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Tastee Steam Kitchen, Oakland

Tastee Steam Kitchen
329 11th Street
Oakland, CA 94607

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

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

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

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

Marble Beef (before steaming) at Tastee Steam Kitchen

Marble Beef (before steaming) at Tastee Steam Kitchen

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

Snow Pea Leaves (after steaming) at Tastee Steam Kitchen

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

Cordyceps Flower and Chicken Congee at the end

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

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

 

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FAVORITES of 2016, FORWARD to 2017

Like last year, this year I’ll be recapping the favorite 5 places I ate at and blogged about in the past year along with listing the 5 places I most look forward to eating this year.

As usual, I wasn’t able to make it to all of the places I was hoping to go to. However, I managed to go to three of them: Chengdu Taste, Lung King Heen, and Tita’s Kitchenette. All were pretty good and lived up their hype. I may have been surprised by Lung King Heen’s lack of innovation or Tita’s Kitchenette’s gargantuan servings, but they did little to detract from the quality of the food.

That said, there were plenty of restaurants which impressed me that were not on my list of top 5 eateries to go to in 2016. Some were spur of the moment choices while others were places on my bucket list and exceeded expectations. So without further ado, here they are:

Hot Oiled Seared Biang Biang Noodles at Biang!

Hot Oiled Seared Biang Biang Noodles at Biang!

Biang! – This year was the first time I ate Shaanxi cuisine (the cuisine of Xi’an). Of all the Shaanxi places that I ate at and blogged about, Biang! was the best. It might be a bit pricier than other places, but the food was excellent, especially their very flavorful hand pulled biang biang noodles.

Toothpick Lamb at Chengdu Taste

Toothpick Lamb at Chengdu Taste

Chengdu Taste – The toothpick lamb and Mung Bean Jelly Noodle With Chilli Sauce were extraordinary, with an impeccable balance of flavors rarely found in other Sichuan restaurants in the United States. The balance of the spices that are just enough to accentuate the flavors of the ingredients without overpowering them is one of many reasons why it continues to reign in Southern California’s fiercely competitive Sichuan dining scene.

Si krong muu at Little Serow

Si krong muu at Little Serow

Little Serow – Little Serow’s dinner set menu may be a little strict, but is a wonderful introduction to Northern Thai food. The quality and the execution of the dishes like the pork ribs are amazing and a set tasting menu of only $49 offers incredible value. If it weren’t for the many other great restaurants popping up in DC, I would eat here again. 

Wood Oven Roasted Branzino at the Slanted Door

Wood Oven Roasted Branzino at the Slanted Door

The Slanted Door – I’m glad a half dozen of my friends decided that they also wanted to go with me and eat at the Slanted Door. Because of that, I was able to sample a larger amount of dishes than I normally would be able to. While some dishes were alright, others like the Wood Oven Roasted Branzino were amazing in their perfect execution. To boot, they also serve one of the best Hong Kong style milk teas I have had in the Bay Area (which is an impressive feat!).

Yan Toh Heen Superior Dumplings

Yan Toh Heen Superior Dumplings

Yan Toh Heen – It was hard to pick which dim sum place that I went to this past year was the best, but Yan Toh Heen narrowly tops out T’ang Court because its execution and service was more exceptional than T’ang Court, even if it doesn’t beat out in innovation (though please try the innovative Yan Toh Heen Superior Dumplings if you go). Of course, the view of Victoria Harbour from the windows of the restaurant doesn’t hurt as well. (Lung King Heen was out of the running as I have not blogged about it yet)

Forward to 2017

After a year of excellent food in 2016, what’s next for me in 2017? Given the continued proliferation of Shaanxi and Sichuan cuisine, especially in California, I’ll likely be blogging about other Chinese regional cuisines more and a little less about Cantonese cuisine. My travels will also be less Hong Kong centric this year, so this year you can expect food reports on what various East or Southeast Asian cuisines are like in London, Mexico City, and other cities across America like Albuquerque (my old home) and Atlanta. 

Given all of my different travels this year, here are the top 5 dining establishments I am aiming and looking forward to going to in 2017:

Bad Saint – During my last trip to DC, I literally missed the opening of this lauded Filipino restaurant by a matter of days. This time I will be sure to go sample the dishes that have garnered rave reviews from a 3.5 (of 4) star rating in the Washington Post to the Bib Gourmand recommendation in Michelin’s first guide of Washington, DC.

Din Tai Fung (Xinyi Road) – Okay, this is cheating a little bit as I have already gone here since the new year. However, this place was one of the top places I wanted to go to when I was in Taiwan. I have now been to the original location and am excited to blog about it soon!

