Thanks to FOY (Friend of Yoso) "Jess", I found out that The Noble Chef was finally reopening on September 3rd.
Imagine me walking in to a menu full of Cantonese dishes facing a case of Chinese BBQ. I decided to just try out the roast duck; I needed time to look over the menu to see what new and maybe promising, and also to see if my old favorites were still there. So I got a half roast duck ($12). Getting home and opening up the styrofoam container, I felt like there was bait and switch going on. The ducks in the case were a nice, lacquered brown....this was a rather beige looking beast.
Skin like rubber, meat moist, but lacking flavor...skin almost without flavor, where was the five spice, the salty, the sweet? I also question the cooking temp/technique as this seemed greasy, not rich with oil, but greasy. This has got to be the worst Chinese Roast Duck I've had in quite a while.
Let's add insult to injury, it seems that many of the dishes I thought were decent at Noble Chef are no longer on the menu; Shrimp with XO Sauce Fried Rice, Shrimp Tomato Sauce, Shrimp and Egg on Rice....in fact, it looks like there aren't very many shrimp dishes on the menu. To make things even worse; one of the lousiest dishes I'd ever had at Noble Chef, the Hainan Chicken Rice is on the lunch menu.
So what to do? I'm not sure....I guess I need to check out some of the lunch specials at the least. Lunch is served until 4pm, which is great......but I'm not so certain about the food. Really nice folks, they seem to be trying hard, but this just didn't do it for me.
The Noble Chef 6159 Balboa Avenue San Diego, CA 92111
Been in a bit of a rut recently and have just been hitting the same old places. I mentioned this to an acquaintance of mine who asked me what I've been eating recently. I told him, "not much, the same old boring stuff". He then asked me what and where and I ticked off most of these places. He looked at me and said, "your routine is nothing like my routine, nor is it like anyone else I know." Maybe, but it's been pretty boring for me lately....though I can't say eating has been terrible.
Golden City Restaurant 5375 Kearny Villa Rd. San Diego, CA 92123
Pho Hiep & Grill:
Pho Hiep & Grill 6947 Linda Vista Road San Diego, CA 92111
Izakaya Sakura 3904 Convoy St #121 San Diego, CA 92111
777 Noodle House:
777 Noodle House 4686 University Avenue San Diego, CA 92105
Sieu Sieu BBQ:
A quick comment....never been a favorite, but I must have ht the jackpot with the roast pork on this trip because it was moist, the skin thin and crunchy. The char siu was the same 'ol, same 'ol, mediocre-ness.
A while back FOY "DavidD" mentioned that this shop made the best roast duck. So I made sure to mention the place to Beach during my last visit. Beach told me he's being going to Lien Hoa for thirty or so years (looking at the sign, they opened in 1981) , knew the owners, and that this was indeed the best place for Chinese BBQ in all of Little Saigon, or even in Orange County.
The place is actually right next to Kang Lac Bakery, so we went in before having Bot Chien.
The shop is tiny with a small and cramped walking space. It's a no frills place, just up my alley...the other thing up my alley? A whole roast duck here costs just $15.50......bargain city.
After arriving home I opened the very heavy foil container took take a peak and a taste or two of the duck.
If you want a meaty duck, this would be the one for you. Personally, for me it;s all about a combination of factors; the skin, the flavor, fat content, and so on. The flavor of this duck will be a surprise for many raised on roast duck in San Diego. It is mild, with anise hints, and not salted to death to cover up the lack of expert preparation. The skin on the top layer was, perhaps a bit too "rubbery", but good overall. Sadly, they poured a ton of "jus" over the duck. There was about two cups of it in the tray (I measured). This meant the skin of the duck on the bottom layer was taut and the meat had started to be mushy. Gladly, even the juice wasn't too salty. I think I'll have them go easy on that stuff next time.
So, if you're passing through, or if roast duck matters enough to you to be worth a drive (like me), this place is worth a shot. And the prices are very reasonable.
