Da Hong Pao, Washington, DC

Da Hong Pao
1409 14th Street NW
Washington, DC 20005

It used to be that if you wanted to get decent dim sum in DC, you would have to venture out to the suburbs. While China Garden in Rosslyn, Oriental East in Silver Spring, or Hollywood East in Wheaton weren’t dim sum parlors of the quality seen in New York, LA, or San Francisco, they were pretty solid and offered DMV (DC, Maryland, Virginia) residents a chance to eat dim sum without having to travel. That’s not to say that there wasn’t dim sum in the district proper, but Tony Cheng and Ping Pong Dim Sum have suffered poor reputations either because of quality (Tony Cheng) or because of overpriced, bland, inauthenticity (Ping Pong Dim Sum).

But late last year the owner of Yum’s II opened Da Hong Pao next door to their longstanding Chinese American carry out joint. While Yum’s II has withstood the merciless tide of gentrification that has seen 14th Street go from auto repair show and late night carry outs to luxury condos with street level West Elm and JCrew Men’s Stores within 10-15 years, Da Hong Pao is a new, gleaming restaurant look tailor made for affluent yuppie millennials who want tasty, more authentic Chinese food in the neighborhood. Gone is the old Playbill cafe, a dark, very gay restaurant known for its karaoke nights. Now it’s a restaurant with floor to ceiling windows, white tablecloths, and dark wooden chairs. And instead of passable American cuisine, the new restaurant serves dim sum and Cantonese seafood, something the owners could have never done at their carry out next door.

Given the exciting opportunity to eat dim sum in the district (and in one of my old neighborhoods no less), I decided to go with one of my friends when I was in town earlier this month. We arrived about 12:00PM and got seated immediately. While I had expected a clientele ratio that skewed more white, the majority of diners on this weekday lunch ended up being mostly Asian. We took a seat near the window and promptly ticked off items from their dim sum menu and ordered the following (note: they do have a couple carts if you want to experience dim sum “the old school way”):

Dim Sum at Da Hong Pao

Dim Sum at Da Hong Pao

  • Steamed Spare Ribs with Garlic Black Bean Sauce 豉蒜蒸排骨 – The steamed spareribs were perfectly juicy and marinated in enough oil and black bean sauce to provide a rich umami taste without being overpowering. I loved the perfectly cooked diced taro they threw into the dish too.
  • Egg Tart 招牌蛋撻 – When ended up eating these egg tarts a little bit later as they came closer to the beginning. While the flavors were fine, I thought they weren’t anything to write home about. However, I fully acknowledge that it could be because I didn’t eat them hot.
  • Steamed King Prawn Dumpling 超級蝦餃星 – While these shrimp dumplings don’t have quite the finesse of places around LA, San Francisco, or New York, you could tell that they were made in house rather than reheated frozen dumplings. The shrimp was fresh and perfectly portioned, though the skin suffered from being a little too gummy and hard to break apart (or rip away from the steamer with a chopstick).
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Pan Fried Dried Shrimp Rice Crepe at Da Hong Pao

  • Pan-Fried Dry Shrimp Rice Crepe 香煎蝦米腸 – While the rice noodles were decently done and I liked that the soy sauce wasn’t to overpowering, I do wish they had a little bit more dried shrimp and scallions for added flavor.
Boiled Yu-Choi at Da Hong Pao

Boiled Yu-Choi at Da Hong Pao

  • Boiled Yu Choi 白灼芥蘭 – Though it is incorrectly named in English, this plate of Chinese broccoli (which is different from yu choi, though that is offered on the menu as “flowering cabbage”) was great. The leaves and stalks were cut perfectly for edibility, the broccoli was perfectly boiled and dressed with enough oyster sauce to complement and not overpower the vegetable.
  • Steamed Pork & Shrimp Dumpling with Fresh Crab Roe 蟹籽鮮蝦燒賣 – We ended up being hungry with just four items so we added a fifth. This siu mai was alright but the pork could have been a little more moist and seasoned for a little more flavor.

While Da Hong Pao is no Dragon Beaux or even NYC Tim Ho Wan, it is a solid place to get dim sum in DC. My friends will assuredly rejoice that there will be no need to metro across the river or to Maryland to wait for a table for dim sum. Instead, they can roll out of bed and saunter down to Da Hong Pao on 14th Street and wait in line as if they were eating brunch at Le Diplomate or Compass Rose up the street.

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Tim Ho Wan, New York City

Tim Ho Wan
85 4th Ave
New York, NY 10003

Tim Ho Wan is known as the cheapest Michelin starred restaurant in the world with two of its locations in Hong Kong consistently maintaining a 1 Michelin star rating. With that kind of reputation, the news of their expansion into the US, with its first location in New York City, created all sorts of buzz. When Tim Ho Wan finally opened late last year, wait times were 3.5 hours long for a table, on par with the equally long lines whenever a Din Tai Fung opens a location in the US.

Despite the wait, I wanted to make sure I stopped at Tim Ho Wan when I went on my Spring trip to New York City. Primarily it was to see how the US location compared to the ones in Hong Kong. However, given that one of my cousin’s has never been to Hong Kong, I wanted to give him a taste of dim sum “directly” from our parents’ birthplace.

