Tag Archives: Chinese

Xiang Yuan Gourmet, Temple City

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Baozi Inn, London

Baozi Inn
26 Newport Court
London WC2H 7JS, UK 

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

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

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

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Food at Baozi Inn

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

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

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Chinese and Korean in Manchester

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

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

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

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

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

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Bulgogi at Koreana

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

Yang Sing
34 Princess Street
Manchester M1 4JY, UK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sinoinsocal? But You’re in NorCal…

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

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

Pho Ga at Pho Nguyen Hue

Pho Ga at Pho Nguyen Hue

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

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

Dim sum at J Zhou Oriental Cuisine

Dim sum at J Zhou Oriental Cuisine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dim Sum at Da Hong Pao

Dim Sum at Da Hong Pao

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

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

Boiled Yu-Choi at Da Hong Pao

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

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

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Tim Ho Wan, New York City

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

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

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

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

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

Baked BBQ Pork Buns at Tim Ho Wan NYC

Baked BBQ Pork Buns at Tim Ho Wan NYC

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

Steamed Shrimp Dumpling at Tim Ho Wan New York City

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

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

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

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

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

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China Live, San Francisco

China Live
644 Broadway
San Francisco, CA

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

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

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

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

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Charred Chinese Broccoli at China Live

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

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

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

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

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

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Cleveland, OH

Los Angeles. San Francisco. New York City. Those are the places most people think of as the cities to go to for good Asian food in America. Cleveland, Ohio, would likely not be on anyone’s mind. Despite its relatively bland and uninspiring reputation, I felt compelled to try the Asian food in the city during my brief time there last weekend to witness the marriage of two wonderful friends. This was reinforced when, much to my surprise, Cleveland had a couple restaurants that scored fairly well in the Dim Sum Rankings I compiled last year. Sadly, I didn’t get enough time to eat at all the restaurants I wanted to go to, but here are thoughts on the two that I did manage to squeeze in with my 36 hours in town.

Saigon
2061 E 4th Street
Cleveland, OH 44115

On Thursday I arrived in Cleveland shortly before game 4 of the NBA finals. After I dropped my bag off at the place I was staying, I decided to wander and explore downtown Cleveland a little bit. Unbeknownst to me, the Quicken Loans Arena where the Cleveland Cavaliers play is right next to downtown, so nearly all the streets were packed and my cell phone data became non-existent. I panicked a little as I was essentially flying blind on where to eat, without access to Yelp, Chowhound, or the travel recommendations of my friends. So as I turned into the pedestrian mall of East 4th Street, I was anxious. However, I saw the sign for Saigon and vaguely remembered that it was on my friends’ travel recommendations for the wedding. I breathed a little easier and went in to grab a table.

I sat down and browsed the menu, which was a little smaller than the pan-Vietnamese menus I was used to. I did, however, notice that the menu had both southern and central Vietnamese dishes so I proceeded to ask the server what they thought was best. Given the recommendation, I order the Bún bò Huế and then some crispy spring rolls (or what most Americans would refer to as egg rolls). My thoughts on them below:

Bun bo Hue at Saigon

Bun bo Hue at Saigon

  • Bún bò Huế – While this version doesn’t have oxtail or pork knuckle, this is possibly the best version of this dish I’ve had without either item. Most attempts with just beef shank are too thin and water/brothy but this version had a very nice slight thickness and had a decent amount of lemongrass and shrimp paste. They did add other cuts of beef like beef meatballs to make up for the lack of oxtail. I was almost tempted to order another bowl.
Chả giò at Saigon

Chả giò at Saigon

  • Chả giò (crispy spring rolls) – These fried spring rolls were fried perfectly, though I felt they had slightly too much pork. That, in and of itself is, not a bad thing. I just wish it had a little more glass noodles, carrots, and seasoning to balance it out. It paired very well with the excellent fish sauce though.

All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by Saigon. There are even Vietnamese restaurants in the Bay Area that would be negatively compared to this delightful place in the middle of downtown Cleveland. I can see why my friends like this place.

Emperor’s Palace
2136 Rockwell Ave
Cleveland, OH 44114

Given that I had no obligations for lunch on Friday, I decided to eat some dim sum. I chose Emperor’s Palace because it placed ever so slightly above the more popular Li Wah in my dim sum rankings and I only had one lunch meal in town. So the next morning, after I had laundered and pressed my clothes for the wedding later that day, I drove over to Emperor’s Palace in Cleveland’s old Chinatown.

