Tag Archives: Oakland

Nyum Bai, Oakland

Nyum Bai
3340 E 12th St. Ste. 11
Oakland, CA 94601

I visited Nyum Bai when it was briefly at Emeryville Public Market a few years ago. But ever since they moved to their current brick & mortar location in Fruitvale, I had never gone until a friend of mine suggested we go there to eat dinner and catch up a few weeks ago. Naturally, I was excited to go as now I could explore a fuller menu of Cambodian dishes I could not try when they were in a small food hall stall.

We went on a Sunday night and while the restaurant was fairly busy, we didn’t have to wait too long for a table inside their cramped indoor seating area (they also have an outdoor seating area for larger parties). After being seated we perused their entree options, though our server had informed us that dishes that night, including the Amok (catfish) dish I was thinking of trying. Despite that, we ordered the following:

IMG_2977

Pea Tendrils at Nyum Bai

Cha Pea Tendrils – I am a complete sucker for pea tendrils and these were no different. The slightly sweet and umami filled sauce complimented the crunch and nuttiness of the pea tendrils. The fried garlic was an excellent touch as well.

Koh at Nyum Bai

Koh at Nyum Bai

Koh – There weren’t a lot of these pork belly cubes, but they were so succulently tender with fat that melted in my mouth. The sauce was rich with the simmered pork flavor accented with spices like star anise. The sauce made the bamboo shoots and slice of boiled egg really tasty too.

Lok Lah at Nyum Bai

Lok Lah at Nyum Bai

Lok Lak – The cubes of beef were juicy and tender and the fat of the beef was perfectly cut with the tangy citrus vinaigrette. The romaine lettuce and tomatoes provided a touch of freshness as well.

In addition to the noodle soup (Kuy Teav Phnom Penh) I had back when they were at Public Market, I have loved every dish at Nyum Bai. It may not be in the trendiest, most gentrifying neighborhoods in Oakland, but it is certainly worth the detour down to Fruitvale (and a couple blocks away from Fruitvale BART!). I will certainly go again soon so I can taste every dish on the menu.

Tagged , ,

Hancook, Oakland

Hancook
4315 Telegraph Ave
Oakland, CA 94609

Hancook has intrigued me over the past year it has opened due to its menu of Korean hot pots. Given the size of the hot stone pots seem to be for at least 2 people, it was hard to connect with other folks and make the timing right to try it out until this past month. Finally, after all the election activity and holidays were over I was able to set some time with a couple of friends in Oakland to finally try the food.

When we sat down, we looked at the menu which, while not that long, had a lot of new items I had never had. It took a few minutes to decide, but we settled down on the three items below after debating which hot pot we wanted. A few weeks later I tried the other hot pot I debated on getting, which is also reviewed below:

Kong Sam at Hancook

Kong Sam at Hancook

  • Kong Sam – This dish was a large, but relatively shallow, pot of spicy broth with slices of beef, small glutinous rice cakes (what some people of European descent would call dumplings), lots of bean sprouts, and slices of scallions. The dish was really flavorful with the beef complimenting the spicy broth very well. The rice cakes were nice as well and a great utensil to soak up the broth. It was a very large portion and definitely feed at least 2 people.
  • Seafood Buchimgae (Korean Pancake) – The pancake was really large and definitely meant as an appetizer for at least 3-4 people. It was very tasty with nice thin layers egg, sliced vegetables, and seafood. This is probably one of the best Korean Pancakes I have had.
IMG_2515

Bossam at Hancook

  • Bossam – The bossam was literally this restaurant’s pièce de résistance with melt in your mouth slices of boiled pork belly with ssamjang (a spicy Korean dipping sauce) and as much of the wrap accoutrements to your hearts content including, but not limited to, garlic, chiles, slices of pickle daikon, perilla leaves, and sliced carrots. In particular, the perilla leaves, daikon, ssamjang, and pork slices together were heavenly as the pork melt in my mouth and was cut very well with the slight sourness of the daikon, minty flavor of the perilla leaf, and spice of the ssamjang. Even writing about this makes me salivate.
  • House Speciality Hot Pot – I got an individual serving of the hot pot a couple weeks later to try it out (as on my first visit the wait staff steered us to the excellent Kong Sam). The hot pot consisted of beef, tofu, and spinach in a beef broth. The hot pot was just alright but the kicker of this dish is when you’re finished with the soup portion they will then go use the remainder to cook a fried rice with the stone pot. The fried rice, which added vegetables and some napa cabbage kimchi, was much better. This dish is okay but I think I’d survey the other excellent dishes here before coming to this.

