Razor Clams: A Southeast Asian Kitchen-Sink Tale


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The dinner gathering has been impromptu and Chef Simpson of Cafe Asean is feeling a little guilty that he hasn't had time to plan what to cook.

Calmly but quickly, he zips about his spacious Manhattan kitchen, pulling out bags, inspecting his fridge. "This is a good time to eat razor clams, you know," he stops to say, showing us the big bag he acquired from the farmers' market that very morning. "They taste really good right now."

Now, while I've eaten razor clams — or bamboo clams as they're called in some parts of Asia — I've never even thought to cook them at home. A slab of steak, pieces of chicken, a whole turkey — those I can comprehend. Razor clams? They had just always seemed a touch too exotic for my abilities.

Simpson, however, shares none of my apprehension, looking at me like I'm crazy and then shrugging when I ask, "How are you going to cook them?"

"It depends on what I have in the kitchen," is his simple answer. With that, Simpson fires up his stove and away we go …

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Lemongrass Frozen Yogurt: The Joys of Cooking Redux



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Years ago, I heard a sports writer complain about how he used to love sports — until he started writing about it.

Once it became a job, he all but stopped watching games on weekends. The thing that he adored had morphed into stress-inducer.

I remember feeling aghast — you get paid to write about something you love. Isn’t that more than many people dream of?

Recently, however, I’ve started to understand. After spending weeks with my nose buried deep in my book manuscript — which is all about a journey home to my native Singapore told through food and cooking — my time in the kitchen has become, simply, work. Meals have been thrown together out of sheer necessity; easy old faithfuls rather than new creative dishes have been making far too many appearances on the dinner table.

The stress of writing and editing my hundreds of pages on food, sadly, had transformed my love for cooking into a source of anxiety.

But I only realized I’d forgotten how to enjoy the act of making food when my Let’s Lunch friends nudged me back into the kitchen — not to put a meal on the table but to whip up something silly and anything but practical: A decadent chilled dessert.

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Obao: Panned Asian


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New York is filled with so many “pan-Asian” restaurants that it can be difficult to get excited about yet another one setting up shop.

Vietnamese pork chops? Been there. Summer rolls? So, so done that.

And Obao, Michael Huynh’s newest addition to his rapidly expanding string of Manhattan restaurants, hits these and all the other usual notes that you’ll find at many other similarly billed places in the city.

What’s different? Not much, compared with your run-of-the-mill multi-ethnic Asian restaurant.

There are some hits — anything meaty and/or grilled. And, of course, some misses, namely a “spicy” Singapore laksa (pictured above) that’s so watered down that its broth tastes like hot water with some curry powder tossed in toward the end.

But here’s the thing: Even at Obao’s recession-friendly prices (which put entrees between $9 and $18), for those who enjoy a hearty bowl of noodle soup or a crisp papaya salad now and then, there are just so many other places in the city to go for better versions.

So, why eat here?

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Big D’s Grill: Democratizing Food, One Wagyu Steak At A Time


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It’s peak dinnertime on a weeknight in Singapore and I’m perched on a rickety plastic stool at Big D’s Grill in Holland Village.

The tables are only somewhat clean. It’s so unbearably hot and humid in the food court-style coffee shop that an almost endless trickle of sweat is rolling down my face. And the rumbling din all around only crescendos as the tank-top and shorts-wearing crowd grows and flip-flopped hawkers race from table to table, barking out greetings and taking orders.

It’s hardly the setting where you’d expect to find some of the most satisfying (and, in some instances, inventive) Western dishes currently being served in Singapore. And yet, that’s exactly what you’ll get at Big D’s, a place that serves USD $33 wagyu rib-eye steaks and USD $8.20 snapper livornese from a tiny kitchen wedged between hawker stands that sell noodle dishes and fish soups for around USD $1.

Damian D’Silva, the owner/chef of Big D’s, is something of a man on a mission — and his quest is to bring high-end fare to
a swath of people who love good food but might be intimidated
by or don’t want to be bothered with going to a fancy French or Italian
restaurant. His hole-in-the-wall stall has been part of a growing number of places in hawker centers and other outdoor foodcourts that have been gradually democratizing the eating culture in Singapore simply by selling French, German or Eurasian dishes that one would typically find at higher prices in high-end restaurants in low-key, neighborhood settings.

Big D’s in particular, has been attracting big crowds and attention on the shoulders of Damian’s dishes — the New York Times, apparently, is about to run a feature on the place. (The restaurant’s Facebook page, Fans of Big D’s Grill, sent out an email blast last week urging customers to swing by and pad up the crowds last Friday for a planned photo shoot with a Times photographer.)

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