Lien Hoa BBQ Deli 9299 Bolsa Ave Westminster, CA 92683
Monterey Palace BBQ Fast Food:
A little over a year ago, we were driving east on Valley Boulevard. right past Focus Plaza, I noticed that a new shop had opened in a location I believe was some kind of bar or nightclub before.
The name of the place was Monterey Palace BBQ, which got me thinking that this place is affiliated with Monterey Palace on Garvey?
The place was bright, spanking new and turned out to be an interesting shop.
As you enter you basically meet the BBQ, followed by a section which is set-up for steam table foods, a la Sam Woo, nothing surprising there. The interesting thing is a bit past the hot foods section is a poultry and meat set-up, with several different types of chicken, duck, even rabbit.
The first time we stopped by and bought the roast duck, I really enjoyed it.
It isn't as meaty as the duck from Lien Hoa, but the skin was nicely lacquered and the flavor of bean paste was forward without overwhelming everything.
We have been back two more times since. On the second visit, the skin of the duck was wrinkled and it was too fatty...signs that temperature control was poor. One the third visit, things were back ot how they were on our first visit.
For now, Monterey Palace has replaced Sam Woo in Alhambra as our "duck stop". I'm hoping that we've found our place for take-out roast duck for now.
One downside to the location is that as far as I can tell, there's only street parking. There are only three spaces on the street in front of the place....so in case you're being tailgated by some aggressive retard like I was and have to stop and park, you may have to deal with the half peace sign salute and screaming from an idiot who was trying to get around the other cars and probably didn't know or didn't care (probably the latter) that you could indeed park on the street in front of the place. I'd forgotten how wonderful drivers were in the SGV...thanks for the reminder, moron. I've found that the best defense in such a situation is to look at the person and give them a big smile...A BIG SMILE.....
Anyway, he had to wait until all the cars drove past to merge into traffic and I got my roast duck. Seems like I got the better of the whole deal, right?
Monterey Palace BBQ Fast Food 118 W Valley Blvd San Gabriel, CA 91776
During the homestretch of our trip to China, we returned to Beijing. Of course we had to have Bei Jing Kao Ya (北京烤鸭), aka Peking Duck. In doing my research, I'd come up with a short list which included the old favorite Quan Ju De and the very popular Da Dong. So what we did was poll the Missus' and my Mother In-Laws friends and acquaintances. It seemed an interesting divide, the older generation, more steeped in tradition told us to go to Quan Ju De established during the Qing Dynasty(1864) and long the gold standard for Peking Duck. The younger generation preferred Da Dong, lighter, less fatty, using more modern techniques. To make matters more difficult, there was the possibility of Bian Yi Fang, home of the other Beijing Kao Ya, also established(1855 or 1885) during the Qing Dynasty. The differences in the duck are vast, Quan Ju De makes what they call "hung-roast duck" where the duck is roasted in a wood burning oven fueled by, if I'm to be believed what I was told date wood. Bian Yi Fang makes "closed oven" or "braised" duck. In the end, after being told that, "If you intend to return to Beijing, I'd suggest Quan Ju De, it is considered the original and most famous. Next time, try whatever is most popular, be it Da Dong or whomever might take its place." Which made sense, plus the Missus had Her first Beijing Kao Ya at Quan Ju De and I thought this would be a nice touch to a day where we'd explore what was left of "Her" Beijing.
We took the bus over to the Tiananmen area and walked over to Quan Ju De. We arrived and were escorted up the elevator to the dining area, which was quite busy.
Our Server went over the whole, long-winded spiel about the age and heritage of the ducks served here....maybe even the family tree for all I know. At the end, the Missus ordered.
When our duck arrived we were handed a card with our duck's serial number and some information. I made sure to tell the Missus, "it's ok, only a number....if our duck had a name, we wouldn't be able to eat it."
Our duck arrived and was carved for serving......
I recall being amazed at the waves of rendered fat rolling off the duck as it was being carved. This was going to be one rich meal.....
We both loved the Tian Mian Jiang, also known as sweet bean paste, sweet noodle sauce, or plain sweet duck sauce. It's not hoisin, Tian Mian Jiang is more savory and much more salty than hoisin.