All in all Hancook is an excellent addition to the numerous great Korean options you can find on Telegraph Ave in Temescal. I would definitely order the Bossam (if you eat pork) and try the many other hot pot dishes they have there. I, myself, am looking forward to try the rest of the menu in the coming year (and more!).

Tagged , ,

Bird & Buffalo, Oakland

Bird & Buffalo
4659 Telegraph Ave
Oakland, CA 94609

This year my neighborhood has had not one, but two ,fast casual Thai restaurants open up. Earlier this year I reviewed one of them, Hawking Bird, and loved it but never got around to the other, Bird & Buffalo, until a few weeks ago.

When a friend was in town for some meetings, I figured it was a perfect time to finally try out the place as they was staying just a few blocks away from Bird & Buffalo at another friend’s place. We ate a whole bunch of vegetarian items since they are vegetarian. However, since I am omnivorous (and I believe most readers of this blog are), I decided to wait to blog about it until I ate a meat dish. So earlier today I swung by the restaurant to eat dinner and can finally give you all a complete picture.

So here it goes with all the dishes I’ve had at Bird & Buffalo so far:

Larb Hed at Bird & Buffalo

Larb Hed at Bird & Buffalo

  • Larb Hed – The mushrooms and tofu were stir fried really well with the onions, garlic, cilantro, salt, and pepper. It was plated with some lettuce so you could eat it like a lettuce wrap. With a drizzle of lime juice, this was probably the best dish we had for the meal.
  • Bamee Tom Yum – We ordered the Bamee Tom Yum with tofu. The vegetable broth was delicious with just enough spiciness to give it a kick but not overpowering. The spice played really well with the slight sourness of the soup and the vegetables and tofu were pretty filling. The noodles were a bit limp and overcooked, which is the only complaint I could muster for a dish that will be pretty satisfying on any cold winter’s day.
IMG_1665

Fried Cauliflower at Bird & Buffalo

  • Fried Cauliflower – Unfortunately this dish was more of a miss. While the cauliflower had a nice snap, sadly they were deep fried with a bit too much breading. The breading itself was fairly soft so it became more of a soft doughy coated cauliflower than the crunchy, slightly spiced fried cauliflower it could have been.
  • Blistered Garlic Green Beans – I ordered these green beans both times and they were even better the second time. The green beans were perfectly stir fried with just a hint of garlic. With a little minced pork, it could have been like my mom’s very delicious green bean recipe!
Gai Yaang at Bird & Buffalo

Gai Yaang at Bird & Buffalo

  • Gai Yaang – The chicken was roasted perfectly with moist meat and skin with just enough crisp. The chicken seemed to have been seasoned and brined with a few spices before hand giving a nice kick. The slaw has a really nice balance of sweet and sour flavor (probably with a little fish sauce) that cut the fat and the spice of the chicken very well.

Overall, Bird & Buffalo is an excellent addition to the neighborhood and most dishes were very flavorful and well made. It’s fairly affordable for the Bay Area as well. You can definitely get a filling meal for two under $20 a person before any beverages. Best of all, it’s a place that has a number of vegetarian options as well. I would highly recommend Bird & Buffalo, and it’s just another reason why I love living by Temescal.

Tagged , ,

Grocery Cafe, Oakland

Grocery Cafe
90 Franklin St
Oakland, CA 94607

The Bay Area has a plethora of Burmese food and it seems like nearly all Bay Area cities with a downtown strip have at least one Burmese restaurant. While many of them are tasty, truth be told I find some of them more “entry level” Burmese introducing the cuisine to American palates. I like Burma Superstar enough, but until now I never really felt the restaurants had quite the depth of flavor as some of the homecooked Burmese food of the family friends I grew up in church with.

