Chantilly in Milazzo

22 11 2012

I HAVE the utmost respect for purveyors of good food.  I guess that’s why my admiration for Ms. Sonja L. Ocampo of Cupcakes by Sonja hasn’t waned through the years.  And her shop is always on my list of must-go-to places every time I find myself back home in the Philippines.

There is always a noble purpose, a deeper meaning when someone makes edible works of art.  Think Juliette Binoche as Vianne Rocher in that 2000 film Chocolat.

So when my new friend Michele, who just started reading my blog (yey!), told me about his brother and sister-in-law’s confectionery shop in Sicily, I just have to have a look–see.  The place is called Chantilly, the name alone evokes images of deliciousness in either one or all three incarnations – the city in France, the lace it inspired, or the cream, lightly whipped, sweetened just a touch.

We were talking earlier and I wondered if Chantilly delivers worldwide.  I’ve been bitten hard by the images of the gelato, the artisanal chocolate and the wedding cake with cascading roses in blue and white.  Visit their site at http://www.chantilly.sicilia.it/.

Oh my, pastry really does make this world a better place.

Copyright © 2012 by eNTeNG  c”,)™©’s  MunchTime™©.  All rights reserved





To Spain by way of Harbourfront

22 11 2012

Calamares Plancha, Serenity Spanish Bar and Restaurant, Vivo City, Singapore

WE LOVED that dinner we had at Blu Kouzina so much that we found ourselves planning the second trip faster than anybody could say “Blu.”  But the night we did, the place was closed.  Not one to pass up on the chance to take gastronomic adventures – technically, opportunities that present themselves when the original plans fall through – we moved on to seek a suitable replacement and found ourselves not wandering far from the cuisine of the Grecian isles.

We decided on Serenity Spanish Bar & Restaurant at Vivo City.  It’s just seven stations away by train from the office, yet much like Blu Kouzina, it held a promise of cuisine that could be good we’d feel like we needed our passports to be rightfully devouring what we were having.

For starters, we rounded up a selection of Spanish tapas that teased with both their modest portions and subtle flavors.  The calamares plancha, which to me literally means grilled squid, was fresh, cooked perfectly – any longer on the fire and it would’ve been stringy – and doused in one of the definitive flavors of the Mediterranean region – extra virgin olive oil.  Patatas bravas, cubes of tenderized potatoes, deep-fried and smothered in a lightly tangy red sauce of tomatoes, paprika, chili and vinegar, with a drizzling of alioli, made a believer in me in the rightful position this tuber occupies in the culinary world.

Patatas Bravas

This was my second time breaking bread with “Team Italia”, an act rendered tangible meaning by two servings of pan con alioli – two loaves of whole bread generously dotted with pumpkin seeds, meant to be dipped in pristine alioli, a mélange of mayonnaise and garlic.

My fresh lime juice

 

Cheers!

A couple of toasts had been proposed, me with my fresh lime juice and everybody else with their Erdinger beer, before the pièce de résistance made it to the table – Paella Valenciana.  Coming from the Philippines, where arroz a la Valenciana is as common as boiling water, the “purist” in me expected a fragrant simmered short-grain rice dish, infused with the essence of saffron, cooked with meat.  When it is made with seafood, it is called paella de marisco.  Or, when both meat (like chorizo) and seafood are used, it is called mixed paella (paella mixta).  What Serenity served us was the third variant.

Serenity’s Paella Valenciana

But who would be bothered with proper names when we would rather focus on enjoying perfectly cooked plump grains of rice, suffused with the flavors of meat and the sweetness of seafood?  Especially when we have reached the bottom of the pan where everybody went searching for that layer of “toasted” rice that is essential to a good – and may I say, authentic – paella.

Dinner company – Claudio, Paolo, Giovanni, eNTeNG, Kia Leh, and Michele.

 

Let’s try that once more with flash!

 

On the purple line on the way back – Paolo, eNTeNG and Kia Leh.

 

Copyright © 2012 by eNTeNG  c”,)™©’s  MunchTime™©.  All rights reserved





Now that’s Greek to me!

22 11 2012

A portion of Greek Salad, Blu Kouzina, Bukit Timah Road, Singapore

ONLY LIFE–AFFIRMING pasta in Rome or pizza in Napoli could save that train wreck of a movie that was “Eat Pray Love”.  Not even Julia Roberts’ trademark megawatt smile – which currently headlines a huge Lancôme campaign, clearly showing it (the smile) has lost none of its charms – could do for it what loving close-ups of spaghetti could.

In my mind what those flashing scenes imprinted were a couple of truths.  The Italians do know how to make and appreciate really good food.  And they sing opera.

Lately, I’ve been fortunate enough to mingle with a group of Italians on temporary assignment here at our company’s Singapore offices.  So on the very first instance they invited me to join them for dinner, I didn’t pass up the chance.  I hopped on a cab at my block, headed to pick them up at their hotel in Clarke Quay, and all together proceeded to Bukit Timah Road at this place called Blu Kouzina: A Distinct Mediterranean Flavor.

