Thamee, Washington, DC

Thamee
1320 H Street NE
Washington, DC 20002

When I was in the process of selecting a place to host my slightly belated birthday dinner this year I wanted a place that was: A. relatively new, but highly regarded; B. was something a little different than what most of my friends may have had before; and C. was relatively close to transit or fairly accessible by car for friends both in DC and the suburbs. Thamee fit the bill as a newer, well regarded place for Burmese food in a metro area that has few restaurants representing the cuisine (and most of those places have been underwhelming). So on a Sunday a month ago, five of my friends gathered with me to celebrate.

As we got seated and looked at the menu we all got some fantastic drinks, which included the non-alcoholic Butterfly Limeade which was just as delicious to drink as it was to look at. We quickly decided to do family style instead of the Thamee experience, so after restraining ourselves from ordering the whole menu, we got the following:

Lahpet Thoke at Thamee

Lahpet Thoke at Thamee

  • Lahpet Thoke – The tea leaf salad was less cohesive than others I’ve had and wish it had more of a fermented tea leaf taste but it was a refreshing start to our meal.
  • White Flower Mushroom & Chicken – The white flower mushroom was more like a wood ear fungus in taste and texture. The salad had a great lightly spicy dressing though I’m not sure the chicken (which was good) and the fungus really paired well.
  • Balachaung – This spicy condiment was great for those among us who ate meat to pair with the plates of pickled vegetables delivered to our table.
Mohinga and Ohno Khauk Swe at Thamee

Mohinga and Ohno Khauk Swe at Thamee

  • Mohinga – The flavors of the fish chowder were real good and not runny like some other places. I loved the toasted chickpea topping and the noodles, which I could have used more of, were cooked perfectly. This was easily the best Mohinga I’ve had outside of California (and daresay better than Burma Superstar).
  • Ohno Khauk Swe – The coconut chicken curry was so delicious that I wanted seconds. The coconut broth balanced the curry really well and the lime cut the broth perfectly.
Pork and Pickled Mango and Garlic Greens at Thamee

Pork and Pickled Mango and Garlic Greens at Thamee

  • Pork & Pickled Mango – The pork was melt in your mouth delicious with a tomato sauce topped with sliced pickled mango. The mango was a refreshing cut to the fatty, rich pork and sauce and nicely blended with the rice.
  • Prawn & Tomato – I’m normally not a fan of shrimp but the shrimp here was excellent and the tomato sauce was rich without being overpowering. I highly recommend mixing this with the rice.
  • Garlic Greens – I absolutely loved these wok tossed morning glory shoots topped with fried garlic. Not only do I love morning glory in general, but to have such a flavorful, but simple preparation just showed how a little garlic, oil, and very fresh vegetables go a long way.
  • Golden Rice – I loved the turmeric rice with fried garlic which had a lot of flavor on its own. I did slightly prefer the regular jasmine rice for the dishes with thicker sauces (like prawn & tomato) but the golden rice was excellent with the Garlic Greens

As much as all the dishes above were amazing, sadly the portions were on the smaller side so we had to order additional items to properly fill our stomachs. We ordered additional Prawn & Tomato and Garlic Greens in addition to these two new dishes:

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Ohno Khauk Swe (Vegetarian) and egglant and Cauliflower at Thamee

  • Ohno Khauk Swe (vegetarian) – Much as the same as the coconut chicken curry above, but I may have preferred this version more as I felt the mushrooms soaked up the curry a little more
  • Eggplant and Cauliflower – I’m generally not an eggplant person so I avoided that part of the dish, but I did love the hint of spice with the cauliflower.

All in all I loved Thamee and I’m glad there’s a Burmese place in DC that does the cuisine such justice. Not only was it a great way to celebrate my birthday, it was great way to taste even more flavors of Burmese food I can’t find in the Bay Area. 

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Nyum Bai, Oakland

Nyum Bai
3340 E 12th St. Ste. 11
Oakland, CA 94601

I visited Nyum Bai when it was briefly at Emeryville Public Market a few years ago. But ever since they moved to their current brick & mortar location in Fruitvale, I had never gone until a friend of mine suggested we go there to eat dinner and catch up a few weeks ago. Naturally, I was excited to go as now I could explore a fuller menu of Cambodian dishes I could not try when they were in a small food hall stall.

We went on a Sunday night and while the restaurant was fairly busy, we didn’t have to wait too long for a table inside their cramped indoor seating area (they also have an outdoor seating area for larger parties). After being seated we perused their entree options, though our server had informed us that dishes that night, including the Amok (catfish) dish I was thinking of trying. Despite that, we ordered the following:

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Pea Tendrils at Nyum Bai

Cha Pea Tendrils – I am a complete sucker for pea tendrils and these were no different. The slightly sweet and umami filled sauce complimented the crunch and nuttiness of the pea tendrils. The fried garlic was an excellent touch as well.

