Saturday, November 15, 2008

Kuala Lumpur Hotel

I know nothing about the KL hotel scene. That’s because every time I come to town I stay with family. This time, however, we’re traveling with friends and want to be downtown for a few days - see the Petronas Twin Towers, visit the museum, etc. After some internet searching and asking around, I booked three rooms at the Traders Hotel in KL’s City Centre. I’ve had a couple good experiences over the years at the Traders’ in Singapore, and the price for the KL branch was really reasonable.

Best. Deal. Ever.

Way cool, way cheap. Great location in the center of the city. Everything is a stone’s throw away and there’s even a little hotel-shuttle-golf-cart-thingy that runs you around the neighborhood. The staff are extremely helpful in arranging excursions, drivers, reservations, etc. Rooms are spacious and well appointed. The roof top pool and bar is ultra slick, but comfy with an expansive view of the city spreading out in all directions. This is a great city hotel. I’ll stay there again at my first opportunity.

Traders Hotel Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur City Centre

Kuala Lumpur 50088


(603) 2332 9888

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Favorite Finds in Singapore

Several people have asked us for current Singapore recommendations. In no particular order, here are some places we think are worth a stop.

Loof: Hidden in plain sight on top of an office building right across from the Raffles Hotel is the bar Loof. It’s made up in seriously contemporary style with lots of gray steel and pop culture iconography, but the crowd and staff maintain a chill vibe (the self mocking name probably helps them avoid being too solemn about their cool). The roof-top setting hovering just above the street fray makes it an oasis in the midst of the bustling Raffles City area. A great place to start or end an evening.


331 North Bridge Road #03-07

Odeon Towers Extension Rooftop

Singapore 188720

+65 6338 8035

Cookie Museum: Located right inside the ultra-modern Esplanade, this odd little shop is awash in Victorian tea-time décor. They push pricey cakes and flower-painted cups of tea in an over-the-top vision of what English ladies might have enjoyed 100 years ago while back in London from the colonies. Most of that stuff looks quite good actually, but that’s not why we stop. What draws us back is the constantly shifting menu of dozens of different dainty but full flavored cookies. Many of them are classic interpretations of fruit and nut and such. But their baking crew also has a funky side that emerges in odd-ball flavor combinations. Tins of lavender or rose or lemongrass or sardine or curry cookies are stacked around the shop. Their tasting cart contains samples of everything in the shop, and the staff will walk you through endless permutations to find something that suits you. In our experience, the weirder the flavor sounds, the more our friends back home dig it. Our buddy AS found that the curry-almond cookies in particular made a perfect pairing with prosecco, and she demanded a resupply. Unfortunately, on this visit we found that flavor discontinued. We’re hoping the nasi lemak version makes the grade for weird-but-wonderful.

The Cookie Museum

8 Raffles Avenue,

#01-02/04 Esplanade Mall

Singapore 039802

+65 6333 1965

Din Tai Fung: When I was a kid, xiao long bao, the classic Shanghainese miniature soup-filled dumplings, were virtually impossible to find in the United States. Thus, to this day I get giddy at the prospect of digging into a steamer-full of these comforting treats. The Taiwanese dumpling chain Din Tai Fung has a number of locations in Singapore these days, but my favorite is still the one in the basement of Paragon right on Orchard Road. There’s always a line, and it’s always worth the wait. While you wait, you get to watch hordes of masked chefs on the other side of the glass kitchen walls turning out numberless tiny dumplings by hand – a pinch of meat filling, a bit of broth, a twist of wrist sealing up the thin skin, and the little bundles of goodness are on the way. Yum, yum, YUM!

Here’s LG getting his dumpling on with good form.

Din Tai Fung - Paragon Shopping Centre

290 Orchard Road

#B1-03/06 Paragon Shopping Centre

Singapore 238859

+65 6836 8336

Maxwell Food Centre: Nothing presents everything that’s right about Singapore more concisely than a good hawker center. While lots of the best tend to be out in the residential suburbs, the one in the heart of Chinatown along Maxwell Road more than holds its own (as opposed to dummed down locations like Newton Circus). Go. Browse. Order anything that looks good. Look for vendors with long lines. Ask anyone eating something yummy looking where they got it.

Maxwell Food Centre

intersection of South Bridge Road and Maxwell Roads

Crystal Jade: We tend to give Pleen’s parents some grief for their unchanging loyalty to the dim sum at Crystal Jade’s Ngee Ann City location. Whenever they’re in town, they only seem to eat here. They never branch out. You can’t swing a dead cat in Singapore without hitting a dozen dim sum joints. Who knows what they might be missing!? Well this time round, we were determined to give other options a chance. We asked several Singaporeans friends about alternatives in the Orchard Road area. Surprisingly, a consensus quickly emerged. “Try the dim sum at East Ocean Teochew Restaurant,” people said. OK. Off we went to Scotts Road with our buddies L&NG. With all due respect to our recomenders, this was a wasted meal. The execution of the classic dim sum dishes lacked refinement. The quality of ingredients was clearly lower. Even without their impressive atmosphere and service, Crystal Jade is superior and worth the cost premium on taste alone. It’s all about the food. If you’ve got limited opportunities for dim sum, don’t waste them on an inferior competitor – head over to Crystal Jade and tuck in. Mom & Dad were right!

Crystal Jade Palace

391 Orchard Road

#04-19 Ngee Ann City

Singapore 238872

+65 6735 2388

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Civilization Arrives!

Good news for weary travelers. If you’re passing through Singapore’s Changi Airport, Maker’s Mark bourbon is now available in the Duty Free. Although Loretto, Kansas may be 12 time zones away, now you can recover from your flight with a proper drink in the hotel room.

