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I've just had an incredibly pleasant dinner at the Cana Cuban Parlour towards the distant edges of Florida St. We shared a creamed black bean soup starter, topped with just enough a light sprinkling of cheese and cream. Imagine all the comfort of Chinese sweet black bean soup, but savoury, the meaty flavour of the beans just mellowed enough to not overpower. There were mojitos, very good mojitos, that were served with little shots of the underlying rum (mostly Seth's job to taste). We learned that Cuban-style rum is supposed to be smooth, surprised that rum could be smooth in the first place, and Florida-style rum is distinctly more caramel in colour and taste, also sharper -- rather more like the rum we'd had state-side before. His mojito was soda, mint and lime, pleasantly simple -- I may get one of those for myself next time. My mojito was all berry and mint and I was really happy plantains are such good tummy absorbent liners.

Seth got the arroz con pollo. I thought the rice was done well, he liked the sauce, but found the chicken erring on dry. I asked the waiter which he thought better, the slow-roasted meat, or the daily special (swordfish baked in banana leaf). Our lovely server seemed to think on this a second, then kind of gave up trying to compare the two and just described the meat in loving detail. We heard a tale of meat marinaded in orange crush, pulp and all, then cooked, a process of some twelve hours. The sauce is meat juice and orange bitter reduction. It's all served on yuca mash with many sprinklings of crisped onions and sweet plantains, topped with a richly mellow yet perfectly garlicky garlic. That description more or less sealed my dinnery fate. Cue me spending every next five minutes after my meal was served telling Seth, "This ish good. I'll be having cravings for this." Dinner win means we are going back. It means we have to find friends to drag there. It means I will have to visit during lunch hours for sandwich reconnaissance (and this stuff on the menu about sweet and savoury plantains deep fried and served with garlic sauce).

We were in the neighbourhood at all because I got this postcard in the mail saying a chocolate factory had opened in the area, called Charles Chocolates (surely it must be factory). They have an amazing space. Big glass walled kitchen, where they constantly replenish the little boxed pralines from, in fleur de sel-based flavours. There are chocolate covered nuts, 65% dark chocolate things, with peel, nuts and other wonderments. The cafe space is still being built, but there is hot chocolate, and daily pastries. We got Honey Bunnies (dark chocolate bunnies filled with sage honey -- this is sheer genius), and Seth got peanut butter pralines in dark and milk, and a sweet and salty hazelnut bar. I got a Charlemagne (it looked like chocolate mousse; what bovine says no to chocolate mousse?) and their last Meyer lemon curd white chocolate tart (because saying no to lemon curd is wrong and bad), and a dark chocolate, cherry and hazelnut bar (because dark cherries in chocolate... you get the idea).

I finished watching Chungking Express again, which I hadn't watched in at least a decade. It shows its age, most notably in how young all the actors look. Admittedly, Takeshi Kanehiro is relatively ageless, and Faye Wong could pass off as elfin in her 50s. Tony Leung improves with age, and Brigitte Lin, who plays these intense onscreen murderers (if only the old DVD-version of Ashes of Time didn't have such horrible subtitling; her entire substory of the transsexual assassin in love with himself is sincerely one of the best darn things I've ever seen). It's one of the faster Wong Kar Wai movies to go through. There's less tragically beautiful people staring off into space, which became high (if overly wrought) art by the time In the Mood for Love came out, more dialogue, actually more action. The one scene I love best in the movie, and the only I haven't forgotten over the years, is when Faye starts stalking No. 663 with gusto, changing out things in his house one after the other, set to her cover of the Cranberries Dreams (my preferred version, if only because Faye Wong's voice has a more etheral quality). Sif spent the movie in a delicate curl on one end of the sofa, then on my lap, soft grunting Sif.