Koh at Nyum Bai

Koh at Nyum Bai

Koh – There weren’t a lot of these pork belly cubes, but they were so succulently tender with fat that melted in my mouth. The sauce was rich with the simmered pork flavor accented with spices like star anise. The sauce made the bamboo shoots and slice of boiled egg really tasty too.

Lok Lah at Nyum Bai

Lok Lah at Nyum Bai

Lok Lak – The cubes of beef were juicy and tender and the fat of the beef was perfectly cut with the tangy citrus vinaigrette. The romaine lettuce and tomatoes provided a touch of freshness as well.

In addition to the noodle soup (Kuy Teav Phnom Penh) I had back when they were at Public Market, I have loved every dish at Nyum Bai. It may not be in the trendiest, most gentrifying neighborhoods in Oakland, but it is certainly worth the detour down to Fruitvale (and a couple blocks away from Fruitvale BART!). I will certainly go again soon so I can taste every dish on the menu.

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Harborview, San Francisco

Harborview
4 Embarcadero Center
San Francisco, CA 94111

Late last year Harborview opened up in the space that housed former Crystal Jade Jian Nan (a branch of the famed Singaporean Crystal Jade chain that opened to harsh reviews). The new restaurant was opened by a former founder of the vaunted R&G Lounge in Chinatown and serves Cantonese food. In a typical Cantonese seafood restaurant fashion, they serve dim sum during lunch hours and higher end seafood specialities in the evening.

Since they serve dim sum, of course I had to try it and so I invited a high school friend of mine a couple weeks ago to see how it is. I made a reservation and we were seated with ease at 1PM on a Sunday. We were given a menu but since carts came around fairly regularly (and, perhaps, a bit aggressively on occasion), we decided to just order off the carts. Over the course of the hour and a half we were there we got the following:

Steamed Kurobuta Pork & Shrimp Dumplings (Siu Mai) at Harborview

Steamed Kurobuta Pork & Shrimp Dumplings (Siu Mai) at Harborview

  • Steamed Kurobuta Pork & Shrimp Dumplings (Siu Mai) – The siu mai were fairly good with a nice snap of the pork and shrimp. They were topped with a little shrimp roe as well. They could have been seasoned a little more or perhaps added with slightly more flavor, however.
Steamed Rice Flour Rolls with Beef at Harborview

Steamed Rice Flour Rolls with Beef at Harborview

  • Steamed Rice Flour Rolls with Beef – The rice noodle rolls were very nice, absorbing the sauce and holding the thin ground beef mixture while keeping its shape. The sweet soy sauce was nice without overpowering and the ground beef mixture had a nice hint of cilantro and scallions.
  • Steamed Shrimp Dumplings (Har Gow) – The shrimp dumplings were solid. The shrimp was plump and just the right amount for the dumpling wrappers. The wrappers were a touch thick but the perfect texture so they were too gummy or delicate. I do wish the shrimp had a little more salt and pepper but overall pretty good.
Chinese Bacon and Sausage Sticky Rice at Harborview

Chinese Bacon and Sausage Sticky Rice at Harborview

  • Chinese Bacon and Sausage Sticky Rice – Harborview’s stir fried sticky rice had liberal amounts of diced lap cheong and salty Chinese bacon, topped off with some thin slices of steamed egg (which I had never seen before). While it was well executed in general, it did feel a bit one note with the salt and umami of the protein. It probably could have used a little more green onions or some more pepper for some brightening for flavor.
  • Steamed Pork Spareribs with Black Bean Sauce – The pork spareribs were pretty meaty and because they spent very little time in the carts, was cooked well but not overcooked. The black bean sauce was pretty light but enough to give that signature savory umami flavor.
  • Deep Fried Glutinous Rice Dumplings with Assorted Meat Filling – This was probably one of the better “ham sui gok” (鹹水角) I have had. The glutinous rice dumpling skin was perfectly fried and the minced meat filling was well seasoned with a good mix of mushrooms and ground meat. Given that I didn’t quite have high expectations for this dish in general, the Harborview version was surprisingly good.

The total bill for these 6 items ended up being around $60 which is fairly steep at $30 a person. However, I would say that the dim sum is well executed, even if a little pricey. If you want good dim sum at a refined setting without going to the Richmond or Koi Palace, Harborview is great and arguably even better than fellow neighborhood swanky dim sum place, Yank Sing.

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Social Place (Silvercord TST), Hong Kong

Social Place
303, 30 Canton Rd
Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong

Over the course of the last few years I’ve visited both posh Michelin-starred and hole in the wall dim sum places during my visits to Hong Kong. So when I visited Hong Kong a few weeks ago on my latest trip, I decided to give my Michelin Guide some rest and venture to other dim sum restaurants that caught my eye (admittedly, mostly from Instagram and eye-catching Facebook posts).