One of my cousins (that had been to Hong Kong, but apparently had never been to a Tim Ho Wan) and I went to line up at Tim Ho Wan at about 12PM on a Saturday. When we arrived we put down my name, cell phone number, and a request for a table of 4. The host alerted us that the wait would be 2.5 hours. Given our lack of caffeination we decided to wait part of that time out at the City of Saints coffee shop next door. Afterward, we walked around the East Village and eventually went into the Strand, where I received a text that our table was ready. With that text, we ended up only waiting a little less than 2 hours.

We rushed back to Tim Ho Wan and promptly got seated after our other cousin and the person’s he’s dating arrived. Being the person that I am, I quickly took the reins in order while soliciting some suggestions from my cousins. We ended up ordering the following 9 items (about 1/3 of their whole menu):

Baked BBQ Pork Buns at Tim Ho Wan NYC

Baked BBQ Pork Buns at Tim Ho Wan NYC

  • Baked BBQ Pork Buns 酥皮焗叉燒包 – They were about as heavenly as the Hong Kong versions with a nice baked custard bun on the outside with a juicy bbq pork filling on the inside. They are smaller than the Hong Kong versions and a little less crispy, so they aren’t quite as good. But even those small quibbles don’t even diminish the fact that they are the best bbq pork buns in North America, hands down.
  • Pan Fried Turnip Cake 香煎臘味蘿蔔糕 – Fairly well done with solid portions of shredded daikon. However, like most places I feel as if they didn’t fry it enough on the outside to create a truly crispy outside to balance the soft and mushy middle.
Steamed Shrimp Dumpling at Tim Ho Wan New York City

Steamed Shrimp Dumpling at Tim Ho Wan New York City

  • Steamed Shrimp Dumplings (Har Gow) 晶瑩鮮蝦餃 – I love, love, LOVE that Tim Ho Wan sticks to the way Hong Kong dim sum places make shrimp dumplings instead of the overstuffed mess that plagues North American har gows. The shrimp filling was perfectly portioned with fresh shrimp that had a nice snap. The dumpling skin was great too, perfectly dextrous, but thin and tearing apart only when I bit into the dumpling. I do wish they had added a little salt and pepper to the shrimp to enhance the flavor, but it was perfectly good as is.
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Steamed Pork Dumplings with Shrimp at Tim Ho Wan New York City

  • Steamed Pork Dumplings with Shrimp (Siu Mai) 鮮蝦燒賣皇 – The sui mai was pretty good with juicy pork meat and shrimp that was cooked just right and not too big to become a bit hard to eat. That said, while these were solid, there wasn’t anything extraordinary about them.
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Blanched Lettuce and Pan Fried Turnip Cake at Tim Ho Wan NYC

  • Blanched Lettuce 白灼生菜 – Speaking of nothing extraordinary, we ordered the blanched lettuce solely because it was a vegetable option. While I generally love that Tim Ho Wan sticks to Hong Kong’s dim sum conventions, one thing that I dislike is the modern Hong Kong dim sum trend of serving lettuce as their only vegetable option. The lettuce and soy sauce were fine, but nothing particularly exciting.
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Steamed Rice Rolls with Shrimp and Chinese Chives at Tim Ho Wan NYC

  • Steamed Rice Rolls with Shrimp and Chinese Chives 韮黃鮮蝦腸 – On the other hand, the steamed rice rolls were definitely one of the better rice rolls I have had in the US. The shrimp was fresh, the chives provided a nice crunch and flavor, and the rice noodle rolls were steamed and rolled perfectly. Best of all, they poured just enough of the light soy sauce to round out the flavor but not too much that the flavor of everything else was drowned out.
  • Congee with Pork and Preserved Egg 金銀蛋瘦肉粥 – The congee was solid, with a nice balance of rice and broth (in contrast to other places where too much rice or too much broth makes the texture and flavor unappealing). The fried wonton strips gave a nice crispy texture and the preserved eggs were great. While I did get pork flavor from the broth, I didn’t remember eating much of the actual shredded pork.
  • Sticky Rice in Lotus Leaf 古法糯米雞 – While we got this dish first, the rapid succession of the other dishes meant that we didn’t really eat this until later. The sticky rice was great and filled with the usual chicken, Chinese sausage, and mushrooms. It was definitely a nice filler.
  • French Toast with Custard Tim Ho Wan Style 奶皇西多士 – To be perfectly honest, I really don’t get what’s all the rage with Hong Kong style french toast. I mean, its tasty but just not amazing to me. Similarly, the french toast was a nice dessert, but not too memorable.

All in all, Tim Ho Wan in the USA is close to, but not quite, the level of quality of the Hong Kong locations. Because of that, Tim Ho Wan is easily the best dim sum in New York. And at a total of about $17 per person, including tax and tip, it was surprisingly affordable given the amount of food we had. Who doesn’t love quality dim sum and wallet friendly prices?

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China Live, San Francisco

China Live
644 Broadway
San Francisco, CA

After languishing for years as more and more people flocked to the Richmond and Sunset for San Francisco’s best Chinese food, SF’s Chinatown has seen a resurgence of late. Chong Qing Xiao Mian, Hanlin Tea House, and Mister Jiu’s are among the most notable of the new restaurants that have opened in the last year or so. Now comes China Live, an ambitious houseware store and restaurant with additional plans for a cocktail lounge on the 2nd floor. It’s large, it’s modern, and it’s perhaps the most symbolic statement yet that Chinatown is adapting to the diversification of Chinese food in the Bay Area and the gentrification of the city while still proudly maintaining its Chinese roots.

