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Sep 20, 2007 10:07 PM

Old Town Singapore Cafe Update

My son and I often are looking for places to meet dinner halfway between his home in Tracy and my office in Oakland. Given the recent reports on Old Town Singapore Cafe:

it seemed like a good option to try for our next dinner....

well, not. This was one of the most disappointing meals I've had in a long while.

We met at six-thirty, and I was surprised that is was almost full given that it was a weeknight. Still, we were promptly seated at one of the more comfortable remaining tables. So far, so good.

We tried one each of the only two beers available, Tiger and Heineken. Can't say I am a fan of either. Oh well, water glasses were kept full despite the fact that the rest of the flow of service was somewhat awkward (though certainly friendly enough).

We shared:

combo (beef and chicken) satay: not bad, flavorable peanut sauce, served with chopped up cucumbers and red onions (not a cucumber sauce, which I think is a minus, I like the balance between the vinegar usually in the sauce and the savory/sweet combo of peanut sauce).

tom yam soup: served sort of lukewarm, first bite had some spice but perhaps the only pepper was in the first bite as after that it seemed to lack flavor. Definitely skimpy on the seafood: one mussel, two small shrimp, a few rather chewy squid rings. I wouldn't order it again.

old town pork ribs: I'd say they were deep fried, not sauteed as stated in the menu. Son liked these, but hey, they are meat and he is young and a bottomless pit. I thought the marinade was too sweet, ribs themselves overcooked....

Homemade Tofu topped with shrimp, chicken, mushroom, vegetable in dry scallop sauce: Tofu wasn't bad, but it and the few shrimp and overcooked pieces of chicken and vegetables were all drowned in a gloppy brown sauce such as you would expect to find at a really bad Chinese restaurant. Very unappetizing in addition to being not tasty, and we left most of the dish uneaten.

Coconut rice: the highlight of the meal, for sure. Really pronounced coconut flavor and bits of fresh coconut but not at all sweet. Nicely done.

Steamed rice was fine but we both wised we had gotten two orders of coconut rice instead (even though it costs more).

I wanted to try the eggplant sambal but son is not an eggplant fan. Certainly nothing I ate motivated to come back and try again.

As I mentioned, service was mixed. Water glasses kept filled, but pacing was a bit slow and we had to ask three times to two different servers to get our bill and a box for son to take home the leftovers (yes, he even took the tofu. When I asked if he would really eat it, he reminded me that he is still a 'starving' college student...


Total with tax and tip was about $48. Not even that inexpensive, given portion sizes and quality.

So, can't I say I can recommend it. But, still would like places to meet son now and then in that area. Has anyone tried the Halu Shabu Shabu next door?

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  1. sorry, forgot to add link:

    Old Town Cafe
    4288 Dublin Blvd, Dublin, CA 94568

    1. SOTC is our number 1 favorite restaurant east of the Caldecott. We've been there many times and never had a bad meal. (OK, so now I'm feeling like those folks who said they like Sam's. But note that I didn't say we like SOTC for the view. :)

      I think you may have just had bad luck in the dishes you ordered. I don't have a paper take-out menu right now to remind me of the dishes, but we've ordered apps, salads. soups, noodle dishes, curries. We've taken others there and the concensus has been that it's great.

      Every restaurant has some dishes that they do better than other dishes. Regular diners, after a number of meals at a restaurant, figure out which ones those are and learn to avoid the ones they don't like. A new customer comes in and, luck of the draw, orders some of the lesser ones. Two tables, two entirely different experiences.

      One other thought. For restaurants that are open 7 days a week (like SOTC), have you ever wondered what day the head chef has off? And what the food is like -- and who does the cooking -- on his day off. Or sick. Or on vacation.

      There are just so many variables.

      That's why restaurant reviewers that only make one visit (like our local lame Times) are useless. For us diners, spending our own money instead of the newspaper's, it reasonable to decide whether or not to come back based on our first visit. And you certainly tried enough dishes. I think you were just a victim of those variables.

      > I was surprised that it was almost full given that it was a weeknight

      Those people are "voting with their dollars". That is, they chose SOTC instead of some other place. There's a reason.

      I know how disappointing it is when you go some place that others like and you have a bad experience. Kind of like me and Sam's. :)

      4 Replies
      1. re: chow_eb

        well, I should note that while it was almost full when we arrived, we were among the last table seated until we left, and only two or three remained. and the other places in the mall seemed to be fairly well populated also...