One of those place was Social Place, which has very Instagram friendly dishes that are also fairly unique. My friend and I decided to swing by for dinner one of our first nights in Hong Kong to see what the fuss was about. Like many casual places in Hong Kong malls, we grabbed a number from the table waiting touchscreen. While we waited the 20 minutes it took for a table to open up, we looked at the menu to see what to order (crossing off those dishes that the restaurant had indicated were sold out for the day). After some pensive deliberation, we ordered the following:

  • Social Platter (Pickled black fungus, iced okra, Sichuan spicy sausage) – The social platter is an appetizer course where you can choose 3 small plates of different items. Since one of the vegetarian items we wanted were out, we substituted with spicy Chinese sausage instead which had nicely flavored meat and a good snap, but perhaps a little too oily with the chili oil. The ice okra was amazing, however, and I loved the perfectly cooked texture of the okra which gave it a nice snap and chew without any sliminess. The fungus to me was okay, but I think it’s because I generally don’t like pickled black fungus to begin with.
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Dragon Beard Kale at Social Place

  • Dragon Beard Kale – Despite the misleading “kale” name, this dish contains Chinese Broccoli cut into the shape of “dragon beards”, blanched perfectly and stir fried with gogi berries. This was one of the best dishes on the menu and my friend and I couldn’t get enough.
  • Truffle Shitaake Bun – The buns were cute and shaped like mushrooms, but I found the filling a little off-putting. While I appreciated that I got my “money’s worth” of truffle, so to speak, it was VERY truffle forward. If you like truffles, this is the bun for you, but as a person that only likes a hint of truffles, this was a bit much.
  • Noodle with Scallion Oil – The noodles were well stir fried, if a little bit oily. I liked the flavor overall but sadly this normally vegetarian dish got tainted with dried baby shrimp. Normally I wouldn’t mind it so much but the dried shrimp was a lot and completely unexpected, marring this dish somewhat.
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Pig-Shaped Taro Bun at Social Place

  • Pig-Shaped Taro Bun – These buns are priced at 1 in each basket, so they are a little pricey. However, I would say they are worth it because not only are they incredibly cute, but they have this lightly sweet taro filling that is equally as pleasing to the palate. If they weren’t nearly $4USD each, I would have definitely order another one.
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Charcoal Custard Bun at Social Place

  • Charcoal Custard Bun – These “lava” custard buns look stunning, like many other items on the menu of course, but were just as good tasting. The custard was runny but not super messy and the bun was slightly chocolatey giving a very nice texture for dessert.

Overall, most of the dishes here taste good and look awesome. Like most every place, there are hits and misses and obviously many dishes are more Instagram focused than focusing on flavor. Ironically, I do think the more beautiful dishes are the better tasting dishes, although many of them have a higher price to match. I would definitely recommend others taking a visit in Hong Kong to take a little detour out of the safe and ordinary dim sum dishes at other place.

 

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Hancook, Oakland

Hancook
4315 Telegraph Ave
Oakland, CA 94609

Hancook has intrigued me over the past year it has opened due to its menu of Korean hot pots. Given the size of the hot stone pots seem to be for at least 2 people, it was hard to connect with other folks and make the timing right to try it out until this past month. Finally, after all the election activity and holidays were over I was able to set some time with a couple of friends in Oakland to finally try the food.

When we sat down, we looked at the menu which, while not that long, had a lot of new items I had never had. It took a few minutes to decide, but we settled down on the three items below after debating which hot pot we wanted. A few weeks later I tried the other hot pot I debated on getting, which is also reviewed below:

Kong Sam at Hancook

Kong Sam at Hancook

  • Kong Sam – This dish was a large, but relatively shallow, pot of spicy broth with slices of beef, small glutinous rice cakes (what some people of European descent would call dumplings), lots of bean sprouts, and slices of scallions. The dish was really flavorful with the beef complimenting the spicy broth very well. The rice cakes were nice as well and a great utensil to soak up the broth. It was a very large portion and definitely feed at least 2 people.
  • Seafood Buchimgae (Korean Pancake) – The pancake was really large and definitely meant as an appetizer for at least 3-4 people. It was very tasty with nice thin layers egg, sliced vegetables, and seafood. This is probably one of the best Korean Pancakes I have had.
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Bossam at Hancook

  • Bossam – The bossam was literally this restaurant’s pièce de résistance with melt in your mouth slices of boiled pork belly with ssamjang (a spicy Korean dipping sauce) and as much of the wrap accoutrements to your hearts content including, but not limited to, garlic, chiles, slices of pickle daikon, perilla leaves, and sliced carrots. In particular, the perilla leaves, daikon, ssamjang, and pork slices together were heavenly as the pork melt in my mouth and was cut very well with the slight sourness of the daikon, minty flavor of the perilla leaf, and spice of the ssamjang. Even writing about this makes me salivate.
  • House Speciality Hot Pot – I got an individual serving of the hot pot a couple weeks later to try it out (as on my first visit the wait staff steered us to the excellent Kong Sam). The hot pot consisted of beef, tofu, and spinach in a beef broth. The hot pot was just alright but the kicker of this dish is when you’re finished with the soup portion they will then go use the remainder to cook a fried rice with the stone pot. The fried rice, which added vegetables and some napa cabbage kimchi, was much better. This dish is okay but I think I’d survey the other excellent dishes here before coming to this.

