Comida Mexicana – Mexican Fare & Margaritas We Can’t Get Enough Of

Newly opened in Katong, Comida Mexicana is technically not new — it was formerly Margarita’s East Coast. In its refreshed branding and new menu, proprietress Vivian Wee continues to serve up top notch Mexican fare with a focus on healthy cooking, quality ingredients and fabulous flavours. I’ll admit, this post is particularly enthusiastic because hers has been our favourite neighbourhood restaurant for well over 15 years (ie. we’ve put our money where our mouth is), and we are very familiar with her as well as the food she whips up.

Oh, but Mexican is so heavy, and it’s all just refried beans and tacos, you say. Well, rest assured, not here.

For those who like their tipples, let me just state that they serve the best margaritas on this earth. There are several grades on the menu. The higher grades are smooth and well rounded, but the house pour margarita’s ($18) are good enough for me — I like them with a bit of an edge. And you’ll definitely feel the buzz from these. I like them classic, but if you fancy a twist, the tamarind margarita — as odd as it sounds — is actually very nice. There’s also sangria, mojito and daiquiris if you prefer.

Food portions are very generous here and meant for serious sharing. Not like the trendy ‘sharing plates’ that are actually two-thirds the size of full main courses, these are genuine, generous, hefty dishes. As a guideline, if there’s three of you, you’ll just need two appetisers and two mains to share, and get a jug of margarita. If you still have space for desserts, order two again to share. We promise you’ll be rolling out the restaurant after that.

So, on to the food. To start, share the mashed avocado sopes ($20), little tarts (made from scratch) piled with refried beans, guacamole, and a lime wedge, and my must-have, tortilla chips with home-made red salsa ($6), tangy, rich, with a substantial chillied kick. The mushroom fritters are great too.

From her main courses, the Mexican Yucatan chicken ($28) is a must have, comprising five large pieces of grilled leg meat on skewers. Marinated in achiote, garlic, orange and lemon juice, they are tasty, juicy with a zippy tang, served in a tortilla ‘bowl’ filled with salad and four steamed tortilla. Get hands-on and assemble your own tortilla wrap, filled with meat, salad and pieces of fried tortilla bowl. Since it made its debut, this dish has been making ‘instagrammed’ countless times and has won many over. And it’s large enough for two to share.

The carne asada ($52) is a drippingly juicy, boldly flavoured grain-fed beef marinated in brandy, tequila and orange juice, served with tortilla, pico de gallo, guacamole, sour cream, salsa rojas, and black beans. It comes to the table sizzling, and is absolutely delectable. We love the carnitas, too, comprising delectable pulled pork slow-cooked for two and a half hours and served with tortilla, salsa rojas, salsa verde, and guacamole. Like the chicken, these are meant for hands-on assembling fun. If you fancy seafood, the cornflakes crusted baby snapper fillets ($32) with roasted tomatillo sauce is good – crisp, zingy and generous. The chicken burrito, and the braised lamb shank ($38) are also favourites.

If you’ve still got space for dessert, have the salted caramel pina colada bread pudding ($15). Unapologetic and not for the faint at heart, this is made of brioche soaked in dark rum and cream, with chopped pineapples, coconut ice cream and lashings of salted caramel sauce. Divine. And there’s the kahbrita ($14), a moreish composition of homemade coconut ice cream coated in chocolate powder, kahlua and a shot of espresso. A Mexican version of the affogato.

A passionate cook who is also totally health conscious, Vivian makes everything from scratch in her restaurant kitchen, from the sauces and salsas to ice cream. She imports most of her ingredients from Mexico and the USA, including avocadoes, chillies, beans and tomatillos — and most of them organic as far as possible. Canned ingredients are avoided as far as possible. Another thing worth noting, with three days advanced notice, she offers made-to-order reduced-sugar cakes such as Kahlua Tiramisu, Carrot Cake, Banana Cake, and Bread & Butter Pudding ($80-$150 for 3kg, takeaway only). And did we say they serve the best margarita’s on earth?

404 East Coast Road, Singapore 428998
Tel: (65) 6440 8030
(Closed on Mondays unless they are public holidays or PH eve)

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Fratelli’s Colossal To-Die-For Veal Rack

Located in Hotel Michael in Resorts World Sentosa, Fratelli has made it to my personal list of ‘must go’ restaurants in Singapore, and definitely worth the drive to Sentosa.