But one restaurant had always intrigued me: Grocery Cafe. I had initially wanted to go to Grocery Cafe in their previous East Oakland location but never made it. However, more recently they moved to a location by Jack London Square so a couple weeks ago I took advantage of the opportunity by having dinner with my friends there to debrief Crazy Rich Asians.

The restaurant is a little cozy, but elegantly decorated and we sat at a table by the street facing window. We took a look at the menu and decided to eat family style and ordered the following:

Tea Leaf Salad at Grocery Cafe

Tea Leaf Salad at Grocery Cafe

  • Tea Leaf Salad – I loved this rendition of tea leaf salad. The tea leaf was a lot more noticeable and front of center than the cabbage and tomato heavy creations in other Bay Area Burmese restaurants. This really gave the salad that kick of fermented tea leaf and nutty flavor that was absolutely delicious
  • Mohinga – This was probably the closest version of the homemade mohinga I had as a kid by far. Presented in a large tureen there was an abundance of noodles and the fish chowder soup was flavorful without being too thick. I loved that they presented the fritter and condiments on the side to keep them crunchy instead of other places that just put them in and where they can be soggy when it hits the table
Sauteed and Simmered Catfish at Grocery Cafe

Sauteed and Simmered Catfish at Grocery Cafe

  • Sauteed and Simmered Catfish – The catfish were lightly fried and simmered in a very flavorful tomato-rich sauce. The basil gave an herbal freshness that paired well with the fattiness of the catfish.
Mango and Chutney Pork at Grocery Cafe

Mango and Chutney Pork at Grocery Cafe

  • Mango Chutney Pork Stew – The pork was slightly chewy but the mango chutney had a very good balance of sweet and savory. Not only was it a good marinade for the pork, but very nice to flavor the rice as well!
  • Coconut Rice – The coconut rice was satisfyingly delicious. I honestly would have been just fine with plain jasmine rice but it was a nice indulgence I can generally only find in Burmese restaurants in the Bay.

All in all, I loved Grocery Cafe and thought it was the best Burmese I have had in the Bay Area so far. Best of all, I don’t even have to wait in line as I would have to at the Burma Superstar within walking distance of my house. I would happily take a longer diversion to Grocery Cafe and would love to try their Ohno Khao Swe (Coconut Chicken Curry Noodle Soup) next time. And for my vegetarian friends, they have a Vegetarian Hinga Soup too!

Tagged , ,

The Temple Club, Oakland

The Temple Club
2307 International Boulevard
Oakland, CA 94601

Originally I was going to write a post about China Chilcano, the fabulous Jose Andres helmed restaurant serving chifa (Peruvian Chinese) cuisine in DC. However, with the passing of beloved LA Times food critic, Jonathan Gold, this week, I decided to reach into my long backlog and discuss a newer place in Oakland that I think Jonathan Gold would love if he strolled on by Oakland’s International Blvd.

I went to the Temple Club about a month and a half ago with two good friends of mine who also love to eat and explore good food in the East Bay. Originally we had wanted to go to Filipino/Soul Food fusion restaurant Flipnsoul, but they were closed so we went to nearby Temple club instead.

The Temple Club is located on a relatively unassuming part of International Blvd, around the area where the boulevard transitions between the stretch that serves Vietnamese food and predominantly Vietnamese clientele to Latinx food and predominantly Latinx clientele. Walking in, I found the place to be very open and airy, with largely vaulted ceilings, and service staff that were warm and welcoming. We sat down and browsed the number of ever evolving options available today (the chef, who spent a couple decades in Vietnam, rotates the menu on daily or near daily basis). On that day, we decided to order the following which were available:

IMG_0905 (1)

Goi Sua at the Temple Club

  • Goi Sua – This jellyfish, chicken, and green papaya salad with shrimp chips was a refreshing and amazing way to start the meal. I love the interplay of the jellyfish and the fish sauce that I have never tasted before in any Chinese preparation of jellyfish
IMG_0911 (1)