HKK This is the flagship restaurant of the international Hakkasan chain (yes, the same chain that has a Las Vegas location more known as a popular nightclub with well known EDM DJs). As such, I’m seeing if their food is as up to par with the refined decor and expensive prices, especially given that even the dim sum items are more expensive than the two and three Michelin starred Cantonese restaurants of Hong Kong.

Kowloon Delight – Let’s just say that this type of restaurant isn’t what I normally consider a place to go to. However, despite my low regard for Taishanese/Cantonese style dishes that have assimilated into the palates of North America, cafes de chino are a rich legacy of the Chinese diaspora in Mexico (although Kowloon delight isn’t quite a proper cafe de chino as those have all but disappeared). As such, I would be interested in going here to not only experience Chinese Mexican food but also how it compares or perhaps relates to Chinese American cuisine.

Char Siu Bao at Tim Ho Wan

Char Siu Bao at Tim Ho Wan North Point

Tim Ho Wan (New York City) – Yes, I have been to Tim Ho Wan in Hong Kong, but they have just opened their first location in the United States. Of course I want to see how it stacks up to the locations in Hong Kong.

 

American Airlines Inaugural LAX-HKG Flight

What’s it like to fly on the first flight of a route an airline just opens up? I was about to find out on this trip since I was lucky enough that my cheap Hong Kong fare coincided with America Airlines’ first flight from LA to Hong Kong.

Cathay Pacific 889
JFK-YVR, Business Class
September 4, 2016

But first, a little diversion to Cathay Pacific. When I was originally planning this trip, it had only included New York (to see Hamilton and the US Open) and Vancouver (because I just love the city). To get from New York to Vancouver I used 25,000 of my American Airlines miles to fly business class on Cathay Pacific. While I have flown first and business class a few times, I’ve never done it on a non-US airline so I decided that I could splurge a little and give it a try. Rarely does a non-US, Canadian, or Mexican airline flight across North America, but Cathay Pacific does on this specific route to pick up passengers in New York and Vancouver on they way to Hong Kong.

I cleared security a few minutes before boarding started (50 minutes before departure time) and by the time I got to the gate they were already boarding economy. Since I had no time to spare, I just boarded my flight, forgoing my usual ritual of a latte or hot chocolate.

Cathay Pacific Business Class Menu

Cathay Pacific Business Class Menu

Once I was seated the flight attendants immediately offered me a choice of cranberry juice, orange juice, or water. I sipped on some water and then drank some cranberry juice on their second round of pre-departure beverage service. As boarding ended and the doors were about to close, I was given the menu for the flight, which you can see above.

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Stir fried beef with rice on Cathay Pacific

Since it’s just a transcontinental flight, they only have one meal service, which is fine given that this flight is also a red eye flight as well. The starter of mixed salad with balsamic vinnaigrette was decent. The greens were fresh and the dressing was pretty standard, so I would call it a nice, run of the meal salad you would find as a salad starter at a decent chain restaurant.

For the entree I got the stir fried beef and sesame seeds with pak choy, carrot, and jasmine rice. The food was delicious. The soy based stir fry sauce flavored the slices of beef well without being too overpowering or gloppy. The vegetables were thinly sliced and pretty fresh. The rice was fluffy and perfectly cooked. This was, by far, the best airline meal I’ve ever had, which admittedly is a fairly low bar these days. I guess I would say that I have found decent mid-range Chinese restaurants that do a poorer job than Cathay Pacific’s business class catering.

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Oriental Breeze, Cathay Pacific Signature Mocktail

As for dessert, I got the cheese plate, which had a few small wedges of chese, grapes, and crackers. It was pretty decent and certainly a nice change for the pints of sugared up ice cream that is ubiquitous on trans-oceanic economy class flights. In addition to my many cups of Hong Kong Milk tea, I got Cathay Pacific’s “signature drink” mocktail, the Oriental Breeze, which is a mix of plum tea, cranberry juice, honey, and fresh lemon juice with a small dried rosebud as a garnish. It was pretty refreshing and not overly sweet.

American Airlines 193
LAX-HKG, Economy Class
September 7, 2016

Now back to my post about the inaugural flight. I arrived at LAX from SFO around 8:30, hours before my scheduled 1:55AM departure. After grabbing dinner and catching up on email at the Admirals Lounge, I headed over to the gate around 12AM as the festivities were beginning.

