Singapore Chinese Cuisine (Maplewood, MN)
By Karen Cooper and Bruce Schneier
Singapore Chinese Cuisine doesn't look like much from the outside. It's in a strip mall, and looks like a perfectly standard below-average American-style Chinese restaurant. The decor isn't inviting. But don't let that dissuade you; the restaurant makes some of the best Southeast Asian food in the Twin Cities.
There are two halves to the menu: a page of Chinese-food staples, and two pages of Malaysian and Singaporan dishes. Ignore the former, and order off the latter. Most of these dishes are delicious.
Order the Captain's Curry, a chicken curry so interestingly spiced it just comes alive in your mouth. It's not spicy hot like some Indian curries -- Malaysian curries tend to be subtler and more complex. The menu claims that it's made with 27 different spices, which is why the taste is so hard to pin down. We think this is the best dish on the menu.
We also like any of the assam dishes, flavored with a tangy tamarind sauce. A bit more interesting are the assam lamek dishes, which start with the basic assam but are flavored with coconut cream and citrus. These can be made with chicken, tofu, or a variety of seafood.
And you won't go wrong with the curry chicken, served with potatoes and onions in a curry sauce flavored with coconut milk and anise.
If you want to try yet another interesting sauce, the hokkien bee hoon is mild and flavorful. This is stir-fried squid and prawns in a chicken-broth sauce, served over rice vermicelli. The egg kway teow is a chicken and squid dish, in a sauce reminiscent of egg drop soup with noodles.
We're less crazy about the Singapore chili prawns. It's not a bad dish, just much blander than expected. We order this whenever we are in Singapore, and always like its flavor, but this Americanized version is too mild. And the sambal mussels are only okay. The sambal sauce -- a mixture of shrimp paste, chili, and shallots -- didn't match the dish well.
But the spicy grilled sea bass, in the same sauce, is a must. This is a filet of Chilean sea bass, grilled over a banana leaf and served with vegetables. Absolute bliss.
Only so-so are the dishes in the spicy peppery family: chicken, eggplant, vegetables, and various combinations thereof. Served with stir-fried onions, green peppers, and carrots, we found these boring. They needn't be: we've had the same dishes in Singapore, and they were intense and flavorful and delicious.
The appetizers are all pretty boring -- except for the grilled pork chops -- but ask for a dish of the spicy cold salad that comes with the appetizer sampler platter.
Service is uneven. At times there's only one person waiting on the entire restaurant. Dishes come out of the kitchen a couple at a time, sometimes after they've started to cool. If we could change one thing, it would be to ensure that the food comes out of the kitchen piping hot. But that's a minor nitpick of a delicious meal.
Hours: Tue-Thu 11am-9pm
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