Category Archives: Cantonese

Xiang Yuan Gourmet, Temple City

Xiang Yuan Gourmet
9556 Las Tunas Dr.
Temple City, CA 91780

A month ago when I was in Southern California I wanted to try a new dim sum place. Fortunately, Chinese food writer and “celebrity diner” David Chan wrote this story on LA Weekly just before my trip so of course I had to try Xiang Yuan Gourmet.

So after doing some work and watching the solar eclipse, I drove from my hotel in Pasadena to Temple City. It was about 1:30PM on a Monday and it was fairly easy to get a table for one. Perhaps only one quarter of the tables were taken. After sitting down I looked at the menu and decided that the following items would give me a good feel of the quality of the menu:

  • Crystal Shrimp Har Gow (蝦餃皇) – The shrimp dumpling filling was fairly tasty with a little salt and pepper and slight crunch from a little water chestnuts. However the dumpling skin was a little gummy, perhaps because of too much water. In general, it was fairly good if perhaps not as fantastic as a place like Sea Harbour.
IMG_6218

Mushroom Bun at Xiang Yuan Gourmet

  • Mushroom Bun (野生磨茹包) – These, however, were fantastic. Not only did they look pretty, but the tasty of these mushroom buns were heavenly. The bun was slightly chewy without being too dry or dense and the mushroom filling was very tasty that was full of chopped shiitake mushrooms, bamboo shoots, and carrots. I couldn’t eat these fast enough!
IMG_6213

Beef Rice Paper Roll at Xiang Yuan Gourmet

  • Beef Rice Paper Roll (冬菜牛肉腸) – The rice noodle rolls were solid and I loved the separated sweet soy sauce to drizzle only as much as you like and not having the rice noodles too soggy when you eat them. The rice noodles themselves were pretty good, not being too sticky and the filling was tender with some preserved vegetables meshing well with the tender beef. There were some yu choy on the side as well for taste and garnish.
IMG_6217

Crispy Bamboo Shoot Roll at Xiang Yuan Gourmet

  • Crispy Bamboo Shoot Paste Roll (甘笱流沙包) – Then these came out and I was very awed by dim sum formed to look like a carrot. There aren’t any carrots at all on this dish but instead it’s bamboo shoot paste formed into a carrot like shell and deep fried. Inside was a filling of salty runny egg custard. The melding was intriguing and tasty, though the salty egg yolk was not expected. In retrospect, that could have been easily rectified if I had read the Chinese name. All those hundreds spent on Chinese school apparently went to waste…
  • Salted Egg Yolk Bun (流沙包) – Which meant that I double ordered salty egg yolk items. These were solid but after tasting the ones in the bamboo shoot paste roll ones, they were incomparable. I also ordered these trying to see if they would be the ones shaped like hedgehogs, but unfortunately they were not. Apparently, those are the taro buns.

All in all, fairly good new dim sum restaurant with creative items that are becoming more common in Hong Kong but still very rare in the US. I would definitely go again to try out more items with this promising start. If you’re in the San Gabriel alley soon and want to try a new dim sum place, check this out. Some of these items just might become the new standards at other restaurants.

Advertisements
Tagged , , , ,

The Jade Restaurant, Richmond

After a busy July jammed full of travel, I’m finally back in the Bay Area to blog some more. To make things a little more manageable for my writing, I’m going to write reverse chronologically and start with my time in Vancouver.

The Jade Seafood Restaurant
8511 Alexandra Road,
Richmond, BC V6X 1C3

First up is The Jade Restaurant, an acclaimed Cantonese restaurant in Richmond, BC, a city swimming in fancy Chinese restaurants. My friend and I chose to go to The Jade because it was a well reviewed restaurant neither of us have been to that was conveniently located across the street from the hotel I was staying at. We met up around 11:30AM and was seated relatively easily (Actually she and her friend arrived early while I was a few minutes late. By the time I got there, they were already seated).

After looking at the menu for a good 10 minutes, we ordered the following:

FullSizeRender (32)

Dim Sum at the Jade Restaurant

  • Steamed Shrimp Dumpling (晶瑩鮮蝦餃) – Fairly solid har gow that might have had a touch too much five spice powder. Also like many dim sum restaurants, these suffered from its large size, meaning that the dumpling wrapping wasn’t as dextrous and fell apart a little too easily with the amount of filling. Definitely not a bad har gow, but could have been more refined.
  • Steamed Mushroom Dumpling (松露香菇餃) – While the har gow were alright, these were pretty great with a nice amount of diced mushrooms and other vegetables including carrots and water chestnuts. Was definitely one of my favorites of the meal.
  • Steamed Sakura Pork Dumpling (安康燒賣皇) – The pork was very tender and rich with juicy flavor. Add in the fish roe (which was a little overcooked) and you have one of the best shu mais I have eaten in a while.
  • Steam Chicken Wrap (花膠竹笙烏雞札) – This version of sticky rice with chicken was solid and I loved that it came in manageable packets of 3, allowing each of us to have one with a portion that was just right in terms of how filling it is. The sticky rice was flavored well too with a filling of a little bit of chicken, salty egg yolk, Chinese bacon, shitake mushroom, and small amounts of small Chinese green beans.
  • Steamed Rice Roll with Beef and Chinese Parsley (香茜滑牛肉腸粉) – I love when restaurants serve the rice noodle rolls without the sauce and allow you to drizzle the exact amount you want afterward. That’s what happened here where the perfectly steamed rice noodle rolls wrapped the nicely seasoned ground beef and parsley filling. It meant that the rice noodle roll could absorb the flavor of the sweet soy sauce without becoming too salty, too mushy, or too flimsy. A+ to the Jade for this.
  • Steamed Salty Egg Yolk Bun (黃金流沙飽) – Unfortunately these came out mid meal but I chose to wait to eat them at the end because it is dessert. I am glad my friend’s friend love them (and he ate it while it was still hot and freshly steamed), but the cold, slight sogginess dampened and otherwise decent salty egg custard yolk bun.

