Thursday, July 7, 2011

Spring Wave: Braised Pork with Deep Fried Stewed Eggs

I didn't have anything to do for lunch on Independence Day. When my friend Christine texted me that morning to see what I was doing before the BBQ I had at my friend's place later in the evening, I decided to hang out with her. Of course our definition of hanging out in San Gabriel is basically eat.

Spring Wave had a new owner, who was a friend of her boss. Christine had to pick up a to-go order for her boss, so we decided we may as well eat there out of convenience.

The owner happened to be in today because she forgot it was a holiday and was understaffed. She was kind to give us suggestions to eat. She eventually recommended me to try the Braised Pork with Deep Fried Stewed Eggs. This was a very Shanghainese dish, which I don't eat on a regular basis unlike my friend. So I said why not, let's give it a go.

(Braised Pork with Deep Fried Stewed Eggs - $9.95)

The pork was fatty pork, beautifully marinated and braised. Each piece was diced into small square chunks and the five layers of color of the pork were very clearly defined. The sauce as sweet. The little bits of chive garnishing gave what would be an all brown dish some brightness and color. The stewed eggs were deep fried and covered with the same sauce.

I'm not a big fan of sweet entrees, but fortunately the braised pork was well marinated and not overtly sweet. When eaten with white rice, the pork had just the right amount of flavors and a good balance between the fat and the meat. Certainly this is not the healthiest dish around, but it was the forth of July, and my system deserved a bit of indulgence.

I was good to only eat a few pieces of the pork since I knew I had a BBQ coming at night. I also only ate one egg since egg yolks are so high in cholesterol. The eggs had a slightly chewy skin from having been deep fried then braised with sauce. The marinate did penetrate the egg lightly and reached into the whites and even the yolk. I personally like my eggs just a tad bit more flavored on the inside, but the heavy sauce on the outside more than compensated in flavor for the inside.

It's really a dish I wouldn't mind having again, but only on special occasions if I happened to be around here. In the end there's no avoiding the fact that this is a heart attack on a plate. So oncein a full moon a year, it's ok to indulge into so much fat and cholesterol.

Posted from my Taste SGV Blog

Thursday, May 19, 2011

An Institution Known As Sam Woo

For as long as I have been living in San Gabriel, Sam Woo was here. It was never one of my favorite, but I never disliked anything they made. Perhaps it was the long lines from the hordes of people that hovers around the restaurant almost all the time, or perhaps it's the tight space the tables and chairs occupy. A few years back, maybe even more then ten years ago or so, Sam Woo opened a second store near my home. This one was far less crowded then the original. Somehow it also feels just a bit less desirable than the original.

(Wonton and Duck Egg Noodle Soup)
Sam Woo to me is synonymous to wontons. If anything, I must give them credit to make the most authentic Hong Kong style wontons with a special dried fish ingredient. Without those itty bitty dried fish (daai dei jyu 大地魚) the wontons are just a clump of meat.

Of course Sam Woo also has one of the best siu lap (roasted poutry) around, as that really is their specialty. Their ducks are especially well made, nicely seasoned and perfectly roasted. The only problem is their soup and noodle tends to be a little bit on the salty side, especially when the already intensely flavored ducks are added.

(Triple Shreds)
I don't actually remember the name for this dish at Sam Woo, at least not the English name. I don't recall there was actually an English name since it was on one of their special menus. It was my father who decided to order something different today. There were shreds of pork and veggies and seafood in a very nicely blended flavor that was very palatable when eaten with some rice. I'm a rice person, I eat everything with rice. The better the food is, the faster the rice goes in my family.

(Lemon Iced Tea)
The Lemon Iced Tea in Sam Woo is definitely not up to par compared to most Cantonese cafes, mostly because Sam Woo really isn't a Cantonese cafe. It does have its own unique, but still rather light flavor. If you ended up ordering it with sugar, they tend to be over-the-top sweet, where it's almost like drinking syrup water. So I have to opt for the sugarless, which is actually what I prefer these days anyways. They have their own house blend of tea which I personally find not strong enough.

(Pineapple Satay Beef with Rice)
I love Satay. I love Pineapple. Put the two together, it really should be my favorite dish. I just don't remember to order it as much as I like it, and I do like Sam Woo's version of this flavorful dish. The pineapple really contrast with the satay, giving it a nice sweetness to the saltiness. The bell peppers accentuate the sweetness even more while the satay really brings out the beef. Over rice, it's heaven.

(Dried Vegetable Soup)
I'm not a big fan of Sam Woo for some odd reason. I think it's really the environment. I just don't feel relaxed. I feel rushed, and I sense the disconnect with the waiters. It almost reminds me of a street side restaurant in Hong Kong where I would literally sit down for ten minutes to gobble down a bowl of noodles and then be on my way. That really isn't what I'm looking for in a restaurant and I certainly don't want to dine at one that makes me feel this way. I suppose I could always just come back to Sam Woo for take out whenever I don't feel like cooking, and go elsewhere for a more laid back dinning experience.


Thursday, March 17, 2011

An Alternative Hong Kong Kitchen

I have eaten my fair share of Hong Kong style cuisine. If there was such a thing as being a professional consumer of Hong Kong style cuisine, I would be it. But Hong Kong Kitchen in San Gabriel showed me there can still be some things up their sleeves that I have yet to try.

