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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The Temple Club, Oakland

The Temple Club
2307 International Boulevard
Oakland, CA 94601

Originally I was going to write a post about China Chilcano, the fabulous Jose Andres helmed restaurant serving chifa (Peruvian Chinese) cuisine in DC. However, with the passing of beloved LA Times food critic, Jonathan Gold, this week, I decided to reach into my long backlog and discuss a newer place in Oakland that I think Jonathan Gold would love if he strolled on by Oakland’s International Blvd.

I went to the Temple Club about a month and a half ago with two good friends of mine who also love to eat and explore good food in the East Bay. Originally we had wanted to go to Filipino/Soul Food fusion restaurant Flipnsoul, but they were closed so we went to nearby Temple club instead.

The Temple Club is located on a relatively unassuming part of International Blvd, around the area where the boulevard transitions between the stretch that serves Vietnamese food and predominantly Vietnamese clientele to Latinx food and predominantly Latinx clientele. Walking in, I found the place to be very open and airy, with largely vaulted ceilings, and service staff that were warm and welcoming. We sat down and browsed the number of ever evolving options available today (the chef, who spent a couple decades in Vietnam, rotates the menu on daily or near daily basis). On that day, we decided to order the following which were available:

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Goi Sua at the Temple Club

  • Goi Sua – This jellyfish, chicken, and green papaya salad with shrimp chips was a refreshing and amazing way to start the meal. I love the interplay of the jellyfish and the fish sauce that I have never tasted before in any Chinese preparation of jellyfish
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Rau Muong Xao Toi at the Temple Club

  • Rau Muong Xao Toi – I’m biased because I basically love all versions of water spinach/morning glory, but this was one of the most tasty versions I have had so I am not saying this lightly! The shoots and leaves were stir fried to perfection with enough garlic and black pepper to give a great garlicky taste without being too overpowering. A case of simple being very delicious.
  • Hieu Tieu Nam Vang – While I loved the Hieu Tieu in theory with all the ingredients listed in the noodle soup – ground pork, pork liver, quail eggs, prawns, etc – the reality was that all of it was too much. Thus, the dish was heavy and the flavors were a bit muddled to get any true good taste of any ingredient.
Ga Nuong La Chanh at the Temple Club

Ga Nuong La Chanh at the Temple Club

  • Ga Nuong La Chanh – The highly recommended bone-in BBQ chicken, however, was solid but nothing super special. The salt & pepper rub with the fish sauce was nice, though the chicken was grilled a little too long where the meat became a bit dry and tough. I would have gladly sacrificed crispy skin for moister meat.
  • Mi Quang Phu Chiem – As a person who’s not especially fond of shrimp, this shrimp heavy dish didn’t really do too much for me, especially with the tomato peanut butter sauce of sorts. The flavor was decent, but it could not overcome my particular bias of the food (though I remember my friends liking it).
  • Pho Nam Chay – The last dish was arguably one of the best. The vegetarian pho was rich in mushroom flavor and had several different types of mushrooms in it. It was so rich and flavorful that it felt as hearty as a meat broth. I seriously could have ordered a big bowl of this and eaten it on my own.

I loved the meal, all in all, and would definitely come back. Oakland isn’t exactly the epicenter of Vietnamese food like San Jose, Houston, or Orange County, but I am delighted to have a restaurant that is interested in serving a range of rotating, innovative flavors of Vietnam to accent the main single dish specialists (especially for pho) that you can find on International Blvd. And while I never knew Jonathan Gold, I suspect this might be the type of restaurant he would like – a restaurant pushing flavors rarely seen in restaurants in Oakland done by a husband and wife team that take pride in trying to push the culinary envelope. 

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No Car? No Problem! BARTable Asian Food Goes East (Bay)

In Part 4 of this #BARTable Asian food series finally heads to my hood, the town of Oakland. Continuing along the Richmond-Millbrae line this guide will take you through West Oakland, 12th Street/City Center, 19th Street, and MacArthur Stations.

West Oakland

To be honest, this is the first station we can skip. The two places in remote walking distance of this BART station that serve Asian food are 2 Chinese American takeout spots, neither that serve food that’s any good.

12th Street/City Center

Downtown Oakland’s BART station is surrounded by Asian food, especially given its proximity to Oakland Chinatown.

Hainanese Chicken Rice at Shooting Star Cafe

Hainanese Chicken Rice at Shooting Star Cafe

In Chinatown one can, of course, find a veritable cornucopia of Chinese food and only blocks away from the station. For Hong Kong style cafe food, I like heading to Shooting Star Cafe (especially good for desserts and Hong Kong style milk tea) and Baby Cafe. For dim sum you can head to Restaurant Peony for arguably some of the best dim sum in the East Bay or Tao Yuen Pastry for some classic Chinatown grab and go dim sum. Gum Kuo and neighboring C&M Bistro are go to spots for Cantonese roast meats, though Gum Kuo also has excellent noodle soups and rice noodle rolls.

