Monthly Archives: January 2014

NBC Seafood, Monterey Park

NBC Seafood
404 S. Atlantic Blvd. Ste. A
Monterey Park, CA 91754

As I stated about two weeks ago, no matter what kind of gathering is amassed, Chinese people will always have some sort of large banquet with multiple courses stuffing someone to the gills. This was certainly true over the weekend when my family celebrated the life of my dear cousin, who departed our world way too early. While my cousin wasn’t the biggest fan of extended course Cantonese banquets, she nonetheless loved good food and we certainly had plenty of that at her celebration of life banquet.

NBC 1

We toasted her life at NBC Seafood. While this was my first time here, NBC Seafood has been well known, whether by fact or myth, as the first San Gabriel Valley restaurant serving Dim Sum. While other seafood restaurants and dim sum palaces have usurped NBC Seafood in the decades since (see: Sea Harbour), even renown critic Jonathan Gold notes that the restaurant serves high quality food in one of the most competitive Cantonese restaurant scenes outside of Hong Kong.

The food, as I hinted earlier, did not disappoint. We had an appetizer plate of suckling roast pork and jellyfish, which were absolutely delights to eat from the crunch of the pork skin to the springy texture of the jellyfish. Next came a winter melon soup with roast pork, roast duck, and shrimp, which reminded me of the winter melon soups my mom used to make for me when I was young. We then had walnut shrimp, which was good given that I generally don’t like the dish to begin with. A giant platter of fish filet with mixed vegetables came in with a nice, light flavor to go along with the rice. Another vegetable filled dish, what most Americans would term as “Buddha’s Delight” or some variation thereof, came to the table.

NBC 2

By this point, the lazy Susan at our table of 11 was almost packed, but there was more! Next came my second favorite dish of the night (after the appetizer), a large dish of salt baked chicken. The crispiness of the skin was absolutely delightful and the chicken maintained some flavor and moisture. It didn’t hurt that the rice chips of sorts that come with it reminded me of large family meals I would have with my cousin as a child. There was a sweet and sour pork dish that came next, which was decently made given the fact that I generally do not like such dishes that verged on becoming too Americanized. For dessert there were oranges, which tends to be a staple of Cantonese restaurants.

The service was pretty good as well, helping to refill teapots regularly, clearing tables at a good clip as more and more dishes came out, and refilling water as needed. Though, I do admit that I wasn’t paying as much attention to service (or with picture taking) given that I was with my cousins and we were bonding over food and plenty of shared memories. In the end, family is more important than photos or how you write the service portion of your blog post, so I apologize.

All in all, it was a fantastic family meal to celebrate my cousins life. However, I have a sneaking suspicion that I will get true closure from this loss when I go back to DC and have brunch with several of our mutual friends. Banquets are nice, but brunch became our family (and friend) bonding necessity.

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Din Tai Fung, Glendale

Din Tai Fung
177 Caruso Ave.
Glendale, CA 91210

Din Tai Fung is an award winning chain of Taiwanese restaurants, known best for their xiaolongbao (juicy pork dumplings on their menu). It’s Shanghai location is listed as one of Time’s 10 things to do there. The same location in Shanghai was given a rave review by the New York Times as well. Forbes even titled an article they did on the chain “The World’s Greatest Dumpling” and the New York Times named the restaurant one of the ten best in the world 20 years ago. They expanded to America in the early 2000s and to this day you still have to endure at least one hour waits, even at off peak hours, to get a seat at any of their Los Angeles area locations (including 2 locations in Arcadia that are practically neighbors).

Given all of this, it’s no surprise that my first time at a Din Tai Fung made me anxious, nervous, excited, and content at the same time. While I had wanted to go to Din Tai Fung for years, I never quite managed to make it. Therefore, I seized the opportunity to have lunch there before I drove back to Albuquerque (via Phoenix) during my holiday break.

When I finally got to Din Tai Fung at their Americana at Brand location in Glendale it was about 3PM. The wait for a table of one at 3PM on a Monday? One hour. Luckily they have a small bar section and I decided to hop on the first seat available. After five minutes I got a seat and quickly ordered, especially since I had a six hour road trip ahead of me.