(Vegetarian Jai Lo Mei Sampler)
Their signature dish Jai Lo Mei. I know it's nothing new, and that many Buddhist restaurants have served this dish for many years. But I rarely actually frequent those restaurants since my family's not Buddhist. Nevertheless, eating these marinated tofu skin was of a different, but appealing experience.

They came in four different flavors including tomato, curry and two others that I can't remember anymore. They were very juicy and each one had a distinct flavor. There were three of us so it was the perfect number since there were three of each flavor. Normally I get annoyed with restaurants serving three servings on a plate. I mean you have most of your tables seating four people, but you serve three on a plate. Those restaurants are just trying to force us to get another order, which would result in two left overs. Never mind that, today it did work out in our favor.

None of the flavors were actually very strong, just enough to be distinguishable, since the tofu skins themselves have a subtle taste to it. They were served slightly warm.

(Baked Pork Chop Rice)
I'm a big fan of baked pork chop rice. They are generally served in a tomato paste over the pork chop and the rice. The pork chop themselves were actually really good. They were soft and easy to chew and very flavorful. The tomato sauce was ever so slightly on the sour side, but still a very good one. They used egg fried rice as the rice underneath, which gave the whole dish a wonderful aroma and the rice a nice grainy texture.
(Stir Fried Vegetable)
I can't remember the English name of this vegetable. I have issues with names of vegetables because I learned half of them in Chinese and the other half in English. It's a bit problematic. For the longest time I thought the Chinese name for spinach is the Chinese name for broccoli. Never mind that though. This was a standard fried large dao miu. I would translate it to bean sprout, but I think that's wrong. It was slightly oily, but not to the point of being overbearing. It's good to have some veggies in my system these days.

(Fried Dumplings)
I have to say I hate dumplings that are soaking in sauce. I don't like heavy sause, and I don't like heavy sour sauce. This dish was free, as a gift for spending twenty dollars today. But still, I am not a big fan of dumplings soaking in sauce. I want to taste the juice of the meat, and I prefer that restaurants let me decide how much of that sweet and sour sauce I want on my dumpling and not have that decision be made for me by them. Please, give me the sauce on the side next time. I'm a grown man. I know how to handle my sauces with care. Less is more. I do have to give them a little credit, the sauce wasn't completely unbearable. It was slightly over-powering, but given the fact that the dumplings were soaked in them, I was still able to taste the natural flavors of the insides of the dumplings.

(Pumpkin Fried Rice)
I been to Hong Kong kitchen a few times before and I remember having a fried rice with pumpkin in it. I thought it was the pumpkin fried rice, but I think it was a different dish. I think it was the mixed grain pumpkin fried rice that I was thinking about. This pumpkin fried rice was your normal fried rice with some pumpkin in it. I'm not thrilled about the taste of this dish, as it was slightly on the bland side. But combined with the heavily sauced dumplings and the baked pork chop rice, this was a nice lighter and slightly healthier dish.

Hong Kong kitchen is a departure from the standard Cantonese cafes in the area and is definitely a great alternative whenever I'm sick of having Cantonese cafes (which is hard for me to be). There are definitely some unique dishes here that's worth coming to you won't find anywhere else.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Papa Walk Has More Than Shaved Ice

I have been to Papa Walk a few times before. I've always loved their shaved ice as dessert. But this time I ended up going for the actual meal. I did crave for their shaved ice, but since there were only two of us, we didn't order it. I had been eating a lot recently and I wanted to cut down a little.

(Beef With Spinach Noodle Soup)

(Spinach Noodle)

I had tried a few of the Taiwanese dishes Papa Walk offered on their menu before. This time my dad went for the Taiwanese beef stew noodles, which contained spinach noodle instead of egg noodles. The soup was not overly heavy, which is to my liking. I don't like my food to be way too heavy and very often Taiwanese soups can be like that. The noodles were firm and chewy and was flavorful. Spinach noodles are supposedly healthier for you. I did enjoy them whether or not they are healthier for me. In fact I think I do prefer them over egg noodles, which I never liked to begin with.

(Sizzling Beef with Rice)
(Rice & Veggies for the Sizzling Beef)
The sizzling beef however was a bit too oily and slightly sweet for my taste. I'm not a big fan of Taiwanese food mostly because of the enormous amounts of sugar they tend to use in their foods. It does taste good, there's no doubt, but then what food wouldn't taste good with excess amounts of oil and sugar in them. It was definitely not the healthiest thing I could have eaten. Once in a while I suppose is acceptable.

(Tin Tea Pot)
I am old school when it comes to tea. Something about tea being served in these tin canisters just hits the right spot. I suppose a lot of this is just childhood nostalgia. Nevertheless the old school tea, despite it being very generic and boring tea, gives Papa Walk a street side dining feel indoors.

Papa Walk is hidden behind the stairways inside the Hilton Plaza. It's a bit hard to find if one wasn't really looking for it. But it has built its reputation mainly on their dessert. But the true gem of this place is really the fact that I felt slightly transported away from the cold hard feel of metropolitan Los Angeles, and back to a simpler times on the streets of Taiwan.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Crazy Toppings With Crazy Pricing At Mulberry Street Pizzeria

New York or Chicago?