As I write this, there is a cat curled up on each sofa. Dorian accidentally got to massaging my arms before I could cover them. They sting from his sharp, happy little claws. But he is a good little guard cat. He comes when he is called. I am sipping vanilla black tea with milk, and looking forward to one of the chocolate pastries, or a praline. I am liking the books I read, remembering what I love about books, finding and listening to music that makes me think. Writing seems less ephemeral, perhaps I will write about that one day.
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Wandered out for an afternoon walk, where I tried not to do too many things at once. The Mission continues to be a sun-touched, diverse place. It makes me deeply happy to be outside in a place where every other couple I see is mixed, to look at those jewel-coloured murals, one almost on every corner. When we moved here three years ago, the gentrifying creep had just kind of hit the Valencia corridor. It's spread out since then, but it's almost as if a new, hip concept store opens every month. 24th is starting to see more of these skinny-legged tendrils -- there's at least two more unassuming bookstores that've showed up since the start of the year, I think, apart from Modern Times, which I'm still grateful is now only two blocks away, even if they have lost their delightfully glass-paned storefront as a result. Had a vanilla rose latte at Bello Cafe, which was advertising this and a lavender white mocha in their window. I gleefully picked out a cinnamon twist from their perspex pastry box to go with. The cinnamon twist was the best darn cinnamon twist I've had in years. Soft, buttery, cinnamony and not too sweet. The vanilla rose latte was kind of horrifying. I'd forgotten how strong rose water can be in anything. It's a pervasive flavour of my childhood, since Malay cakes and drinks have a slightly misguided love for dark pink rose essences, but I do occasionally have a fond thought or three about it. Anyway, the latte was perfectly frothy and creamy, but tasted like a molten Turkish delight. This is great if you like Turkish delights. I can have all of one Turkish delight at a time, and then my entire being rebels against the sugar-coated sugariness of it all. This is why I am not a plump, couch-hogging odalisque even though I like to eat.

Poked my head into Wise Sons Jewish Delicatessen, freshly opened at 24th & Shotwell. Well, I peered through the glass. It's been open... today... I think, the line was trailing out the door. Will be back later in the evening to grab out dinner. I wonder if they'll let me pack their chopped liver and rye bread? Their hours are kind of mysterious, but I've come to expect that with places around the Mission. Apparently, there is weekend brunch and breakfast. There was also all kinds of stuff about challah slathered in butters and honey, but I think my attention span went blurry around that point. All of this will be an adventure to me. For obvious reasons, Jewish food isn't seen back home in Malaysia, and I have only heard of some of the things being advertised here.

Most of my only restful periods over the past week have been odd, almost stolen. We went to see Seth's gastroenterologist last week for the first time, and that became a small holiday for both of us. We walked to a hillside park to look at cherry trees in bloom, had lunch at Woodhouse Fish Co., which was a deeply pleasurable experience. Both of us managed to resist the urge of the chalkboard specials -- whole fishes baked in cornmeal crusts and such wonders -- because there was crab on the regular menu. Seth had a salad with a small hillock of crab on top, and I had stuffed artichokes with crab (and nice shrimp). The artichokes were slathered in crab butter. It was like crab for vegetarians with real crab on top. Then we walked to Japantown and I coerced him to get a Necron unit to paint, and we got a succulent to fill the empty spot in one of our windowboxes.

Valentine's Day night, I had to put my foot down for an evening off work. The two places we wanted to go to were fully booked by the time we tried making reservations, but there was Nombe, and we don't turn down Nombe. It was actually really awesome to walk in and see the place full of couples. Remembering what happened the last time we had their kaiseki set and had individual sake pairings, we tried to err on the side of caution and get one sake pairing, which we would share. This, while smart in theory, didn't entirely work out, but more on that later. The first course was a Thai-flavoured scallop served in shell, surrounded by a moat of coconut-milk and perched on top of slightly soured cucumber shavings. The sauce was very similar to Thai minced chicken in coconut milk, the kind served on puffed rice crackers. It was mild and a bit zingy. The second course was sashimi topped with what I think were slivers of cherry tomatoes, in a citrus dressing. It was good, but we've had their sashimi before, so it wasn't a surprise either. The third course, by which I was getting slightly cheerful from the courtesy champagne and a deliciously sharp sake that came with this round, was a rather phenomenal and unexpected terrine of eel and foie gras. The eel was everything I liked about grilled eel, caramelised, tender and sweet. It blended into a creamy heavenliness with the rich foie gras. We were both quite impressed. By the fourth course, we were much more cheered, realising that the creative stuff we liked about Nombe was coming up. This course was another delicious comfort -- Nombe's sublime braised pork belly served on octopus. Neither the spouse nor myself are fans of the tentacled seafoods, but this was octopus unlike anything we've had before. It was tender to the bite, infused with roasting juices and went like pennies of cream with the always, again, sublime pork belly.

