Monthly Archives: November 2013

Sea Harbour, Rosemead

Sea Harbour Seafood Restaurant
3939 Rosemead Blvd
Rosemead, CA 91770

If you were to ask a number of Chinese food ‘experts’ on where the best Chinese food in America is, a lot of them would say the San Gabriel Valley part of the Los Angeles metropolitan area. Due to the waves of immigration, particularly of fairly wealthy families from Hong Kong and Taiwan, after the Immigration Act of 1965, the San Gabriel boomed with upper middle class Chinese immigrants. The gastronomic result was a continuing explosion of authentic Chinese food starting in the mid-1980s, including the recruitment of chefs from China to run the kitchens in many of the most successful Chinese restaurants.

I could certainly write a whole paper on this topic, but in the interest of your time, and appetite this Thanksgiving, let’s turn to Sea Harbour. Sea Harbour is considered one of the best Chinese restaurants in the nation, ranging from ‘celebrity diner’ David Chan (known for his experience at eating at 6,000+ Chinese restaurants in America) to renown LA Times food critic Jonathan Gold (who listed it as the best dim sum restaurant in Southern California). Therefore, it was the place I really had to go to during my one day in LA on this Thanksgiving weekend.

Sea Harbour 1

When my sister and I arrived in the parking lot, it was already at full capacity. This was during a weekday, so you can imagine how crowded this place would be on a weekend or holiday. We got seated promptly, at the only table for two available and was promptly given a picture menu of the dim sum items as well as an itemized tic sheet to place what you wanted to get (kind of like the order tic sheet you get at most sushi restaurants in America). There are no carts at Sea Harbour, similar to the trend in Hong Kong, which apparently can make the food items fresher when they are served.

Sea Harbour 2

We ordered the following items: sichuanese string beans, ‘soup dumplings’, siu mai, stick rice wrapped in lotus leaves, steamed daikon cake, buns with cream filling, and egg custard tarts. Most of them are items typical of any reputable dim sum parlor in America with a few, like sichuanese strong beans and buns with cream filling, being slightly harder to find. I eschewed some really interesting and ‘exotic’ items due to their price point.

The sticky rice came first, followed by the soup dumplings. The sticky rice was pretty good with rich, but not overpowering fillings, including a whole salty egg yolk. The soup dumplings were disappointing with dry skin and soup that was rather bland for a soup dumpling, even if the meatball inside was decent. Next came the siu mai, which was perfect with a mixture of both shrimp and pork (when most dim sum places go cheap with just pork). Along with that came the string beans which were absolutely amazing. The string beans had perfect crisp and the ground pork were seasoned well, with a hint of spice. The best part is that everything in that dish came together well and it was not very oily, which sometimes can happen with this dish. The best savory dish came last, which was the daikon cake. While steamed, rather than the traditional fried version, these daikon cakes were still very well flavored with a light soy sauce mixture to flavor at the base and bits of bacon as a garnish. The bacon gave this dish a crunch and saltiness that worked very well.

Sea Harbour 3

The desserts came last and they were pretty good as well. The buns came first with a rich, white filling that was sweet but not overpowering. The egg custard tarts were nearly perfect, with a good flaky crust and a warm, soft, and perfectly baked egg custard filling. It was probably the best egg custard tart I have ever eaten, even beating the oft-praised ones from Golden Gate Bakery in San Francisco’s Chinatown.

The service was pretty good and efficient as well, with servers regularly checking to ensure water glasses were filled and picking up empty small steamers. There was no need to flag down waiters for 10 minutes in frustration, as you would have to do in nearly every dim sum parlor elsewhere in Southern California. The prices were fairly reasonable too, albeit somewhat pricey for the San Gabriel Valley. Items started at $2.98 for a small with my total bill for 7 items coming to around $32. Given the quality of the food, aside from the soup dumplings, I would say it was worth every penny.

All in all, it was one of the best dim sum places I have ever been to and it’s no surprise, given that the restaurant is an offshoot of one that has locations in Hong Kong and Vancouver.

Sea Harbour 4

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Yenchim Garden, San Diego

Yenchim Garden
13279 Black Mountain Rd.
San Diego, CA 92129

Just to put it out there before I write another word in this post: Yenchim Garden was practically my family’s ‘second kitchen’ when I was growing up. I have had really fond memories of this place growing up. I have tried to review the food and service here as honestly as I can, but it may be colored, consciously or subconsciously, by memories and relationships I have built their over the years.

In any case, I set out to find a restaurant that was budget friendly and when I could take two of my greatest friends since childhood to eat some authentic Chinese food. After mulling many options, I decided on Yenchim Garden, the neighborhood Chinese restaurant in our community of Rancho Penasquitos. It was convenient for all of us, I was familiar enough with the menu that I could order a few things I knew would likely be good for my friends to try out.

