Hawking Bird, Oakland

Hawking Bird
4901 Telegraph Ave
Oakland, CA 94609

A lot of Oaklanders were disheartened when James Syhabout’s acclaimed Hawker Fare in Oakland’s uptown area closed earlier this year to make way for more luxury condos and apartments. While you could go to his 2 Michelin star restaurant, Commis, on Piedmont Ave or venture to San Francisco’s Mission District to the remaining outpost of Hawker Fare, East Bay residents yearning for Syhabout’s taste for Northern Thai were waiting for a huge hole to be filled. Fortunately, Syhabout decided to create a fast casual concept called Hawking Bird focusing on Thai style poached and fried chicken.

Hawking Bird opened on Thursday, when, coincidentally enough, I was doing some research to see where my friends should eat for lunch on Saturday. Given the rave reviews of the Khao Mun Gai (Thai version of Hainanese Chinese Rice) at Hawker Fare, I was excited to try it out and it happened to be a short-ish walk from my house.

We met up a little after 12:30PM. There were still a good number of seats and tables available so I sat down and reserved a table for us. When my friends came over, we took a look at the menu quickly and stood in line to order. A few minutes later, our buzzers rang and we picked up our food at the pick up counter near the kitchen. We ordered the following:

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KMG at Hawking Bird

  • KMG – Hawking Bird’s version of khao mun gai is flavorful with chicken poached just to doneness (though a friend of mine who also ordered the dish feared it may have not been quite cooked through). The meat was tender and the subtle flavor helped the sauce shine through and meld perfectly. The rice itself had the flavor of the poached chicken broth that allowed it to be aromatic without being too rich and fatty. Overall, a pretty good rendition of the dish.
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The Hawking Bird with Garlic Noodles

  • The Hawking Bird, Boxed – 2 of my friends got the hawking bird, one with the rice cooked with chicken fat and the other with the garlic noodles. The difference between the hawking bird and the KMG, as you can see in the pictures, is that the hawking bird itself is fried with a spicy jam-like sauce on top. The chicken was fried perfectly and the jam gave it a slightly sweet and perfectly spicy kick to it. It melded well with the rice but the garlic noodles were even better. The garlic noodles were made with perfectly cooked wheat noodles that had a nice kick of garlic and a very savory soy-based sauce. My one slight quibble with it was that when I ate part of my friend’s leftovers, the sauce of the garlic noodles and the jam of the hawking bird could meld into a concoction that’s a tad bit salty. But otherwise, you can’t go wrong with either dish.
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Tum Style Spicy Picked Vegetables at Hawking Bird

  • Tum Style Spicy Vegetable Pickles – The vegetables included in the pickles were carrots, onions, and green beans. I liked the pickles in that it provided a nice slightly sour kick that helped cut the richness in the other bites of food I was eating. While there was a nice amount of fish sauce, unfortunately I didn’t feel it was very spicy so those who are excited about the “spicy” part of the name are warned before getting disappointed.
  • Fried Tater Tots – The tater tots were pretty good, though I think they could have been fried just a slight bit longer. The seasoning was nice and light and my friends and I surmised that the seasoning is a mixture of seaweed powder, salt, and pepper. It was definitely a hit amongst the table.

All in all I really loved the Hawking Bird and think it’s a good addition to Temescal, providing good food at reasonable prices in a fast casual style. They are still open for limited hours until they get a liquor license for the bar and everything else up and running. However, if you manage to be in the Temescal area for lunch, I definitely recommend taking a bite at Hawking Bird.

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Singapore Continued: Char Kway Teow and Kaya Toast

While my previous post may have suggested that all my meals in Singapore were just plates of chicken rice, that wasn’t quite the case. As iconic as chicken rice is, there is far more to Singaporean cuisine with its rich culinary history blending the cuisines of its predominantly Malay, Chinese, and Indian populations. So in addition to chicken rice, I definitely ate a few plates of 2 other celebrated dishes in Singapore: kaya toast and char kway teow.

Kaya Toast

Kaya toast is a fairly typical breakfast in Singapore, though in many places it’s available all day long, usually with a cup of kopi (coffee) or teh (milk tea). Kaya toast is made of bread that is slathered with kaya jam (made of coconut milk, pandan leaf, eggs, and sugar) and butter. It’s traditional to also dip the pieces of toast into a bowl of soft poached egg to provide a bite that is simultaneously sweet and crunchy but also savory and gooey. And while I was in Singapore, I had the privilege to taste a few different versions of kaya toast at the following places:

五十年代 (Chinatown Complex Stall 02-048) – Tucked in the labyrinth of the Chinatown Complex is this “1950’s” style stall serving kopi and kaya toast. Being a fan of milk tea, I decided to get the tea and kaya toast. The tea was very nice with a good balance of strong tea flavor and creaminess of the condensed milk. I still prefer the very similar Hong Kong style milk tea, but it is very similar. As for the kaya toast, it was simple but heavenly. The kaya jam was slathered evenly and the butter melted through to create a very rich, sweet taste the balanced nicely with the perfectly toasted bread.

