Category Archives: Chinese

Chowing on Chicken Rice in Singapore

Hainanese Chicken Rice is considered the national dish of Singapore for good reason. You can find the dish anywhere, it’s cheap, and even the worst renditions you might find are still pretty tasty. And, of course, there is history behind the dish. While the dish is practically synonymous with Singapore, it does have roots in a style of chicken preparation from Hainan that was spread and then adapted when a substantial diaspora of Hainanese people immigrated to Singapore.

Given its vaunted status and my fondness for the dish, be it in Cantonese, Thai, or Malaysian form at restaurants in the US, I had to eat some chicken rice when I went on my recent vacation to Singapore. Thus, in just 3.25 ish total days in the Lion City I ate my way through 5 different chicken rice dishes. This is obviously just a small sampling of the amount of chicken rice available in the city-state, but enough that I can give a decent review on this blog and determine the best I have eaten (so far). 

So without further ado, here are the 5 different chicken rices I had in Singapore and my thoughts on them:

Chicken Rice at Lao Wang Chicken Rice

Chicken Rice at Lao Wang Chicken Rice

  • Lao Wang Chicken Rice (Chinatown Complex; stall 02-113) – First up was Lao Wang in the massive Chinatown Complex hawker centre. To be completely honest, I went to Chinatown Complex to try to get a taste of Liao Fan’s Michelin-starred soy sauce chicken. However, they were closed and thus I got to try my first plate of Hainanese chicken rice at Lao Wang. The rice was fragrant and full of the poached chicken stock while the chicken was tender and flavorful. However, the one thing that was off for me was the gelatinized fat underneath the skin that gave a slightly off taste and texture. While I understand it is procedure to bathe the chicken in ice after poaching (to presumably stop it from overcooking and separate the skin from the meat), the chicken was, perhaps, a little too chilled.
Chicken Rice at Tiong Bahru Boneless Chicken Rice

Chicken Rice at Hainanese Tiong Bahru Boneless Chicken Rice

  • Tiong Bahru Hainanese Boneless Chicken Rice (Tiong Bahru Plaza; stall 02-82) – Next was Tiong Bahru’s hawker centre (Tiong Bahru turned out to be my favorite neighborhood on the trip). I went to the Michelin Bib Gourmand recommended stall near the plaza entrance. The chicken was subtler in flavor and a little chewy, but I did like how it was light and not greasy. This, however, did lead to a less flavorful rice which was disappointing. All in all, it was pretty good and I could definitely see why Michelin recommended it, especially for $3.50 a plate. However, I hadn’t had the perfect chicken rice just yet…
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Chicken Rice at Tian Tian Chicken Rice

  • Tian Tian Chicken Rice (Maxwell Food Centre, stall 01-10/11) – After returning from a brief day trip in Hong Kong my friend and I went to the Maxwell Food Centre, homed to the famed Tian Tian Chicken Rice stall, listed as the best chicken rice in many, many chicken rice articles and recommendations. So I sauntered to the long line and waited 20 minutes until I got to the front of the stall and pay $5.50 SGD for my plate of chicken rice (by far my most expensive chicken rice, but I suppose they have to pay rent for two stalls). A couple minutes after paying, I received my tray of chicken rice and scurried to my table to eat it. I must admit, that first bite of rice was heavenly. The rice was so fragrant with the rice aroma of the chicken stock and a hint of garlic that I felt like my brain hit instant euphoria. However, I’ll also admit that the chicken itself was just okay. It was juicy and flavorful, but also a little bit chewy which perhaps meant being slightly overcooked. Though, in fairness, I’ll also add that their chilli dipping sauce was the best.
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Chicken Rice at Ah Tai Hainanese Chicken Rice