When I entered, I was immediately greeted with a great smile by one of my old friends from high school, who just happened to work there the day I flew back into San Diego for the holiday. One of my friends and I were then promptly seated to a booth and served fried wonton noodle strips and sweet and sour sauce. Since the restaurant was just hit with the dinner rush, it took a little for a server to come to our table.

Yenchim

We ordered a few items: green onion pancakes, sichuan style stir fried string beans, beef noodle soup, and fried bean curd stir fried with pork strips. I had also tried to order ‘drunken chicken’ (as in chicken marinated with wine) as an appetizer, but unfortunately the kitchen did not have any. After time elapsed as we all caught up with each other on our latest stories and gossip, the food arrived. The green onions came first, presented very expertly, and were every bit as delicious as I expected. It was flakey and delicate, chewy without being too dense, and having a nice light flavor to start off the meal. Next came the sichuan style string beans, which were very reminiscent of what my mom would used to cook. Due to the string bean’s great stir fry flavor and good gentle snap of an excellently cooked string bean, this was probably the dish best liked by the table. The bean curd with pork was good too, though it was the least favorite of the table. The bean curd texture and relative blandness may have not been something my friends liked, but I loved it. Finally, there was the beef noodle soup, with perfectly cooked noodles and a rich, flavorful broth that was just subtly spicy. The beef could have been braised slightly longer for tenderness, but otherwise it was very good.

In fact, I would say the meal was so good that I almost forgot to take a picture! It’s why the blurry picture I have put here is of food almost all gone.

There were many other items on the menu that I wish I could try and order, but with just these four dishes we were more than filled. The bill was pretty good too, coming to about $30. At these great prices, perhaps next time I can get more friends to come over during holiday breaks and eat other delicious items such as shanghainese style rice cakes and their special spicy stir fried noodles.

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Amerasia, Albuquerque

AmerAsia
800 3rd Street NW
Albuquerque, NM 87102

First of all, let me say that this is NOT a review for Sumo Sushi (AmerAsia’s sushi joint next door). From my experience last year, Sumo Sushi is pretty good, and some place that I will have to review soon.

However, AmerAsia does not have a similarly glowing reputation, at least for me. Having eaten there last year when I was on the Michelle Lujan Grisham congressional campaign, I was not terribly impressed by their version of Dim Sum. Granted, I had gone there near closing so I may have not had a fair sampling. Therefore, I was willing to give AmerAsia another chance to wow me, especially given that some acquaintances have suggested their food.

AmerAsia 1

I sat down and ordered some water and hot green tea. After about 5 minutes, the hot tea arrived (not green tea but generic low-grade restaurant Jasmine tea) and the water. This, of course, should have been the first sign of deja vu. After another 5 minutes or so, a waitress came out with carts of Dim Sum items. I chose spareribs, siu mai, potstickers, and steamed fried bean curd, all things that could be found in more traditional Dim Sum parlors.

AmerAsia 2

Unfortunately, that was the only tenuous connection to a traditional Dim Sum parlor. The spareribs were very dry and nearly devoid of flavor except the pieces near the bottom with some black bean paste. There “siu mai” was filled with tiny bits of chicken and sticky brown rice. It was mushy and not pleasant to eat, at least not compared to succulent pork siu mai I could get at, say, Ming Dynasty. The bean curd was also relatively lacking in flavor and overcooked becoming mushy instead of having a slightly crispy, chewy outside texture. The potstickers suffered from the same ailments of the spareribs, with thick and bland skin and a very dry and not very tasty pork and ginger filling. Not even pouring some hot chili oil saved it. Near the end of my meal, I decided to get a small item of spicy noodles with beef, the one decent item I remembered from my previous trip. That item was decent, though very oily.

To add insult to injury, the tab came out to $19.50, far more than what I would pay at Ming Dynasty for better prepared and more authentic items. The service also continued to be slow, with my water refilled only near the end. While I do applaud their attempt to bring Dim Sum to Albuquerque, their attempt is sub-par and deceptive. If Burquenos truly want to try some Dim Sum, please go to Ming Dynasty – which is as close as authentic Cantonese style Dim Sum as you’ll get in the Land of Enchantment.

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China Garden, Arlington (VA)

China Garden
1100 Wilson Blvd.
Arlington, VA 22209

Sorry for the belated blog post. As many of you know, I had an election to help run and it finally came to an end yesterday – with a victory!

In any case, last week I flew to Washington, DC to celebrate the wedding of two of my vary good friends. Since it happened to be a long weekend as well, I decided to invite a number of my friends in DC for some Dim Sum. Since not many of DC’s Dim Sum places are metro accessible, I settled on China Garden, which is a block from the Rosslyn metro stop. This, of course, allows many of my car-free friends to join in on some delicious Chinese food.

I arrived about 20 minutes before my group was supposed to arrive in order to ensure we had a table around the time I had scheduled the brunch. We had a table in about 30 minutes, which isn’t too bad by Dim Sum parlor standards. As we got seated, I quickly realized that many of my friends there were new to Dim Sum (and I am glad that they were willing to try something new, sight unseen!). That, however, wasn’t a big problem as I took over managing the ordering from the food trolleys.

