Friday, January 21, 2011

Sheesh...It's U2 Again?

I am a Cantonese Cafe addict; that is my comfort food. I can grab a menu from any Cantonese cafes and just order down the menu from breakfast to dinner. So it's important for me to have that one go-to restaurant whenever I want this stuff. Actually I have like five go-to restaurants when it comes to Cantonese cafes, alternating depending on the deals and quality they currently have. The thing about Cantonese cafes in Los Angeles, more like in the San Gabriel Valley is that the consistency of quality is, well, inconsistent. One day I may find a certain restaurant to be my favorite because the portions are great, the quality is good and the price is cheap. The next month suddenly without warning, they would either jack up the price, or decrease the portion size, or the quality deteriorated. I am then forced to go with one of my five other main choices or even the half a dozen other second choices.

Right now, my Cantonese cafe of choice is U2 Cafe.

It's actually my entire family's Cantonese cafe of choice. Just within the first two weeks alone this year, I had already visited the cafe three times; this post is a compilation of the different visits. The other ones on my current list are JR Cafe, Face Cafe and Garden Cafe. I do have a few other ones I occasionally visit, but these are the ones I most frequent.

(U2 Cafe - Lor Sung Soup)
(U2 Cafe - Cod Cream Chowder)
In order to be a true Cantonese Cafe, the menu must be long and includes a few stable Cantonese dishes as well as some "Cantonese-ized" western dishes. It also wouldn't be a Cantonese cafe if you are not immediately served one of two soups: Lor Sung soup, a Cantonese style minestrone, and some form of cream chowder. The minestrone is the absolute essential for any Cantonese cafe, while some restaurants also serve a Chinese soup as an alternative in place of the cream chowder. U2 serve various versions of their cream chowders, sometimes it's a cod based chowder while other times it's a corn and ham based chowder. There really isn't anything fancy about this chowder. I would certainly not claim this to be anywhere near the best cream chowder I had in my life. But it certainly still hits the spot. Having cod in place of corn and ham gives the soup a bit more substance and just hits the comfort spot in my stomach. It certainly hits my mother's comfort spot. In fact for some odd reason, she chooses to come back to U2 Cafe mainly for the cream soup. I think it's most because of the fact that most other cafes have opted to replace the cream soup with a Chinese soup which she never cared for.

The Lor Sung however is my preferred soup. It is a tomato based soup with lots of vegetables and beef inside. My Dad knows how to make this really well, but we generally don't make it since it's usually made in a huge quantity. The soup served at U2 is average. Fortunately I have yet to taste it to be too salty, though sometimes it can border being too sour from the tomato sauce they use. The consistency does waiver in Cantonese cafes; it's in its nature.

(U2 Cafe - Lemon Iced Tea)
(U2 Cafe - Red Bean Ice)
Drinks came with the lunch special at U2 cafe, which is one of the big pluses. I have to get my drink fix at these cafes. U2 charges an extra 75 cents for the cold version of their free drinks, which is coffee or tea. Tea includes both lemon iced tea as well as milk tea, both of which are refillable. There's a little history behind this when all the Cantonese cafes in the area picked up this trait during the 1990's. I used to be a major milk tea drinker, but I have come to the conclusion because of the inconsistency of the quality of the tea, it is impossible to reliably get a good cup of milk tea. I like my milk tea to be very rich in tea flavor ala the Hong Kong style. There were periods of time when JR Cafe and other nearby cafes served a milk tea that's dark enough, but they fluctuate based on client feedback. That's the reason why Cantonese cafes are all average, they listen to their customers. Sometimes a restaurant just have to stick to their guns on what they believe is good instead of just constantly try to cater to the masses.

Generally speaking I order lemon iced tea with no sugar. It's been a little over two years since I started to decrease and remove sugar from most of my drinks. Most Cantonese cafe are realizing the trend for lower sugar so they usually put a different colored straw into the cup. At U2 I still had to remind them at every refill. Initially I started off with half sugar, which gradually became sugar on the side so I have control. Finally I took the plunge to no sugar for my lemon iced tea and relied purely on the juice from the lemon to sweeten the tea. On occasion we may end up ordering a red bean ice, which is pretty much the only other drink I would order from a Cantonese cafe. Generally speaking the other drinks aren't the best quality around, since their drink bars are generally staffed with waiters who were given a crash course in mixology. I basically only trust drinking their milk tea or their lemon iced tea.

