Category Archives: Dim Sum

Sheng Hui Dim Sum, West Covina

Sheng Hui Dim Sum
2889 E. Valley Blvd Ste J
West Covina, CA 91752

West Covina is probably most known as the setting for the acclaimed (and hilarious) TV show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend or ,to many San Gabriel Valley locals, as the town with the mall. While it is a fairly diverse city, one thing it isn’t known for is dim sum. Dim sum lovers in LA can rattle off a number of beloved dim sum seafood palaces in Monterey Park, Alhambra, Rosemead, Rowland Heights, San Gabriel, and even Temple City but West Covina, sandwiched in between the Chinese enclaves in the West San Gabriel Valley (i.e. Monterey Park) and the East San Gabriel Valley (i.e. Walnut), is conspicuously left out of the mix.

But now West Covina may have a legitimate dim sum contender amongst the fiercely competitive scene in the San Gabriel Valley. Sheng Hui Dim Sum opened in December and this West Covina dim sum joint already has garnered favorable reviews in foodie forums and by “celebrity diner” David Chan. Though to be fair, the part of West Covina it’s in is on a part of Valley Boulevard that’s practically Walnut or nearby Rowland Heights. In fact, the closest freeway exit is Nogales Road off state route 60, the same exit you would take to shop at the Rowland Heights 99 Ranch Market.

Nonetheless, I took my Chinese New Year trip down to SoCal as an opportunity to taste how Sheng Hui stacks up to the more famous places in the more established communities of the 626. I came around 1PM on Presidents’ Day and there was a small line. Sheng Hui is in a very small space and, thus, ordering can be a bit confusing. There is seating, but only about four 2-top and one 4-top tables and you’ll have to wait until they are clear. Otherwise you can order to go, as most people do. If you do wait for a seat you can either fill out the order tick sheet beforehand and wait or wait to sit down and then fill it out. I opted to do the former to save myself time once I sat. I ordered the following, though by the time I sat down around 1:30PM a couple items I wanted were sold out.

Steamed Shrimp Dumplings at Sheng Hui

Steamed Shrimp Dumplings at Sheng Hui

  • Steamed Shrimp Dumpling 鮮味蝦餃皇 – These were pretty good with wrappers that were dextrous and not too thick. The shrimp filling was decent as well with chunks of shrimp mixed with bamboo shoots for texture and a dash of salt and pepper. I’d say a solid 8 out of 10 for a shrimp dumpling.
Roe Shrimp Shui Mai at Sheng Hui

Roe Shrimp Shui Mai at Sheng Hui

  • Roe Shrimp Shui Mai 魚子蝦燒賣 – Honestly these were some of the best shui mai I have had outside of Hong Kong (and heck, better than some I’ve had in Hong Kong). The pork and shrimp were moist and tender with perfect amounts of seasoning. What’s most significant though is that they put fresh roe on top on the shui mai after they’ve steamed to perfection. Honestly that is what makes the difference. Most dim sum places cook it with the roe, practically destroying the flavor of the roe, but over here you can taste both the succulent meat filling and the delicate flavors of the fish roe on top, all for $3.18.
  • Sticky Rice Chicken Wrapped 荷香糯米雞– They were actually sold out of what I wanted, the steamed spareribs rice, but this was a solid consolation. There were two jumbo sized packets of chicken in sticky rice. I like how the flavor of the sticky rice wasn’t too overpowered from the juices of the meat and sauces. However the meat was only so so and the dish was decent but not anything wow-ing.
  • Choy Sum Fried with Garlic 蒜香炒菜心 – This was a hearty plate of choy sum that was well worth the $5.99 paid for it. The choy sum was fresh and the garlic gave the dish a simple, yet flavorful, aroma. I wish there was slightly less oil but that’s just quibbling.

Coconut Little White Rabbit at Sheng Hui

  • Coconut Little White Rabbit 椰絲小白兔 – Dessert was basically these cute little marshmallow shaped rabbits with dusting of coconut shavings. While they seem rather incongruous with dim sum, they tasted pretty good! If only there were some chocolate and graham crackers to go with it for some s’mores.

