Monthly Archives: March 2015

Shooting Star Cafe, Oakland

Shooting Star Cafe
1068 Webster St
Oakland, CA 94607

Last weekend two friends I was hanging out with mentioned that there was a Hong Kong style cafe (茶餐廳) in Chinatown Oakland. Both of them recommended it as of the restaurants I should go to as I moved to the Bay Area. I was caught by surprise as I thought Hong Kong style cafes were only situated in the San Gabriel Valley or the San Francisco peninsula, as I rarely saw them elsewhere. Given this epiphany,, I didn’t wait until I moved and immediately made a beeline to eat there the next day after my organization’s staff retreat. I grabbed a few coworkers too in hopes that I could also give them a little taste of the comfort Cantonese and Hong Kong style interpretations of American/British cuisine I grew up with.

Once I grabbed a table I immediately browsed the lengthy menu. Not only did they have about 30 or so set meal choices that Hong Kong style cafes are known for (usually a rice or noodle dish with soup and a beverage), but also a rather lengthy a la carte menu with items ranging from Chinese vegetables to western zodiac themed alcoholic drinks. It took us a little while to decide, but I ended up ordering the following:

Hainanese Chicken Rice at Shooting Star Cafe

Hainanese Chicken Rice at Shooting Star Cafe

  • Hainanese Chicken Rice – The chicken was poached nicely and the rice was flavorful, but not too oily, from the rendered chicken juices it was cooked in. The picked cabbage helped cut the oil nicely and the peanuts were a nice added crunch. However the chicken was perhaps slightly too bony for my liking.
Stir Fried String Beans at Shooting Star Cafe

Stir Fried String Beans at Shooting Star Cafe

  • Stir Fried String Beans – The string means and minced pork were cooked pretty well with a nice “wok hay” (as in, the fresh and hot wok flavor). It might have been slightly too oily, but all in all it was well and reminded me of my mom’s version.
Hong Kong Style Milk Tea at Shooting Star Cafe

Hong Kong Style Milk Tea at Shooting Star Cafe

  • Hong Kong Style Milk Tea (Iced) – This was a pretty good version, albeit slightly sweeter than normal meaning that it was more milk heavy. It was not a bad thing given the flavors of the other items but I might have preferred more tea flavor.
Russian Soup and Side Salad at Shooting Star Cafe

Russian Soup and Side Salad at Shooting Star Cafe

  • Russian Soup – I found this to be a pretty good version. It was not too sweet or sour and had a nice subtle hint of spice (likely paprika). I still prefer my family’s version but still something I wouldn’t mind eating/drinking again!

After that visit I came again on Wednesday as a quick lunch pit stop on the way to SFO. This time I got the following:

Curry Beef Stew at Shooting Star Cafe

Curry Beef Stew at Shooting Star Cafe

  • Curry Beef Stew – The beef stew portion was maybe slightly smaller than I had hoped, but nonetheless was very tasty. The beef brisket was very tender and the sauce was not too thick and just had the right about of slight spice for a Chinese style curry. It also had some onions, carrots, and potatoes as vegetable fillers which was done nicely, though I had hoped for a little more vegetable or non meat items. The meal also came with a side of pork and watercress “homemade” soup which I loved!

All in all I was very glad that my friends told me about the place! It was pretty good and I am so delighted to have this option for lunches or dinners when I move to the Bay Area next month. I don’t expect the food to hold up to what I’m eating in Hong Kong but it’ll be a pretty good holdover until my next trip, whenever that may be.

King Hua, Alhambra

King Hua
2000 W Main Street
Alhambra, CA 91801

Of the top 5 restaurants serving Dim Sum in Southern California according to my Dim Sum Rankings, the only one I had never been to, until last week, was King Hua. According to a number of Chinese food writers, eaters, and observers in San Gabriel Valley, it is one of the top 3-4 places for Dim Sum around LA. In fact the restaurant rankings no lower than 7th in all of the Dim Sum ranking lists I looked at to compile my rankings. So when I had an opportunity to take a friend out to Dim Sum, I definitely used it as an opportunity to round out my visits to the top Dim Sum spots in Southern California (and the country).

After braving some LA traffic during the lunchtime rush, we arrived at about 1:30PM on a Monday afternoon. Much of the lunch crowd was just leaving, meaning we were seated very quickly. We ordered chrysanthemum tea and I quickly sat down and looked at their tick sheet menu to order our various dishes. While I wanted to order many items, I managed to limit our table of two to 7 items, which turned out perfectly. The items we ate were:

Baked Low Fat Milk Bun at King Hua

Baked Low Fat Milk Bun at King Hua

  •  Baked Low Fat Milk Bun – My friend loved these and the buns were nice with a lightly crispy exterior and a creamy, rich filled interior. Unfortunately these were served from a tray of buns that a server was hawking around the restaurant so it wasn’t as hot and fresh as it should have. Casualties of eating at a later hour for dim sum I suppose.
Shrimp and Pork Dumpling at King Hua

Shrimp and Pork Dumpling at King Hua

  • Shrimp and Pork Dumpling (Siu Mai) – These siu mai were nicely plump and juicy. The crab roe on top was just the perfect amount (as opposed to too much and overpowering at Lunasia). Albeit not the best I’ve ever had, it’s still probably some of the best I’ve eaten.
Poached Chinese Broccoli at King Hua

