Monthly Archives: December 2014

Golden City, San Diego

Golden City
5375 Kearny Villa Rd #107
San Diego, CA 92123

Like many families, my family has certain holiday traditions. We open Christmas presents at midnight on Christmas Eve. On my dad’s side we regularly eat Thanksgiving dinner at my cousin’s, who makes a very good traditional American style feast. But no matter the holiday, whether it’s Chinese New Year or Thanksgiving, my mom’s side of the family has one defining tradition: nearly every big family meal is at Golden City.

We book their small “VIP” room weeks in advance and gather for a festive family dinner, ordering about a dish a person served family style around a giant lazy susan. This Thanksgiving was no different and my grandfather, who diligently remembers his grandchildren’s favorite dishes, took the reins in ordering the following:

Peking Duck – We actually order the duck to be served two ways, once as a Peking Duck dish and one as a stir fried duck dish that uses the meat of the duck and comes later at dinner. This Cantonese style rendition of Peking Duck is my cousin’s favorite dish at Golden City with its crispy, but flavorful skin, fine shreds of green onions, pillowy bao buns, and hoisin sauce to round off the dish. There are ample servings for a table of 10-12.

Pork and Watercress Soup – Definitely tastes and feels like a soup my mom would make at home with Chinese watercress soft yet flavorful, work that is tender, and broth that is also flavored with some ginger and goji berries

Stir Fried Duck With Preserved Vegetables – The second part of the duck served two ways, the tender and juicy duck meat is stir fried with bean sprouts, carrots, and pickled and preserved Chinese veggies. Normally one person in my family takes the remaining duck that we don’t eat to boil for soup later but this day we forgot to ask until it was too late and the wait staff threw it away.

Roast Pork Slices – The roast pork belly has nice and tender meat with melt in your mouth fat near the skin. I do wish the skin was a bit crispier in this version but definitely not bad at all.

Salt and Pepper Pork Chops at Golden City

Salt and Pepper Pork Chops at Golden City

Salt and Pepper Baked Pork Chops – One of my brother’s favorite dishes, these salt and pepper baked pork chops are a hit with a crisp but not too thick batter and plenty of fried salt and pepper batter with fresh jalapeno slices that taste marvelous with rice.

Kwei Fei Chicken – This style of chicken is first brined in a light color oil and spice and then poached and cooled for a juicy and flavorful chicken. Add the chicken with a minced ginger and scallion oil and you have one of my favorite dishes at Golden City.

Dried Bean Curd and Fish Filet Clay Pot

Dried Bean Curd and Fish Filet Clay Pot

Dried Bean Curd with Fish Fillet Clay Pot – This dish combines bean curd, slices of rock cod fillet, and bean curd skin marinated in a thick seafood and soy sauce simmered in a clay pot.

Chinese Broccoli Stir Fried with Dried Fish – This dish is a favorite of both my brother and me. The Chinese broccoli is stir fried with a little bit of oil and dried fish flakes giving a nice seafood and garlicky taste to enhance the aroma and texture of the slightly crunchy Chinese broccoli. It is one of my favorite vegetable dishes ever and Golden City does one of the best renditions I have eaten.

Dungeness Crab Fried Rice

Dungeness Crab Fried Rice

Dungeness Crab Fried Rice – The Dungeness Crab is steamed on a bed of light and fluffy egg fried rice, giving the rice a nice sweet crab aroma along with bits of minced crab meat. The crab is flavorful too and since we ate them near peak Dungeness crab season the crabs were very fresh with tender and sweet meat.

Salt and Pepper Fried Shrimp – A delicious shrimp version of the Salt and Pepper Fried Pork Chops. I rarely eat this dish as I don’t really like peeling the shrimp shell to eat shrimp meat that I’m a little ambivalent about already.

Tang Yuan – For dessert we had tang yuan, a delicious dessert of glutinous rice balls filled with black sesame in a black sesame tong sui (sweet soup that literally means sugar water in Chinese).

All in all it was another great family dinner where we were all stuffed and had plenty for leftovers. The service was very nice and pleasant without being omnipresent. Basically it was just another fantastic dinner with my mom’s side of the family and a tradition that I look forward to again and again.

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Best Dim Sum in America (Part 3) – Cart vs. Menu/Check sheet

Last week I revealed the top 10 places that serve dim sum in the United States according to my methodology. While one might quibble with my methodology and how/why some restaurants are ranked where they are, one thing is undeniable: almost all places that rank high serve dim sum using a menu checklist system rather than using steamer carts or trays. Menu order dim sum parlors occupy 8 of the top 10 spots and 18 of the top 25 spots. Moreover, many of the top places for dim sum in major metropolitan areas use a dim sum menu ordering system. Not only does Sea Harbour (the #1 dim sum parlor) use a menu ordering system, but so does MingHin in Chicago, Nom Wah Tea Parlor in New York City, Kirin in Honolulu, and China Max in San Diego.