Rasapura Masters (Marina Bay Sands) – Later that day after an afternoon at the Gardens by the Bay, my friend and I took advantage of the air conditioning at the Marina Bay Sands. We ventured to Rasapura Masters, a high end mall version of a “hawker center” (similar to a Food Republic). Seeing that I wasn’t that hungry, but wanted more caffeine, I went to the stall for kaya toast and ordered a set. As expected for a high end mall wannabe hawker center, it was not only the most expensive kaya toast, but also the least tasty. The kaya jam was less sweet and the bread was definitely soft and not toasted much, if at all. Worst of all, there was a thick slab of butter that was served too cold so it was just this thin solid slab of butter in the middle that made the flavor uneven.

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Ya Kun Kaya Toast (Bugis Junction) – On my last day of Singapore, my friend and I took a final pit stop at the well regarded Ya Kun chain. While I knew that it’s a franchise, this was probably in the middle of the two other kaya toasts in terms of quality (which may be due to poorer standards at this particular location). The bread was toasted, but not quite as warm and crunchy. This meant that while the jam was tasty, the butter didn’t quite melt all the way through meaning a very uneven flavor. The tea was pretty good though.

All in all, of the few places I tried,五十年代 was certainly the best.

Char Kway Teow

Aside from kaya toast, I also ate a couple examples of another classic Singaporean / Malay of Chinese descent dish: char kway teow. Char kway teow, for those unfamiliar, is a dish of flat rice noodles, chives, eggs, onions, garlic, dark soy sauce, and seafood (in the case of Singapore: cockles). While the rich seafood taste makes the taste fundamentally different, the dish’s basic aspects are similar to the Cantonese stir fried beef rice noodles. I’ve had the dish a couple of times in the United States, but was curious to see how a truly authentic version of this dish tasted. Even in my limited time, I was fortunate enough to try two versions of the dish:

 

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Tiong Bahru Fried Kway Teow (Tiong Bahru Food Centre Stall #02-11) – They literally serve only 1 dish at this stall and your choices is essentially whether you want the $3 SGD “small” plate or the $4 SGD larger plate. I opted for a small plate as it was my second bite of food that lunch after a plate of chicken rice. I waited about 10-15 minutes in line and got the nice plate you can see above. After sitting down, I basically inhaled the dish because it was just that good. The noodles and other ingredients had a nice “wok hey” being slightly crisp and not too oily. The cockles, while not being my favorite seafood, provided a nice chewy texture to balance the soft bites. The slivers of bean sprouts countered with a nice crunch and all of it together was heavenly.

Food Opera (Ion Orchard) – While Tiong Bahru’s char kway teow is simple and utilitarian, the one at Food Opera was a bit fancier. First, it’s lay atop a dried pandan leaf as if the days when pandan leaves were the dishware of choice was glamorous. Then it’s got a potpurri of various seafood items that make it seem more luxurious. In terms of flavor it’s got a little too much egg and doesn’t quite get that slightly charred wok hey as Tiong Bahru, but it’s still pretty solid.

And that’s a wrap for Singapore, by far the best city in the world in terms of value ratio of flavor to money spent.

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Chowing on Chicken Rice in Singapore

Hainanese Chicken Rice is considered the national dish of Singapore for good reason. You can find the dish anywhere, it’s cheap, and even the worst renditions you might find are still pretty tasty. And, of course, there is history behind the dish. While the dish is practically synonymous with Singapore, it does have roots in a style of chicken preparation from Hainan that was spread and then adapted when a substantial diaspora of Hainanese people immigrated to Singapore.

Given its vaunted status and my fondness for the dish, be it in Cantonese, Thai, or Malaysian form at restaurants in the US, I had to eat some chicken rice when I went on my recent vacation to Singapore. Thus, in just 3.25 ish total days in the Lion City I ate my way through 5 different chicken rice dishes. This is obviously just a small sampling of the amount of chicken rice available in the city-state, but enough that I can give a decent review on this blog and determine the best I have eaten (so far). 

So without further ado, here are the 5 different chicken rices I had in Singapore and my thoughts on them:

Chicken Rice at Lao Wang Chicken Rice

Chicken Rice at Lao Wang Chicken Rice

  • Lao Wang Chicken Rice (Chinatown Complex; stall 02-113) – First up was Lao Wang in the massive Chinatown Complex hawker centre. To be completely honest, I went to Chinatown Complex to try to get a taste of Liao Fan’s Michelin-starred soy sauce chicken. However, they were closed and thus I got to try my first plate of Hainanese chicken rice at Lao Wang. The rice was fragrant and full of the poached chicken stock while the chicken was tender and flavorful. However, the one thing that was off for me was the gelatinized fat underneath the skin that gave a slightly off taste and texture. While I understand it is procedure to bathe the chicken in ice after poaching (to presumably stop it from overcooking and separate the skin from the meat), the chicken was, perhaps, a little too chilled.
Chicken Rice at Tiong Bahru Boneless Chicken Rice

Chicken Rice at Hainanese Tiong Bahru Boneless Chicken Rice

  • Tiong Bahru Hainanese Boneless Chicken Rice (Tiong Bahru Plaza; stall 02-82) – Next was Tiong Bahru’s hawker centre (Tiong Bahru turned out to be my favorite neighborhood on the trip). I went to the Michelin Bib Gourmand recommended stall near the plaza entrance. The chicken was subtler in flavor and a little chewy, but I did like how it was light and not greasy. This, however, did lead to a less flavorful rice which was disappointing. All in all, it was pretty good and I could definitely see why Michelin recommended it, especially for $3.50 a plate. However, I hadn’t had the perfect chicken rice just yet…
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Chicken Rice at Tian Tian Chicken Rice