  • Ah Tai Hainanese Chicken Rice (Maxwell Food Centre, stall 01-07) – Not having enough chicken rice for lunch, I decided to make a beeline to Ah Tai Hainanese Chicken Rice, which was started by a former Tian Tian chef that was sacked a few years ago. While they did not have the precise chicken rice plate I wanted, I got the chicken rice set which seemed close enough. For $5 SGD you get a plate of rice on the side with chicken and veggies on a plate together than the chicken on top of the rice. And after eating a bite of the chicken, I knew I had found my chicken winner. It was tender and succulent, with the tanginess of the chicken fat gravy on top punching this extra level of umami that was just amazing. The rice wasn’t as flavorful as Tian Tian but it had just enough chicken flavor and fat that it was a pretty close second. The chilli sauce here was a little thicker and spicier than Tian Tian, so while it wasn’t as well balanced, it did give a nice heat to help enhance and cut a little of the saltiness.
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Chicken Rice on JAL

  • Japan Airlines Economy Class (SIN-HND on JL 36) – On my flight back home via Tokyo I got a surprise extra meal of chicken rice as part of Japan Airlines’ celebration of 40 years of service to Singapore. While the chicken was pretty tender and juicy, suffice to say that it paled in comparison to most of the chicken rice I had in Singapore. The rice definitely wasn’t as flavorful and you didn’t quite get that tender skin and fat that you would get on the ground. Nonetheless, it was fairly excellent for airplane food so I’ll still give Japan Airlines A+ for effort and execution.

All in all my favorite chicken rice goes to Ah Tai Hainanese Chicken Rice. Honestly the most ideal is to get the rice and chilli sauce at Tian Tian and walk over to Ah Tai for their chicken and broth. That said, it’s a bit of a hassle to do that given the possible waits at both stalls. So when push comes to shove I would chose Ah Tai. While the rice itself might be the most important factor of the dish, Ah Tai’s overall marks with its tender chicken and decent rice barely nudge it on top of Tian Tian.

That said, I have not nearly tried enough chicken rice in Singapore so I look forward to more meals of the renown dish the next time in back. Perhaps after the next trip I’ll be just as opinionated about chicken rice in Singapore as I am of dim sum in Hong Kong.

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Fung Fung Yuen, San Diego

Fung Fung Yuen
10660 Camino Ruiz
San Diego, CA 92126

When I saw that the old Home Town Buffet my family used to go to (a bit) was turning to giant Chinese restaurant complete with dim sum, I was naturally curious. After all, if I could spend 10-15 minutes driving to dim sum from my parent’s house instead of 15-20 to one of the places in Kearny Mesa, I was all for it. However, I was also skeptical of such a large Chinese restaurant succeeding in Mira Mesa given that Silver Ark in a nearby (albeit less trafficked) strip mall closed after operating for just a few years, despite a reasonably large Chinese and Chinese of Vietnamese descent community within a short-ish driving distance.

Nonetheless, I had to go and took the opportunity to this Saturday on my quick trip to Southern California before my trip to Singapore. One of my really close friends happily agreed to go visit the restaurant too and off we went.

We arrived a little after 7PM and it was fairly easy to get a table. In fact, the restaurant was probably about 60% full. I was surprised they served dim sum at night as well, but it was a perfect way to sample dim sum items as well as a cooked to order entree dish. The dim sum came on carts (much to my disappointment) and, interestingly enough, they gave you a red and green painted cylindrical wooden block like you would get at a Brazilian steakhouse in the US. Green side up and the carts kept coming, red side up and it was a signal you were done (at least temporarily). So as our block continued to be green, we ate the following:

Beef Short Ribs and Sticky Rice at Fung Fung Yuen

Beef Short Ribs and Sticky Rice at Fung Fung Yuen

  • Beef Short Ribs w/ Black Bean Sauce (黑椒特級牛仔骨) – Our first item was probably the worst item we got. The beef short ribs (as you can kind of tell) looks sad. While the temperature was okay, the beef was overcooked, the sauce too oily, and the tendon a bit gristly. It’s probably one of the worst versions of this dish I have had
  • Sticky Rice Wrap (金沙瑤柱珍珠雞) – Luckily the next item, the sticky rice with chicken, was fairly good. The rice was sticky and moist and the filling had tender chicken, mushrooms, and pork sausage.
  • Soy Sauce Chow Mein – The chow mein was okay. The noodles were stir fried decently, if slightly a little oily. My main issue was the slight unevenness of the stir frying as some parts got a very nice mix of green onions, soy sauce, and noodles and other parts were practically sauceless.
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Beef Ball and Chow Mein at Fung Fung Yuen

