Charles T. Clark
Published May 12. 2011 4:00AM Updated February 28. 2012 1:00PM
If you are a fan of Asian cooking, you will have abundant choices at New London's venerable Singapore's Grill and Sushi Bar. It features not only Malaysian cooking (incorporating aspects of broad range of South Asian cuisines) but also offers more than 60 types of sushi and sashimi along with more substantial Japanese dishes. Add to those Chinese soups and main courses, and here's your object lesson in how many chefs present Asian cuisine to the American public.
It isn't so much fusion cooking as a broad sweep of Asian staples. Owner Sonny Chok has run Singapore's Grill for well over a decade. It bears noting that readers of tripadvisor have rated the restaurant #2 out of 92 restaurants in the New London area.
For those who see enough sushi on local menus, you can enjoy several meals of Malaysian dishes without ever landing on raw fish. So - given the preponderance of Japanese and Chinese restaurants in the area - we focused mostly on dishes that might actually reflect what you'd stumble on during a visit to Singapore.
Classic sambal - a stir-fry here described as mixed vegetables with a homemade seafood sauce - can be ordered with chicken, beef, pork or a selection of seafood. Past sambals have had intense, smoky, peppery bite; at Singapore's Grill the blend is milder.
Our order came with abundant slices of chicken, broccoli, fragrant and caramelized sliced onions, slivers of red and green peppers and "special fragrant white rice" that, while competent, hardly seemed special.
The restaurant was pushing several specials, and from them we ordered a fried lemongrass chicken served with "Singapore Noodles" (basically curried vermicelli) - the chicken mimicked a fresh, lightly battered tempura (which is also on the menu) and benefitted mightily (I'm hooked on strong flavors) from a peppery dipping sauce.
Those in search of the elusive flavor of lemongrass will have to look elsewhere; there was no hint in this dish. The curried noodles served as an effective contrast to the crisp chicken and fiery sauce.
Chef's recommendations included unusual dishes like a combination of meat and seafood in a mint sauce; "Basil Prawn," grilled shrimp with minced pork and basil; and "Ayam Mas," chicken sautéed with sesame sauce.
Noodles are offered in Japanese (Yaki Soba), Chinese (Lo Mein) and Malaysian (Mee Goreng) guise. On my next visit I'll try the Mee Goreng, a classic blend of meat, noodles and vegetables in a robust, peppery sauce.
The comprehensive list of Asian appetizers also includes some Malaysian highlights including Tahu (tofu) Goreng, a dish of stuffed, fried tofu with peanut sauce, and the grilled meats known as satay. I can recommend the Roti Canai, a buttery, grilled crepe-like bread served with a pepper sauce, and the Singapore roll, a crisp, fried tofu skin stuffed with finely minced pork, carrots and mushrooms, and served with a sweet/sour dipping sauce.
From there on, you can choose from Crab Rangoon, gyoza and shumai (dumplings), or assemble a table full of Japanese small plates including edamame (steamed soybeans), Agedashi tofu, shrimp and vegetable tempura, octopus or crab in vinegar ("Sunomono"), or sushi and sashimi samplers.
And since desserts sounded heavy to us (fried ice cream, cheese cake), we opted for two curry puffs, a riff on Indian samosas, deep-fried pastries stuffed with very chastely curried, and overcooked, potatoes. One can only stand in awe over the skill needed to deliver this range of food with some degree of authenticity.
And yet perhaps it isn't all that authentic. None of the dishes marked "Hot & Spicy" had the faintest trace of pepper, suggesting the kitchen has struck a sad compromise with timid American taste. All our dishes, I'm sorry to report, were served lukewarm.
Prices are reasonable. Most first courses cost under $6.95, except for samplers prepared for two or more. Most main courses fall between $10 and $20, save for sushi, which sets you back from $13.95 to $44.95, and which is served with soup or salad.
Authenticity aside, Singapore's Grill and Sushi bar offers a pleasant evening out. I'll move up the coast to Japan on my next visit, to sample some of the dishes that have its fans raving, and, presumably, returning for more.