Tag Archives: Cantonese

Tastee Steam Kitchen, Oakland

Tastee Steam Kitchen
329 11th Street
Oakland, CA 94607

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

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

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

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

Marble Beef (before steaming) at Tastee Steam Kitchen

Marble Beef (before steaming) at Tastee Steam Kitchen

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

Snow Pea Leaves (after steaming) at Tastee Steam Kitchen

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

Cordyceps Flower and Chicken Congee at the end

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

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

 

Tagged , , ,

Da Hong Pao, Washington, DC

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

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

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

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

Dim Sum at Da Hong Pao

Dim Sum at Da Hong Pao

  • Steamed Spare Ribs with Garlic Black Bean Sauce 豉蒜蒸排骨 – The steamed spareribs were perfectly juicy and marinated in enough oil and black bean sauce to provide a rich umami taste without being overpowering. I loved the perfectly cooked diced taro they threw into the dish too.
  • Egg Tart 招牌蛋撻 – When ended up eating these egg tarts a little bit later as they came closer to the beginning. While the flavors were fine, I thought they weren’t anything to write home about. However, I fully acknowledge that it could be because I didn’t eat them hot.
  • Steamed King Prawn Dumpling 超級蝦餃星 – While these shrimp dumplings don’t have quite the finesse of places around LA, San Francisco, or New York, you could tell that they were made in house rather than reheated frozen dumplings. The shrimp was fresh and perfectly portioned, though the skin suffered from being a little too gummy and hard to break apart (or rip away from the steamer with a chopstick).
FullSizeRender (23)

Pan Fried Dried Shrimp Rice Crepe at Da Hong Pao

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

Boiled Yu-Choi at Da Hong Pao

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

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

Tagged , , ,

Peony Seafood Restaurant, Oakland

Peony Restaurant
388 9th Street #288
Oakland, CA 94612

If you go to many Chinatowns, especially those in American suburbs like the San Gabriel Valley or Houston, you will hear a preponderance of Mandarin being spoken. Much of this is due to immigration of Taiwanese in the past few decades combined with a newer wave of Mainland Chinese people in those areas. Because of this, the last bastion of Cantonese dominant Chinese enclaves is the first major American metropolitan area that people in Guangdong province settled in: the San Francisco Bay Area. Therefore, I thought the perfect place to start my blogging of Bay Area Asian food as a resident is an older Cantonese restaurant that has reinvented itself anew again.

Peony Seafood Restaurant sits at the second floor of the Pacific Renaissance Plaza, a mixed-use center built in 1993 at a time when Hong Kong developers poured money to build new, gleaming Chinese catering strip malls up and down California. In its previous incarnation starting in the 1990s, Peony was one of many Hong Kong style seafood palaces opening up serving dim sum on carts at lunch and upscale Cantonese food for dinner. However, by the early years of the decade the restaurant had become warn and stale, with a number of complaints on review sites like Yelp stating its mediocre food, high prices, iffy cleanliness, and dwindling clientele. The restaurant subsequently closed in 2013.

Checksheet Menu at Peony Seafood Restaurant

Checksheet Menu at Peony Seafood Restaurant

However, in 2014 it reopened again under new management. While the restaurant’s basic format didn’t change – it still served dim sum at lunch and seafood dishes for dinner – the presentation, menu, and service did. Gone were the carts of old, replaced by a dim sum checklist menu similar of more modern, higher quality places in Los Angeles, Vancouver, and Hong Kong. The restaurant received good reviews so I decided to give it a couple of tries when friends of mine were in town. The following were some of the dishes I got throughout my visits and my thoughts:

