We'd always had a visit to Arashiyama on the books and on our last full day in Kyoto, we decided to head out early in the day. We ended up taking the rather fun Keifuku Tram Line to Arashiyama Station.
It was a slightly hazy, but beautiful day....the air so clean. We walked out of the station and headed down what looked like Arashiyama's main street. And walked over to the Togetsu-kyo Bridge.
We headed north alongside the picturesque Oi River and took a right along a rather random street.
It wasn't very crowded, so we just took in the sights a bit.
We headed out front, looking for the Bamboo Forest. I walked up to a traffic officer and asked for directions to the Bamboo Grove. In the typical Japanese way....he insisted on walking us most of the way there.
It was very pretty....but for some reason, I expected it to be a bit more grand.
I guess having grown up around various bamboo forests......
The place does take some really nice photos though.
Heading back down to the street, we found another entrance to Tenryū-ji. This is the garden area and is quite beautiful.
By now, we'd had enough for the morning and headed back to downtown Kyoto. We walked around a bit and decided to have lunch at a place I had specifically marked down. We'd really enjoyed Ippudo in Osaka and there just happened to be a location in downtown Kyoto.
Call us boring, but we'd enjoyed ourselves so much on our previous visit to the Osaka location that we basically got the same thing. The Shormaru Special, what I call a classic tonkotsu with chashu and egg. And of course, the Missus got Hakata Chikara Meshi, chashu rice and an onsen tamago.
The broth was nice and rich, but not oily nor too fatty. The flavor is rather delicate. The chashu was tender and nicely flavored, the noodles just perfectly al dente for my taste.
I gave the Missus my tamago....now that's love. And when She cut into it....well, we had a perfect "egg porn shot".
Our meal was the perfect foil for the cool autumn chill.
Feeling nice and warm, we headed on out to do some shopping. We found an underground passageway to Takashimaya Department Store.
Of course this lead right to B1 and the food floor.
We were wandering around the third floor of Takashimaya Department Store and I noticed this.....
Oh my....it was Din Tai Fung!
And there was no line.....
The Missus and I looked at each other......why not, right? We still had a bit of room in our bellies, so we went for a second, rather light lunch.
I was wondering just how good this was going to be. We got the pork and crab version of the Xiao Long Bao. When it arrived, it looked like the XLB on the left had leaked, but it had not. As for the wrappers....well just look at the classic "XLB hang". The wrapper were very nice, for some reason they seemed a bit thicker than the wrapper at DTF here in the states. I really couldn't complain about the amount of soup, nor the flavor (a bit too sweet for me), or the texture. This was pretty good. Much better than anything we have here in San Diego.
The Missus has got to have Her veggies, so we got some greens. Nice and simple, very mildly seasoned.
Din Tai Fung (Third Floor of Takashimaya Department Store) 52 Shincho, Shijo Kawaramachi-dori Nishi-iru Simogyo-ku, Kyoto 600-8001
I guess that's fun part of trips...you make basic plans, but leave time to wander and explore. You never know what you'll run into.
A couple of folks mentioned Mr Holy Gao to me....initially, I thought it was kind of a joke. Then "Jason" and "RD" commented on the place, looking at the location right across from Qualcomm, made it quite interesting.
So, a few weeks back I headed over on a weekend morning.
There was a large "Grand Opening" banner at the entrance to the parking lot....but it didn't really say for which business? I guess you just pick the shop that didn't have a sign up yet.
Based on the generic, rather clichéd décor I'm guessing this was an "ABC" establishment before?
It was a weekend morning and there were a bunch of "Chinese breakfast" items on the menu....but I saw the dishes coming out....which didn't look particularly inspiring, so I looked over the menu. There was a bunch of Sichuan dishes, but two items jumped out at me, so I ordered them.
The first was Sai Pang Xie ("Better than Crab" 賽螃蟹), a Jiangsu specialty that uses fish and egg whites to create a wonderfully creamy dish. Topped with black vinegar (just like you eat crab) and a nice dose of ginger....when you get a good version of that dish, it's quite heavenly.
This however, was not that. It wasn't terrible, but the eggs had been over-cooked and there was too much surimi in this, making it too "firm" for my liking. Not enough black vinegar and ginger made this a rather bland dish. The Missus still misses the version at the now defunct Best Taste of China. Though even there, it was a hit and miss dish. Kudos for having this on the menu though.
The other item was Tea Smoked Duck. I haven't found a decent version here in San Diego. So I ordered it.
I was surprised at the flavor, which was quite good. Nice seasoning, smokey, just enough salt. All of which made up for the rather rubbery skin. I took most of this home and the Missus enjoyed it. Though not enough to make Her want to accompany me back to the "Holy Gao". Oh, and I asked the Missus what the name of the place meant in Chinese and got told, "don't worry about it....you wouldn't understand....."
Which meant that I had to talk Calvin into joining me; which wasn't hard. I guess during the weekday, there are prepared lunches and what looked like Baozi for sale at what I initially thought was an oddly placed steam table.
So the drill usually is; I'll pick two dishes and Calvin picks two.....I have the right to veto, though. They were out of Tea Smoked Duck on this visit, so I went with the Pork Intestine with Dried Chilies.