Rau Muong Xao Toi at the Temple Club

  • Rau Muong Xao Toi – I’m biased because I basically love all versions of water spinach/morning glory, but this was one of the most tasty versions I have had so I am not saying this lightly! The shoots and leaves were stir fried to perfection with enough garlic and black pepper to give a great garlicky taste without being too overpowering. A case of simple being very delicious.
  • Hieu Tieu Nam Vang – While I loved the Hieu Tieu in theory with all the ingredients listed in the noodle soup – ground pork, pork liver, quail eggs, prawns, etc – the reality was that all of it was too much. Thus, the dish was heavy and the flavors were a bit muddled to get any true good taste of any ingredient.
Ga Nuong La Chanh at the Temple Club

Ga Nuong La Chanh at the Temple Club

  • Ga Nuong La Chanh – The highly recommended bone-in BBQ chicken, however, was solid but nothing super special. The salt & pepper rub with the fish sauce was nice, though the chicken was grilled a little too long where the meat became a bit dry and tough. I would have gladly sacrificed crispy skin for moister meat.
  • Mi Quang Phu Chiem – As a person who’s not especially fond of shrimp, this shrimp heavy dish didn’t really do too much for me, especially with the tomato peanut butter sauce of sorts. The flavor was decent, but it could not overcome my particular bias of the food (though I remember my friends liking it).
  • Pho Nam Chay – The last dish was arguably one of the best. The vegetarian pho was rich in mushroom flavor and had several different types of mushrooms in it. It was so rich and flavorful that it felt as hearty as a meat broth. I seriously could have ordered a big bowl of this and eaten it on my own.

I loved the meal, all in all, and would definitely come back. Oakland isn’t exactly the epicenter of Vietnamese food like San Jose, Houston, or Orange County, but I am delighted to have a restaurant that is interested in serving a range of rotating, innovative flavors of Vietnam to accent the main single dish specialists (especially for pho) that you can find on International Blvd. And while I never knew Jonathan Gold, I suspect this might be the type of restaurant he would like – a restaurant pushing flavors rarely seen in restaurants in Oakland done by a husband and wife team that take pride in trying to push the culinary envelope. 

Tagged , ,

No Car? No Problem! BARTable Asian Food Goes East (Bay)

In Part 4 of this #BARTable Asian food series finally heads to my hood, the town of Oakland. Continuing along the Richmond-Millbrae line this guide will take you through West Oakland, 12th Street/City Center, 19th Street, and MacArthur Stations.

West Oakland

To be honest, this is the first station we can skip. The two places in remote walking distance of this BART station that serve Asian food are 2 Chinese American takeout spots, neither that serve food that’s any good.

12th Street/City Center

Downtown Oakland’s BART station is surrounded by Asian food, especially given its proximity to Oakland Chinatown.

Hainanese Chicken Rice at Shooting Star Cafe

Hainanese Chicken Rice at Shooting Star Cafe

In Chinatown one can, of course, find a veritable cornucopia of Chinese food and only blocks away from the station. For Hong Kong style cafe food, I like heading to Shooting Star Cafe (especially good for desserts and Hong Kong style milk tea) and Baby Cafe. For dim sum you can head to Restaurant Peony for arguably some of the best dim sum in the East Bay or Tao Yuen Pastry for some classic Chinatown grab and go dim sum. Gum Kuo and neighboring C&M Bistro are go to spots for Cantonese roast meats, though Gum Kuo also has excellent noodle soups and rice noodle rolls.

Dim Sum at Peony Seafood Restaurant

Dim Sum at Peony Seafood Restaurant

For non-Cantonese food in Chinatown, Spices 3 is the place to go for Sichuanese food and Shandong serves thick noodles and fabulous dumplings if you have a hankering for the heartier fare of Shandong province. And for one of the few Bay Area restaurants with Guilin style noodles, you can go to Classic Guilin Rice Noodles.

Chinatown, however, doesn’t just have Chinese food. For Cambodian food there is Battambang. Vietnamese food can be tastily sampled at one of my downtown favorites, Tay Ho, who’s signature item is the northern Vietnamese dish banh cuon. And for vegetarian Southeast Asian dishes, slightly out of Chinatown on 13th and Franklin is Golden Lotus.