  • Tian Tian Chicken Rice (Maxwell Food Centre, stall 01-10/11) – After returning from a brief day trip in Hong Kong my friend and I went to the Maxwell Food Centre, homed to the famed Tian Tian Chicken Rice stall, listed as the best chicken rice in many, many chicken rice articles and recommendations. So I sauntered to the long line and waited 20 minutes until I got to the front of the stall and pay $5.50 SGD for my plate of chicken rice (by far my most expensive chicken rice, but I suppose they have to pay rent for two stalls). A couple minutes after paying, I received my tray of chicken rice and scurried to my table to eat it. I must admit, that first bite of rice was heavenly. The rice was so fragrant with the rice aroma of the chicken stock and a hint of garlic that I felt like my brain hit instant euphoria. However, I’ll also admit that the chicken itself was just okay. It was juicy and flavorful, but also a little bit chewy which perhaps meant being slightly overcooked. Though, in fairness, I’ll also add that their chilli dipping sauce was the best.
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Chicken Rice at Ah Tai Hainanese Chicken Rice

  • Ah Tai Hainanese Chicken Rice (Maxwell Food Centre, stall 01-07) – Not having enough chicken rice for lunch, I decided to make a beeline to Ah Tai Hainanese Chicken Rice, which was started by a former Tian Tian chef that was sacked a few years ago. While they did not have the precise chicken rice plate I wanted, I got the chicken rice set which seemed close enough. For $5 SGD you get a plate of rice on the side with chicken and veggies on a plate together than the chicken on top of the rice. And after eating a bite of the chicken, I knew I had found my chicken winner. It was tender and succulent, with the tanginess of the chicken fat gravy on top punching this extra level of umami that was just amazing. The rice wasn’t as flavorful as Tian Tian but it had just enough chicken flavor and fat that it was a pretty close second. The chilli sauce here was a little thicker and spicier than Tian Tian, so while it wasn’t as well balanced, it did give a nice heat to help enhance and cut a little of the saltiness.
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Chicken Rice on JAL

  • Japan Airlines Economy Class (SIN-HND on JL 36) – On my flight back home via Tokyo I got a surprise extra meal of chicken rice as part of Japan Airlines’ celebration of 40 years of service to Singapore. While the chicken was pretty tender and juicy, suffice to say that it paled in comparison to most of the chicken rice I had in Singapore. The rice definitely wasn’t as flavorful and you didn’t quite get that tender skin and fat that you would get on the ground. Nonetheless, it was fairly excellent for airplane food so I’ll still give Japan Airlines A+ for effort and execution.

All in all my favorite chicken rice goes to Ah Tai Hainanese Chicken Rice. Honestly the most ideal is to get the rice and chilli sauce at Tian Tian and walk over to Ah Tai for their chicken and broth. That said, it’s a bit of a hassle to do that given the possible waits at both stalls. So when push comes to shove I would chose Ah Tai. While the rice itself might be the most important factor of the dish, Ah Tai’s overall marks with its tender chicken and decent rice barely nudge it on top of Tian Tian.

That said, I have not nearly tried enough chicken rice in Singapore so I look forward to more meals of the renown dish the next time in back. Perhaps after the next trip I’ll be just as opinionated about chicken rice in Singapore as I am of dim sum in Hong Kong.

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Fung Fung Yuen, San Diego

Fung Fung Yuen
10660 Camino Ruiz
San Diego, CA 92126

When I saw that the old Home Town Buffet my family used to go to (a bit) was turning to giant Chinese restaurant complete with dim sum, I was naturally curious. After all, if I could spend 10-15 minutes driving to dim sum from my parent’s house instead of 15-20 to one of the places in Kearny Mesa, I was all for it. However, I was also skeptical of such a large Chinese restaurant succeeding in Mira Mesa given that Silver Ark in a nearby (albeit less trafficked) strip mall closed after operating for just a few years, despite a reasonably large Chinese and Chinese of Vietnamese descent community within a short-ish driving distance.

Nonetheless, I had to go and took the opportunity to this Saturday on my quick trip to Southern California before my trip to Singapore. One of my really close friends happily agreed to go visit the restaurant too and off we went.