Dim Sum at Peony Seafood Restaurant

Dim Sum at Peony Seafood Restaurant

For non-Cantonese food in Chinatown, Spices 3 is the place to go for Sichuanese food and Shandong serves thick noodles and fabulous dumplings if you have a hankering for the heartier fare of Shandong province. And for one of the few Bay Area restaurants with Guilin style noodles, you can go to Classic Guilin Rice Noodles.

Chinatown, however, doesn’t just have Chinese food. For Cambodian food there is Battambang. Vietnamese food can be tastily sampled at one of my downtown favorites, Tay Ho, who’s signature item is the northern Vietnamese dish banh cuon. And for vegetarian Southeast Asian dishes, slightly out of Chinatown on 13th and Franklin is Golden Lotus.

The other side of Broadway in Old Oakland has a few Asian treasures as well. In Swan’s Market is the excellent AS B-Dama that serves great Japanese food. Le Cheval is a spot for decent Vietnamese food closer to the Oakland Convention Center.

19th Street Oakland

Further up in Oakland in Uptown and the northern part of the downtown business district are also a number of Asian restaurants, though they aren’t quite as concentrated as Chinatown. Some of these places below can also be accessed by the 14th Street or Frank Ogawa Plaza exits of the 12th Street/City Center stations but it was easier to delineate each BART station’s offerings at 14th Street.

Clear Dark Ramen at Shiba Ramen

Clear Dark Ramen at Shiba Ramen

Near 14th and Broadway you have some of my favorites for a work lunch break. I go to Shiba Ramen‘s Oakland restaurant every time I want a comforting bowl of ramen. For Afghan food, there’s the newly expanded Kamdesh. On 15th Street there’s Ma Me House for a pared down menu of solid Vietnamese food and Ichiro Sushi for solid sushi and lunch specials that are filling, but reasonably priced.

Further north, closer to my current office are a few more Asian spots centered mostly around 17th Street. There’s Aburaya for some extremely tasty Japanese fried chicken. A couple doors down is Pho 84 where you can eat classic Southern Vietnamese dishes in slightly more refined settings. Around 22nd and Broadway is one of the few Taiwanese restaurants in the East Bay, Taiwan Bento, where you can eat some Beef Noodle Soup and Gua Bao. If you need some fruit tea or boba to wash down your lunch at any of these spots you can saunter down to Yokee on Franklin Street where you can get some delicious boba or very Instagramable fruit teas.

MacArthur

The final Richmond-Millbrae line station in Oakland is MacArthur, conveniently also the closest to my apartment. It’s also the closest station to Temescal, the neighborhood that contains Oakland’s largest concentration of Korean food in Oakland (yet interestingly enough Koreatown is just to the South). 

For Korean food there are a number of options including Daol Tofu House and PyeongChang Tofu House for their namesake, and tasty, versions of soondubu. Hancook is the new restaurant in town that has Korean style hot pot. And further up Telegraph is Bowl’d, which serves a number of Korean dishes but best serves Bibimbap. Want Korean BBQ? I would venture a little further afield to Mosswood to Ohgane, a wonderful place with delicious BBQ that’s only $22 for All You Can Eat 10PM-2AM each day.

KMG at Hawking Bird

KMG at Hawking Bird

Temescal doesn’t only serve Korean food, however. Other Asian places include the oft-lauded Burma Superstar for Burmese. Down the street is Hawking Bird, the fast casual offshoot of James Syhabout’s Hawker Fare serving decent versions of khao man gai (Thai style chicken rice). Across the street from Hawking Bird and Burma Superstar is Marufuku Ramen which serves a pared down menu of excellent ramen. 

So while San Francisco has plenty of Asian food, take a BART train across the Bay to Oakland where your taste buds can expand with all these excellent options. I dare say that some of these restaurants are better than anything San Francisco has to offer on their particular cuisine.

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SinoinSocal’s Asian Food Travel Guide – San Francisco

With the summer travel season having just begun, I figured I should do a limited series combining a few things I love to do: travel, eat Asian food, and help people by giving suggestions. Hopefully by the end of the summer I’ll have guides to places including Hong Kong, Los Angeles, New York, San Diego, Vancouver, and Washington D.C. but I figure I would start with my current adopted hometown of sorts first – San Francisco (and the East Bay cities of Oakland and Berkeley).