Now, of course, I am very cheerful, the place was hopping, and me and the spouse were discussing historical misconceptions about Crusade-era Caliphs and possibly various MMOs. These two subjects are not related. The fifth course was my favourite. Some genius in the kitchen decided to grill ocean trout - my favourite fish behind cod, and vastly more sustainable but wihout the pervasive fishiness of salmon -- then top it liberally with shaved radish and ikura, then serve it with a tempura shiso leaf. I tell you, the guy who thought this up is genius. Combining three of my favourite ingredients together, one of them subtly deep-fried, is GENIUS. I vaguely remember being drunk enough to still have my chopstick skills but being slightly under on hand-eye coordination and picking up every last pearl of ikura off Seth's plate. That's how much I like the fish egg.

Course Six was more of a blur, literally and figuratively. I think we were thankful that it was nearing the end because we were both kind of full. Delicious mini donburi with just-seared Kobe beef slices on top. Seth was in heaven, since that's one of his favourite meat items. It was deeply tasty, but the beef was a bit chewy on my weak jaws. Not the fault of the beef -- I just have bad jaw power. Seth was more than happy to take my last slice of beef. The sixth course was served simultaneously with the seventh, a palate-cleansing savoury soup we both thoroughly enjoyed. It had hints of ginger and what I suspect is a light umami consomme, but I don't have the entire details. I ordered a pot of sencha around this point, something I could have had the good sense to order about four courses earlier, realising that I was starting to feel dangerously lightheaded. Mostly, I was scared to stand up.

Dessert was chocolate souffle. I had been looking forward to this all night. Chocolate souffle is my favourite dessert, somewhere on par with creme brulees but trailing behind black forest gateaux. Their chocolate souffle was warm, but not nearly as molten as I would have liked, edging on a teensy bit dry. This was served with a 26-year-old mirin topped with cream. When I read this on the menu, I honestly expected some kind of sake-based White Russian. The effect was actually a creamy mouthful (and mouthfeel) with "a hint of balsamic", as our waiter explained. It was an honestly enjoyable night, and we really liked being there. Folks were friendly and cool, as they always are. The only really weird things that happened all evening was first, a guy in a horse head mask rattling on the glass window up front about halfway through dinner, and a man who walked up to the couple in front of us -- the male partner at the table had shaved a face into the back of his head -- and the man who went up to him did so explicitly to declare in a loud voice that a friend of his had died in 9/11 and it was utterly offensive to have Osama bin Laden shaved into one's head. This perplexed the people who were sitting elsewhere in the restaurant, since they couldn't see the back of this man's head, and kind of offended everyone else who could, since this altercation was not something we expected with our dinner. I did admit that I was confused by the picture on the man's head all night. I got that it was a man's face shaved on, but didn't even realize there was a turban until this was pointed out to me. People, eh?

We paid, I remember being lucid enough to thank the sommelier for the delicious meal, and walked out, when I immediately felt awful. Somewhere between the richest courses and the sake I had, I must've gotten alcohol-poisoned. It had been a few months since I last drank anything. The walk home was a careful, tottering affair. Seth held my hand, let me lean on the occasional parking meter. When I got home, I crashed out on the couch, a little miffed neither cat wanted to be companionable. I had a splitting headache, my chest felt really tight.

This does not make me want to visit Nomble any less, just so you know. I mean, they're having Beer Pairing Week right now, with a choice between Magnolia and Coedo beers -- both very fine ranges both of us quite thoroughly enjoy, with special plates and I'm frankly wondering if I can perhaps lure the spouse out on Sunday. Hrm. Also, three new beefy ramens officially join their dinner menu alongside their already divine ramens. I believe one of the toppings is the oxtail, which, while not meaty (c'mon, it's an oxtail) is nonetheless all molten collagen and maddeningly soft strands of beef.