The other side of Broadway in Old Oakland has a few Asian treasures as well. In Swan’s Market is the excellent AS B-Dama that serves great Japanese food. Le Cheval is a spot for decent Vietnamese food closer to the Oakland Convention Center.

19th Street Oakland

Further up in Oakland in Uptown and the northern part of the downtown business district are also a number of Asian restaurants, though they aren’t quite as concentrated as Chinatown. Some of these places below can also be accessed by the 14th Street or Frank Ogawa Plaza exits of the 12th Street/City Center stations but it was easier to delineate each BART station’s offerings at 14th Street.

Clear Dark Ramen at Shiba Ramen

Clear Dark Ramen at Shiba Ramen

Near 14th and Broadway you have some of my favorites for a work lunch break. I go to Shiba Ramen‘s Oakland restaurant every time I want a comforting bowl of ramen. For Afghan food, there’s the newly expanded Kamdesh. On 15th Street there’s Ma Me House for a pared down menu of solid Vietnamese food and Ichiro Sushi for solid sushi and lunch specials that are filling, but reasonably priced.

Further north, closer to my current office are a few more Asian spots centered mostly around 17th Street. There’s Aburaya for some extremely tasty Japanese fried chicken. A couple doors down is Pho 84 where you can eat classic Southern Vietnamese dishes in slightly more refined settings. Around 22nd and Broadway is one of the few Taiwanese restaurants in the East Bay, Taiwan Bento, where you can eat some Beef Noodle Soup and Gua Bao. If you need some fruit tea or boba to wash down your lunch at any of these spots you can saunter down to Yokee on Franklin Street where you can get some delicious boba or very Instagramable fruit teas.

MacArthur

The final Richmond-Millbrae line station in Oakland is MacArthur, conveniently also the closest to my apartment. It’s also the closest station to Temescal, the neighborhood that contains Oakland’s largest concentration of Korean food in Oakland (yet interestingly enough Koreatown is just to the South). 

For Korean food there are a number of options including Daol Tofu House and PyeongChang Tofu House for their namesake, and tasty, versions of soondubu. Hancook is the new restaurant in town that has Korean style hot pot. And further up Telegraph is Bowl’d, which serves a number of Korean dishes but best serves Bibimbap. Want Korean BBQ? I would venture a little further afield to Mosswood to Ohgane, a wonderful place with delicious BBQ that’s only $22 for All You Can Eat 10PM-2AM each day.

KMG at Hawking Bird

KMG at Hawking Bird

Temescal doesn’t only serve Korean food, however. Other Asian places include the oft-lauded Burma Superstar for Burmese. Down the street is Hawking Bird, the fast casual offshoot of James Syhabout’s Hawker Fare serving decent versions of khao man gai (Thai style chicken rice). Across the street from Hawking Bird and Burma Superstar is Marufuku Ramen which serves a pared down menu of excellent ramen. 

So while San Francisco has plenty of Asian food, take a BART train across the Bay to Oakland where your taste buds can expand with all these excellent options. I dare say that some of these restaurants are better than anything San Francisco has to offer on their particular cuisine.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Hawking Bird, Oakland

Hawking Bird
4901 Telegraph Ave
Oakland, CA 94609

A lot of Oaklanders were disheartened when James Syhabout’s acclaimed Hawker Fare in Oakland’s uptown area closed earlier this year to make way for more luxury condos and apartments. While you could go to his 2 Michelin star restaurant, Commis, on Piedmont Ave or venture to San Francisco’s Mission District to the remaining outpost of Hawker Fare, East Bay residents yearning for Syhabout’s taste for Northern Thai were waiting for a huge hole to be filled. Fortunately, Syhabout decided to create a fast casual concept called Hawking Bird focusing on Thai style poached and fried chicken.

Hawking Bird opened on Thursday, when, coincidentally enough, I was doing some research to see where my friends should eat for lunch on Saturday. Given the rave reviews of the Khao Mun Gai (Thai version of Hainanese Chinese Rice) at Hawker Fare, I was excited to try it out and it happened to be a short-ish walk from my house.