Shrimp Dumpling at Peony Seafood Restaurant

Shrimp Dumpling at Peony Seafood Restaurant

  • Shrimp Dumpling – The overall flavors of the dish are strong, including the freshness of the shrimp. However, the har gows here suffer from too much of a good thing as the mix of the shrimp and the relative thinness of the rice flour dumpling wrapper means that the skin falls apart easily. A for effort but a C in terms of execution.
  • Siu Mai – I think the siu mai is pretty good here with a nice mixture of pork, shrimp, and mushrooms. The flavors are nice, albeit the pork might be too dense.
  • Chinese Broccoli With Oyster Sauce – My go to palate cleanser at American dim sum restaurants and Peony does these right. I’m not sure what they exactly do, but it tastes like they blanched the Chinese broccoli and quickly stir fry it to give is a slightly crispy and slightly crunchy bit. With oyster sauce on the side, their version allows the stems and leaves to be perfectly enjoyed.
  • Sugar Egg Puff – While I’m always disappointed when a place gives you egg puffs before you finish the savory parts of your meal, these are probably the 2nd or 3rd best versions of this I have tried in the Bay Area, after the vaunted Cooking Papa (which does wait until you finish with the savory dishes!)
  • Steam Custard Buns – While “Quicksand buns” (流沙包) are all the rage for dessert at more modern dim sum places, Peony doesn’t have them. Instead they have these steam custard buns which come with a more liquid rich custard filling that feels like a cross between the “quicksand” buns and the more traditional custard buns.
Dim Sum at Peony Seafood Restaurant

Dim Sum at Peony Seafood Restaurant

While it’s really hard to flag someone down for service here, the food is good and definitely better than its previous incarnation. The above average food does also come with above average prices, though, so be warned if you’re used to prices at older dim sum palaces that still use carts. And while I won’t say that Peony competes toe to toe with Hong Kong Lounge II as the best Dim Sum in the Bay Area, it currently shines over East Ocean in Alameda as the best dim sum I have had recently in the East Bay.

Tagged , , ,

Hong Kong Visit, Part 3

Hong Kong Island from the Ritz Carlton

Hong Kong Island from the Ritz Carlton

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

Afternoon Tea

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

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

Afternoon Tea at the Ritz Carlton Hong Kong

Afternoon Tea at the Ritz Carlton Hong Kong

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

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

Cantonese Barbecue (燒味)

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

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

Roast Goose Rice and Tong Choy at Yat Lok

Roast Goose Rice and Tong Choy at Yat Lok

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

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

Cantonese Desserts 

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

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

Desserts at Ching Ching

Desserts at Ching Ching

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

Tagged , , , ,

King Hua, Alhambra

King Hua
2000 W Main Street
Alhambra, CA 91801

Of the top 5 restaurants serving Dim Sum in Southern California according to my Dim Sum Rankings, the only one I had never been to, until last week, was King Hua. According to a number of Chinese food writers, eaters, and observers in San Gabriel Valley, it is one of the top 3-4 places for Dim Sum around LA. In fact the restaurant rankings no lower than 7th in all of the Dim Sum ranking lists I looked at to compile my rankings. So when I had an opportunity to take a friend out to Dim Sum, I definitely used it as an opportunity to round out my visits to the top Dim Sum spots in Southern California (and the country).

After braving some LA traffic during the lunchtime rush, we arrived at about 1:30PM on a Monday afternoon. Much of the lunch crowd was just leaving, meaning we were seated very quickly. We ordered chrysanthemum tea and I quickly sat down and looked at their tick sheet menu to order our various dishes. While I wanted to order many items, I managed to limit our table of two to 7 items, which turned out perfectly. The items we ate were:

Baked Low Fat Milk Bun at King Hua

Baked Low Fat Milk Bun at King Hua

  •  Baked Low Fat Milk Bun – My friend loved these and the buns were nice with a lightly crispy exterior and a creamy, rich filled interior. Unfortunately these were served from a tray of buns that a server was hawking around the restaurant so it wasn’t as hot and fresh as it should have. Casualties of eating at a later hour for dim sum I suppose.
Shrimp and Pork Dumpling at King Hua

Shrimp and Pork Dumpling at King Hua

  • Shrimp and Pork Dumpling (Siu Mai) – These siu mai were nicely plump and juicy. The crab roe on top was just the perfect amount (as opposed to too much and overpowering at Lunasia). Albeit not the best I’ve ever had, it’s still probably some of the best I’ve eaten.
Poached Chinese Broccoli at King Hua