(U2 Cafe - Singaporean Fried Rice Noodles)

I'm a huge fan of rice noodles, and the Singaporean fried rice noodle is a must order on my list at any Cantonese cafes. Of course I can't be ordering this dish every single time since I do enjoy various other dishes. The Singaporean fried rice noodle is curry based and can be semi-spicy depending on who's making it. It is fried with shrimp, sprouts, chasu and green onions, along with the occasional bell peppers and even chilly peppers. U2's version today was on the slightly spicier side where I almost had a little difficulty eating. They added a bit too much chilly peppers in it for my taste. Still I love the dish more then I hate how they can just ruin it by changing the spiciness of it.

(U2 Cafe - Seafood Chow Fun - Burnt)

(U2 Cafe - Seafood Chow Fun with Bad Shrimps)

The other staple of my Cantonese cafe diet is the beef chow fun. There's two different ways to get chow fun; wet style, where the chow much is white and the sauce is a liquid paste, or the dry style, where the chow fun is dark brown in color from the soy sauce and the sauce is cooked into the noodles. I generally order the dry style mainly because my parents prefer eating this. We generally order the beef version, but we do occasionally try out the seafood or other versions of the chow fun.

We ordered the beef version at one of the meals, but this time my parents opted to go for the seafood version instead. Unfortunately today was just not U2's day. The first plate they served us was burnt. I could smell and taste the burnt in the chow fun and it is no good. We told the waitress who knows us pretty well since we've been coming back so often. She was very friendly and took it back for us to remake. A short while later, she brought back out a second plate of it. It wasn't burnt, but the shrimp were bad. It boggled our minds since the shrimp in the Singaporean rice noodles were not bad, and I would assume, correctly so when we asked the waitress about it, that they were from the same batch of shrimps. Our only answer is that the shrimp on the bottom of the batch went bad while the top were still good most likely because the refrigerator was not at the correct temperature. I hope for their sake no one from the health department is reading this. The waitress was kind enough to offer to take it back again, but we decided to just pick out the shrimp and eat the rest. It was too much trouble by then.

(U2 Cafe - Black Pepper Beef Udon)

A good alternative to the beef chow fun, especially for me since I don't really like chow fun, is their black pepper beef udon. Again this plate can be ordered with seafood in place of the beef, which is true for half the dishes on the menu. A lot of Chinese food is simply replace one main ingredient with another and you got yourself another dish. This was actually ordered at a different meal here at U2 a week prior to the burnt chow fun/spoiled shrimp experience. For me the flavor to the dish was good. I could use a little bit more black pepper. The main thing I miss is a sizzling plate to serve it on. Many other Cantonese cafes serve this dish on a hot sizzling plate, which I had always been infatuated with as a child. If you do bring a child, just make sure the plate is kept far out of their reach, cause it is extremely hot.

(U2 Cafe - Baked Pork Chop Rice)

Occasionally I would opt out of something Chinese and go with something more western. Most often I would order a chicken, steak or pork chop with black pepper, mushroom, garlic or onion sauce. In fact I just had that on Martin Luther King Jr. day when I went back to U2 but forgot to take a picture. The one thing I absolutely would recommend anyone to try at U2 is their pork chop and their chicken steak. That is the true gem of this restaurant. There are three dishes that I would order for the pork chop. One, the chicken and pork chop steak combination with the sauce of your choice. Two, the pork chop over rice noodle soup that is generally served at afternoon tea time between 3pm to 5pm. Three, the baked pork chop rice.

The pork chop I believe were briefly deep fried and then baked over fried rice with a rich tomato sauce with just a little bit of cheese. They do not overload the dish with cheese since cheese isn't all too popular in the Asian population. But the little bit of cheddar then use does give it that added flavor that's needed to balance the tomato sauce. The pork chops are slightly crispy but still juicy and never over cooked. I have never had an overcooked pork chop at U2 cafe, and I think they do pork chops better then any of the other cafes around. It's also nice that they use fried rice instead of steamed rice as the base. It added to the flavors of the dish tremendously. This is one of the best made dish at U2.