The pancakes for the duck were very thin, you could almost see through them and had a fine mild stretch.
You are of course, waiting for the duck photos, so here goes:
As is customary with this type of duck service, the meat was carved and placed on a plate. Slices of meat covered by skin. I gotta say, this wasn't the neatest presentation I've ever seen.
The really crisp skin was placed on another plate....this was really great stuff.
Crisp, yet light, after the first "crunch" it almost melts in your mouth. The rest of the duck was rather oily and a bit on the rich side, but the meat had a nice flavor to it.
We also each got a small bowl of bone soup, something the Missus usually really enjoys, but this one was too funky for Her, having a strong almost offal flavor.
I kinda liked it.....very thick, with a real "wild" flavor.
We also needed something with a nice crunch and a bit of bitterness to offset the rich duck so we went with some simple gai lan.
No big deal..... Overall, this was a mixed bag...not quite as good as expected, except for the crisp skin. The Dan Bing and Tian Mian Jiang were excellent.
As we finished our meal, the Server told us to go upstairs where we could see the ducks being prepped to roast. For me, this was actually the highlite of the meal.
The ducks were hung getting ready for the ovens which still burn fruit wood. A couple of years back there was a big uproar when Quan Ju De made the decision to go with electric burning ovens. The backlash was so bad that the decision was reversed and the chain still uses the wood burning ovens for roasting the ducks.
After lunch we got on another bus as the Missus tried to find our way to Her "roots" in Beijing. I've done earlier posts on the Missus and QingDao, where She spent Her childhood. The Missus ended going to high school in Beijing, so we set-off in search of the school, heading down streets turning into various hutongs. We first managed to find where my Father In-Law first taught in Beijing. Originally Furen University, formed by the Order of Saint Benedict, Furen eventually merged with Beijing Normal University. The Missus made sure to stop and take a couple of photos for Her father, telling me that this is one of the few places that looks almost the same as She recalled.
The Missus was able to gain Her bearings from the front of the university, leading me down the narrow alleyways of the hutong, along a path She walked everyday about 20 years ago. Her "compass memory" took over as we walked pass doorways and little shops, winding our way through the hutong, the Missus telling me that this was among the last bit of the Beijing of Her memory that still exists.
After one of the turns, She stopped in front of these gates.......
These were the dormitories, where the Missus lasted a whole week before moving back in with Her parents. Having room-mates just isn't Her thing. I sometimes marvel at still being in one piece after all these years......
After a couple of more streets, alleys, and turns we stopped in front of these gates.
This was Beijing High School number 13, Her high school. As the Missus looked past the gates, I read the sign that said this was the former residence of Prince Tao....
"You went to high school in a Prince's palace?"
"Yeah, I totally forgot....."
"Man, that's pretty neat, kind of cool....."
"Not really, I mean it wasn't important enough for me to remember...."
Just then we were jarred out of our reverie by the ringing of bicycle bells. A hoard of pedicabs came to a stop. Turns out that Prince Tao's Mansion, aka Beijing numer 13 High School is a stop on the "Hutong Tour".
For some reason, this tripped a wire and set off my somewhat weird sense of humor. I just found it funny in a odd way. Like your high school being a stop on a Hollywood Map tour kind of way...... I still chuckle when I think of it.....my wife went to high school in a former Prince's Palace that is a stop on the Hutong Tour....I know, you had to be there........