All in all, the Jade is a fine place to get dim sum in Richmond, though not as exemplary as other top places like Kirin or Sun Sui Wah. The one advantage, however, is the easy wait time. So if you can’t stand to wait in line at one of the better dim sum restaurants off No. 3 Road, I would definitely recommend walking down Alexandra Road to eat dim sum at the Jade. It might not be the best, but you certainly won’t be disappointed in the over all meal.


As a bonus to this blog post, I’ll quickly touch upon HK BBQ Master, a famed Cantonese Barbecue place underneath the giant Real Canadian Superstore building on No. 3 Road. I didn’t get enough to actually review it on its own, but it is definitely worthy enough to be included in a blog post.

I went to HK BBQ Master for a late lunch on a Monday afternoon. Even at 2PM it was extremely busy and I still had to wait 15 minutes for one of their 28 or so seats in their restaurant. While I waited, I ordered a roast pork and roast duck rice plate and a cup of iced honey citron (a classic and refreshing Hong Kong drink). I was given the order slip, which was handed to the server right as I sat down.

IMG_6121

Roast duck and roast pork rice place at H BBQ Master

The plate of rice with roast pork and roast duck out came soon after I sat down and it was absolutely delicious. The duck with meaty and juicy with a very nice soy sauce and star anise marinade. The skin managed to have a little crispiness as well. The roast pork was a tad salty but the skin was crispy and so nice. Unfortunately, the honey citron was a lot of water and not a lot of honey or citron. However, it didn’t manage to damper the incredible barbecue I ate. I certainly will be back for more!

Tagged , , , ,

Tastee Steam Kitchen, Oakland

Tastee Steam Kitchen
329 11th Street
Oakland, CA 94607

On most workdays I travel to Oakland Chinatown for lunch since it’s a fairly short walk from my office and I can get lunch at a reasonably affordable prices. When I’m in Chinatown, I usually make it to the corner of 11th and Webster where I eat lunch at either Baby Cafe or Shooting Star Cafe for some classic, filling Hong Kong style cafe food. Over the last few months, though, I noticed signs for a new restaurant called Tastee Steam Kitchen.

Since I’m curious about any new Chinese restaurant in Oakland Chinatown, I took a look and was fascinated by a restaurant dedicated to “steam grilling”, which I had never heard before (and seems like a thing in Hong Kong?). I was intrigued, especially since it was opened by the same owners of Shooting Star Cafe, but the price seemed like a pricey hot pot so I decided to wait.

But then came its addition to Michael Bauer’s top 100 restaurants of the Bay Area and I felt compelled to finally go. My aunt was thinking about getting together for dinner too and I decided that it would be the perfect opportunity to try a new place out.

We went on a Thursday night and got seated right away. We carefully browsed the menu which was very similar to an ala carte hot pot place like Little Sheep. There was a list of congee bases you could choose from (the steam and the drippings from the cooked food combine with the congee base to create a congee at the end of the meal). Then there was a list of sauces you could choose for 25 cents each, in addition to the free soy sauce, vinegar, and hot chile oil they have on the table. Then there is a selection of meats, seafood, vegetables, and dim sum items you select to steam at your table. After looking at the menu, we ordered the following:

Marble Beef (before steaming) at Tastee Steam Kitchen

Marble Beef (before steaming) at Tastee Steam Kitchen

  • Marble Beef (肥牛) – Our first plate was marble beef that was steamed to just perfectly done. While thinly sliced, the fat in the beef help give the meat a nice, juicy flavor that matched well with the spicy soy sauce mixture I had. At $5, it was super cheap for the portion as well.
  • Egg Tofu with Ground Pork in XO Sauce (XO滑肉豆腐) – I think we were expecting more of a steam egg/meatloaf like dish but these pork meatloaf bits and tofu were nice, if less than exciting. The meat was juicy, though I was hoping for a little more spiciness and saltiness. It was hard to eat it together with the medium soft tofu. It was alright, if not exciting.
Snow Pea Leaves (after steaming) at Tastee Steam Kitchen

Snow Pea Leaves (after steaming) at Tastee Steam Kitchen

  • Snow Pea Leaves 大豆苗 – I love pea leaves and when these were steaming, it was so great to smell the fragrant, nutty aroma. They were steamed perfectly, and the milder flavor helped absorb the sauces well. I do wish, however, that this came in between the meat dishes.
  • Lotus Root 蓮藕 – There was a LOT of lotus root so if you love lotus root, this is exceptionally good value. The lotus root probably could have used more steam to make it softer, but the crunch was still nice and made for a good vessel for the sauces.
  • Custard Bun 流沙包 – Finally, we ended the meal with a bun filled with runny custard. Like the other items, it was steamed and timed exactly right. The buns were oozing with delicious runny custard that was a perfect end to the meal.
Cordyceps Flower and Chicken Congee at the end

Cordyceps Flower and Chicken Congee at the end

Afterward we had the cordyceps flower and chicken congee. While the rice and chicken cooked beautifully with all that steam and water, the congee was a bit lacking in flavor. However, that’s likely due to the fact that we only had one dish that had major protein juice drippings to help flavor the congee. It probably would have been more flavorful if we got a seafood dish instead of a vegetable dish.

All in all, I liked Tastee Steam Kitchen though I do wish they alternated between cooking vegetables and meat instead of cooking meat at the beginning then vegetables. I’ll definitely have to go again and order more meat and seafood to see how it flavors the congee in the end. There is certainly a lot of potential to this new type of cooking that’s as healthy as hot pot with the ability to have everything perfectly cooked on a “grill”. I’ll just have to go a little bit more before I can confidently say it’s one of the best restuarants in the Bay.