Given its loud splash in the neighborhood and promise of quality, if pricey, food, I was eager to try out the place. I got that opportunity on Saturday when I went to CAAMfest’s Eat Chinatown short film showing in conjunction with 41 Ross’ current gallery exhibition of beloved Chinatown stalwarts (which you should definitely check out if you’re in the Bay Area by April 9). Since my good friend and I were already in the area, we decided to check out China Live for dinner right after.

We arrived a little before 8PM and stood in line to get a table. When we arrived at the front of the line we were notified that the wait would be one hour, so I put down my cell phone number. Afterwards, my friend and I browsed the attached houseware shop to see their range of interesting items, including whiskey barrel aged soy sauce and dried abalone from Kona.

At about 8:45PM we were alerted that our table was ready and we finally had a seat. Our seat faced the open kitchen where most of the cooking takes place. This included a view of the tanks with live lobsters and crabs, which we were sorely tempted to order, but settled on these items instead:

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Charred Chinese Broccoli at China Live

  • Charred Chinese Broccoli -The first dish we had also turned out to be my favorite dish. I am perfectly content with blanched or stir fried Chinese broccoli, one of my favorite vegetables, but grilling them to a crisp was to a whole new level. I loved play between the crunchiness of leaves with the tenderness of the stems. The mushrooms gave a nice, light umami flavor as well which I liked even more than the regular oyster sauce you usually get.
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Three Treasure Bao Zai Fan at China Live

  • Three Treasure Bao Zai Fan – I’m not sure why they transliterated this dish from Mandarin when it is a classic Cantonese dish, but either way the dish had tasty bits of Chinese sausage, ham, and thin slices of duck. The server presented the dish, poured the soy sauce, and mixed the rice, which was baffling to me as the sauce should have simmered in the (covered) clay pot for another couple minutes before serving. Nonetheless, the dish was still tasty and had some stalks of bok choy to help balance and soak up the richness of the sauce and meats. So all in all it hit the mark on flavor mostly, but definitely missed the mark in presentation.
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Xiao Long Bao at China Live

  • Xiao Long Bao (XLB) – Despite ordering this when I first ordered, apparently the server mistakenly did not put it on the ticket. This meant we continually waited for a dish that apparently was never put in the system! Thankfully, when we asked about them again after finishing the other two dishes, she noted that it would only be another 6 minutes for the next batch of XLB. The XLB skins were decently thin, albeit a bit chewy and gummy, so it wasn’t quite executed right. The soup was rather light, but had a good portion to go along with the tender pork dumpling. The vinegar and soy sauce was on point, however, which helped mask and balance the flaws of the dish.

To go along with our food, we ordered the Chrysanthemum Oolong Tea as well, which was very nice with the balance of floral sweetness of the Chrysanthemum with the nutty earthiness of the Oolong. It was beautifully presented in a clear glass kettle, though I am not sure it really warranted $10 for a pot.

All in all, even a week into the service, there are still a bit of hickups on the service side. Like many San Francisco restaurants nowadays, they are short staffed and I think the frantic energy with the multiple stations, while fascinating to see, also hurts the seamlessness of the service. That said, the food is reasonably good (if a bit pricey) and I’ll return again later to try different dishes when hopefully all the service issues have been ironed out.

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Bubblicitea, Albuquerque

Bubblicitea Cafe
2325 San Pedro Dr NE Ste 1D
Albuquerque, NM 87110

When you think of food in Albuquerque, Filipino food is certainly not near the top of the list. That’s exactly why I was pleasantly surprised to discover Bubblicitea on my last trip to the Land of Enchantment. By happenstance I was checking out Tsai’s Chinese Bistro in the same shopping plaza, but they were closed for a family emergency at the time. As I was leaving the parking lot, I noticed a bubble tea place and thought I might pop in to get some milk tea. However, when I looked closer at the posters on the storefront windows I noticed that the place wasn’t just a typical boba shop, but a place selling Filipino baked goods. I was elated, especially since Filipino food was one of the foods I missed when I lived in Albuquerque.

That night I bought some pan de sal (Filipino style bread rolls) and vowed to come back for lunch later in the week. Fast forward to Saturday, a friend agreed to try the place and off we went for a quick Saturday lunch at Bubblicitea. When we arrived, we looked at the dozen or so food items, trying to determine with ones we wanted to eat the most. In the end we chose the following:

Chicken Adobo at Bubblicitea

Chicken Adobo at Bubblicitea

  • Chicken Adobo – The chicken was tender with a nice balance of soy sauce and vinegar, with neither overpowering the other. While bay leaves were also used, my only gripe is that their could have been more spices in the marinade. However, it was a good version of chicken adobo all in all.
Pancit Malabon at Bubblicitea

Pancit Malabon at Bubblicitea

  • Pancit Malabon – This is the first time I had this style of pancit which is native to the city of Malabon, in the northern coastal part of the Manila metropolitan area. The annatto gives the dish a distinct orange hue while the fish sauce and shrimp make the seafood taste prominent, in a fresh (not fishy) manner. The thicker noodles help absorb all the fat and oil of the dish and it was a delight to taste this style of pancit in comparison to the more simple (but still tasty) pancit bihon.
Pork Sisig at Bubblicitea

Pork Sisig at Bubblicitea

  • Pork Sisig – I loved this version of pork sisig. Like any good sisig dish I’ve had, the pork is crispy from the sizzling plate but still tender. The egg and thin slices of peppers helped round out the dish.
  • Halo Halo – Lastly, but certainly not least, we had the halo halo. As with most halo halos, there were a range of sweet treats that were mixed in this, from the ube ice cream to the bits of toffee to the sweet red beans. My only qualm is that perhaps there should have been more condensed milk to mix with the shaved ice, but all in all it was a sweet ending to the meal.