I had seen all those Travel Channel shows debating the merits of each style. Up until now, I hadn't given much of any thought since I never had real authentic New York or Chicago pizza. So when my friends suggested that we check out Mulberry Street Pizzeria, I jumped on this chance to try some supposedly very good New York style thin crust pizzas.

(Lemon Iced Tea)
Like most of my meals, I had a cup of lemon iced tea to go with my food. Mulberry Street's tea was just your standard teabag type brew. There really wasn't anything special about it. It was at least flavorful and not watery and that's pretty much all I can ask for. There really wasn't any expectation there.

(Half Eggplant Parmesan & White Spinach Pizza)
We had a pretty large group so we were able to share three pizzas with six different toppings, which gave me a great idea of what all the different toppings tasted like. I don't know too much about how authentic is this thin crust. A few of my friends started talking about whether they preferred thin crust or deep dish. A few of them had been to New York or lived in Chicago and know them first hand. I think I had come to the conclusion that sometimes I would like a soggy deep dish, while other times I would prefer a crunchy thin crust.

Mulberry Street's pizzas although are thin crust, are not very crunchy. It's closer to the chewy side. I don't have too much problems with it, I just would rather it be a little crunchier. The edges of the pizza were crunchy while the center was doughy. In fact I almost would prefer the flatbreads at Westside Tavern, which in essence is a thin crust pizza with a different name. Those were crunchy all the way through.

The toppings however I did enjoy tremendously. The eggplant tomato side of the pizza was excellent. I almost forgot that I was eating eggplant at all. They were very thinly sliced which was complimentary to the thin crust. The spinach white was good too, but personally I'm not a huge cheese person. The flavors were very strong inside my mouth making the pizza very juicy.

(Half Pepperoni, Half Hawaiian Pizza)
The pepperoni was pretty much a pepperoni pizza. I don't think I would ever pay over twenty dollars for this pepperoni pizza. It may be on a thin crust, but it's not so amazing that I would pay this much more for it when I would be happy enough with a cheaper version. Perhaps I just don't care for pepperoni to begin with.

I love pineapples so I wanted to order the Hawaiian style. I suppose this is definitely not authentic to New York pizza since pineapple isn't a readily available ingredient up in the northeast. Just like the pepperoni, it wasn't something I would pay that much money for again. It was good, just not impressive for the cost.

(Half Lasagna, Half Tomato & Artichoke Pizza)
We were still hungry after two pizzas so we ordered a third one to finish off lunch. The lasagna pizza really did taste like lasagna spread over the pizza dough. It kind of played tricks on my taste buds, confusing me with whether I was really eating a pizza or lasagna. I thought this was actually a very pleasant and fun experience on a subconscious level. I really did in fact enough this one, even though it wasn't the tastiest of the six toppings I had. It was the most interesting mentally speaking. I would go with the eggplant as the best flavored of the six.

The tomato and artichoke topping didn't do it for me. The artichoke was just too clunky for this pizza. It was hard to eat the artichoke with the pizza. When that big chunk of vegetable entered my mouth, it overwhelmed everything else. I felt like I was just chewing on a giant piece of artichoke rather than eating an artichoke pizza like the way the eggplant one was made. It was just too much.

(Hello Kitty Exhaust Pipe)
I think the only pizza I would ever pay this much money for back at Mulberry would be their eggplant. I did find some of their more interestingly toppings titillating to my tongue. It was a good novel experience, but not good enough to warrant the cost of a repeat experience for the most part. The crust of the pizza wasn't crispy enough for me. To top it off, it was a thirty-five minute drive for me. I would much rather go elsewhere for flatbread or thin crust type pizzas.

Lunch this day did end with me seeing a Hello Kitty exhaust pipe in the car parked in front of my car. An interesting sight after an interesting hour of pizza and friends.

Friday, February 11, 2011

I'm Not Blind at Green Island

One of my biggest pet peeves when it comes to restaurants is how they could serve the same thing at the same table at the same time but the two are not the same. I usually get pretty annoyed when I see another table get the same thing but their portion is bigger or better looking etc. But when it's for the same table, that's when it's beyond apprehension.

I was out with a new friend a couple weeks ago to the new Green Island at the new Atlantic Plaza in Monterey Park. I had enjoyed Green Island in Temple City before and was expecting to enjoy this new one. I did hear some mixed reviews on the quality of this place. One of the complaint before was that it was too salty. Nevertheless I wanted to give this a shot, mainly also because my new friend lived close to the new plaza.

(Lemon Iced Tea Sans Sugar - First Order)
(Lemon Iced Tea Sans Sugar - Second Order)
(Lemon Iced Tea With  Sugar)
As per usual, I ordered my cup of lemon iced tea sans sugar while my friend ordered it with sugar. When our drinks arrived, my cup of lemon iced tea looked significantly lighter in color than my friend's cup. I was already weary about the taste of it. When I took a sip of my tea, it was tasteless. It was basically brown water with lemon in it. There was absolutely no taste of tea in the drink. Generally I would probably just ignore it and drink what they gave me and be done with it. But since my friend's cup of tea was much darker, I didn't even need to taste his cup and knew I just got the bad brew at the end of a cycle. So I asked the waiter if they could get me another cup that actually had tea flavor, pointing to the fact that my friend's drink was significantly darker than mine.