 

Tagged , , ,

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).
FullSizeRender (23)

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.

Tagged , , ,

Lung King Heen (龍景軒), Hong Kong

Lung King Heen
Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong, 4th Floor
8 Finance Street
Central, Hong Kong

What’s it like to eat 3 Michelin star dim sum? Well truthfully, I already ate such at T’ang Court inside the Langham Hotel, which has received 3 Michelin Stars for the past 2 years. However, as great as that meal was, it wasn’t at Lung King Heen (龍景軒), the vaunted restaurant that has been known to be the first 3 Michelin star Cantonese establishment in the world. As such, it has been a years long dream for me to dine here and see if it was really worth all the plaudits bestowed on it.

Originally I hoped to go with my brother and sister-in-law, but their plans made them unable to go for the New Years Day reservation I had made in September. Fortunately, a spur of the moment decision to open up a dating app led me to meeting a fellow American tourist. After a successful breakfast date the day before, I changed my reservation to a table of two. The fortuitous series of events meant that I could try even more dim sum items at Lung King Heen.

I was slightly late for the reservation, but both the restaurant staff and date seemed to take it all fine. We were seated at a small table next to the window with a gorgeous view of Victoria Harbour and Tsim Sha Tsui. Afterwards we were presented a menu which included just a singular page of 18 dim sum items.

fullsizerender-3

Lung King Heen dim sum menu

The menu wasn’t exactly filled with interesting, innovative items that I had come to expect at other fancy Cantonese restaurants in Hong Kong, like Yan Toh Heen. However, there were a lot of items that were slight twists on classic items as you can see from the menu above. After browsing the menu a little bit we decided to order the following five items:

Steamed Shrimp Dumpling with Wild Mushroom at Lung King Heen

Steamed Shrimp Dumpling with Wild Mushroom at Lung King Heen

  • Steamed Shrimp Dumpling with Wild Mushroom (牛肝菌鮮蝦餃) – This version of har gow was interesting with a slight hint of umami from the bits of wild mushroom. The shrimp was plump and juicy with a nice snap. My one slight complaint would be the dumpling wrapper, which was a little thicker than it should be to hold the slightly larger filling. As such, biting into the dumpling wasn’t as easy and refined as those at Ming Court (which I still consider the high standard for what a har gow should be). Quibble aside, these were some of the best shrimp dumplings I have ever had.
fullsizerender-4

Dim sum at Lung King Heen

  • Steamed Rice Rolls with Beef Chuck and Enoki (金菇菜牛頸脊腸粉) – The rice rolls were pretty good with tender chunks of beef matching well with the slight crunch and flavor of the enoki mushrooms. The rice noodles were cooked pretty well, not falling apart or being too gummy. Surprisingly, though, the rice noodles weren’t as good as the shrimp rice noodle rolls that my family and I ordered at Tim Ho Wan.
  • Steamed Lobster and Scallop Dumplings (龍太子蒸餃) – This is perhaps the most photographed dim sum item from Lung King Heen and is one of their signature items. Think of it as a siu mai that just put in lobster instead of pork. There was definitely a lot of scallop and lobster here, making these dumpling definitely worth their bang for the buck (even if it comes out to $7.75 USD a piece). However, my dumpling had scallop that was slightly overcooked, but not too overdone to detract from the dish.
Dim sum at Lung King Heen

Dim sum at Lung King Heen

  • Steamed Shanghainese Pork Dumplings with Crab Meat (蟹肉小籠包) – I am normally very wary of ordering xiaolongbao at a Cantonese restaurant, as almost all Cantonese restaurants fail to execute this beloved Shanghainese/Jiangnan dish properly. But props to Lung King Heen for tasty dumplings filled with juicy pork, shreds of crab meat, a decent amount of soup, and a thin wrapper that never fell apart. Bonus points for the cute and creative way they served the dumplings. These were by far the best xiaolongbao I have had at a Cantonese restaurant and even beats a number of American Taiwanese/Shanghainese restaurants too.
  • Steamed Shrimp and Pork Dumplings with Crab Roe (蟹籽蒸燒賣) – These bits of siu mai were excellent, with perfectly cooked shrimp and juicy portions of pork. The crab roe was a nice touch without being too much (like those at Lunasia). Overall, this was an exemplary version of the classic siu mai, being one of the best versions I have had.
Baked Barbecued Pork Buns with Pine Nuts at Lung King Heen

Baked Barbecued Pork Buns with Pine Nuts at Lung King Heen

  • Baked Barbecued Pork Buns with Pine Nuts (崧子叉燒菠蘿包) – Like many of Hong Kong’s dim sum parlors, these char siu baos were essentially “pineapple buns” (baked buns with a hardened sweet custard top) with a barbecue pork filling. Unlike those at (and imitating) Tim Ho Wan, these buns were more in traditional pineapple bun style where there is a thick layer of baked custard that surrounds most, but not all of the top side of the bun. The buns were great and the filling had tender pork with a slightly sweet and savory filling that balanced the sweet buns. I really loved these, though I think I prefer the ones at Tim Ho Wan slightly more at the end of the day.

So how was Lung King Heen overall? Pretty good. While I found the lack of truly innovative dishes to be disappointing, the overall execution of the dishes I did have ranged from above average to phenomenal. I’m not sure that it beat Yan Toh Heen in terms of the best overall dim sum experience I have had, but it certainly has all the hallmarks of modern luxury in Hong Kong: food that is exquisite but not flashy or showy and service that is attentive but not overbearing (very attentive about tea cup refills but no incessant questions of “and how is everything?”). Best of all, for upscale dim sum in Hong Kong it isn’t too comparatively pricey either. Definitely worth the wait, but it’s advised to book way in advance.