  • Beef Ball (陳皮沖菜蒸牛肉丸) – The beef balls were fairly good, filled with some peas and water chestnuts. They were pretty moist and decent tasting. I was a little sad they didn’t drizzle wocestershire sauce on it like other places, but it was fine.
  • Chicken Spring Rolls (脆皮春卷) – While lukewarm (as it had been sitting on the cart), these were fairly good with a crunchy shell and a meaty filling that was decently seasoned with ground chicken and shredded mushrooms.
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Salt and Pepper pork chops at Fung Fung Yuen

  • Salt & Pepper Pork Chop (椒鹽肉排) – There non-dim sum menu is a bit spartan, but that may be to their blessing as this was probably one of the best versions of this pork chop dish I’ve had. The batter was thick enough but not too overpowering and fried just right to be crunchy without being too oily. The pork itself was fairly moist and the peppers they used to fry it with were perfectly cooked. This was by far the best dish of the night for me.

While some of the reviews (both on Yelp and other blogs) have complained about cold to lukewarm food, I didn’t have much of an issue with that. Also, it looks like they have fixed the kinks with amount of carts. They now have about 5 carts that do seem to circulate relatively frequently and do keep the food warm. That said, much of the dim sum does suffer because the items are kept in the steamers for quite a while, leaving many items to be overcooked.

All in all, I was a little disappointed that Fung Fung Yuen didn’t seem to be the new game changer needed to help elevate the ho hum quality of dim sum in San Diego. That said, there is promise in the cook to order dishes from the kitchen and it is nice to finally have dim sum a bit closer to home. It’s a decent option for dim sum desiring folks that live in North County close to Mira Mesa, but it’s definitely not a place worth going out of the way for yet, though it looks like they are improving.

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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.
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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!
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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.
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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.

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Baozi Inn, London

Baozi Inn
26 Newport Court
London WC2H 7JS, UK 

It’s Labor Day week, the “traditional” end to the US summer season so it’s fitting that I’m finally finishing the last post of my grand British/Canadian/New Yorker vacation.

Today brings me to Baozi Inn, a Sichuan restaurant in London’s Chinatown that serves Sichuan cuisine. While it is a restaurant that’s in the Michelin Guide to London, I mostly came here on the recommendation of my grandaunt and granduncle that live just outside Brighton. They enthusiastically recommended the restaurant as they dropped me off at the train station as I journeyed back to London. Given that I didn’t know London’s Chinese food scene all that well (and my previous dining adventures earlier in my trip were disappointing), I decided to give Baozi Inn a try for my last dinner in London.

On a Tuesday evening at 8PM it was fairly easy to get a seat. The hardest part, of course, was to choose menu items that I could reasonably digest and afford as a table of one. While I basically wanted to order the whole menu, I pared it down to the following:

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Food at Baozi Inn

  • Pork Baozi – Of course I had to get the namesake baozi, and it did not disappoint. The bun was moist and fluffy, giving perfect texture at first bite. Then the filling was juicy and flavorful as well, with a pork meatball that was seasoned well and had some diced vegetables. If I didn’t have so much more to eat, I definitely would have ordered more.
  • Potato slivers with chilli and sichuan pepper – In contrast, I found that the potato slices were underflavored. While this dish isn’t exactly supposed to be bursting with heat, I barely could notice the hint of chile oil and sichuan peppercorns. It was refreshing but just on the blander side.
  • Chengdu Dan Dan Mian – Then I had one of their signature dishes, the Dan Dan Mian. I loved the chile oil and sichuan pepper sauce which really worked well with the flavor of the nice, rich ground pork. The noodles were perhaps a little too thick for me, but mixed together it was absolutely delightful from first to last slurp.