Entering the restaurant I sat down at one of their many open tables. Normally the relative lack of people at the restaurant would worry people, but the few other tables occupied were of Chinese families and friends talking loudly in Cantonese, greatly relieving me. I browsed the menu and ordered the following:

Dim Sum at Emperor's Palace

Dim Sum at Emperor’s Palace

  • Emperor’s Steam Shrimp Dumpling – I give credit to Emperor’s Palace that they make their dim sum from scratch using fresh (as possible) shrimp. While the skin was a little bit too thick, the shrimp filling was nice, especially given that many dim sum places outside large coastal metro areas tend to use freezer burnt frozen shrimp.
  • Turnip Cake – These also showed signs of being made from scratch with nice bits of shredded and mashed daikon. The texture could have been more refined, but it was grilled fairly nicely with a crispy exterior but soft interior.
  • Egg Custard Bun – These buns were petite but really nice. The custard was sweet but not overpowering and the buns were nice and fluffy instead of oversteamed and soggy as some other restaurants might do.
  • Sao Mai – These were by far the worst item I had. Why they did try hard with a handmade pork filling and light wonton wrappers, I felt that these were oversteamed. The pork tasted a little overcooked and chewy while the wonton wrapper fell apart and tasted sticky. At least they didn’t just reheat some frozen aisle sui mai though, which I definitely can’t say of some other places.

All in all it was definitely better than many dim sum restaurants outside of the big 3 of LA, San Francisco, and NYC. After swinging by Li Wah right after just to check it out, I do wish I had gone there instead, though it’s great to know Cleveland residents are not left wanting, with two good choices for dim sum.

I just wished I had more time in Cleveland because I felt that 36 hours was definitely not enough time to even explore the Asian food options of the area, which showed tremendous signs of promise just from these two restaurants. I’d even argue that Cleveland has a better Asian food scene than Philadelphia, even though Philly has a still thriving Chinatown. I suppose it just means I have another excuse to do a Midwestern road trip, not only to see some friends, but to eat some great food.

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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.

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Bay Area’s Best Dim Sum?

As many of you know, I did a research project to find the best dim sum in the United States. Based on the methodology I used, the top four places in the San Francisco are:

  1. Yank Sing
  2. Koi Palace
  3. Hong Kong Lounge II
  4. Mama Ji’s

Since I was in the Bay Area for 2 weeks over the holidays, I decided to eat my way through the top 4  and give my subjective review of those places and how I think they match up with their place in the rankings.

Yank Sing

The first place I visited over my time in San Francisco was Yank Sing, which is also ranked the highest. It’s also very costly with dim sum dishes priced at least $5.60 which was one of several reasons why I had never been to the restaurant until now. Despite the prices though, Yank Sing is a popular and bustling place, not only because of its food but of its proximity to San Francisco’s Financial District and tech firms in SoMa that can support the prices and become an ever constant speakerphone for their quality.

As a consequence of its high prices, however, I only ordered a few dishes which included:

Dim Sum at Yank Sing

Dim Sum at Yank Sing

  • Kurobata Pork Shanghai Dumplings – I can see why many people rave about these xiaolongbao. They are probably the best xiaolongbao I have ever tasted at a Cantonese dim sum place given the flavorful, melt in your mouth pork and the delicious soup that accompanied the dumplings. The pork filling was also nicely balanced out with the Chinese vinegar and slices of ginger that came with them. However, the skins could use some work as a couple did break. All in all, they are good but nothing to the level of a Shanghainese restaurant or any location of Din Tai Fung.
  • Shrimp Dumpling – In theory, the har gow at Yank Sing fits everything on what a shrimp dumpling is supposed to be. The shrimp filling has a nice snap and is added by a hint of aromatics. The dumpling skin doesn’t rip, has a nice chew, and break apart perfectly when I chew. Yet somehow I didn’t really care for them as I thought the skin was too gummy.
  • Snowpea Shoots Dumpling – I love snowpea shoots (豆苗) and they did not disappoint in these dumplings. The skin, in contrast to the har gow skin, were nice too. If it weren’t for the price I’d definitely eat more.
Pan Fried Turnip Cake at Yank Sing

Pan Fried Turnip Cake at Yank Sing

  • Pan-Fried Turnip Cake – Despite not looking that great, they actually turned out really well and perfectly fried with a nice crispy outside yet a soft chewy inside. They’re probably the best I’ve eaten.

All in all, Yank Sing was pretty good and, as you’d expect, the service was great too. Was that the best dim sum in the Bay Area though? I still had some reservations and came out of the place thinking Koi Palace might be a little better (and definitely a better value).

Mama Ji’s

The next place I went to was Mama Ji’s out in the Castro. Since Mama Ji’s is in a neighborhood with many wealthy White people instead of a predominantly Chinese neighborhood, I was a little skeptical. Regardless, it just happened to be relatively close to my brother’s SoMa apartment so a group of us decided to go and try it out.

Once we arrived, my skepticism and concerns were unfounded. The restaurant is owned by a nice couple that really try to do their best in making dim sum and to bring the delight of the cuisine to people who likely wouldn’t eat in Chinatown, much less journey to RIchmond or the Sunset.