Given the relatively little number of Filipinos in Albuquerque, it was great to see a place like Bubblicitea serve some really tasty Filipino food that would match the quality of many places in Daly City and San Diego. While I do wish they served more items, it’s logical to have a limited number of things given the small kitchen and clientele (as of now). However, it’s certainly a place that all New Mexicans should go to for a taste of Filipino food!

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Food Alley at Westfield Santa Anita, Arcadia

For a couple of years now I have heard about the growth of exciting, quality Asian dining establishments in Westfield’s Santa Anita Mall. First, it was Hai Di Lao, the first American branch of the pricey Sichuanese hot pot chain. Then it was the development of Meizhou Dongpo’s second US location and Din Tai Fung’s new larger 3rd Arcadia location. 

All this development has not been limited to big Chinese or Taiwanese chain restaurants. Late last year Westfield Santa Anita opened “Food Alley”, a food court of sorts between the Nordstrom and Din Tai Fung that doesn’t have your typical Panda Express or Sbarro mall food court options. To be clear, there still is a regular food court at Westfield Santa Anita on the first floor near JC Penney’s for all your McDonald’s and Sarku Japan cravings. However, Food Alley contains some out of the box, Asian oriented stores with food that I have never seen in any American mall.

Thus, I had to try out these eateries and see how they matched to all the great restaurants that dot the strip malls elsewhere in the San Gabriel Valley. Since it would be very difficult to try them all by myself, I asked a friend if she would be interested in joining me and she thankfully said yes. These are the dishes and places we tried:

Hainanese Chicken Rice at Side Chick

Hainanese Chicken Rice at Side Chick

  • Hainanese Chicken Rice at Side Chick – Our first stop was at Side Chick, where the star dish is the Hainanese Chicken Rice. The chicken was moist and flavorful while the rice was a little dryer than I like (though saved a little by the church of the fried garlic). I loved the ginger scallion, sambal, and vinegary soy sauces that accompanied the chicken. While the rice is not as good as Savoy, the vaunted Hainanese Chicken Rice slinger in Alhambra, I think Side Chick has the edge as my favorite Southern Californian chicken rice spot for the chicken.
Spicy Niku Udon at Tsurumaru Udon Honpo

Spicy Niku Udon at Tsurumaru Udon Honpo

  • Spicy Niku Udon at Tsurumaru Udon Honpo – While I would have wanted to try more bowls of udon, we were starting to get full from the Hainanese Chicken Rice. We settled on the spicy niku udon. I liked the chewy udon and tender beef slices, but wasn’t really feeling the thicker, kimchi laden broth. While I wouldn’t get the spicy niku udon, the udon and beef were definitely good enough that I am eager to try other bowls of udon the next time I am there.
Pork Soup Dumplings at Din Tai Fung in Westfield Santa Anita

Pork Soup Dumplings at Din Tai Fung in Westfield Santa Anita

  • Pork Soup Dumplings at Din Tai Fung – Since the new Din Tai Fung was around the corner, I just had to try some soup dumplings. I ordered a half order of 5 soup dumplings. While none of them broke (making them better than the Glendale and South Coast locations), there were a couple with dumpling skin tops that were a little thick and chewy. They were certainly good but not up to the standard of the original Din Tai Fung in Taiwan.
Japanese cheesecake at Uncle Tetsu

Japanese cheesecake at Uncle Tetsu

  • Japanese Cheesecake at Uncle Tetsu – For dessert we had the Japanese cheesecake at Uncle Tetsu. The several slices were, in a word, sublime. It was like a creamier sponge cake that was light and fluffy and just a touch sweet. Honestly, if I didn’t have as much self control that night, I might have eaten an entire cake.

All in all, Food Alley blew away my expectations and definitely was the tastiest mall food court I have eaten at this side of the Pacific. And yet, I didn’t even try any ramen or skewers at the Backhouse nor any drinks at Matcha Matcha. If this is what new, modern mall food courts will be like from now on, I guess I’ll be spending more money shopping at Nordstrom and slurping noodles across the country.

 

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Original Din Tai Fung, Taipei

Din Tai Fung (Xinyi Road)
No. 194, Section 2, Xinyi Rd
Da’an District, Taipei City, Taiwan 106

Having dined at a number of Din Tai Fung restaurants in the US, I thought it would be most appropriate (and most touristy) to visit the original Din Tai Fung while I was in Taiwan. Aside from going to the most touristy temple of 小籠包 (soup dumplings), I mainly wanted to see how the US locations compared to the original ones in Taiwan.

After visiting Taipei 101’s observation deck I decided to get dinner at Din Tai Fung. While I could have visited the Taipei 101 branch of Din Tai Fung, I didn’t want to wait an hour and I thought it might be better to go to the original location. Fortunately, my instincts were right and I got a seat right away as a table of 1. I had to share a large table with a pair of Japanese tourists, but it wasn’t too bad (and I certainly had more space for myself than if I was sharing a table in Hong Kong).

