Saturday, September 28, 2013

ITALIAN VA VA VOOM


Chefs are truly a special breed of people. They have to be if they willingly subject themselves to the searing heat in the kitchen day in, day out; cooking up a storm just to satisfy our need to be fed.
They are such a passionate, (well most of those I've met anyway) committed and resolute bunch that some paying diners invariably take them for granted; quite forgetting that chefs are human too and not immune to unjust criticisms and catty remarks. While constructive comments are well and good, thoughtlessly spewed statements can really break their spirit and rice bowl.
Despite these hazards of the job, Nero Group Chef Michele Cuozzo remains the warm, welcoming host of Nerovivo restaurant; a prime KL landmark that promises diners an exceptional Italian casual dining experience. Not one to mince words, Chef Michele makes no bones about his opinion about bloggers and reviewers. Coming from a country with a rich culinary history that goes back some 2000 years, some of his views are justified.
 
A native of Sala Consilina from the Italian province Salerno, Chef Michele acquired his love for food and cooking through mama. When you dine at Nerovivo, you're not just eating another plate of pasta or pizza -- you're sampling the chef's soulful roots and palettes of his country's cultural and traditional heritage.
The restauant itself is an oasis of cool tranquility; its striking lilac walls adorned with Sandra Knuyt's artworks, interspersed by several floor-to-ceiling wine displays. There's also an al fresco section on the side for those who prefer a more outdoorsy ambiance. 
For the Kuala Lumpur Restaurant Week 2013 (4 - 11 October), Nerovivo is enticing Italian food lovers with two incredibly great value menus: RM38 nett per person for lunch and RM78 nett per person for dinner. These special deals are available only via online reservations so you'd better reserve a seat or two before the deadline tomorrow (29 September).

The chef's infectious enthusiasm was evident when he insisted on serving us two starters: Seafood Salad and Pizza Tartufata from the menu. Fyi, this latter costs RM48++ as an a la carte order so the KLRW dinner menu at RM78 is a real steal!
We thoroughly relished the refreshing seafood salad - a glistening heap of mixed salad leaves with chunks of scallop, fish, clams, mussel and prawn that's simply accented with olives, garlic, capers, lemon juice, olive oil and sea salt. Just the right dish to get our gustatory juices flowing.
Our appetite was further whetted by the pizza's distinct truffle-scented aroma when it arrived piping hot to our table. The dough base is crisp without being too thin; just sturdy enough to hold its irresistible toppings of porcini, smoked cheese, parmesan shavings, truffle cream and oil, and mozzarella. Bursting with deliciously rustic, musky and smoky accents, it's as authentic as any you'd get in Italy.
Other scrumptious starter options that you can select include Bresaola (air-dried cured beef) with Rocket Salad, Buffala Mozarella Caprese, Mixed Seasonal Green Salad, Pizza Capricciosa or Pizza Margherita.

Since I'm a newbie to Nerovivo, Chef Michele very generously gave me an insight into his hometown specialities such as bread, pasta and risotto which use squid ink as a key ingredient. For the uninitiated, squid ink has been found to contain many health benefits and is effacacious against cancer. However, one has to be wary of artificial squid ink-imbued dishes but I digress. 
After tickling our palate with his squid ink bruschetta topped with oven-dried cherry tomato, extra virgin olive oil and sea salt, we were treated to his speciality of Calamari Nerovivo (RM36++). Now this dish is NOT part of the promo menu but you can always order it a la carte if you wish to try it. 
"It's inspired by a traditional dish from Palermo where freshly caught squid is cooked with squid ink and a little tomato paste in a claypot," says Chef Michele. "Similarly, my dish has sliced calamari cooked in my own blend of squid ink sauce with red, orange and green pepper, onion, and chilli padi-infused olive oil to give it some oomph."

According to him, the sauce takes 3-4 hours to concoct using naturally extracted squid ink, extra virgin olive oil, roasted garlic, vegetable stock and capsicum. The result is a full-bodied, unctuous sauce with a discernible umami nuance to it.
For the main, the chef rustled up his Fettuccine Norcina - tender homemade flat pasta tossed in a gritty, meaty sauce that clings to the thin, chewy ribbons. I particularly like the simple albeit big flavours that spread across our palate; a tasty hodge-podge of minced chicken, ground walnuts, fennel seeds, paprika and salt all rolled into one. Definitely a welcome breakaway from the usual arrabiata and aglio olio preparations.

Those preferring to play it safe may want to consider alternative main course choices such as
Risotto al Nero di Seppia (squid ink risotto), Pollo alla Diavola (Italian-style roast chicken) or Lamb Chop Scottadito.
 
Sweet endings come in the form of Limoncello Cake, Almond Chocolate Cake, Tiramisú or
Chocolate Mousse. Heeding the chef's recommendation, we settled for the Limoncello Cake and had no regrets whatsoever. It's my kind of old-school cake; buttery soft with that slightly crumbly texture. Every mouthful is a delightful symphony of eggy and nutty richness, its cheery citrusy overtone enhanced by the attendant scoop of limoncello-flavoured ice cream.

