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Of Meatloaf, Burgers And Rigatoni: Two New Joints Fuelling Our American Comfort Food Cravings

Dig into some old and new American classics.

One man’s meat is another man’s poison. That’s why there are food noobs who think it makes good TV to gag over the likes of century eggs, the eyeballs of fish head curry, cod sperm (shirako) or live baby Korean octopus.

Granted, a near choking incident with the latter means they get a wide berth from us. But if there are those who recoil at stuff we know and love, there are beloved classics from certain cultures that we don’t get either – like meatloaf and tuna casserole.

Lucali BYGB’s meatloaf was inspired by the mother of Gibran Baydoun, a Singapore-based American hospitality entrepreneur. Photo: Lucali BYGB

Maybe because we have more ways of cooking minced meat than baking it in a loaf pan, or the thought of eating tuna cooked in canned mushroom soup with egg noodles and processed cheese (says a Google recipe) sounds genuinely distressing, these two slices of Americana haven’t quite made the global crossover like burgers or macaroni and cheese have.

But if new American eatery Lucali BYGBhas its way, we might at least look at meatloaf in a different light.

But if there are those who recoil at stuff we know and love, there are beloved classics from certain cultures that we don’t get either – like meatloaf and tuna casserole.

Meatloaf was the temporary star of this Singapore offshoot of Lucali in Brooklyn, New York, famous for its pizza, which didn’t appear until the restaurant opens properly, after Phase 2 restrictions were eased. Back then, only a takeaway/delivery menu is being offered, featuring salads, pastas and meatloaf inspired by the mother of Gibran Baydoun, a Singapore-based American hospitality entrepreneur whose initials complete the BYGB suffix.

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As it is with most freshly imported concepts that forget to check in their salt levels at immigration, expect your tongue to be temporarily brined by your first few mouthfuls of meatloaf ($30). But that can be quickly remedied by alternating mouthfuls of moist, fine-textured ground meat with plain salad leaves sans any dressing.

As the sturdy leaves of radicchio, iceberg and romaine lettuce absorb the excess seasoning, you can enjoy this hearty but not heavy mixture of beef, pork and solid mushrooms bound with egg and maybe breadcrumbs. A salty-tangy glaze finishes it off.

Norma’s Rigatoni by Lucali BYGB. Photo: Lucali BYGB

There’s no tuna casserole, but there is Norma’s Rigatoni ($26) – chewy fat pasta cylinders bathed in an intense tomato-based eggplant sauce that’s full of punch but needs to be underseasoned by a few levels before we want second helpings.

The same with the salads, whether it’s the Big Salad ($26) that’s packed with radicchio, grilled asparagus, provolone cheese and surprise bits of salami, Caesar salad ($25) with anchovy dressing and hunks of toasted croutons, or the refreshing cous cous ($18) with zucchini wedges and cherry tomatoes. All pretty straightforward stuff, but there’s no skimping on ingredients.

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Desserts could use a few improvements with underwhelming apple turnovers ($6) that fall just short of the McDonalds-ish standard, thanks to a crust that’s rather crisp on the outside but leaden on the inside, and an apple filling that’s lost its will to caramelise.

The brownie ($9), meanwhile, aims for gooey but stops at powdery and hopes you don’t notice.

Culturally-appropriate seasoning aside, Lucali BYGB gets off to a promising start. We’re warming up to the idea of meatloaf and if the pizza is all that it makes itself out to be, a long-term relationship may be in the offing.

When it comes to Wildfire Chicken & Burgers, though, they have us at “truffle mushroom burger”. This newly reopened burger joint knows a thing or two about food delivery, sending out well-executed burgers that are still warm and hold their own even when you release them from their slightly sweaty paper wrapping.

Wildfire Chicken & Burgers’ truffle mushroom burger. Photo: Wildfire Chicken & Burgers

They have several iterations starting with classic cheeseburger ($9) stuffed with an Angus beef patty that’s cooked through but moist enough, thanks to the caramelised onion relish and melted cheese. The brioche bun is slightly squashed but holds everything together.

If you really don’t pay attention, it’s only barely distinguishable from its pricier SRF Wagyu ($13) sibling, whose initials stand for Snake River Farm. There’s a hint more fat but not a lot, and psychologically, it seems to taste better.

But the best performer is the Truffle Mushroom ($12) sandwiched with mushrooms which seem to make everything juicier, with a more satisfying mouthfeel. And as a bonus, both shoestring ($3) and truffle ($7) fries lose their heat but not their shape.

When it comes to Wildfire Chicken & Burgers, though, they have us at “truffle mushroom burger”.

As for the chicken in its name, what impresses is that its deep fried crunchy batter acts as super-insulating material to keep the juicy, supple flesh piping hot when it reaches you. Maybe that’s why it’s a little thicker than we like with a slightly pasty underside, but the chicken inside lives up to its promised succulence, with a mild hint of Chinese wine in the marinade.

It’s not a fancy menu, but with all the basics covered, this is one fire that won’t lose its spark anytime soon.

This article first appeared in The Business Times.