A few minutes after sitting down I ordered the following four dishes:

Stewed Spongy Gluten at Din Tai Fung Xinyi Road

Stewed Spongy Gluten at Din Tai Fung Xinyi Road

  • Stewed Spongy Gluten 烤麩 – This gluten wish was absolutely delicious. The gluten was chewy but not tough and had a nice subtly salty and sour flavor that was pleasant but not overpowering. It was a great start to the meal.
Sauteed String Beans at Din Tai Fung (Xinyi Road)

Sauteed String Beans at Din Tai Fung (Xinyi Road)

  • Sauteed String Beans With Minced Pork 乾煸四季豆 – The string beans and minced pork were excellently stir fried. While some of the US locations might put a little too much oil in this dish, the balance of meat, string beans, and spicy oil were perfectly balanced.
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Pork XiaoLongBao at Din Tai Fung Xinyi Road

  • Pork XiaoLongBao 小籠包 – These are definitely the best xialongbao I have ever had (with the caveat that I haven’t been to Shanghai so I can’t say they were the best ever). The wrappers were thin but did not tear (unlike how 20% of mine in the US have been) and did not have too much dough on the top like I experienced a few weeks later at the Westfield Santa Anita branch in the US. The skin was also moister (in a good way) than the US ones, perhaps due to the use of bamboo steamers in Taiwan as opposed to the metal steamers in the US. The pork and soup were juicy and well rounded with the vinegar, ginger, and soy sauce. Best of all? The server also made the dipping sauce and noted that the perfect ratio is 3 portions vinegar to 1 portion of soy sauce for xiaolongbao. I definitely didn’t know that before I dined here.
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Noodles with House Special Spicy Sauce at Din Tai Fung Xinyi Road

  • Noodles with House Special Spicy Sauce 紅油燃麵 – This was a great dish to finish the meal. The noodles were perfectly cooked and there was just the right amount of sauce to coat all the noodle strands without overpowering. This meant that every noodle was evenly coated with the hot oil sauce.

Overall, the original Din Tai Fung (on Xinyi Road) was undoubtedly better than the US locations. Perhaps this is due to less rigorous training. Perhaps some of it is due to the use of different cooking utensils not allowed by Los Angeles or Orange County regulations (like bamboo steamers). Either way, the original Din Tai Fung is worth a trip when you are in Taipei.

Lung King Heen (龍景軒), Hong Kong

Lung King Heen
Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong, 4th Floor
8 Finance Street
Central, Hong Kong

What’s it like to eat 3 Michelin star dim sum? Well truthfully, I already ate such at T’ang Court inside the Langham Hotel, which has received 3 Michelin Stars for the past 2 years. However, as great as that meal was, it wasn’t at Lung King Heen (龍景軒), the vaunted restaurant that has been known to be the first 3 Michelin star Cantonese establishment in the world. As such, it has been a years long dream for me to dine here and see if it was really worth all the plaudits bestowed on it.

Originally I hoped to go with my brother and sister-in-law, but their plans made them unable to go for the New Years Day reservation I had made in September. Fortunately, a spur of the moment decision to open up a dating app led me to meeting a fellow American tourist. After a successful breakfast date the day before, I changed my reservation to a table of two. The fortuitous series of events meant that I could try even more dim sum items at Lung King Heen.

I was slightly late for the reservation, but both the restaurant staff and date seemed to take it all fine. We were seated at a small table next to the window with a gorgeous view of Victoria Harbour and Tsim Sha Tsui. Afterwards we were presented a menu which included just a singular page of 18 dim sum items.

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Lung King Heen dim sum menu

The menu wasn’t exactly filled with interesting, innovative items that I had come to expect at other fancy Cantonese restaurants in Hong Kong, like Yan Toh Heen. However, there were a lot of items that were slight twists on classic items as you can see from the menu above. After browsing the menu a little bit we decided to order the following five items:

Steamed Shrimp Dumpling with Wild Mushroom at Lung King Heen

Steamed Shrimp Dumpling with Wild Mushroom at Lung King Heen

  • Steamed Shrimp Dumpling with Wild Mushroom (牛肝菌鮮蝦餃) – This version of har gow was interesting with a slight hint of umami from the bits of wild mushroom. The shrimp was plump and juicy with a nice snap. My one slight complaint would be the dumpling wrapper, which was a little thicker than it should be to hold the slightly larger filling. As such, biting into the dumpling wasn’t as easy and refined as those at Ming Court (which I still consider the high standard for what a har gow should be). Quibble aside, these were some of the best shrimp dumplings I have ever had.
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Dim sum at Lung King Heen

  • Steamed Rice Rolls with Beef Chuck and Enoki (金菇菜牛頸脊腸粉) – The rice rolls were pretty good with tender chunks of beef matching well with the slight crunch and flavor of the enoki mushrooms. The rice noodles were cooked pretty well, not falling apart or being too gummy. Surprisingly, though, the rice noodles weren’t as good as the shrimp rice noodle rolls that my family and I ordered at Tim Ho Wan.
  • Steamed Lobster and Scallop Dumplings (龍太子蒸餃) – This is perhaps the most photographed dim sum item from Lung King Heen and is one of their signature items. Think of it as a siu mai that just put in lobster instead of pork. There was definitely a lot of scallop and lobster here, making these dumpling definitely worth their bang for the buck (even if it comes out to $7.75 USD a piece). However, my dumpling had scallop that was slightly overcooked, but not too overdone to detract from the dish.
Dim sum at Lung King Heen