So they took my drink back and brought me a new one also without sugar. This second cup was a lot darker than the first one. In fact it was even darker than my friend's cup and was very strong in tea flavor, to my liking. It was night and day. That second cup was definitely one of those early brews from a new batch. All of this led me to think how could a restaurant be so inconsistent with one of their most standard drink? Lemon iced tea is a stable to cafes, whether Cantonese or Taiwanese. Yet they can be so inconsistent that they can serve the same table three cups of tea in one sitting that had significant difference in color. A good cup of tea is a must for all cafes in this day and age, and to be this careless about it just showed how badly the drink bar is managed quite often at these restaurants.

(Pork and Cabbage in a Stone Pot)
Besides the drink fiasco, we ordered two dishes. I had tried quite a bit of the food at the original location in Temple City. The flavors here seems to be quite consistent with the flavors at the other restaurant. A bit sweet and a bit oily. At least they were consistent with the actual food, a good sign that they really made sure the new chefs learned how to cook it the way they originally had it.

The Pork and Cabbage in a Stone Pot was rich in flavor. The marinate sauce penetrated into the pork itself as well as the cabbage. The heated stone pot kept the dish warm for a good while. Of course towards the end, the sauce became a bit heavy since they tend to sink to the bottom soaking whatever's left. There really wasn't all that much that could have been done about it. It was a bit on the oily and greasy side similar to what's found at the original restaurant. I didn't think it was actually necessary for it to be as oily as they made it in order to keep it attractive and tasty. I needed to start remembering to request restaurants to make my food with less oil, less sugar and no msg.

(Eel Fried Rice - Serving)
(Eel Fried Rice)
The Eel Fried Rice was served in their metal sizzling plates held inside a wooden frame. Green Island was the first restaurant around the San Gabriel Valley that I had seen using this, though a few other restaurants had recently picked it up too. The Eel Fried Rice was tossed in front of us by the waiter. It really made no difference to me whether it was tossed on the spot or in the kitchen. It wasn't like Benihana where there was a lot of showmanship. There weren't a whole lot of flair and wasn't all that interesting to watch. It also didn't make the food taste any better as far as I can tell. I suppose it did change the beat of the dinning experience. Instead of the food being just tossed onto my table like at so many Chinese restaurants, the waiter was forced to actually spend a few seconds there serving. The actual fried rice was actually quite good and wasn't oily like the other dish. I could use a tad bit more eel in the dish. Still, it did make for a good balance between this dish and the oily pork and cabbage.

Despite the drink fiasco, the food was good and enjoyable. The environment was bright and clean, which I hope they can maintain after a year or two. The wait staff was actually very friendly compared to many other Asian restaurants around the area. Though like most other Asian restaurants where we don't have a specific waiter assigned to our table, they actually had a few waiters and waitresses roaming around the restaurant just to check up on the customers. I had been so used to seeing the wait staff standing in the corner watching TV, or hiding in the back to avoid going outside to work, this was actually refreshing. It was actually not difficult to find a waiter to ask for something. I almost missed having to eye down a waiter, then hunt them down to get a refill or something. This was definitely one of the better wait staff around, even better than the staff they had over at the original. Kudos to the manager of this restaurant.

So yes, I would definitely come back to Green Island simply because the waiters and waitresses were nice. But I am not blind and I do expect them to be way more consistent with their drinks in the future, at the very least in looks. However as long as there is a good staff to help me remedy the problems, I don't mind being served a drink that I had to ask for a replacement. I rather this than the other way around.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

I Can't Smell the Tofu at Young Dong Tofu

Somewhere along my life, I started to fall in love with tofu. All those childhood myths where we grow up to find things previously disgusting to us enjoyable are true. I love my tofu, whether firm or silky. Needless to say Korean tofu houses are on my frequently visited list of places to eat. Young Dong Tofu happened to be very close to my house, and it also happened to be pretty good.

On this day, I was originally going to just stay home and eat. But my vegetarian friend Ko was in the mood for some Korean tofu. Apparently everyone else she normally goes to eat tofu with is sick of eating tofu except me. So I happily obliged. Like most Korean tofu houses in the area, the menu's on the disposable paper placemats. We just split a combination order of BBQ Beef with Mushroom tofu.

(Kimchi Octopus)
A huge part of my love for Korean tofu houses are their side dishes. No other cuisines would just throw a bunch of small little places of goodies on your table for no additional charge. Young Dong gave us their kimchi octopus, kimchi cucumbers, kimchi cabbage, sprouts, seaweed and green bean pancakes for free. I generally avoid the spicy stuff except the octopus tentacles. Something about those mushy and chewy strands of tentacles overcomes my fear of spiciness. Truth be told, the kimchi actually isn't overly spicy at Young Dong. A few small bites were actually manageable for me. Young dong mixes some vegetable strands along with the octopus.

(Kimchi Cucumbers)
Since I knew I was going to blog about this outing, I decided to at least take a sample of the other kimchi dishes on the table. The spiciness was again very tolerable if I only ate one or two. The cucumber slices were crunchy and fresh. The spiciness does actually help bring out the sweetness of the cucumber. I can see why people would love this. I just can't eat too much of it. I am very glad to have given this a try, cause I would actually take a slice or two from now on whenever I revisit Young Dong.