Poached Chinese Broccoli at King Hua

  • Poached Chinese Broccoli – I liked that the oyster sauce was on the side allowing for people to add as much sauce they feel is needed compared to other places where the sauce can be overwhelming in some parts and underwhelming in others. The broccoli could have been poached a little longer but otherwise they were very fresh and nice to cut the fat and meat of other items.
Shrimp Dumpling at King Hua

Shrimp Dumpling at King Hua

  • Shrimp Dumpling (Har Gau) – These har gau were nearly perfect with a skin that didn’t break when holding it but tore with a little chew when eating it. There was a large amount of shrimp albeit I could have used a little more seasoning in the shrimp filling.
Steam Shrimp and Pea Tip Dumplings at King Hua

Steam Shrimp and Pea Tip Dumplings at King Hua

  • Steam Shrimp and Pea Tip Dumplings – These were one of my friend’s favorites and it’s easy to see why. Not only are these dumplings beautifully presented, but the flavor and texture contrast between the sauteed pea tips, shrimp, wrapper, and corn melds perfectly. If we had any more room in our stomachs I would have ordered another.
Steam Rice Noodle w/  Minced Beef at King Hua

Steam Rice Noodle w/ Minced Beef at King Hua

  • Steam Rice Noodle w/  Minced Beef – These rice noodle rolls were pretty good with rice noodles that were soft but not soggy. The minced meat was nice, but perhaps it might have been better with a chewier, thicker filling.
Steam Beef Tripe in Special Sauce at King Hua

Steam Beef Tripe in Special Sauce at King Hua

  • Steamed Beef Tripe in Special Sauce – Admittedly I thought this dish would use omasum/bible tripe but the honeycomb tripe was nice here too. It was chewy but also tender and the lightly spiced sauce it was simmered in was tasty as well.

All in all, King Hua was a pretty great experience with service that was pleasant but not overbearing. The prices were on par with other higher quality dim sum places in the San Gabriel Valley, though I do agree that it is not at quite the level of Elite or Sea Harbour. One thing I did notice is that while the quality was great, the restaurant was not quite as innovative with items as some of the other better place in the area. Regardless, this is a solid place to take friends out to dim sum and definitely a solid #4 in my list of best dim sum of Southern California (after Sea Harbour, Elite, and J Zhou).

Tagged , , ,

Elite, Monterey Park

Elite Restaurant
700 S. Atlantic Blvd.
Monterey Park, CA 91754

After coming in at #2 on my Dim Sum rankings I decided I had to take a visit to Elite. So near the tail end of my holiday break I took the chance to eat there again during my very brief visit in LA. My haircut appointment in Irvine went a little longer than usual so I got to Elite close to 2PM. At that point I began to be super hungry but it turned out to be perfect as I only needed to wait 5 minutes for a table instead of possibly an hour or more if I had gone earlier.

When I was seated I quickly went to ordering chrysanthemum tea and checking off the menu of the dishes I wanted to eat. After several minutes of looking at the menu I decided to eat the following:

Crispy Shrimp Noodle Roll at Elite

Crispy Shrimp Noodle Roll at Elite

  • Crispy Shrimp Rice Noodle (百花炸兩腸粉) – These rice noodle rolls are wrapped around Chinese crullers (油條) which are in turn filled with shrimp ball filling. These are an amazing play on texture and flavor, though I wish the Chinese crullers were a little crispier. All in all, very good.
Spare Ribs With Chili and Black Bean Sauce at Elite

Spare Ribs With Chili and Black Bean Sauce at Elite

  • Spare Ribs With Chili and Black Bean Sauce (剁椒蒸排骨) – The spare ribs were cooked just right, perfectly coming off the bone. These were probably the best pork spare ribs I’ve eaten although perhaps there could have been a little more spice.
Crystal Shrimp Har Gow at Elite

Crystal Shrimp Har Gow at Elite

  • Crystal Shrimp Har Gow (水晶蝦餃皇) – These shrimp dumplings were pretty good. The shrimp was fresh and flavorful and the skins had a perfect bounce but didn’t stretch too much. While not as technically good as the Yank Sing ones, these had an overall better flavor that melded really nicely with the hot chile oil.
Dry Scallop Roll Fun at Elite

Dry Scallop Roll Fun at Elite

  • Dry Scallop Roll Fun – While I didn’t get much dried scallop (maybe they ran out?), these steamed small rice noodle rolls with shrimp and diced vegetables were really good and contrasted nicely to the more heavy crispy shrimp rice noodles.
Crispy Snow Bun at Elite

Crispy Snow Bun at Elite

  • Crispy Snow Bun (杏汁雪山飽) – These buns were delicious with a crispy shell but a sweet, doughy middle. Unfortunately these came out first so I actually didn’t eat them while they were hot as I wanted to wait for it as dessert.