Birthplace of HK Milk Tea & Three Michelin Star Dim Sum

After a month long election delay, I bring you back to my New York/Vancouver/Hong Kong trip report:

Days two and three of my Hong Kong trip continued on my vow to primarily eat at places that were Michelin guide recommended. In the course of 24 hours that lead from a Bib Gourmand recommended hole in the wall roast meat joint to a lavish three Michelin star restaurant for Dim Sum.

Po Kee 波記燒臘粉麵店
Shop P, G/F 425 Queens Rd W
Western District, Hong Kong

It’s no secret that I love Cantonese style barbecue. From the crackling skin of roast goose to the tender, sweet flavors of char siu, Cantonese style barbecue is probably the only reason that prevents me from being a vegetarian. I usually stop at 1 Michelin star-rated Yat Lok on my Hong Kong trips, but this time I decided to explore other places and eat other barbecued meats aside from roast goose. I looked up my copy of the Michelin guide and decided to go to Po Kee.

Po Kee is located quite close to the HKU MTR stop on an older commercial strip of Queens Road West. Given the slightly confusing address, it was a little difficult to find at first, especially in the rain. However, I found the small store front walking a little further along Queen Road to the left of the HKU MTR exit. Once I was seated, I quickly ordered the following, given the little time that servers in Hong Kong give you to order:

img_4446

Roast Duck Lai Fun at Po Kee

  • Roast Duck Lai Fun – It was raining heavily so I decided to warm up a little with a bowl of roast duck and lai fun in soup. The soup was light and flavorful and the duck was juicy and tender. The skin was crisp in the beginning, but became soggy as it usually does in soup. The best thing about this dish, however, was the al dente lai fun which kept its texture and didn’t soak up too much water. I’m amazed how Hong Kong can make such dexterous noodles but they can’t in the United States.
img_4447

Char Siu Rice Plate at Po Kee

  • Char Siu Rice Plate – Unfortunately, the roast duck lai fun wasn’t enough for my hungry stomach, so I decided to place another order. They didn’t have any more of their famed roast pork, however, so I decided to get char siu. The barbecue pork was very succulent and had a light glaze that was flavorful without being too sweet or gloppy.

Lan Fong Yuen 蘭芳園
2 Gage Street
Central, Hong Kong

After lunch I decided to wonder the indoor shopping malls around Central. When the weather cleared up a little bit, I thought it was the perfect time for a quick afternoon snack. Conveniently, I was within a few minutes walking distance to Lan Fong Yuen, the likely inventor of what we know call Hong Kong style milk tea.

Lan Fong Yuen is on Gage Street, a small side street in Central. It is actually a dai pai dong and still as its original stall on the street. However, most of its business is now done in a small restaurant right behind the cart. The cramped space has maybe a dozen tables, so its likely you’ll share a table. And because they have a kitchen in the restaurant space, Lan Fong Yuen is also a cha chaan teng, with a number of dishes on their menu. Aside from their milk tea, they are most known for their instant noodle dishes. (Yes, instant ramen with different meat and vegetable toppings is a thing in Hong Kong)

img_4450

Iced Milk Tea and French Toast at Lan Fong Yuen

However, I wasn’t that hungry so I just ordered a glass of iced milk tea and some french toast. The iced milk tea was perfect for the humid heat outside, with a nice balance of black tea and condensed milk. At first I thought it was a tad sweet but it balanced out well quite nicely. The french toast was really sweet, which normally I don’t like. However, I found this rendition really delicious. If you thought American versions of french toast were sweet, the ones at Lan Fong Yuen (which are typical of HK in general) are made with 2 thick slices of milk bread, slathered with coconut custard in the middle, coated with egg batter, deep fried on a skillet, then coated with butter and drizzled with maple syrup or honey. It’s a caloric sugar bomb in the most delicious and medically frightening way.

Given the limited items I tried, I can’t say if Lan Fong Yuen is more delicious than other cha chaan teng stalwarts like Tsui Wah. However, the stuff I did taste was delicious and it was nice to take a sip of milk tea from its birthplace.

T’ang Court
The Langham Hong Kong
8 Peking Road,
Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong

The next day I decided to switch it up and eat luxuriously after a day of eating at beloved hole in the wall places. I made a reservation for T’ang Court at the Langham Hotel, making this the first 3 Michelin Star restaurant I have ever dined in.

While the restaurant didn’t have the views of Yan Toh Heen, it was definitely very luxurious. The servers seated me at a large table of four, just for myself, and immediately brought my the tea that I had requested (It always seems odd/interesting that the fancy places in Hong Kong give you so much space even for a table of one yet the hole in the wall places cram people to any possible seat available). After browsing the menu and getting a recommendation from the server, I ordered the following:

fullsizerender

Dim Sum at T’ang Court

  • Fried Rice Flour Rolls – This was recommended by the server as this is a pretty unique preperation of the dish where the rice noodle rolls are seasons with a spice mixture and fried. What comes out is a dightful dish where the rice noodle rolls have a crunchy, spice kick on the outside but still remains soft and chewy on the inside.
  • Shrimp Dumplings – These were pretty good shrimp dumplings with a nice mix of fresh shrimp with just some subtle notes of bamboo shoots for texture and pepper. It was nice that they were steamed on top of thinly slices carrots so that the dumplings wouldn’t stick. However, I do wish they were still slightly smaller so that the wrapper wasn’t too stretched for the filling. Overall it was one of the best shrimp dumplings I have had, but not as great at Ming Court.
  • Turnip Roll – I got one piece of this unique dish where a think daikon sheet is the wrapper and the filling is stuffed with scallop, winter melon, and mushroom. It was a little large and fell apart when I picked it up, but still tasted very well.
img_4459

Pork Dumplings with Prawns in Soup at T’ang Court

  • Pork Dumpling with Prawns in Soup – I have always been intrigued by these oversized dumplings in a ‘supreme broth’ dish, so I decided that I’d finally order it. There was definitely more pork than shrimp but the flavors blended really well and the rather light seafood soup was a good palate cleanser.
  • Bird’s nest & custard egg yolk bun – As always in these lavish Hong Kong restaurants, I order some desert item with an expensive ingredient. I think the bird’s nest blends better in the custard egg yolk bun (bird’s nest itself is rather tasteless) than Ming’s Court birds nest custard tarts. However, in the end it was still a solid, if not quite spectacular, custard egg yolk bun.