All in all Hancook is an excellent addition to the numerous great Korean options you can find on Telegraph Ave in Temescal. I would definitely order the Bossam (if you eat pork) and try the many other hot pot dishes they have there. I, myself, am looking forward to try the rest of the menu in the coming year (and more!).

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Shanghai No. 1 Seafood Village, San Gabriel

Shanghai No. 1 Seafood Village
250 W Valley Blvd
San Gabriel, CA 91176

Shanghai No. 1 Seafood Village has been on my radar for awhile given its generally good reviews and occasional mentions as a solid dim sum recommendation among Chinese food writers and bloggers in the LA area. However, given the number of newer dim sum restaurants that have opened up in the San Gabriel Valley the last couple years I spent more time reviewing them rather than seeing how this restaurant stacked up.

Seeing that there weren’t any new and notable openings that I know of, I look the opportunity of having dim sum with a friend to check the place out. We arrived Friday after Christmas a little after 11AM and managed to snag a table for two with no wait. After browsing the menu and wanting to check off half of the items, we settled on the following:

  • Beef Ball w/ Orange Peel Sauce (陳皮牛肉球) – These were fairly decent beef balls, chewy but tender with a good amount of seasoning. The orange peel sauce gave the beef balls a slight tangy flavor that was nice.
Pork & Shrimp Dumpling at Shanghai No. 1 Seafood Village

Pork & Shrimp Dumpling at Shanghai No. 1 Seafood Village

  • Pork & Shrimp Dumpling (蝦子燒賣皇) – The shu mai here were pretty fabulous. They were filled with plump, juicy, well-seasoned pork with a little bit of shrimp. The shu mai had a nice snap as well and topped with a little bit of salmon roe for a slight pop of saltiness.
  • Abalone Rice w/ Lotus Leaf (鮑魚糯米雞) – While I shouldn’t have been surprised because of the price, I was a little let down that there wasn’t much abalone in this version of steamed sticky rice with chicken. However, overall the dish was a nicely made version of the dish that was well and evenly seasoned.
  • Steamed Crab Meat Dumpling (蟹肉荳苗餃) – Perhaps I was served the wrong dumplings, but the ones I got were very light on the shrimp and very heavy on the chives. Not bad, but just not what I expected.
Shrimp Dumpling at Shanghai No. 1 Seafood Village

Shrimp Dumpling at Shanghai No. 1 Seafood Village

  • Shrimp Dumpling (晶瑩蝦餃皇) – Although the shrimp filling was fresh, seasoned just enough, and had a nice snap, the wrapping was very thick and really disappointing. While it definitely is decent, my quest for shrimp dumplings in the US as good as Hong Kong continues.
Turnip Cakes and Rice Noodles at Shanghai No. 1 Seafood Village

Turnip Cakes and Rice Noodles at Shanghai No. 1 Seafood Village

  • Salty Pork Turnip Cake (上海咸肉蘿蔔糕) – These turnip cakes could have used a little more pork (or other meaty/umami flavor) and fried slightly more. They weren’t bad, but could have been better.
  • Rice Noodle w/ Beef (榨茶牛肉腸) – The ground beef and scallion filling was pretty flavorful and the rice noodles were fairly well steamed. I would say these were pretty good for a rice noodle roll.
  • Steamed Rice Noodle w/ Scallop (帶子白玉腸) – On the other hand, these rice noodle rolls were a little disappointed. The primary filling was tofu and the little bits of scallop seemed barely there. I would not recommend.
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Osmanthus with Red Bean Cake at Shanghai No. 1 Seafood Village

  • Osmanthus with Red Bean Cake (桂花條頭榚) – This dessert was literally my favorite item of the whole milk. The mochi-like outer layer combined with the red been paste inner layer made for a truly divine soft and sweet dessert to end our meal.
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Deep Fried Carrot Cake at Shanghai No. 1 Seafood Village

  • Deep Fried Carrot Cake (經典蘿蔔酥) – These flakey daikon puffs had a nice filling that included some shrimp and mushrooms. While I am not normally a person that like savory dim sum items in puff pastry, these were pretty good.

Overall, Shanghai No. 1 Seafood Village serves some solid, if not spectacular, dim sum. It does merit in consideration on being one of the better San Gabriel Valley dim sum places (and thus, fairly good nationally), but I would agree it’s not quite on the mark as other well loved places like Sea Harbour or the more newly open Longo Seafood. I would, however, say that I did miss an opportunity to try some of their more Shanghainese dishes on the menu. Those could have been more successful and may have made the meal even better.