The service was pretty good, but as they were winding down the lunch hour it did get harder and harder to flag someone to get something. Despite that, the overall experience and food was pretty good and just as great as I remember it. However, I do agree that Sea Harbour is just so slightly better. Either way, you can’t go wrong going to either of these places for dim sum and Southern California is very blessed to have two of the very best places to eat dim sum in the whole country (though that’s not exactly by accident).

Next couple weeks will venture back to the Mountain West/Southwest but around Chinese New Year you’ll see my personal picks for best sum I’ve had.

Tagged , , , ,

Golden City, San Diego

Golden City
5375 Kearny Villa Rd #107
San Diego, CA 92123

Like many families, my family has certain holiday traditions. We open Christmas presents at midnight on Christmas Eve. On my dad’s side we regularly eat Thanksgiving dinner at my cousin’s, who makes a very good traditional American style feast. But no matter the holiday, whether it’s Chinese New Year or Thanksgiving, my mom’s side of the family has one defining tradition: nearly every big family meal is at Golden City.

We book their small “VIP” room weeks in advance and gather for a festive family dinner, ordering about a dish a person served family style around a giant lazy susan. This Thanksgiving was no different and my grandfather, who diligently remembers his grandchildren’s favorite dishes, took the reins in ordering the following:

Peking Duck – We actually order the duck to be served two ways, once as a Peking Duck dish and one as a stir fried duck dish that uses the meat of the duck and comes later at dinner. This Cantonese style rendition of Peking Duck is my cousin’s favorite dish at Golden City with its crispy, but flavorful skin, fine shreds of green onions, pillowy bao buns, and hoisin sauce to round off the dish. There are ample servings for a table of 10-12.

Pork and Watercress Soup – Definitely tastes and feels like a soup my mom would make at home with Chinese watercress soft yet flavorful, work that is tender, and broth that is also flavored with some ginger and goji berries

Stir Fried Duck With Preserved Vegetables – The second part of the duck served two ways, the tender and juicy duck meat is stir fried with bean sprouts, carrots, and pickled and preserved Chinese veggies. Normally one person in my family takes the remaining duck that we don’t eat to boil for soup later but this day we forgot to ask until it was too late and the wait staff threw it away.

Roast Pork Slices – The roast pork belly has nice and tender meat with melt in your mouth fat near the skin. I do wish the skin was a bit crispier in this version but definitely not bad at all.

Salt and Pepper Pork Chops at Golden City

Salt and Pepper Pork Chops at Golden City

Salt and Pepper Baked Pork Chops – One of my brother’s favorite dishes, these salt and pepper baked pork chops are a hit with a crisp but not too thick batter and plenty of fried salt and pepper batter with fresh jalapeno slices that taste marvelous with rice.

Kwei Fei Chicken – This style of chicken is first brined in a light color oil and spice and then poached and cooled for a juicy and flavorful chicken. Add the chicken with a minced ginger and scallion oil and you have one of my favorite dishes at Golden City.

Dried Bean Curd and Fish Filet Clay Pot

Dried Bean Curd and Fish Filet Clay Pot

Dried Bean Curd with Fish Fillet Clay Pot – This dish combines bean curd, slices of rock cod fillet, and bean curd skin marinated in a thick seafood and soy sauce simmered in a clay pot.

Chinese Broccoli Stir Fried with Dried Fish – This dish is a favorite of both my brother and me. The Chinese broccoli is stir fried with a little bit of oil and dried fish flakes giving a nice seafood and garlicky taste to enhance the aroma and texture of the slightly crunchy Chinese broccoli. It is one of my favorite vegetable dishes ever and Golden City does one of the best renditions I have eaten.

