Saturday, June 26, 2010

Change. It's In The...

G*d, Blogger keeps rolling out all these bells and whistles, and I unwisely switched to the templates editable with the "new" Template Designer. Now my Dark, Dreary Corner of Cyberspace™ looks like someone dumped Clorox bleach on it.

My old template had so many style sheet customisations the CSS code is half the length of the actual template code. Feels like I'm starting all over again.

Maybe that's what I need. What this place needs. Perhaps a less-is-more style scheme would be better for the future. ...Maybe not for now.

Has it really been about four months since this declaration? Better late than never. Only thing is, I'll also be tweaking the layout as well.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Knuckle Up For Pasta

When I called the restaurant yesterday afternoon, the lady expressed surprise. Apparently they've been looking for someone to write up the place in The Star in the two years since they opened. What concerned me was that the kitchen is also short-handed. Can they keep up?

Apparently not.

Many irate customers waiting for their food. The kitchen was cooking by table, which was probably not a good idea when the dining room is packed with people who may be ordering three or more plates of of the same, time-consuming and hard-to-prepare dish (the pork knuckle). At least two tables cancelled.

Somehow, I ended up sharing a table with two ex-colleagues. "We came here because someone wrote about it in The Star," one of them said. "The writer wrote so nicely about the pork knuckle, we just had to try it." At least they felt I was spot-on about the "dry" meat and the lovely skin.

But I knew now that restaurant reviews aren't just about the food, business hours, or kosher status. A bit more curiosity would also have revealed the situation in the kitchen. Lesson learnt.



Vary good food
A small nondescript outlet, an unusual name, not many people about — first impressions can be deceiving.

first published in The Star, 05 June 2010

The drive to The Atria that day was uneventful. As I pulled over to the side of the road, my friend Alex suggested KFC. Then she remembered a pasta joint nearby.

Mass-market multinationals? No. Private mom-and-pop enterprises? Yes.

Vary Pasta
21 Jalan SS22/23
Damanasara Jaya
47400 Petaling Jaya

Tel: 03-7710 6100

Daily Business Hours
Lunch: 11am - 3pm
Dinner: 5pm - 10pm

Closed on 2nd and 4th Thursdays
of the month

Delightfully non-halal
After a "Shop Closed" false alarm, we found the place. Vary Pasta, eh? Very unusual, very dodgy-looking. But many mom-and-pops are like that, and not a few managed to shut me up with their food, so we stepped in.

The décor at Vary Pasta had some semblance of a Tuscan establishment. Dominating the rather small dining area was a huge round table placed near a section of wall painted with a banquet scene. However, the place was empty. Not very good.

No matter. We were thirsty and ordered drinks. Then we saw the whimsical-sounding items on the menu. Reuban Bread Set?

"Made by Reu-Ban, son of Ray-Ban?" I snarked to Alex. Again, very strange. Then again, not quite. Reuban, if that's the chef's name, ranks right up there with such names as Oxide, Hacken and Fish. We ended up picking some itty-bitty bites to pass the time: a fettuccine carbonara with ham and some deep-fried pork ribs.

The carbonara was beyond expectation — not salty, not overly creamy and the pasta was not drowned in sauce. The bits of ham, fried but not stiff as tree bark, added more flavour and depth to the dish. The ribs? Deep-fried, certainly, but still juicy inside, and not salty, either. The prices? Quite competitive, given the neighbourhood.

Oohs, aahs and mmms were liberally thrown about as we exchanged notes. Words flowed freely between us. Like Hunter S Thompson, in Kingdom of Fear — or Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas, I volunteered, or Anthony Bourdain. In a restaurant, no less. It seemed appropriate.

After all that talking, I was hungry again. This time, we were more adventurous and went for the Reuban.

What arrived was a pile of chicken ham, bacon, gherkin, tomato, lettuce, cheese and sauerkraut placed between two slices of de-crusted toasted bread, with a scoop of potato salad cradled in lettuce leaves. I didn't know where the spicy bite came from, but the flavour combination was tops.

OK, so I'll bite what Reuban has to offer. But perhaps Oxide can benefit from a stint in cooking school after the debacle known as The Storm Warriors.

When we returned to the place for more, we were surprised to find all the tables taken, except for a two-seater close to the kitchen. Now why did we think this place was in trouble?

At RM46++, the roasted pork knuckle dish was among Vary's most expensive offerings. The over-20 minute wait for the dish was excruciating; neither of us had a proper lunch prior. The procession of dishes emerging from the kitchen didn't help much.

Plate after plate drifted towards eagerly waiting tables like teasing mirages: piles of spaghetti covered in red sauce; chicken chops wearing coats of black pepper-speckled brown gravy; spaghetti tossed in olive oil and herbs; a monstrous mixed sausage platter with an obscene-looking centrepiece; and a mouth-watering pile of butter sauce-covered "Dijon mushrooms".

Finally, a huge pile of pork, lightly garnished with greens materialised at our table. The knuckle came all carved and cut up for us. We dug in.

The roasted skin — bits of blistered, charred, caramelised goodness — had the crispness and flavour expected of it. The meat was largely devoid of extra fat, unlike braised pork knuckles, and a bit dry (we did take five minutes to photograph that plate beforehand). There were more oohs, aahs and mmms as we dipped skin and meat into the brown sauce and ate.

Beneath the pile of porcine goodness were two bones with almost nothing clinging to them, and a sparse bed of sauerkraut with a few bits of potato — an attempt at making the dish more German, perhaps? I took the much larger bone and peeled off the remaining bit of flesh, fat and connecting tissue with my teeth.

The pork knuckle was wonderful. It had flavour. It had texture. It had us at "Hello".

It also made us want dessert, in the form of a tiramisu. Alex has her standards, though: "If it's not real coffee liqueur, I don't want it."

She need not have worried. It tasted nothing like a thawed out dessert, not overpoweringly sweet or rich, and the sponge was absolutely drenched in coffee liqueur. While I went over the bill, Alex called me over. "You've got to see this...!"

She was riveted to a bunch of photos on the wall, closest to the door. She pointed to one and my eyes widened. In a framed photograph posing with an arm draped on (presumably) the chef's shoulder was St Anthony himself, the profane but profound Hunter S Thompson of Discovery Travel And Living.

Weren't we talking about both of them the last time we were here?

We asked about the photo. Vary Pasta's chef worked at a hotel, explained the woman behind the counter. It seems the chef was at the right place at the right time when Tony B dropped by.

"Is this your first time here?" she asked.

"Second," I said. "And we'll be back for a third, fourth, fifth..."