Shanghai No 1 Seafood Village dim sum menu by One More Bite Blog: https://flic.kr/p/bgF1xr

Shanghai No 1 Seafood Village dim sum menu by One More Bite Blog: https://flic.kr/p/bgF1xr

Do all these data points really mean that menu order dim sum places are superior to dim sum places that still use carts?

There are many who would say no, especially a number of Baby Boomer immigrants from Hong Kong and their 2nd generation Millennial children (the ‘626 Generation’) who grew up with trays and carts being rolled around in grand dim sum seafood palaces. For many of these people, using carts and trays are the traditional way of serving dim sum. Thus, switch to ordering from a menu betrays those traditions and a number of associations with what dim sum is supposed to be like. In the modern practice of eating dim sum in the late morning and early afternoon, it’s part of the “yum cha” experience. Yum cha literally means to drink tea, but in general refers to a long midday meal where you drink tea, eat various dim sum dishes, and chat with various friends and family at your table for quite a while.

Cart at Ming Dynasty in Albuquerque, NM

Cart at Ming Dynasty in Albuquerque, NM

So in a way, using carts or trays to order and serve dim sum melds perfectly with these traditions and conceptions of dim sum and yum cha. It allows patrons to order how much and what they want at their own pace, all the while engaging in conversation and drinking tea with their friends and family at the table. By extension, it also allows people to introduce friends not familiar with dim sum in a relatively fun and less pressuring way. Dim sum novices can glance at the selections in the cart and can choose based on what is appealing then and there while skipping those that they may not find as tasty or worthwhile based on the dish’s appearance and description, if a description is offered by the person pushing the cart or friend.

However, none of those arguments for nostalgic carts serving dim sum addresses the quality of the food. A family member of mine recently said that he preferred cart style dim sum because the food seems more fresh to him. Certainly in some cases this might be true, especially if you go to a large dim sum parlor in a big city where the dim sum items turn over frequently; bonus if you are lucky enough to sit at a table close to the kitchen. However, the experience of a number of people that eat extensively at different dim sum parlors, including myself, is that those instances are rare. Often times items are in the carts are overcooked as a result of sitting in that steam and heat too long or turn cold by the time the dishes land on your table. Dim sum items are supposed to hot and fresh, but far too often they end up lukewarm and overcooked even at better cart dim sum places like Ocean Star and Empress Harbor in Monterey Park.

Steamed Zucchini Topped With Dried Scallops

Steamed Zucchini Topped With Dried Scallops

Menu order places, on the other hand, are generally more reliable in turning out hot and fresh dim sum items as the dishes there are usually steamed/baked/cooked to order. One recent example that comes to my mind is the Stuffed Zucchini with Dried Scallops that I ordered at J Zhou Oriental Cuisine in Tustin. That item came to my table piping hot and I had to wait about a minute or so for the dish to cool enough so I could eat it.

That said, not all menu order places and not all cart places are created equal. There are certainly a few menu order places that are near the bottom of the dim sum rankings, per my methodology. Additionally, my visit a few months ago to Red Egg, a menu order dim sum restaurant in New York City, turned up a few severely disappointing items. Likewise, there are many that praise Yank Sing and Koi Palace for being excellent purveyors of dim sum despite their use of carts and trays. Just because a place that serves dim sum uses a menu order method doesn’t replace the fact that you still need good, trained chefs in the kitchen.

Xiao Long Bao and Dim Sum Stamp Card at Jasmine in San Diego, CA

Xiao Long Bao and Dim Sum Stamp Card at Jasmine in San Diego, CA

All in all, however, the nostalgia and peek-a-boo fascination with cart style dim sum isn’t strong enough to deter me from eating mostly at menu order dim sum places. And if my dim sum meal with two high school friends a few weeks back proves anything, it’s that you can order delicious dim sum from a menu and still enjoy a long meal with copious amounts of tea and long conversation.

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J Zhou Oriental Cuisine, Tustin

J Zhou Oriental Cuisine
2601 Park Ave
Tustin, CA 92782

JZhou Interior

JZhou Interior

Since I was in Southern California for Thanksgiving week, I figured I would eat around some of the restaurants serving dim sum that opened within the past year or so. Conveniently, I had a haircut appointment at my favorite men’s salon in Irvine so I figured that I would tag along a lunch trip afterward at J Zhou, a restaurant that opened in June in the District shopping center on the old Tustin Air Force Base. It’s one of several Cantonese style restaurants that have opened in Irvine in recent years and I was eager to see how this place stacked up against the more refined and innovative dim sum places in the San Gabriel Valley that I wish I had in Irvine when I was still attending UCI.