Over the course of brunch we ordered the following items: Daikon cake, Sui Mai, stir fried green beans, pork spareribs, rice noodles with dried shrimp, roast duck, bbq pork buns, potstickers, sticky rice, Singapore style rice noodles, fried eggplant, egg custard tarts, pineapple buns, sesame balls, and vegetable chow fun. I may have forgotten some. Needless to say, this was a lot of food, even for my 8 friends and myself.

China Garden

I didn’t get to eat all of the items as I was partially busy loading the lazy Susan on the table with more items. However, of the items I did eat, most were fairly on point. The daikon cakes were perfectly pan fried, allowing a crunchy exterior with a nice and warm chewy interior. The sticky rice had roast duck in addition to the chicken, which made the flavor marvelous. The Singapore style noodles were also good, with noodles perfectly stir fried and tossed in with curry. The potstickers were also good too, with a skin that was not too thick and a nice crunch from the pan frying. The desserts were all fantastic and reminiscent of what I could get back “home” in Southern California.

However, some dishes were not as great. The sui mai, a standard on how you can measure Dim Sum parlors, were a little dry and a bit dense. It had reasonable flavor, but suffered from a combination of steaming too long and the meat in the sui mai being packed a little too tight. The pork spareribs were also not that flavorful and just seemed like they were steamed with a little pepper and black bean paste to garnish. The vegetable chow fun was overly sauced, making the noodles soggier than usual and drowning out some of the flavors of the vegetables.

As for the service, it was pretty efficient. Tea pots were refilled with hot water at a good clip. People’s glasses of water were also refilled reasonably fast. The bill was pretty good too, coming to about $133 for the 9 of us, which is certainly cheaper than what I would spend if I were to go on a traditional brunch at a restaurant on U or 14th Street.

I am so glad I could introduce a number of my friends to Dim Sum and to eat some of the food I grew up with. Almost all the food was delicious as well, adding to a wonderful experience and weekend in Washington DC. As one of my friends stated after Dim Sum, “Note to self: Whenever Jon Wong asks you out to Asian food, GO”, which definitely made me proud. Now onto my next task, getting my DC friends to taste the delicious Asian food in Rockville, Annandale, and Falls Church.

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Que Huong, Albuquerque

Que Huong
7010 Central Ave SE
Albuquerque, NM 87108

Don’t get me wrong, I love beef pho, but there’s something more subtle and light about chicken pho that makes me crave it a lot. Unfortunately, not a lot of places have good chicken pho. Sometimes it’s not that great because they just throw chicken into a pot of the beef pho broth with noodles and call it a day (instead of making their own chicken pho broth). Other times they don’t marinate the chicken well or use slices of chicken that would be more apt in a chicken stir fry. That’s not to say that these versions of chicken pho are bad (often times these versions are still delicious because if you can do beef pho right – it’s still good), but they won’t rise to the level of my most beloved pho shop – Pho Nyugen Hue which is well beloved for it’s beef and chicken pho.

Since Que Huong has a reputation as one of the best of Albuquerque’s many Vietnamese restaurants, I had to see how good their chicken pho is, especially knowing their beef pho is pretty good. Once I entered the restaurant I sat down and got to ordering, one large bowl of chicken pho and one order of egg rolls.

Que Huong rolls

The egg rolls came out first, as is usual. They were nice and crunchy with a good filling of meat, shredded carrots, and cooked cellophane noodles. The sizes were good too, not too big as I have seen them at StreetFood Asia but not too small like some other Vietnamese restaurants around town. Of course, as usual I am disappointed by the lack of accompaniment of more lettuce, fresh herbs, and pickled daikon to go with my egg rolls which I’m used to in California and Colorado. However, this is typical of nearly all Albuquerque Vietnamese restaurants and I certainly can’t fault Que Huong on what is a relatively small thing to have a disagreement over.

Que Huong pho

The pho came out next in a bowl that is even large by my standards. There was plenty of chicken and plenty of noodles, so I dug in right away. The noodles were done fantastically, with a good texture that was chewy yet soft. The broth was good as well, though it seemed like they did use some beef broth in it. Again, this isn’t a deal breaker but in other places this could overpower the more light and subtle flavors of chicken. For the chicken itself, it was shredded white meat, which was good if a little overcooked and too chewy.

The service, as always, was warm and hospitable. Clearly I am started to frequent the place a bit as it’s now become the fourth Asian restaurant to know me as a regular. However, the servers were very pleasant, refilling my glass of water fairly regularly and allowing me to switch the TV station, if only to watch my hometown Chargers lose.

All in all Que Huong is a great restaurant with good food. Their beef pho is definitely better than their chicken pho, but their variation of chicken pho isn’t bad. Next time I will try their version of Vietnamese style wonton noodle soup and see how that stacks up.

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