We met up a little after 12:30PM. There were still a good number of seats and tables available so I sat down and reserved a table for us. When my friends came over, we took a look at the menu quickly and stood in line to order. A few minutes later, our buzzers rang and we picked up our food at the pick up counter near the kitchen. We ordered the following:

IMG_0060

KMG at Hawking Bird

  • KMG – Hawking Bird’s version of khao mun gai is flavorful with chicken poached just to doneness (though a friend of mine who also ordered the dish feared it may have not been quite cooked through). The meat was tender and the subtle flavor helped the sauce shine through and meld perfectly. The rice itself had the flavor of the poached chicken broth that allowed it to be aromatic without being too rich and fatty. Overall, a pretty good rendition of the dish.
IMG_0059

The Hawking Bird with Garlic Noodles

  • The Hawking Bird, Boxed – 2 of my friends got the hawking bird, one with the rice cooked with chicken fat and the other with the garlic noodles. The difference between the hawking bird and the KMG, as you can see in the pictures, is that the hawking bird itself is fried with a spicy jam-like sauce on top. The chicken was fried perfectly and the jam gave it a slightly sweet and perfectly spicy kick to it. It melded well with the rice but the garlic noodles were even better. The garlic noodles were made with perfectly cooked wheat noodles that had a nice kick of garlic and a very savory soy-based sauce. My one slight quibble with it was that when I ate part of my friend’s leftovers, the sauce of the garlic noodles and the jam of the hawking bird could meld into a concoction that’s a tad bit salty. But otherwise, you can’t go wrong with either dish.
IMG_0055

Tum Style Spicy Picked Vegetables at Hawking Bird

  • Tum Style Spicy Vegetable Pickles – The vegetables included in the pickles were carrots, onions, and green beans. I liked the pickles in that it provided a nice slightly sour kick that helped cut the richness in the other bites of food I was eating. While there was a nice amount of fish sauce, unfortunately I didn’t feel it was very spicy so those who are excited about the “spicy” part of the name are warned before getting disappointed.
  • Fried Tater Tots – The tater tots were pretty good, though I think they could have been fried just a slight bit longer. The seasoning was nice and light and my friends and I surmised that the seasoning is a mixture of seaweed powder, salt, and pepper. It was definitely a hit amongst the table.

All in all I really loved the Hawking Bird and think it’s a good addition to Temescal, providing good food at reasonable prices in a fast casual style. They are still open for limited hours until they get a liquor license for the bar and everything else up and running. However, if you manage to be in the Temescal area for lunch, I definitely recommend taking a bite at Hawking Bird.

Tagged , ,

Ten Places to Taste Hong Kong in North America

It was 5 years ago this weekend that my mom passed away. While there were a number of delicious foods and restaurants she introduced my siblings and me to, the one that stood out the most in our memories were the cha chaan tengs (茶餐廳), also known as a Hong Kong style cafes. In fact, to this day my brother wistfully remembers the times and food we had at a now-closed cha chaan teng near the college he attended. So while I love all the dim sum, Korean BBQ, and pho we had, our meals at cha chaan tengs are what I miss the most.

And arguably, I think it’s the best type of restaurant to experience the culture and food of Hong Kong. Sure, dim sum is delicious, seafood palaces are sumptuous, and Cantonese BBQ purveyors deliver morsels of lip-smacking goodness, but nothing represents the East meets West, fast paced lifestyle that is quintessentially Hong Kong like a cha chaan teng.

After all, cha chaan tengs are essentially Hong Kong’s version of a diner, and honestly what is a more quintessential American restaurant than a diner? Like a diner, cha chaan tengs may not have the best food, but the food is reliable and comfortable. And of course, they are ubiquitous in Hong Kong. A block could have a few cha chaan tengs, all doing brisk business with lines waiting for a seat.

Thus, here’s a guide to ten decent cha chaan tengs where you can sip a good cup of Hong Kong style milk tea, eat a steak with black pepper sauce and rice, and take a bite of a pineapple bun across North America (restaurants sorted by metro area by state/province. There are other metros with decent cha chaan tengs, this is just a selection):

Vancouver/Richmond, BC

Cafe Gloucester (3338 Cambie St, Vancouver) – Not the most glamorous cha chaan teng (though most are rarely glamorous), but they serve reasonably good takes on classic Hong Kong diner dishes with larger portions and reasonable prices. I loved their Hong Kong style Russian borscht in particular.