Today, and this weekend, I am not working an 18-hour shift. I am looking forward to snipping more of that jasmine infestation in the backyard, setting up my EarthBoxes to plant things, making us nice dinners, possibly getting to making a carrot cake. I tried my hand at bittergourd champuru, but wasn't terribly happy with the results. I felt the bittergourd was bitter with not enough offsetting flavours. I did make a much more delicious bittergourd pickle though. Left overnight to steep in a dash of good sake and a tablespoonful of sushi vinegar, I had slightly chewy slices of green-edged gourds, sweet from sugar and sake, just sour enough to balance the bitter. I would totally make this again, and hey, look, I have a weekend.
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Made a rooty chocolate cake based off a recipe from the era and area of Downton Abbey. The recipe used to be on the National Trust website, before they redesigned it some time last weekend, but I was able to find a copy here. I had an idea it would come out as a kind of British red velvet cake, combining the moist texture of carrot cake. I'll say right off the bat, grating the root vegetables was a pain in the nuts. It took me about half an hour to grate four golf ball-sized rounds, and by the time I was done, it was hard to tell my blood from the blood of the roots. I was quite pleasantly surprised by the relatively small amounts each ingredient called for as well, since there's only two of us eating whatever I baked. I poured everything into a brownie dish, since that's the only baking dish I have apart from a casserole pan, and largely hoped for the best. The batter was a lovely deep red, deepened further by the melted dark chocolate velvety with butter. This colour was retained even after baking, making for a very pleasant visual effect. The resultant red velvet brownie was everything I liked about brownies minus the cloying overt chocolatey-ness. It was moist in the centre, with a crunchy crust when fresh. Overnight, the crust did moisten a fair bit, but it was still a tasty treat -- not too sweet either.

Dinner was ayam panggang santan (roasted chicken with coconut milk) based off a recipe [ profile] kathrynlinge found in an Indonesian Malay cookbook. It's like a much simpler one-pot ayam percik (grilled chicken), with more of a gravy. This gave me an excellent opportunity to test out my mortar and pestle, which worked wonderfully. The recipe called for candlenuts, which I didn't have, so I substituted it with a handful of walnuts instead. Candlenuts, to the best of my knowledge, were often used as a thickener and bittering agent in the Malay dishes I grew up with. My paternal grandmother makes a really good green sambal thickened with candlenuts, that is simultaneously sour, bitter and evenly spiced with green chillies. Walnuts have the bitterness, and since the recipe is predominantly coconut milk, I wasn't too worried about thickening the sauce. I used boned chicken thighs instead of a whole chicken as well, largely for ease of eating. And instead of serving it with glutinous rice, which is by the way an excellent idea, I used laksa noodles (lai fun), except in my specific case, I used banh canh, which I find has a superior texture and squiggliness.

It was rather delicious. I turned the chicken skin up during cooking, using an open cast iron skillet. This resulted in crisp roasted chicken skin and moist chicken meat underneath, swimming in its own rich sauce. I also fried all the spices together first, rather than separately as per the recipe, but I may have had the heat up too high. The chicken browned nicely, but the resultant paste was a much darker overall colour (something like dark kurma gravy) than Kathryn's. I could've also just been using a much thicker sauce as well, since I used only 1 can of coconut milk plus about a cup of stock. This was the first real meal I'd cooked in a long while. Work has turned most of our dinners into takeout lately, or very simple ad hoc soups. Seth's belly had another relapse two nights ago, which means my abilty to cook meals is more critical than ever in ensuring he has things he can eat.