My Father In-Law thought it would be a great idea to have the Missus' visiting cousins a taste of an "American Thanksgiving" so he ordered the basic heat and eat Thanksgiving meal from Zippy's. My job was to provide "back-up" if you know what I mean. No offense against Zippy's or any other of the heat and catered Thanksgiving meals, but they really aren't known for great flavor and quality if you know what I mean. We weren't arriving until the wednesday afternoon before T-Day so making anything was pretty much out of the question. So I dug into my "black book" looking for something that might suffice. Several folks had recommended Nam Fong in Chinatown to me, so I called from San Diego and reserved a duck and some pork for Thanksgiving Day. Nam Fong opens pretty early which worked out well as I made a nice 530 am drive from Ewa Beach to the Chinese Cultural Plaza at the edge of Chinatown in downtown. Arriving at about 6am on Thanksgiving morning I was surprised at how busy things were. There was a large group doing Tai Chi on the plaza alongside the River Street Canal. Now those that know where Nam Fong is located may ask what the heck am I doing at the CCP? Well, I drove up extra early to hit up this place:
Man, it has been at least a dozen years since I'd been to Royal Kitchen. I remember first having a baked manapua from Royal Kitchen waaay back in the early 1980's! What is manapua? It's Hawaii's riff on the Char Siu Bao which I mentioned in my post about Char Hung Sut. Why is it called manapua? Depending on what source you get your info from it could come from Hawaiian phrase "mauna pua'a", which means "mountain of pork"......now what non-vegetarian could resist a mountain of pork, eh? Or perhaps it's from the phrase "mea ono pua'a" which means something along the lines of "delicious pork thing", "mea ono" could also be translated to mean "cake" and "pork cake" would be a apt description, right? Whatever the origin, it's all good. Royal Kitchen changes things around when they started making baked manapua, they then put it sidewards by replacing the pork mixture with a whole lup cheong (Chinese sausage - my favorite) and Chicken Curry. Stuff like Portuguese sausage and kalua pork came later.
The shop is tiny and sells noodles and Chinese Barbecue as well.
But of course, I was all about the manapua, still priced pretty well at $1.15 each. Three trips ago (circa 1999), I bought a couple of these to eat on the trip home from Honolulu. Unfortunately, we forgot the package in the rental car....man was I bummed. So to set things right, I bought a box of eight. I even called from San Diego to make sure they'd be open on Thanksgiving.
This time eating was top priority so no views of the fillings. I seem to recall the exterior to be a bit more baked. I've never considered the char siu version to be stellar and it's still not my favorite. This time around the kalua pork overtook the lup cheong and Portuguese Sausage. Who knows what will win out next time? I'm looking forward to that......
Royal Kitchen 100 N Beretania St, Ste 175 Honolulu, HI 96817
Mon-Fri 5:30 am - 4:30 pm Sat 6:30 am - 4:30 pm Sun 6:30 am - 2:30 pm
I packed my box in the car, walked along the canal, crossed the street, then down Maunakea Street, the heart of Chinatown. The area has been cleaned up over the years, but there are still homeless folks sleeping in the doorways and it's easy to imagine how the area must have been when the area was the entertainment district or during the post World War II era (remember all those stories about Club Hubba Hubba?) or even as I grew up in Honolulu.
I was told that Nam Fong would be opening earlier than usual and I found the place doing a steady business when I arrived at about 615am.
Though there are a couple of places doing Chinese BBQ along this stretch of road, the ducks in the window sure looked good.
The roast pork hanging inside the shop didn't look too shabby either! There was a makshift set-up with what looked like a dozen Chinese style roasted turkeys that looked really delicious. The woman working the counter was really friendly and my order was ready when I arrived.
Anyway here's the rundown, first off the Roast Pork wasn't bad, it was moist with good flavor, but too chewy and the skin hard.
I ended up chopping up most of it and doing a saute with vinegar, chilies, soy sauce, onions, and scallions a la sisig which turned out rather good.
The Char Siu was pretty good, most places here in San Diego make it really salty and overly sweet, pouring sauce over it to keep it moist. This was mildly sweet, but not salty and I could make out the flavor of the pork for once.
A whole roast duck here costs a very reasonable $16,and while the skin is not quite up there in terms of texture, this duck was very good, much better than anything we have in San Diego. You can just tell by the look of the meat in this photo......
The meat was very tender and moist, the flavor of the duck came through. Initially, even though I could make out a mild five spice-bean paste flavor, I thought the duck too mild. Until I poured some of the jus on the duck, which immediately brought all the flavors out. It was delici-yoso!!! Thanks to everyone who recommended this place to me!