The verdict? Sheng Hui is pretty good with some of the best classic dim sum dishes in the San Gabriel Valley (and therefore the entire nation). I love that the dishes are steamed very fresh and there’s high turnover which means little to no items are oversteamed. I do like that they also have some creative items too in addition to the classics. But above all, I love that they do the classics right. I hope these small mom and pop business puts West Covina on the map as another San Gabriel Valley dim sum destination.

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Longo Seafood, Rosemead

Longo Seafood
7540 Garvey Ave, Suite A
Rosemead, CA 91770

As David Chan wrote in his latest Menuism article, Los Angeles (and mainly the San Gabriel Valley) is on the uptick on good, innovative dim sum again. After plateauing for a good decade where Sea Harbour, Elite, King Hua, and Lunasia dominated the top tier, the last year or so have seen an uptick again on innovative and solidly executed dim sum. And now, a few months after Xiang Yuan Gourmet hit the scene, we now have Longo Seafood in Rosemead trying to make its mark.

I went last Friday during my most recent trip to SoCal for the holidays hoping to see how Longo Seafood stacks up and to taste for myself on whether a new wave of innovation is, in fact, coming to the Cantonese seafood palaces of the San Gabriel Valley. Arriving around 11, I was seated quite quickly as a party of one. Like other top places in California, you order off a menu. The restaurant has a ton of interesting and innovative items so it took me a while to figure out what exactly I wanted to order. In the end I got the following:

Kaya (Coconut Jam) Pastry at Longo Seafood

Kaya (Coconut Jam) Pastry at Longo Seafood

  • Kaya (Coconut Jam) Pastry 傳統雞印包 – These little buns instantaneously look me to heaven. The outside is a superbly baked “pineapple” bun while the inside is filled with luscious kaya jam. Not quite as good as jam found in Singapore, but delicious all the same and I devoured every last one. This was a very unique and wonderfully delicious dish.

BBQ Supreme and Golden Red Rice Rolls at Longo Seafood

  • BBQ Supreme Rice Rolls 燒味手拉腸 – The bbq in these rice rolls were nice, succulent morsels of roast suckling pig. The rice rolls were lightly and freshly pulled, making for a nice balance between the fatty pork, the delicate, yet dextrous, rice rolls, and the slightly sweet soy sauce. A little expensive, but would definitely ordering again.
  • Golden Red Rice Rolls 金絲紅米腸 – The “golden” part of these golden rice rolls are lightly fried dried scallop. The slight savoriness of the dried scallop balances out the light sweetness of the red rice rolls for a nice, fairly simple dish. Unfortunately I had 2 rice noodle dishes so I couldn’t really finish these all.
  • Longo Shrimp Dumpling 鴻德蝦餃皇 – These shrimp dumplings had a nice, not too big, filling of diced shrimp with just enough salt and pepper to enhance the shrimp’s natural flavor. While the dumpling skins were decent, these were just a tad too thick so it was a little more difficult in tearing.

Mushroom Bun at Longo Seafood

  • Mushroom Bun 鮮奶油蘑菇包 – In another case of “I should have read the Chinese description first”, I found these to be disappointing. It wasn’t because the restaurant didn’t properly label in Chinese, but because I had hoped these mushroom buns were filled with, well, mushrooms instead of just looking like one. Unfortunately, instead of being a savory treat they were filled with cream. So as a cream bun in the shape of a mushroom, it was nice if a little less sweet than I’d like, but as a person who wanted a savory mushroom filling it wasn’t that great.

All in all I do think Longo Seafood is another spot raising the standard and innovation for dim sum in the San Gabriel Valley. Do I think it’s quite up to the level of Dragon Beaux in San Francisco in terms of execution yet? No. However given the sheer number of high quality, innovative items, it could be soon before Longo Seafood and other LA spots takes the crown again for best dim sum in the US.

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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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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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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.

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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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:

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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.


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!

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Sinoinsocal? But You’re in NorCal…

Whenever I talk to someone about this blog, sometimes I’m asked why it’s called sinoinsocal. I mean, sure, I am Chinese but I certainly don’t live in Southern California. So what gives with this sort-of odd name?

Well let’s back track all the way back to 2011, a year and a half before I published my first post. As some of my readers know (and as it is outlined on my “about” page), my blog is dedicated in honor of my mom and it was in the fall of 2011 that my mom had a couple of severe strokes that precipitated to her passing in 2012. Because of her strokes, I immediately moved from Baltimore back to Southern California.