I'd forgotten to mention that during my walk home from Taste the other day, I actually entered City Hall, ostensibly to get application forms for the City ID card, but it turns out you can't even get into the room for the cards without filling out an online application and appointment system first. So I wandered through the marbled underground tunnels (because I was lost), and had a peek at their latest art instalment down there, photographs from a magazine, I think, were going up on the walls at the time. Two staff members were putting this together, a man and a woman. The man reminded me of Seth, same height, pale and dark-haired, and quite thin, fitting the photos I've seen of my husband at a younger age. I went upstairs, into the main hall, always crowded with newlyweds. There was a little goth contingent taking their wedding photo at the foot of the stairs, I thought it was cute. The tall ceilings and intricate plasterwork has always been deeply soothing to me. My mother noted, when she visited SF, that there were no negative images used in the decorations at City Hall -- strange for a Western building. There weren't even weapons in the frescoes. Everything was very measured and peaceful. Honestly, the whole thing was making me deeply nostalgic. The day we got married, Seth and I were happy, but we were also very overwhelmed. I don't think either of us were paying too much attention to what was around us. The crowds and the noise wracked our nerves, two people who are together because we're roughly the only other person we genuinely want to be with at all times. Loren, who I had tea with that day, was my witness. She brought that beautiful bouquet of white roses and the matching pin for Seth. So everything kind of conspired to make me realise what a momentous occasion that really was, three years later. My marriage is the most affirming, empowering relationship I've ever had with anyone. It's the best decision I've made my entire adult life. Any idea that one day, I might not have that any more, is absolutely terrifying. These were the things I thought about on my walk back home through the Tenderloin (because my sense of direction managed to forget Civic Center station was between 16th St and Powell). I am, for all that I am an intrinsically depressed person and will always be for the rest of my life, very innately happy.

Gnaw! Gnaw!

Feb. 3rd, 2012 12:08 am
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Hugging a cat and keeping it warm is one of my great pleasures in life. As I write, the two beloveds are arrayed around my laptop, the fluffy one by my side, the long one tucked neatly just beyond my screen. For all that they are trouble, I sometimes think that embracing me is one of their great pastimes as well.

Today, I was introduced by [ profile] morbidloren to Taste, a quiet, peaceful teahouse in Hayes Valley. The ambience was gentle and secluded. It was a double treat for me, the first to see someone I had not met up with for a long time, the second to sample delicious Chinese tea and wee Chinese snacks. I love tea, but I am almost entirely more of a teatime snack fiend. One of those, "I'll have that small thing and that small thing and that small thing covered in sesame seeds too." I blame this on a long-running and plump predisposition in my family to sort of gnaw their way through the landscape. But I digress. Taste is lovely place for conversation and unintrusive tea service. For me, I experienced first-hand some elements of gongfu tea-making. I'm a bit too nervous with my hands to tilt the lid on a gaiwan and hold the cup while pouring with just one hand (I have to use both hands), but it is definitely adds something to the process for me, and always has, when you serve yourself the tea at the table. It gives an element of meditation and actually thinking about what you're doing. In conversation, it helps dispel the natural nervousness of finding something to do with your hands, takes away the tension of having to constantly sit up straight and behave. I genuinely liked it there and would love to go back.

After we parted, I took a little time to wander around the area as I made my way towards City Hall. I have a phenomenally bad sense of direction, so I tried my best to follow recognisable landmarks in the area, or pick up new ones for later reference. Along the way, I literally bypassed the Boxing Room, a restaurant I vaguely remember reading about many years ago known for its Southern menu. Now me, I don't really mind this Southern-style food fad that's apparently hit San Francisco. My brief stay in New Orleans as a kid means that at least the basic flavours of that city have imprinted themselves on my food vocabulary -- unconsciously or otherwise. I know that I was not the only person in my family with this experience, as my mother, when she last visited the US and specifically SF, was always unsciously ordering foods with distinctly NOLA or Tex Mex flavours. Not surprising, since apart from New Orleans, we stayed in Houston for a bit as well. I'm actually hinting (nudge, nudge) that me and the spouse could perhaps take advantage of their intriguing advertised Valentine's Day menu, since I could probably enjoy sweetbreads deep fried in lots of cornmeal and will almost certainly be delighted by duck and chocolate mousse.