We arrived a little after 7PM and it was fairly easy to get a table. In fact, the restaurant was probably about 60% full. I was surprised they served dim sum at night as well, but it was a perfect way to sample dim sum items as well as a cooked to order entree dish. The dim sum came on carts (much to my disappointment) and, interestingly enough, they gave you a red and green painted cylindrical wooden block like you would get at a Brazilian steakhouse in the US. Green side up and the carts kept coming, red side up and it was a signal you were done (at least temporarily). So as our block continued to be green, we ate the following:

Beef Short Ribs and Sticky Rice at Fung Fung Yuen

Beef Short Ribs and Sticky Rice at Fung Fung Yuen

  • Beef Short Ribs w/ Black Bean Sauce (黑椒特級牛仔骨) – Our first item was probably the worst item we got. The beef short ribs (as you can kind of tell) looks sad. While the temperature was okay, the beef was overcooked, the sauce too oily, and the tendon a bit gristly. It’s probably one of the worst versions of this dish I have had
  • Sticky Rice Wrap (金沙瑤柱珍珠雞) – Luckily the next item, the sticky rice with chicken, was fairly good. The rice was sticky and moist and the filling had tender chicken, mushrooms, and pork sausage.
  • Soy Sauce Chow Mein – The chow mein was okay. The noodles were stir fried decently, if slightly a little oily. My main issue was the slight unevenness of the stir frying as some parts got a very nice mix of green onions, soy sauce, and noodles and other parts were practically sauceless.
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Beef Ball and Chow Mein at Fung Fung Yuen

  • Beef Ball (陳皮沖菜蒸牛肉丸) – The beef balls were fairly good, filled with some peas and water chestnuts. They were pretty moist and decent tasting. I was a little sad they didn’t drizzle wocestershire sauce on it like other places, but it was fine.
  • Chicken Spring Rolls (脆皮春卷) – While lukewarm (as it had been sitting on the cart), these were fairly good with a crunchy shell and a meaty filling that was decently seasoned with ground chicken and shredded mushrooms.
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Salt and Pepper pork chops at Fung Fung Yuen

  • Salt & Pepper Pork Chop (椒鹽肉排) – There non-dim sum menu is a bit spartan, but that may be to their blessing as this was probably one of the best versions of this pork chop dish I’ve had. The batter was thick enough but not too overpowering and fried just right to be crunchy without being too oily. The pork itself was fairly moist and the peppers they used to fry it with were perfectly cooked. This was by far the best dish of the night for me.

While some of the reviews (both on Yelp and other blogs) have complained about cold to lukewarm food, I didn’t have much of an issue with that. Also, it looks like they have fixed the kinks with amount of carts. They now have about 5 carts that do seem to circulate relatively frequently and do keep the food warm. That said, much of the dim sum does suffer because the items are kept in the steamers for quite a while, leaving many items to be overcooked.

All in all, I was a little disappointed that Fung Fung Yuen didn’t seem to be the new game changer needed to help elevate the ho hum quality of dim sum in San Diego. That said, there is promise in the cook to order dishes from the kitchen and it is nice to finally have dim sum a bit closer to home. It’s a decent option for dim sum desiring folks that live in North County close to Mira Mesa, but it’s definitely not a place worth going out of the way for yet, though it looks like they are improving.

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Ten Places to Taste Hong Kong in North America

It was 5 years ago this weekend that my mom passed away. While there were a number of delicious foods and restaurants she introduced my siblings and me to, the one that stood out the most in our memories were the cha chaan tengs (茶餐廳), also known as a Hong Kong style cafes. In fact, to this day my brother wistfully remembers the times and food we had at a now-closed cha chaan teng near the college he attended. So while I love all the dim sum, Korean BBQ, and pho we had, our meals at cha chaan tengs are what I miss the most.

And arguably, I think it’s the best type of restaurant to experience the culture and food of Hong Kong. Sure, dim sum is delicious, seafood palaces are sumptuous, and Cantonese BBQ purveyors deliver morsels of lip-smacking goodness, but nothing represents the East meets West, fast paced lifestyle that is quintessentially Hong Kong like a cha chaan teng.

After all, cha chaan tengs are essentially Hong Kong’s version of a diner, and honestly what is a more quintessential American restaurant than a diner? Like a diner, cha chaan tengs may not have the best food, but the food is reliable and comfortable. And of course, they are ubiquitous in Hong Kong. A block could have a few cha chaan tengs, all doing brisk business with lines waiting for a seat.

Thus, here’s a guide to ten decent cha chaan tengs where you can sip a good cup of Hong Kong style milk tea, eat a steak with black pepper sauce and rice, and take a bite of a pineapple bun across North America (restaurants sorted by metro area by state/province. There are other metros with decent cha chaan tengs, this is just a selection):

Vancouver/Richmond, BC

Cafe Gloucester (3338 Cambie St, Vancouver) – Not the most glamorous cha chaan teng (though most are rarely glamorous), but they serve reasonably good takes on classic Hong Kong diner dishes with larger portions and reasonable prices. I loved their Hong Kong style Russian borscht in particular.

Silver Tower Cafe Restaurant (100-8500 Alexandra Road, Richmond) – There are a few cha chaan tengs in this couple block stretch of Alexandra Road in Richmond alone, but I find Silver Tower Cafe to be one of the better ones. Whether you want steak on top of a bed of french fries and peas or a bowl of beef brisket noodle soup, they have it all and almost everything I’ve had there in the couple times I’ve been have been very satisfying. Best of all for a traveler, it’s just relatively short walk from the Landsdowne Canada Line station.

Los Angeles, CA (inc. the San Gabriel Valley and Orange County)

JJ Cafe (447 Garvey Ave, Monterey Park) – One of the first popular cha chaan tengs in the San Gabriel Valley, JJ Cafe has been dishing out solid, if not spectacular food for a couple decades. The baked pork chop dishes and milk tea here are fairly representative of the east-west fusion you would find back in Hong Kong.