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Kee Wah Catering for AA LAX-HKG Inaugural

I had high hopes for the festivities given that dim sum was served at the festivities of the inaugural DFW-HKG flight. At LAX there were the requisite lion dancers, a speech, and a ribbon cutting ceremony. Sadly there wasn’t any dim sum, but American Airlines did do some pastry catering from Kee Wah. There were “pineapple” buns, red bean buns, and egg tarts. I zoomed in on the egg custard tarts, which had a nice egg-rich filling and flakier crust that typifies a Kee Wah egg custard tart. They also gave out tiny mooncakes, given that the Mid-Autumn Festival was a little over a week away. I snagged one lotus seed paste and one red bean paste one. When I tasted both the weekend after the Mid-Autumn festival, both were decent but not anywhere near the quality of the lotus seed paste ones I had bought in Hong Kong.

Once we boarded the flight we were given menus which you can see below:

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AA LAX-HKG Inaugural Menu

During the first meal course I opted for the seared shrimp with Shanghai noodles. To put it mildly, they were absolutely dreadful. It was like eating the chow mien at a shady Chinese buffet as they are about to close. The most distinctive flavors were oil cooked too long and the freezer burn of frozen shrimp.

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Shrimp with Shanghai Noodles on AA 193

The second meal service was a little bit better. The ratatouille stromboli was like an oversized, decent empanada with a nice tomato stew filling. The gelato was great too and I liked it even better than the mini cups of Haagen Dazs that are so ubiquitous on other long haul flights I have flown.

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Chinese dim sum with egg noodles on AA 193

The third meal service was pretty decent too. I chose the Chinese dim sum with fried egg noodles. While I wouldn’t say that the dim sum or noodles were great, they were decent for economy class airline food, about as good as dim sum and noodles would be at a cheap takeout place in San Francisco, Oakland, or New York’s Chinatowns.

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Milk tea on AA 193

What I liked the most, however, was that American Airlines’ Hong Kong routes serve Hong Kong milk tea in economy on their flights (unlike Cathay Pacific). While my first cup was a bit rough given that this senior White flight attendant had no experience making milk tea (the tea was too weak and there was too little condensed milk), the cups were progressively better as the flight went on. Though the food on American Airlines isn’t quite impressive (even compared to Cathay Pacific economy), I do love unlimited cups of Hong Kong milk tea.

All in all, it looks like airline food is getting a little better. On my return flight I got a perfectly done fish dish, which was volumes better than the Shanghai noodles. Props to both Cathay Pacific and American Airlines for overall good flights with decent food. Airline food certainly is not as down in the doldrums as it was a decade or two ago.

Ramen in Portland

If I was skeptical that Thai food in Portland would be good, even with a world renown restaurant, then I certainly did not have high expectations for ramen in Portland. However, I am always up to try different types of Asian food wherever I travel so I ignored any reservations I had and dug right into my food adventures.

Mirakutei
536 E Burnside St
Portland, OR 97214

Tonkotsu Ramen at Mirakutei

Tonkotsu Ramen at Mirakutei

My first Portland ramen stop was Mirakutei, conveniently located a few blocks from the hotel I was staying. I went with my coworkers on a Monday afternoon who also wanted to grab lunch close by.

We sat down and looked at a very simple, one page lunch menu which had a few ramen options and a few bento box options. Most of us opted for the several ramen options that they had. I chose the tonkotsu ramen option, which came out fairly quickly. The broth was nice with a salty, rich pork stock that was filling but not too overpowering with fat. The noodles were good, if slightly more cooked than I liked. The pieces of pork were fabulous, however, with perfectly moist and tender meat and the eggs were perfectly soft boiled. At only $9.50, it is definitely a bargain lunch and well worth it.

Boxer Ramen
2309 NW Kearney Street
Portland, OR 97210

Boxer Ramen

Tonkotsu Shio at Boxer Ramen

A few days later my friend and I were on our way to Salt and Straw from the International Test Rose Garden and decided that we needed to eat some dinner first. While Northwest Portland has plenty of decent dining options, we spotted Boxer Ramen and decided to go in.

Boxer Ramen is pretty casual with a few picnic like tables set inside with a really simple menu of about 10 items plus a few seasonal side items on a separate sheet of paper. We both decided to get different types of ramen and share the Greens and Sesame. The Greens and Sesame came first and was very refreshing. The cabbage lightly flavored the chard as well and there was just enough oyster sauce to get a hint of saltiness. Then the Tonkotsu Shio came to the table. I wish the broth could have used a little more fat, but the noodles were cooked perfectly. The pork tender, if a little chewy, but I liked that there were a few more pieces than usual. The only true disappoint of the dish were the 2 soft poached eggs I had, which were very runny and, dare I say, bordering on raw. Overall, however, I liked my bowl of ramen and still found it pretty good.

