Monday, July 06, 2009

Merlion Food : Chapel Hill

Expectations are a funny thing. After an expectedly absolutely dismal Chinese buffet in Fredericksburg Virginia the night before (Run far away from King's House Buffet), it was surprising to find a waitress who spoke to us in Cantonese Chinese in this Singaporean Chapel Hill restaurant, Merlion.

(Btw, for those who don't know, like me, what a merlion is, it's the half lion, half fish symbol of Singapore. Wiki)

Anyhow, when my parents talked with the waitress, it turned out that the chef of the restaurant was from Hong Kong like my Dad and after a few minutes of conversing, she said the chef would choose the dishes for us. All we needed to do was to tell her how many dishes we wanted.

Sweetness. Here's what we got.

Stuffed You tiao - Like a mayonnaise based potato salad only with strips of carrots, red peppers, red onions, mango and pieces of you tiao (油条, Chinese donut) stuffed with a shrimp paste (with a texture like fish balls). A really quite interesting use of old you tiao.

Shrimp stir-fry - shrimp with celery, mushrooms, carrots, onions. The shrimp perhaps was not the freshest, but given that Chapel Hill isn't exactly near the ocean, what really matters was how it was cooked and that was nicely done.

Sea bass - Sizzling pieces of sea bass, peapods, red peppers, broccoli. Again the sea bass was not necessarily fresher than normal, but the cooking technique was pretty darn good, with a very nice tenderness in the center of the fish pieces.

Sweet & sour pork - Better than standard sweet & sour sauce. The main reason for this was the fresh pineapple used, lending a more natural sweetness than the usual canned pineapple crap. That and some of the pork flavor actually came through (as opposed to be its flavor being completely covered up by that of the sauce).

Interpretation of Taro Tapioca (Si Mi Low) - This was really rather intriguing. The tapiocca balls were lumped in a mold. The brown sauce tasted like the sweet taro sauce of si mi lo and a touch of coconut (when asked the waitress said it was some sugar available in Malaysia). The white sauce was some sort of cream, which was quite fresh. All in all, new to us and nicely done.

Again, this meal was pretty eye-opening, particularly as contrasted with our perhaps unfairly low expectations of Asian food for the area.

We briefly talked with the chef afterwards, who has been in the US for over 10 years and in the area for around 7 (erk, those numbers could be wrong. Memory's fading).

Lastly, the other thing to know is that they apparently serve a special Beef Tendon soup noodles (牛腩面) on Saturdays until 3pm, which we unfortunately were not able to try out. Anyways, I'm guessing my brother (and my family when we visit) will probably be trying this place out more often while he lives in the area.

Merlion Food
410 Market St # 320 Chapel Hill, NC 27516-4061 (Map)
(919) 933-1188
($Chinese, $North Carolina)

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