Overall, T’ang Court was certainly the most innovative dim sum I had and slightly better than Ming Court, but I still reserve judgement on if it was truly worth the upgrade to 3 Michelin Stars this year. I’ll get a taste of consistently 3 Star rated Lung King Heen at the end of the year.

Dim Sum in Vancouver

After a whirlwind day and a half in New York, I boarded a plane an headed to Vancouver to avoid Hurricane Hermine. While in hindsight I would have been fine staying in New York, the extra day in Vancouver allowed me to sample a couple more Chinese restaurants that have been on my list. It helped that both of the hotels I was staying at were in Richmond, which is the epicenter or Chinese food in Vancouver. So after sleeping in, I just strolled along to grab some dim sum at the following places.

Chef Tony
4600 No. 3 Road #101
Richmond, BC V6X 2C2

Chef Tony opened up a couple of years ago to much hype and fanfare. Why? It was opened by Tony He, the proprietor that also had owned Sea Harbour, an acclaimed restaurant that serves top notch cuisine in both Richmond, BC and Rosemead, CA (right outside of LA). Naturally, given its pedigree, I thought I should give it a try.

Once I checked into the Westin, I dropped off my stuff and walked 15 minutes to the restaurant. While the Westin typifies minimalist modern chic, walking into Chef Tony was anything but minimal or chic. Some may call it fancy, but I definitely thought it was over the top and gaudy. In my opinion it was a shoddy attempt at being hip and fancy, like if an Aloft hotel lobby decided to add 10,000 plastic chandeliers and become a restaurant.

Provoking decor aside, I was really there to see how the food tasted. So after absorbing the decor, I look a cursory look at the menu and ordered the following (note, some of the English names are approximate as I can only find the Chinese names on my receipt):

Shrimp and Matsutake Dumplings at Sun Sui Wah

Shrimp and Matsutake Dumplings at Chef Tony

  • Shrimp and Matsutake Dumplings (松茸蝦餃皇) – There’s actually no matsutake in this dumpling, but regardless they were delicious. The dumpling wrappers were on point, not being too sticky and delicately tearing off with easy when biting. The shrimp filling was subtly seasoned, but just enough to bring out the freshness of the shrimp. These might be as close to a shrimp dumpling made in Hong Kong that I have found on this side of the Pacific.
  • Scallop Noodle Rolls (白玉帶子腸粉) – Sadly, the masterful technique present in the har gow did not translate to the noodle rolls. The noodle rolls were a bit sticky and did not hold the scallop well at all. On the other hand, the scallops were very large and nice. The sauce was on the side too, which allowed you to put the perfect amount of sauce you want on the noodle rolls.
Fried Sticky Rice Roll with Peanuts at Chef Tony

Fried Sticky Rice Roll with Peanuts at Chef Tony

  • Fried Sticky Rice Roll with Peanuts (脆皮糯米卷) – When I wanted to try something more innovative, I thought these might be nice. Unfortunately, I think the rice was undercooked and it was far too tough, crisp, and chewy overall.
  • Chef Tony Special Egg White Custard Tarts (酥皮奶香蛋撻) – The egg white custards on these were very nice. It was like a beautiful steamed egg that just happened to be on a perfectly done egg custard tart shell. While I think I prefer a regular egg custard chart with a richer experience, this was an interesting and less sweet adventure.

Overall, it seems like when Chef Tony does something well, it does them real well. However, on dishes that miss the mark, they are definitely not that great. I’ll just have to come back and try more dishes to give a better judgement.

Sun Sui Wah
4930 No. 3 Road #102
Richmond, BC V6X 3A5

The last time I was in Vancouver I actually wanted to come out to Sun Sui Wah instead of Kirin. However, Kirin’s City Hall location was more convenience for my itinerary. I definitely loved Kirin but it was time to finally time to try Sun Sui Wah now that it was more convenient for me.

I made a reservation for 1 at 11:30AM and thank God I did. As I expected, it was packed and the only way I got a seat was that they literally created a small table for me right behind the hostess desk near the entrance way. It made for less inviting ambience, but I still preferred the understated elegance of the part of the dining room I did see to the gaudy mess of Chef Tony. Even better, my seat faced the TV which was playing a US Open match.

