Monthly Archives: July 2013

Everyday Noodles, Pittsburgh

Everyday Noodles
5875 Forbes Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15217

The first stop on my way from DC to Denver was the famous old steel town of Pittsburgh. I didn’t know what to expect from Pittsburgh in terms of Asian food, but I suspected it might be reasonably good and authentic given that some Asians had moved there with the Pittsburgh resurgence in high tech and biotech. I consulted renown Chinese food expert David Chan on his suggestions for good Chinese food in the area. He suggested I try Everyday Noodles, a restaurant he has wanted try but has not been to yet.

After I checked into my hotel I decided to venture to the Squirrel Hill neighborhood where Everyday Noodles was located. As I drove down Forbes Avenue in Squirrel Hill I realized there was an abundance of Asian restaurants on the street, including several ramen shops and Taiwanese style restaurants. I was hopeful that this experience would be great given the competition in the area seemed high.

Everyday Noodles 1

I entered the restaurant and was warmly greeted and seated. As I sat down I noticed how bright and modern the space is. The restaurant certainly embraces the open kitchen concept that has become trendy over the past decade. However, one flaw of this restaurant design is the heat that is trapped in the seating area. The combination of poor air conditioning circulation and hot air from the kitchen created a fairly warm interior that was not very pleasant after walking in hot and sticky weather.

All that aside, while I was looking at the menu after being seated, I was pleasantly delighted at the authenticity of the menu. It had all the hallmarks of a Taiwanese restaurant in California. Since Mr. Chan recommended that I try new, interesting menu items, I declined eating the beef noodle soup and instead order the Taiwanese Style Dan Tsu Noodle Soup and an appetizer plate of marinated tofu skin and wood ears.

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The tofu skin and wood ears initially were very tasty. However, I started to get sick of them after eating about half the plate. I don’t know exactly what it was, but I guess too much of the light vinegar marinade really did not agree with my palate. The Dan Tsu noodles were definitely better. While I have never had it before, the soup was a beef broth filled with chives filled with your choice of wide or thin wheat noodles and topped off with braised minced beef and a tea smoked egg. I liked the flavor of the broth, though it was a bit oily, the noodles were cooked well, and the minced beef definitely had a nice flavor. However, I felt like there was too little minced beef for such a large noodle soup bowl.

The service after I ordered was a bit slow and the waitress only offered to refill my water near the end of the meal. It also took a bit to get my check and process the credit card, which really should not have been that long given how close it was to closing time.

All in all, it certainly wasn’t a bad experience, but nothing to write home about. Given the competition in the area I think I will have to try other places before I get a sense of how decent the Chinese food is in Pittsburgh.

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East Pearl, Rockville

East Pearl
838-B Rockville Pike
Rockville, MD 20852

Apologies in the delay in writing. I certainly had a great road trip with plenty of great Asian food along the way, which you will get to read in the coming days.

East Pearl 1

The first stop on my DC to Denver culinary adventures led me to Rockville, Maryland. Rockville is a suburb of Washington, DC, that has a sizable Chinese population and some of the best Chinese food in the Mid-Atlantic. I was browsing through the July 2013 copy of Washingtonian which highlighted a number of Rockville Chinese restaurants. While I had eaten at most of them, one of them stuck out as a place I needed to try: East Pearl. Serving homestyle Cantonese food, I was intrigued and it became the first restaurant I had to go to on my trip.

During the last day I was in DC, my cousin and I decided to eat lunch at East Pearl. Located in a 60s style business park/strip mall, it wasn’t the easiest place to find. However, coming in we were treated to a nice and bright modern Chinese restaurant. We were promptly seated, given menus, and served tea and water.

While there were a number of different and interesting options on the menu, we opted for two noodle dishes and a vegetable to keep our lunch light and simple. We ordered a stir fried rice noodle dish with shredded pork, a beef brisket and wonton noodle soup, and a plate of garlic stir-fried pea sprouts. In about twenty minutes, our food came out piping hot and we were ready to eat.

