in a way that makes you go ‘Oh, that’s different. Right. Well. Moving on.’
Es Jeruk Degan - this was supposed to be orange and coconut, but tasted like orange and sugar syrup.
Finally, I have to say something about the service. Normally, you go to shops like this and you expect efficient and polite service. But the wait staff here really surprised me with how warm and friendly they are. They were very obliging and always willing to go out of their way to provide good service. I rarely do this, but the service I got here compelled me to leave a tip, especially considering that they don’t add a service charge or government tax to the bill.

Well, it doesn’t look like Indonesia is about to stop exporting haze to our homes any time in the foreseeable future. But in spite of that, I have, happily, found at least one thing from that country which I like. A lot.

The shop is located on the first floor of the bridge between The Curve and e@Curve. Al-fresco dining available.
Snack-sized review
Amazing beef ribs. And great Indonesian food overall. Drinks are different from what we normally have; they’re not bad but not great, either. Very reasonable prices and great service. Give it a try!

Hours: Same as the mall – 10am to 10pm
Price: Nothing on the menu is above RM20. Regular ribs are RM12.50 and ayam penyet is RM8.50. Very good deal for the quality of food you get. Plus, no service charge or government tax!
Outlets: It’s part of a chain that has 40+ outlets in Indonesia. But according to their Facebook page, their only Malaysian outlet is the one at The Curve.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Video: Martha Stewart’s easy garlic-peeling technique

Recently saw a video of Martha Stewart showing us how to easily and quickly peel garlic – no knives necessary.

I was immediately excited and intrigued. Extrigued.


That. Just. Happened.

Two innocent words were just mashed between my meaty hands into a horrifying abomination.

As a colleague of mine would so very eloquently put it: BOOM!

Sorry, I digress; we should be talking about mutilating garlic bulbs, not the English language.

Ah'm fixin' ta mess yew up good, boyh!

Anyway, since I love garlic, this got both my attention and my interest. A quick way to get to all that tasty, vampire-repelling goodness without risk of cutting myself and attracting unwanted attention from the likes of Mr. Cullen and family? Why, yes, yes please!

But then I thought, ‘Dude, this is MARTHA STEWART we’re talking about here. She’s a bonafide domestic goddess with divine talent and superhuman skills. Just because she made it look easy doesn’t mean it’ll be easy for you. Remember the last time you tried to replicate Alton Brown’s barbecue recipe?’

Yes, yes I do. I’m sorry, Mr. Brown, I let you down. What I made that day was most certainly not good eats.

Sorry, I digress again; we should be talking about mutilating garlic bulbs, not Alton Brown’s recipe.

Right, I’ll stay on topic.


So, back to the question we should have addressed a few paragraphs ago: is Martha Stewart’s garlic-peeling trick as easy as she makes it out to be? Can someone of my limited skill do it as well? Guess there’s only one way to find out.

Whaddaya know? It worked! Individual cloves separated cleanly from their skins. You don’t even have to cut the hard base of the bulb. There were some stray cloves that stubbornly clung on, but I cleaned out the bowls and shook them again and they came loose as well. It works with even a single clove, so you don’t have to use a whole bulb.

You actually have to shake it quite hard, so Martha is pretty darn strong. Guess no one tried to mess with her in prison. At least, not without suffering the same fate as those hapless garlic bulbs.

Also worth noting: I tried it once off-camera with another garlic bulb that was not as fresh. It seemed like it was harder to peel compared with the fresher bulb I used in the video.

Making a dish that requires garlic? Might wanna give this a try.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Nameless Bak Kut Teh – A taste 10 years in the making

Black & White Kopitiam, Jalan PJU 8/5c, Damansara Perdana, Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia

It seems appropriate to begin my first food post with something close to home.

I’ve been regularly getting my bak kut teh fix from this stall for about 10 years.