Because they took a few minutes to set up my table, they asked me to order while I waited. I ticked off the menu, ordering the following:

  • Prawn Dumpling (水晶蝦餃皇) – Unlike Chef Tony, these were sadly the type of large, overgrown shrimp dumplings that pervade many of the top Cantonese restaurants in the US and Canada. The shrimp filling, while being tasty with a little bamboo shoot, were also too large. As such, the wrappers were abysmal, being too sticky and falling apart too easily because it tries to accommodate too much filling. TL;DR, it tastes good but the technique is subpar.
Truffle Scallop Dumpling at Sun Sui Wah

Truffle Scallop Dumpling at Sun Sui Wah

  • Truffle Scallop Dumpling (黑松露帶子餃) – If I thought the har gow were a bit large…it has nothing on these scallop dumplings. The wrapper were actually decent for these but the fillings were a bit too large. Don’t get me wrong, the scallop was very tasty, and what scallop eater doesn’t like a large, fresh scallop? However it was perhaps too big for the wrapper and the amount of truffle almost overpowered the scallop as well.
Shanghai Vegetable Bun at Sun Sui Wah

Shanghai Vegetable Bun at Sun Sui Wah

  • Shanghai Vegetable Bun (上海素菜包) – While I don’t order steamed buns in general, I needed a vegetarian item without paying an arm and a leg for a small plate of Chinese Broccoli. These were actually pretty good with a tasty diced vegetable filling that included mushrooms and napa cabbage. I really liked these.
Steamed Milk with Ginger Sauce at Sun Sui Wah

Steamed Milk with Ginger Sauce at Sun Sui Wah

  • Steamed Milk with Ginger Sauce (薑汁燩奶) – This was fantastic. A little sweet with a slight kick from the ginger, I felt like I was eating fluffs of heaven. The steamed milk also was nearly perfect textually as well, not being too watery and holding its shape very well.

While Sun Sui Wah could do a bit of work making their dumplings better proportionally, the flavors were very great. I think I still prefer Kirin overall, but I can see why Sun Sui Wah is immensely popular and constantly on top dim sum lists.

Overall, the quality and innovation of Vancouver area dim sum restaurants still make the area the place to beat when it comes to dim sum in North America. However, I can also say that the quality of the top places in San Francisco and Los Angeles, like Dragon Beaux, are now about as good as Vancouver’s top places. So while it doesn’t mean you need to go to Vancouver anymore to taste the best dim sum in North America, I do think the quality is still consistently better overall.

Toronto & Markham

Last week I spent some quality vacation time in Montreal and Toronto for the 4th of July Canada Day weekend. It was a fun filled few days that included some exciting food adventures. While I did eat one Chinese meal in Montreal, it was decidedly mediocre. So if you’re planning a trip to Montreal, I would stick to classic French fare and local specialties like bagels and poutine than going on an Asian food adventure (Vietnamese food possible excepted).

The hub of fantastic Asian food is, instead, located west in Anglophone Canada. In the 2011 census Toronto was 49.1% ‘visible minority’, the Canadian term equivalent to ‘people of color’ excepting First Nations folk. And of the nearly half of Toronto that are people of color, nearly two-thirds of those are either of South Asian, East Asian, or Southeast Asian descent. These numbers increase when you go out to a number of Toronto suburbs, like Brampton, Richmond Hill, and Markham.

Needless to say, my Asian eating adventures dramatically improved when I hit Canada’s largest city. Below are just three of the limited samples of Asian food I was able to try on my brief 2 day stay in Toronto.

Sansotei Ramen
650 Yonge Street
Toronto, ON M4Y 2A6

Toronto 1

Tonkotsu Black at Sansotei Ramen

A friend from high school lives in Toronto and we decided to meet up and grab a bite at the Church and Wellesley (Toronto’s gayborhood) adjacent location of this well regarded local ramen chain.

With only 5-6 options, the menu was pretty simple. My friend and I both went with the Tonkotsu Black, which is a Tonkotsu broth with roasted garlic oil. The broth was fatty with a nice hint of garlic oil, but also managed not to be too heavy or overwhelming. I also got the thin ramen noodles which still had a nice bite even after being the the broth for a while. The eggs were perhaps slightly overcooked over soft boiled, but nonetheless still had good texture and flavor. And finally, the pork was thinly sliced, nice, and tender.

Overall, this was my best bowl of ramen in a while, after consistently disappointing bowls in the Bay Area.

Yang’s Chinese Cuisine
8432 Leslie St., Unit 110
Markham, ON L3T 7M6

Toronto’s suburbs of Markham and Richmond Hill are lined with suburban Chinese strip malls similar to LA’s San Gabriel Valley and Vancouver’s Richmond. It’s no surprise then that these are the places to go to get great Chinese food. In fact, suburban Toronto’s Chinese food is so good, it is considered 2nd best in North America, even better than the San Gabriel Valley.

To test how good the scene was, I decided to go to one of the newer restaurants reputed to have some of the best dim sum in the area: Yang’s Chinese Cuisine. After renting a car in downtown Toronto at 1PM, I made the mad dash to get to the restaurant before dim sum hours closed. Despite the later hour, the restaurant was still pretty busy and they managed to squeeze me at a small table in the side VIP room. I sat down, ordered my tea, and ticked off the menu for the following items:

  • Steamed Dumpling in Homestyle (家鄉蒸粉粿) – Given the rather vague name of the dish, I decided to take my chances with this only knowing that the menu said it contained peanuts. What ended up at my table was a very nicely made Cantonese style ‘sticky rice tamale’ that had some pork, Chinese sausage, and peanuts. It was pretty well executed but I was disappointed that it wasn’t quite a dumpling.
Steamed House Special Shrimp Dumpling at Yang's Chinese Cuisine

Steamed House Special Shrimp Dumpling at Yang’s Chinese Cuisine

  • Steamed House Special Shrimp Dumpling (順峰蝦餃皇) – These shrimp dumplings were pretty good with a wrapper that was thinner but pulled well. The filling was also nice, with fresh shrimp added by just a little salt and pepper.
  • Steamed Beef Stomach and Turnip with Chu Hau Sauce (柱候蘿蔔金錢肚) – On the flip side, this dish was just okay. Because this dish generally relies on the strength of the sauce to infuse into the otherwise bland-ish tasting honeycomb tripe and daikon, the flavors were a bit mild and lacked a little heat and spice.
Steamed Rice Roll with Egg Tofu and Pea Sprout Leaves at Yang's Chinese Cuisine

Steamed Rice Roll with Egg Tofu and Pea Sprout Leaves at Yang’s Chinese Cuisine

  • Steamed Rice Roll with Egg Tofu and Pea Sprout Leaves (鹽酥子豆苗腸) – The last item to come to the table also happened to be my favorite. I was fascinated on this take of the rice noodle roll and it didn’t disappoint. The delecate but well made rice noodle rolls held up perfectly bite sized morsels of fried bean curd and pea sprouts. The sweet soy sauce balanced the fresh, savory taste of the pea sprouts making every one of these bites really heavenly.