This celebrity chef restaurant — backed by brothers Roberto and Enrico Cerea of three-Michelin starred Da Vittoria in Lombardy — is a contemporary Italian restaurant that serves up creative, contemporary yet authentic fare with fundaments firmly based on the traditional cuisine. The cooking here is delightfully precise, and the dishes impressively done (and I’m not easily impressed these days). Helming it is Chef de cuisine Davide Bizzari, and together they have just rolled out their new menu, with most items from the ‘mother restaurant’ in Lombardy.

If there is one thing you must order, it is their colossal 1kg bone-in Milanese veal rack. Juicily tender and sweet, the meat is coated in breadcrumbs and crushed breadsticks, then deep fried in clarified butter. You could smell the butter wafting in like a herald as the cutlet was hauled in; then it was assembled at the tableside – with roasted tomatoes, crushed potato wedges and lemons arranged on top. Bite into it, hear the splintering crunch of the breaded coating, inhale the buttery aroma and the experience brings tears to your eyes. It’s true. I thought I heard a choir of angels sing. On the menu, they call it “elephant ear” and it is almost that large. The bone runs on just one side of the cut and the rest is beautiful meat. As the only main course, it could easily feed six conservatively. This is a seasonal item — read ‘short term’ — and the meat is from native Italian Piedmontese breed called Fassone, known for being lean and tender.

Another must-have is the Pizza Oro Nero, a squid ink pasta topped with mussels, salted cod fish, clams, baby squid, plump orbs of trout roe, tomatoes and topped with gold dust. Set against the black ink, it is the most glamorous looking pizza I have ever encountered – and it was good too.

The chittara pasta ($34)┬áis worth having for its uniqueness. It is handmade, and shaped by pressing sheets of fresh pasta through metal strings strung across a wooden frame — quite a tedious process. This results in a spaghetti that has a square rather than round cross section, with a firm, short bite. Served with braised short ribs ragu and shards of truffles, it is a very rich, thick, hearty dish which, while delectable, is best eaten in small doses, in my view. Lovely as it is, it can easily become ‘jelak’ as we say here in Singers.

For appetisers — sorry, we seem to be working backwards here — go for the steamed Boston lobster ($48) with avaocado wasabi cream and red capsicum mousse. Everything on the plate is as it should be in its best rendition — juicy sweet, lightly chewy lobster; and intense, smooth, luxurious mousse and creams which must not be wasted.

A highlight for dessert is Rosella’s Strawberry Planet, a meringue sphere which you break open to get to the strawberry inside. All in all, a fabulous meal, even if the interiors had a somewhat bland 1990s look.

Good to know: If you’re driving, just park like how you would go to Universal Studios, take the escalator up and walk along Festive Walk towards the hotel. Fratelli has an entrance facing Festive Walk, obliquely opposite Osia. That’s probably the most straightforward path to the veal rack.

Tel: (65) 6577 6555 or email Fratelli@RWSentosa.com
Closed Tues

Restaurant Review: Dallas Restaurant & Bar, Suntec City

Dallas Restaurant & Bar has been at Clarke Quay for a decade. Now, it marks its 10th anniversary this year with the opening of its new outlet at Suntec City’s rooftop garden. To be brutally honest, I had never heard of this restaurant before. Even then, when the name popped up, I couldn’t help but smirk at how campy it sounded. Really? Dallas? Images of JR Ewing and Charlene Tilton sprang to mind. Yes, very vintage.

I am now sorry I sniggered at its name. The new restaurant turned out to be a beautiful setting — high ceilings, floods of soft sunlight from floor-to-ceiling windows, an classically elegant island bar, hardwood floors and great bouquets of lilies. Just outside is the rooftop garden it shares with several other restaurants and bars, prettied up with a reflecting pool. A far cry from the pinball machine, dart board and mechanical bull that I had half expected to see.

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The menu wasn’t corn cakes, burgers and grits either. The stars here are its meats, and there are two dishes in particular that is definitely worth coming here for. The first is the Dallas Meat Platter, at an insanely good price of $70. Enough to feed three, the platter comprises two lamb cutlets, a half rack of pork ribs, a quarter chicken and a 250g prime rib steak. The meats are all very well marinated and their own different flavourings, and cooked moist and succulent. Particularly enjoyable is the steak, done medium rare, dripping with juice and with that nice grilled flavour from the Maillard reaction, and the very juicy lamb cutlets. The platter comes with a salad, roast potatoes and tomatoes on the vine, sauces and mustard. This is easily one of the best value deals in town for steak. The platter comes in a larger size which they say feed 4, at $130. Everything is doubled in this platter, except for the steak which is a 300g slice, instead of 250g. I’ve returned to the restaurant several times since to have this platter. Sharing among three, we didn’t need anything else but a couple of cocktails and maybe a dessert to share, simply out of greed.