All that said, I would say it’s worth a try because it is undoubtedly one of the best dim sum places for value in all of the SGV. Small dishes start at $1.98 and Medium dishes at $2.98. Those are prices that you’d be hard pressed to find at drabbier, more overcooked, dim sum places that still used carts, much less fancier menu order places. The total bill for all those dishes, before tip, came out to $32, which is quite the steal. So even if it may not be the best, certainly Shanghai No. 1 Seafood Village is the best bargain for any dim sum lover looking to dine on a budget.

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Bird & Buffalo, Oakland

Bird & Buffalo
4659 Telegraph Ave
Oakland, CA 94609

This year my neighborhood has had not one, but two ,fast casual Thai restaurants open up. Earlier this year I reviewed one of them, Hawking Bird, and loved it but never got around to the other, Bird & Buffalo, until a few weeks ago.

When a friend was in town for some meetings, I figured it was a perfect time to finally try out the place as they was staying just a few blocks away from Bird & Buffalo at another friend’s place. We ate a whole bunch of vegetarian items since they are vegetarian. However, since I am omnivorous (and I believe most readers of this blog are), I decided to wait to blog about it until I ate a meat dish. So earlier today I swung by the restaurant to eat dinner and can finally give you all a complete picture.

So here it goes with all the dishes I’ve had at Bird & Buffalo so far:

Larb Hed at Bird & Buffalo

Larb Hed at Bird & Buffalo

  • Larb Hed – The mushrooms and tofu were stir fried really well with the onions, garlic, cilantro, salt, and pepper. It was plated with some lettuce so you could eat it like a lettuce wrap. With a drizzle of lime juice, this was probably the best dish we had for the meal.
  • Bamee Tom Yum – We ordered the Bamee Tom Yum with tofu. The vegetable broth was delicious with just enough spiciness to give it a kick but not overpowering. The spice played really well with the slight sourness of the soup and the vegetables and tofu were pretty filling. The noodles were a bit limp and overcooked, which is the only complaint I could muster for a dish that will be pretty satisfying on any cold winter’s day.
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Fried Cauliflower at Bird & Buffalo

  • Fried Cauliflower – Unfortunately this dish was more of a miss. While the cauliflower had a nice snap, sadly they were deep fried with a bit too much breading. The breading itself was fairly soft so it became more of a soft doughy coated cauliflower than the crunchy, slightly spiced fried cauliflower it could have been.
  • Blistered Garlic Green Beans – I ordered these green beans both times and they were even better the second time. The green beans were perfectly stir fried with just a hint of garlic. With a little minced pork, it could have been like my mom’s very delicious green bean recipe!
Gai Yaang at Bird & Buffalo

Gai Yaang at Bird & Buffalo

  • Gai Yaang – The chicken was roasted perfectly with moist meat and skin with just enough crisp. The chicken seemed to have been seasoned and brined with a few spices before hand giving a nice kick. The slaw has a really nice balance of sweet and sour flavor (probably with a little fish sauce) that cut the fat and the spice of the chicken very well.

Overall, Bird & Buffalo is an excellent addition to the neighborhood and most dishes were very flavorful and well made. It’s fairly affordable for the Bay Area as well. You can definitely get a filling meal for two under $20 a person before any beverages. Best of all, it’s a place that has a number of vegetarian options as well. I would highly recommend Bird & Buffalo, and it’s just another reason why I love living by Temescal.

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Yue Restaurant, Richmond, BC

Yue Restaurant
8351 Alexandra Road
Richmond, BC V6X 1C3

My trips of Vancouver always contain a stop for dim sum at a restaurant I’ve never been to before. This weekend’s quick stop to see a friend going to grad school at UBC was no exception. This time we decided to go to Yue Restaurant (formerly Yue Delicacy) which was on my list to try from last year.

Yue Delicacy is a relatively small to medium size Cantonese seafood restaurant in one of the many food-centric strip malls that dot Alexandria Road in Richmond, BC. Parking was tight, albeit we were able to grab a spot quickly. Though if you don’t have a car, it’s a reasonably close walk from the Landsdowne Canada Line SkyTrain station. My friend, her friend, and I walked in at 11:30AM on a Sunday and waited a few minutes for a table with a reservation I had placed a couple days prior. However, I’d say the reservation might not be necessary as while the restaurant was full, there weren’t that many people waiting for a table.

