Monthly Archives: July 2014

O Ramen, Albuquerque

O Ramen
2114 Central Ave SE
Albuquerque, NM 87106

I’m not quite in Vancouver yet, but before I bombarded my blog with a number of posts from British Columbia, I wanted to take a brief detour to my current home of Albuquerque.

Ramen, as some of my friends may know, has become an absolute craze in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and other coastal cities in the past 7-8 years. While bowls of fresh, rich ramen have been a staple in Japan for a long time, David Chang’s Momofuku is often credited as sparking the proliferation of Japanese style ramen shops in the United States. The spread of ramen’s cult following has been huge in coastal cities, but it remained notable absent from Albuquerque and other inland cities, until now.

When I heard that there was Japanese style ramen in Albuquerque, I jumped to try it. I went on a date a few weeks ago to try the tonkatsu ramen (their deluxe ramen) and curry (but did not blog about it due to the birthday post backlog). Last week, a friend and I went for lunch where I was able to try their vegetarian ramen. Thoughts on the items below:

Deluxe Ramen

Deluxe Ramen

  • Deluxe ramen – excellent, rich, but not too thick, pork broth broth. The noodles were perfectly done and had the perfect amount. Unfortunately, while the chashu pork fat was melt in your mouth luxurious, the pork meat was dry and tough. I also liked the nori and the perfectly soft-boiled egg.
Chicken Katsu Curry

Chicken Katsu Curry

  • Chicken Katsu Curry – The chicken was breaded very nicely, locking the tender juices of the chicken while having just enough crispiness for crunch. The curry was milder than I like (even for Japanese curry, which is more sweet than spicy), but you can tell that the curry was home made with small chunks of lightly pureed peas and other vegetables
Vegetarian Ramen

Vegetarian Ramen

  • Vegetarian Ramen – whoever says that vegetarian broth is always bland can use a lesson or two from O Ramen. There was a very rich, umami laden broth with a base of several tasty mushrooms, in addition to the herbs and seasoning on top. The tofu was nice and crispy too, though the breading became very soggy, very quickly in the broth (but that was to be expected). This bowl of ramen absolutely defeated my appetite and while I wanted to drink more of the broth and eat more noodles, I could not 3/4 of the way in.

The service is pretty good as well. There are generous refills of water and the check came just right after we finished the meal.

All in all, the quality of the ramen is arguably even better than lesser ramen crazed cities like San Diego and puts O Ramen near the top of my list of Albuquerque area eats.

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Dumpling Kitchen, San Francisco

Dumpling Kitchen
1935 Taraval St
San Francisco, CA 94116

My last birthday related blog post will also be about my “official” birthday brunch. Since a number of my friends and I were converging in town for the 4th of July weekend, we decided to also celebrate my birthday with a lunch.

Under the recommendation of one of my friends, we headed to Dumpling Kitchen, out in the Parkside neighborhood just south of Sunset. We arrived a little after 1:30 under the shield of the indomitable fog typical of summer in San Francisco. In about 10 minutes after arriving we were able to be seated in the warmth and the fragrant smells of the dining area and promptly got to ordering. After about 15-20 minutes, our massive quantity of food arrived, including:

Xiao Long Bao

Xiao Long Bao

  • Drunken Chicken (my personal insistence – the chicken was nice, tender, and moist though it could have used more soaking in wine for a more pungent flavor)
  • Dry Fried string Beans (The onion and garlic flavor matched well with the string beans. Different than my favored Cantonese style, but very tasty)
  • Honey Walnut Shrimp (I’m not a big fan of this dish in general, but it was decently executed and by the end of the meal this plate was empty)
  • Xiao Long Bao (Soup dumplings were great with a nice thin skin that didn’t break. The broth was flavorful without being too overpowering)
  • Crab and Pork Xiao Long Bao (Very similar to the other Xiao Long Bao but the crab brought a nice fresh seafood flavor that I loved)
  • Sticky Rice Roll (Only had a bite, but it was pretty good with the sticky rice not overpowering the filling)
  • Shanghai Style Pan Fried Pork Buns (These were DELICIOUS with a nice fried bottom, juicy and moist pork filling, and wonderfully light dough skin)
Honey Walnut Shrimp

Honey Walnut Shrimp

For a table of four, this was plenty, though we were able to finish everything except for the large plate of string beans.Our servers politely asked if we wanted to take any of it home, but we declined.

As for the value, I couldn’t tell you as my friends generously paid for my portion, but looking online it seems more than reasonable for the quality of the food.

Drunken Chicken

Drunken Chicken

I had other tasty meals during my trip, including my birthday dim sum brunch with a good friend at Zen Peninsula (didn’t quite match Sea Harbour or Koi Palace but definitely better than any in San Diego) and a post birthday lunch at Namu Gaji (decent Korean fusion). Interestingly enough, I never stepped into Chinatown (San Francisco or Oakland) this trip, which I normally do at least once. It goes to show how the best and quality restaurants have shifted along with a more wealthy population of Chinese people in the suburbs.

Unfortunately, I likely won’t blog about those other Bay Area adventures. Next week I’m traveling to Vancouver and seeing if their Chinese food truly lives up to their “best of North America” reputation.

