Tag Archives: Oakland

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).

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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.

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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.

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Tastee Steam Kitchen, Oakland

Tastee Steam Kitchen
329 11th Street
Oakland, CA 94607

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

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

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

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

Marble Beef (before steaming) at Tastee Steam Kitchen

Marble Beef (before steaming) at Tastee Steam Kitchen

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

Snow Pea Leaves (after steaming) at Tastee Steam Kitchen

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

Cordyceps Flower and Chicken Congee at the end

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

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

 

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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.

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Burma Superstar, Oakland

Burma Superstar
4721 Telegraph Ave
Oakland, CA 94609

Surprisingly, Burmese cuisine probably was the Southeast Asian cuisine I’m second most familiar to, after Vietnamese. It just so happens that a couple families that attended my childhood church were Burmese and periodically some iconic Burmese dishes were cooked for church functions. I didn’t realize this until I was older, but I’m nonetheless grateful for my accidental introduction to Burmese food.

So considering the numerous raves about Burma Superstar by my friends and family in the Bay Area, I decided to go out to Oakland and have one of my birthday weekend meals there. I met up with a friend as well, who was also generous enough to give me a ride back to Oakland International Airport.

After about a short 15 minute wait, we both were seated. It probably took us about another 10-15 minutes to browse the menu of many exciting and interesting dishes, all of which I wanted to try. Unfortunately, we were a table of two, so we had to limit ourselves to 3 dishes max, or risk a large bill and a huge amount of leftovers. I did know I absolutely wanted a bowl of Mohinga (catfish chowder noodle soup) so I could compare it to the home cooked Mohinga I had as a child. We then decided to order the Lettuce Cups, Mint Chicken, and a side of Coconut Rice as well. Much to the shock of a friend I latter sat next to on my flight back home, I did not order their famous Tea Leaf Salad – something I will hopefully rectify on my next trip to the Bay.

Lettuce Wraps

Lettuce Wraps

The food arrived another 15 minutes or so after we ordered. My thoughts below:

Mohinga (Fish Chowder Noodle Soup)

Mohinga (Fish Chowder Noodle Soup)

  • Lettuce Cups: Delicious filling though they could have more evenly mixed the preserved vegetables. The romaine lettuce “cups” were fresh with a good crisp
  • Mohinga: Great, pungent catfish flavor. Unfortunately they cut the noodles (to tailor to Western audiences?) which made the noodle part of the “noodle soup” to be much less enjoyable
  • Mint Chicken: I loved the flavors that the mint brought out in this dish. Unfortunately, I wish there was a little bit more rice to accompany it
  • Coconut RIce: Absolutely delicious flavor with a just perfect amount of coconut flavor that wasn’t too overpowering with sweetness. Wish there was more!
Mint Chicken

Mint Chicken

The service was okay. They did refill our glasses of water fairly consistently, but we did have to wait 10 minutes for them to bring out serving ware for our dishes. We definitely were able to manage, but it struck me as a little odd given the restaurant’s reputation.

All in all the food was cooked very well with complex, yet not too overwhelming, flavors I remember. The Mohinga, while being excellent in its own right, fell short of my admittedly lofty expectations. I’ll be honest, it probably was the fact that the noodles were cut and a little thick. But such small quibbles shouldn’t deter anyone from tasting excellent Burmese at Burma Superstar.

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Gum Kuo, Oakland

Gum Kuo
388 9th St Ste 182
Oakland, CA 94607

During a recent business trip to Oakland I was in need for a really quick lunch, but also desired a place that serves casual, Cantonese style comfort food. I was guided toward Gum Kuo, a tiny restaurant in Oakland’s Chinatown that serves authentic Cantonese style barbeque. It was exactly what I was looking for, given that Cantonese barbeque rice plates are quick to make (as the roasted meats are already prepared) and quick to eat as well.

I rushed to the restaurant and was seated after about a 5 minute wait. The wait was short given that I told the server in Cantonese that I was totally find sharing a table. Sharing a large table where small parties (typically parties no larger than 3 people) eat during really busy times is fairly common practice. While normally I like my own table, I was in a rush and it’s totally harmless to me sitting next to people I don’t know who are also just eating.

Gum Kuo

I sat down and immediately order my rice plate, which consisted of roast pork and roast duck. After a few minutes, my teapot came out as well as my food. Normally it would come in a plate, but this time it came in a bowl with some lightly cooked romaine lettuce added as well. The roast pork was absolutely delicious. Unlike other places which gives out short, stubby pieces that have a lot of fat and crispy skin, Gum Kuo sliced theirs long and narrow, giving me a lot of pork, fat, ans skin which was delicious. The roast duck was really fatty, which I normally like, but also made it hard to chew and tear off the bone. The sauce was a good accompaniment rich in animal fat. The romaine lettuce, like all vegetables that line similar plates of meat and rice, were more filler and were cooked very bland.

I can’t really say much for service, given that I was quite in a rush. However, they did respond very quickly with my requests for a tea refill and my check, so that was a plus.

Regardless, I left Gum Kuo very satisfied. Next time, however, I’ll get soy sauce chicken and roast pork and see how it compares. I’ll also get some congee and fried crullers as well, as those generally indicate the excellence of the kitchen in my opinion. If this meal was any indication, I’ll likely not be disappointed.

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