Dim sum at Lung King Heen

  • Steamed Shanghainese Pork Dumplings with Crab Meat (蟹肉小籠包) – I am normally very wary of ordering xiaolongbao at a Cantonese restaurant, as almost all Cantonese restaurants fail to execute this beloved Shanghainese/Jiangnan dish properly. But props to Lung King Heen for tasty dumplings filled with juicy pork, shreds of crab meat, a decent amount of soup, and a thin wrapper that never fell apart. Bonus points for the cute and creative way they served the dumplings. These were by far the best xiaolongbao I have had at a Cantonese restaurant and even beats a number of American Taiwanese/Shanghainese restaurants too.
  • Steamed Shrimp and Pork Dumplings with Crab Roe (蟹籽蒸燒賣) – These bits of siu mai were excellent, with perfectly cooked shrimp and juicy portions of pork. The crab roe was a nice touch without being too much (like those at Lunasia). Overall, this was an exemplary version of the classic siu mai, being one of the best versions I have had.
Baked Barbecued Pork Buns with Pine Nuts at Lung King Heen

Baked Barbecued Pork Buns with Pine Nuts at Lung King Heen

  • Baked Barbecued Pork Buns with Pine Nuts (崧子叉燒菠蘿包) – Like many of Hong Kong’s dim sum parlors, these char siu baos were essentially “pineapple buns” (baked buns with a hardened sweet custard top) with a barbecue pork filling. Unlike those at (and imitating) Tim Ho Wan, these buns were more in traditional pineapple bun style where there is a thick layer of baked custard that surrounds most, but not all of the top side of the bun. The buns were great and the filling had tender pork with a slightly sweet and savory filling that balanced the sweet buns. I really loved these, though I think I prefer the ones at Tim Ho Wan slightly more at the end of the day.

So how was Lung King Heen overall? Pretty good. While I found the lack of truly innovative dishes to be disappointing, the overall execution of the dishes I did have ranged from above average to phenomenal. I’m not sure that it beat Yan Toh Heen in terms of the best overall dim sum experience I have had, but it certainly has all the hallmarks of modern luxury in Hong Kong: food that is exquisite but not flashy or showy and service that is attentive but not overbearing (very attentive about tea cup refills but no incessant questions of “and how is everything?”). Best of all, for upscale dim sum in Hong Kong it isn’t too comparatively pricey either. Definitely worth the wait, but it’s advised to book way in advance.

FAVORITES of 2016, FORWARD to 2017

Like last year, this year I’ll be recapping the favorite 5 places I ate at and blogged about in the past year along with listing the 5 places I most look forward to eating this year.

As usual, I wasn’t able to make it to all of the places I was hoping to go to. However, I managed to go to three of them: Chengdu Taste, Lung King Heen, and Tita’s Kitchenette. All were pretty good and lived up their hype. I may have been surprised by Lung King Heen’s lack of innovation or Tita’s Kitchenette’s gargantuan servings, but they did little to detract from the quality of the food.

That said, there were plenty of restaurants which impressed me that were not on my list of top 5 eateries to go to in 2016. Some were spur of the moment choices while others were places on my bucket list and exceeded expectations. So without further ado, here they are:

Hot Oiled Seared Biang Biang Noodles at Biang!

Hot Oiled Seared Biang Biang Noodles at Biang!

Biang! – This year was the first time I ate Shaanxi cuisine (the cuisine of Xi’an). Of all the Shaanxi places that I ate at and blogged about, Biang! was the best. It might be a bit pricier than other places, but the food was excellent, especially their very flavorful hand pulled biang biang noodles.

Toothpick Lamb at Chengdu Taste

Toothpick Lamb at Chengdu Taste

Chengdu Taste – The toothpick lamb and Mung Bean Jelly Noodle With Chilli Sauce were extraordinary, with an impeccable balance of flavors rarely found in other Sichuan restaurants in the United States. The balance of the spices that are just enough to accentuate the flavors of the ingredients without overpowering them is one of many reasons why it continues to reign in Southern California’s fiercely competitive Sichuan dining scene.

Si krong muu at Little Serow

Si krong muu at Little Serow

Little Serow – Little Serow’s dinner set menu may be a little strict, but is a wonderful introduction to Northern Thai food. The quality and the execution of the dishes like the pork ribs are amazing and a set tasting menu of only $49 offers incredible value. If it weren’t for the many other great restaurants popping up in DC, I would eat here again. 

Wood Oven Roasted Branzino at the Slanted Door

Wood Oven Roasted Branzino at the Slanted Door

The Slanted Door – I’m glad a half dozen of my friends decided that they also wanted to go with me and eat at the Slanted Door. Because of that, I was able to sample a larger amount of dishes than I normally would be able to. While some dishes were alright, others like the Wood Oven Roasted Branzino were amazing in their perfect execution. To boot, they also serve one of the best Hong Kong style milk teas I have had in the Bay Area (which is an impressive feat!).

