Saturday, September 15, 2007

Back to Basics

The word, "diner", usually brings to mind a greasy spoon that serves good solid food. The decor at Ema's Diner is more salubrious than that, but the approach to food is still no-fuss.

A casual eatery may seem a little out of place on Greenwood Avenue's fine dining stretch. However, judging from the casually dressed but still obviously affluent clientele, there is demand for a family restaurant amongst the Oshkosh B'gosh-clad set. It was the perfect place for a midweek break anyway. None of us were in any condition to dress up. The place was cosy and comfortable, and great effort had obviously been made to make the restaurant kid-friendly. Seated amongst guests were giant Spongebob Squarepants and Patrick Starfish, and burger-shaped plush toys of various sizes were scattered on tables. We abducted one of these burgers and played with it until we remembered belatedly that kids mean germs. Yuck.

One glance at the menu and it was clear that it was ES' kind of thing - no raw fish, no organ meats, and, best of all, many a gussied up version of processed food. (Oddly enough, ES who disdains quite a range of ordinary ingredients, like tomatoes and mushrooms, will eat the damn things if they're processed beyond the point of recognition. I think it's odd, but HM says it makes perfect sense.)

cream of chicken soup

cream of mushroom soup

fried calamari

The soups were better than what we expected. We expected Campbell's soup in disguise but got reasonably full-bodied affairs with the ingredients still intact, not pureed out of existence, and not overly laden with cream, something less reputable eateries are wont to do to hide a possible lack of stock. The squid was even better. It was light and crispy - yummy!

There was some jostling where the mains were concerned, made more complicated by the fact that KKN hadn't arrived yet and was incommunicado. There were four recommended items on the list of mains. ES first opted for the beef stew, but then HM who was feeling 'delicate' decided to have that as well. So which should we forgo, the nonya chicken rendang, the braised lamb shank or the burger? We had heard that the burger wasn't that good, but then ES decided to give it a shot. Following that, I suggested calling KKN to see if she'd order the lamb shank, so that I could order the nonya chicken rendang. God knows she wouldn't order the spicy stuff but she was not to be found. At this point, ES caved in and decided to switch her order to the nonya chicken rendang. We agreed that I would order the lamb shank, and that we would ensure that KKN ordered the burger by leaving the plush toy burger (the germ-infested one!) right in front of her so that she would be prompted to do so. Phew!

nonya chicken rendang with sayur lodeh and achar

beef stew

braised lamb shank

Ema's burger

Of the mains, the beef stew got the best ratings while KKN and I both thought the lamb was excellent (ES doesn't eat lamb and HM thought the lamb a little 'lamb-y'.) Both meats were tender without being mushy and the accompanying mash was lovely buttery stuff. ES thought her rendang and sayur lodeh wonderful, although HM and I were a little less impressed. The burger was the one boo-boo. While the texture of the patty was good, juicy yet firm, the taste was another story altogether. It was definitely overseasoned and quite unnecessarily so, in my opinion.

apple pie with deepfried ice cream

Sadly, the evening ended on a less than impressive note. We probably should have ordered their signature desserts but whatever the case, the apple pie with a twist is not something I'd recommend to others. The apple slices were dry and somewhat tasteless while the ice cream was just ice cream once the chewy batter had been discarded.

Still, Ema's Diner provides a satisfying experience. We enjoyed the relaxed setting and the heartwarming food. Better yet, it was pretty affordable. The bill came up to $25 per head, including a Tiger beer and two coffees.



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