Poached Chinese Broccoli at King Hua

  • Poached Chinese Broccoli – I liked that the oyster sauce was on the side allowing for people to add as much sauce they feel is needed compared to other places where the sauce can be overwhelming in some parts and underwhelming in others. The broccoli could have been poached a little longer but otherwise they were very fresh and nice to cut the fat and meat of other items.
Shrimp Dumpling at King Hua

Shrimp Dumpling at King Hua

  • Shrimp Dumpling (Har Gau) – These har gau were nearly perfect with a skin that didn’t break when holding it but tore with a little chew when eating it. There was a large amount of shrimp albeit I could have used a little more seasoning in the shrimp filling.
Steam Shrimp and Pea Tip Dumplings at King Hua

Steam Shrimp and Pea Tip Dumplings at King Hua

  • Steam Shrimp and Pea Tip Dumplings – These were one of my friend’s favorites and it’s easy to see why. Not only are these dumplings beautifully presented, but the flavor and texture contrast between the sauteed pea tips, shrimp, wrapper, and corn melds perfectly. If we had any more room in our stomachs I would have ordered another.
Steam Rice Noodle w/  Minced Beef at King Hua

Steam Rice Noodle w/ Minced Beef at King Hua

  • Steam Rice Noodle w/  Minced Beef – These rice noodle rolls were pretty good with rice noodles that were soft but not soggy. The minced meat was nice, but perhaps it might have been better with a chewier, thicker filling.
Steam Beef Tripe in Special Sauce at King Hua

Steam Beef Tripe in Special Sauce at King Hua

  • Steamed Beef Tripe in Special Sauce – Admittedly I thought this dish would use omasum/bible tripe but the honeycomb tripe was nice here too. It was chewy but also tender and the lightly spiced sauce it was simmered in was tasty as well.

All in all, King Hua was a pretty great experience with service that was pleasant but not overbearing. The prices were on par with other higher quality dim sum places in the San Gabriel Valley, though I do agree that it is not at quite the level of Elite or Sea Harbour. One thing I did notice is that while the quality was great, the restaurant was not quite as innovative with items as some of the other better place in the area. Regardless, this is a solid place to take friends out to dim sum and definitely a solid #4 in my list of best dim sum of Southern California (after Sea Harbour, Elite, and J Zhou).

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Pho Ngoon, San Gabriel

Phở Ngoon
741 East Valley Blvd
San Gabriel, CA 91776

When a American thinks of pho, they usually think of a beef noodle soup with a rich beef broth based spiced with a fair amount of cinnamon and star anise, thin rice noodles, and a wide variety of accoutrements that include Thai basil, culantro, and raw pepper slices. Well forget about all of that when you go to Phở Ngoon as they serve Hanoi/northern style phở.

What’s the difference you might ask? While I’m no expert, from my knowledge the much less lush and more harsh land of Northern Vietnam means that the people there have less fresh herbs and spices. Therefore the broth is typically simpler too the point that some may call it “bland.” However, you might also say that northern style phở is more “traditional” given that French and Chinese colonial influence in the north gave rise to the dish and, thus, phở in its more original form likely resembles northern style more closely.

So when I discovered that Phở Ngoon served Northern Vietnamese cuisine, I rushed to eat there at my next trip trip to LA, which happened to be this weekend. I stepped into the restaurant around 11:30AM when they were starting to get busy and took a look at their one sheet simple menu with maybe up to a couple dozen dishes, max. After asking the server for some of his recommendations, I ordered the following:

Pho Tai Lan at Pho Ngoon

Pho Tai Lan at Pho Ngoon

  • Pho Tai Lan – The beef in this dish is stir fried with garlic before it melds with the broth and noodles. While the broth on the whole was lighter than the usual Saigon style phở we have ubiquitous in the US, there were definitely tons of minced garlic to the point it was almost overpowering. However, the beef was marinated and cooked very nice and tender. The phở noodles were cooked decently too. They had slightly fewer accoutrements than a typical phở place, but I only sprinkled some bean sprouts as to try to stick as closely to Northern Vietnamese style as possible. Overall a dish I enjoyed and would eat again.
Vietnamese Iced Coffee at Pho Ngoon

Vietnamese Iced Coffee at Pho Ngoon

  • Cà phê sữa đá (Vietnamese Iced Coffee) – The iced coffee not only was contained in its tiny press coffee filter, but it was served in mason jars as well. Hipster/modern yuppie drinking glasses aside, the coffee mixed in really well with the condensed milk. Blended together it might be my third favorite blended dark caffeine/milk drink; following Hong Kong style milk tea and Taiwanese style boba.
Pho Cuon at Pho Ngoon

Pho Cuon at Pho Ngoon

  • Phở Cuốn – These rolls are made with wide square cut pho noodles wrapped around lettuce, grilled slices of beef, and some mint. It is then dipped into nước chấm (fish sauce). While definitely less jam packed with flavor than Vietnamese spring rolls, these rolls were very delicious and I love them even more than ‘typical’ Vietnamese spring rolls.

All in all, my visit to Phở Ngoon was a great one and I think I really like the lighter flavor of Northern Vietnamese food. As a bonus, the service was pretty nice too, especially given that there is one server/cashier. And while I’ve seen some negative or snide comments about the rotation of Top 40 (mostly EDM and hip hop) music, I felt it was fine and in line with the more modern “hip” decor.

I definitely will be back again to try some other items and I hope you will too. This feels like a great place to expand anyone’s taste in Vietnamese food.

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