I'd like to revisit on my next trip home to see if the duck is just as good....then I'll be able to make recommendations of my own.
Nam Fong Restaurant 1029 Maunakea St Honolulu, HI 96817
Mon-Sat 7 am - 4:30 pm Sun 7 am - 1 pm
One thing I realized as I drove back to Ewa Beach.....I really enjoyed these morning drives....on days when there was no morning traffic.
"Round and round up and down Through the streets of your town Everyday I make my way Through the streets of your town"
It's pretty much inevitable when I get to know someone, that one of the first items for discussion would be, "have anything good to eat lately". And such is the case with my Dry-Cleaner Lady, with whom I've shared recommendations and opinions over the years. One recent discussion was over Noble Chef. We both are of the opinion that many of the dishes were executed better before the previous owners retired. Although we both thought that as time passed the food there is getting better. The Dry Cleaner Lady told me that although the broth was pretty weak, the Hu Tieu with Shrimp Balls were pretty good. So during the recent rain and cold I decided to drop by and grab a bowl of Hu Tieu with Beef and Shrimp Balls:
And yes, the broth was decidedly bland, in need of help from the sweet-soy and other condiments. I'm used to a mild pork flavor broth for my Hu tieu soups.... this had almost no flavor. The Beef Meatballs were fairly "squeaky", and were also pretty weak. Those shrimp balls did have a nice shrimp flavor and were quite tender.
The rice noodles were prepared well, slippery with a mild chew to them.
Overall an ok bowl, but I don't think I'll be having this again due to the really watery broth.
The Noble Chef 6159 Balboa Avenue San Diego, CA 92111 (858)278-8688
On a recent jaunt to Thuan Phat Market to pick up some vegetables the Missus wanted for dinner, I decided to check out what was going on at Yum Cha Cafe. I think things have slowed down a bit, so now there's all manner of specials going on. One caught my attention right away.
Opening the box up, it looked like there was a head on collision of Chinese BBQ that fell on a mattress of rice. After playing a bit of Chinese BBQ CSI, I could make out what was what.
The best item was the roast chicken which was very moist and tender., even the white meat sections:
It had a nice mild lemon grass flavor.
The Roast Duck was also moist, fairly meaty, but lacking in flavor.
The skin was on the rubbery side. Overall, this was better than what I had before, but still not even close to top-notch.
The worst item overall was the BBQ Pork, tough and bland are not good when it comes to Char Siu.
The best item overall were the pickled vegetables, which were good, if on the sweet side. So could I recommend this? Well, if you were really hungry and had only five bucks.........this could be two meals.
Yum Cha Cafe 6933 Linda Vista Road San Diego, CA 92111
Roast Duck from Hong Kong BBQ and Dim Sum:
If you've read my previous post on this place you'll know that I've been less than pleased with what I've had here. But after a recent less than satisfying meal from Song Huong, I wandered through Vinh Hung Market and walked pass the Chinese BBQ, and the Roast Duck looked pretty good, so I decided to buy me half a duck.
Which ended up being pretty good, much better than what I've had before.
So perhaps I'll return to try some other items in the future.
Hong Kong BBQ & Dim Sum 10550 Camino Ruiz(Inside of Vinh Hung Market) San Diego, CA 92126
Postscript: With the left-over duck, I decided to make something. You see, I was still fuming from spending fifty bucks for a mediocre Peking Duck meal at Duck House in Monterey Park. I was especially disappointed in the stir-fried duck meat with bean sprouts which had no flavor at all. When I mentioned this to the Missus, She called me out and asked, "could you do better".......
Which is why I made this with the leftovers.
I used my 55,000 BTU Big Kahuna to revive and crisp up the duck meat. Added the bean sprouts, which if you've just bought a high BTU wok stove, is a great way to learn to use it. Flavored at the end with duck drippings and premium soy sauce......
*** Update 11/18, 0800 - The contest is closed....... there was only one person who guessed all six restaurant correctly. Congrats to Hao! The answers are all at the end of the post. And just for laughs I gave an eCup to the person who did the worst as well.
