Hey, it's Cat Cora! You know her from various TV shows and Iron Chef America. She's the first and only female Iron Chef in a male-dominated line-up - something that takes not just culinary prowess but steely resolve and tenacity. This amazing woman's got books, cookware, TV shows, six restaurants in the United States, plus she's an avid philanthropist and mother of four!
Have always thought her cooking looked good, but now we can all get to try her dishes right here in Singapore - Cat opened her first overseas restaurant today at Resorts World Sentosa (RWS).
Ocean Restaurant by Cat Cora is right inside the S.E.A. Aquarium and literally flanks the world's largest oceanarium.
This is your tableside view - the majestic Open Ocean habitat! It houses manta rays, leopard or zebra sharks, mahi mahi, groupers, batfish, and shiny schools of fusiliers, scads and other fishes. This alone is one of the biggest highlights of the Marine Life Park, which houses the S.E.A. Aquarium.
I was surprised that this is the world's largest, surpassing even Churaumi Aquarium in Okinawa, which I visited last year (see photos and videos). Churaumi has three whale sharks in their tank, but S.E.A. Aquarium has more than 45 million litres of water, over 100,000 marine animals across 800 species, and the viewing panel for the Open Ocean habitat is officially the largest, measuring 36m long and 8.3m high.
But you can't beat the real beauty beyond the glass windows.
Like a painting that's ever moving and changing, the marine life mesmerizes you with therapeutic art.
I'm a former scuba-diver, so I miss what I used to see in the sea. Couldn't help taking lots of photos...the way I used to get so distracted in open water training sessions.
I guess these are the lucky tables that get "front row" views of the habitat. The dining view here is simply unbeatable, and I would happily come back for it.
But even if you are sitting on the opposite side of the glass windows, you can still view the marine life quite easily. The walls above the banquettes have angled mirrors that not only double the visual space but also the view. Custom made dining chairs with concealed swivel mechanisms make it easy for you to turn from all angles to enjoy the underwater scenes.
How can you not be impressed, right?
And for some of us, we can enjoy food while watching food-to-be (yes, I'm sure many Singaporeans will be thinking of how to BBQ that stingray or steam that giant fish that keeps swimming by).
But Ocean Restaurant is about eating responsibly too. The restaurant uses sustainably sourced seafood which jives with the Marine Life Park's aim of ensuring the continuation of vibrant marine, coastal and freshwater ecosystems.
The cuisine here is Mediterranean-Californian with Asian flair. Cat Cora has already studied the Asian palate and incorporated some local elements into dishes like Coq Au Vin Asia - lemongrass-sake braised spring chicken with roasted ginger, accompanied with Thai chili and young bok choy (S$32 for lunch, S$34 for dinner).
In keeping to her farm-to-table philosophy, Cat is glad to use as much as possible ingredients grown in or around Singapore. She believes in simple, light and healthy cooking styles.
We got to try the five-course Cat Cora Experience set dinner menu (S$158++) which offers some of her signature dishes paired with wines. These come in degustation-like portions (I'll show you the a la carte sizes later). This promo set's only available until 28 Feb 2013.
Oh and if you want to catch her at the restaurant, Cat Cora is around until 7 Feb 2013! But she will be back every now and then as well. Check out her interview on the RWS blog.
Some lovely soft rolls and pretzel-like bread to start things off. Some people are "rice bins" (rice lovers), I am a "bread bin". Hahaha.
You will be continue to be wowed as you nibble on your bread. I love how the shafts of light play with the fish weaving in and out of them.
Sous Vide 48°C Ocean Trout with Sustainable Caviar &
Prosecco Pear Crushed Almond,
Vine Tomato Jelly & Garden Cress
This is one of Cat Cora's signature items. The tender ocean trout and pear contrasted with the hard, candied almonds. The caviar lent a sea-like saltiness, the pear gave heady sweetness, and the tomato jelly a touch of tang. Overall a nice fusion of flavours that make you want a second bite.