Dungeness Crab Fried Rice

Dungeness Crab Fried Rice

Dungeness Crab Fried Rice – The Dungeness Crab is steamed on a bed of light and fluffy egg fried rice, giving the rice a nice sweet crab aroma along with bits of minced crab meat. The crab is flavorful too and since we ate them near peak Dungeness crab season the crabs were very fresh with tender and sweet meat.

Salt and Pepper Fried Shrimp – A delicious shrimp version of the Salt and Pepper Fried Pork Chops. I rarely eat this dish as I don’t really like peeling the shrimp shell to eat shrimp meat that I’m a little ambivalent about already.

Tang Yuan – For dessert we had tang yuan, a delicious dessert of glutinous rice balls filled with black sesame in a black sesame tong sui (sweet soup that literally means sugar water in Chinese).

All in all it was another great family dinner where we were all stuffed and had plenty for leftovers. The service was very nice and pleasant without being omnipresent. Basically it was just another fantastic dinner with my mom’s side of the family and a tradition that I look forward to again and again.

Tagged , ,

Best Dim Sum in America (Part 3) – Cart vs. Menu/Check sheet

Last week I revealed the top 10 places that serve dim sum in the United States according to my methodology. While one might quibble with my methodology and how/why some restaurants are ranked where they are, one thing is undeniable: almost all places that rank high serve dim sum using a menu checklist system rather than using steamer carts or trays. Menu order dim sum parlors occupy 8 of the top 10 spots and 18 of the top 25 spots. Moreover, many of the top places for dim sum in major metropolitan areas use a dim sum menu ordering system. Not only does Sea Harbour (the #1 dim sum parlor) use a menu ordering system, but so does MingHin in Chicago, Nom Wah Tea Parlor in New York City, Kirin in Honolulu, and China Max in San Diego.

Shanghai No 1 Seafood Village dim sum menu by One More Bite Blog: https://flic.kr/p/bgF1xr

Shanghai No 1 Seafood Village dim sum menu by One More Bite Blog: https://flic.kr/p/bgF1xr

Do all these data points really mean that menu order dim sum places are superior to dim sum places that still use carts?

There are many who would say no, especially a number of Baby Boomer immigrants from Hong Kong and their 2nd generation Millennial children (the ‘626 Generation’) who grew up with trays and carts being rolled around in grand dim sum seafood palaces. For many of these people, using carts and trays are the traditional way of serving dim sum. Thus, switch to ordering from a menu betrays those traditions and a number of associations with what dim sum is supposed to be like. In the modern practice of eating dim sum in the late morning and early afternoon, it’s part of the “yum cha” experience. Yum cha literally means to drink tea, but in general refers to a long midday meal where you drink tea, eat various dim sum dishes, and chat with various friends and family at your table for quite a while.

Cart at Ming Dynasty in Albuquerque, NM

Cart at Ming Dynasty in Albuquerque, NM

So in a way, using carts or trays to order and serve dim sum melds perfectly with these traditions and conceptions of dim sum and yum cha. It allows patrons to order how much and what they want at their own pace, all the while engaging in conversation and drinking tea with their friends and family at the table. By extension, it also allows people to introduce friends not familiar with dim sum in a relatively fun and less pressuring way. Dim sum novices can glance at the selections in the cart and can choose based on what is appealing then and there while skipping those that they may not find as tasty or worthwhile based on the dish’s appearance and description, if a description is offered by the person pushing the cart or friend.

However, none of those arguments for nostalgic carts serving dim sum addresses the quality of the food. A family member of mine recently said that he preferred cart style dim sum because the food seems more fresh to him. Certainly in some cases this might be true, especially if you go to a large dim sum parlor in a big city where the dim sum items turn over frequently; bonus if you are lucky enough to sit at a table close to the kitchen. However, the experience of a number of people that eat extensively at different dim sum parlors, including myself, is that those instances are rare. Often times items are in the carts are overcooked as a result of sitting in that steam and heat too long or turn cold by the time the dishes land on your table. Dim sum items are supposed to hot and fresh, but far too often they end up lukewarm and overcooked even at better cart dim sum places like Ocean Star and Empress Harbor in Monterey Park.