Once seated we marveled at the very stately decor that was elegant yet modern (which Chef Tony could have learned from). But after a quick scan of the decor, we zoomed into what mattered most, the food! There were a number of things we wanted to try and eat so we ordered the following 9 dishes (all the Chinese names are correct, but the English names are approximate as I didn’t snap a photo of the English dim sum menu):

  • Pork Spareribs with Black Bean Sauce (豉汁蒸排骨) – These were probably the meatiest and fattest pork spareribs I have eaten in years! For the most part it was super juicy with just enough black bean sauce to give a depth of flavor, but not overpower. I would definitely eat more of these again!
  • Chinese Broccoli with Ginger Sauce (生炒薑汁芥蘭片) – In contrast, this dish was not that good. While the leaves seemed fresh, the stems were definitely a little old/too ripe with that acrid bitterness you can taste with not as fresh Chinese Broccoli. That said, the ginger garlic sauce was good which helped make the dish a little more edible.
Shrimp Dumplings at Yue Restaurant

Shrimp Dumplings at Yue Restaurant

  • Steamed Shrimp Dumpling (水晶蝦餃皇) – These shrimp dumplings were nearly perfect! Perhaps not as good as Kirin at City Hall or Ming Court in Hong Kong, they were on the smaller side but with skin that was thin, pliable, but dexterous with a filling of fresh shrimp, lightly seasoned, with a good snap. This is definitely an exemplary set of har gow that I wish all dim sum restaurants in North America would imitate.
Black Truffle Steamed Scallop Dumplings

Black Truffle Steamed Scallop Dumplings

  • Black Truffle Steamed Scallop Dumplings (黑松露帶子餃) – These dumplings were very good. Think a purely shrimp shu mai, add a scallop on top, and then add a little bit of black truffle and black truffle oil! That’s not to mention the dish roe on top as well. I think I still prefer the shrimp dumplings, but these were amazing with a nice balance of fresh seafood taste with the richness of the truffle and roe. Both the scallops and shrimp filling at that perfect snap which can be so hard to find.
  • Chicken Feet (金醬蒸鳯爪) – I’m not much of a fan of the dish but one bite of the skin showed that it was decently double fried with a good, but not gratuitous, amount of sauce. The dish is still too boney for me, but if you like chicken feet, this is a good set of them.
  • Taro Cake (五香芋絲糕) – I generally prefer daikon cake but this taro cake was perfectly fried with a crunchy exterior but soft and chewy interior. It also wasn’t too oily too. It’s probably one of the best versions of this dish I’ve had.
Red Rice Noodle Roll with Chinese Doughnut at Yue Restaurant

Red Rice Noodle Roll with Chinese Doughnut at Yue Restaurant

  • Red Rice Noodle Roll with Chinese Doughnut (鬼馬紅米腸粉) – These rice noodle rolls were made with slightly sweet red rice noodles that wrapped around a freshly fried Chinese doughnut that was stuffed with a shrimp and fish meatball. With the dark soy sauce they give you to dip it in, these rice noodle rolls were pretty solid and held up very well. The slight sweetness of the red rice noodles didn’t come out too well, but the shrimp filling and Chinese doughnut crunch more than made up for it.
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Lamb Fried Dumplings at Yue Restaurant

  • Lamb Fried Dumplings (孑然羊肉餃) – These potstickers were interesting with its crispy extra dumpling skin that looked like wings of sorts. The filling of minced lamb and chopped vegetables had a heavy lamb taste, but the flavors meshed well together.
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White and Black Sesame Balls at Yue Restaurant

  • White and Black Sesame Balls (麻茸煎堆仔) – Dessert was sesame balls with white and black sesame seeds on the outside with white sesame seed paste as filling. While we were dismayed that there were no sesame balls with black sesame paste, the dessert was still a hit with a very nice crunch flavor that lasted til we finished all the savory items.

All in all, I would rank Yue Restaurant as my number 2 dim sum restaurant in the Vancouver area after Kirin. It is definitely a place I would recommend to go to and certainly beats other places like Sun Sui Wah or Chef Tony in my book. Since it’s a newer restaurant, I would say Yue has a lot of promise, especially as it keeps on perfecting newer, more innovative dishes. While Kirin might offer a solid, near blemish free take n mostly classics with a very refined experience, Yue has all the ingredients needed to be the best dim sum restaurant in the Vancouver area (very high praise given the competition!) in the very near future.

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Grocery Cafe, Oakland

Grocery Cafe
90 Franklin St
Oakland, CA 94607

The Bay Area has a plethora of Burmese food and it seems like nearly all Bay Area cities with a downtown strip have at least one Burmese restaurant. While many of them are tasty, truth be told I find some of them more “entry level” Burmese introducing the cuisine to American palates. I like Burma Superstar enough, but until now I never really felt the restaurants had quite the depth of flavor as some of the homecooked Burmese food of the family friends I grew up in church with.

But one restaurant had always intrigued me: Grocery Cafe. I had initially wanted to go to Grocery Cafe in their previous East Oakland location but never made it. However, more recently they moved to a location by Jack London Square so a couple weeks ago I took advantage of the opportunity by having dinner with my friends there to debrief Crazy Rich Asians.