All in all, the ramen in Portland I had certainly surpassed my expectations. In fact, despite the little imperfections here and there, I thought the ramen was still better overall compared to ramen shops in the East Bay. It goes to show that while mid-sized cities that don’t have a relatively large Asian population may not have restaurants that rise to the level of Los Angeles or New York, they certainly can have Asian food that can be competitive and above any expectations. I certainly won’t be bashful in trying out more ramen and Thai spots in Portland when I’m back again.

China Bee, San Mateo

China Bee
31 S. B Street
San Mateo, CA 94401

After my aunt and I paid our mother’s day respects to my maternal grandmother and great grandmother, we headed down to San Mateo for an early dinner. Since I was in charge of which restaurant to go to, I decided to pick China Bee based on its fairly good reputation and my mom’s love of Taiwanese food. We got to downtown San Mateo at about 5:15PM but I had to circle another 20 minutes to find parking as it seems everyone was out for dinner to celebrate Mother’s Day.

We sat down and looked at its one page menu to see what we wanted to eat. Even with a one page menu, though, it was hard to pare down the choices. Should I choose three cup chicken? What about the stir fried glutinous rice cakes my mom liked to eat? It was a little hard to decide, but we ended up getting the following:

Spicy Beef Noodle Soup at China Bee

Spicy Beef Noodle Soup at China Bee

  • Spicy Beef Noodle Soup – The broth was nice, packing a very dark beef broth with a good amount of chili oil to give it some kick. I loved the chewy wheat noodles as well. The one downside, however, was that the beef itself was not as tender and moist as most other places I have had.
  • Shanghai Style Chow Mein – This dish was okay, though the noodles were thinner Cantonese style white noodles than the thicker, doughier noodles that I was used to. I wished that the flavor of the sweet soy sauce could come out a little more and that they added more vegetables.
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Stinky Tofu at China Bee

  • Stinky Tofu – While the fermenting smell was fragrant, there was a lack of fermented flavor when we bit into the tofu pieces. Perhaps it was lost when the tofu was deep fried? The vinegar soy sauce at the bottom of the bowl was a nice compliment, however.
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Green Onion Pancakes at China Bee

  • Green Onion Pancakes – While the layers on the inside had some flakiness and the outside was fried well, on the whole these were pretty doughy causing more chewiness than better green onion pancake.

All in all, the food was perfectly decent but nothing to write home about (but it’s been a few weeks since I’ve had a blog post). It was a nice place to eat with my aunt, though it only intensified cravings for Taiwanese food in Southern California. On the Taiwanese food front, it seems that nothing in the Bay Area can compare to Southern California, just like any Cantonese dish I cook now pails in comparison to my mom’s more exquisite cooking.

Little Serow, Washington, DC

Little Serow
1511 17th Street NW
Washington, DC 20036

Over the past few years DC has exploded with a number of high quality Southeast Asian restaurants. I’ve documented the surge of Filipino food in DC before, but the growth of Southeast Asian food has also extended to other cuisines like Lao at Thip Khao and Thai at Little Serow. I wanted to try both during my brief time in town two weeks ago but only had time for one, so I chose Little Serow.

Little Serow can be hard to miss, with a relatively nondescript location on 17th Avenue NW. I definitely walked passed it on my way there during my trip. However, its inconspicuousness does not deter it from having its tables constantly filled every night. It’s a testament to the renown of the cooking quality here, years after its grand opening.

The restaurant has a constantly changing prix fixe menu that’s currently priced at $49. The week I was there, this was the following menu:

Nam prik makeua at Little Serow

Nam prik makeua at Little Serow

  • Nam prik makeua – This is Little Serow’s version of nam prik (a thick spicy sauce) with eggplant. Normally I’m not an eggplant fan, but grounded up with salted fish and chiles, this was the perfect starter for the night.
  • Khanom jin naam yaa – The next dish included perfectly cooked noodles mixed with a catfish curry sauce. Given my preference for less sauce, I would say that there was a little too much sauce for me. However, the flavors were pretty good and it was probably one of my favorite dishes tonight given my love of catfish.
  • Ma hor – The jackfruit in this dish matched pretty well with the spiciness of the chiles and the richness of the pork and shrimp. I think I ate this entire dish in less than a minute, if that is any indication of its deliciousness.
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Laap chiang mai at Little Serow

  • Laap chiang mai – This dish comes with small wedges of cabbage, which I unfortunately swallowed and choked on in the middle of the meal. That aside, I thought this minced sausage was enjoyable, especially with the lettuce and radishes they give you throughout the meal.
  • Tow hu thouk – I loved these fried tofu pieces. The ginger paired well with the chiles while the ground peanuts gave a nice crunch to the dish.
  • Het grapao – After eating spicy dish after spicy dish, the over easy egg and mushroom were definitely a great way to start cooling down my taste buds.
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Si krong muu at Little Serow

  • Si krong muu – Ending out the night were these well marinated and succulent rib pieces. The meat fell right off the bone and it was definitely a highlight to end the savory portion of the meal.