Silver Tower Cafe Restaurant (100-8500 Alexandra Road, Richmond) – There are a few cha chaan tengs in this couple block stretch of Alexandra Road in Richmond alone, but I find Silver Tower Cafe to be one of the better ones. Whether you want steak on top of a bed of french fries and peas or a bowl of beef brisket noodle soup, they have it all and almost everything I’ve had there in the couple times I’ve been have been very satisfying. Best of all for a traveler, it’s just relatively short walk from the Landsdowne Canada Line station.

Los Angeles, CA (inc. the San Gabriel Valley and Orange County)

JJ Cafe (447 Garvey Ave, Monterey Park) – One of the first popular cha chaan tengs in the San Gabriel Valley, JJ Cafe has been dishing out solid, if not spectacular food for a couple decades. The baked pork chop dishes and milk tea here are fairly representative of the east-west fusion you would find back in Hong Kong.

Tasty Garden 2

Tasty Garden (288 W Valley Blvd, Alhambra; also in Irvine, Monterey Park, and Westminster) – This mini chain in SoCal executes almost all its dishes well. I prefer the Alhambra location for excellent execution of the Cantonese comfort dishes on the menu in addition to excellent Hong Kong milk tea and egg waffles done right (unlike at some other branches).

San Francisco Bay Area, CA

Cooking Papa 1

Dumpling and wonton noodle soup at Cooking Papa

Cooking Papa (949A Edgewater Blvd, Foster City; also in Mountain View and Santa Clara) – Not a true cha chaan teng as they do not have the ubiquitous Hong Kong style western food that’s endemic and definitive of a cha chaan teng, but they do a solid serving of classic Cantonese food with pretty decent milk tea. Foster City used to be the standard to beat, but I’ve had better food at their Santa Clara location more recently.

Hong Kong Chef (46356 Warm Springs Blvd in Fremont) – I came here on a whim during the first day of service at the Warm Springs/South Fremont station and it didn’t disappoint. I really liked their preserved meat claypot rice dish as well as their various stir-fried vegetables including Chinese broccoli and tong choy.

Kowloon Tong Dessert Cafe (393 7th Ave, San Francisco) – Some of the best milk tea and egg waffles I’ve had in the Bay Area have been at this tucked in restaurant on 7th Ave in the Richmond neighborhood of San Francisco. While their entree plates are fairly mediocre (which you can tell by their name), their snacks and desserts are pretty good, including their curry fishballs that definitely tasted like home.

Hong Kong Style Milk Tea at Shooting Star Cafe

Hong Kong Style Milk Tea at Shooting Star Cafe

Shooting Star Cafe (1022 Webster St, Oakland) – Glitzy decor and modern-ish furnishings set this cha chaan teng apart from most others. But this restaurant isn’t just about the looks. I find it has the best milk tea I have tasted in the Bay Area and they shine very bright in their desserts, including their egg waffles. Their savory food leaves a little more to be desired but there are some gems there too, including their Hainanese Chicken Rice, Wonton Noodle Soup, and Black Pepper Short Ribs.

New York, NY

Cha Chan Tang (45 Mott St, New York) – Their menu sides more with the instant ramen, sandwiches, and macaroni soups that are popular in Hong Kong and they do them fairly well. Those are not my favorite cha chaan teng dishes, but it definitely gives you another side of Hong Kong cuisine where they make “western” foods uniquely their own.

Toronto, ON

Phoenix Restaurant (7155 Woodbine Ave., Markham; also on McCowan in Markham, Scarborough, and Thorhill) – This place excels the most at baked rice dishes, Hainanese Chicken Rice, and their Hong Kong style twist on Southeast Asian food, but other dishes seem to be solid as well. 