(Kimchi Cabbage)
I have never been a fan of kimchi cabbage. Unlike the cucumber, the spiciness doesn't bring out anything from within the cabbage. It's just plain spicy with a little crunch. It's just really not my thing. I suppose if all I had was this plate of kimchi cabbage, I would still be able to eat it. But every time I see something this red, it brings back memories of my younger days where my friends brought me to these super spicy restaurants where eating was just painful.

(Green Bean Pancakes)
I have always been a fan of the green bean pancakes. Generally speaking they are just slightly crispier than a western breakfast pancake. But today's green bean pancake was way more crunchier than usual which I found way more appealing. The crunchiness almost functioned like it was some dough goo that has been battered on the outside and deep fried. I don't think the pancake was deep fried, only pan fried with enough oil to make it a little crispier and crunchier than usual.

I should come as no surprise that I love the seaweed and the sprouts. After all these are the two dishes that actually are not spicy. I do however much prefer the sprouts than the seaweed. Most Korean tofu houses' seaweeds that I had sampled tend to be too sweet. Young Dong's aren't overtly sweet, but it's there. Since the last couple of years I started becoming weary of all things sweet, I found it more and more difficult to eat a ton of seaweed. So I much rather chomp down on the sprouts.

I could just eat this dish of sprouts all day long. I can't recall one time where I didn't have to ask for more. It's fresh and crunchy yet still cooked in a broth thoroughly. It's light in flavor, chilled and easy to eat in bulk. If my meal just ended here, I would be one hundred percent satisfied. Fine, I'm over-exaggerating. The point is I just love the way Young Dong cooked their sprouts. I just need to figure out what they actually did so I can do it at home.

(Stone Bowl Rice)
Young Dong like most Korean tofu houses around Los Angeles serve their rice in traditional stone bowls. The only problem with stone bowls in general that I have often experienced is peeling off the burnt rice sticking to the bowl. I enjoy a little bit of that every time, but it's always unpredictable how easy or difficult it would be to get the rice off. If only there was an iPhone app that would scan the bowl and tell me where the weak point of the rice sticking to the bowl is. Then life would be easy. Where is that easy button when I really need it.

(Mushroom Tofu - Mild Spiciness)
Finally the main course came. We've been having a great time with great conversation so far over the condiments. There is a raw egg we were given to crack and put right into the boiling bowl of tofu. This kept the egg from being overcooked if it was placed earlier. The egg whites blend very well with the tofu and I usually forget that there was an egg inside until I reached the egg yolk which I have never been a fan of. I am also a fan of mushrooms, but I have never found the mushrooms inside the mushroom tofu satisfying. This is mostly because there just isn't enough to really share. I don't mean this one time, I just mean in general. I need a lot of mushrooms to satisfy my taste buds. A few strands of golden needle mushrooms just won't cut it. That aside, the mild spiciness for the silky tofu was just perfect for me.

(BBQ Beef)
"Beef, it's what for dinner." Or lunch in this case. Every time I see a sizzling plate, I will always go back to my childhood memory of eating a sizzling plate steak in a specific restaurant in Hong Kong. I was infatuated. Though that novelty has long worn off, somewhere deep inside the child is still there ooo-ing and ahh-ing over the sound of steaming hot food.

I generally would choose the BBQ beef over the beef ribs. Most of this was just laziness, while the rest was not wanting to deal with the ligaments that's more difficult to chew and digest. The BBQ beef today was like it always had been, a little sweet, flavorful and juicy. There were plenty of onions to flavor the meat and the rest augmented the dish in presentation and taste. The beef itself was tender and easy to eat.  It's definitely one of my favorite dishes of sliced beef from any restaurant.

I do love tofu, but I can't resist having the rest of the offerings at Young Dong. It's not because the tofu there isn't good. It's because everything else there is also good. I couldn't stop eating the sprouts and the other condiments. The aroma of the BBQ beef doesn't help the case for the tofu. No matter how amazingly silky their tofu is, it's not going to win my nose over given what else is on the table. The only time I had ever smelled tofu enough to be lured to it is when it's firm, well-marinated and grilled. Even then it's the sauce that I'm smelling, not the tofu. There's just nothing I can do about it when I can't smell the tofu because everything else smells so much stronger. Our sense of smell is far stronger and addictive than our sense of sight. It's also why in the back of my mind, I never thought of tofu houses as tofu houses, but Korean BBQ joints that also serves tofu.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Guppy House with Guppy Showmanship

It isn't everyday where I venture down to Irvine to have a meal. It is even rarely that I would have Asian food so far south. But this last Wednesday afternoon, I happened to have a little bit of free time, so I hoped onto my car with a friend and went down to the OC to meet up with a third friend and had a little mini OC adventure.

We started off the afternoon actually exploring the various parts of the OC. We ventured off to the Korean Friendship Bell down in San Pedro. Following we stopped by Long Beach and spent a little time on the boardwalk. We then stopped by Signal Hill to see the lights of greater Los Angeles. Finally we ended up in Irvine in the plaza where Guppy House was at. There were plenty of other restaurants to choose from ranging from a Thai restaurant, to a Korean tofu house, to a Chinese seafood palace, and even the famous 85c bakery.