Din Tai Fung 1

Given my limited budget and inability to take leftovers on a long drive, I decided to order two items: a half order of the juicy pork dumplings (5 in an order instead of 10) and a bowl of beef noodle soup. Before the items arrived, the bartender gave me a small plate of finely slivered pieces of ginger and vinegar for the dumplings. Fairly soon after, my bowl of beef noodle soup arrived. The beef noodle soup had a nice broth that was spicy, but not overpowering. It was probably one of the better broths I have had. The noodles were thin wheat noodles that was a hair overcooked for my taste. The beef was well seasoned and had good flavor, but it was tougher and chewier than I would have liked.

Din Tai Fung 2

When the soup dumplings came, the real moment of truth arrived. My first dumpling was perfect. There was a slight chew to my first bit to let out the steam and the broth was clean and flavored well. The pork was very tender and flavorful as well. The second and third dumplings were just as good and I marveled at the ability to craft a dumpling that not only had a good balance of flavor, but skins that held its own as well. Unfortunately, my fourth dumpling was a little too flimsy and broke, letting a bit of the soup out. It was disappointing given the reputation the restaurant has of very well crafted dumplings, but it was still delicious.

Service, which they are also well known for after their experience expanding in Japan, was also top notch. The bartender was very helpful and attentive, even with drink orders occasionally pouring in from the restaurant side. While I did not need too much help, he also gave great recommendations to the party next to me and even engaged in very friendly banter. He also helped to calm a couple that was indignant about the hour long wait for a table and just needed food (which I understood given that it is 3PM, but shouldn’t they have known how long the lines were?).

All in all, my Din Tai Fung experience was very good, even if the food did not quite hit my admittedly very high and built up expectations. I do also want to applaud the restaurant for allowing half orders as well, making it nice and perfectly portioned for tables of one or two. The bill was pretty good too, coming to about $15 including a soft drink and sales tax, making Din Tai Fung very reasonable priced given the quality of food and service. Next time I hope to try some of their other well regarded items, like their soups and other small plates.

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Pearl, San Diego

Pearl Chinese Cuisine
11666 Avena Place
San Diego, CA 92128

No matter what kind of celebration is at hand, Chinese people have plenty of food for the occasion. Whether it’s for a wedding, birthday, childbirth, holiday, or even to mark the passing of a loved one, large scale and multigenerational gatherings featuring 8+ courses of food is commonplace.

The celebration of my cousin once removed’s birthday was no exception. The meal also turned out to be my last one with a dear cousin of mine. Given that my cousin loved good food, even if it wasn’t quite Chinese banquet food, it was strangely fitting that my last meal with her would be filled with family and delectable dishes.

Appetizer

We had, in order:

– a chiu chow cold plate platter (consisting of jellyfish, marinated duck, ham slices, preserved duck eggs for longevity, and shrimp)
– fried shrimp balls with craw claws
– something like shark fin soup but with fish maw instead of shark fin (as shark fin is banned in California)
– steamed whole fish (for prosperity)
– lobster baked and simmered in broth
– abalone with shitake mushrooms and mustard greens
– sauteed boneless chicken with ham, mushrooms, and Chinese broccoli
– Peking duck (Cantonese style with steamed buns instead of flat crapes)
– plate of suckling roasted pork
– Fried rice topped with duck meat and seafood
– dessert, consisting of mochi filled with peanut paste and sesame balls with red bean paste

More courses!

Needless to say, in our table of 8 cousins, we could not clear our lazy susans fast enough and had plenty to box for extra meals at home. It was almost all quite delicious. The abalone, while being the least popular dish at the table, was nicely done and not as overcooked as you would find in other Cantonese seafood restaurants. The roast pork is sublime, as usual. The fish was nicely done and the sweet soy sauce marinade they serve it in is heavenly. I also loved the chicken, ham, and vegetables which were nice and light with the extra bowls of rice we ordered. As for the items less deserving of attention, I thought the appetizer platter was ho hum and the peking duck to be good but unevenly sliced (some pieces had too much meat and some was just skin, not even fat).

Service was decent, though the rapid fire churning of dishes and large tables meant a few soda orders were lost in translation. The price is hefty, though I didn’t pay. As I browsed Pearl’s website, this set comes out to $698 for a table of 10, without the extra roast pig, tax, or tip. Granted, Pearl is one of the most expensive Chinese restaurants in San Diego with quality of service and food to match. It is a must given the upper income clientele of area residents and business professionals that fills the restaurant.

All in all, it was great meal filled with wonderful food and good conversation. It’s what celebration with family should be like and I am glad my first meal with my cousin once removed and last meal with my cousin was here.