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The Prime Rib Steak ($40) is the other main course you must have. It’s a hefty 250g steak of 100-day grain fed Aussie beef. To prepare it, the chef slow roasts a 4kg hunk of beef for 15 hours, then slices and finishes it on the grill at medium-rare. (This is the same steak you find on the Dallas Meat Platter). On weekends, you can order this for $35 and the steak is free-flow. That’s a deal that’s really hard to beat.

Dallas Restaurant has a stunning island bar that dominates half the restaurant, partitioned from the rest of the formal dining room. It’s lovely to sit there if you’re alone for lunch. Drinks are decently priced, and between 5pm and 8pm, there’s a two-for-one deal on cocktails. The Pimms Punch ($18) was quite watered down, but the Manhattan, Old Fashioned and Bellini were delightful — especially when it is two-for-one.

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What other dishes are there apart from the meat? For appetisers, the snapper fish tacos was good. It was a complex dish with lots of components and big piquant flavours — chunks of fresh deep fried snapper in a crisp batter lifted with piquant onions, pineapple chutney and a fiery tinge from chipotle mayo. But at $22 for three pieces, I find it is overpriced. The pork belly tacos was nice, too, but more predictable — crisp pork belly with aioli and guacamole with jalapeno. It’s $14 for three pieces, but each additional piece comes at a whopping $5. The grilled corn ($6) is popular with many diners; the tight rows are roasted with a sprinkling of parmesan and bit of chilli flakes, and served with chipotle mayo. I can understand why it is a hit with people, but personally I felt the add-ons simply overwhelmed the natural sweet taste of a good quality corn. For dessert, their key lime pie and brownie were most enjoyable. Simple options but sometimes, simple is the best.

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All in all, Dallas restaurant is a really good, solid restaurant to go for a good, well priced carnivorous meal. The steak deals are really hard to beat, and you do get a very good and enjoyable steak too. Since my first visit, I have been back several times, and have been recommending it to anyone in search of a good steak.

Good to know: There’s a sofa set up in the corner of the main dining room — book this table if you have a group of friends heading there just for drinks and bites. The main dining room can also be partitioned off for private parties and it is a pretty setting for such an event. Open from 11.30am, it’s a good place for an early lunch.

3 Temasek Boulevard
#03-302/303 Suntec City Sky Garden
(Between Towers 1 and 5)
Tel: 6333 4068
http://www.dallas.sg
#DallasSingapore

Restaurant Review: Cheek by Jowl

Sorrel didn’t last long. Opened to some fan fare last year, it has since closed and Cheek by Jowl fills its space, bringing a touch of Aussie-eclecticism into the Telok Ayer enclave.

Opened barely a month ago, it is already attracting a regular flow of customers filling up the somewhat narrow shophouse it occupies, diagonally opposite the historic Nagore Durga shrine. Context first: this restaurant by the Unlisted Collection is helmed by Australian chef Rishi Naleendra, whose cuisine is quirky and playful yet relatively fine, honed over a career working in illustrious kitchens like Taxi Dining Room in Melbourne, Tetsuya’s in Sydney and Yellow by Brent Savage. The restaurant manager is his wife, Manuela Toniolo, a welcoming presence. If you think you’d find culinary traces of Rishi’s native Sri Lanka in the cooking here, you’d be mistaken. It is all Aussie. He cooks from a sparkling open kitchen behind the counter, a good place for lone diners to eat.

The menu here is about sharing plates and grazing. In Singapore, this often means inflated prices, as sharing plates are priced almost as high as conventional main courses but offer only about two-thirds the portion. So go dutch or get Cheek by Jowl’s well-priced set lunch menu of $38++ for three courses.

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I found many gems on the restaurant’s a la carte menu. I loved the oysters on tomato granita — with a briny fresh supple oyster ($5 per piece) lifted by the bright cold sensation of the tomato ice. The cured ocean trout was a sweet, soft delectable slice, accompanied by the light creaminess of whipped buttermilk subtly infused with citrusy yuzu and the tender, clean crunch of cucumber. Very nice indeed, even if a little predictable. Then came a salt baked beetroot ($17), beautifully presented, with goat’s cheese curd, pickled raisins and a touch of horseradish. The combination of earthy, grassy, sweet and creamy was delightful and clever — and what would an Aussie restaurant be without a beetroot offering?