Like most conventional travel guides, I’ll group things geographically by neighborhoods of sorts. Unlike them, however, it would be built exclusively on tourist sites and the like because, well, my blog is about Asian food I like and not Asian food I find reasonably edible within walking distance of X. Therefore, as you can see on this guide, there will be less emphasis on the twisty turns of Lombard Street or more on the delicious dumplings of the Richmond. Of course, I’ll still reference some landmarks in the guide but it’ll be more in context of the proximity to food. So without further ado (and the map)…

Chinatown/Embarcadero/Union Square
(or what to eat after riding the cable car)

Among the top tourist attractions in the city by the bay are the cable cars and Fisherman’s Wharf. While most locals turn up their noses at the thought of being caught at either, I can see why a tourist would want to experience them, if only once. The bad news is there aren’t any good Asian bites to eat at Fisherman’s Wharf (you should be getting some clam chowder or cioppino anyway), but the good news is there’s another tourist loving area close by that has an abundance: Chinatown.

Chinatown, of course, can be confusing so here are my recommendations:

Three Treasure Bao Zai Fan at China Live

Three Treasure Bao Zai Fan at China Live

  • Golden Gate Bakery (assuming they are open) for arguably the most delicious egg custard tarts in the Bay Area
  • Golden Gate Fortune Cookie if you want to see how fortune cookies are made AND get some free samples
  • Lai Hong Lounge for good dim sum in a neighborhood filled with mediocre dim sum
  • China Live for yuppie, pricey, but also tasty, Chinese food
  • Mister Jiu’s for pricier Chinese food, but worthy of its one Michelin star

But maybe you’re resting your feet by the Ferry Building and don’t want to take the hike up to Chinatown? No fear, the Slanted Door has some great, if fancy, Vietnamese for you.

Or maybe your hotel is by Union Square and you just want some food after a little r&r at the hotel or retail therapy. Well, you can definitely dip your chopsticks into some hot pot at Little Sheep; get some Michelin Star, reasonably priced Thai at Kin Khao; or get some grade A boba at Boba Guys.

SoMa & South Beach
(or what to eat after SFMOMA)

Maybe you are here for a tech conference like Dreamforce or had a visit to San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art and need some delicious Asian food to fill your stomach.  No fear, as you are in luck! Here are a few of my recommendations in the neighborhood:

Dim Sum at Yank Sing

Dim Sum at Yank Sing

  • Yank Sing for some spendy, but pretty good, dim sum still delivered on carts
  • Tin for no fuss, but good, Vietnamese food.
  • Sorabal (Korean) and Inay Filipino Kitchen (Filipino) for spot on scrumptiousness in a mall-like food court

Little Saigon & the Tenderloin
(or what to eat for Pride or pre-theatre)

Are you in town for San Francisco Pride or Folsom Street Festival? (If you are, a very warm welcome to you!) Or maybe you’re a local just looking for a little grub before seeing a show at Bill Graham or watch a musical at the Orpheum? Well you are in luck because you are very close to some of San Francisco’s best Vietnamese and Thai food. Here are my selections for this much underappreciated part of San Francisco:

  • Turtle Tower for absolutely delicious northern style Vietnamese food (get the pho and the bun thang)
  • Them Ky for great Vietnamese Chinese food, especially noodle soups like the wonton noodle soup
  • Rose Kitchen, a new restaurant that does solid Vietnamese style Chinese food like the salt and pepper pork chops
  • Sai Jai Thai for a hole-ish in the wall Thai restaurant with all around great food

Perhaps you’re at a theatre closer to Union Square like the Curran and the American Consevatory Theatre. Well, you’re not far from a number of delicious places in the so-called “Tendernob” area:

  • 707 Sutter for some great, non-barbecue, Korean food
  • Kim Thanh for Vietnamese Chinese seafood dishes like salt and pepper shrimp, crab, and even geoduck
  • Joy’s Place for a lovely, cozy Korean owned coffee shop

Castro & the Mission
(or what to eat after an afternoon in Dolores)

Among the taquerias that (weirdly) sell burritos and yuppie brunch places, one wouldn’t think there’s too much Asian food to eat if you’re doing a mural walk or grabbing a bite after a lovely afternoon at Dolores Park, but have no fear as you can munch at these fine establishments:

  • Namu Gaji – Right next to Dolores Park is this Korean fusion place that has a pretty delicious stone pot and gamja fries
  • Ushio Ramen for a solid bowl of ramen, especially the black garlic ramen
  • Yamo for homestyle Burmese food cooked in a tiny kitchen that served Burmese food before it was hip (I recommend the chicken coconut curry noodle soup)
  • Burma Love for more modern/current Burmese food with nicer settings (recommend the tea leaf and rainbow salads)