It would be natural to assume, based on what you know so far – and especially if you’re a fan of kung fu comics – that this is some mind-blowing stuff we’re about to talk about here. A bak kut teh stall so legendary, it does not need anything so commonplace as a name for its hordes of fanatical fans to identify it. A taste that’s been honed and perfected over a decade, probably involving a few years’ meditation in some cave in Pahang. A bak kut teh master of such fearsome skill that other, lesser bak kut teh cooks feel nothing but an intense self-loathing when they compare their mediocre abilities to his; not deeming themselves worthy to even speak his non-name aloud, only to whisper it in hushed and terrified tones. You don’t come here as a customer expecting a good meal, you come here as an unworthy supplicant begging him for the privilege of giving him your money in exchange for a taste of something truly heavenly.

Well, actually, no.

I eat here regularly because it’s within walking distance from where I live, and the guy now reliably does a solid job serving up a bak kut teh meal.

Mind you, it’s not always been like this. When I started eating here, he could be quite inconsistent. Sometimes the soup is too bland, or tastes somehow different from the way it usually does; sometimes the meat has an overpowering porky smell, or is too tough, or has fat that’s too chewy.

But he’s a nice guy and he’s been steadily improving his food over the years. Now, every time I eat there, I can rely on the fat to be deliciously melty, the meat to be tender and the soup to taste the way I expect.

But he still hasn’t bothered to give his stall a name.

Tender meat and melty fat in generous amounts... and just RM10 per person!

All right, I confess that I still add soy sauce to my soup to get it to taste just the way I want, but that’s just because I prefer overly salty food. Regular folks should like it just fine.

Teh-on-teh action: iced Chinese tea is a must for me whenever I have bak kut teh.
Now, the most important question. Should you take a special trip to try it?

Probably not.

But if you’re in the neighbourhood; and it’s a cold night; and you’re in the mood for hot, porky, herbalicious goodness; and you don’t feel up to driving all the way to Kepong or Jinjang or Klang or Puchong or wherever one of those famous bak kut teh places are; this nameless stall will serve up some pretty good stuff to satisfy your craving.

Gotta have rice and cili padi and garlic with bak kut teh. I prefer my garlic with light soy sauce instead of the dark soy sauce that most people seem to favour. 

Bonus: because it really is as anonymous as its non-name suggests, there are no crowds, no long waits for your food, no overpricing and definitely no prima donna attitude from the stall owner.

Pretty good deal, if you ask me.

A picture of the kopitiam and the stall itself. Tried to get a picture of the stall owner too, but doesn't want to be photographed. Maybe he's a secret agent and this bak kut teh thing is just a cover?

Because one can never have too many gratuitous bak kut teh shots, here's one more for the road... :)

Snack-sized review
Good, solid bak kut teh that’s steadily improved over the years. Probably not worth a special trip but if you’re in the neighbourhood and have a hankering for bak kut teh, you can count on this stall to serve up a satisfying meal.

Hours: About 5pm to 11pm daily (usually closed on Sunday)
Price: About RM10 for one person’s portion including rice, but without dough fritters (yau char kuai)

Eat, burp, write…

My friends and I have a tradition: if you burp at the table, you don’t excuse yourself. Heck no – the rest of us will cheer you instead. The louder and longer the burp, the more enthusiastic our cheers.

I don’t know exactly how it started or why those other jokers did it, but for one who loves food as much as I do, a well-executed burp is a beautiful thing. Like a gymnastics performance… only with wayyy more gas, and body fat. It’s a natural part of the meal, and a most sincere way to show appreciation for food received, particularly if said food had been good.

And so here we are, at this digital extension of my usual post-meal burp. Where I can express appreciation for good food by writing glowing recommendations. And bad food by posting severe warnings.

Obviously, all you read here is the personal opinion of someone whose technical knowledge of food is rudimentary at best, and whose cooking chops are even less noteworthy.

But I do have an intense love of all things food-related, and I’ve never been known to give a bad food recommendation.

Right, we’ve gotten all that out of the way. Let’s dig in.