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This already gives a pretty good idea of Rishi’s cooking — light hearted, light flavours, with supporting components that are just as arduous to prepare as the main ingredient, reflecting an attention to detail where every component is important. A good example lay in my crisp, pan-fried barramundi ($32) whose juicy flesh and sweet taste is heightened by a complex charred scallion sauce bursting with a sweetish umami depth of flavour. This sat on a bed of charred onion mash and a sprinkling of burnt lemon powder.

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My absolute favourite though was the rather odd dish of caramelised five-spice duck confit served with a peppery coriander-sprinkled salad, sweetly pickled cucumbers and a few slices of crisp, fluffy waffles. It’s like an Asian reinterpretation of the New York offering of fried chicken with waffles. Does that sound schizophrenic? Nevermind – it was delicious. I will forgive the slightly stringy duck as its rich caramelised glaze paired beautifully with the meat and the waffles. If you’re still peckish, have the padron peppers ($9), and the hasselback potatoes ($10).

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Finally the black olive cake ($15), while sounding unappetising, was absolutely divine as a dessert — slightly meaty but with a soft give, just sweet enough with a more substantial flavour. I enjoyed it with the strawberry ice cream, and whipped yoghurt – a nice combination even though put together, it looked completely mismatched.

Apart from Champagne, all the wines here are from Australia or New Zealand. Priced from $68 a bottle, you do have a good selection of rather unusual bottles like Ministry of Clouds Riesling from the Clare Valley ($85) and Dal Zotto Sangiovese from King Valley Australia ($98). They offer only three cocktails created by Proof & Company (the whizzes behind 28HongKong Street, etc) including a pretty potent Wattleseed Negroni ($19).
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21 Boon Tat Street
Tel: +65 6221 1911
#CheekbyJowlSG

Restaurant Review: Cook & Brew – Great Value For Steaks

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It’s always a challenge for me to decide on a restaurant to go to. Despite there being an over-abundance of good restaurants in Singapore, it is not easy to find one with the magic formula of good food + good value. When we have to think of which restaurant we want to go for a personal dinner, many of my food journalist friends and I often take a long time to come up with an idea. Because in all honesty, there’s just a handful where I am truly happy to spend the money.

Good service is even harder to find, so when I encounter it, it is often a pleasant surprise. That’s not good news, as it reflects the state of restaurant service in Singapore. But more about that another day.

Cook & Brew at the Westin Singapore is one of those few restaurants that checks my two most important boxes of good food and good value. And a few more.

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The Good & Bad First
The expansive gastrobar on the 36th floor of Westin Singapore is a relaxing physical space though done up in strong masculine tones of wood and leather. The floor-to ceiling windows that stretch the considerable length of the restaurant gives a great view of the city especially at night when the city lights come on, and if you want to taste the air from on high, there’s a large, breezy al fresco verandah for rooftop drinks. Just make sure you’ve got your industrial-strength hair spray on.

At the dining area, tables are spaced well apart, making it way more comfortable than hip restaurants where tables are placed just a nail’s-width apart.

Service wise, most of the staff try hard, and the managers are pretty friendly, though you have a gruff one to watch out for. When it’s a little more quiet, say during lunch time, they staff tend to get a little relaxed, and it can be a challenge to get their attention — which is not a good thing.

While the choice and volume of music can be a little trying, and the lights a little too dim at night (bad for long sighted creatures like me), the price point on the menu is spot on. And added draw — Cook & Brew offer nightly promotions which are very well thought-through. Whoever is behind if really understands what the customers truly want.

All things balanced out, I like this place, and have been back a number of times (which I pay for). Most recently last night.

On to the Food
Cook & Brew recently changed its menu to one which is more focused and integrated. What’s the cuisine? Honestly I don’t quite know….American-inspired burgers, mod-Western main dishes, and a particularly interesting plethora of appetisers. They point to easy, happy food to pair with the restaurant’s impressive collection of beers.

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For appetiser, must have the whipped buffalo ricotta with truffle honey and crisp bread ($12). Very simple, yet very clever, every mouthful is luxurious — the creamy lightness of the cheese is enhanced by the aromatic, slight sweet honey and lifted with the delightful crunch of the bread. This was easily the star of my two meals there in recent weeks.

The cardamom roasted beetroot was lovely too, it’s unique earthy flavour delectably paired with peppery pea shoots, rich hazelnuts, creamed goats cheese and caramelised palm sugar. The combination of diverse yet integrated flavours again is thoughtful and delightful.

The ‘poutine eh’ ($16), a messy bowl of pulled pork and fries glued together with melted cheese didn’t do a lot for me, though it probably qualifies as comfort food. And the hawker’s burger ($32) temptingly filled with char siew pork jowl and pork belly with sambal laced mayo, would have been fine had the burger bun not been quite so dry.