The restaurant is a little cozy, but elegantly decorated and we sat at a table by the street facing window. We took a look at the menu and decided to eat family style and ordered the following:

Tea Leaf Salad at Grocery Cafe

Tea Leaf Salad at Grocery Cafe

  • Tea Leaf Salad – I loved this rendition of tea leaf salad. The tea leaf was a lot more noticeable and front of center than the cabbage and tomato heavy creations in other Bay Area Burmese restaurants. This really gave the salad that kick of fermented tea leaf and nutty flavor that was absolutely delicious
  • Mohinga – This was probably the closest version of the homemade mohinga I had as a kid by far. Presented in a large tureen there was an abundance of noodles and the fish chowder soup was flavorful without being too thick. I loved that they presented the fritter and condiments on the side to keep them crunchy instead of other places that just put them in and where they can be soggy when it hits the table
Sauteed and Simmered Catfish at Grocery Cafe

Sauteed and Simmered Catfish at Grocery Cafe

  • Sauteed and Simmered Catfish – The catfish were lightly fried and simmered in a very flavorful tomato-rich sauce. The basil gave an herbal freshness that paired well with the fattiness of the catfish.
Mango and Chutney Pork at Grocery Cafe

Mango and Chutney Pork at Grocery Cafe

  • Mango Chutney Pork Stew – The pork was slightly chewy but the mango chutney had a very good balance of sweet and savory. Not only was it a good marinade for the pork, but very nice to flavor the rice as well!
  • Coconut Rice – The coconut rice was satisfyingly delicious. I honestly would have been just fine with plain jasmine rice but it was a nice indulgence I can generally only find in Burmese restaurants in the Bay.

All in all, I loved Grocery Cafe and thought it was the best Burmese I have had in the Bay Area so far. Best of all, I don’t even have to wait in line as I would have to at the Burma Superstar within walking distance of my house. I would happily take a longer diversion to Grocery Cafe and would love to try their Ohno Khao Swe (Coconut Chicken Curry Noodle Soup) next time. And for my vegetarian friends, they have a Vegetarian Hinga Soup too!

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Crazy Rich Food + Reflections

This weekend is the opening weekend of Crazy Rich Asians, the film based on the bestselling book of the same name by Kevin Kwan. And while many of the articles for the film focus on its importance in Asian American representation in Hollywood or the cultural conflict of the plot between traditional class hierarchies amongst rich Chinese versus “rags to middle class riches” Chinese Americans, I, of course, want to write about the food mentioned in the books and movies. In the book series there are liberal mentions of various places that the exorbitantly rich of Singapore, Hong Kong, and Shanghai dine in, which does include places open to the public and are relatively affordable. Below you can find a few of those places found in the film and/or books in Singapore and Hong Kong and my thoughts on them (if I have been). Be aware, there will be some spoilers of the movie and/or books below.

[Following that you’ll find my reflections of the movie].

Singapore:

Newton Food Centre – After Araminta and Colin pick up Nick and Rachel up they head to Newton Food Centre where they order from different stalls specializing in their own dishes. I’ve never eaten at Newton Food Centre but in the scene you can see the foursome chow on various Singaporean dishes like Satay at TKR Satay, Oyster Omelette at Hup Kee Fried Oyster Omelette, and ice kachang at 88 San Ren Cold and Hot Dessert. For reference, in the book they actually go to another hawker centre, Lau Pa Sat, though Nick prefers the satay at Newton.

Hong Kong:

Roast Goose Rice and Tong Choy at Yat Lok

Roast Goose Rice and Tong Choy at Yat Lok

Yung Kee – In the books, Yung Kee is described as the place where the uber rich go dine on roast goose. And while the refined trappings of the restaurant remain intact, a family feud a few years ago led to a split. The better Kam family roast goose now lies at Kam’s Roast Goose in Wan Chai (in decidedly less upscale digs) which also racks up a Michelin star, unlike Yung Kee. Although Kam’s Roast Goose is fantastic, I do have a preference for Yat Lok (also a Michelin star earner) in Central.

Fook Lam Moon – Although I don’t recall this so-called “Tycoon’s Canteen” being in the books, it was mentioned by Kevin Kwan as a place where old money still eats. And honestly my one visit to their TST location showed perfectly why, and it’s not because of their food (which is good but not mind blowing spectacular). It’s because of their service, where they have a number of private rooms, a multitude of wait staff to refill your tea cups so you never have to, and even nice small shelves so your bags never, ever touch the ground (or hang over your seat). Reservations are probably required but it’s not too hard to make one online.

Dim sum at Lung King Heen

Dim sum at Lung King Heen

Lung King Heen – In the book when Rachel is at the bachelorette party on Samsara Island, Kitty and Alistair are purportedly seen at this three Michelin star restaurant, the first (but now not only) three Michelin star Chinese restaurant in the world. The food might not be the most innovative compared to other high end Cantonese restaurants in Hong Kong, but the dishes are well executed. Like most higher end Cantonese restaurants, the cheaper option is to eat the dim sum ate lunch (which even for 2 people will probably set you back around $40 USD). Advanced reservations of a month or two are advised.