A spotted eagle ray - we nicknamed him "Manja Ray" cos he kept coming by, seemingly wanting us to pet him or stroke his belly. (Manja = "likes to be pampered" in Malay)
Sakura Shrimp Risotto with Morel Mushroom
Black Truffle Butter
Ikura and Seared Hokkaido Scallop
The aromas of mushroom and shrimp combine to make the risotto both smoky and umami. The creaminess was comforting and the rice still retained some bite. The scallop was seared way longer than I am used to though.
It's a whole city of fish but there are never traffic accidents, no matter how close they swim alongside each other.
Vongole of Manila Clams with Spicy Fennel Sausage,
Garlic Broth & Toasted Sesame Croutons
This soup manages to be full-flavoured and yet clean-tasting. The yuzu zest complements the clam and garlic broth.
Available for lunch ($18) and dinner (S$20) in portions at least twice this size.
Whoa, fancy looking up to see a giant manta ray gliding by?
MAIN (OPTION 1)
Grilled Basque Wagyu Striploin with Leek Bread Pudding &
Roasted Sesame-Coriander Vegetables
I think the tasting portion may have been slightly overdone, as it's a small piece. But the spices in the seasoning rub kicked up the interest point. The chili heat was a little strong for some, but I liked it. Also a pleasing sauce of roasted pureed vegetables.
Ooh, flash mob!
Every now and then the smaller fish will rush to one point and then after some fuss, dash away as quickly as they had assembled.
MAIN (OPTION 2)
King Salmon with Mandarin-Habanero Glaze,
Meyer Lemon Cous Cous &
Hot House Cilantro
This was very nicely done, with the fish retaining a "just barely cooked" tenderness inside the caramelised crust. Apparently this dish (sometimes using Arctic Char) is specially created for Ocean Restaurant.
I love the baby rays! Cute, right?
‘After Eight’ Mint Variation with Chocolate
This dessert is for chocoholics. It is also available for dinner at S$16.
There's that manta ray again with the crazy entourage of little fish. Anyone remember Mr Ray from Finding Nemo? The one who takes the 'school' of fish kiddies on a ride?
And here below are the full a la carte portions. Some dishes are available for dinner only, and as you may have noticed, the lunch menu is a little lower in terms of pricing as well. Cat Cora has also included some kids' options for lunch (fish and chips, S$12; crispy nuggets, S$12; fries, S$8).
Sous Vide 48°C Ocean Trout with Sustainable Caviar & Prosecco Pear Crushed Almond, Vine Tomato Jelly & Garden Cress
This is the full starter size. The King Salmon version is available at lunch (S$24) and dinner (S$26).
King Salmon with Mandarin-Habanero Glaze, Meyer Lemon Cous Cous & Hot House Cilantro
Full entree size (S$46, dinner only)
Grilled Basque Wagyu Striploin with Leek Bread Pudding & Roasted Sesame-Coriander Vegetables
Full entree size (S$120, dinner)
Now this is a massive slab of wagyu!
There are windows on the far side - probably those famed suites that have windows built right next to the oceanarium?
One of the crystal lights near the entrance (car park side) is gorgeous (near the door to the carpark). A lot of care went into choosing the furnishings and fixtures.
We were loath to leave the beautiful vista, but the fish have to sleep. Towards the end of dining hours, they turn off the lights in the oceanarium.
You can access the restaurant by via the West Zone Carpark, B1M. Diners can park near Equarius Hotel. If you don't drive, take one of the resort's buggies (the carpark is so huge, they have buggies ferrying people along main attraction points).
Alternatively, if you are visiting the aquarium, you can enter and exit the restaurant from the other side.
Well, I'm betting that the restaurant is going to be packed for weeks to come. Cat Cora's name will draw the crowds, the prices are fairly reasonable, and the oceanarium view alone is worth coming for.
OCEAN RESTAURANT BY CAT CORA
22 Sentosa Gateway, Marine Life Park
Tel: +65 6577-8888 for reservations
Open daily 11am to 10.30pm (last order at 10pm)
Minimum spending of S$25++ per person between 11.30am to 2.30pm; 5.30pm to 10.30pm
Many thanks to Weber Shandwick and RWS for the invitation.