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Tasty Garden (288 W Valley Blvd, Alhambra; also in Irvine, Monterey Park, and Westminster) – This mini chain in SoCal executes almost all its dishes well. I prefer the Alhambra location for excellent execution of the Cantonese comfort dishes on the menu in addition to excellent Hong Kong milk tea and egg waffles done right (unlike at some other branches).

San Francisco Bay Area, CA

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Dumpling and wonton noodle soup at Cooking Papa

Cooking Papa (949A Edgewater Blvd, Foster City; also in Mountain View and Santa Clara) – Not a true cha chaan teng as they do not have the ubiquitous Hong Kong style western food that’s endemic and definitive of a cha chaan teng, but they do a solid serving of classic Cantonese food with pretty decent milk tea. Foster City used to be the standard to beat, but I’ve had better food at their Santa Clara location more recently.

Hong Kong Chef (46356 Warm Springs Blvd in Fremont) – I came here on a whim during the first day of service at the Warm Springs/South Fremont station and it didn’t disappoint. I really liked their preserved meat claypot rice dish as well as their various stir-fried vegetables including Chinese broccoli and tong choy.

Kowloon Tong Dessert Cafe (393 7th Ave, San Francisco) – Some of the best milk tea and egg waffles I’ve had in the Bay Area have been at this tucked in restaurant on 7th Ave in the Richmond neighborhood of San Francisco. While their entree plates are fairly mediocre (which you can tell by their name), their snacks and desserts are pretty good, including their curry fishballs that definitely tasted like home.

Hong Kong Style Milk Tea at Shooting Star Cafe

Hong Kong Style Milk Tea at Shooting Star Cafe

Shooting Star Cafe (1022 Webster St, Oakland) – Glitzy decor and modern-ish furnishings set this cha chaan teng apart from most others. But this restaurant isn’t just about the looks. I find it has the best milk tea I have tasted in the Bay Area and they shine very bright in their desserts, including their egg waffles. Their savory food leaves a little more to be desired but there are some gems there too, including their Hainanese Chicken Rice, Wonton Noodle Soup, and Black Pepper Short Ribs.

New York, NY

Cha Chan Tang (45 Mott St, New York) – Their menu sides more with the instant ramen, sandwiches, and macaroni soups that are popular in Hong Kong and they do them fairly well. Those are not my favorite cha chaan teng dishes, but it definitely gives you another side of Hong Kong cuisine where they make “western” foods uniquely their own.

Toronto, ON

Phoenix Restaurant (7155 Woodbine Ave., Markham; also on McCowan in Markham, Scarborough, and Thorhill) – This place excels the most at baked rice dishes, Hainanese Chicken Rice, and their Hong Kong style twist on Southeast Asian food, but other dishes seem to be solid as well. 

Of course, most of these cha chaan tengs also have “authentically” Hong Kong style service, where turning tables is of the upmost importance. So sit down, look at the menu quickly (yes, even with all the options!), order, and eat. If you need something, just wave your hands. Yes, this perfunctory service is part of the ambience. It’s not necessarily rude, just ruthlessly efficient and an integral part of Hong Kong’s go-go-go culture.

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Xiang Yuan Gourmet, Temple City

Xiang Yuan Gourmet
9556 Las Tunas Dr.
Temple City, CA 91780

A month ago when I was in Southern California I wanted to try a new dim sum place. Fortunately, Chinese food writer and “celebrity diner” David Chan wrote this story on LA Weekly just before my trip so of course I had to try Xiang Yuan Gourmet.

So after doing some work and watching the solar eclipse, I drove from my hotel in Pasadena to Temple City. It was about 1:30PM on a Monday and it was fairly easy to get a table for one. Perhaps only one quarter of the tables were taken. After sitting down I looked at the menu and decided that the following items would give me a good feel of the quality of the menu:

  • Crystal Shrimp Har Gow (蝦餃皇) – The shrimp dumpling filling was fairly tasty with a little salt and pepper and slight crunch from a little water chestnuts. However the dumpling skin was a little gummy, perhaps because of too much water. In general, it was fairly good if perhaps not as fantastic as a place like Sea Harbour.
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Mushroom Bun at Xiang Yuan Gourmet

  • Mushroom Bun (野生磨茹包) – These, however, were fantastic. Not only did they look pretty, but the tasty of these mushroom buns were heavenly. The bun was slightly chewy without being too dry or dense and the mushroom filling was very tasty that was full of chopped shiitake mushrooms, bamboo shoots, and carrots. I couldn’t eat these fast enough!
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Beef Rice Paper Roll at Xiang Yuan Gourmet

  • Beef Rice Paper Roll (冬菜牛肉腸) – The rice noodle rolls were solid and I loved the separated sweet soy sauce to drizzle only as much as you like and not having the rice noodles too soggy when you eat them. The rice noodles themselves were pretty good, not being too sticky and the filling was tender with some preserved vegetables meshing well with the tender beef. There were some yu choy on the side as well for taste and garnish.
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Crispy Bamboo Shoot Roll at Xiang Yuan Gourmet

  • Crispy Bamboo Shoot Paste Roll (甘笱流沙包) – Then these came out and I was very awed by dim sum formed to look like a carrot. There aren’t any carrots at all on this dish but instead it’s bamboo shoot paste formed into a carrot like shell and deep fried. Inside was a filling of salty runny egg custard. The melding was intriguing and tasty, though the salty egg yolk was not expected. In retrospect, that could have been easily rectified if I had read the Chinese name. All those hundreds spent on Chinese school apparently went to waste…
  • Salted Egg Yolk Bun (流沙包) – Which meant that I double ordered salty egg yolk items. These were solid but after tasting the ones in the bamboo shoot paste roll ones, they were incomparable. I also ordered these trying to see if they would be the ones shaped like hedgehogs, but unfortunately they were not. Apparently, those are the taro buns.