REFLECTIONS

And now to my reflections on the film. Of course, there’s many things I could say about the movie, but I want to focus on how particular parts of the movie affected me. Like Love, Simon, Crazy Rich Asians was an important movie in terms of its cultural impact as a romantic comedy to me. While neither obviously hewed super close to my experience, both movies were well made movies based on reader adored books (of which I read both books before either were movies) that hopefully launch a number of other movies beyond the straight, white upper middle class narrow confines of the vast majority of major studio romantic comedies of the past.

Crazy Rich Asians itself resonated with me loudly in no small part because Kevin Kwan wrote the book for and in the perspective of the Asian American experience, especially those like me who are Millennial children of immigrants. The impetus to root for Rachel is because Rachel is like many of us, children of Asian immigrants that moved to the United States with immense sacrifice to hopefully provide opportunity for their children. (To be clear that’s not the entire Asian American experience which also includes refugees of war as well as those whose families had means to send their Baby Boomer and Gen X children to colleges in the US and Canada)

As such, what Rachel deals with in her trip to Singapore to meet Nick’s family and childhood social circle, she, like us, have a very fish out of water experience when visiting the Asian motherland. There are customs and traditions, regardless of your class or ethnicity (though in the Crazy Rich Asian series, accentuated by class) that are generally known but not quite fully experienced until you visit your ancestral home (or in Rachel’s case, a nation where the majority of folks are Chinese like herself). And in those moments many Asian Americans realize that you’re not quite [Asian ethnicity] enough, but similarly you’re not quite “American enough” for non-Asian, especially white folks, at home.

This is crystalized in 2 of the most powerful scenes of the movie: the dumpling making scene and the mahjong scene [major spoilers ahead].  In the dumpling making scene, Rachel makes dumplings for the rehearsal dinner along with a couple of Nick’s cousins, Nick’s aunts, and Nick’s mom. There’s visible tension between Rachel and Nick’s mom, Eleanor, which comes up to a head when Eleanor catches Rachel as Rachel is lost finding a restroom. The end of the conversation, after Eleanor regales Rachel on how she wasn’t seen as good enough to marry Nick’s dad, hits with a sting when Eleanor, played by the incomparable Michelle Yeoh, tells Rachel that she will never be good enough.

“You will never be good enough” is a phrase that serves both the plot narrative and a line that touches like a cattle prod to Asian Americans like myself. On one side, people like me are told by our Asian immigrant family and family (or people in general) living in Asia that we will never be good enough to meet expectations, including language fluency and respect for ancestral cultural norms. We are, in effect, too American. But then outside of Asian American enclaves at work or school where we try to fit in, we are criticized for having an accent (even if we might not have one – in which case we’re praised for having “surprisingly good English”), eating gross looking or stinky food (which then get popularized a decade later by white chefs that “discover” it), accused of eating cats or dogs (when we don’t), or exoticized for real or assumed body features and sexual desires. It may not be as pointed and direct as what our family members or those in our ancestral lands would say to us, but the effect is the same, we’re too Asian to be an American. It’s a dual hit for Asian Americans like myself who try to bridge our identities and be proud of these different identities, but are told that we aren’t good enough for either.

But as much as those words in the dumpling scene hurt (and when I shed a few tears on my second watch), the mahjong scene near the end turns the table and shows how Asian Americans can have agency and a potential to use perceived weaknesses into strengths. In that scene, Rachel invites Eleanor to play mahjong where they have a pointed conversation about family and cultural compatibility vs. following your heart. What Eleanor doesn’t know, but Rachel soon reveals is that she rejected Nick’s engagement knowing that what Eleanor thinks is a winning hand (marrying Nick) is not one at all and in Nick’s current situation it would be lose-lose. So Rachel chose for him and shows the strength and power of Asian Americans. Rachel then leaves, revealing that she would have had a winning hand but knowingly gave it away to Eleanor (which you can read more in AngryAsianMan’s excellent primer on the scene). The scene shows that Asian Americans like myself actually do understand and respect both the Asian cultural traditions of familial piety and American cultural understandings of individualism and freedom to follow your passions. But the choice isn’t either or; by understanding both cultures you can make your own decisions and not be boxed into one way of doing things.

The movie isn’t perfect by all means, but the books and the movies are so emotional and powerful for Asian Americans who have experiences like myself because it’s one of the first stories we’ve read and seen on the screen that reflects our dual cultural experience. It’s not a story by and for the people (especially the fantastically rich) of Singapore. It’s not a story even for immigrants like my parents who do live in the US now but their major cultural upbringing was from where they were born (who I’m sure will like most of the story anyway, if my aunt is any indication). It’s a story by and for Asian Americans, like Rachel, born and raised in America.

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