Steamed Zucchini Topped With Dried Scallops

Steamed Zucchini Topped With Dried Scallops

Menu order places, on the other hand, are generally more reliable in turning out hot and fresh dim sum items as the dishes there are usually steamed/baked/cooked to order. One recent example that comes to my mind is the Stuffed Zucchini with Dried Scallops that I ordered at J Zhou Oriental Cuisine in Tustin. That item came to my table piping hot and I had to wait about a minute or so for the dish to cool enough so I could eat it.

That said, not all menu order places and not all cart places are created equal. There are certainly a few menu order places that are near the bottom of the dim sum rankings, per my methodology. Additionally, my visit a few months ago to Red Egg, a menu order dim sum restaurant in New York City, turned up a few severely disappointing items. Likewise, there are many that praise Yank Sing and Koi Palace for being excellent purveyors of dim sum despite their use of carts and trays. Just because a place that serves dim sum uses a menu order method doesn’t replace the fact that you still need good, trained chefs in the kitchen.

Xiao Long Bao and Dim Sum Stamp Card at Jasmine in San Diego, CA

Xiao Long Bao and Dim Sum Stamp Card at Jasmine in San Diego, CA

All in all, however, the nostalgia and peek-a-boo fascination with cart style dim sum isn’t strong enough to deter me from eating mostly at menu order dim sum places. And if my dim sum meal with two high school friends a few weeks back proves anything, it’s that you can order delicious dim sum from a menu and still enjoy a long meal with copious amounts of tea and long conversation.

Tagged , , ,

Best Dim Sum in America (Part 2) – Results!

As I mentioned 2 weeks ago, my month long side research project to find the “best dim sum in America” is over. Results are below, but before that I want to go over my methodology in more detail just so I’m as completely transparent as possible.

I wrote last week that my methodology was based on yelp scores, urbanspoon scores, and some bonus points based on being on a food loving writer’s top dim sum lists. Here it is in more detail:

Total score
=
[Yelp score + (# of Yelp Reviews x 0.0001)]
+
[Urbanspoon % score x 5]
+
[Bonus points using a weighted grade based on mentions on a ‘top dim sum’ list in their metro area in the last 2 years. 1 mention = 0.25 bonus points, 2 mentions = 0.5 bonus pointspoints, 3+ mentions = weighted average of the rankings x 5 bonus points, 5+ mentions earned an additional bonus point]

Dim sum at Lunasia

Dim sum at Lunasia

The first two scoring factors are fairly simple and easy to explain as scores on both sites build the foundation of my rankings. Though, there are a few caveats: 1. I gave an added boost to the number of yelp reviews because I thought the more yelp reviews, the more reliable and better your score was compared to those with few reviews. 2. For the few restaurants without an Urbanspoon review I opted to duplicate the stars they received from Yelp (i.e. a restaurant without an Urbanspoon score but 3 yelp stars got a 60% in my Urbanspoon column).

The third is a little harder so I’ll walk you step by step on how I came up with my score for Sea Harbour. For the first two point factors, Sea Harbour received a base score of 8.19 (Yelp score of 3.59 + Urbanspoon score of 4.6). For the bonus score based on metro area lists, I averaged its ranking across all lists (19.5/8 = 2.4375) . Since lists are based on #1 being the best, I subtracted that score from 10. I then multiplied the resulting number by 0.1 to get a decimal. I multiplied the decimal by 5. The result was a bonus score of 3.78. I added an additional point because I felt that if you had more than 5 mentions, you must be pretty good. So in the end that’s 3.59 (Yelp) + 4.6 (Urbanspoon) + 4.78 (bonus points), or a total of 12.97 points.