As to the food, we ordered:

Pork and Shrimp Sui Mai at Mama Ji's

Pork and Shrimp Sui Mai at Mama Ji’s

  • Pork Shrimp Siu Mai – Pretty good and packed full of juicy, tender pork. Perhaps needed a bit more shrimp.
  • Sweet Rice with Shrimp Sausage and Egg Wrapped in Lotus Leaf – Normally made with chicken, it was interesting to see this twist with shrimp sausage and egg. It was good but I prefer the more traditional version
  • Pan Fried Turnip Cake with Dried Shrimp – The dried shrimp provided a nice salty flavor to enhance the dish but otherwise it was rather boring. Unlike the Yank Sing version, these cakes were not fried enough and were a little too oily.
  • Blanched Chinese Broccoli – As my brother insisted since none of our family dim sum experiences were complete without gai lan, I obliged and ordered it. The gai lan was pretty fresh and a nice palate cleanser to balance all the oil in the other dishes but was otherwise pretty bland.
Pork Spareribs at Mama Ji's

Pork Spareribs at Mama Ji’s

  • Steam Spareribs with Black Bean Sauce – Nice tender pork spareribs that might have just had a little too much jalapeno. I don’t mind spicy but the spice on some spareribs were a bit overpowering
  • Har Gow – The shrimp was cooked well but the skins were a bit too thick and stretchy.
Golden Lava Buns at Mama Ji's

Golden Lava Buns at Mama Ji’s

  • Steamed Golden Lava Buns – These were perfect with a nice fluffy bun on the outside and a very nice sweet and salty egg custard filling that wasn’t too runny. My brother’s fiance loved them too!

All in all these items were pretty good those definitely not to the quality of Yank Sing. Compared to other Bay Area dim sum restaurants I’ve also been to I would say Mama Ji’s is better than many of them but I am not quite sure they would land at number 4 on my personal best Bay Area dim sum list.

Hong Kong Lounge II

The next day I took some of my holiday break time to traverse to Laurel Heights and eat at the number 3 ranked dim sum place in the Bay Area, Hong Kong Lounge II. It was unfortunate that none of my friends or family could join me as they still had to work that day, but their absence does not deter me from trying out delicious food!

After waiting for about 30 minutes I got a table and started ordering. Unfortunately the restaurant has a $25 credit card minimum. However that became a blessing in disguise as I was forced to order more dishes and try a wider selection of what they make. These dishes included:

Fried Pork Puff at Hong Kong Lounge II

Fried Pork Puff at Hong Kong Lounge II

  • Fried Pork Puff (安蝦咸水角) – Hands down these were the best I’ve ever had. The puff pastry was light and flaky as it should with the filling being perfectly seasoned and not overpowering the pastry. I was really tempted to order another one!
  • P/F Turnip Cake (香煎蘿蔔糕) – These were good, but a little blander than the Mama Ji’s version. However, they were fried better but still didn’t quite get the crunch on the outside/soft in the inside texture I desire like Yank Sing
  • Shrimp Dumpling (晶瑩鮮蝦餃) – These har gow allowed the slightly crunchy shrimp filling to sing. The flip side is this meant that the skin wasn’t quite up to par as they ripped fairly easily, even if I liked the taste of the skin compared to Yank Sing.
Chinese Donut and Dried Shrimp Noodle at Hong Kong Lounge II

Chinese Donut and Dried Shrimp Noodle at Hong Kong Lounge II

  • Chinese donut and Dried Shrimp Noodle (蔥花蝦米炸兩) – I almost got the fish with chives noodle roll (which did look tasty on the table next to me) but opted for this instead. This was definitely a great choice as the noodle rolls were made and rolled perfectly with a nicely crunchy you tiao and tasty shrimp filling in the middle. These were even better than the noodle rolls I’ve had at Cooking Papa.
Deep Fried Egg Puff Ball at Hong Kong Lounge II

Deep Fried Egg Puff Ball at Hong Kong Lounge II

  • D/F Egg Puff Ball (白糖沙翁) – As one might suspect, these were little pillows of heaven. The filling was a little more eggy than other versions I’ve had but still pretty good as dessert. They aren’t as good as Cooking Papa’s but definitely better and fresher than those served at other places like Zen Peninsula. Unfortunately with all the dishes I was so full that I couldn’t eat more than one.

Personal Conclusions

Unfortunately my schedule didn’t allow me to drive to Daly City and revisit Koi Palace. However, I had eaten there earlier in the year so I still think I have a fairly good memory and basis for comparison.

After having eaten at all 4 of the top 4 ranked dim sum places in the Bay Area I come to a little bit of a different conclusion personally. I would rate Koi Palace number 1 with Hong Kong Lounge II barely behind at number 2. Both have extremely well executed dishes and their less successful dishes arguably still shines above their closest competitors. Yank Sing is not far behind at number 3, though I doubt I’ll be visiting them again very soon as I definitely don’t have the bank account for that. Mama Ji’s is definitely number 4 in a comparison of these dim sum parlors, but I might even put them a little lower compared to others.

That said, all 4 are still on the higher end of dim sum quality in my book and I am glad I have such a variety of tasty options when I visit my friend and family in the Bay.

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