        It would be nice to hear what specific dishes you do like? When I look at prior posts, I can't ascertain any real consensus that there are certain specific dishes to order there (other than rw wanting to try the pulled tea, though the beef radang and pineapple fried rice did get a few positive mentions. However, pinapple fried rice wouldn't appeal to me anyway...). btw, the menu is listed in the website I linked to, and looks to be exactly the same as what I was presented.

        and while I hear you about the one visit thing, it really is hard to believe that any kitchen that would serve soup that wasn't very good and a tofu dish with sauce as bad as that one would put out delicious food....then again, I don't live in Dublin, so keep in mind that my perspective is of someone who drove 30 miles from my office for dinner (and 45 miles to get back home to SF)....Moreover, that was one of the few times where I felt let down by a CH recommendation. I've had less than stellar meals at CH favorites when I ordered wrong, but in those cases I could always see some potential. Sure, could have been an off night, of course, but while I might try it again if I lived closer by, my report was written from that perspective.

        would love to hear what you think of the place next door if you do try it however :-)

        oh, and what is Sam's? Not sure what place you are referring to there....

        1. re: susancinsf

          > It would be nice to hear what specific dishes you do like

          The roti canai flat bread is great. It comes with a curry sauce. You can ask for more sauce. (We always do.)

          > combo (beef and chicken) satay: not bad, flavorable peanut sauce,
          > served with chopped up cucumbers and red onions (not a
          > cucumber sauce, which I think is a minus

          We like the satays a lot. Not sure what you mean by cucumber _sauce_. We get sliced cucumbers, onions, carrots in vinegar with satay pretty much wherever we go.

          > tom yam soup: served sort of lukewarm

          We like that soup. Clearly the kitchen screwed up serving it only warm. Plus it just gets colder when you ladle it into room temperature bowls. You may have liked it better hot. We like their hot and sour soup too. My favorite soup, which they don't offer, is a straight-up Thai tom kha gai. Next time you meet your son, try Little Home Thai in Pleasanton, just off Santa Rita Road right next to 580. (In the center with Trader Joe's.)

          > old town pork ribs

          We haven't tried those. Next time order the beef rendang. It is so good.

          > Homemade Tofu ... I wanted to try the eggplant sambal but son
          > is not an eggplant fan.

          We have the same problem with our son. We like vegetables so much that we just ignore it. If he doesn't eat it, it just means more for us. I recommend the okra, green beans, or eggplant. You can always bring it home for leftovers.

          > Coconut rice: the highlight of the meal

          And the chicken rice too. The pineapple fried rice, which our son likes, is OK, but not a good value. But I guess their cost is high due to the pineapple shell it comes in.

          > As I mentioned, service was mixed.

          Yeah, I'd describe it as friendly but rushed. They're often swamped. Both the kitchen and service suffers when that happens.

          > Not even that inexpensive

          Their prices are fairly high. I guess it's just one of those supply and demand things. Maybe when the Macau, Korean, and dim sum places open it will help to moderate price increases. On the other hand, it could increase demand by bringing more people to this center. As it is, we don't go to SOTC as often as we would like because of the wait.

          1. re: chow_eb

            <<served with chopped up cucumbers and red onions (not a
            > cucumber sauce, which I think is a minus.

            This is exactly how it's served in Malaysia.

          2. re: susancinsf

            I loved their Hokkien mee, beef rendang, and butter prawns. Liked their chicken rice too, but I think Kopitiam in Lafayette does a better job with this dish.

        2. I did think you made some unusual menu choices for a Singaporean meal - although, now that I've looked at their menu, they do give themselves the thumbs up for the tofu and rib dishes. That's unfortunate, that their self-proclaimed specialties weren't very good. I'd like to try the laksa, roti canai, char kway teow, nasi goreng, the sambal belacan prawns, and the Hainan chicken rice. And the Chinese donut with squid and prawn paste.

          2 Replies
          1. re: daveena

            I could drink the curry sauce served with the roti.

            1. re: daveena

              " I'd like to try the laksa, roti canai, char kway teow, nasi goreng, the sambal belacan prawns, and the Hainan chicken rice."

