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Travel orientalExotic Tastes in China, Vietnam, Singapore and JapanWritten by Super UserA look at notable restaurants that are worth a visit in four Asian cities.BeijingWistaria BridgeDining in Beijing often feels like participatory performance art: spacey and surly waiters, endlessmenus in challenging and challenged English, confusion sprinkled liberally throughout. Theexperience can both frustrate and delight. One example of this odd combination is WistariaBridge, above, a restaurant that opened last year in the citys tech district and serves up itspersonal take on classic Beijing food.Confusion will probably begin the dual-language menu, which describes dishes like "braised DerGelbfish" and "stir shell fish with Chinese little green." Pictures help, and so might an overeagerwaitress who forgets drink orders, but is more than happy to practice her English.But once the "pork with special wine" arrives, there will be no complaints. Squares of pork bellyare braised with Chinese wine for nine hours over a whisper of a flame until fat and meat havemelded together — only to melt away in your mouth.Soy sauce braises are a classic Beijing technique; the adventurous should try the unfortunatelynamed "Beijing style braised pork bowels" — a savory, tender, garlicky offal stew, served withglass noodles and topped with a nutty hot pepper oil. Another fine example is the "special porkkidney." The dish, which is served cold, features a white pepper sauce with green garlic slivers.The kidney itself has a snappy texture and none of its usual pungency.And the creative menu descriptions continue. "Deep fried duck cube with walnut" is marinatedduck meat under an airy pillow of ground chicken and walnut, an unexpected twist on the citysprimary fowl. "Stir shell fish with Chinese little green" is dried clams foot stir-fried with bokchoy sprouts — clean and grassy, with a tinge of ocean brine.The star of the show, as in most restaurants in China, is the food, so its best not to be distractedwith wondering how the Cubist stained-glass window fits in with the slate gray traditionalcourtyard interior and fake plastic cherry blossoms.Wistaria Bridge (Ziteng Qiao), Zhongguancun Pedestrian Street (Zhongguancun buxingjie) R23;(86-10) 5986-3680. A meal for two is about 200 renminbi, or about $31 at 6.4 renminbi to thedollar. (All prices are without drinks or tip.) XIYUN YANGHanoiLa Coopérativehttp://www.traveloriental.com/
Travel orientalOpened by a group of French and Vietnamese friends in late 2009, La Coopérative materializedout of a shared passion for great food, conversation and ruou, Vietnamese rice liquor."There arent many places in Hanoi where foreigners and locals gather," said Pham Viet Anh, anowner. "So we created a space where all of us would feel happy and be reminded of the beautyand culture of old recipes, both French and Vietnamese."The menu is split in two sections — "Tay" and "Ta," loosely translated as "theirs" and "ours" —and is a lesson in the revelatory things that can happen when European and Asian flavors unite.Following local custom, we ordered a number of dishes and shared everything. Buttery wheels offoie gras and fig terrine, accompanied by anise-infused mini-toasts, were enhanced by adeceptively simple steamed preparation of chayote and carrot, explosively flavored with salt,chopped peanuts and sesame seeds.A warm lentil salad tossed with stewed tomatoes, braised chicken and a zingy, vinegar-baseddressing dovetailed effortlessly with sweet, tender hunks of caramelized pork slow-cooked in agingery fish sauce and served in a clay pot.The bo cuon la cai is a do-it-yourself hand-roll: soft morsels of beef, butter lettuce, cilantro andan assortment of garnishes (pineapple, green banana, carrot, starfruit) are rolled in rice paper anddipped into a wasabi-rich soy sauce. Sweet, savory, bitter, tart and spicy, it captures thecomplexity for which Vietnamese cooking is revered.In a nod to the past, food arrives on white dishes imprinted with the letters HTX, theabbreviation for hop tac xa, or "a cooperative"; theyre replicas of the government-manufacturedplates and bowls used in the decade following reunification in 1975 — just one of therestaurants many thoughtful design touches, which also include weathered, wooden electricalcable spools standing in for tables and oversize cylindrical silk chandeliers.In one of the three main dining areas, guests sit on floor cushions and eat at low tables, thetraditional way. Its quite taxing for the uninitiated, so the numerous wooden columns installedfor weak backs come as a warm welcome.La Coopérative, 46 An Duong; (84) 4-3716-6401; hoptacxa.net. An average meal for two isabout 350,000 Vietnamese dong, or $17 at 20,339 dong to the dollar. NAOMI LINDTSingaporeSalt Grill & Sky BarAt a recent weekday lunch at Salt Grill & Sky Bar, right, suited executives shared pricey bottlesof red wine and meticulously groomed ladies-who-lunch pored over a menu featuring caviar, foiegras and wagyu.Yet Salt, which opened on the 55th and 56th floors of the prestigious Ion Orchard building lastNovember, is anything but precious. The dining room, dressed in black, brown and taupe, isnthttp://www.traveloriental.com/