(Pineapple Fried Rice)

Immediately after walking into the room, I knew exactly what I wanted. Nearly every other table had an order of their pineapple fried rice. The fried rice is fried with ham, pineapple, peas, corn and carrots with pork sung and raisins on top. The whole thing is served on half of a pineapple shell. The presentation alone sells this dish easily. It just looks like it's a lot of work and very elaborately made. But the truth is it's just decently fried rice served in a pineapple shell. The fried rice was flavorful and the sweetness of the pineapple did come through. The raisins after mixing it into the rice gave it a little bit of a surprising contrast in the rice. But the pork sung just didn't go well with the rest of it. The pork sung never really blended into the rice. Whenever it entered my mouth, it was distinct and distracting from the rest of the blend. This had a lot to do with the fact that pork sung is just too dry to blend in a dry plate of fried rice. Perhaps it's just because I'm more used to eating pork sung with congee.

(Kimchi Dumplings)
The kimchi dumplings came after the fried rice. I suppose the fried rice is so popular that they have it all ready and made and just a matter of plating. So it took nearly no time at all to get to our table. The dumplings came with two different sauces, a sweetened soy sauce and a vinger sauce. The word kimchi in the name may be a little misleading since these are not fermented at all. It really is just normal Taiwanese cabbage dumplings. Kimchi by definition is fermented vegetables and the vegetables inside are not fermented at all. I did actually liked the texture of the dumplings. The skin was nice and soft at the correct thickness. It held the dumpling in place when it's picked up by a chopstick while after entering mouth, it didn't feel like I was eating flour. The balance between the cabbage and the pork was also very good. I always hate dumpling houses that jam pack their dumpling with meat. It too hard and too heavy to eat. These were very well done. The two flavors of dipping sauces was a bonus, giving my taste buds a little bit of contrast between each dumpling.

(Sweet And Sour Popcorn Chicken)
Finally the sweet and sour popcorn chicken arrived at our table after most of the other dishes were devoured. I suppose one should never expect a Chinese restaurant to actually serve an appetizer in the beginning of a course. It's servered whenever it's ready to be served is really the trademark of every Chinese restaurant. I have yet to dine at a Chinese restaurant where appetizers and entree were served in order except during a formal banquet. As my mother always say, it all ends up blended up in our stomach anyways.

The sweet and sour popcorn chicken were pretty standard for a Taiwanese joint. The chicken and the batter didn't particularly stand out to me. I've had plenty of better popcorn chicken in my life all around the San Gabriel Valley. The sauce however did make this one stand out just a tad bit. It was a bit more sweet than sour, which I have come to expect when it comes to Taiwanese dishes. They tend to be on the sugary side. I have to watch out for diabetes since it runs in my family so I tend think negatively on sugary foods. But once in a while, I do indulge myself on a deep fried sweet and sour indulgence lik this sweet and sour popcorn chicken.

Guppy House is pretty clean for the most part, after they wiped the dirty chair that I pointed out. The foods were mediocre but we were hungry. The presentation of the food was clean and crisp and I can't complain. I just wonder where do they get all those half pineapple shells. Somewhere in the back of my mind I wonder if they recycle them. I certainly hope not. I have really no reason to suspect something like that, but I've seen some horrific things in my past what some Chinese restaurants would do to save money. Nonetheless I doubt I will ever revisit Guppy House only because it's way too far from where I live, and not good enough for me to ever warrant that drive. I really have no real reason to visit that plaza, maybe except for 85c bakery. But if I did live closer, I may come back once in a while for a little bit of that pineapple fried rice without the pork sung.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Baccali Cafe & Rotisserie: An Appetizing Appetizer-Entree.

I know I go to a lot of Cantonese cafes. I eat, sleep and breath in the aura of this part of my own culture. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that I have yet another post on another cafe. Though Baccali is for the most part a Cantonese cafe, it does emphasize itself on its rotisserie as well as bring in some non-standard Cantonese Cafe dishes to its tables.

My friend and I got a little hungry and decided to grab a bite to eat. We have already went to a bunch of the other cafes around town and Baccali was one of the few remaining that we have yet dined together at. So we decided it may be time to just drop by. The interior of the restaurant is open with a high ceiling. It was more like a little lodge cabin than a restaurant in its decor, which is rare for a cafe. It was mainly because a long time ago it was some sort of American restaurant before the Asian takeover of the valley.

(Half Rotisserie Chicken - Cajun Style)
Baccali specializes in making rotisserie chicken, and is probably one of the best cafes in the San Gabriel Valley to get rotisserie chicken. Personally it's not something I would eat all the time, but once in a while, if a friend orders it, I would nibble off a few bites off their plate. That's exactly what I did on this occasion.

The chicken was tender and flavorful, but hardly cajun. It's completely expected since cafes tend to mainstream their foods for the taste buds of the general Chinese eater. Not too strong in spices, but flavorful with a nice aroma to the food. Having had authentic cajun food from New Orleans and its surrounding areas, this Cajun style chicken barely had anything that remotely tasted cajun. It was only slightly more spiced up than their normal rotisserie chicken. Nevertheless the chicken was still well made and made for a good meal at a very good price.