As a person with little experience eating northern Thai cuisine I can’t really speak to any quality comparisons with other restaurants. However, it was a very tasty introduction to northern Thai cuisine, tasting small bites of dishes that I might otherwise need to eat multiple times at a more traditional entree sized restaurant. In fact, I would say that the introduction to new flavors is why this meal was my favorite of the trip, even beating out my excellent meal at highly regarded Rose’s Luxury.

Pho Nguyen Hue, Westminster

Pho Nguyen Hue
10487 Bolsa Ave
Westminster, CA 92684

Despite Orange County’s reputation as a place filled with wealthy white people, it is one of the most diverse counties in the country. Example 1 of many which attest to this fact is that Orange County is home to the largest Vietnamese community in America, if not outside Vietnam, with an estimated 211,862 people of Vietnamese descent living there, mostly concentrated in Westminster and Garden Grove.

So it goes without saying that one of my favorite things about attending UC Irvine was its ease of access to an unparalleled quantity of quality Vietnamese food. Within a 15 minute drive from campus you could reach endless Vietnamese dominate strip malls along Brookhurst, Magnolia, Bolsa, or the many smaller streets off of them.

One of my favorite restaurants in Little Saigon during my time in college was Pho Nguyen Hue, which was introduced to me by a Vietnamese friend of a friend that was raised down the road in Fountain Valley. While they have some very delicious phở bò (beef pho), they are arguably more well known for their phở ga (chicken pho). In fact, a few years ago the OC Weekly pronounced their phở ga was even better than renown phở ga restaurant Pho Dakao down the street.

Thus, when I went to Orange County last week and had a craving for pho ga for lunch, it was clear that I had to go to Pho Nguyen Hue and see if their phở ga today can match the phở ga I ate in years past. The results are below:

Pho Ga at Pho Nguyen Hue

Pho Ga at Pho Nguyen Hue

  • Phở ga (with skin and dark meat, without liver or gizzard) – While the broth was a little saltier than usual, the overall chicken flavor was excellent with just enough chicken fat content for flavor without being overpowering. The chicken pieces were quite tender and juicy, as usual, which paired well with the gingery sweet fish sauce that came with it. The noodles were cooked to perfection. All of this for just $6.50!
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Egg Rolls at Pho Nguyen Hue

  • Chả giò (egg rolls) – I was hungry so I decided to order some egg rolls too. Unlike other places, the egg roll skins on these are not as crisp and flaky. The filling was pretty meaty with tons of ground pork, shredded carrots, and tapioca glass noodles. While I wish there were a little more accouterments, the lettuce and mint worked perfectly well.

All in all, it was great to have a “taste of home” of sorts at Pho Nguyen Hue. It’s a place I will continue to have many fond memories, even if the service is bare bones and it is still cash only. There are days that I still miss living in Orange County, even if it is to eat a simple bowl of phở in Little Saigon.

Noodle Soups, Hong Kong

When I was tallying up which type of restaurant I ate at the most on this recent trip to Hong Kong, I realized they were essentially restaurants known for their noodle soups. In retrospect, it wasn’t much of a surprise as it turned out that my visit coincided with the coldest winter in more than 40 years. There are few things more warming on a cold winter’s day than a bowl of hot noodle soup.

Here’s a few of the places I went to nourish myself with a bowl of hot soup and toothsome noodles:

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

Roast Goose Lai Fun at Yat Lok

Roast Goose Lai Fun at Yat Lok

While I have already reviewed Yat Lok before (making this the first time I’ve reviewed a place more than once), what I did not try last time was their signature menu item: 燒鵝瀨粉(roast goose lai fun).  Unfortunately, the roast goose was not as good as I had last time. However, that was likely due to the fact that I came during an off time (2PM) where the turnover of the goose was slow, and thus the skin of goose got a little soggier sitting idly by. In contrast, the broth was nice in its simplicity of flavor with just the flavor of goose and a few spices. I also like the lai fun as well, which were surprisingly al dente as I’m used to rice and tapioca starch noodles usually getting too soft, too quickly.