Note to self: Must eventually find way to St. Louis to see cemeteries and eat fried chicken and chicken-fried steak with friend [ profile] mokie

I would also like to take this opportunity to point out that I am no romantic. More of a fatalist, maybe. We don't particularly celebrate Valentine's Day, but we don't mind that reminder that there's someone special in our lives either. Also, I am not one to pass on an opportunity to eat new things tasty and delicious. It makes love blossom, and creates warm fuzzy feelings.
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Went to Chi (that's spelled with the character for Che/Sik/Eat) for our weekly bowl of Roast Duck Konlow Mien. The shop is about five minutes walk from where I work, and you will not believe how grateful we are that authentic Hong Kong noodles exist in Perth just five minutes from work. We spent about a year stuck in this area with nearly nothing tasty to eat except the rather tasty and nutritious salmon don at Kabuki, about six doors down. Chi is actually a branch of the original restaurant in downtown Perth, which I used to go to back when I was taking lessons from Yumi last year. It's run by the same Jovial Owner as the one downtown, who usually comes over to our table for a natter. About Jovial Owner stuff, like the choice of po po (grandmother!) music (very good 60s-90s Cantonese ballads), the really cool ambience (it's very Hong Kong noodle shop, but not in that dingy, hygiene of doubtful values kind of way; it's very minimalist and classy Chinese design, but with the open humongous kitchen and the roast ducks hanging in the window) and why Malaysian customers always complain that Hong Kong-style Pak Cham Kai (boiled chicken) doesn't taste as good as Ipoh Hor Fun (flat rice noodles, Ipoh-style). Jovial Owner is horrified Malaysians would do something like drive five hours for a cup of perfect Kopi O. He's flabbergasted Malaysians do this all the time. And how exactly do we spend all our non-working hours eating and shopping and drinking Teh Tarik?

Where the heck is Ipoh? And why the hell would anyone drive five hours for coffee? -- A Hamster's Sub-Strata Guide to Understanding Malaysian-Style Eating )

I leave you now with my Weird Friend Quote of the Day, brought to you by markfinnCabbit: "Cabbit not eat fish. Cabbit eat vegetables like carrots and chicken and cow."
vampyrichamster: (Default)
An irregular eating spot for us. Spring Garden has an extensive, but splotchy menu. Because Spring Garden specializes in Hunanese food, alongside the more regular Cantonese and Szechuan fare, the food is rather unusual for us. One of the big differences I noticed between Spring Garden and most other restaurants we've tried is how drastically more unsalted Spring Garden's food is. A lot of the dishes are blander, and this is a good sign, because it means less MSG, but it gets to the flavor of things. Like today, as I'll illustrate below. Anyway, we ordered a pot of Kuk Po (Chrysanthemum and Tea Leaf Tea) to go with our food, and the waitress poured a delightful soy dipping sauce to tempt us with its beautifully fermented scent.

We had the special Mother's Day menu: Special Twin Cold Combination, Braised Crabmeat Soup With 8 Treasures, Steamed Cod Cantonese Style, Braised 2 Varieties of Mushrooms With Hong Kong Vegetables, Fried Rice With Spicy Anchovies, Black Glutinous Rice Paste With Ice Cream and Baked Dumpling Stuffed With Preserved Vegetables.

The hors d'oeuvre, the Cold Combination, was a combo of blanched prawns (that's shrimp for you American types) and steamed chicken on a bed of honeydew-apple salad. Prawns and chicken came with different cream sauces. I'm no fan of prawns, so I went after the chicken. The thousand island dressing was a little too tart for the bland chicken, although dunking the chicken in soy sauce helped.

The crabmeat soup was a slightly salty coup. Considering how bland the chicken was, this was probably due my corrupted tastebuds than the fault of the soup. The stock was an impressive blend of dried seafood, very high on abalone. This thickened soup was enhanced with strips of Japanese crabmeat rolls, mouse ear fungus and salted vegetable.

The 2 varieties of mushrooms turned out to be golden mushrooms and ling zhi mushrooms. The ling zhi mushrooms were nicely sliced and sauteed. In fact, they were so well done I mistook them for abalone slices until I flipped them over and saw the frills. The mushrooms came with a bed of Hong Kong Kai Lan (green vegetable) that were undercooked enough to have an acidic aftertaste. That, and the bland sauce they used for this dish, actually made the whole deal quite unappetizing. Nonetheless, the ling zhi mushrooms were still good, pity about the rest.