All in all, fairly good new dim sum restaurant with creative items that are becoming more common in Hong Kong but still very rare in the US. I would definitely go again to try out more items with this promising start. If you’re in the San Gabriel alley soon and want to try a new dim sum place, check this out. Some of these items just might become the new standards at other restaurants.

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Pine and Crane, Los Angeles

Pine & Crane
1521 Griffith Park Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90026

I acknowledge that at first I was very skeptical of Pine & Crane. Can a Taiwanese restaurant not located in the San Gabriel Valley or Irvine be good (and located in hipster-y Silver Lake no less)? Does it really live to the hype of 1,000+ Yelp reviews with a 4.5 star average after 3 years in business? But despite my skepticism, I still needed to go to actually see if yuppie-fied Taiwanese in Silver Lake actually works and is worth it. After all, if you can find decently priced, good Taiwanese around central LA, why would I (or any of my friends) want to suffer the traffic on the 10 to go to the SGV?

So during my last visit to LA a month ago, a friend and I went to finally try it out. Given that her family came from Taiwan, I’d say she’s an even better expert.

We met up around 7PM on a Sunday evening. While finding parking in Silver Lake was difficult, like always, the wait was fairly easy for a table. I do actually like the fast casual approach of sorts they have at Pine and Crane, allowing you to order what you want at the counter and then get seated and served. So after a relatively decent 15 minute wait in line, we decided to get the following, which we thought would give us a good breadth of the quality without being too saturated with food:

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Beef Roll at Pine & Crane

  • Beef Roll – The dough for the warp was nicely fried to a light crisp and filled with flavorful beef and cucumbers, lots and lots of cucumbers. While the flavor was good, unfortunately the cucumber to beef ratio was a bit off which marred the otherwise pretty great appetizer.
  • Tofu Skin Salad (Cold Item) – We wanted to try one of the $3.50 rotating cold appetizer items they keep at a display fridge by the counter so after a lengthy deliberation we settled on the tofu skin salad. The tofu skin was nice, but the marinade/dressing lacked a bit of flavor so it was a bit bland.
  • Morning Glory (空心菜) – In contrast, the kong xin cai was excellent. It was perfectly stir fried with a little bit of garlic and oil making a simple, but flavorful dish that helped balance all the heavier meat flavors of the meal. (note the list of vegetables are seasonal and rotates)
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Beef noodle soup at Pine & Crane

  • Beef Noodle Soup – The beef was nicely seasoned and tender and the noodles were cooked decently. However, my friend and I both agree that the broth was a little bland. It did have a relatively strong beef flavor, but a little bit of spicy or maybe a dash of chili oil would have gone a long way.
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Minced Pork on Rice at Pine and Crane

  • Minced Pork on Rice – At the end was the best dish of all, in my opinion. 滷肉飯 is a classic Taiwanese dish and Pine & Crane pretty much nailed it. The pork was tender, flavorful, and richly infused with the perfectly cooked rice. The egg had great soy sauce flavor and the pickled vegetables helped to cut the richness of the rest of the dish.

While you might get hung up on some of the nitpickiness of the individual dish descriptions, overall my friend and I thought it was a solid execution of Taiwanese food. It may not be as flavorful as some Taiwanese spots in the SGV or Irvine, but it definitely is a solid Taiwanese restaurant with reasonable prices. I would definitely go there again, especially when I’m spending time around Silver Lake, Echo Park, or even parts of Hollywood.

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Baozi Inn, London

Baozi Inn
26 Newport Court
London WC2H 7JS, UK 

It’s Labor Day week, the “traditional” end to the US summer season so it’s fitting that I’m finally finishing the last post of my grand British/Canadian/New Yorker vacation.

Today brings me to Baozi Inn, a Sichuan restaurant in London’s Chinatown that serves Sichuan cuisine. While it is a restaurant that’s in the Michelin Guide to London, I mostly came here on the recommendation of my grandaunt and granduncle that live just outside Brighton. They enthusiastically recommended the restaurant as they dropped me off at the train station as I journeyed back to London. Given that I didn’t know London’s Chinese food scene all that well (and my previous dining adventures earlier in my trip were disappointing), I decided to give Baozi Inn a try for my last dinner in London.