Pho Ga at Pho Nguyen Hue

Pho Ga at Pho Nguyen Hue

More specifically, I moved back to Irvine, where I graduated from college a couple years prior. It was during my time in college that I ate around Orange County amazingly diverse and large Asian communities. Whether it was some of the best pho I’ve ever had in Little Saigon or the most delicious bowls of beef noodle soup in Irvine’s various Taiwanese restaurants, eating Asian food in Orange County was such a delight.

But of course, most people’s vision of Orange County is something akin to what they have seen in the hit mid-2000s show “The OC” or the original version of The Real Housewives series set in the gated community of Coto de Caza. That is to say, the popular image is of rich white people with sun kissed skin, money for everything they want, and lots of time spent frolicking on the beach or shopping at high end malls. And while this kind of life is definitely representative of parts of Orange County, it’s really just a small portion of what, in reality, is one of the most diverse counties in the United States.

Dim sum at J Zhou Oriental Cuisine

Dim sum at J Zhou Oriental Cuisine

Orange County is home of the largest Vietnamese community in the United States with nearly 190,000 Vietnamese residents. You can see the large Vietnamese presence when you drive on streets like Bolsa and Brookhurst where strip mall after strip mall are filled with Vietnamese shops and restaurants. Right next door is Garden Grove, with a large Korean community and some of the best Korean BBQ in Southern California. And just 15-20 minutes down the 405 or 5 (without traffic) is Irvine, where a huge Taiwanese community means there are multiple great places to get everything from Taiwanese fried chicken cutlets to bowls of lu rou fan. This doesn’t even include the large Persian and Latino communities in the county too.

So when I moved back to Southern California in the fall of 2011 to be closer to my mom, I wanted to showcase another side of Orange County, one filled with bowls of tasty pho instead of fake tans. Unfortunately, an opportunity to work a campaign for a now wonderful Congresswoman (and one of my best bosses ever) and my mom’s cardiac arrest and eventual passing meant I wouldn’t write a blog post until I lived in Denver.

Though with all those twists and turns (and 2 more moves later), I still think that more people should know about the wonderful Asian food that dots Orange County. Thankfully, a few other food writers with a more national audience has done that too. So before you head to Disneyland on your next trip, be sure to check out David Chan’s article and guide to Chinese food in Irvine or the Orange County Register’s guide to Little Saigon.

And if you want to know what are some of my favorite places in Orange County, here are a few below:

  • Broddard Restaurant – Great Vietnamese restaurant in Little Saigon
  • Cham Sut Gol – Wonderful Korean BBQ in Garden Grove
  • J Zhou Oriental Cuisine – The best dim sum in Orange County, almost rivaling those in the San Gabriel Valley
  • Pho Nguyen Hue – Some of the best chicken pho I’ve ever had
  • Yu’s Kitchen – Solid Taiwanese fair in Irvine
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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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Tim Ho Wan, New York City

Tim Ho Wan
85 4th Ave
New York, NY 10003

Tim Ho Wan is known as the cheapest Michelin starred restaurant in the world with two of its locations in Hong Kong consistently maintaining a 1 Michelin star rating. With that kind of reputation, the news of their expansion into the US, with its first location in New York City, created all sorts of buzz. When Tim Ho Wan finally opened late last year, wait times were 3.5 hours long for a table, on par with the equally long lines whenever a Din Tai Fung opens a location in the US.

Despite the wait, I wanted to make sure I stopped at Tim Ho Wan when I went on my Spring trip to New York City. Primarily it was to see how the US location compared to the ones in Hong Kong. However, given that one of my cousin’s has never been to Hong Kong, I wanted to give him a taste of dim sum “directly” from our parents’ birthplace.

One of my cousins (that had been to Hong Kong, but apparently had never been to a Tim Ho Wan) and I went to line up at Tim Ho Wan at about 12PM on a Saturday. When we arrived we put down my name, cell phone number, and a request for a table of 4. The host alerted us that the wait would be 2.5 hours. Given our lack of caffeination we decided to wait part of that time out at the City of Saints coffee shop next door. Afterward, we walked around the East Village and eventually went into the Strand, where I received a text that our table was ready. With that text, we ended up only waiting a little less than 2 hours.