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The stir fried rice noodles came out first and the serving plate was gigantic. It certainly could feed a family of 4-6 alone. The taste itself was pretty good. While most stir-fried rice noodle dishes can be gloopy, clumpy, and oily, the noodles here were prepared very well with only slight clumps. The pea sprouts came next and my cousin and I both agreed that this was the best dish. It was very simple, but the way the garlic and pea sprouts were stir fried was simply delicious and pea sprouts with a perfect texture that struck a right balance between crunchy and soft. The beef brisket and wonton noodle soup certainly stood up on its own as well. The noodles were cooked just right, the wontons were plump and juicy, and the beef brisket was tender. The broth was a little salty and a little too beefy, but certainly nothing that would detract me from ordering the dish again.

Service was prompt as well, with water and tea refilled routinely and servers being accommodating without overwhelming. The portions were definitely large and generous. The amount of food we ordered could reasonably feed a family of four, and I took a considerable amount for leftovers (which I sadly could not eat given the lack of microwave in my Pittsburgh hotel room). The bill came to around $40 total, which may seem pricey for two, but our order certainly could have fit a family of 4-5.

Overall, it was a really great meal and I am continually impressed by the newer and better offerings Rockville continues to produce. I would say that my favorite Chinese restaurant in Rockville continues to be the vaunted A&J (which serves Taiwanese and Shanghainese Dim Sum), but East Pearl certainly gives A&J a run for the title. I will certainly return again the next time I am in DC.

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Star Kitchen, Denver

Star Kitchen
2917 W. Mississippi Ave.
Denver, CO 80219

For my birthday on Friday I wanted to go treat myself to one of my favorite Chinese meals: Dim Sum. I decided to go to Star Kitchen instead of my favorite Cantonese place in Denver, JJ Chinese Restaurant, because it was highly recommended and I had not eaten their Dim Sum yet.

When I entered the restaurant, I was promptly greeted and seated. Given that there were a couple of other parties that came in at the same time, it understandably took a couple minutes to get my ice water, tea order, and check placard. After that was ironed out, the carts started rolling.

The first cart that came to me was the cart serving congee, curry fish balls, and beef tripe. As I loved stewed beef tripe, I ordered a small bowl of those. Next came the steam dumpling cart, where I took a basket of Siu Mai (pork dumplings wrapped in wonton wrappers) and pork spare ribs. The fried items cart then rolled around where I took a small plate of fried daikon cakes. A few minutes later I noticed that the cart received several plates of just cooked Chinese broccoli, which I chased down to get because I love Chinese broccoli.

The beef tripe was good. The tripe was cooked well enough to be chewy, but not overly so. The flavor was also nice and the daikons they put in were well cooked. I consider how a restaurant cooks daikon a measure of good the kitchen is because if it’s not cooked enough, the outside is tough and gristly. If cooked too much, it’s mushy. Star Kitchen got it just right. The pork spare ribs and fried daikon cakes were good too. Unfortunately, the siu mai was blander than I had hoped (and certainly not as good as Super Star Asian). The worst, however, was the plate of Chinese broccoli. The stems were quite tough and they did not cut it to make the stems more easily chewable and digestible. The oyster sauce was also served as a dipping sauce on the side when it is generally served drizzled on top right after the vegetables have been blanched. Given that it was the most expensive dish of all – at $6.95 – I would expect the Chinese broccoli to be much better.

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For dessert I got mango pudding, which took forever to get to me because not one, but two, waitresses had forgotten it. That was, however, only the beginning of the service problems I had for the end of my meal. It took at least 10 minutes to refill my teapot with hot water and the owner had to actually shout to the waitress in Cantonese to look behind her and grab my teapot (Generally at a Cantonese restaurant, you lift the lid of the teapot, which indicates the need for more hot water. Typically waiters catch it very fast). When I decided to get the bill and box up my leftovers, the waitress had forgotten my boxes and the cashier had forgotten my check. Needless to say, I spent a good 20-30 minutes of unnecessary time at the restaurant due to poor service. While I understand the restaurant was busy, I have seen Dim Sum parlors in California five times as big and three times as busy that has no problems refilling my tea, getting dessert, and giving me the check in a timely fashion.