The steamed cod, compared with the vegetables, was excellent. A fat cod fillet was complemented by a light soy sauce to enhance the fish's delicate flavor. Steamed fish is a simple enough dish, but it's the one that people get wrong very often, leaving you with a hard, stringy sort of fish on your plate. Spring Garden steams good fish. I love cod, the family loves cod. We had the platter clean in minutes.

The fried rice was next. The family was pretty full by now though, so we picked at the golden grains of rice until we all agreed we had to pack this one home if we ever wanted dessert. But the rice was another enjoyable dish, its color attributed to egg yolk and topped with a layer of bitey sambal (a Malaysian salsa) anchovies.

The dumplings arrived while we ate the rice. This too, had to be packed home, because while it was certainly a very original concept, we were full.

The dessert was the black glutinous rice paste with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top, served in individual bowls and individual scoops. I rather liked this one. The glutinous rice was only lightly sweetened, depending on the ice cream to enhance it. Simple sort of dessert, but palatable, especially after a heavy meal.

This wasn't the most satisfying meal we've had at Spring Garden, but it was filling, and I honestly wonder if we couldn't have done better ordering ala carte instead. Case in point, on the ala carte menu, General Tso's Chicken is the must-try dish. They fry chicken chunks so that just the outside's crisp batter and the inside's tender chicken, then they toss on a light golden sauce, and serve you steamed buns to tuck the chicken in before each bite.
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Desa Pandan used to be our regular spot for dinner, until restaurants began sprouting around our area. Anyway, the place is still very simple, with three sides open to the night. The steamboat enthusiasts were gathered on the sidewalk tables, we went inside. The restaurant's owner recognized us straight off, and handed us our menus with the sort of efficiency expected from Chinese restaurants. Alister noticed a new addition to the menu, Venison Stir Fried With Beancurd Sheets And Gluten Puffs, so we took that. Mom ordered, additionally, Claypot Tofu With Mixed Vegetables, Kam Heong (Golden Scented) Chicken and Braised Spinach In Superior Broth.

The venison arrived first: very sweet slices of deer cooked in a pleasant thick brown sauce, with a layer of sliced deep-fried mock duck (beancurd sheets) and fluffy gluten puffs soaked in the gravy underneath. The sauce worked well with our steamed rice, the deer was tender as it was sweet, and the restaurant was generous with the mock duck and gluten puffs, so I didn't have to fend off anyone from my favorite vegetarian bits.

The claypot was good, although pretty standard fare. Mom requested local block tofu, so we had firm, soft squares of fried tofu in the rich stewy gravy. Also in the claypot were baby corn, carrot rounds, slices of squid, chicken and snow peas (in pods).

The spinach was next, and this is a real family favorite that Desa Pandan does well. Tender, perfectly braised stalks of spinach were served in a light yet flavorful chicken broth. The spinach came festooned with little red berries (qi zi) and large portions of century egg (eggs preserved in lime). The spinach was served as individual portions in bowls, and I saved the century egg for last, so I could munch it down with the gravy.

Last was the chicken. Desa Pandan's Kam Heong is slightly wetter than the norm. Mom asked for a reduction of chilies, but somehow the chicken was still too spicy for the boys. Kam Heong Chicken is chunks of chicken stir fried in curry powder, onions, curry leaves and slices of chili until it developes that 'golden scent'. Unfortunately, while Desa Pandan's chicken was okay, it wasn't much to shout about.

The bill came to around RM60 (USD 15), we all went home bloated like puffer fishes. A note to ponder on here. I spent the entire night after eating at Desa Pandan thirsty, and apparently, so did Mom. One of the reasons we haven't been visiting Desa Pandan was the MSG they put in the dishes. You can't really run away from MSG in Chinese restaurants, but some put in more than most. So, if you ever happen to eat at Desa Pandan, be careful.


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