In the Castro there are less options, but still a few after an afternoon exploring the neighborhood or watching a movie at the Castro Theatre:

  • Mama Jis – a few blocks from the main strip in the Castro is a nice, easily accessible place to get dim sum in the day and Sichuan food at night
  • Me & Tasty – The dinner menu at this place provides solid takes on Thai food
  • Qualitea – Newly opened, delicious place for boba or for some fruit spritzers & slushies

The Richmond
(or where to eat for the best dim sum)

Further afield on the west side of town is where you can find the best Chinese in town. And while the Richmond is a little bit aways from the core tourist areas, there’s enough to also do here like looking at art at the Legion of Honor or soaking in the view of the Pacific at Lands End. Just before to eat at one of these places before or after your adventures:

Juicy Pork Xiao Long Bao at Dragon Beaux

Juicy Pork Xiao Long Bao at Dragon Beaux

  • Dragon Beaux – for the best dim sum in SF (and arguably still in the US). Must gets include the set of 5 soup dumpling and the rose rice noodles roll. Come for hot pot at dinner as well.
  • Hong Kong Lounge II – the second best dim sum in town also has very solidly executed classic Cantonese dishes for dinner
  • Boiling Hot Pot – for those cold, foggy nights in San Francisco, Boiling Hot Pot’s hot pot will make you filled and warm

The Sunset
(or where to eat with all the Chinese folk)

There are even fewer tourist areas by the Sunset, but a hop, skip, and a jump from most of Golden Gate Park are the Chinese dominated strips of inner and outer Sunsets on Irving Street. So if you’re hangry for a bite after a day at the deYoung or Academy of Sciences, I recommend:

Dry Fried Chicken Wings at San Tung

Dry Fried Chicken Wings at San Tung

  • Lime Tree – for one of the few Malaysian/Indonesian places left in the city or East Bay
  • Kogi Gogi – for delicious Korean BBQ that’s about as good as you can get in the city
  • San Tung – for Chinese food that is geared a little more toward American tastes, but still amazing for their dry fried chicken wings
  • IPOT – for soothing, all you can eat hot pot during a cold summer or winter night in the city.

And further south on Taraval where both Dumpling Kitchen and Kingdom of Dumpling are known for their solid renditions of soup dumplings.

There you have it: Sinoinsocal’s guide to San Francisco. Any tips, suggestions, or feedback can be posted in the comments and hope folks will like these places as much as I do.

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Disney World Asian Food

First, I should note that I was not deliberately seeking out Asian food on my trip to Walt Disney World with my family. I know some of my readers may find it hard to believe, but I would have been perfectly content with Fish and Chips from the UK Pavilion at EPCOT and multiple servings of hash browns at the closest Waffle House (which I, in fact, did do for my first meal).

That said, my siblings were fully invested in tasting this Disney World food bucket list which included a number of Asian items. As I am game for trying any type of food, I happily went along and ended up having enough content for a blog post.

As a caveat, this post is really limited to EPCOT and Animal Kingdom. I personally avoided Magic Kingdom (which is essentially a larger Disneyland) as much as I could and had no time to eat at Hollywood Studios. So with that noted…

EPCOT

My first day at Walt Disney World this trip was spent entirely at EPCOT, which is also my favorite Disney theme park. I could probably just spend a whole day at the World Showcase part of EPCOT and still not be bored. 

As noted above, for lunch I had actually wanted to go eat fish and chips at the United Kingdom pavilion but my sister vehemently disliked the proposal. We found the French options to be fairly pricey so we scooted along to Morocco. Since I wasn’t in the mood for Moroccan food we ended up compromising by eating at Japan pavilion’s Katsura Grill.

Spicy Seafood Ramen at Katsura Grill

Spicy Seafood Ramen at Katsura Grill

Katsura Grill is Japan pavilion’s fast casual eatery with a number of items including bento boxes, ramen, udon, sushi rolls, and appetizers. My sister ordered a bento box while I decided to go with the ramen. I got the Spicy Seafood Ramen which was served with a lightly spicy seafood broth. The shrimp were cooked decently, though I didn’t taste that much garlic while the broth was a bit lighter than I hoped for. The ramen noodles were cooked decently but all in all the dish could be described as solidly average. I did try some of my sister’s Chicken Teriyaki Bento which was pretty decent with chicken that was cooked well and had a good amount of sauce without overpowering the chicken. All in all Katsura Grill was basically a Disney-fied version of mall food court Japanese food.