On a Tuesday evening at 8PM it was fairly easy to get a seat. The hardest part, of course, was to choose menu items that I could reasonably digest and afford as a table of one. While I basically wanted to order the whole menu, I pared it down to the following:

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Food at Baozi Inn

  • Pork Baozi – Of course I had to get the namesake baozi, and it did not disappoint. The bun was moist and fluffy, giving perfect texture at first bite. Then the filling was juicy and flavorful as well, with a pork meatball that was seasoned well and had some diced vegetables. If I didn’t have so much more to eat, I definitely would have ordered more.
  • Potato slivers with chilli and sichuan pepper – In contrast, I found that the potato slices were underflavored. While this dish isn’t exactly supposed to be bursting with heat, I barely could notice the hint of chile oil and sichuan peppercorns. It was refreshing but just on the blander side.
  • Chengdu Dan Dan Mian – Then I had one of their signature dishes, the Dan Dan Mian. I loved the chile oil and sichuan pepper sauce which really worked well with the flavor of the nice, rich ground pork. The noodles were perhaps a little too thick for me, but mixed together it was absolutely delightful from first to last slurp.

I’d say that while Baozi Inn might not be the best Sichuan food I’ve ever had, it certainly is solid and definitely was levels beyond the other Chinese food I ate in London (granted, it was a small sample size). I would definitely encourage travelers to London to try it out, especially given how close Chinatown in London is to nightlife hotspots in Leicester Square and SoHo. Whether you’re looking for a light snack or heavier meal, Baozi Inn would be a good pit stop for food before a night out on the town.

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Chinese and Korean in Manchester

Manchester, UK isn’t exactly known for its Asian food. While it’s certainly a big city, the history and culture of Mancheste makes it far less of a cultural melting pot than London. And although it definitely has a history of Asian, mainly Chinese, immigrants in the city, even its historic Chinatown can be described as no bigger than DC’s often derided “China Block.” But even at 2 blocks, Manchester’s Chinatown is still considered the 2nd largest in the UK and 3rd largest in Europe.

Given all of this, to say that Asian food isn’t ubiquitous and containing tons of variety is an understatement. That said, a cursory Yelp search and google research while I was in central Manchester did reveal that Korean food was a growing trend in the city. So after browsing through the local Waterstones (the UK version of Barnes and Noble, essentially), I made my way down a couple blocks to Koreana, supposedly the best or one of the best Korean restaurants in town.

Koreana
40A King St W
Manchester M3 2WY, UK

At 8PM on a weekday I got seated fairly quickly, although the restaurant definitely was pretty packed. While there weren’t any grill tables, there was a grill area next to the kitchen where it looks like the restaurant does the grilling for its Korean BBQ entrees. The menu itself is standard pan-Korean fare for the most part, with a section of Korean BBQ, section of bi bim bap, section of soups and stews.

I decided to get one of the set dinners because I could try out a BBQ item and an appetizer of my choice. I chose bulgogi and mandoo and for my choices and eagerly awaited my food.

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Bulgogi at Koreana

The bulgogi came and it was decent. I do wish there was a little bit more marinade and they grilled it more tender and medium/medium rare as opposed to well done, but it certainly wasn’t bad – just not great. The mandoo came out next and these were absolutely wonderful. The dumpling skin was light yet nicely crispy and the pork filling was very juicy. Honestly I could have had twice the amount of Mandoo (and there were already 5-6!). But the biggest disappointment of all was the banchan, which was a single small dish of kimchi. It tasted okay, but what I really was disappointed by was the lack of variety. I could even get more at Korean places in Albuquerque! Though, I suppose it’s a little unfair to compare the Korean food in Korean ex-pat communities of the US, where there are a lot of Koreans, to burgeoning communities in the UK.

Yang Sing
34 Princess Street
Manchester M1 4JY, UK

The following day my friend and I went to Yang Sing in Manchester Chinatown, purportedly one of the best places to get dim sum in Manchester. We arrived a little after opening around 11AM and instantly got a seat (though it wouldn’t be a problem regardless of time we came on a Thursday).

As is the wont of my friends whenever I take them to dim sum, I instantly became in charge of ordering so I decided to get the following items which I felt would get the best mix of items to determine the quality of the place:

  • Shredded duck & root vegetable spring rolls (鴨絲炸春卷) – While the filling was okay, what turned me off was the egg roll wrapping. Instead of something light and thin to contain the items, it was this round, thick fried dough that was way too thick and crispy.
  • Steamed mini belly ribs in garlic & blackbean sauce (豉汁蒸肉排) – While the meat was tender and there was enough black bean and pepper slices to give the dish its signature savory and spicy flavor, unfortunately most of the pieces were a bit fatty and the sauce was a little too oily. Not bad, but not great either.
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Steamed flower dumplings at Yang Sing

  • Steamed flower dumplings with a mixed funghi & root vegetable filling (竹笙花素餃) – This was the best dim sum item and I loved the funghi and root vegetable filling. The wrappers were decently chewy, not too thick, and not too soggy. Definitely would order again.
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Steamed Prawn Dumplings at Yang Sing

  • Har Kau – Steamed prawn dumplings (冬筍蝦餃皇) – In contrast, the dumpling skins on these har gow were a bit of a disaster, probably owing to too much water content in the rice flour dough. It fell apart really easily in a mushy/sticky manner. The shrimp itself was fairly fresh with a little bamboo shoot for crunch but that along could not make up for the disastrous dumpling skins.
  • Steamed sticky rice with shredded duck, pork & shiitake mushrooms wrapped in fragrant lotus leaf (蛋黃迷你珍珠雞) – The sticky rice was good, however, and despite the misleading chinese name, there was actual duck which was fairly tender and flavorful. Worse comes to worse, this generally fail safe item helped fill up the meal rather nicely.
  • Cantonese steamed sponge cake (麒麟馬拉糕) – For dessert we had the sponge cake which was not too sweet and not too dense. Minor quibble in that it could have been lighter overall, but certainly a nice dessert to complete the meal.