Yan Toh Heen Superior Dumplings

Yan Toh Heen Superior Dumplings

Yan Toh Heen – It was hard to pick which dim sum place that I went to this past year was the best, but Yan Toh Heen narrowly tops out T’ang Court because its execution and service was more exceptional than T’ang Court, even if it doesn’t beat out in innovation (though please try the innovative Yan Toh Heen Superior Dumplings if you go). Of course, the view of Victoria Harbour from the windows of the restaurant doesn’t hurt as well. (Lung King Heen was out of the running as I have not blogged about it yet)

Forward to 2017

After a year of excellent food in 2016, what’s next for me in 2017? Given the continued proliferation of Shaanxi and Sichuan cuisine, especially in California, I’ll likely be blogging about other Chinese regional cuisines more and a little less about Cantonese cuisine. My travels will also be less Hong Kong centric this year, so this year you can expect food reports on what various East or Southeast Asian cuisines are like in London, Mexico City, and other cities across America like Albuquerque (my old home) and Atlanta. 

Given all of my different travels this year, here are the top 5 dining establishments I am aiming and looking forward to going to in 2017:

Bad Saint – During my last trip to DC, I literally missed the opening of this lauded Filipino restaurant by a matter of days. This time I will be sure to go sample the dishes that have garnered rave reviews from a 3.5 (of 4) star rating in the Washington Post to the Bib Gourmand recommendation in Michelin’s first guide of Washington, DC.

Din Tai Fung (Xinyi Road) – Okay, this is cheating a little bit as I have already gone here since the new year. However, this place was one of the top places I wanted to go to when I was in Taiwan. I have now been to the original location and am excited to blog about it soon!

HKK This is the flagship restaurant of the international Hakkasan chain (yes, the same chain that has a Las Vegas location more known as a popular nightclub with well known EDM DJs). As such, I’m seeing if their food is as up to par with the refined decor and expensive prices, especially given that even the dim sum items are more expensive than the two and three Michelin starred Cantonese restaurants of Hong Kong.

Kowloon Delight – Let’s just say that this type of restaurant isn’t what I normally consider a place to go to. However, despite my low regard for Taishanese/Cantonese style dishes that have assimilated into the palates of North America, cafes de chino are a rich legacy of the Chinese diaspora in Mexico (although Kowloon delight isn’t quite a proper cafe de chino as those have all but disappeared). As such, I would be interested in going here to not only experience Chinese Mexican food but also how it compares or perhaps relates to Chinese American cuisine.

Char Siu Bao at Tim Ho Wan

Char Siu Bao at Tim Ho Wan North Point

Tim Ho Wan (New York City) – Yes, I have been to Tim Ho Wan in Hong Kong, but they have just opened their first location in the United States. Of course I want to see how it stacks up to the locations in Hong Kong.

 

Shiba Ramen, Emeryville

Shiba Ramen
Emeryville Public Market
5959 Shellmound St., Suite 10
Emeryville, CA 94608

About a year ago I was roaming around Emeryville Public Market to see what eateries were there, now that they remodeled to be more of a trendy yuppie food court than an old school public market. During that time I spotted Shiba Ramen. At the time they were operating during their soft opening phase, so the owners had just shut down the stall when I had arrived. However, I still was able to chat with them and got really excited at the possibility of more authentic ramen in the East Bay after eating a number of disappointing bowls in other places in the area.

That said, given that the Emeryville Public Market was just slightly out of the way from where I run errands, I never came back for 10 months. What sparked my desire to come back was when, a couple of months ago, I found out that Shiba Ramen was going to open a brick and mortar location on the ground floor of my office building. When I mentioned that they were opening open a 2nd location there, a Japanese coworker of mine beamed with excitement as she felt that the ramen there was up to her standards. Naturally, I had to go to the Emeryville Public Market again, so I made two trips in the last month to finally taste their ramen.

Each time I arrived, there was only a short line before I placed my order. The menu is fortunately very simple at Shiba, with only about 10-11 menu items on any given day. While they have 7 ramen options so far, I have only tried two and here are my verdicts:

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Spicy Ramen at Shiba Ramen

  • Spicy Ramen – My first visit on a chilly day in late November inspired me to choose the Spicy Ramen. This is their version of the classic Sichuanese dish, dan dan mian. The ramen noodles were very nice and springy, keeping its toothsome bite even after absorbing some liquid. The broth itself was flavorful, but not overly spicy. The ground pork was juicy as well. Overall, I liked the dish.
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Clear Ramen at Shiba Ramen

  • Clear Ramen with Pork Chashu – The second time I went with the classic clear broth, which I think is their Kitakata style of ramen (that is similar, but not as rich as tonkotsu ramen). The broth was definitely lighter than the spicy ramen, but still flavorful, with a bit of pork fat on the top. It was nice at first, but perhaps a little too rich in the end. The eggs were medium boiled and nice to eat while the chashu was a little too dry. The noodles, however, were very nice and toothsome as they were in the spicy ramen. Overall it was good, though with only 1 piece of dry pork, it could have been better.

Overall, I love Shiba Ramen for its good flavors and reasonable price points. I do wish the portions were slightly bigger, however, so I would recommend splurging the extra dollar or two for the add-ons. But that’s a slight quibble when they are, at this point, the best ramen I have had in the East Bay.

No Car? Not a Problem! – #BARTable Asian Food Pt. 2

A year ago I started a project to find Asian restaurants within walking distance of BART stations. I started Part 1 of the series visiting the southernmost stops on the Richmond-Millbrae “Red” Line from Millbrae to Daly City. Unfortunately, a combination of things delayed my ability to write part 2 for the last year, not the least of which was the large amount of Asian restaurants in San Francisco within close proximity to a BART stop. My original plan to include ALL San Francisco BART stops was scrapped because of that.

