Category Archives: Baltimore/DC

Da Hong Pao, Washington, DC

Da Hong Pao
1409 14th Street NW
Washington, DC 20005

It used to be that if you wanted to get decent dim sum in DC, you would have to venture out to the suburbs. While China Garden in Rosslyn, Oriental East in Silver Spring, or Hollywood East in Wheaton weren’t dim sum parlors of the quality seen in New York, LA, or San Francisco, they were pretty solid and offered DMV (DC, Maryland, Virginia) residents a chance to eat dim sum without having to travel. That’s not to say that there wasn’t dim sum in the district proper, but Tony Cheng and Ping Pong Dim Sum have suffered poor reputations either because of quality (Tony Cheng) or because of overpriced, bland, inauthenticity (Ping Pong Dim Sum).

But late last year the owner of Yum’s II opened Da Hong Pao next door to their longstanding Chinese American carry out joint. While Yum’s II has withstood the merciless tide of gentrification that has seen 14th Street go from auto repair show and late night carry outs to luxury condos with street level West Elm and JCrew Men’s Stores within 10-15 years, Da Hong Pao is a new, gleaming restaurant look tailor made for affluent yuppie millennials who want tasty, more authentic Chinese food in the neighborhood. Gone is the old Playbill cafe, a dark, very gay restaurant known for its karaoke nights. Now it’s a restaurant with floor to ceiling windows, white tablecloths, and dark wooden chairs. And instead of passable American cuisine, the new restaurant serves dim sum and Cantonese seafood, something the owners could have never done at their carry out next door.

Given the exciting opportunity to eat dim sum in the district (and in one of my old neighborhoods no less), I decided to go with one of my friends when I was in town earlier this month. We arrived about 12:00PM and got seated immediately. While I had expected a clientele ratio that skewed more white, the majority of diners on this weekday lunch ended up being mostly Asian. We took a seat near the window and promptly ticked off items from their dim sum menu and ordered the following (note: they do have a couple carts if you want to experience dim sum “the old school way”):

Dim Sum at Da Hong Pao

Dim Sum at Da Hong Pao

  • Steamed Spare Ribs with Garlic Black Bean Sauce 豉蒜蒸排骨 – The steamed spareribs were perfectly juicy and marinated in enough oil and black bean sauce to provide a rich umami taste without being overpowering. I loved the perfectly cooked diced taro they threw into the dish too.
  • Egg Tart 招牌蛋撻 – When ended up eating these egg tarts a little bit later as they came closer to the beginning. While the flavors were fine, I thought they weren’t anything to write home about. However, I fully acknowledge that it could be because I didn’t eat them hot.
  • Steamed King Prawn Dumpling 超級蝦餃星 – While these shrimp dumplings don’t have quite the finesse of places around LA, San Francisco, or New York, you could tell that they were made in house rather than reheated frozen dumplings. The shrimp was fresh and perfectly portioned, though the skin suffered from being a little too gummy and hard to break apart (or rip away from the steamer with a chopstick).
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Pan Fried Dried Shrimp Rice Crepe at Da Hong Pao

  • Pan-Fried Dry Shrimp Rice Crepe 香煎蝦米腸 – While the rice noodles were decently done and I liked that the soy sauce wasn’t to overpowering, I do wish they had a little bit more dried shrimp and scallions for added flavor.
Boiled Yu-Choi at Da Hong Pao

Boiled Yu-Choi at Da Hong Pao

  • Boiled Yu Choi 白灼芥蘭 – Though it is incorrectly named in English, this plate of Chinese broccoli (which is different from yu choi, though that is offered on the menu as “flowering cabbage”) was great. The leaves and stalks were cut perfectly for edibility, the broccoli was perfectly boiled and dressed with enough oyster sauce to complement and not overpower the vegetable.
  • Steamed Pork & Shrimp Dumpling with Fresh Crab Roe 蟹籽鮮蝦燒賣 – We ended up being hungry with just four items so we added a fifth. This siu mai was alright but the pork could have been a little more moist and seasoned for a little more flavor.