We rushed back to Tim Ho Wan and promptly got seated after our other cousin and the person’s he’s dating arrived. Being the person that I am, I quickly took the reins in order while soliciting some suggestions from my cousins. We ended up ordering the following 9 items (about 1/3 of their whole menu):

Baked BBQ Pork Buns at Tim Ho Wan NYC

Baked BBQ Pork Buns at Tim Ho Wan NYC

  • Baked BBQ Pork Buns 酥皮焗叉燒包 – They were about as heavenly as the Hong Kong versions with a nice baked custard bun on the outside with a juicy bbq pork filling on the inside. They are smaller than the Hong Kong versions and a little less crispy, so they aren’t quite as good. But even those small quibbles don’t even diminish the fact that they are the best bbq pork buns in North America, hands down.
  • Pan Fried Turnip Cake 香煎臘味蘿蔔糕 – Fairly well done with solid portions of shredded daikon. However, like most places I feel as if they didn’t fry it enough on the outside to create a truly crispy outside to balance the soft and mushy middle.
Steamed Shrimp Dumpling at Tim Ho Wan New York City

Steamed Shrimp Dumpling at Tim Ho Wan New York City

  • Steamed Shrimp Dumplings (Har Gow) 晶瑩鮮蝦餃 – I love, love, LOVE that Tim Ho Wan sticks to the way Hong Kong dim sum places make shrimp dumplings instead of the overstuffed mess that plagues North American har gows. The shrimp filling was perfectly portioned with fresh shrimp that had a nice snap. The dumpling skin was great too, perfectly dextrous, but thin and tearing apart only when I bit into the dumpling. I do wish they had added a little salt and pepper to the shrimp to enhance the flavor, but it was perfectly good as is.
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Steamed Pork Dumplings with Shrimp at Tim Ho Wan New York City

  • Steamed Pork Dumplings with Shrimp (Siu Mai) 鮮蝦燒賣皇 – The sui mai was pretty good with juicy pork meat and shrimp that was cooked just right and not too big to become a bit hard to eat. That said, while these were solid, there wasn’t anything extraordinary about them.
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Blanched Lettuce and Pan Fried Turnip Cake at Tim Ho Wan NYC

  • Blanched Lettuce 白灼生菜 – Speaking of nothing extraordinary, we ordered the blanched lettuce solely because it was a vegetable option. While I generally love that Tim Ho Wan sticks to Hong Kong’s dim sum conventions, one thing that I dislike is the modern Hong Kong dim sum trend of serving lettuce as their only vegetable option. The lettuce and soy sauce were fine, but nothing particularly exciting.
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Steamed Rice Rolls with Shrimp and Chinese Chives at Tim Ho Wan NYC

  • Steamed Rice Rolls with Shrimp and Chinese Chives 韮黃鮮蝦腸 – On the other hand, the steamed rice rolls were definitely one of the better rice rolls I have had in the US. The shrimp was fresh, the chives provided a nice crunch and flavor, and the rice noodle rolls were steamed and rolled perfectly. Best of all, they poured just enough of the light soy sauce to round out the flavor but not too much that the flavor of everything else was drowned out.
  • Congee with Pork and Preserved Egg 金銀蛋瘦肉粥 – The congee was solid, with a nice balance of rice and broth (in contrast to other places where too much rice or too much broth makes the texture and flavor unappealing). The fried wonton strips gave a nice crispy texture and the preserved eggs were great. While I did get pork flavor from the broth, I didn’t remember eating much of the actual shredded pork.
  • Sticky Rice in Lotus Leaf 古法糯米雞 – While we got this dish first, the rapid succession of the other dishes meant that we didn’t really eat this until later. The sticky rice was great and filled with the usual chicken, Chinese sausage, and mushrooms. It was definitely a nice filler.
  • French Toast with Custard Tim Ho Wan Style 奶皇西多士 – To be perfectly honest, I really don’t get what’s all the rage with Hong Kong style french toast. I mean, its tasty but just not amazing to me. Similarly, the french toast was a nice dessert, but not too memorable.

All in all, Tim Ho Wan in the USA is close to, but not quite, the level of quality of the Hong Kong locations. Because of that, Tim Ho Wan is easily the best dim sum in New York. And at a total of about $17 per person, including tax and tip, it was surprisingly affordable given the amount of food we had. Who doesn’t love quality dim sum and wallet friendly prices?

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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.


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.

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.