Needless to say, while Star Kitchen had decent food for the most part that would rival any Cantonese place serving Dim Sum in Denver, the experience was quite a disappointment. Even though Dim Sum isn’t there specialty, I could have gotten better items for a cheaper price and with better service at JJ. Instead of celebrating wonderful Dim Sum on my birthday in Denver, I was longing to eat better Dim Sum with friends in LA or San Francisco.

I’m hoping it was just an off day at Star Kitchen, given the number of positive reviews before, and I am willing to give it another shot. However, based on this experience there is no need for a Denverite to drive out to Mississippi and Federal when Super Star Asian and JJ will give them slightly better food with better service at a more convenient location.

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Pho 96, Denver

Pho 96
2990 W. Mississippi Ave.
Denver, CO 80219

One of my mom’s favorite foods to eat that wasn’t Chinese was pho. Thanks to her, I practically grew up on Vietnamese food and learned to really love it. My love for Vietnamese dishes like pho rapidly increased when I attended UC Irvine, which was only a 15 minute drive to Westminster, the heart of the largest Vietnamese community outside of Vietnam.

I was very fortunate to discover when I was campaigning to help reelect Senator Bennet in 2010 that Denver had some amazing Vietnamese food. In fact, I have had the best Vietnamese food here outside of Southern California. What is even better is that several Vietnamese restaurants open rather late on weekends (though not my favorite), which made the decision on where to eat very easy last night after I finished work.

Pho 96 is one of those late night Vietnamese restaurants. Sitting at the corner of Mississippi and Federal, the building and parking lot is rather unassuming. However, entering inside you are treated to nice decor, with well kept booths, fake-granite tables, bright green paint, and flat screen TVs with ESPN on. It is certainly a step up from typical bare-bones formica table and chopsticks stand pho restaurants in Westminster, CA.

As I sat down, the waiter handed me a menu. The menu is pretty straightforward, unlike the voluminous menu you would find at Saigon Bowl up the street on Federal. One page was devoted to pho, another to appetizers and rice dishes, and another to sweet drinks like Thai Ice Tea. No fuss, no nonsense: this is a pho restaurant where one item rains supreme.

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I ordered a large combination pho as well as an order of egg rolls. The egg rolls came out first and was beautifully presented, with fresh accoutrements including lettuce, sliced cucumbers, pickled and julienned¬† carrots, and rice noodles tossed in fried garlic. While this all made for a beautiful egg roll-lettuce “burrito” of sorts (which is what I’ve learned should be done to enjoy the egg rolls), there was one big flaw: the egg rolls were over fried. The egg rolls were so crispy at parts that it was hard to chew. I’ve had their egg rolls before, which were much better fried, so I am not sure why yesterday was so disappointing.

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Fortunately, the pho was much better. The bowl was tremendous and filled with well prepared cuts of sliced beef, beef brisket, tripe, tendon, and meatballs. The slices of beef were slightly disappointing in that it came to my table cooked almost well done (it should be rare). The broth was also a little salty. However, the noodles and other beef items were well cooked, the accompaniments were fresh, and the portion was excellent.

The service was also good for a pho restaurant, which typically is so busy busing tables they forget about your experience. A waiter regularly refilled ice water and asked me in the end if I needed a box, which I did. My waiter was also great in steering me toward pho when I was debating between pho or a rice dish, as he pointed out the fact that pho is better later in the day when the broth has been simmering the whole day.

All in all, Pho 96 is a great place to go for a late night Vietnamese food craving. It may not serve food as good as Saigon Bowl or Pho 95, but it certainly ranks high for hospitality and ambiance. It’s also a great value where you can eat like a king for less than $10.

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