All in all the food was really good and on par with some of the best places in LA, even if it fell short of Vancouver. I was definitely very impressed by my first Chinese meal in metro Toronto.

Pacific Mall
4300 Steeles Ave E.
Markham, ON L3R 0Y5

My last stop on my Asian tour of Toronto was the locally famous Pacific Mall. The Pacific Mall is a mall about the size of a Costco with 2 floors and 100+ shops. Given the number of different shops and food stalls at the mall, I am fairly confident that this is the most Hong Kong style mall in all of North America.

Given the number of vendors, it was impossible to try them all so I went to a couple, one for lunch and one for dinner.

For lunch I settled on Kam Hing and got a deep fried chicken noodle soup. Originally I wanted the roast duck noodle soup, but they were already sold out. The chicken was okay, though in the broth the skin predictably became far too soggy. The noodles were nice however and the broth was decent and not too salty. Overall it was a satisfying, if not exactly sensational, lunch.

Afterward I headed straight over the the egg waffle vendor to get a fresh 鷄蛋仔 with the rest of my Canadian cash. The 鷄蛋仔 vendor had a steady stream of customers, which meant that the 鷄蛋仔 came out fresh and hot, but unfortunately a little undercooked as they rushed to get them out rather than waiting slightly longer to get the outside crispier.

All in all, my Toronto Asian food adventures were fantastic. Unfortunately, it was just not enough time. I didn’t even really make a dent at all in Markham, with its other big Chinese strip malls, and I never even made it to Brampton, Richmond Hill, or Scarborough. However that just means one thing: I’ll need to book another Canadian vacation soon.

 

Baby Cafe, Oakland

Baby Cafe
358 11th Street
Oakland, CA 94607

Over the past couple months Oakland Chinatown has seen a small wave of new food retail spaces that seem to cater to Millennial urban professionals. While the majority of these new establishments are purveyors of boba, with four new boba shops in the past few months, the trend of new, hip eateries are spreading to Hong Kong style cafes (茶餐廳) as well.

The current leader of Hong Kong style cafes in Oakland Chinatown is Shooting Star Cafe, which has had a new glitzy vibe since it opened a decade ago. With its decor and decently made food, it has drawn a consistent crowd of diners, especially those who are young. However, with a change of ownership and a little bit of remodeling, formerly lackluster Hong Kong style cafes Cafe 88 and Yummy Guide have reopened with updated decor, better food, and higher prices, probably in hopes of gaining the business of young Chinese clientele that live and/or work around Oakland Chinatown.

Baby Cafe 2

New remodel for Baby Cafe

Baby Cafe is the restaurant that took over the old Yummy Guide space. Yummy Guide was previously a very basic Hong Kong style cafe known for its very inexpensive food. As some might guess, the food quality matched the low prices at Yummy Guide. When I saw that Baby Cafe opened in this spot, I was hopeful that the quality would be a bit better so I would have more decent options for lunch. Since it has opened I have been there twice, ordering the following:

Wonton and BBQ Pork Noodle Soup at Baby Cafe

Wonton and BBQ Pork Noodle Soup at Baby Cafe

  • Wonton and BBQ Pork Noodle Soup – The wontons were noticeably better than when they were at Yummy Guide, though still a bit pork heavy. The broth was light but still flavorful though the noodles were cooked a little too long in my opinion. The BBQ Pork slices were mostly moist and flavorful. Overall it was a solid lunch option at a reasonable price.
Hainanese Chicken Rice at Baby Cafe

Hainanese Chicken Rice at Baby Cafe

  • Hainanese Chicken Rice – A standard at Hong Kong style cafes, this version had pretty moist chicken that matched well with the ginger scallion sauce. Unfrotunately, the rice could have used a bit more chicken fat as it was fairly dry and lacking in flavor. At lunch, however, they did serve it with the soup of the day and a hot drink of your choice which made this a pretty reasonably lunch option.
  • Hong Kong Style Milk Tea – Of course, I had to try their Hong Kong style milk tea. Like most places they served the milk tea with evaporated milk. The milk tea was pretty good, though the tea was not a strong as Shooting Star Cafe.

All in all, my initial thoughts are that Baby Cafe is a lot better than the space’s former occupant. However, it’s still not at the level of Shooting Star Cafe. That being said, the quality is good enough and prices are slightly better to be a good alternative for Shooting Star Cafe. I look forward to more lunches at Baby Cafe and hope they continue to improve.

Hong Kong Visit, Part 3

Hong Kong Island from the Ritz Carlton

Hong Kong Island from the Ritz Carlton

Dim sum parlors and cha chaan tengs may be the most ubiquitous type of restaurants from Hong Kong, but they are far from the only type of restaurant that you can find there. While I wish I could have eaten it all, from the innovative takes on classic Cantonese at Bo Innovation to traditionally Tanka typhoon shelter crab, neither my schedule nor the constraints of my wallet allowed me to sample the true diversity of food Hong Kong has to offer.  However, I did get to sample some of the great array of food, which I’ve documented below.

