Garden Cafe

Special thanks to Golden Sands Resort for extending this food review invitation.

While I have patronized Sigi's Bar & Grill on several occasions, I have yet to visit the other service restaurant at Golden Sands Resort: Garden Cafe. Besides providing breakfast for hotel guests, this eatery also serves à la carte dishes throughout the day.
My visit today is to witness the launching of the Viva Italiano Buffet Dinner. This Italian-theme buffet is inspired by Peppino, the resort's former award-winning Italian restaurant. Although Peppino closed several years ago, most of its staff and menu items have been integrated into Garden Cafe.

Unlike Sigi's, the Garden Cafe presents an open-air atmosphere to allow the cool oceanic breeze to flow in. Hopefully the haze problem will improve, otherwise the dining section become uncomfortably warm.
When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Therefore, I started the meal with some soup. There are two types served today. Minestrone Casalinga, or "housewife's minestrone", is a thick soup with pasta, beans and various vegetables. Meanwhile, the Crema Di Pomodoro (tomato soup) provides sourness which expands my appetite for the large feast ahead.
As usual, I tend to go gaga with garlic croutons because I like the delightful crisp in soup. You may also want to help yourself with some freshly baked bread rolls from the basket. Alternatively, the soup can also be enjoyed with some grissini (breadsticks).
In lieu of soup, Italians sometimes serve gnocchi as primo piatto (first course). Like many Italian dishes, there are many regional recipes of this delicacy. The highlight this evening is Potatoes Gnocchi With Green Peas, where the dough dumplings are made from semolina and potatoes.
I love the soft, starchy texture of the gnocchi. Although made primarily from potatoes, they do not appear surfeiting in the slightest bit. The gnocchi taste slightly sweet, but the main taste comes from creamy sauce which is provided separately. I highly recommend that you give this dish a try especially if you have not heard of gnocchi before.

Another commendable dish is Ossobuco-Style Braised Beef Short Ribs. "Ossobuco" means "bone with a hole" in Italian, which refers to the hollowed marrow hole of the bones. This Milanese specialty is braised with carrots, onions and broth to give a gratifying gastronomical experience.
Next on the line is Grilled Lamb Cutlet. While the savoriness of this dish pales in comparison with the previous one, its appeal should not be underestimated nevertheless. Lightly grilled pieces of mutton are served with bell pepper, not just for aesthetic appeal but also to act as flavor counter-balance of savory mutton. This lamb dish is best enjoyed with thyme garlic gravy.
As for poultry, Baked Pesto Chicken is served this evening. While chicken is not as savory as red meats, the appeal of this dish is somewhat compensated by the creamy pesto sauce. Originating in Genoa in northern Italy, pesto is traditionally made from cheese, basil, garlic and olive oil.
Moving on to seafood, I am duly impressed with the Grilled Prawn With Parmigiana Paprika Cream Sauce. The sweet, crunchy sensation of fresh shrimps complements well with the creamy sauce. Black olives and chopped thyme are included to enhance flavor of this lovely dish.
Also appealing is the Pan Fried Fish With Dill Cream Sauce. While the texture of fish is quite refined, I think the main contribution comes from the sour cream sauce. This sauce is subtly seasoned with chopped dill leaves to impart some herbal freshness.
Pastitsio is a Mediterranean-style dish made from layers of pasta, ground meat and tomato sauce. The layers are topped with cheese custard then baked in an oven, similar to how lasagna is prepared. Unfortunately, this Pastitsio dish has too much pasta in proportion to other ingredients, causing the layers to break apart rather easily.
Should you crave for more meat, Roast Beef is provided for your indulgence. Using a sharp carving knife, the server shaves off thin slices of beef so that you can enjoy the juicy red meat without needing to chew through tough beef.
Caramelized onion brown sauce is provided to be paired with Roast Beef. Alternatively, there are other condiments such as HP brown sauce, Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco sauce. There should be one which suits your palate!
Moving on, there is a pasta station where diners can request for customized pasta dishes. The types of pasta are fusilli, fettuccine, penne and spaghetti. As for sauces, the station provides napolitana, carbonara, bolognese and marinara sauces for diners to choose from. Honestly, I think it is best to skip this station altogether and go for the previously-mentioned dishes instead.
At the salad bar, there are a handful of choices such as Parmigiana Italian Pasta Salad, Poached Half Shell Mussel With Vegetable Emulsion, Caesar Salad and Caprese Salad.
Of special mention is Caprese Salad which features mozzarella di bufala (buffalo mozzarella). This special cheese is made from milk derived from Italian water buffalo. Mozzarella di bufala is very expensive because the cheese can only be produced from milk farmed in certain regions of southern Italy.

As for desserts, Tiramisu is an iconic Italian cake which features very light and soft texture. On the top are fresh strawberries, grapes and a thorough sprinkle of chocolate powder. This dessert is served with coffee sauce on the side.
The Crème De Menthe Cake (peppermint cream cake) carries a mild hint of peppermint flavor. However, the cooling breath of peppermint is somewhat lost in the sea of sugary sweetness. I feel that peppermint aroma should take the center stage instead.
Panna Cotta, Italian for "cooked cream", is made from sweetened cream that is thickened with gelatin. To prepare this dessert, flavored cream is warmed until sugar and gelatin dissolve in it. The mixture is then poured in a bowl and is allowed to set. When done, the solidified cream is turned over and served with powdered sugar, whipped cream and fresh fruits.
If fruity dessert is your cup of tea, the Strawberry Pudding should strike a chord with your palate. Like the Panna Cotta, this pudding is coated with lots of powdered sugar to the extent that it is almost excessive. I prefer to allow its strawberry flavors to be more prominent.
For a less sugary treat, try the Fruits & Nut Cake which is coated on all sides with crushed nuts. A mere slice of this cake is very filling to the stomach.
Last but not least, conclude the meal with some fresh fruits of your choice. Tropical fruits provided are pineapple, papaya, watermelon and honeydew.
Overall, I feel that tonight's dinner has several Italian specialties that are worth trying, especially the gnocchi, beef short ribs and grilled prawns. The pasta section is somewhat lacking in appeal, while pizza is notably excluded from the menu. As for bread and desserts, I am looking forward to more Italian-centric delicacies such as panettone, sfogliatella, cassata and gelato.
Viva Italiano Buffet Dinner is served every Wednesday evening from 7:00pm to 10:00pm. The buffet runs for 2 months: September and October 2015, but may extend longer if the demand is high. The Viva Italiano Buffet Dinner is priced at RM78.00 for an adult, RM39.00 for a child of age 6 to 11. Reservation is recommended in case of overwhelming response.

Name: Garden Cafe
Address: Golden Sands Resort, 11100 Batu Ferringhi, Pulau Pinang
Contact: 04-886-1911
Business hours: 6:30am-11:00pm
Website: http://www.shangri-la.com/penang/goldensandsresort/dining/restaurants/garden-cafe
Coordinates: 5.47657 N, 100.25110 E
Directions: Driving from George Town and upon arriving Batu Ferringhi, Golden Sands Resort is located on the right at the first traffic junction. The main entrance to the hotel is located slightly after the junction. Garden Cafe is located on the west wing just beside the lobby.

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