29 October 2007

Almost Quarter of a Century later...

It is no secret that I am biased towards non-local/Asian food, whether I am thinking about what to cook, or which restaurant to visit. I have to qualify that when it comes to eating out, this bias only applies to those days when the wallet is a little fatter and a special occasion warrants a generous palate-pampering. This is typically because GREAT Asian/local food is available in such abundance, at reasonably high quality, and at ridiculously low prices at some nearby coffeeshop or hawker centre. Paying premium prices for something I can get at a fraction of the price at a similar, if not better, standard is just not logical.

However, last night was an exceptional night in all senses of the word. To celebrate a MOMENTOUS occasion almost a quarter of a century earlier, my family wanted to go out for a good meal with my grandma. By that, of course, I really mean that I wanted to go out for a good meal with my family and my grandma.

While my grandma is generally appreciative of a variety of cuisines, I know that she truly enjoys Chinese food the most. As I wanted to make sure that she enjoyed the night as much as I was going to, I chose a contemporary chinese restaurant - New Majestic Restaurant - to celebrate the Momentous Occasion.

I ate there a couple of months back with some university friends and remember the meal with such fond memories, not just because of the laughter all around the table, but also because of the extremely delectable spread. Returning this time, I was certainly not let down. The meal lived up to my expectations, which we all know somehow escalates overtime, and impressed my entire family.

Once we arrived, I ordered their signature appetiser platter - soft-shell crab, crab omelette, wasabi prawns with a mango salsa of sorts and crispy pork belly- while pondering over the other dishes. They were all flavourful and contrasting in texture. My favourite was the wasabi prawns , which is pretty common in most contemporary chinese restaurants, but I've always had a soft spot for perfect, fresh, crystal prawns.

We ordered a couple of other dishes as well, most of which did not look good in front of the lens, but all of which tasted like heaven. The Roast Chicken with Five Spice Salt (pictured above) was recommended by the waiter, in place of the other wasabi chicken dish I initially planned to order, as he was afraid we'd turn green from overdosing on wasabi. It had everything you would expect of a good roast chicken, crisp skin and tender chicken. Even the chicken breast was not spared.

Cubed beef tenderloin in black pepper sauce impressed my grandma very much, to the extent that she started trying to concoct the recipe in her head with her eyes closed and a furrow between her brows. When the poached amaranth with three eggs (century, salted, chicken) arrived, it was a great interlude from all the rich dishes. The homemade tofu was equally, if not more impressive as it was incredibly silky, almost like soya beancurd deep-fried and drenched in a deliciously savoury sauce.

We had wok-fried mee sua which had plenty of wok hei, and which my mum and grandma were thoroughly amazed by because handling a noodle as delicate as mee sua is highly challenging. It's fine if it is merely dumped in doup, but when it has to be fried, to keep it from sticking to the wok or breaking into little pieces, surely requires more than just a wok, a ladle and a very big flame.

What I did not order again in this second visit, but which I wish I had the appetite to accomodate, was the Chai Tow Kuay aka Carrot Cake (Chinese-style). In hawker centres, these are served with small cubes of the rice cake fried with garlic, egg and seasoning. At New Majestic Restaurant, they added some crunchy beansprouts and spring onion, and served it with big, juicy cubes of rice cake. Before I tried it, I thought it would be overwhelmingly heavy and would cause the dish to become a little bland since the whole mouth would essentially filled with nothing but rice cake. It was however, and very surprisingly so, utterly tasty throughout - from bite to swallow.

Dessert was a must of course, and while I had tried many of their fancier desserts like Homemade Sorbet with Aloe Vera and Grass Jelly, or Fried Durian Ice Cream, what left the greatest impression on me was the Red Bean Pancake. It effectively raised my expectations of all other red bean pancakes henceforth. It is not enough to be crisp, with a suitably sweet and smooth red bean paste, it also has to be almost feather-like, providing only the slightest resistance between the teeth before it snaps into two fragile parts.