Maker’s Mark Distillery Inc.

3350 Burks Spring Road

Loretto, Kentucky 40037

Kentucky Straight Bourbon Handmade Whiskey

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Touristy Stuff Doesn’t Suck

For a long time, Singapore has been one of our favorite places. But, as is often the case with someplace you know well, there are a lot of things we never get around to doing. This time, however, we’re traveling with some friends who have never been to the Lion City before. And thus, we’ve actually included a lot of the stuff that we might normally dismiss. And guess what - in Singapore, the touristy things don’t suck! Among our favorites:

Singapore Flyer:

Singapore’s answer to the London Eye, this 165 meter ferris wheel offers a grand view of the lower half of the island – the financial district, port, east coast parks, and the hodgepodge of ships laying at anchor. The tickets are pretty reasonably priced and it makes for a lovely start to an evening. We reserved our seats for sunset before heading off to dinner on our last night.
Singapore Flyer
30 Raffles Avenue, #01-07
Singapore 039803
+65 6854 5200

Singapore Visitors Centre:
The Singapore Tourism Board maintains several visitors’ centers around town, but we have the most experience with the one on Orchard Road. Set up right in the middle of everything where Cairnhill Road intersects Orchard, this place is much more than an information counter. While browsing the gazillion informative brochures, you can soak up the air conditioning, get cold drink of water, give your feet and calves an automated massage, use a high speed internet connection – all for free. The staff can answer questions in multiple languages and make reservations for you directly (we bought our tickets for the Singapore Flyer there). There’s even a cute café adjacent. This is an awesome resource.

Singapore Visitors Centre @ Orchard
junction of Cairnhill Road and Orchard Road

Singapore Art Museum:

We wandered into the SAM to kill a bit of time on a rainy morning and ended up having to tear ourselves away. Situated in a lovely old colonial building, the visiting exhibit of contemporary Korean art was a welcome surprise – innovative and arresting work. Someone at SAM is doing a great job of finding compelling stuff. The staff were also awesome. When we asked where we could find a cab given the rain, the response was “If you’ll just wait over there, I’d be happy to call one for you”.

Singapore Art Museum
71 Bras Basah Road
Singapore 189555
+65 6332 3222

Monday, November 10, 2008

Singapore: Long Beach

Last night in town. Can’t leave without chili crab from Long Beach. Turns out the original location on the east coast off the airport road is gone. They’ve opened at Dempsey Road.

Crap! The food’s probably gone to hell.

We cab over to the redeveloped former barracks now studded with wine bars and galleries. I’m preparing for disappointment.

Guess again. Despite the posh surroundings (and clientele!), the meal is to-die-for. The veggies are smoky emerald goodness. The bamboo clams succulent with mounds of garlic. But let’s not kid – we’re here for the crab. We’re looking to make an impression on the two kilo Sri Lankan monsters trying to crawl out of the tanks over there. No more small talk. Bring them to us!

The first one appears resplendent in a sauce of crushed black peppercorns (crab au poivre if you like). The platter’s so laden that the server can barely control its fall onto the table. There's a cheer from our table. Chopsticks flash. The sweetness of the crab meat hits like a physical force - the accent of the black pepper almost too much to bear. Someone ’s moaning - I hope it's not me.

Another pitcher of beer appears. Conversation dulls. I’m aware of Ricky sucking the sauce off of an emptied claw. Now a second crab. Big as the first, but dowsed in the classic sweet red chili gravy. Roasted buns to sop up the sauce.

The table is fully focused. Pleen’s not speaking.

Soon enough we’re licking the bottom of the platter. More beer. Some deep breaths and perhaps a sigh. Nini’s wiping sauce from under her nails.

A few looks are exchanged. A nod. Mute agreement. Pleen’s rapid-fire Cantonese grabs the head waitress. She makes for the kitchen. Another armored carapace departs tank for wok.

Arriving at the table minutes later, this preparation is new to us. Colossal claws rising from the platter are dressed in creamy Sarawak white pepper. I’m swooning. The flight here takes 20 hours. This single crab is reason enough buy the ticket.

Drained from the taste buds down. Grinning like drunks. We stumble out of the restaurant to take a poor man’s tour of the island on the way home. The #174 bus offers an air-conditioned top deck view of the lights of Orchard Road for $1. It drops us a couple blocks from the hotel and we shamble to our rooms to sleep off the crab. We’re bound for Kuala Lumpur tomorrow!

Long Beach @ DEMPSEY

25 Dempsey Road, opposite Singapore Botanic Gardens

+65 6323 2222

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Singapore: No Reservations

First night in town. Cab over to Little India and grab a table at Banana Leaf Apollo. It’s a Friday night so we have to shove a little. I haven’t been here in probably a decade. Curry, crowds, cold beer - nothing's changed. Despite the lines of foreign tourists due to the “must try” status in all guide books, the food is good, the service fast, and the joint itself is full of energy.

I'm feeling a little conflicted bringing our buddies L&NG to such a touristy spot for their first dinner in town. All the talk about authentic street food and I've brought them here?

Mid rumination, a face in the crowd distracts me. The guy sitting at the table behind me looks familiar. I squint. As he gets up to leave I finally realize it’s K.F. Seetoh, creator of the Makansutra empire of dining guides, food venues, and tours. I stare at this renowned advocate of all that is the Singapore food scene.

He notices us looking and tosses a nod and a smile. A pal of Tony Bourdain’s, an ambassador of good Singaporean eats, chowing down at a tourist destination? And then it hits me. Sure he’s here. The food’s damn good! It's that simple.

Banana Leaf Apollo

54/56/58 Race Course Road

Singapore 218570

+65 6293-8682

Makansutra - Celebrating Asian food culture and lifestyle