All in all, the Asian food I had in Manchester does get a solid A for effort, but a C for execution. I certainly do see promise in these restaurants and their kitchens and they are definitely decent enough for East Asians hankering for a taste of familiar cuisine. However, it’s still got a ways to go before it matches London or even many mid-sized cities in the US.

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The Jade Restaurant, Richmond

After a busy July jammed full of travel, I’m finally back in the Bay Area to blog some more. To make things a little more manageable for my writing, I’m going to write reverse chronologically and start with my time in Vancouver.

The Jade Seafood Restaurant
8511 Alexandra Road,
Richmond, BC V6X 1C3

First up is The Jade Restaurant, an acclaimed Cantonese restaurant in Richmond, BC, a city swimming in fancy Chinese restaurants. My friend and I chose to go to The Jade because it was a well reviewed restaurant neither of us have been to that was conveniently located across the street from the hotel I was staying at. We met up around 11:30AM and was seated relatively easily (Actually she and her friend arrived early while I was a few minutes late. By the time I got there, they were already seated).

After looking at the menu for a good 10 minutes, we ordered the following:

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Dim Sum at the Jade Restaurant

  • Steamed Shrimp Dumpling (晶瑩鮮蝦餃) – Fairly solid har gow that might have had a touch too much five spice powder. Also like many dim sum restaurants, these suffered from its large size, meaning that the dumpling wrapping wasn’t as dextrous and fell apart a little too easily with the amount of filling. Definitely not a bad har gow, but could have been more refined.
  • Steamed Mushroom Dumpling (松露香菇餃) – While the har gow were alright, these were pretty great with a nice amount of diced mushrooms and other vegetables including carrots and water chestnuts. Was definitely one of my favorites of the meal.
  • Steamed Sakura Pork Dumpling (安康燒賣皇) – The pork was very tender and rich with juicy flavor. Add in the fish roe (which was a little overcooked) and you have one of the best shu mais I have eaten in a while.
  • Steam Chicken Wrap (花膠竹笙烏雞札) – This version of sticky rice with chicken was solid and I loved that it came in manageable packets of 3, allowing each of us to have one with a portion that was just right in terms of how filling it is. The sticky rice was flavored well too with a filling of a little bit of chicken, salty egg yolk, Chinese bacon, shitake mushroom, and small amounts of small Chinese green beans.
  • Steamed Rice Roll with Beef and Chinese Parsley (香茜滑牛肉腸粉) – I love when restaurants serve the rice noodle rolls without the sauce and allow you to drizzle the exact amount you want afterward. That’s what happened here where the perfectly steamed rice noodle rolls wrapped the nicely seasoned ground beef and parsley filling. It meant that the rice noodle roll could absorb the flavor of the sweet soy sauce without becoming too salty, too mushy, or too flimsy. A+ to the Jade for this.
  • Steamed Salty Egg Yolk Bun (黃金流沙飽) – Unfortunately these came out mid meal but I chose to wait to eat them at the end because it is dessert. I am glad my friend’s friend love them (and he ate it while it was still hot and freshly steamed), but the cold, slight sogginess dampened and otherwise decent salty egg custard yolk bun.

All in all, the Jade is a fine place to get dim sum in Richmond, though not as exemplary as other top places like Kirin or Sun Sui Wah. The one advantage, however, is the easy wait time. So if you can’t stand to wait in line at one of the better dim sum restaurants off No. 3 Road, I would definitely recommend walking down Alexandra Road to eat dim sum at the Jade. It might not be the best, but you certainly won’t be disappointed in the over all meal.


As a bonus to this blog post, I’ll quickly touch upon HK BBQ Master, a famed Cantonese Barbecue place underneath the giant Real Canadian Superstore building on No. 3 Road. I didn’t get enough to actually review it on its own, but it is definitely worthy enough to be included in a blog post.

I went to HK BBQ Master for a late lunch on a Monday afternoon. Even at 2PM it was extremely busy and I still had to wait 15 minutes for one of their 28 or so seats in their restaurant. While I waited, I ordered a roast pork and roast duck rice plate and a cup of iced honey citron (a classic and refreshing Hong Kong drink). I was given the order slip, which was handed to the server right as I sat down.

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Roast duck and roast pork rice place at H BBQ Master

The plate of rice with roast pork and roast duck out came soon after I sat down and it was absolutely delicious. The duck with meaty and juicy with a very nice soy sauce and star anise marinade. The skin managed to have a little crispiness as well. The roast pork was a tad salty but the skin was crispy and so nice. Unfortunately, the honey citron was a lot of water and not a lot of honey or citron. However, it didn’t manage to damper the incredible barbecue I ate. I certainly will be back for more!

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