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Burma Superstar, Oakland

Burma Superstar
4721 Telegraph Ave
Oakland, CA 94609

Surprisingly, Burmese cuisine probably was the Southeast Asian cuisine I’m second most familiar to, after Vietnamese. It just so happens that a couple families that attended my childhood church were Burmese and periodically some iconic Burmese dishes were cooked for church functions. I didn’t realize this until I was older, but I’m nonetheless grateful for my accidental introduction to Burmese food.

So considering the numerous raves about Burma Superstar by my friends and family in the Bay Area, I decided to go out to Oakland and have one of my birthday weekend meals there. I met up with a friend as well, who was also generous enough to give me a ride back to Oakland International Airport.

After about a short 15 minute wait, we both were seated. It probably took us about another 10-15 minutes to browse the menu of many exciting and interesting dishes, all of which I wanted to try. Unfortunately, we were a table of two, so we had to limit ourselves to 3 dishes max, or risk a large bill and a huge amount of leftovers. I did know I absolutely wanted a bowl of Mohinga (catfish chowder noodle soup) so I could compare it to the home cooked Mohinga I had as a child. We then decided to order the Lettuce Cups, Mint Chicken, and a side of Coconut Rice as well. Much to the shock of a friend I latter sat next to on my flight back home, I did not order their famous Tea Leaf Salad – something I will hopefully rectify on my next trip to the Bay.

Lettuce Wraps

Lettuce Wraps

The food arrived another 15 minutes or so after we ordered. My thoughts below:

Mohinga (Fish Chowder Noodle Soup)

Mohinga (Fish Chowder Noodle Soup)

  • Lettuce Cups: Delicious filling though they could have more evenly mixed the preserved vegetables. The romaine lettuce “cups” were fresh with a good crisp
  • Mohinga: Great, pungent catfish flavor. Unfortunately they cut the noodles (to tailor to Western audiences?) which made the noodle part of the “noodle soup” to be much less enjoyable
  • Mint Chicken: I loved the flavors that the mint brought out in this dish. Unfortunately, I wish there was a little bit more rice to accompany it
  • Coconut RIce: Absolutely delicious flavor with a just perfect amount of coconut flavor that wasn’t too overpowering with sweetness. Wish there was more!
Mint Chicken

Mint Chicken

The service was okay. They did refill our glasses of water fairly consistently, but we did have to wait 10 minutes for them to bring out serving ware for our dishes. We definitely were able to manage, but it struck me as a little odd given the restaurant’s reputation.

All in all the food was cooked very well with complex, yet not too overwhelming, flavors I remember. The Mohinga, while being excellent in its own right, fell short of my admittedly lofty expectations. I’ll be honest, it probably was the fact that the noodles were cut and a little thick. But such small quibbles shouldn’t deter anyone from tasting excellent Burmese at Burma Superstar.

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Cooking Papa, Foster City

Cooking Papa
949A Edgewater Blvd
Foster City, CA 94404

 For the past couple years there have been friends and family that have raved about Cooking Papa. Given all this adoration by multiple people who love very well made Cantonese food, I decided that the restaurant would be perfect for my birthday dinner meal.

Given its popularity, I should have known the restaurant would be packed and there would be lots of waiting, even for a party of one. The place was bustling and I ended up waiting about 30 minutes for a table. After my number was called, I squeezed into a small table and then began to browse its rather expansive menu. Overwhelmed with options, I decided to stick to a few of their signature dishes, as listed on the menu: a bowl of dumpling and wonton noodle soup, rice noodle roll with flour crisp, and Hong Kong style egg puffs.

Dumpling and wonton noodle soup

Dumpling and wonton noodle soup

The dumpling and wonton noodle soup came first, about 10 minutes after I ordered. While the supreme broth seemed more heavy on the pork and blander than others I have had, the other parts of the dish were excellent. Both the dumplings and wontons were stuffed almost exclusively with crispy shrimp that was just cooked right. Unlike many places, there was very little pork and the shrimp seemed very fresh. The noodles, if a little too much, were cooked perfectly with a nice chew. The vegetables were blanched well and not too soft in the broth.

Rice noodle roll with donut crisp

Rice noodle roll with flour crisp

Next came the rice noodle roll with flour crisp. The rice noodles had great texture and I did love both the peanut infused and hoisin like dipping sauces they had. My one disappointment is that the flour crisps were softer than I liked, probably due to absorbing the sauce at the bottom of the plate. That wasn’t much of a bad thing though as the sauce on the bottom was good.

Hong Kong style egg puffs

Hong Kong style egg puffs

The piece de resistance, however, were the Hong Kong style egg puffs which came out right as I finished the first two items I ordered. They came fresh from the kitchen with a generous sprinkling of powdered sugar. After the first bite of one of these pillows of light, sweet goodness, I felt like I was transported to paradise. The few bites after that it took me to finish one of the puffs were excellent as well, with a nice sweet egg presence throughout the middle of the puff.

The service was fast and efficient, but also relatively friendly. Some of the wait staff bantered with me in Cantonese and were able to understand my relatively limited Cantonese. The frenetic energy of the staff and kitchen could make those who want to enjoy a longer meal feel rushed (though I never felt rushed). However, given its popularity, I can’t blame them for wanting to turnover tables fast and allow other guests to experience the same delicious food.

Cooking Papa has minor flaws, like nearly all restaurants, but the quality, freshness, and overall execution of the food immediately vaulted them to my favorite Chinese restaurants list. There is no doubt I will be coming back the next time I am in the Bay Area.

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