(Curry Deep Fried Chicken Wings)
It almost seems like a completely opposite concept of serving something simultaneously deep fried and with a curry sauce. But I definitely enjoyed this combination very much. Something about having that nice juicy and slightly spicy curry sauce smothered over a crunchy deep fried chicken wing that just hits the spot. Of course this is hardly a healthy meal being wings have a ton of skin and fat. The curry wasn't oily which was a plus, but it was still quite heavy and stomach warming.

The steamed vegetables were lightly flavored. The zucchini slices were fresh very crunchy to my liking. Different cafes serve different vegetables as their side dishes and this is one of my preferred vegetables. It actually feels like I'm eating vegetables rather than just two slices of broccoli with some peas. Sometimes I'm stuck with baby corn which I find a bit too hard to be served steamed. But this dish was great. It did feel more like an appetizer rather than an actual meal, but since I wasn't overly hungry, combined with the rice, it was enough to fill me up.

(Lemon Iced Tea)
It wouldn't be a trip to a Cantonese cafe without my glass of iced lemon tea. There really isn't all that much special about this one here at Baccali. I think the most important thing is that it actually has tea flavor and tasted more than just water. It wasn't especially rich or bland. It was your ordinary glass of iced lemon tea that was cold and refreshing.

Baccali isn't my favorite cafe of all time, but it makes for a nice break away from my usual joints on occasion. They have some slightly unique dishes like beef stroganov that isn't commonly found in this area. I had that before and it was decent. I don't know enough about Russian foods to know the authenticity of the dish, but my guess is that it's not. The environment does make for a nicer date joint or just an outing with friends. Parking isn't a complete nightmare, though it is still small. I wouldn't make a trip out to Alhambra just for their chicken if I lived more than thirty minutes away. But to swing by once in a while if you happened to be nearby will turn up a few nice dishes of food on my table.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Relax, Kick Back, It's China Bistro

I was snowboarding with my friend George up at Mountain High this Monday morning. Since we both had rather flexible schedules, we would always go early morning on a weekday to avoid the crowd but still get back in time in the afternoon to get some work done the rest of the day. Usually we would grab some food at a fastfood joint and be done with lunch. But that day we decided to grab a bite at a cafe instead; we ended up at China Bistro.

This place over ten years ago used to be a MacDonald's that moved down the street. Since then it had changed hands a couple of times and now it had become China Bistro, a Cantonese cafe that served only the Chinese foods but with the western influenced drinks. This day I actually opted out of my usual lemon iced tea and just had water, I had no idea what actually came over me.

(Dry Beef Chow Fun)
George ordered the dry beef chow fun, a pretty standard dish in case if you missed my many other posts on this dish. China bistro's dry beef chow fun is pretty well made. The chow fun didn't stick together and were evenly seasoned. There were ample amount of beef along with onions, sprouts and chives. It was certainly better then the ones I had over at U2 recently too, which drove me nuts if you read the other post. But no matter how good dry beef chow fun is made, I don't care for it. It probably had a lot to do with the fact that my parents love this dish and eats it all the time. But I personally preferred the wet style than the dry when it comes to chow fun. In fact I much preferred it in soup found more commonly in Chiu Chow style cuisine, though I much preferred the thin version than the thick ones.

(Beef Stew over Rice)
For me I ordered a beef stew over rice instead. I generally would order the beef stew over vermicelli wraps in a clay pot here at China bistro, which is one of my favorite things to eat. That day I really just felt like having a bit of rice instead. The dish was not very well plated, with sauce dripped on the side of the plate. The beef felt like it was just thrown on top with absolutely no consideration at all on presentation. I never really expected much in presentation at a cafe, but this felt as crude as street vendor food in Hong Kong. It was a bit crude even for my taste.

However the taste did make up for it a little and I cleaned my plate. Perhaps I was just hungry from the morning workout. The beef was very juicy and well marinated. It was spot on in terms of the thickness of the sauce. Served over rice, it was less heavy than its vermicelli wrap clay pot counterpart. The little bit of vegetables, as little as I was given, was at least a bit of fiber I desperately needed.

(Chicken With Vegetables)
George ordered an additional dish, not because he was that hungry from snowboarding, but mostly to take home as dinner. For less then $7 a dish, it's certainly a cheap and tasty dinner that could easily be heated up at home either with a microwave or reheating it on the stovetop. He wanted a little bit of vegetables in the second dish and ordered the Chicken with Vegetables. We actually didn't realize the vegetable was broccoli, which I actually liked. It just wasn't what I was thinking when I hear vegetables. But when the plate arrived, I remembered that I actually ordered it before and it was broccoli at that time. The problem was broccoli during the last time I had it was out of season and was really bitter. This batch was normal and edible.

The chicken was perfectly made in this dish. It was cooked just right giving it a nice spongy quality that was juicy and chewy; not one piece was stringy. The sauce wasn't overpowering which allowed the meat and the vegetables to speak through. The little bits of mushrooms balanced off the texture giving that added sponginess to the dish.