After lunch we strolled along to the other pavilions, stopping to get our EPCOT passports stamped at the US, Italy, and Germany pavilions before swinging by the China pavilion. We took a small break by the koi ponds at the China pavilion where I took the opportunity to go to Joy of Tea, the drink stand of the pavilion. Over there they had a Lychee Iced Tea that was super refreshing and perfectly sweetened with lychee syrup. I would highly recommend buying a cup of the tea for a nice stroll around EPCOT on a hot, sunny day. Honestly, the tea tasted as good as some of my favorite bubble tea places and I’m glad my sister-in-law found the place.

Animal Kingdom

After our first day of food at EPCOT my sister and sister-in-law texted me that they wanted to try a couple items the next day at Animal Kingdom. After doing some quick research I found out that both of those items could be found at Yak and Yeti, Animal Kingdom’s Asia area full service sit down restaurant. I quickly made a reservation for 5 for 2PM on Disney World’s app, which allowed my sister and I to wait and take a ride at Pandora’s Flight of Passage.

We arrived a little bit early for our reservation but nonetheless was seated in about 15-20 minutes. The decor is what I would describe as a fascinating “attempt” at something Nepalese or Bhutanese but with some Southeast Asian motifs. That aside, we settled into our rather large table and ordered the following:

Ahi Tuna Nachos at Yak & Yeti

Ahi Tuna Nachos at Yak & Yeti

  • Ahi Tuna Nachos – My sister-in-law’s pick was a heaping mound of nachos with marinated ahi tuna and some Asian style slaw. While it might have been a shareable “meant for 2” it certainly fed a lot more. I personally don’t like tuna very much but I did enjoy the dish and I found the crunchiness of both the nacho chips and the lettuce greens to work very well with the wasabi aioli. I would definitely order again
  • Dim Sum Basket – The dim sum basket had a couple of each item, some were hit and some were miss. The hits included the cha siu bao and the pork potstickers, both steamed really well with flavorful fillings. The shrimp dumplings and siu mai were a bit of a miss though and didn’t come near decent quality for them, even if I did admire their attempts at a thin dumpling skin.
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Korean BBQ Short Ribs and Dim Sum Basket at Yak & Yeti

  • Korean BBQ Short Ribs – We added an additional half order of the ribs and the regular rib order was definitely large enough for 2 people. The ribs themselves were pretty good, with meat falling off the bone and a sauce that combined traditional barbecue sauce elements with a hint of gochujang (a Korean hot sauce). The shoestring fries were perfect and the slaw helped cut a bit of the richness of the meat. Like the nachos, I would order these again.
  • Chicken Fried Rice – The fried rice wasn’t anything to write home about, but was pretty solid and was a nice filler and way to sop some of the sauce in the nachos and ribs.
  • Garlic Noodles – The garlic noodles were perfectly cooked with a decent amount of sauce, though could have used a little more garlic. We honestly ordered this as a cheaper filler item instead any of the lo mein options and while this was fine, an order of lo mein probably would have been better.

Honestly the portions of food at Yak & Yeti are such that we could have done without one of the side items and still been pretty full. The food here was definitely better than EPCOT and a lot more innovative too. I almost went back to Pandora to take a bite of pineapple lumpia but my stomach was sufficiently stuffed after lunch.

All in all, the Asian food in Disney World is solid, if not spectacular. That said, very few people, including myself, really go to a Disney theme park for the food. But there’s enough quality food items at Disney World to also make some of the meals memorable, in addition to the rides and the overall ambience. That said, Disney could learn a lot from the kitchens at Universal’s Harry Potter worlds in terms of making food that is remarkably tasty but also reasonably priced. Hopefully with Disney’s theme park expansions, even better and more innovative food will be coming to a Star Wars or Toy Story land near you.

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Wu Chow, Austin

Wu Chow
500 W 5th St. #168
Austin, TX 78701

When someone goes to Austin meals are generally filled with breakfast tacos or Texas barbeque, especially beef brisket. While I definitely had plenty of breakfast tacos and BBQ on my recent work trip, of course I had to try what Austin is decidedly not known for: Asian food.

Because the vast majority of my trip was catered, I only had a couple of meals on my own to explore town. Given my access to a car was also fairly limited, I decided to see what options there were around downtown Austin. Fortunately for me, there was a well reviewed place within walking distance of my hotel that also served dim sum (but, sadly, I was not able to make it to dim sum).

So on a Friday night I walked a few blocks from my hotel to Wu Chow. While still busy around 9PM, it wasn’t too long to get a table. While I waited I scanned the decor, which I would describe as some sort of “upscale contemporary Asian motif” with dim lighting and lots of dark wood. It’s the type of decor that would have sent alarm bells on the price tag if I were in San Francisco, Los Angeles, or New York but the prices were comparatively reasonable.