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Last night’s tomahawk rib-eye steak ($126) was superb. At 280g, there was plenty for three of us to share, and could have been enough for four light eaters. Done medium, the meat was tender, juicy and full of rich beefy flavour, with a slight browning on the outside from the Maillard reaction. Lovely. The steak came with a generous pile of fluffy rocket leaves nicely picked (no stems!) and dusted with finely grated parmesan, and a basket of crisp shoe string fries and garlic mayo.

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Cook & Brew’s dinner menu offers a few sharing dishes, the tomahawk being one. Other such platters include Ploughman’s Supper ($24) with cheeses, cured meats and chutneys with grilled bread and Seafood on Ice ($120) featuring lobster, oysters, tiger prawns, clams, smoked trout, etc.

On Friday nights, Cook & Brew rolls out the big guns of good value – including a fabulous deal for the Tomahawk. For $150++, you get the full tomahawk together with a bottle of red wine, and the seafood on ice comes with a bottle of champagne for a total of $180++.

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Good to know: Cook & Brew sports a pretty extensive range of wines in its Enomatic system. You can have a taste of the wines before you decide, and you can choose either a half or full glass of wine. You can also buy a ‘stored value’ wine card to make buying your glass even easier.

Restaurant Review : Clinton Street Bakery in Singapore

Clinton Street Bakery is synonymous with and revered for its legendary pancakes in New York City. I didn’t make it there while in NYC last November, but I got to snort in some absolutely divine, super fluffy, buttery blueberry pancakes at its newly opened outlet in Singapore. Yup, they actually opened a franchise here and promised to make it true to the original temple of NY brunch greats. Located in a pre-war shophouse right next to the Raffles Hotel, the stylish little cafe serves it well known menu of American comfort food with a southern touch.

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One of the rare cafes that open at 8am for breakfast (school moms rejoice!), Clinton Street Bakery just has to go on your list of places to go after dropping your darlings off at school.

Within this airy, comfy, contemporary cafe, the pancakes with warm maple butter and blueberries is a must-try. These pancakes come in a stack of three, each of them super fluffy, buttery, light and fall-off-your-chair wonderful. The blueberry compote is just right, not too sweet or thick.

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The southern breakfast was all right. It comes with cheese grits, fried green tomatoes crisply coated in a light batter, candied bacon and eggs done the way you like. We had a good scrambled eggs. The cheese grits are essentially cheesy oats done thick and creamy. It’s something you either like or not. I am no great fan, but that’s my personal taste. As grits go, it was pretty good. The green tomatoes were really good – a tight, crisp layer on the outside, sinking into a juicy, firm but sweet layer. Nice. The candied bacon served here are coated in maple syrup – gently sweet and very thinly sliced. It’s also served as a side dish which you can order a la carte, which we highly recommend.

Clinton Street Bakery’s other sides a lovely house cured salmon ($12), and an indifferent rosemary pork sausage ($7). Of these, my fave was the candied bacon, followed closely by the rather forlorn looking but surprisingly good, rather unevenly cut twice cooked, heavenly fries ($7).

Every new cafe with a brunch menu would have eggs benedict these days, and Clinton Street Bakery does not disappoint. The eggs were perfectly poached, with nice runny yolks, and served on toasted, crumbly rich buttermilk biscuits.

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If you want to load on more calories and fat, get the shamelessly rich shakes like peanut butter shake ($10) or the boozy salted caramel laced with bourbon ($15) and the cakes. My favourite was the black and white cake ($9.50), a tall, multilayered monster of a slice, with a substantial bite and just nicely sweet. For the sweet toothed, get the peanut butter ice box ($9.50) — a crumbly graham cracker crust topped with chocolate ganache and a whopping layer of peanut butter mousse. It’s unapologetically indulgent.

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Clinton Street Bakery is a good place for brekkie, but be warned that lunch is full house. Mains (which I didn’t try) include southern faves like chicken and waffles ($21) its signature, buttermilk fried chicken ($25) and seafood po’boy (21) – catch of the day sandwiched in French roll.

The restaurant also has a good drinks menu too with classic cocktails like Mojito, Mimosa and Bellini.

Clinton Street Bakery doesn’t take reservations unfortunately, and on busy days, the queue can be an hour long. But leave your name in the queue and they’ll call you when it’s your turn. Factor in an hour’s wait. For Sundays, inside sources say that getting here before 10am is best.

31 Purvis Street
Singapore