Those looking for a hearty, satisfying lunch at Nerovivo will have 5 different Starters: Beef Carpaccio (paper-thin sliced raw beef), Eggplant Parmigiana (baked eggplant with cheese), Mixed Seasonal Green Salad, Pizza Margherita (an evergreen classic) or Pizza Marinara to choose from.

Main Course temptations range from Spaghetti Nero di Seppia, Lasagna Bolognese, Roasted Chicken Diavola & roasted potato or Seared Baramundi in Guazzetto & sautéed vegetable. Dessert to sweeten you up is a choice of Almond Chocolate Cake or the signature Tiramisú.

Both menus are splendid deals that no Italian cuisine fans should miss out on. Remember to make your reservations by tomorrow via  http://www.klrestaurantweek.com/

Nerovivo, 3A Jalan Ceylon, Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur. Tel: 03-2070 3120

Thursday, September 12, 2013

THURSDAY NIGHT TREATS

Whenever Thursdays roll around, I would invariably think of Eastin Chinese Chef Yong Kam Wah's exquisite Thursday Night Specials. It seems Thursdays tend to be popular dining out night with the hotel guests hence the chef decides he would proffer some choice morsels to delight them. 
During the recent mooncake sampling session, we were treated to samplings of the chef's Thursday Night Specials. The starter of Deluxe Twin Hot Combination pairs a wispy and crisp Prawn Yam Puff with a Lemongrass Skewer of Grilled Fish/Prawn Paste wrapped in Bacon. I like the latter for its imaginative combination of textures and piquant flavours, accentuated by a dollop of tantalisingly tart and spicy green bird's eye chilli and garlic dip.
Although I wasn't big on soups, the Double Boiled Fish Soup with Apples went down well for its salubrious and delicate nuances. The sweet, hearty broth bears fruity hints that temper whatever fishy accent there is.
It's not everyday one gets to savour old-school faves like Braised Eight Treasures Duck so this classic speciality definitely went swimmingly with me. As expected, the duck was fall of the bone tender, its inherent gaminess bestowing a deliciously deep-seated overtone to the yummy stuffing that comprises water chestnuts, mushroom, lotus seeds and other goodies. If you're a farn toong (rice fiend so to speak), you'd want to douse the unctuous brown sauce over a bowl of fluffy white rice to savour the superb nuances.
Looking distinctly like mahjong tiles, the Deep Fried Stuffed Boneless Chicken is another surefire palate-pleaser. You must appreciate the chef's patience and artistry in creating those irresistible layers that has crispy deep-fried chicken skin adorned with toasted almond flakes and fish paste alternating with mashed salted egg yolk and seaweed.
 
I must confess I'm not a big fan of cabbage but surprisingly, I relished every mouthful of the Braised Tian Jin Cabbage with Dried Scallop. The soft, tender leafs appeared almost velvety and well-infused with the dried scallops' subtle umami sea-brininess.
The Mini Lotus Leaf Rice could be a dead ringer for choong - those rice dumplings that we eat for Duan Wu Jie except the rice was less compactly wrapped in lotus leaves. Dried shrimps, salted egg yolk and sliced Chinese sausage lend the rice their scrumptiously rich accent.
 
 Before we proceed to sample the hotel's mooncake selection, a Double-Boiled Pear with American Figs dessert broth was served to cleanse our palate. Light and mildly sweet, the concoction is just the tonic to pave the way for the asssortment of baked and snow skin mini mooncakes.
 
The most outstanding variant this year for Eastin is undoubtedly its Mini Crystal Durian Paste mooncakes - a special edition to commemorate the Hotel’s 15th anniversary celebration.  Filled with fresh Musang King durian flesh, the snowskin mooncake makes its presence felt by the sheer aroma of the King of Fruit alone.
 
More exotic fillings include Dragon Fruit paste, White Coffee and Corn, and Chocolate - inventive flavours to suit today's discerning palates. The hotel has a total of 15 varieties to choose from so those looking to buy Mid-Autumn Fest gifts for their family and friends should be over the moon. Available from RM10+ per piece and from RM80+ per box until 19 September 2013 for take-away and dine-in. 
Dishes for the Thursday Night Specials Promotion starts from RM 30++ per portion and will be served until end of September. Patrons will also be serenaded by the J Musical Live Band who will be performing evergreen Chinese and English hits from the 70’s and 80’s from 7.30pm-8.15pm and 8.45pm -9.30pm. 

For reservations, please call Ee Chinese Cuisine at 03 -7628 7338 or log onto www.eastin.com.