羅富記粥麵專家 (Law Fu Kee)
G/F 142 Queens Rd C
Central, Hong Kong

Fish congee and Dumpling noodle soup at Law Fu Kee

Fish congee and Dumpling noodle soup at Law Fu Kee

On the Sunday of my stay in Hong Kong I woke up earlier than usual so I decided to have breakfast. As I mentioned before, it was cold in Hong Kong so I just took a quick trip down the street to 羅富記粥麵專家, which seemed decent given its relatively good reviews on OpenRice (Hong Kong’s Yelp).

I ordered the 水餃麵 (Dumpling Noodle Soup) and 魚片粥 (Fish Congee). While the soup in the noodle soup was decent in its medium strong seafood flavor and use of chives, I was not much of a fan of the dumplings. The dumplings did not seem to have the freshest shrimp and folded a bit sloppily. However, the worst offense of the dumplings were the extremely heavy use of black pepper the overpowered the flavor of the dumpling.

In contrast, the fish congee was great. The fish was very fresh and the congee was seasoned well.  The only downside were that the portion of congee was huge, meaning I couldn’t finish it at all.

新成香港仔魚蛋王
G/F 43 Temple Street
Yau Ma Tei, Hong Kong

Fish Ball Noodles

Fish Ball Noodles

I confess, I wasn’t really looking to eat at this place. In fact, I was hoping to eat breakfast at the famed Mido Cafe just before I left for the airport, but it was closed for a break day. Since it was raining a little bit, I decided to go to the nearest hole in the wall restaurant instead, which happened to be 新成香港仔魚蛋王.

Given that the signage and many posters in the places pointed to fish balls, I decided to get a bowl of 魚蛋麵 (Fish Ball Noodle Soup). It took a few minutes for the fish balls to cook, but once it arrived it felt like heaven during the cold, rainy morning. The broth did seem a little too salty but the fish balls were cooked perfectly and assisted by a little dab of hot chile oil that I added. The noodles were perfectly toothsome as well. At around $28 Hong Kong Dollars, it was a bargain too.

Tasty Congee and Noodle Wantun Shop
7/F Departures East Hall, Terminal 1
Hong Kong International Airport, Chep Lap Kok

The last of my noodle soup adventures ended up at the airport when I was getting lunch before my early afternoon flight to Los Angeles. In all fairness, and looking at OpenRice, it’s probably not best to judge other branches of this chain from its location at the airport. Airport concessions tend to rely more on quantity, volume, and efficiency so some quality gets sacrificed.

Sad to say, it was pretty telling when I ordered a bowl of 雲吞麵 (Wonton noodle soup). The broth was just okay and I felt it could have used more seafood. The wontons, while wrapped perfectly well, were a bit heavy on the pork as opposed to the shrimp. I suppose pork is just easier to prep, cook, and store at an airport kitchen but it was a real downside to a city that is known for large, tasty, and fresh all-shrimp (or almost all-shrimp)  wontons.

All in all, this trip has taught me that the wisdom of the crowd can lead to truly delicious discoveries like Yat Lok (and previously, Mak’s Noodle House) but also some disheartening disappointments. However, Hong Kong is a city known for it’s street food and hole in the wall places. Those hole in the wall, barely reviewed places can just be your next ticket to a whole new world of tasty bites.

Macau

While I love the sights, sounds, and smells of Hong Kong (which I will definitely have a couple blog posts about), to be honest I was most looking forward to tasting my way through Macau on my recent trip.

Macau, as you may know, is another Special Administrative Region of China, just across the mouth of the Pearl River from Hong Kong. Like Hong Kong, Macau was colonized by a European colonial power which has shaped its culinary legacy. Like Hong Kong, there is also significant influence of Cantonese people. After all, like Hong Kong, the vast majority of locals speak Cantonese as their native language.

Macau, however, is much smaller (in size and population) than Hong Kong and was influenced by European colonization for a lot longer. After all, the Portuguese had started administrating Macau since 1557, centuries before the British even attempted to make Hong Kong a colony. Given that, a lot of Macanese food seems to have a lot more influence from Portugal compared to the influence of the United Kingdom on the food in Hong Kong, which I’ll explore a little further below.

However, I only had a day and a half in Macau, which meant cramming as much dining adventures I could while also doing some sightseeing to walk off all that caloric intake. Below are a few restaurants and/or foods I ate around town on my limited time .

Street Food (pastéis de nata & pork chop sandwiches)

Like Hong Kong, Macau has an abundance of street food, much of it fairly similar. However, there are several items that are unique to Macau, including world renown  pastéis de nata.

Pastel de nata at Margaret’s Café e Nata

Pastel de nata at Margaret’s Café e Nata

Pastéis de nata (or 葡撻 in traditional Chinese, as in Portuguese style egg tarts) are a little different than Cantonese style eggs tarts in that, based on my experience, they have are a little creamier and always have a flaky crust (Cantonese style egg tarts may have a short crust instead). Of course, there’s also the added ‘creme brulee effect’ that adds a layer of caramelized sugar on top.