Travel orientalopulent but its comfortable; stunning views, through floor-to-ceiling windows, are its "wow"factor. (An adjacent wine bar and intimate mezzanine cocktail bar share the same views.) Andthose expensive menu ingredients? They were added post-debut, a concession to loftyexpectations engendered by the restaurants exclusive perch."Were really not trying to do Singapore-style fine dining," said Kathy Tindall, head chef. "But alot of people come to a restaurant like this wanting to spend real money, and we want to makethem happy."Salt is the latest addition to the Australian celebrity chef Luke Mangans growing culinaryempire, which includes restaurants in Sydney, South Melbourne and Tokyo. His imprint is hardto miss, both tableside — where Mr. Mangans name adorns plates, cutlery, glassware, even saltand pepper grinders — and in the French, Asian and Modern Australian influences on the menu.Ms. Tindall said she aspires to serve "not fancy or complicated food but nice, clean, simpledishes made with quality ingredients." Indeed, the restaurants best preparations are its moststraightforward.The rich savoriness of deep-fried pastry "cigars" of confit of rabbit and mustard fruits is balancedby a bright apple and celeriac salad. In a Mangan signature dish, Australian yellowtail kingfishsashimi, goat feta and ginger strike a surprisingly harmonious chord.Mains include steamed and sous-vided Petuna ocean trout, which arrives as a silky pink fillet,paired with tarragon-flecked warm potato salad. As might be expected of a kitchen withAntipodean origins, grilled items, like the crisp-skinned but moist barramundi fillet, are superb.That wagyu — rump or fillet — arrives appetizingly crusty, bathing in a shallow pool of mashedpotatoes.Licorice parfait with lime syrup, another Mangan invention, tops the dessert list. But the mostpleasure is to be found in an uncharacteristically complex preparation: The strawberry soufflé, acerise cloud rising several inches above the rim of its copper vessel, is uncomprehendinglyfeatherweight yet infused with the fruits very essence. It makes the delicious pandan andcoconut gelato served alongside borderline superfluous.Salt Grill & Sky Bar, 2 Orchard Turn, Level 55-56, ION Orchard; (65) 6592-5118; saltgrill.com.An average meal for two, without drinks or tip, is about 185 Singapore dollars, or $149 at 1.25Singapore dollars to the dollar. The two-course Executive Lunch Menu, Monday to Friday, is 40Singapore dollars. The seven-course tasting menu is 140 or 200 Singapore dollars. ROBYNECKHARDTTokyoVegetable Sushi Potager(Note to Readers)Can sushi be sushi without the fish? Aya Kakisawa certainly thinks so. The co-owner and chef ofthis decidedly vegetarian restaurant — the newer of two spots where she runs the kitchen — ishttp://www.traveloriental.com/
Travel orientalwinning plaudits for her commitment to healthful, vegetarian cooking, and her desire to imbue itwith a sophisticated playfulness.Situated in the swank Roppongi Hills shopping complex, Vegetable Sushi Potager seats about 37at a pine and emerald resin U-shaped counter and a handful of semi-private areas. Diners canchoose from two omakase menus, the Akane (5,250 yen, or $65 at 81 yen to the dollar), and theHisui (8,400 yen); the latter features more courses, and both change every month or two. At atime when Japan is embroiled in free trade talks and there is much hand wringing over self-sufficiency, all food is sourced domestically and the staff takes great care to explain the originsof each dish.During a recent visit, highlights included a starter of nonalcoholic purple sweet potato amazake"wine," and a pale "potager style" steamed egg custard, which is perched daintily on a jeweledvegetable gelée, referencing Ms. Kakisawas French training. (Potager is the French term for akitchen garden.)Yet where the chef really excels is in dishes that not only resemble their fish-based counterparts,but are every bit as satisfying. Most successful is the carrot "uni" (sea urchin) sushi. A mousse ofboth regular and kintoki carrots — the latter a red orange species cultivated in Japan since theEdo period — it is marvelously iridescent and bears an uncanny resemblance to its fishy cousin.Eyes were also drawn to the stunningly realistic "maguro" (tuna) sushi, actually a sliced tomatodabbed with a tomato compote and cheese. A cherry tomato stuffed with a medley of three kindsof rice was more visually sedate, but proved outstanding; its soft flesh sweetly exploded in themouth, the risotto serving as a nutty riposte.Ms. Kakisawas famous desserts — she also runs an outrageously successful "vegetable sweets"patisserie in trendy Nakameguro — run extra. The tomato, kiwi fruit and rosehip verrine withtomato sorbet (1,260 yen) was refreshing, yet subtle, proving that illusion isnt always necessary.Vegetable Sushi Potager, Roppongi Keyakizaka-Dori, Roppongi Hills, 6-9-1 Roppongi, Minato-ku; (81-3) 3497-8822. Vegan menu available by advance reservation. JANE KITAGAWARead more visit: http://www.traveloriental.com/blog/item/20-exotic-tastes-in-china-vietnam-singapore-and-japanhttp://www.traveloriental.com/