While Da Hong Pao is no Dragon Beaux or even NYC Tim Ho Wan, it is a solid place to get dim sum in DC. My friends will assuredly rejoice that there will be no need to metro across the river or to Maryland to wait for a table for dim sum. Instead, they can roll out of bed and saunter down to Da Hong Pao on 14th Street and wait in line as if they were eating brunch at Le Diplomate or Compass Rose up the street.

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Looking Back to 2015, Looking Forward to 2016

A little over a year and a half ago I wrote a post reflecting on my first year of serious blogging and places I looked forward to dining in during the coming year. I didn’t do a similar post earlier this year, but I figured today was the perfect time to do it since a calendar year ended a few days ago.

Upon reflection, 2015 has been a year of “firsts” for me. It was my first time eating Dongbei cuisine from Northeastern China (what some of you may have learned in textbooks as Manchuria). It was my first time blogging about Thai food. Most importantly for me, however, it was my first time traveling to Hong Kong.

It’s undeniable that my trip to Hong Kong left a lasting impression on me; so much so that Hong Kong eateries make up a majority of my 2015 list of most delicious eats. It makes sense given that, in a way, it was my journey home, home to where my parents were born and home to the culture they raised me in. That’s not to diminish the other wonderful non-Hong Kong places I ate at throughout the year. It’s just to remark about on my year-ending list full of “firsts” that my first trip to Hong Kong makes the biggest impression.

So without further ado, here are the most delicious places I ate (and reviewed) for my blog in 2015:

Muslim Lamb Chops at Fu Run

Muslim Lamb Chops at Fu Run

  • Fu Run (Flushing, Queens, NY) – My first foray into Dongbei cuisine was magnificent! My cousins and I loved the grass jelly noodles as well as the amazing and succulent cumin lamb.
  • LKK (North Point, Hong Kong Island, HK) – Technically not a restaurant, but a street stall that sells arguably the best egg waffles (雞蛋仔) in Hong Kong.
Afternoon Tea - a favorite on my mom's side

Afternoon Tea – a favorite on my mom’s side

Dim Sum at Ming Court

Dim Sum at Ming Court

  • Ming Court (Mong Kok, Kowloon, HK) – I’ve eaten at a number of Dim Sum restaurants this year (see Elite, King Hua, Sun Hing, and Dragon Beaux), but this 2 Michelin star restaurant at the Langham Place hotel was the best dim sum I had, hands down. Yes, even better (though certainly not cheaper) than Tim Ho Wan.
  • Pho Ngoon (San Gabriel, CA) – I also had my first taste of northern Vietnamese food in 2015. Let me say that I love northern Vietnamese just as much as southern Vietnamese, especially the Pho Cuon.
  • Yat Lok (Central, Hong Kong Island, HK) – You think roast duck from a Chinese BBQ joint in the US is good? You haven’t had roast goose from Yat Lok that perfectly balances crispy skin with juicy meat.

As you can see, it’s been a fantastic year of food adventures!

2016

This year, I want to continue my pattern of breaking new personal boundaries when it comes to experiencing various Asian cuisines and dishes. Fortunately for me, one of my first trips will be to Macau where I will get the pleasure of tasting Macanese food, which borrows from the cuisines of Guangdong and Portugal.

However, there’s a ton of restaurants I do want to try and blog about in the coming year that include cuisines I’m already familiar with. Given my desire to explore new foods but also refine my palate in cuisines familiar to me, here are 5 restaurants on my list for 2016:

  • Chengdu Taste – Sichuan cuisine is enjoying a renaissance in the US thanks to the large number of Sichuanese people moving to the States. Chengdu Taste is among the very best of these newer Sichuan restaurants and I’m eager to finally have a taste (especially with the convenience of 4 locations now with its rapid expansion).
  • Lung King Heen (龍景軒) – The first Chinese restaurant to receive the highly prized 3 Michelin stars. While it’s definitely pricey, with 2 trips to Hong Kong this coming year I’m sure I’ll be able to save some money to eat here this year.
  • Private Party – The kitschy and potentially problematic Communist theme aside, I’ve never had Beijing style hot pot so it’s definitely high up on my to-try list. It’s especially interesting given that you can grill skewers in the center of your hot pot contraption as well!
  • Thip Khao – Keeping with the theme of “firsts”, the first time I had Lao food was a few weeks ago. During my trip(s) to DC this year I hope to taste more delicious Lao dishes
  • Tita’s Kitchenette – While I have grown up in San Diego and gobbled many plates of Filipino food, astonishingly enough I have never eaten in National City before, one of the centers of Filipino cuisine and shopping in the US. This year I hope to take a bite at one Filipino place my brother and sister in law highly recommend.

Hopefully I’ll be more successful than May 2014-May 2015, where I only ate and blogged about 1 of my wish list restaurants. Only time will tell if I’ll keep this New Year’s Resolution.

Filipino Food in DC

Over the past few years there has been one metro area where Filipino food has sky rocketed in popularity: Washington, DC. DC is odd in a way because it’s an area of the country not known to have a high concentration of Filipino families. While the latest census figures do say that there are 70,000 people in the DC area that have some Filipino ancestry, there is not a single specific are where they concentrate and that number pales in comparison to other metro areas like San Diego, which has 170,000 Filipinos. Yet, despite this, there are now about a half a dozen Filipino restaurants in DC and and number continues to rapidly grow.

These developments, of course, gave me a wonderful opportunity to see how Filipino food is like in DC during my travels there this past Labor Day week. Since I only had a limited number of meals, however, I only got to try 2 of the restaurants with different friends.

Bistro 7107
513 23rd Street S
Arlington, VA 22202

The first one I tried was Bistro 7107 in Crystal City. I met two of my friends there, neither or whom really had experience eating Filipino food, to see how it was like. After an exhausting day in 93 degree heat, I drank a glass of water and immediately browsed through it’s decent sized menu. We deliberated for a couple of minutes and ordered the following:

Lumpiang Shanghai at Bistro 7107

Lumpiang Shanghai at Bistro 7107

  • Lumpiang Shanghai – These classic Filipino egg rolls were artfully cut and still tasty. I liked the very meaty filling that had a nice amount of mung bean noodles. The skin was fried nicely as well and I was half tempted to order another one.
  • Dinuguan – Admittedly, dinuguan is not one of my favorite Filipino dishes, but I did like this version. The pork belly was almost as crispy as lechon and worked well with the flavor of the sauce. I still wasn’t a fan of the sauces consistency though, which is mainly due to the consistency of the pig blood
  • Kare Kare – The oxtail marinated well in a very peanuty stew, probably the most peanuty kare kare sauce I’ve had. Regardless, aside from one very fatty piece of oxtail, the dish was really nice with tender meat and bok choy to help cleanse the palate.
Pancit Bihon at Bistro 7107

Pancit Bihon at Bistro 7107

  • Pancit Bihon – While this is a fairly simple dish, my friends and I really loved it. The mung bean noodles were stir fried and seasoned well with the minced pork and vegetables. It definitely wasn’t my favorite version of the dish but pretty solid to satisfy my cravings of this basic dish.
Mechado at Bistro 7107

Mechado at Bistro 7107

  • Mechado – The short ribs were marinated with a slightly sweet, but really delicious red wine and soy based sauce. The meat was pretty good, though the portions a little small.

All in all, I liked the food here. I would say my favorites were the mechado and the pancit bihon, but next time I will try to order the bangus and see how it is instead of the dinuguan or kare kare. The decor and service were pretty nice and friendly too, even though the prices were a little higher than what I would expect.