The façade

 

The freshest produce on the island at the open kitchen

Michele, having been to the place at least once prior, told me the moment we stepped in that being at Blu Kouzina is like being invited to someone’s home.  I didn’t see it immediately in the open seating fronting the façade, or in the cafeteria-style layout that welcomes you at the door.  But all it took was passing through the kitchen – with an island bursting with “arrangements” of the freshest produce, the intense colors of which could inspire Caravaggio to paint – before I found myself nodding in agreement.

I took the stairs at the back, paused to admire the framed family photograph on a small table propped up at the landing, and knew I was beginning to be awash in that sense of “feeling at home”, much like how the interiors of the restaurant are awash in that distinctive shade of blue that conjures up images of the shoreline of the Santorini caldera.

A framed photo on a table on the stairs landing

 

I love subtle touches like this carafe of water…

 

…and this lamp with a votive.

 

Every table has at least a couple of bottles of the restaurant’s very own organic extra virgin olive oil.

 

Even the restaurant’s place mat brandishes the provenance of their extra virgin olive oil.

 

The Menu

 

The meal started with really good bread. Blu Kouzina is a Greek restaurant yet I think of this bread to be very much like a Tuscan loaf.

 

A piece of bread almost soaked in really good extra virgin olive oil. Sometimes, nothing could be better.

Usually one to delight in myself as this “excellent orderer,” I allowed Michele, Claudio, and Lia – clearly the evening’s hosts – to come up with a spread that started in pianissimo, building up in a raging crescendo to fortissimo.  It’s been over a week since this dinner yet my memory and my palate are still held captive by the roughly tumbled Greek Salad of cherry tomatoes, cucumber, onions, Kalamata olives and green bell pepper ensconced beneath a shield of perfectly crumbly feta cheese, dressed ever so lightly in the restaurant’s signature extra virgin olive oil and organic vinegar.

The Greek Salad. I could finish one whole serving of this and still have seconds. It’s that good!

 

I just had to have second helpings of the salad. Nothing could be simpler than this – chunks of cucumber, halves of cherry tomatoes, crumbles of feta. Yet nothing seems to be more delicious.

The moussaka, a casserole of aubergine and ground lamb with onion and tomatoes bound with beaten eggs and finished with charred white sauce on top elicited the most restrained oohs and ahhs from me, but not before I had to ask Michele, who was serving, not to give me a huge portion in deference to the needs of all the others at the table.  To this he simply replied, “No. No.  No.  You have to get the bigger piece because you have to think about all the flavors.

The moussaka has landed!

 

My first portion of the moussaka. It was love at first bite!

I finished my relatively bigger portion of moussaka and must’ve transfixed my plate with a determined stare of someone who wanted to lick all the yummy bits off of the pristine dish, when Michele quipped, “If only I was at home!” which assured me that I wasn’t alone in my thought.  Propriety was the only thing that kept us from licking our plates clean.

The beef souvlaki, served on a cutting board on which were arranged wedges of fresh tomatoes, crescents of red onions, lemon, and a couple of charred bread, was divine in its tenderness even though the meat was cooked well done.  The lemon chicken sat on a shallow golden green sea of extra virgin olive oil and was delicate, both in flavor and texture.

The beef souvlaki comes on a cutting board surrounded by wedges of tomatoes, crescents of red onions, lemon and charred bread.

 

Michele prepares to serve the beef souvlaki.

 

The lemon chicken

 

The lemon chicken was very tender and delicate, perfect with the potatoes.

 

Lentil Dip

 

I don’t exactly remember how these are called. But these vegetable patties are just scrumptiously yummy.

 

Rice wrapped in vine leaves

And while the scrumptious trio of desserts we ordered was both a treat as much as an exercise in self-control, it was the rice wrapped in grape leaves (or vine leaves, as lovingly described by Lia) that haunts me to this day.

The trio of desserts starts with baklava, rich think sheets of filo pastry filled with chopped nuts and slathered with honey. Delicious.

 

Another one of the desserts. Again, how this is called escapes me at the moment.

 

Greek yogurt with strawberry preserve

 

Trust Michele to give you yet another huge portion. Haha!

I must’ve unconsciously clapped at the end of the meal that Lia had to declare, “Good food makes you happy.  That’s why it’s important.”  And much like the sweeping motion of a piece of crusty Tuscan bread mopping up extra virgin olive oil off of his plate, Michele made a sweeping statement that I couldn’t agree more with: “Everything was delicious according to me.

For the second time that evening, I nodded in agreement and almost broke into song, a hearty rendition of ‘O Sole Mio in the opera in my head.

Good food. Great company.

 

Copyright © 2012 by eNTeNG  c”,)™©’s  MunchTime™©.  All rights reserved