Of course, most of these cha chaan tengs also have “authentically” Hong Kong style service, where turning tables is of the upmost importance. So sit down, look at the menu quickly (yes, even with all the options!), order, and eat. If you need something, just wave your hands. Yes, this perfunctory service is part of the ambience. It’s not necessarily rude, just ruthlessly efficient and an integral part of Hong Kong’s go-go-go culture.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Shiba Ramen’s Ramen, Ranked

Shiba Ramen
1438 Broadway
Oakland, CA 94612

As I mentioned previously, I generally try to avoid reviewing another location of a restaurant I have previously reviewed. The two exceptions have been Din Tai Fung (to blog about the original Din Tai Fung versus the one in Glendale) and Tim Ho Wan (to blog about how its first US location in New York City compares to Hong Kong). I do this because chains, in general, vary little location to location. For instance, while the Alhambra location of Tasty Garden might be the best location, the Monterey Park, Westminster, and Irvine locations aren’t too far off in general.

That said, I felt compelled to write a blog post about Shiba Ramen’s second location in downtown Oakland, just across the street from my office. I felt compelled because of two reasons: 1) my review in Emeryville was of one item and felt a bit incomplete and 2) Shiba Ramen has become my favorite ramen place in Oakland. There is also one key difference between their two locations, the use of ceramic bowls in Oakland as opposed to melamine bowls in Emeryville. Ceramic bowls retain heat a little better, addressing the temperature issues I had in Emeryville.

But instead of a traditional review, I’ll do a countdown of all the bowls of ramen they sell, from least favorite to “best”. Of course, this is a highly subjective ranking so your mileage may very based on your taste. So without further ado…

8) Spicy Ramen – It’s not that the spicy ramen is a bad ramen, but I’m generally not a fan of ground pork in noodle soups and I don’t find the broth that spicy. I much prefer the original Sichuanese dan dan mian instead.

7) White Bird – The thickest and fattiest ramen broth of the group, the White Bird adds another level of rich flavor akin to the tonkotsu ramen that many Americans are used to seeing. That said, the rich fattiness quickly cools off, coagulating a little too quickly and not landing well after the first few slurps.

6) Summer Ramen (seasonal special) – The yuzu dressing is light and refreshing and the noodles are great. Unfortunately, I’m not quite a fan of the cold slices of cooked chashu and I’ve never really been a fan of raw tomatoes. That said, it is a great alternative to ramen broths on a hot summer day.

5) Miso – Less thick than the White Bird but still almost as rich, the miso is a very well rounded ramen broth. I love that there’s a lot of vegetables in the ramen as well. I’m just sad that the time consuming nature of the dish means that its generally only available during the evening service (after I leave work).

IMG_5811

Soymilk Ramen at Shiba Ramen

4) Soymilk – This is, without a doubt, the best vegetarian ramen broth I have ever had. The broth is rich and thick with flavor with a soymilk base wile being light enough to balance the various vegetables in the broth. In the summer the ramen is topped off with a grilled romanesco (during the winter they used kabocha squash) which provides something a little crunchy and hearty in place of a meat protein.

3) Clear – Shiba’s shio ramen is perfect in its simplicity. It’s clear and light which allows the pork, noodles, and menma to shine. While the lighter broth is great for when you are feeling less well, it’s lack of a little more umph means it doesn’t quite hit my number 1.

IMG_5457

Dry Ramen at Shiba Ramen

2) Dry – The tender chunks of pork with a little bit of the marinade and dressing mixes so well with ramen cooked perfectly. Honestly, it was almost my number one ramen from Shiba, but it’s definitely one of my go to ramens in Oakland

Clear Dark Ramen at Shiba Ramen

Clear Dark Ramen at Shiba Ramen

1) Clear Dark – The soy sauce base combines with the clear broth to make a shoyu ramen that is rich with umami but still light enough not to feel heavy. It is a perfectly balanced broth and Shiba adds to that with a few leaves of bok choy to complement to the chashu. The Clear Dark is absolutely wonderful and my top recommendation.

Regardless of what you order, however, it is unlikely you’ll be disappointed by your meal at Shiba Ramen. As a bonus, they have a bunch of appetizer items to whet your appetite include delicious chicken wings and lotus chips. If you’ve ever eaten at the Shiba Ramen in downtown Oakland, it’ll be easy to see why I enjoy it as an easy lunch spot.

Tagged , ,

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 , , ,