Afternoon Tea

The Lounge & Bar at the Ritz Carlton
102/F, The Ritz Carlton Hong Kong
International Commerce Center, Elements, Hong Kong

Even though its been more than 15 years since the British handover of Hong Kong, the colonial roots of the modern city are undeniable and everywhere. This includes the ritual of afternoon tea by those of upper income classes (which I should note is different from high tea). My mother and grandmother always loved to reminisce about the delicious food and beverages of afternoon tea so I took the trip to Hong Kong as my chance to splurge a little on myself. I invited a cousin of mine who currently lives in Hong Kong as well and chose the Ritz Carlton not only because of its food reputation, but also because it has an incredible view of Hong Kong, which you can see above. The tea set for two came with the following:

Afternoon Tea at the Ritz Carlton Hong Kong

Afternoon Tea at the Ritz Carlton Hong Kong

  • Earl Grey Tea – I wouldn’t say that the tea blew me away, but it was definitely good tea. While many would add milk and some sugar, I just drank the tea as is, which I usually do for any tea.
  • Scones with jam and clotted cream – Scones are typically the standard when it comes to afternoon tea, and these scones did not disappoint. They were nice and buttery, matching perfectly with the jam and clotted cream. As my cousin suggested I ate some of them as palate cleansers in between rich dishes.
  • Raspberry Cheesecake – This was my probably my favorite item after the scones. It was rich without being too tense and the raspberry gave the small slice of cheesecake a nice fruity tartness to cut the richness of the dish.

There were a number of other items as you can see from the picture, but all in all I was very pleased with most of the items. Service, however, left a little bit to be desired as it took a while for our tea and coffee to get refilled. Regardless, my cousin and I enjoyed catching up while partaking in delicious afternoon tea.

Cantonese Barbecue (燒味)

Yat Lok (一樂燒鵝)
G/F, 34-38 Stanley Street
Central, Hong Kong

After Cha Chaan Tengs and Dim Sum, probably the next most ubiquitous type of restaurant in Hong Kong is one that serves Cantonese barbecue. In nearly every major street with a mom and pop restaurant, usually at least one serves Chinese barbecue. You can usually tell them apart by the fact that they hang roast ducks, roast pork, and barbeque pork near the front windows. If you have been in any Chinatown of a major American city, you have probably walked past and/or seen some of these restaurants too. Of all the Cantonese barbecue places in Hong Kong, one of the most well known is Yat Lok. Specifically, Yat Lok is famous for its roast goose, which many order in drumstick form served atop a noodle soup with rice noodles. Given its reputation, I decided to spend a dinner there and ordered the following:

Roast Goose Rice and Tong Choy at Yat Lok

Roast Goose Rice and Tong Choy at Yat Lok

  • Roast Goose Rice (燒鵝飯) – I generally prefer roast meats over rice so I decided to order a roast goose rice plate instead of a roast goose noodle soup. The first few bites had extra crispy skin but little meat and I almost became really disappointed. However as I ate other slices I truly understood why this roast goose is highly rated – for most of the slices the skin was nice and crispy while the meat was perfect and moist.
  • Water Spinach/Ong Choy With Fermented Tofu (腐乳蕹菜)- One of my favorite childhood dishes was also one of the simplest that my mom cooked – Ong choy with fermented tofu. This time Yat Lok perfectly blanched the greens to be cooked, yet a little crispy with a dollop of fermented tofu sauce on the side. Once dipped, the ong choy was a wonderful balance of freshness, saltiness, and a little spice.

As a side note, the po po (婆婆), or elderly lady/grandmother, that was the cashier chastised me when I paid. Why? I had unconsciously brought in a Starbucks drink the the restaurant which was seen as a side of arrogance and rudeness. Since Starbucks is considered a luxury item, by bringing in that drink I was considered snobby as if I didn’t want to drink the drinks they served. In fact, they do serve a pretty good milk tea, which is what I should have ordered instead.

Cantonese Desserts 

Ching Ching Dessert (晶晶甜品)
81A Electric Rd
Tin Hau, Hong Kong

I’ve talked a lot about savory items, but like many food cultures, there are a number of sweets for dessert too. So after dinner at Goldfinch, my cousin took me to Tin Hau for some dessert. Tin Hau, which is a neighborhood on the opposite side of Victoria Park from Causeway Bay, is apparently home to many favorite local dessert shops, most of them along Electric Road. I didn’t know whether Ching Ching was the best or most well known, but I trusted my cousin’s judgement and browsed through the menu of a number of childhood favorite desserts. In the end I got:

Desserts at Ching Ching

Desserts at Ching Ching

  • Mango Pudding (芒果布丁) – I loved eating mango pudding as a child and this version outranked them by far. Not only could you taste the fresh mango in the pudding, but there were soft dices of mango in the pudding itself making a very light yet decadent dessert.
  • Silken Tofu with Ginger Syrup (豆腐花) – This dessert, made with hot silken tofu and drizzled with a sweet ginger syrup, was my mom’s favorite sweet treat. In the United States is hard to get a good version as the tofu is often brittle or the syrup is not quite right either in amount or flavor. This version was practically perfect with silken tofu that stayed intact and a syrup that added a slightly sweet flavor without overpowering.

Now there are many other desserts on the menu, including grass jelly and almond “tofu” jelly, but given the quality, I feel like they might be all good. Granted, having never lived in Hong Kong I might be missing some of the nuances that might further distinguish one place from another.

Final Thoughts

As I mentioned before, I wish I could have eaten more. These three blog posts are only a glimpse to the vast food culture of Hong Kong. If I was to make a metaphor, my food experience in Hong Kong was like eating a few morsels of dim sum – enough to have me satisfied, but so tasty it keeps me hungering for more. In fact, as I write right now, I am saving up money and room in my stomach again so I can take another trip to the Fragrant Harbor again.

Tagged , , , ,