When I sat down I ordered one of their mocktails and browsed the menu, which leaves heavily on Sichuan and Shanghainese flavors. While I would have loved to order more, having a limited stomach meant that I stuck to more “classic” dishes to give a little better judgement and comparison of the food. I ended up settling on the following:

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Shanghai Soup Dumplings at Wuchow

  • Shanghai Soup Dumplings (小籠包) – In reviews, the soup dumplings came up many times as one of the noteworthy dishes. The dumplings did not disappoint, coming out freshly steamed with deliciously rich soup and tender, well seasoned pork meatballs inside. The dumpling skins were a little thick but tore just right so they were perfect to bit into. Would definitely recommend.
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Dry Fried Local Green Beans

  • Dry Fried Local Green Beans (乾煸四季豆) – This version of the classic was simple and the “wok hei” came out very well, giving that perfectly stir fried snap a good version of this dish is known for. It could have used a bit more spice to help flavor the dish but otherwise it was simply delicious.
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Mapo Doufu with Minced Pork

  • Mapo Dofu with Minced Pork (麻婆豆腐) – The interesting part of this dish is that instead of chunks or cubes of tofu, it was like a shallow dish of steamed silken tofu with simmer mapo sauce on top. Once I got used to the different style, the tofu and the sauce blended well. I think it could have used a little more Sichuan peppercorns and bean paste to kick up the spiciness but all in all it was solid.

At about $11-15 per entree item, the food was a bargain too in terms of prices I was used to (albeit I admit this could be considered moderately pricey for an Austin resident). But regardless of the price, the dishes are great and on par with what you can find in a larger coastal city with more Chinese residents. If you’re looking for a culinary detour after eating enough breakfast tacos and BBQ, I would certainly recommend trying a taste of Wu Chow when you’re in Austin.

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No Car, No Problem? #BARTable Asian Food Part 3

Part 3 of this series takes us to admittedly the hardest, and generally most consistently evolving, BARTable area in terms of surveying the Asian food landscape. Why? Because it takes us to the heart of downtown San Francisco where a number of San Francisco Asian retail and culinary districts are located and the landscape of food in the area is ever evolving. Part of my hesitance to finish this part of the series is on how fast everything changes but I just realized that I can’t be paralyzed by the constantly evolving landscape, otherwise I’d never finish this post and move on to the next post, my stomping grounds in Oakland.

So here we go, a BART station by station guide to downtown San Francisco as of March 2018.

Civic Center Station

Civic Center and the Tenderloin is home to San Francisco’s Little Saigon, a community of Vietnamese immigrants that started springing up in the 1970s and 1980s as refugees from the Vietnam War and its aftermath immigrated here. Over the past few decades the strip of Larkin Street in the Tenderloin has been a center of Vietnamese businesses in the city. As such, you’ll find wonderful places to taste Vietnamese cuisine such as the Vietnamese Chinese style wonton noodle soup at Hai Ky Mi Gia and neighboring Them Ky. You can get Southern Vietnamese style pho at Pho 2000 and Northern Vietnamese pho and other items at Turtle Tower. Banh Mi chain Lee’s Sandwiches also has a location on this stretch of Larkin between Eddy and O’Farrell.

While Vietnamese cuisine has been in the Tenderloin for decades, that last ten years has seen a wave of Thai cuisine in the neighborhood. This includes an outpost of the swanky-ish Ler Ros and the more mom and pop San Jai Thai. If you want Northern style Thai with some fantastic Lao specialities, there’s Tycoon Thai.

Powell Station

Pad Kee Mao at Kin Khao

Pad Kee Mao at Kin Khao

Powell Street Station is the stop for Union Square, the central shopping hub of the city and the area with an endless array of hotels catering to the millions of (mostly well to do) tourists that travel to the city. As such, I generally don’t recommend any Asian restaurant around Union Square and the parts of SoMa near Powell.

However, there are a few bright spots. Northeast of the station, slightly removed from the tourist and shopping hubbub, are a few solid choices. Among them include Chinese hot pot chain Little Sheep, delicious ramen shop Mensho Tokyo, Korean restaurant 707 Sutter, hole in the wall Filipino diner Tselogs, and Vietnamese Chinese seafood restaurant Kim Thanh.

Right by the BART station in the heart of the hustle and bustle are some good options, especially if your wallet is a little more hefty. Michelin starred Kin Khao serves terrific Thai food (their tasting menu, though pricy, is absolutely worth it) and Hakkasan serves solidly refined Cantonese cuisine. And not to be remiss is Tin, a good Vietnamese restaurant in SoMa.