I’d say that while Baozi Inn might not be the best Sichuan food I’ve ever had, it certainly is solid and definitely was levels beyond the other Chinese food I ate in London (granted, it was a small sample size). I would definitely encourage travelers to London to try it out, especially given how close Chinatown in London is to nightlife hotspots in Leicester Square and SoHo. Whether you’re looking for a light snack or heavier meal, Baozi Inn would be a good pit stop for food before a night out on the town.

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Chinese and Korean in Manchester

Manchester, UK isn’t exactly known for its Asian food. While it’s certainly a big city, the history and culture of Mancheste makes it far less of a cultural melting pot than London. And although it definitely has a history of Asian, mainly Chinese, immigrants in the city, even its historic Chinatown can be described as no bigger than DC’s often derided “China Block.” But even at 2 blocks, Manchester’s Chinatown is still considered the 2nd largest in the UK and 3rd largest in Europe.

Given all of this, to say that Asian food isn’t ubiquitous and containing tons of variety is an understatement. That said, a cursory Yelp search and google research while I was in central Manchester did reveal that Korean food was a growing trend in the city. So after browsing through the local Waterstones (the UK version of Barnes and Noble, essentially), I made my way down a couple blocks to Koreana, supposedly the best or one of the best Korean restaurants in town.

Koreana
40A King St W
Manchester M3 2WY, UK

At 8PM on a weekday I got seated fairly quickly, although the restaurant definitely was pretty packed. While there weren’t any grill tables, there was a grill area next to the kitchen where it looks like the restaurant does the grilling for its Korean BBQ entrees. The menu itself is standard pan-Korean fare for the most part, with a section of Korean BBQ, section of bi bim bap, section of soups and stews.

I decided to get one of the set dinners because I could try out a BBQ item and an appetizer of my choice. I chose bulgogi and mandoo and for my choices and eagerly awaited my food.

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Bulgogi at Koreana

The bulgogi came and it was decent. I do wish there was a little bit more marinade and they grilled it more tender and medium/medium rare as opposed to well done, but it certainly wasn’t bad – just not great. The mandoo came out next and these were absolutely wonderful. The dumpling skin was light yet nicely crispy and the pork filling was very juicy. Honestly I could have had twice the amount of Mandoo (and there were already 5-6!). But the biggest disappointment of all was the banchan, which was a single small dish of kimchi. It tasted okay, but what I really was disappointed by was the lack of variety. I could even get more at Korean places in Albuquerque! Though, I suppose it’s a little unfair to compare the Korean food in Korean ex-pat communities of the US, where there are a lot of Koreans, to burgeoning communities in the UK.

Yang Sing
34 Princess Street
Manchester M1 4JY, UK

The following day my friend and I went to Yang Sing in Manchester Chinatown, purportedly one of the best places to get dim sum in Manchester. We arrived a little after opening around 11AM and instantly got a seat (though it wouldn’t be a problem regardless of time we came on a Thursday).

As is the wont of my friends whenever I take them to dim sum, I instantly became in charge of ordering so I decided to get the following items which I felt would get the best mix of items to determine the quality of the place:

  • Shredded duck & root vegetable spring rolls (鴨絲炸春卷) – While the filling was okay, what turned me off was the egg roll wrapping. Instead of something light and thin to contain the items, it was this round, thick fried dough that was way too thick and crispy.
  • Steamed mini belly ribs in garlic & blackbean sauce (豉汁蒸肉排) – While the meat was tender and there was enough black bean and pepper slices to give the dish its signature savory and spicy flavor, unfortunately most of the pieces were a bit fatty and the sauce was a little too oily. Not bad, but not great either.
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Steamed flower dumplings at Yang Sing

  • Steamed flower dumplings with a mixed funghi & root vegetable filling (竹笙花素餃) – This was the best dim sum item and I loved the funghi and root vegetable filling. The wrappers were decently chewy, not too thick, and not too soggy. Definitely would order again.
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Steamed Prawn Dumplings at Yang Sing