There’s a number vendors that sell pastéis de nata and you can practically buy and eat one of them every few steps on your walk from Senado Square to the Ruins of St. Paul’s. Due to extreme self control, I only had one on my walk which was good but not the best (as their business runs more on turnover than quality). Afterward, however, I was able to go to one of the famed pastéis de nata makers, Margaret’s Café e Nata, located in an ally filled with street food vendors a block away from the Grand Lisboa hotel. Margaret’s pastéis de nata were very delicious with a buttery and flaky crust, creamy filling, melding perfectly with the thin layer of caramelized sugar on top. The next day I headed to the other vaunted pastéis de nata vendor, Lord Stow’s Bakery, at their location in the Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian Macau. While the pastéis de nata at Lord Stow were also really good, the egg custard seemed less creamy and more akin to a Cantonese egg tart. Between the two, I would go to Margaret’s.

Macau 3

Pork Chop Sandwich in Macau

Pastéis de nata, however, aren’t the only popular Macanese street food option. Another is the pork chop sandwich. While I only had one pork chop sandwich, at a place around the corner from Margaret’s with a sign awning saying 澳門豬扒包專門店 (which literally translates to pork chop bun shop), it was pretty good. The pork chop was moist and a little tender with a perfectly warm and freshly baked bun. Given the limited space in my stomach, however I wasn’t able to compare it to other places like 大利來記. All in all, Macanese food was a great experience.

Riquexo
69 Avenida Sidonio Pais
Macau

Macau 1

Meal at Riquexo

After I walked up to the ruins of St. Paul’s and hiked up to see the breathtaking views from the Monte Fort I headed to Riquexo for lunch. Riquexo is a little hole in the wall restaurant that is a little walk out of the way from the main tourist spots on the Macau peninsula. However, the family that owns and runs the place is one of the last families to speak patua, a Macanese creole language based on Portuguese but also influenced by Cantonese, Malay, and Sinhalese. Based on that, I felt I had to go here for a taste of Macanese food.

At Riquexo you can choose a dish on the steam tray table, which will come with rice, soup, and a choice of dessert. Once you pick the dish, you take a seat and they present the food to you. I got their most famous and popular item, minchi. Minchi is a dish of ground pork marinated and simmered in a molasses and soy sauce mixture. I found it pretty good with some finely diced fried potatoes as well that helped soak up the slightly sweet but very savory sauce. It actually tasted fairly similar to a ground pork dish that my mom used to make. The soup was nice as well. While it wasn’t the most mindblowing soup I’ve had, it tasted like a simple ‘homecooked’ soup that definitely gave me some cozy comfort on a cold winter day. In contrast, the flan at the end was only okay and perhaps a touch too sweet for my taste.

Feast
Sheraton Grand Macao Hotel
Cotai Central

I ended the night at Feast, a buffet that advertises in “cuisines of the world” but really specializes in Macanese cuisine and other cuisines of Portuguese colonialism. After a long day of sightseeing and spending some time at the hotel fitness center, I went down to the buffet a little bit before closing.

Given the immense options at a buffet, especially one operating in Macau or Las Vegas, I will focus on particular highlights that I feel were pretty great. First of all, I loved the bacalhau fresco they served, which was a nice mix of Portuguese style fresh cod with the sweet soy sauce typically used for Cantonese steamed fish as accompaniment. The galinha à africana was wonderful as well, with a great blend of African spices perfectly complimenting the succulent chicken. I would also highly recommend the amêijoas à bulhão pato, which was a dish of clams cooked in wine, garlic, and bacon.

They also had a seafood bar as well with an abundance of fresh seafood. However, given how late it was, my lobster was overcooked and not that great. To the side of the buffet was a beef brisket noodle soup station where you could build your own authentic Cantonese style beef brisket noodle soup, which was delicious and a great taste of home. Lastly, there was a dessert bar, but unfortunately they were closing up shop by the time I was ready for dessert.

Conclusion

All in all, Macanese food is delicious and way underappreciated (aside from the pastéis de nata). I practically loved every item I ate, though I will be the first to acknowledge that I am not sure if the places I ate at were the best of their representative classes. I suspect that my buffet experience probably didn’t represent the best of Macanese food, but certainly I wouldn’t have been able to try all those dishes at a more traditional restaurant without forking over 2-3 times the amount I paid.