I arrived at the restaurant about 12:30PM the day before Thanksgiving and got a table relatively easily. They did, however, run out of 2 top tables so I had to eat alone on a 4 top, which was awkward at first but not too bad. I took a look at their fair big list of dim sum items on their menu and ordered a few, detailed below:

Omasum in Spicy Wine

Omasum in Spicy Wine

  • Omassum In Spicy Wine (香茅辣酒牛柏葉) – The tripe was decent, though maybe a bit chewier than I am used to. I couldn’t taste the wine flavor too much, but the spicy broth was just right and gave the tripe a very nice and unique flavor I wouldn’t find at other dim sum restaurants.
Chinese Donut (You Tiao) at J Zhou

Chinese Donut (You Tiao) at J Zhou

  • Chinese Donut (傳統炸油條) – I admit, I was actually looking for the dessert item they called Chinese cruller (鳳凰蛋散) and should have looked at the Chinese name of the dish so I would have known. However, these you tiao were pretty great and perfectly fried – crunchy without being too hard and oily without being really greasy. It would have been even better had I ordered congee, but definitely still good without it.
House Shrimp Dumplings (Har Gow) at J Zhou

House Shrimp Dumplings (Har Gow) at J Zhou

  • House Shrimp Dumpling/Har Gow (凱悅軒蝦餃皇) – The shrimp was steamed very well with a very fresh taste and a light amount of ginger. The flaw, however, was the tougher and chewier than usual dumpling skin. This might indicate that there was too much water in the dough. Even with the imperfection though, it was one of the better shrimp dumplings I’ve had outside the SGV
Steamed Zucchini Topped With Dried Scallops

Steamed Zucchini Topped With Dried Scallops

  • Steamed Zucchini Topped With Dried Scallops (瑤柱節瓜甫) – This was undoubtedly my favorite dish of the meal. First, the dish came piping hot fresh out of the kitchen as it should; in fact it was so hot that I had to wait a few minutes to eat it. The melon wasn’t zucchini, but actually winter melon, which I like even better. The winter melon was steamed perfectly and its milder flavor balanced the shrimp and pork stuffing, along with the dried scallop garnish, perfectly. The pork and shrimp stuffing was excellently steamed and had a simple, fresh flavor. The dried scallops put this dish over the top and provided an excellent note to top off the dish. I admit, if I wasn’t getting full from eating dim sum alone, I would order a second one in a heartbeat.

The chrysanthemum tea was pretty good as well and seemed of higher quality that most dim sum places outside the San Gabriel Valley. Of course, I should probably mention that absolutely stunning decor with nicely upholstered chairs and possible Chihuly glass hanging from the ceiling that made me feel like I was at an elegant 4 or 5 star restaurant in Las Vegas than a dim sum palace in Irvine. However, the service, while decent for often rude and perfunctory dim sum palaces, could have been better to reflect its ambitious attempt to be a very upscale, refined Chinese restaurant in Orange County.

None of that, however, deters from the food which definitely puts it at the top of all dim sum palaces in Orange County. In fact, J Zhou can probably compete toe to toe with some of the best restaurants serving dim sum in the San Gabriel Valley. That’s no small feat given that the San Gabriel Valley has the two very best dim sum restaurants according to my dim sum rankings. So even though I don’t live in Irvine anymore, I’m glad that Orange County residents finally have top tier quality dim sum without having to deal with all the horrific traffic on the 5 or the 57 to get to Rosemead, Monterey Park, or Rowland Heights.

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Best Dim Sum in America (Part 2) – Results!

As I mentioned 2 weeks ago, my month long side research project to find the “best dim sum in America” is over. Results are below, but before that I want to go over my methodology in more detail just so I’m as completely transparent as possible.

I wrote last week that my methodology was based on yelp scores, urbanspoon scores, and some bonus points based on being on a food loving writer’s top dim sum lists. Here it is in more detail:

Total score
=
[Yelp score + (# of Yelp Reviews x 0.0001)]
+
[Urbanspoon % score x 5]
+
[Bonus points using a weighted grade based on mentions on a ‘top dim sum’ list in their metro area in the last 2 years. 1 mention = 0.25 bonus points, 2 mentions = 0.5 bonus pointspoints, 3+ mentions = weighted average of the rankings x 5 bonus points, 5+ mentions earned an additional bonus point]

Dim sum at Lunasia

Dim sum at Lunasia

The first two scoring factors are fairly simple and easy to explain as scores on both sites build the foundation of my rankings. Though, there are a few caveats: 1. I gave an added boost to the number of yelp reviews because I thought the more yelp reviews, the more reliable and better your score was compared to those with few reviews. 2. For the few restaurants without an Urbanspoon review I opted to duplicate the stars they received from Yelp (i.e. a restaurant without an Urbanspoon score but 3 yelp stars got a 60% in my Urbanspoon column).