I haven't done one of these in a while....... I'll send a Peet's eCup to the first five folks who email(link upper right) me the correct guesses of the following revisits.
For the following three, list the dish and the restaurant:
1. This one is kinda hard, but not that hard......
Someone once mentioned lucious eyebrows.......
2.. This one is the easiest.
How about some drippy yolk porn......
3. This dish used to be much better when the restaurant was under previous ownership.....
But things have been getting better as the folks making the food have been gaining more experience.
For next three, you can just name the restaurant.
4. This "little little" place used to be in a different location.
5. I've never posted on exactly this dish, but guessing the restaurant should be pretty easy.
6. OK if you can't guess this one....... well, I'm not sure what to say.....
Easy, right? That's it, get those six and be one of the first five to email me the correct guesses and you'll get a Peet's eCup..... But let me ask you, are you a gambler? Would you go double or nothing? If you guess the name of this dish correctly, along with the previous six, I'll make it two eCups...... get it wrong, and you get nothin'(be accurate - as in what kind of meat etc, or the Chinese name would be even better)....... A couple of hints, it's not from a restaurant in San Diego, and it is delicious......
I'll let things go until the morning of 11/18
Just remember, send me the guesses via email, a valid email so if you're correct I can send youthe Peet's eCup. One guess per email address please.
OK, here are the answers:
#1 - It's Beef Sate Noodle "Dry" from Tan Ky Mi Gia.
I had gone to Barbecues Galore to try and purchase more Ono Kiawe Charcoal. I was told by the manager of BG, that a "well known" BBQ Manufacturer had bought the company and then took the charcoal off the market because it was competing with items in their product line. I'm not going further than that since I can't confirm this info. I may try purchasing the charcoal on the Ono Charcoal Website.
When we first moved to San Diego.......almost eight years ago today, we'd drop by Tom's BBQ for some roast duck every so often. Back then it was pretty darn good, excellent skin, nice balanced five-spice flavor, fairly tender meat. But over the next year or two, the place seemed to go South....the same folks, in the same looking shop, but the roast duck became rubbery, bland, and the roast pork was even worse. Over time, Tom's became a bit of an afterthought for us.....once when the Missus went to Panchita's Bakery next door, I remember telling Her, "it's been a real long time since we've been to Tom's, maybe we should see if the roast duck has regained form." Only to forget about that a few hours later. So......I guess a revisit to Tom's BBQ was way overdue.
Time hasn't been real good to ol' Tom, the interior, never the picture of spic n' span cleaniless, seemed coated with the residue of a thousand ducks, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The place is starting to look a bit worse for wear.
The prices at Tom's have always been good, and are still on the inexpensive side....except for the roast duck which now costs $18.50. A half duck goes for $9.50, the most expensive of all the take-out Chinese BBQ places in San Diego!
So of course I got a half roast duck:
The duck looked nice and juicy, and this version did not have "jus" poured all over it. Actually, this duck could have perhaps used some of the drippings, as it was fairly bland. The skin was flaccid and tough, as was the meat. In my opinion Cam Ky down the street is a better choice.
I also ordered a half pound of Char Siu (Chinese BBQ Pork - $3.50):
Having never tried the Char Siu, I quickly noticed that Tom's uses a minimal amount of red food coloring. The meat is very lean, and looks dry, but was better than I thought. It could be more moist, somewhat lacking in the umami and sweetness, but this was not bad.
The roast pork on the other hand (1/2 ln $4):
Was very dry, and bereft of flavor. The skin was hard, and not very good. Guess, what Da' Boyz had for dinner with their rice???
I can't help but wonder what happened to Tom's? I guess my next move is a revisit to Cam Ky, and perhaps another roast duck from Golden City(though technically not a Chinese BBQ joint). In the end, I can't help but wonder if perhaps I'm tilting at "roast duck windmills" in a Quixote-like quest for good roast duck in San Diego? Or maybe I should set my standards lower? Not very likely though........
Tom's Chinese BBQ 4414 University Ave San Diego, CA 92105