  • Har Kau – Steamed prawn dumplings (冬筍蝦餃皇) – In contrast, the dumpling skins on these har gow were a bit of a disaster, probably owing to too much water content in the rice flour dough. It fell apart really easily in a mushy/sticky manner. The shrimp itself was fairly fresh with a little bamboo shoot for crunch but that along could not make up for the disastrous dumpling skins.
  • Steamed sticky rice with shredded duck, pork & shiitake mushrooms wrapped in fragrant lotus leaf (蛋黃迷你珍珠雞) – The sticky rice was good, however, and despite the misleading chinese name, there was actual duck which was fairly tender and flavorful. Worse comes to worse, this generally fail safe item helped fill up the meal rather nicely.
  • Cantonese steamed sponge cake (麒麟馬拉糕) – For dessert we had the sponge cake which was not too sweet and not too dense. Minor quibble in that it could have been lighter overall, but certainly a nice dessert to complete the meal.

All in all, the Asian food I had in Manchester does get a solid A for effort, but a C for execution. I certainly do see promise in these restaurants and their kitchens and they are definitely decent enough for East Asians hankering for a taste of familiar cuisine. However, it’s still got a ways to go before it matches London or even many mid-sized cities in the US.

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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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China Live, San Francisco

China Live
644 Broadway
San Francisco, CA

After languishing for years as more and more people flocked to the Richmond and Sunset for San Francisco’s best Chinese food, SF’s Chinatown has seen a resurgence of late. Chong Qing Xiao Mian, Hanlin Tea House, and Mister Jiu’s are among the most notable of the new restaurants that have opened in the last year or so. Now comes China Live, an ambitious houseware store and restaurant with additional plans for a cocktail lounge on the 2nd floor. It’s large, it’s modern, and it’s perhaps the most symbolic statement yet that Chinatown is adapting to the diversification of Chinese food in the Bay Area and the gentrification of the city while still proudly maintaining its Chinese roots.

Given its loud splash in the neighborhood and promise of quality, if pricey, food, I was eager to try out the place. I got that opportunity on Saturday when I went to CAAMfest’s Eat Chinatown short film showing in conjunction with 41 Ross’ current gallery exhibition of beloved Chinatown stalwarts (which you should definitely check out if you’re in the Bay Area by April 9). Since my good friend and I were already in the area, we decided to check out China Live for dinner right after.

We arrived a little before 8PM and stood in line to get a table. When we arrived at the front of the line we were notified that the wait would be one hour, so I put down my cell phone number. Afterwards, my friend and I browsed the attached houseware shop to see their range of interesting items, including whiskey barrel aged soy sauce and dried abalone from Kona.

At about 8:45PM we were alerted that our table was ready and we finally had a seat. Our seat faced the open kitchen where most of the cooking takes place. This included a view of the tanks with live lobsters and crabs, which we were sorely tempted to order, but settled on these items instead:

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Charred Chinese Broccoli at China Live

  • Charred Chinese Broccoli -The first dish we had also turned out to be my favorite dish. I am perfectly content with blanched or stir fried Chinese broccoli, one of my favorite vegetables, but grilling them to a crisp was to a whole new level. I loved play between the crunchiness of leaves with the tenderness of the stems. The mushrooms gave a nice, light umami flavor as well which I liked even more than the regular oyster sauce you usually get.
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Three Treasure Bao Zai Fan at China Live

  • Three Treasure Bao Zai Fan – I’m not sure why they transliterated this dish from Mandarin when it is a classic Cantonese dish, but either way the dish had tasty bits of Chinese sausage, ham, and thin slices of duck. The server presented the dish, poured the soy sauce, and mixed the rice, which was baffling to me as the sauce should have simmered in the (covered) clay pot for another couple minutes before serving. Nonetheless, the dish was still tasty and had some stalks of bok choy to help balance and soak up the richness of the sauce and meats. So all in all it hit the mark on flavor mostly, but definitely missed the mark in presentation.
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Xiao Long Bao at China Live

  • Xiao Long Bao (XLB) – Despite ordering this when I first ordered, apparently the server mistakenly did not put it on the ticket. This meant we continually waited for a dish that apparently was never put in the system! Thankfully, when we asked about them again after finishing the other two dishes, she noted that it would only be another 6 minutes for the next batch of XLB. The XLB skins were decently thin, albeit a bit chewy and gummy, so it wasn’t quite executed right. The soup was rather light, but had a good portion to go along with the tender pork dumpling. The vinegar and soy sauce was on point, however, which helped mask and balance the flaws of the dish.