Dinner was truly a delight, and my dad was more than happy with their service, which really says alot since he is very particular about it everywhere we go. It was however, a little surreal that I was celebrating my 23rd birthday already. Not long ago, I was merely 16 years old, celebrating my birthday with my girlfriends at a foodcourt, right after the Chinese 'O' level paper. They serenaded me in the herb garden right outside the school. They concocted a potent cocktail of tabasco sauce, pepper, faux grated parmesan and whatever they could lay their hands on, for me to consume because well, it was just one of those wild things we did. They were such gems and such joy.

I remember thinking about where I'd be at 23, and decided that I would want to get married at 23, 2 years after graduation and just enough time to accrue a tidy sum of savings. At 25, I would have my first child, and my second would come at 27. My husband and I would then live happily ever after.

Now, in a blink of the eye, 7 years have passed?! I still keep in contact with those girls of course, and they are still such gems and joy. But the 'M' concept is getting increasingly elusive, and the thought of having children in two years time is more frightening than Halloween, so I'm thankful it'll definitely be a(long)while till then.

But 7 years have passed indeed, and it really scares me that I'll be 24 soon, then soon enough I'll really be a quarter of a century old. Before I know it, I'll be middle-aged, middle-income, and middle-heavy!


Aunty San said...

Happy birthday, Daffy! (I guess it should be belated by now ...) The 20's are great, but the best is yet to come! :)

aPril said...

Happy belated birthday daffy! :) i LOVE red bean pancake and I'll ask every chinese restaurant that I go to but so far only crystal jade and the previous neptune (which has closed down boo) did it, so I'm definitely going to try it at this restaurant you recommended! :)

Kelvin said...

Yoz... Happy Belated Birthday!!! It's always good to visit your blog for good restaurant recommendations. :) Looks like you thoroughly enjoyed your birthday dinner. Here's wishing you many years of enjoyment of great food and begone heavy middle. ;)

yixian said...

happy birthday!

so sad. you turn 23 and i am turning 24!!!

sound so old!!!

Chang said...

Happy birthday Ms Yuan!! :)

I unfortunately didn't get a reservation at El Bulli...so lousy..also didn't get to try The French Laundry in San Francisco..sigh..but never mind, there's always next time!

Anyway, may the year ahead continue bringing you more joy and happiness!!!

Take care and Happy Birthday!!! :)

the hungry cow said...

Happy 23rd Birthday Daffy! Cheers to many delicious years ahead.

@BEL said...

Here's to a yummylicious 23rd birthday! May every other day be as delicious and fat-free as one might only wish! So use your entitled wish! ;)

faith said...

hi daffy, thanks for sharing. i will celebrating my 23rd on the 1st of Nov. let's see if i can squeeze in a reservation for this one to celebrate with the family. :)

Chubby Hubby said...

Happy Birthday! Sigh... 23 years young. When you have some free time, let S and I cook you a nice little birthday meal. ;-)

fe li ci a said...

what's wrong with being 24 -_-

Anonymous said...

San san> Hello! You're NOT an aunty! What are you talking about? Thank you anyway, and I definitely hope the best is yet to come!

April> Thank you April! Do try it and let me know what you think about it! My family seems to share your sentiments as they totally neglected the other dessert and went 'ooooh' when the red bean pancake arrived.

Kelvin> Hey there! I did enjoy my dinner thoroughly, thank you! I hope no heavy middle pops up!

Yixian> Thank you! 1 year is not that big of a difference my dear! Does it feel as surreal for you as it does for me?

Chang>Awwwww, don't worry about the reservation! Lets try Fat Duck!=) Go with me please! I'll see you 'soon'!

THC> Thank you! Delicious years ahead indeed, yum.

Abel> Hey there! I hope by fat free you mean, I don't get fatter! Because meals without fat is really, really sad!

Faith> Happy Birthday to you too then! I hope you managed to get a reservation and will enjoy yourself as much as I did. Let me know how it goes!

CH & S> Hello A & S! I would love that but I think your schedule is more packed than mine, so let me know when your schedules free up! We have not met in a while and would be nice to catch up again =)

Fel> Did I say there's something wrong with 24? I don't think so! Why so sensitive? Ohhhh, cos you are 24. I see. ;P