Montgomery Station

Three Treasure Bao Zai Fan at China Live

Three Treasure Bao Zai Fan at China Live

Montgomery Station drops you off in San Francisco’s Financial District. While there are are a few gems during the lunchtime rush like Señor Sisig‘s regular food truck locations on 2nd Street and Pine Street, it’s a rather barren place as a whole for quality Asian food.

However, Montgomery Street is the closest BART station to San Francisco Chinatown. While the hike to Chinatown is generally uphill and requires at least a 10-15 minute walk from the BART station, most places in the neighborhood aren’t too far to be considered unwalkable. Closer to the BART station on the flatter Kearny Street you can find such restaurants as vaunted Cantonese seafood place R&G Lounge, Taiwanese tea and food experts Hanlin Tea Room, and Sichuanese noodle specialist Chong Qing Xiao Mian. 

Further up the hill include upscale Eataly styled restaurant/food emporium China Live and a number of longstanding Cantonese places. These include Kam Po, a delicious purveyor of Cantonese BBQ, and Lai Hong Lounge, a dim sum and Chinese seafood restaurant.

Embarcadero Station

Wood Oven Roasted Branzino at the Slanted Door

Wood Oven Roasted Branzino at the Slanted Door

And finally at the eastern end of San Francisco before BART heads through the Transbay Tube is Embarcadero Station. Like Montgomery Station there isn’t a plethora of Asian food around it, as expense account new American and European influenced restaurants are generally the norm. A couple bright spots do exist though (and both are also fairly pricey): Yank Sing, a solid purveyor of dim sum with 2 locations, and The Slanted Door, a Vietnamese restaurant that may not live to its previous heights but still serves well executed food.

Downtown San Francisco, overall, has a great volume of Asian restaurants though finding a good one can be like finding a needle in a haystack.  Hopefully this guide can help cut across the clutter and won’t be dated too soon. 

I can’t wait until the next part of this series though, as I head across the bay to my hometown of Oakland.

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Sheng Hui Dim Sum, West Covina

Sheng Hui Dim Sum
2889 E. Valley Blvd Ste J
West Covina, CA 91752

West Covina is probably most known as the setting for the acclaimed (and hilarious) TV show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend or ,to many San Gabriel Valley locals, as the town with the mall. While it is a fairly diverse city, one thing it isn’t known for is dim sum. Dim sum lovers in LA can rattle off a number of beloved dim sum seafood palaces in Monterey Park, Alhambra, Rosemead, Rowland Heights, San Gabriel, and even Temple City but West Covina, sandwiched in between the Chinese enclaves in the West San Gabriel Valley (i.e. Monterey Park) and the East San Gabriel Valley (i.e. Walnut), is conspicuously left out of the mix.

But now West Covina may have a legitimate dim sum contender amongst the fiercely competitive scene in the San Gabriel Valley. Sheng Hui Dim Sum opened in December and this West Covina dim sum joint already has garnered favorable reviews in foodie forums and by “celebrity diner” David Chan. Though to be fair, the part of West Covina it’s in is on a part of Valley Boulevard that’s practically Walnut or nearby Rowland Heights. In fact, the closest freeway exit is Nogales Road off state route 60, the same exit you would take to shop at the Rowland Heights 99 Ranch Market.

Nonetheless, I took my Chinese New Year trip down to SoCal as an opportunity to taste how Sheng Hui stacks up to the more famous places in the more established communities of the 626. I came around 1PM on Presidents’ Day and there was a small line. Sheng Hui is in a very small space and, thus, ordering can be a bit confusing. There is seating, but only about four 2-top and one 4-top tables and you’ll have to wait until they are clear. Otherwise you can order to go, as most people do. If you do wait for a seat you can either fill out the order tick sheet beforehand and wait or wait to sit down and then fill it out. I opted to do the former to save myself time once I sat. I ordered the following, though by the time I sat down around 1:30PM a couple items I wanted were sold out.

Steamed Shrimp Dumplings at Sheng Hui

Steamed Shrimp Dumplings at Sheng Hui

  • Steamed Shrimp Dumpling 鮮味蝦餃皇 – These were pretty good with wrappers that were dextrous and not too thick. The shrimp filling was decent as well with chunks of shrimp mixed with bamboo shoots for texture and a dash of salt and pepper. I’d say a solid 8 out of 10 for a shrimp dumpling.
Roe Shrimp Shui Mai at Sheng Hui