To go along with our food, we ordered the Chrysanthemum Oolong Tea as well, which was very nice with the balance of floral sweetness of the Chrysanthemum with the nutty earthiness of the Oolong. It was beautifully presented in a clear glass kettle, though I am not sure it really warranted $10 for a pot.

All in all, even a week into the service, there are still a bit of hickups on the service side. Like many San Francisco restaurants nowadays, they are short staffed and I think the frantic energy with the multiple stations, while fascinating to see, also hurts the seamlessness of the service. That said, the food is reasonably good (if a bit pricey) and I’ll return again later to try different dishes when hopefully all the service issues have been ironed out.

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No Car? Not a Problem! – #BARTable Asian Food Pt. 2

A year ago I started a project to find Asian restaurants within walking distance of BART stations. I started Part 1 of the series visiting the southernmost stops on the Richmond-Millbrae “Red” Line from Millbrae to Daly City. Unfortunately, a combination of things delayed my ability to write part 2 for the last year, not the least of which was the large amount of Asian restaurants in San Francisco within close proximity to a BART stop. My original plan to include ALL San Francisco BART stops was scrapped because of that.

So below you’ll find BARTable Asian food near the Balboa Park, Glen Park, 24th Street Mission, and 16th Street Mission stations. I’ll note that since there are more Asian restaurants closer to downtown San Francisco, this post will be relatively light.

Balboa Park

As we move north into the city of San Francisco, we first reach Balboa Park station. While Balboa Park is a transit hub for both BART and MUNI, there isn’t a lot of commercial development near the station. However, across the street from the station there are two Asian restaurants.

AJ’s BBQ and Cafe is slightly upscale “turo turo” (or “point point”) Filipino eatery where you can get a range of standard Filipino fare including pancit bihon, kare kare, lumpiang shanghai, and bbq chicken skewers. Like most turo turo places, AJ’s combines value with reasonably tasty food making this a decent stop for Filipino food, especially if you are on the run to somewhere else or picking up something on the way home in the Excelsior (where there are a number of other Filipino restaurants).

Cumin Lamb at Crazy Pepper

Cumin Lamb at Crazy Pepper

Around the corner from AJ’s is Crazy Pepper, a standard Bay Area neighborhood Americanized Chinese food restaurant that mostly does takeout business, but has a number of tables for a nice sit down meal. I got the cumin lamb, which was cooked with a lot of cumin. While tasty, the cumin was a little bit overpowering. The menu also included other standards in a Bay Area Americanized Chinese restaurant including basil chicken and a limited number of dim sum items. I also got the siu mai, which seemed to be resteamed from a frozen or refrigerated item. While the pork flavor was decent, the wonton skin wrapping was a little gummy. All in all, Crazy Pepper does try to differentiate itself with some Dongbei items, but food is average at best.

Glen Park

After Balboa Park station you reach Glen Park station. Glen Park station is near a small commercial and retail area that is the center of the Glen Park neighborhood. Unfortunately, there’s only 2 Asian restaurants in the area.

Basil Chicken Lunch Special at Win Garden

Basil Chicken Lunch Special at Win Garden

The first is Win Garden, another neighborhood Americanized Chinese restaurant. When I asked what lunch special I should get, the server guided me toward their basil chicken. The dish itself was pretty decent, with a flavorful, but not overpowering, amount of Thai basil. However, I did find it a little strange that the plate included a mesclun with Italian dressing. I also ordered some har gow, which were decent, if nothing to write home about. The shrimp was alright but the skin was a bit thick.