(U2 Cafe - Salty Fish and Chicken Fried Rice)

Speaking of fried rice, the salty fish and chicken fried rice is one of my family's favorite. It's generally the dish we order when we can't decide what we want. That's the problem with have hundreds of items on a menu. This time they did this dish correctly. I was actually able to smell the salty fish when it came out and I could definitely taste it. The salty fish adds an edge to the flavor of the dish more than salt would do. It's almost likely having that grainy little bites of salt without being overwhelmed by the saltiness of the salt. It was one of those rare times where the dish was actually semi-well made. It wasn't the best though I have ever had. The salty fish was still in very small chunks, which mostly is because they can be a little more costly than other ingredients.

(U2 Cafe - Chicken Salad)
I'm not a big fan of salads at any Cantonese cafes, and I would never deliberately order a salad from there. Yet here's a picture of an actual salad at U2. It turns out that U2 is having a nice promotion where if we spend over twenty dollars before tax, we would get a free chicken salad. If we spent over thirty dollars before tax, we would get a free soy sauce chicken. It's actually not that easy to spend over thirty dollars with a party of three people at U2. Most dishes cost between five dollars to eight dollars. Even with the added 75 cents for a cold drink, it generally would not put your bill over thirty dollars before tax. Now with a free salad, it's really a great deal.

The salad really is nothing special as far as salad goes. But for a salad at a Cantonese cafe, it's better than your normal cut. Most salads at a Cantonese cafe uses iceberg lettuce. I always wonder if they actually ever visited a supermarket sometimes and saw that there are other vegetables aside from this dreadful one. But nonetheless it is what makes it Cantonese. They added a little bit of cucumbers and tomatoes to enhance the flavor, which is more rare than you would think for a Cantonese restaurant. I had once ordered a salad which I had to pay for with purely iceberg lettuce at a Cantonese cafe. The chicken however was very well made. I believe they make it the same way they make the chicken steak, briefly deep fried and well seasoned. That made the salad actually worthwhile, and one of the better salads I had at a Cantonese cafe. But if you are looking for good salads to eat, I suggest you go elsewhere. You won't find it in most Chinese restaurants.

(U2 Cafe - Soy Sauce Chicken)

We got the soy sauce chicken at a different meal where we had four people. That would take us over thirty dollars. U2 has a decent Siu Lap (roasted poutry and pork) department. In fact they have a section of their restaurant devoted to that, which increases their quality. In fact most other Cantonese cafes tends to be weak on this. Generally I would go to Sam Woo for good Siu Lap. The soy sauce chicken at U2 was juicy enough, though a few of their thicker pieces were bordering dry. It was free so I'm not complaining. The ginger oil sauce however could use a little work. It was not strong enough and could use a bit more ginger.

(U2 Cafe - Duck and Wonton Noodle Soup)
Their duck from their Siu Lap section is generally well made. In the soup, the duck then really becomes juicy and wet and easily palatable. The wonton however wasn't my favorite, but then most restaurant's wonton is missing the one key ingredient Dai Dei Ju. So far I believe only Sam Woo makes their wonton with that fish, without which it just taste like a ball of pork meat with very little flavor. The shrimp helps with giving it a little contrast in texture, but Dai Dei Ju is want gives it a kick. The egg noodles today was decent. It had a little spring to it, but not enough for me to be wowed. Beside, I'm not a big fan of egg noodle to begin with.

(U2 Cafe - Chinese Condiments)

Despite having a lot of issues with the consistency of the food, I still return. It's just because I'm an addict for Cantonese Cafe. I'm actually addicted to the environment. It's easy to visit with a friend, order some food and a bottomless cup of ice tea, and spend a good two or three hours chatting without any pressure or discomfort. Sitting at a Starbucks for hours going through two or three cups of coffee would easily cost ten dollars. With that same amount of money, I could get decent drinks for the afternoon and some good chow to go with it.

I'm sure I will fluctuate again in the future between which Cantonese cafe I would go to as my primary hub. One thing for sure I would never quit Cantonese cafe as my comfort food cafe.


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