I would certainly recommend others who take a vacation to Hong Kong to take a side trip to Macau. It’s just an hour away by ferry and the sights and sounds of this other Chinese Special Administrative Region will have you hungering for more.

Cathay Pacific

There are a few airlines that fly directly from the US West Coast to Hong Kong: Cathay Pacific (out of both SFO and LAX), Delta (out of SEA), Singapore (out of SFO), and United (out of SFO). While I would have loved to try out Singapore Airline’s Economy Class, I decided to fly Cathay Pacific on this trip to Hong Kong as I am trying to get elite status on American Airlines this year. Thus, I booked a flight on Cathay Pacific through American Airlines.

CX 5

Discovery, Cathay Pacific’s inflight magazine

Cathay Pacific has a reputation for being one of the best airlines in the world, even if you are flying in Economy. While I was excited to fly them again for a number of reasons, the food wasn’t one of them, if I’m being honest. Maybe I over-hyped myself on my last trip to Hong Kong, but I found half the meals on my March-April 2015 trip to be disappointing. Even their signature dish, braised beef over rice, seemed too salty and way too drenched in sauce (though I must add that the congee on that trip was excellent).

Needless to say, I had low expectations for this pair of flights, but I was delightfully surprised as you can see below.

LAX-HKG (CX 883)

Cathay Pacific flight 883 currently leaves Los Angeles at 10:35PM Pacific Time with a scheduled landing at 5:40AM in Hong Kong. As such, Cathay Pacific serves supper a little after take off and breakfast a couple hours before landing with the ability to order a few snacks (for free!) in between meal services.

CX 3

Beef provencal, green beans, carrots, and parlsey red bliss potatoes on CX 883

For supper I got the beef provencal, green beans, carrots, and parlsey red bliss potatoes. I eschewed the braised chicken Chinese dish option given the lackluster taste from my last trip. While I don’t know if the braised chicken was any better this flight, the beef was really good. I loved how the provencal sauce was perfectly season and there was just enough to cover the beef and help flavor the vegetables without overpowering everything. The vanilla ice cream, as usual, was a nice touch. However, I’m still not a fan of the marinated baby shrimp and quinoa salad. The frozen shrimp doesn’t taste great and the flavors really don’t meld well with any main entree.

Chicken and Ginger Congee on CX 883

Chicken and Ginger Congee on CX 883

After watching The Martian and Room, I got a decent amount of rest and woke up pretty much around breakfast time. Because I loved the congee I had on my last trip, I decided to have the Chicken and Ginger Congee. While the congee itself was pretty decent, and I always love a little bit of ginger in it, the chicken was overcooked and pretty tough. The chicken and mushroom congee of last year was a little better from my experience.

HKG-LAX (CX 884)

CX 2

Braised beef rib finger, soya sauce, jade melon, and steamed jasmine rice on CX 884

Given my decent success with the meal services on my way to Hong Kong, I decided to go forward and try all their Chinese menu options for the trip back home. The first meal service was lunch where I had the braised beef rib finger, soya sauce, jade melon, and steamed jasmine rice. This was undoubtedly the best meal of all my flights so far on Cathay Pacific. The braised beef was tendered and well seasoned without being too salty. I loved the slight bitterness of the jade melon that cut the fattiness of the beef. And, of course, I love rice so it helped round out the meal. The carrot, corn, raisin, and honey mustard salad was delicious too as was the small chocolate ice cream for dessert.

Chicken, sand ginger sauce, and steamed jasmine rice on CX 844

Chicken, sand ginger sauce, and steamed jasmine rice on CX 844

Dinner service started a few hours before our arrival at around 9:30PM Hong Kong time. This time I ordered the chicken, sand ginger sauce, and steamed jasmine rice. Before I even ate the dish, I noticed that Economy passengers had real silverware as utensils, the first time I ever had that for meal service on the flight since the late 1990s on an American Airlines transcontinental flight. Of course, having silverware or pasticware doesn’t necessarily denote the quality of the meal. In this case, the chicken was pretty good, if a little dry, and I really liked the savory sand ginger sauce. Unfortunately, there was too little sauce meaning that 1/3 of the meal was just eating plain rice, which was alright with me. I liked the panna cotta as well, but given that I had cup noodles and a few packets of peanuts midflight, I wasn’t able to finish it.

All in all, this pair of flights really highlighted the potential good quality of meals you can find, even on Economy, on Cathay Pacific. While none of the dishes are going to win awards and praise if they were served at a land based restaurant, they certainly beat the cold sandwiches with 60%+ dry, bland bread that you would have to cough up $10+ for on an American domestic flight. I am delightfully looking forward to the meal on my next Cathay Pacific flight, on business class from New York to Vancouver.