The second Asian restaurant is Tataki Canyon. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough stomach space to go in, but it seems to be a nice neighborhood Japanese restaurant that mainly focuses on sushi and ramen.

24th Street Mission

As you get closer to downtown San Francisco you reach 24th Street Mission station. It is one of two BART stations in the Mission district, a historically working class Latinx neighborhood that has gentrified in the last few decades with young, mostly white, people (first with  artists and hipsters and lately with those who work in tech). Given the community’s demographics, there aren’t a lot of Asian restaurants around 24th Street Mission. However, there are a few.

A 10 minute walk to the 23rd and Bryant intersection will get you to Spice Jar, an eclectic Asian fusion restaurant that has a number of Asian style noodle soups including pho and laksa. Slightly closer to BART is Sugoi Sushi, a neighborhood Japanese restaurant that obviously focuses on sushi. Slightly further afield is Dosa, which has very tasty, if pricey and small, South Asian food. Of course, their specialty is dosa, which are done very well from my limited knowledge of South Asian food.

16th Street Mission

The final stop before the core downtown San Francisco neighborhoods takes you to the northern end of the Mission District. The waves of gentrification in the Mission is more visually apparent closer to this station. Accordingly, there are more trendier Asian restaurants near this station to cater to the number of young urban professionals that now live and/or spend money in the area.

Valencia Street, a street that parallels Mission street just one block west, is where the gentrification is most visible. The original Slanted Door (before its eventual move to the Ferry Building) opened on Valencia Street and since then there have been a number of other Asian restaurants that haven opened up. This includes the San Francisco’s location of James Syhabout’s Hawker Fare serving northern Thai and Lao dishes (more on Hawker Fare as this series heads to Oakland). You can also find Thai up the block at Bangkok Bistro as well. Valencia Street also houses Mau, a hip modern Vietnamese places that serves decent pho and other items. 

Mapo Tofu at Mission Chinese Food

Mapo Tofu at Mission Chinese Food

Moving closer to Mission Street you can drink some of San Francisco’s best boba (and sip on decent Hong Kong milk tea) at Boba Guys. On 18th Street, around the corner from Mission Street, is Yamo, a tiny hole in the wall that served Burmese food before Burma Superstar started Bay Area’s craze for cuisine And around the corner from Yamo is Mission Chinese Food, the much celebrated former Chinese fusion pop-up turned cross-country restaurant chain. While the food is not a good as it once was, I do recommend the Mongolian Long Beans and Salt Cod Fried Rice at Mission Chinese.

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Fish Chowder Noodle Soup at Yamo

And rounding out the 16th Street Mission station are Ken Ken Ramen, which dishes out decent ramen and Japanese style curry, if a bit small on the portion sizes, and Namu Gaji, a Korean fusion place on the corner of 18th and Dolores that serves dishes ranging from dolsot bibimbap (labeled as “stonepot”) to “Korean tacos”. Both places are on the pricier side of things, but nonetheless still have some good and interesting flavors.

So even though you might not be in downtown San Francisco, the stops south of Civic Center still give you a number of options to fill someone’s desire for East or Southeast Asian food. 

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:

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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.
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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)

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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:

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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.
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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.

Dining at a Dai Pai Dong

Continuing on my NYC-Vancouver-Hong Kong trip report, I finally make it to Hong Kong. After some disappointing, although decent, dining stops on my last trip, I decided to mostly eat at restaurants in the Michelin guide this time.

