(That Thing I Do)

Tony Roma’s Experience

Once upon a time, back when I was still a student and weight a hefty (read: grossly obese), I found myself in Singapore with my brother, who’s been working there for a while. By tradition, he’d always pamper me with really nice meals (and sometimes gifts) which I could never back then dream of affording, since I wasn’t earning my own way yet. He asked what I wanted to eat. Back then I was still largely unopinionated about food. I didn’t know any better, and couldn’t really think of anything in particular that I wanted to indulge in. Considering the nearby options and having been around more, my brother suggested Tony Roma’s.

“What’s good there?”, I asked naively.

“Ribs.”, he replied in his usual brevity. “It’s like steak, but better. And it’s pork.” I was completely sold.

We’d ordered a platter of ribs which came in three different styles and served on a plate that dwarfed me. It was enough to feed 3-4 people. My brother tried perhaps one rib of each style, and left the rest to my capable hands. It was a challenge even for my untamed appetite, but I eventually dispatched every rib, right down to the flavor on the bone that I polished off meticulously. And so began my love affair with ribs.

Bountiful beef ribs. Cow-cow pleasure that’s worth your moo-lah.

It wasn’t long after Tony Roma’s opened their first branch in Sunway Pyramid when I had my first visit. To my disappointment, the establishment was pork-free. I’d almost wanted to turn around and leave, but considering all the anticipation I had built up and my utter laziness to decide what to have for lunch instead, I semi-frustratedly sat myself down and ordered myself some ribs. I’d always been a fan of beef, but my friend who had come along with me (hoping to experience the legendary gigantic platter of pork which I told him about) had very little interest in anything bovine. “I don’t like that cow taste.”, he explains without offering any description on what “cow taste” actually tastes like. He ordered the chicken.

As our orders arrived, I tossed out my expectations and preconceptions off the table to make room for my beef ribs. I’d eaten beef ribs before, at a competing restaurant franchise, and I was thoroughly unimpressed by it on so many fronts. Since Tony Roma’s prided themselves on their ribs – whether porcine or bovine – I had my hopes up that my seventy-odd bucks would not be a waste.

I’m just a fork. I get tired too sometimes. Don’t you?

One bite and my heart and tummy fell at ease. It was money well-spent. The ribs were prepared in a spectrum of perfection. On one end there was the extremely tender meat that falls off the bone even as you lift it off the platter. One might almost mistake it for pure fat, but upon closer inspection (with my tongue, of course), it was conclusively meat – more tender than any beef that had ever met my palate. On the other end, there was the charred, crispy chunks of meat almost clinging onto the bone, crackling with that smokey, barbecued flavor as gnawed through the many layers of crispiness. The meat closest to the bone was coarse but not overly tough, and clung to the bone, inviting me to coax it off with my teeth. It was sheer barbaric pleasure that allowed no room for table manners.

The look of satisfaction on my face piqued my non-beef-loving friend’s curiosity. He wanted to try some, for no other reason to understand why I had what looked like a sex-face on while I’m eating beef. With his first taste, he was delighted, and he would find himself back the following weekend to have his way with a full rack of ribs to himself. Though he never converted into a true beef lover, he had learned to make his first exception. It must’ve been love for him, as only love has the power to make a man make exceptions willingly.

As we returned for our second visit, another monumental milestone in my beef-eating life was to take place. Having already enjoyed the beef ribs, I decided to tone down with a burger. That was the day I first fell in love with burgers – a love that I live by and express regularly, openly and passionately. Though I’ve much I can say about my first love-stricken burger experience, that’s a story for another day.

Roma’s sampler, good variety for sharing

It must’ve been over a year since my last visit to Tony Roma’s, and I’d always gone with just one other greedy-as-myself friend. I had therefore never had the chance to sample their appetizers. Recently I made my return to revisit this old love (this time at the e@Curve outlet), and to my delight, a stack of onion rings floated its way to our table. There may or may not have been a waiter serving it – I was too focused on the onion rings to notice. I have an unusually strong preference for onion rings, and I’ve never seen this much in any standard-sized serving before. It wasn’t long before I cut the stack down, almost single-handedly. Though greasier than I’d ideally preferred, it was lightly battered and didn’t taste like flour. The onions were mildly caramelized, and served with a sauce that resembled thousand-island sauce, but didn’t taste like the cheap bottled stuff.

The potato skins tasted exactly like potato skin should tasted – like a baked potato with all the lovely cheese and beef bacon bits, without so much potato.  The nuggets of chicken failed to impress, as I would expect from an establishment that prides themselves on their beef.

Here fishy, fishy, fishy!

Everyone else seemed to enjoy the fish, but I felt very little love for it. It wasn’t as fresh as I’d expect my fish. I’ve always been very fussy about my fish. While everyone was poking forks into the fish, I stuck on the sidelines picking away at the tomato pesto sauce, which tasted pretty decent on its own. Most of us were amused that the rice that came with the fish tasted exactly like chicken rice, and not just the rice – it tasted like an entire dish of chicken rice, but a lot silkier.

Beef. It’s what makes the Tony Roma’s experience. There’s something for everyone, but it’s the beef that really does it. In conjunction with Halloween, Tony Roma’s is adding to the experience with a few special items on the menu. Nothing that’s gonna shake your world, but interesting nonetheless.

Pumpkin pie. I wish it were more… pie-like

For dessert, we were served pumpkin pie. Though it didn’t live up to my high expectations as a pumpkin-lover, that didn’t stop me from finishing it all up. After all, it’s in the spirit of Halloween (and gluttony, and obesity).

Pumpkin soup infused with magical addiction

For starters, there is pumpkin soup. Thick and rich, without being too silken, I enjoyed the slight coarseness of the soup that seemed purposeful and thoughtful. Tasted distinctly of pumpkin (who’d ever guess!). I could’ve eaten more, but they ran out for the night. I couldn’t help verbally expressing my delight between each spoonful.

We were also served two different Halloween-themed drinks, quaintly named “Vampire’s Kiss” and “Witch’s Brew”. Fancy Halloween names aside, they were basically a strawberry-lemon mocktail (non-alcoholic), and a frothy cocktail that tasted like jelly beans, respectively. The Vampire’s Kiss was too sweet for me at first, but it started to balance out once I had more food. My preference still leaned towards the Witch’s Brew, though. Jelly beans and alcohol. What’s not to like?

To my horror (pun absolutely intended), the Halloween menu will only be available from 29th to 31st of October. That’s a mere three days including Halloween day itself. Apparently there will be special offers on Halloween day itself, for all customers, and bonuses for those who come in a costume.

I think I’ll come on Halloween, dressed as a greedy man who wants more of that pumpkin soup.

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