So below you’ll find BARTable Asian food near the Balboa Park, Glen Park, 24th Street Mission, and 16th Street Mission stations. I’ll note that since there are more Asian restaurants closer to downtown San Francisco, this post will be relatively light.

Balboa Park

As we move north into the city of San Francisco, we first reach Balboa Park station. While Balboa Park is a transit hub for both BART and MUNI, there isn’t a lot of commercial development near the station. However, across the street from the station there are two Asian restaurants.

AJ’s BBQ and Cafe is slightly upscale “turo turo” (or “point point”) Filipino eatery where you can get a range of standard Filipino fare including pancit bihon, kare kare, lumpiang shanghai, and bbq chicken skewers. Like most turo turo places, AJ’s combines value with reasonably tasty food making this a decent stop for Filipino food, especially if you are on the run to somewhere else or picking up something on the way home in the Excelsior (where there are a number of other Filipino restaurants).

Cumin Lamb at Crazy Pepper

Cumin Lamb at Crazy Pepper

Around the corner from AJ’s is Crazy Pepper, a standard Bay Area neighborhood Americanized Chinese food restaurant that mostly does takeout business, but has a number of tables for a nice sit down meal. I got the cumin lamb, which was cooked with a lot of cumin. While tasty, the cumin was a little bit overpowering. The menu also included other standards in a Bay Area Americanized Chinese restaurant including basil chicken and a limited number of dim sum items. I also got the siu mai, which seemed to be resteamed from a frozen or refrigerated item. While the pork flavor was decent, the wonton skin wrapping was a little gummy. All in all, Crazy Pepper does try to differentiate itself with some Dongbei items, but food is average at best.

Glen Park

After Balboa Park station you reach Glen Park station. Glen Park station is near a small commercial and retail area that is the center of the Glen Park neighborhood. Unfortunately, there’s only 2 Asian restaurants in the area.

Basil Chicken Lunch Special at Win Garden

Basil Chicken Lunch Special at Win Garden

The first is Win Garden, another neighborhood Americanized Chinese restaurant. When I asked what lunch special I should get, the server guided me toward their basil chicken. The dish itself was pretty decent, with a flavorful, but not overpowering, amount of Thai basil. However, I did find it a little strange that the plate included a mesclun with Italian dressing. I also ordered some har gow, which were decent, if nothing to write home about. The shrimp was alright but the skin was a bit thick.

The second Asian restaurant is Tataki Canyon. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough stomach space to go in, but it seems to be a nice neighborhood Japanese restaurant that mainly focuses on sushi and ramen.

24th Street Mission

As you get closer to downtown San Francisco you reach 24th Street Mission station. It is one of two BART stations in the Mission district, a historically working class Latinx neighborhood that has gentrified in the last few decades with young, mostly white, people (first with  artists and hipsters and lately with those who work in tech). Given the community’s demographics, there aren’t a lot of Asian restaurants around 24th Street Mission. However, there are a few.

A 10 minute walk to the 23rd and Bryant intersection will get you to Spice Jar, an eclectic Asian fusion restaurant that has a number of Asian style noodle soups including pho and laksa. Slightly closer to BART is Sugoi Sushi, a neighborhood Japanese restaurant that obviously focuses on sushi. Slightly further afield is Dosa, which has very tasty, if pricey and small, South Asian food. Of course, their specialty is dosa, which are done very well from my limited knowledge of South Asian food.

16th Street Mission

The final stop before the core downtown San Francisco neighborhoods takes you to the northern end of the Mission District. The waves of gentrification in the Mission is more visually apparent closer to this station. Accordingly, there are more trendier Asian restaurants near this station to cater to the number of young urban professionals that now live and/or spend money in the area.

Valencia Street, a street that parallels Mission street just one block west, is where the gentrification is most visible. The original Slanted Door (before its eventual move to the Ferry Building) opened on Valencia Street and since then there have been a number of other Asian restaurants that haven opened up. This includes the San Francisco’s location of James Syhabout’s Hawker Fare serving northern Thai and Lao dishes (more on Hawker Fare as this series heads to Oakland). You can also find Thai up the block at Bangkok Bistro as well. Valencia Street also houses Mau, a hip modern Vietnamese places that serves decent pho and other items. 

Mapo Tofu at Mission Chinese Food

Mapo Tofu at Mission Chinese Food

Moving closer to Mission Street you can drink some of San Francisco’s best boba (and sip on decent Hong Kong milk tea) at Boba Guys. On 18th Street, around the corner from Mission Street, is Yamo, a tiny hole in the wall that served Burmese food before Burma Superstar started Bay Area’s craze for cuisine And around the corner from Yamo is Mission Chinese Food, the much celebrated former Chinese fusion pop-up turned cross-country restaurant chain. While the food is not a good as it once was, I do recommend the Mongolian Long Beans and Salt Cod Fried Rice at Mission Chinese.

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Fish Chowder Noodle Soup at Yamo

And rounding out the 16th Street Mission station are Ken Ken Ramen, which dishes out decent ramen and Japanese style curry, if a bit small on the portion sizes, and Namu Gaji, a Korean fusion place on the corner of 18th and Dolores that serves dishes ranging from dolsot bibimbap (labeled as “stonepot”) to “Korean tacos”. Both places are on the pricier side of things, but nonetheless still have some good and interesting flavors.

So even though you might not be in downtown San Francisco, the stops south of Civic Center still give you a number of options to fill someone’s desire for East or Southeast Asian food.