Tasty Congee & Noodle Wantun Shop
Shop 3016-3018, 3F
IFC, 1 Harbor View Street
Central, Hong Kong

The first stop was Tasty Congee & Noodle Wantun Shop in the IFC Mall, which is a bib gourmand recommended restaurant (meaning the food isn’t up to par to get a Michelin star, but good enough to be considered a decent restaurant with good value). I went there for lunch around 2PM, and it was a breeze to get a table after the post-lunch crowd had departed. I browsed the menu, which had dishes ranging from congee to dim sum to noodle soups. While I wanted to try a number of dishes, a limited budget and stomach capacity meant I only ordered the following:

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Wonton Noodle Soup at Tasty

  • House Specialty Wonton Noodles In Soup (正斗鮮蝦雲呑麵) – The soup was fantastic, with a broth that was light but also had a nice amount of dried fish and shrimp flavor. The yellow chives were flavorful and the wontons had a nice, light skin with a good amount of plump shrimp. The only thing that was disappointing was the slightly overcooked noodles, but that was only one flaw in an overall very well executed (if small) dish.
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Stir Fried Rice Noodles with Beef at Tasty

  • Stir Fried Rice Noodles With Beef (干炒牛河) – One of their signature items, the dish did not disappoint. The rice noodles, thin beef slices, bean sprouts, scallions, and soy sauce were perfectly stir fried with a nice amount of “wok hei”. While the dish got a little oily in the end (though still not as oily as most renditions), the freshly stir fried flavor remained all the way through as I devoured the whole plate. While this dish is fairly simple, this was definitely the best rendition of the noodles I have tasted.

All in all, Tasty was a good start to my Hong Kong food adventures. The prices certainly weren’t bad too, especially given the location in one of Hong Kong’s fancier malls.

Sing Kee 盛記
9-10 Stanley Street
Central, Hong Kong

While lunch was at a restaurant in a fancy mall, my dinner was anything but. As I had never dined in a dai pai dong (大牌檔) before, I decided that this was my time, especially given that the number of them continue to decline.

For a little bit of background, dai pai dongs are street food stalls that were once ubiquitous in Hong Kong (somewhat similar in vein to New York hot dog stands or Los Angeles taco trucks). The name comes from the big license plates they had to operate that were given by the Hong Kong government in the 1950s and 1960s. However, because of sanitary and other issues, they stopped giving more of them out in the 1970s and the licenses can only be handed down by family. The combination of the restrictions in licenses and the rise of cooked food centers (to establish a more centralized, sanitary place for food stalls) means that the number of true dai pai dongs (where the stall is on the street and not just a store front with street/sidewalk tables) has shrunk to just a couple dozen.

Given the precipitous decline of dai pai dongs, I decided to eat at one of the most accessible and highly rated one still in existence, Sing Kee. Sing Kee is located near the end of Stanley Street, a street in Central that is also the home of the venerable roast goose vendor Yat Lok. It’s only open in the evening and like most other dai paid dongs, is cash only. You take a seat on a free stool on an open table and then take a look at its one page sticky, laminated menu which has just a few dozen stir fry dishes in traditional Chinese and English. I ordered the following:

Pork Ribs and Chinese Broccoli at Sing Kee

Pork Ribs and Chinese Broccoli at Sing Kee

  • Pork Ribs in Salt and Pepper (椒鹽排骨) – Unlike the big slices of fried pork chops that you get at most Cantonese restaurants in the US that serve this dish, these were small spareribs, like the ones you would eat at dim sum, that are fried to perfection. The wok hei was great and the fried scallions and thin slices of peppers that accompanied this dish were excellent.
  • Garlic Stir Fried Chinese Broccoli (蒜茸芥蘭)- While stir fried vegetables are not on the main menu, like most Cantonese restaurants you can just ask what fresh, seasonal vegetables they have available. This time I ordered the Chinese broccoli which were very fresh and flavorful with the perfect amount of garlic stir fried to accompany it. It’s not necessarily the best plate of Chinese broccoli I’ve ever had, but it was pretty darn good.

All in all, I can see how dai pai dongs have a certain nostalgia and appeal that won’t be matched at a cooked food center, no matter how the good is at the food stalls there. There is something about grabbing a quick, cheap bite of food out on the street as the flurry of lights and foot traffic surround you. It certainly isn’t the most sanitary way to cook food, but the food is great and the ambiance is unbeatable. If people travel to Hong Kong, they should definitely eat one meal at a dai pai dong before they are all gone in a generation or two.