The third is a little harder so I’ll walk you step by step on how I came up with my score for Sea Harbour. For the first two point factors, Sea Harbour received a base score of 8.19 (Yelp score of 3.59 + Urbanspoon score of 4.6). For the bonus score based on metro area lists, I averaged its ranking across all lists (19.5/8 = 2.4375) . Since lists are based on #1 being the best, I subtracted that score from 10. I then multiplied the resulting number by 0.1 to get a decimal. I multiplied the decimal by 5. The result was a bonus score of 3.78. I added an additional point because I felt that if you had more than 5 mentions, you must be pretty good. So in the end that’s 3.59 (Yelp) + 4.6 (Urbanspoon) + 4.78 (bonus points), or a total of 12.97 points.

Dim Sum at Sea Harbour

Dim Sum at Sea Harbour

But that’s enough math. By now I’m pretty sure you’re hungry to find the results of all this data and research. So, without further ado, according to this methodology the top dim sum restaurants in the United States are:

  1. Sea Harbour (Rosemead, CA) – 12.97
  2. Elite (Monterey Park, CA) – 12.436
  3. Nom Wah Tea Parlour (New York, NY) – 12.352
  4. Red Farm (New York, NY) – 12.337
  5. Yank Sing (San Francisco, CA) – 12.217
  6. Dim Sum Go Go (New York, NY) – 11.844
  7. Koi Palace (Daly City, CA) – 11.794
  8. Hong Kong Lounge II (San Francisco, CA) – 11.752
  9. Mama Ji’s (San Francisco, CA) – 11.528
  10. Hong Kong Lounge (San Francisco, CA) – 11.525

For those who are passionate about Chinese food and write about it, Sea Harbour’s #1 ranking comes as no surprise. The restaurant has enjoyed near universal acclaim since it’s open in 2002 and is repeatedly lauded by Jonathan Gold, the first food critic to ever win a Pulitzer Prize. Sea Harbour’s reputation and quality is aided by the fact that it is run by very successful Chinese restauranteurs based in Vancouver, where some of the best dim sum outside of Hong Kong is served.

While Sea Harbour’s ranking is not shocking much of anyone, what will undoubtedly shock some is the #7 ranking of Koi Palace. To be clear, a #7 ranking out of nearly 500 restaurants is nothing to sneeze at, but Koi Palace is considered by some experts to be the best Chinese restaurant in America. By this methodology, it comes to 2nd place even in its own metropolitan area, bested by the venerable Yank Sing. My hunch is that its notoriously long waits, with reports of staff ushering friends in front of the line, has markedly affected their ratings compared to others on this list. If that’s true, it does note a flaw in the methodology where to many folks, service trumps the quality of the food and is reflected on sites like Yelp.

 

Dim sum at J Zhou Oriental Cuisine

Dim sum at J Zhou Oriental Cuisine

Another interesting thing to note is the relatively small amount of places serving dim sum from the San Gabriel Valley  in the top 10 compared to those from San Francisco and New York. This is not to say that the top 10 places in New York or San Francisco are bad. However, there are a large number of  exceptional dim sum places in the San Gabriel Valley that many would argue are better than the San Francisco and New York restaurants in the top 10. This may indicate another flaw in my methodology because not all metropolitan areas are equal when it comes to overall quality of Cantonese cuisine. A number of people, especially of Chinese descent, generally agree that the Chinese food (including dim sum) is better around Los Angeles, with San Francisco and New York in 2nd and 3rd respectively. However, this opinion is fraught with contention as David Chan’s Asia Society article in 2012 elicited dozens of heated argument both on the site and Chowhound. I had briefly considered doing some additional weighting based on metropolitan area quality reputation but opted against it to keep my methodology as simple and non-biased as I could.

Nitpicking the various potential flaws of my methodology, though, obscures the big picture: the dim sum rankings and the methodology are a fairly good indicator of the quality of the dim sum restaurant. In general, a score of 10 points or more means that the place is excellent – where the dim sum is fresh, potentially innovative, and made with care and quality. More than 8 points generally indicates that the place is great, though not to the quality of those restaurants with more points. A restaurant in the 7 point range generally means they are good and fairly solid, though some items may not be very great. A score around 6 points means that the restaurant is ‘fair’ with some items that are good but many items that are not very great. The few restaurants in the 5 point range are ones to avoid with universally negative acclaim. You can take a look at my dim sum ranking spreadsheet here.

In practical terms, the list will be generally useful for knowing where to go and where to avoid to eat, especially when traveling for the holidays or for leisure. For instance, I’ll be going to King Hua (11.306 points) and not Lincoln Seafood (5.264 points) when I go to California in the next few weeks. It’s not a holiday without dim sum in my family and I’m certainly planning to stuff myself with delicious sui mai.

Next up: my favorite places for dim sum and deeper analysis of the rankings, including cart vs. menu order places.

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