Fairfax Inn Restaurant
2946 Sleepy Hollow Road
Falls Church, VA 22044

The next day I went with a Filipina friend of mine to eat at the Fairfax Inn, a restaurant tucked in the corner of a small office area just off of 7 corners. The restaurant seemed to be a classic American diner in its former life, but is now more happily transitioned as a Filipino restaurant. After my friend and I sat down at a table, we ordered a few dishes for an early dinner:

Lechon at Fairfax Inn

Lechon at Fairfax Inn

  • Lechon – The fried pork belly was one thing my friend specifically ordered and it did not disappoint. The pork was crunchy but with a nice little chew. The sauce they served to dip it in was very nice as well.
  • Palabok – I liked the mung bean noodles that absorbed the shrimp sauce of the palabok well. The ground pork was nice as well. I did think it was a plainer palabok than I have eaten before, but the flavors were really nice, especially considering how rare it is to find this dish even with DC’s Filipino food boom.
  • Pork Adobo – The pork was very nice and tender, absorbing the adobo sauce really well. I liked the sauce overall, with a nice balance of saltiness with the sourness of the vinegar. However, if you are more used to a sour adobo, this dish will probably be okay, but not wowing.
Halo Halo at Fairfax Inn

Halo Halo at Fairfax Inn

  • Halo Halo – For a treat, we ordered halo halo, which my friend loved. The ube ice cream was really nice and it blended really well with the condensed milk and shaved ice below. The fruit, jelly, and sweet red beans at the bottom were very nice as well. It was a very refreshing way to end dinner on a day the thermometers outside hit the mid-90s.

All in all, I liked Fairfax Inn and the very mom and pop vibe of the restaurant. I would definitely order the lechon and the halo halo again. The one downside, however, is that the restaurant closes at 6PM so you have to go there during lunch or eat a very early dinner as my friend and I did.

Overall I was pretty impressed with the two Filipino restaurants I ate at. While I couldn’t say they both were of the quality that would remind me of friends’ parties as a child or my sister-in-laws’ holiday feasts, I was very impressed by the range of Filipino food that was on the menu given the relatively small amount of Filipinos in DC and the lack of resources compared to large cities in California. I definitely feel excited to taste more Filipino food in DC when I go back and to see how the scene grows and changes as it becomes popular.

The Best Dim Sum In America (Part 1)

A little over a month ago, when I linked to my blog post on Red Egg on Facebook, I made a half-serious joke about how should I have a “dim sum bracket” akin to Nate Silver’s “Burrito Bracket” on his FiveThirtyEight site. The burrito bracket, as Silver explains, was born out of his love of burritos and his then-recent 2007 move to the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago. He then started a food blog to document his search the best burrito in the neighborhood, NCAA March Madness style. However, his work for Baseball Prospectus and start of what would become FiveThirtyEight deferred his search in the middle of the bracket.

I was really captivated by Silver’s relaunch of the Burrito Bracket as a nationwide search to find out what was the “best” burrito in the country. Thus, I decided to actually launch my half-serious joke into a project to find the restaurant that serves the “best”  dim sum in the country (and when I mean dim sum, I mean the Cantonese style food and not others that may market itself as dim sum).

Egg Custard Tarts at Sea Harbour

Egg Custard Tarts at Sea Harbour

Of course, I don’t have Silver’s access to staff journalists, researchers, or a veritable selection committee of food journalists and celebrity chefs. However, I did have access to public access to crowd sourcing restaurant review sites, Chowhound discussion forums, and the online publications of numerous rankings of dim sum from various metropolitan areas. So I started similar to how Silver started his revived Burrito Bracket – Yelp.

Yelp scores and numbers of reviews may be a decent baseline, but even Silver himself acknowledges the potential flaws in Yelp. Renown Chinese food eater David Chan goes even further to describe the flaws of Yelp when searching for Chinese restaurants. Thus, I decided factor in other websites in creating my rankings, most notably Urbanspoon. Urbanspoon isn’t without its own flaws, but its another crowd sourcing restaurant view site used nationwide and I thought it would help balance some of the downsides of using Yelp. In addition, I factored in “bonus points” for the number of times a restaurant had been ranked as part of a list of best dim sum places in a metropolitan areas in the last two years by a food journalist and/or Chowhound. No ranking system is perfect, of course, but I thought that might be the best way in having a relatively objective rating system.