I do frequent China Bistro every so often, and generally order their lemon iced tea. In fact I was just there today again with another friend with a tall class of tea. The food is generally consistent in its quality, which is harder to find around here sometimes then one would imagine. Though the food has never been spectacular or well presented, it has always been reliable and decent. I wouldn't expect more than some alright food with a nice environment to sit in for an hour or two. It is a great way to just kick back on a small budget after a morning of intense exercise and long drive.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

What's up with all the island restaurants? Revisiting Gourmet Island

A friend of mine did a project a year ago that consisted of taking pictures of food from a bunch of restaurants down Valley Blvd. in the San Gabriel Valley. While she was doing her research, she discovered the enormous amount of restaurants being named with the word Garden and Happy. Lately I discovered a few places being named with the word island. I initially thought it was a Taiwanese thing to do since Taiwan is an island. But then when I discovered Gourmet Island, I couldn't figure out what island had to do with their Chiu Chow style cuisine.

I personally have a Chiu Chow heritage. I am seven-eighth Chiu Chow and one-eighth Hakka. I'm no stranger to Chiu Chow style foods. Gourmet Island had a barely adequate selection of authentic fChiu Chow foods, mixed with some other general Asian style foods. I had been here once previously and enjoyed the foods a little bit. The last time I visited there I experienced a major issue; the taro mud dessert was spoiled. My family loves taro mud, a quintessential Chiu Chow dessert. It's only offered at a very few of the Chiu Chow seafood restaurants around town, and only a few make them well. Generally they are served with a sweet wet dressing with lotus seeds and cloud ears. The mud paste itself like most Chinese desserts should be lightly sweetened. It's actually hard and takes a lot of work to make taro mud and so we always get it whenever we visit a Chiu Chow style restaurant. But since we had a bad experience with it the first time around, we opted out of it the second time around.

Nevertheless my family and I decided to return to this place to check out more of what they had to offer. We do generally give restaurants revisits if it's decent enough, if only to give ourselves a variety. The rest of the original dinner was enjoyable so we didn't want to let one spoiled dish ruin the restaurant.

(Beef Stew with Light Broth)
We love a good beef stew. Most people are familiar with the Taiwanese version of beef stew, which has a heavy dark colored soup base. It's extremely rich and generally served with noodles. Sometimes beef stew is served dry over rich or in curry. But if you are in for a slightly lighter in flavors version of beef stew, I would recommend the Beef Stew with Light Broth. This dish is actually commonly found in a lot of Cantonese restaurants around town.

The beef this night was cooked thoroughly to a very nice and soft texture. The soup was very flavorful with a fair amount of spices. The black pepper really added a little sting to the soup. This was also a great way to save some money by not having to order an actual soup. It was kept hot the entire time with a little fire from a small portable stove that came with the dish. It was a bit strong in the beginning so we had to turn it down to keep the water from being boiled off and evaporate. It was certainly a juicy and delicious dish. The truth is all it took to make this dish good was time and enough spices. It's very hard to get it wrong.

(Fried Rice)
A lot of restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley recently had been doing promotions by giving away free food. Gourmet Island gave away a free plate of fried rice served in their sizzling plate. I believe Green Island was the first restaurant around the area that started using this wooden framed metal sizzling plate to serve their fried rice. It's a great way to keep the food continuously warm. However the rice tonight was a bit bland and I wouldn't order it if it wasn't free. Even as a free dish, it wasn't all that interesting to eat. It was basically a filler, a replacement for just plain steamed rice.

(Combination Appetizer: Roasted Suckling Pig, Fun Tai and Jelly Fish)
This was the best dish of the night. Although it's an appetizer, I never really think appetizer meant much in Chinese food except during banquets. Ultimately for most meals, things are all served and eaten together. The roasted suckling pig skin was perfectly crunchy while the meat was flavorful and retained some juiciness. The jelly fish was well marinated without it being overly sauteed. The Fun Tai was fine, but I suppose it's just a cold cut so it's hard to go wrong and hard to be impressive.

(Stir Fried String Beans)
I am a big fan of string beans, and stir fried string beans generally is among my favorite. I did find their string beans a bit on the oily side despite being flavorful. I seem to be coming across more and more oily string beans. I really prefer them to be less oily and drier. The garlic also wasn't as strong as I prefer and I generally like it with just a bit of stir fried ground beef in the dish which this was lacking. It would had given it that little bite to the dish that pulls out the crunch in the string beans. It wasn't my favorite version of string beans, but it filled my stomach with enough flavor that neither impressed me nor disgusted me.

The meal was finished off with a sweet soup free of charge. We didn't order the taro mud fearing it may turn out sour again. The sweet soup had some water chestnuts, lotus seeds and an assortment of other goodies inside. However it was way too sweet for my entire family. I never understood why any restaurant would inject their desserts that full of sugar. Fortunately most drinks in the San Gabriel Valley can now be ordered with half sugar or no sugar. But unfortunately the same cannot be said about the desserts. My mother has diabetes and both my brother and I are extremely weary about this since it seems to run on my mother side of the family. So we all basically took a couple sips and decided it was probably best not to finish it. 

Gourmet Island was a nice break from some of our usual joints. It wasn't amazingly prepared but it was still good enough to visit once in a while, very long while. Personally if I were to pick a Chiu Chow restaurant of my choosing, it would be Seafood Village. Their food is much more true to the Chiu Chow culinary style with a few more selections of ethnic dishes. Gourmet Island seemed to be a Cantonese restaurant with a few specifically Chiu Chow dishes added onto the menu.

By the way, Chiu Chow isn't located on any form or Island. It's not even on or near a peninsula.

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