              Find a place that does those dishes well anywhere between San Diego and Seattle, and I'll be there in an instant. ;)

            2. Finally made it to Ulferts Center for the first time (it opened while I was out of town on a long trip) and got takeout from Singapore Old Town Cafe. It was pretty disappointing after reading all the previous stuff here on CH. My experience was similar to the oriiginal poster. Dishes:

              1. Spring rolls. They were recommended by several people but these were just awful. They were tiny, had little contents, a stale crumbly wonton-skin wrapper, and were just unappetizing.

              2. Chinese doughnut stuffed with shrimp paste. The only passable dish of the four, although they were over-fried to the point of toughness.

              3. Sambal balachan prawns. Really weak. They didn't use nearly enough of the dried shrimp/peppers sauce base, and it was full of undercooked bell peppers and onions, and the prawns were one or two sizes smaller than the ones in this dish elsewhere.

              4. Singapore pork ribs. They were also fried to the point of toughness, and came with no sauce.

              I was expecting an experience similar to Straits Cafe, Red Kwali, or Panang Garden, but this was not nearly in their class.

              2 Replies
              1. re: mcb

                Three of the four dishes were fried. Hmmmm.

                mcb is certainly experienced enough to know better than to order fried foods for take out. They're cold before you get half way home.

                We've been there many times and have never had 1, 2, and 4. Some other CH previously posted that they didn't like the Singapore ribs so we've never ordered them.

                We took friends from out of town there this past weekend. Roti canai, tom yam soup, beef rendang, green curry chicken, green beans in sambal sauce, Singapore fried mee hoon, chicken rice. (I just looked at the website to refresh my memory, Our visitors thought it was great.

                Deezer: maybe the roti canai just wasn't cooked enough. In any case, the bread is just an excuse to eat the yellow curry sauce. And ask for more.

                Melanie: we've been to Kopitiam once after reading about it here. It was OK, but nothing special, so we haven't returned.

                I think that what is happening here (MCB and Deezer at SOTC, us at Kopitiam) is that regulars who have been to a place numerous times and tried many of the items on the menu learn what the restaurant does well and order accordingly. Others, especially first timers, can strike out.

                But those fried foods were baaaad choices for take out, Michael.

                1. re: chow_eb

                  I don't think the fried nature of the food was the problem. I don't live that far away, and I often get fried items for takeout at various places and they're fine (and I have corresponding expectations). One thing that usually survives very well are rolls. I get cha gio to go from various Vietnamese places and even the most modest of those was better than OTC's rolls. As it was, the (fried) stuffed Chinese doughnut was the best of the four items.

                  The problem with the Chinese doughnuts and the ribs was that they were both way overcooked. When you fry stuff too long it gets tough and dry - doesn't matter whether it's eaten at the table or carried out & served 5-10 minutes later at home. And the problem with the rolls was that they were just sort of pathetic. Heck, I get rolls & fried stuff at places like Vung Tau or Huong Lan in Newark & take them home (much farther away) and they're way better than the ones at OTC.

                  I've had takeout from the other places listed (Straits, Red Kwali, Penang Garden) plus Spice Islands and Penang Village -- not to take home to Pleasanton but to various friends' homes and offices -- and all were a full rank better than OTC.

                  I'll give it another shot in a while, but there are many other places to try. Though admittedly I'm 0 for 2 at Ulferts, since Just Koi was somewhat of a disappointment as well.

              2. We went there a few weeks ago and tried the Roti Canai, Laksa Noodles, Rendang Beef, and Hainanese chicken rice. The roti was a bit doughy, seemed like it may have been a frozen version. The laksa noodles didn't have much noodles and the broth was just ok. I prefer the version at Singapore Malaysian in SF. The rendang beef was quite tasty however, and we also enjoyed the Hainanese chicken rice. Prices were a bit on the high side, but service was fine.

                3 Replies
                1. re: DezzerSF

                  Recently talked to a man from Singapore who lives and works in Dublin, not far from Old Town Singapore Cafe. He prefers the food at Kopitiam in Lafayette and drives up there every week.

                    1. re: DezzerSF

                      Clicking on the Place link below for Kopitiam will take you to several discussion threads about it for more details.

                      Kopitiam Restaurant
                      3647 Mt Diablo Blvd, Lafayette, CA 94549