Sunday, September 08, 2013

SANDAKAN - SEAFOOD PARADISE


Hong Kong of the East...Sandakan beckons adventure seekers and seafood lovers
True to its reputation as a seafood paradise, Sandakan is unrivalled when it comes King Neptune's deep-sea denizens. Be it at the Central Market  or the floating water villages that dot its coastline, seafood crazy foodies will find themselves inundated with the freshest catch of the day.
The Central Market is a hive of activity daily and diagonally across from the Four Points by Sheraton
Riot of colours...everything a passionate cook ever needs can be found here
Astoundingly fresh local ingredients are sold at the Central Market
Super spicy bird's eye chilli in vibrant hues
These strands of bubbly seaweed is known as Latok or Damai
A quick walking tour of the Central Market across from the Four Points by Sheraton Sandakan was enough to blow us away; the sheer amount and variety of seafood that's sold there left us simply in awe. Whether fresh and glistening or dried and salted...you name it, they have it in all shapes, sizes and colours.

 
Honestly, it was an eye-opening experience to see so many different and unfamiliar species of fish, shellfish and seaweed sold there. We spotted heaps of parrot fish, saury, clams, stingrays, giant groupers and mackerels, local mud and flower crabs, banana prawns, snappers and even puffer fish with doe-like eyes and spotted thorny hides. Locals told us that they would eat this deep-fried...talk about playing Russian roulette.

This unusual ray has a cute dolphin-like snout
 
Puffer fish all in a row
 
 
Dried salted fish that will leave you spoilt for choice
The market itself is a fascinating kaleidoscope of activities, chock-a-block with rows and rows of stalls selling the freshest and most vivid hued vegetables, herbs and spices, assorted seaweed, poultry and meat, dried goods, baking ingredients, confectionery and bakery items, local sweet treats and fruits.
 

We also nipped upstairs to sample the market's famous Char Yuk Meen (Fried Pork Noodles). According to our Sandakan friends, the stall started in 1940 but has continued to draw a capacity crowd daily with its famed homemade slippery smooth ribbons of 'kueh teow' (flat rice noodle) topped with sliced Hakka-style fried pork marinated in 'nam yue' (red fermented beancurd).
 
 
You can choose to enjoy the noodles 'kon lou' (dry-tossed with a drizzle of soya sauce) or laden with a hearty pork-based broth. The latter is undoubtedly the runaway favourite; the simple broth so hearty and flavourful that it's good to the last drop. 
 

Nearby are several stalls offering 'chap farn' (economical mixed rice) with a tempting selection of home-style dishes such as braised pork, deep-fried chicken, stir-fried 'hum choy' (salted mustard leaves), 'yong tau foo' (stuffed beancurd with fish paste), etc.

 

No visit to Sandakan is complete without a meal at Sim Sim Water Village. Friendly rivalry sees two similarly named seafood restaurants sited cheek by jowl but it's business as usual as both draw their own share of customers.
 

Built on stilts, the restaurant seating extends all the way out to sea on sturdy wooden platforms. Insulated boxes filled with oxygenated sea water flaunt live swimming fishes and other seafood: lobsters, prawns, sea cucumber, clams and oysters among others.  

On the night of our visit, we saw a worker brought in a huge lobster and oysters whose shells are as big as a dinner plate. Supply apparently came from local fisherfolks who sell their catch to the restaurateur here.

 
 

Our sumptuous feast included a slab of Sandakan's signature salted talang deep-fried and served with fresh kalamansi juice, steamed hard shell clams and oysters in lime juice, garlic and bird's eye chilli, stir-fried crabs and squid in caramelised dark soya sauce, Teochew-style steamed red snapper with tangy lime juice, minced garlic and chilli, and diced beancurd, stir-fried Sabah vegetables (a type of local fern known locally as cekur or sayur manis), honeyed lamb ribs and butter prawns.

Sandakan's answer to cheese? Salted talang deep-fried and served with fresh calamansi juice
Sweet and dark...chewy caramelised squid to exercise your jaws with
Crustaceans' inherent sweetness and buttery richness make for an irresistible combination
 

Taste-wise the dishes are unpretentious; the simple preparations merely a mean to enhance the seafood's freshness. The butter prawns, salted fish and steamed red snapper really had us hooked. I also like Sandakan's ham yue (salted talang) that's deep-fried until it's slightly crisp. Served with lime juice, its mellow brininess tastes surprisingly similar to blue cheese.

Honeyed lamb ribs that are finger-licking good
 

Restaurant Seafood Sim Sim 88
Bridge No 8, Sim Sim Water Village 
Sandakan, Sabah
Tel: 012 816 3633

Fancy some sweet dreams in Sandakan? The Four Points by Sheraton is ever-ready to roll out the red carpet for slumber parties of travellers with its signature Four Comfort features. Read all about it here:

http://goodfoodguide2kl.blogspot.com/2013/08/sweet-dreams-in-sandakan.html

Serving soon! More Sandakan's homegrown fare to tickle your tastebuds.

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