Roe Shrimp Shui Mai at Sheng Hui

  • Roe Shrimp Shui Mai 魚子蝦燒賣 – Honestly these were some of the best shui mai I have had outside of Hong Kong (and heck, better than some I’ve had in Hong Kong). The pork and shrimp were moist and tender with perfect amounts of seasoning. What’s most significant though is that they put fresh roe on top on the shui mai after they’ve steamed to perfection. Honestly that is what makes the difference. Most dim sum places cook it with the roe, practically destroying the flavor of the roe, but over here you can taste both the succulent meat filling and the delicate flavors of the fish roe on top, all for $3.18.
  • Sticky Rice Chicken Wrapped 荷香糯米雞– They were actually sold out of what I wanted, the steamed spareribs rice, but this was a solid consolation. There were two jumbo sized packets of chicken in sticky rice. I like how the flavor of the sticky rice wasn’t too overpowered from the juices of the meat and sauces. However the meat was only so so and the dish was decent but not anything wow-ing.
  • Choy Sum Fried with Garlic 蒜香炒菜心 – This was a hearty plate of choy sum that was well worth the $5.99 paid for it. The choy sum was fresh and the garlic gave the dish a simple, yet flavorful, aroma. I wish there was slightly less oil but that’s just quibbling.
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Coconut Little White Rabbit at Sheng Hui

  • Coconut Little White Rabbit 椰絲小白兔 – Dessert was basically these cute little marshmallow shaped rabbits with dusting of coconut shavings. While they seem rather incongruous with dim sum, they tasted pretty good! If only there were some chocolate and graham crackers to go with it for some s’mores.

The verdict? Sheng Hui is pretty good with some of the best classic dim sum dishes in the San Gabriel Valley (and therefore the entire nation). I love that the dishes are steamed very fresh and there’s high turnover which means little to no items are oversteamed. I do like that they also have some creative items too in addition to the classics. But above all, I love that they do the classics right. I hope these small mom and pop business puts West Covina on the map as another San Gabriel Valley dim sum destination.

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Boba/Milk Tea Trends

(Lunar) New Year, new me, I suppose. On Friday, the first day of the lunar new year for Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, and other Asian communities, I decided to take my first sip of the trend that swept through China and landed on our American shores in the past year or two: salted cheese cream.

Yes, I know what you might think. Salted cheese foam/cream on tea, even bubble tea? What is going on? That just sounds downright nasty. And honestly, I get it. For about a year I was skeptical and to bring myself to combine cheese with milk tea or even regular green tea sounded as distant a possibility as Adam Rippon going back into the straight and narrow closet. However, for the sake of this blog and for my desire to try most Asian related food items, it was time to give it a go just once.

So on Friday I drove to the Gardena location of Happy Lemon, a Chinese milk tea chain that has rapidly expanded in North America and helped driven the popularity of salted cheese foam drinks in American communities with many Chinese residents. Locations of the chain can be found in Chinese American enclaves like Flushing, Monterey Park, Cupertino, and Berkeley. (Of course there are many other locations that serve salted cheese tea, including in places with less concentrations of Chinese folk)

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Salted Cheese Tea Drinks at Happy Lemon

When I stepped to the counter I asked the friendly cashier what would be the best drink for my first time. She suggested the salted cheese green tea, which I ordered. I was also intrigued by the milk tea with tiramisu cream cheese so I ordered that as well. Within minutes I got my drinks and promptly did a little taste testing:

  • Salted Cheese Green Tea – This “classic” salted cheese drink (which is generally one of the simplest versions too) combines a moderate layer of salted cheese foam on top with sweetened ice green tea below. In general you should tilt the drink at an angle of at least 45 degrees to allow some of the tea and the cheese foam to mix and enter your mouth. The cheese foam was actually not bad. In it’s defense, it’s kind of a misnomer because it’s basically whipped/foamy cream cheese with a little salt in it. It blended reasonably well with the green tea, allowing the saltiness and the umami flavor of the foam to accent the sweetness of the tea. Not bad, but not really my favorite.
  • Milk Tea with Oreo and Tiramisu Salted Cheese – Next I tried a drink with tiramisu salted cheese. I liked the tiramisu salted cheese better mainly because I also like the tiramisu flavor with gives a bit of sweetness and slight coffee taste to the salted cheese foam. With the milk tea, it was nice if a tad sweet. The Oreo topping did add a nice amount of crunch but added to the sweetness overload. Though given that I was in a sweet dessert/Starbucks-like drink kind of mode, it was definitely perfect for the moment.

All in all, despite the English name, the salted cheese tea drinks really aren’t bad. Are they good and word trying I guess really depends if you like creamy, slightly salted foam to go with your drinks. They certainly pair well with certain drinks (I hear the pairing with black tea is actually pretty good), but it’s not something I would necessarily crave. I would definitely try it out and taste for yourself. If you don’t like it, you never have to taste it again and there are plenty of non-salted drinks at these places that you’ll have options even if your friends are obsessed with it.

 

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