Critiques of the rating system (and scores for that matter) will be saved for another post, however, as I want to talk about some initial findings that I think are pretty fascinating in their own right.

In my search for the restaurant serving the best dim sum in America, I did a lot of scouring to find all these restaurants. All in all, I found at least 494 restaurants serving dim sum across 57 of the largest metropolitan areas in the United States. I got to 57 by searching for dim sum restaurants in both the 50 largest cities in America and the 50 largest metropolitan areas as defined by the Census Bureau. Honolulu falls below 50 in both categories, but has a significant population of those identifying as a person with Chinese descent so I included it too. In total, these metro areas account for 85% of all American residents that identify as Chinese in the 2010 census.

Dim sum restaurant v. number of Chinese residents scatterplot

Dim sum restaurant v. number of Chinese residents scatterplot

Afterward, I was curious to see the correlation between the amount of Chinese identified Americans in a metropolitan area and the amount of restaurants in the metropolitan area that serves dim sum. As you might think would be fairly logical, in general there is a pretty big correlation between the two. Using rudimentary and free statistics software by the website Alcula (as I don’t have access to SPSS, STATA, or other more sophisticated software), I found that the correlation coefficient between the two is pretty dramatic at 0.946 as you can see from the scatter plot above.

While that doesn’t come as much of a surprise, I was interested to see which metropolitan areas matched closest to the regression line and which were significant outliers. The two metropolitan areas that looked most in line were Washington, DC, at 13 restaurants serving dim sum in a population with 106,721 Chinese people, and Dallas-Fort Worth, at 8 restaurants serving dim sum in a population with 55,568 Chinese people. Beyond those two metropolitan areas, I would say a vast majority of the other metropolitan areas were pretty close to the region with just a few major outliers.

The few outliers, however, were pretty significant. The most significant outliers, in fact, looked to have a lot MORE restaurants serving dim sum than their Chinese population would otherwise suggest. The two biggest in this case were the San Francisco Bay Area, with 72 restaurants serving dim sum in an area with just 649,496 Chinese people, and Seattle, with 33 restaurants serving dim sum for an area with just 100,763 Chinese people. This can be explained by the fact that both cities retain significant numbers of people with ancestry from Guangdong Province and/or ties to Hong Kong. Furthermore, both cities not only retain a significant and vibrant Chinatown filled with Cantonese families, unlike their counterparts in places like Los Angeles or Washington, DC, but they also have suburban areas with a significant number of Cantonese families are restaurants, like Bellevue in Seattle and Millbrae in San Francisco.

Dim Sum at Koi Palace

Dim Sum at Koi Palace

In contrast to San Francisco and Seattle is New York City, which has only 53 restaurants serving dim sum in the metropolitan area that is home to 705,721 Chinese people. This can also be explained by Chinese immigration patterns as the predominant majority of Chinese people that have immigrated to New York since the Immigration Act of 1965 have been from non-Cantonese areas of China, especially from Fujian, Taiwan, and Zhejiang. While the core of what most people see as Manhattan’s Chinatown is still predominantly Cantonese, it is dwarfed by Flushing’s much more diverse pan-Chinese Chinatown and is even smaller in land area than the Fujianese side of Manhattan Chinatown, just east of Bowery and along East Broadway.

Sacramento and San Diego also have less places serving dim sum as their Chinese populations would indicate. As a native San Diegan, my theory is that many Chinese families are willing to drive a couple hours to San Francisco and Los Angeles, respectively, for their fix of really good dim sum on any given three day weekend.

Regardless, I feel the best finding in all my research is that in nearly every major metropolitan area of the United States, you won’t be far from a place that serves dim sum, most of them at least decent. Even in Albuquerque, with just a few thousand Chinese people, I’m never really more than a 20 minute drive from eating dim sum at Ming Dynasty.

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