Dim Sum at Sea Harbour

Dim Sum at Sea Harbour

But that’s enough math. By now I’m pretty sure you’re hungry to find the results of all this data and research. So, without further ado, according to this methodology the top dim sum restaurants in the United States are:

  1. Sea Harbour (Rosemead, CA) – 12.97
  2. Elite (Monterey Park, CA) – 12.436
  3. Nom Wah Tea Parlour (New York, NY) – 12.352
  4. Red Farm (New York, NY) – 12.337
  5. Yank Sing (San Francisco, CA) – 12.217
  6. Dim Sum Go Go (New York, NY) – 11.844
  7. Koi Palace (Daly City, CA) – 11.794
  8. Hong Kong Lounge II (San Francisco, CA) – 11.752
  9. Mama Ji’s (San Francisco, CA) – 11.528
  10. Hong Kong Lounge (San Francisco, CA) – 11.525

For those who are passionate about Chinese food and write about it, Sea Harbour’s #1 ranking comes as no surprise. The restaurant has enjoyed near universal acclaim since it’s open in 2002 and is repeatedly lauded by Jonathan Gold, the first food critic to ever win a Pulitzer Prize. Sea Harbour’s reputation and quality is aided by the fact that it is run by very successful Chinese restauranteurs based in Vancouver, where some of the best dim sum outside of Hong Kong is served.

While Sea Harbour’s ranking is not shocking much of anyone, what will undoubtedly shock some is the #7 ranking of Koi Palace. To be clear, a #7 ranking out of nearly 500 restaurants is nothing to sneeze at, but Koi Palace is considered by some experts to be the best Chinese restaurant in America. By this methodology, it comes to 2nd place even in its own metropolitan area, bested by the venerable Yank Sing. My hunch is that its notoriously long waits, with reports of staff ushering friends in front of the line, has markedly affected their ratings compared to others on this list. If that’s true, it does note a flaw in the methodology where to many folks, service trumps the quality of the food and is reflected on sites like Yelp.

 

Dim sum at J Zhou Oriental Cuisine

Dim sum at J Zhou Oriental Cuisine

Another interesting thing to note is the relatively small amount of places serving dim sum from the San Gabriel Valley  in the top 10 compared to those from San Francisco and New York. This is not to say that the top 10 places in New York or San Francisco are bad. However, there are a large number of  exceptional dim sum places in the San Gabriel Valley that many would argue are better than the San Francisco and New York restaurants in the top 10. This may indicate another flaw in my methodology because not all metropolitan areas are equal when it comes to overall quality of Cantonese cuisine. A number of people, especially of Chinese descent, generally agree that the Chinese food (including dim sum) is better around Los Angeles, with San Francisco and New York in 2nd and 3rd respectively. However, this opinion is fraught with contention as David Chan’s Asia Society article in 2012 elicited dozens of heated argument both on the site and Chowhound. I had briefly considered doing some additional weighting based on metropolitan area quality reputation but opted against it to keep my methodology as simple and non-biased as I could.

Nitpicking the various potential flaws of my methodology, though, obscures the big picture: the dim sum rankings and the methodology are a fairly good indicator of the quality of the dim sum restaurant. In general, a score of 10 points or more means that the place is excellent – where the dim sum is fresh, potentially innovative, and made with care and quality. More than 8 points generally indicates that the place is great, though not to the quality of those restaurants with more points. A restaurant in the 7 point range generally means they are good and fairly solid, though some items may not be very great. A score around 6 points means that the restaurant is ‘fair’ with some items that are good but many items that are not very great. The few restaurants in the 5 point range are ones to avoid with universally negative acclaim. You can take a look at my dim sum ranking spreadsheet here.

In practical terms, the list will be generally useful for knowing where to go and where to avoid to eat, especially when traveling for the holidays or for leisure. For instance, I’ll be going to King Hua (11.306 points) and not Lincoln Seafood (5.264 points) when I go to California in the next few weeks. It’s not a holiday without dim sum in my family and I’m certainly planning to stuff myself with delicious sui mai.

Next up: my favorite places for dim sum and deeper analysis of the rankings, including cart vs. menu order places.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

The Best Dim Sum In America (Part 1)

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

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

Egg Custard Tarts at Sea Harbour

Egg Custard Tarts at Sea Harbour

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

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

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

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

Dim sum restaurant v. number of Chinese residents scatterplot

Dim sum restaurant v. number of Chinese residents scatterplot

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

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

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

Dim Sum at Koi Palace

Dim Sum at Koi Palace

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

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

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

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,