This was easily the best dish of he day. While perhaps a tad over-fried, it was crisp, yet mildly chewy. More "ma" (numbing) than "la" (spicy), and definitely not bland. It also seemed a bit high on the msg side, but not disturbingly so. Nice dish.
I was thinking of getting the classic Shui Zhu Yu, but went with the Dou Fu Shao Yu (豆腐烧鱼). Usually a bit less spicy than the fish in hot sauce, when done right it's a symphony of textures. The tofu and the fish playing off each other in a bath of spicy sauce.
Loved the tofu in this; the fish, in terms of flavor was fine, no muddiness here. The "velveting" of the fish was a bit off tough, leaving us with rather gummy fish. The sauce wasn't very spicy at all and I would have appreciated more savory touches of doubian (spicy bean paste), ginger, and even salt.
Calvin loves lamb so he went with the Zi Ran Yang Rou - cumin lamb. I think you can tell how this was just by the look.
A bit too tough and not enough cumin. And strangely lacking salt?
He also ordered the Dry Fried Green Beans.
In spite of preferring my Gan Bian Si Ji Dou with beans a bit more puckery, this was pretty close. It did need more savory tones though as other than the garlic, this came through as being pretty plain in flavor. Add a bit more soy sauce or even the traditional preserved vegetable and this would be a decent version.
Another thing Calvin and I noticed....the rice here is not very good. It has a rather odd gummy texture....like it's been reheated multiple times?
After this, I gave the place a rest for a couple of weeks....but I wanted to get that Tea Smoked Duck for the Missus. So I returned on a recent weekend....to find that "Da' Gao" now has a real sign.
There's one really nice and friendly Server here. I think She gets a kick out of the fact that I can order some of the dishes (albiet terribly) in Chinese. So on this day, I ordered the classic Sichuan La Zhi Ji (辣子鸡) - Chicken with Chilies.
I liked that while this was perhaps a bit over-battered, the pieces were nice and crisp. Some were a bit too large and ponderous, but that's splitting hairs. This version uses dark meat, which is much more moist. Much like the intestine dish I had earlier, this could have used much more spice, though it was decently numbing. A decent rendition of this dish, though I'm used to having much more dried chilies which helps to bring up the heat of the dish.
And of course, this time they had the Tea Smoked Duck.
And while this time around, it was a bit drier, the skin was nice and crisp and the flavor was as good as before.
The really friendly Server dropped this by my table telling me "you try....you try".
I'm sure the folks in the area are happy to have a place like Mr Holy Gao nearby. In fact, there's not really much in terms of non-fast/ABC Chinese food in the area if I recall. So it really fills a need. I'm sure there are some dishes on the menu that I haven't tried....that menu is pretty large. We're not talking Chengdu Taste or anything like that here, but I thought some of the dishes were not bad. I'll probably roll around back here again in a few months.
Mr. Holy Gao 10066 Pacific Heights Blvd San Diego, CA 92121 Open Daily - 11am - 930pm
Post Script - I've heard that Szechuan Chef has improved. Anyone been there recently?
Ed (from Yuma) writes about three spots in San Diego today. Kirk or Cathy will be writing about who knows what tomorrow. That's the way mmm-yoso!!! rolls.
These restaurants have been written about here previously, so I just wanted to touch on a few highlights.
Prime – I had a lunch at Prime Grill (website) featuring dolsit bi bim bap:
It was okay though my stone bowl didn't crisp up the rice very well, unlike Kirk's experience.
The eight ban chan items ranged from good to excellent. The squash was perfectly cooked and lightly seasoned:
Some broccoli I forgot to photograph was nicely highlighted with a tangy red sauce. And I have no idea what this earthy, slightly sweet and slightly woody vegetable is, but I liked it:
And of course the kimchi was outstanding:
I always used to wonder why some Korean restaurants served kimchi that was not as good as what I could buy in a jar in a Korean market. Prime’s is more complex and much better. I also enjoyed the metal teapot and cup:
Prime Grill, 4620 Convoy, Ste A, San Diego 92111, (858) 277-0800
Golden City – it had been many years since my last visit, but this venerable Chinese restaurant (website) on Clairemont Mesa Blvd is a longtime favorite of Kirk and Cathy. Memory is a tricky thing, but the interior seems more modern and appealing than it used to be:
Talk about an extensive menu; here, actually, three menus:
Of course I had half of a kwai fei chicken:
Cold, intensely flavored, and very tasty. The bone splinters were the only unappealing part of the bird. Most of this went back to the room and the ice chest. Great for munchies.
Off the monthly specials menu, I ordered steamed fish and pumpkin in black bean sauce:
Except for being far too much food, this was wonderful. The fish was fall apart tender and fresh flavored. Its natural sweetness was complemented by the sweetness of the orange squash and contrasted by the savory umami of the black bean sauce.
Golden City Restaurant, 5375 Kearny Villa Rd., San Diego 92123, (858) 565-6682
Kokoro – Tina and I really enjoyed our omakase here back in December, so it was my splurge dinner on my visit. I told Akio-san I was in the mood for some sashimi and some sushi – whatever he thought I would like – and I assured him I eat everything. Here is the sashimi platter:
The scallops seemed better this time, but the "like red snapper" fish at the front of the platter was outstanding, rich and chewy. The Santa Barbara uni also excellent.
The eight pieces of sushi, served one by one, were very good. The highlights: This black snapper was attractive and had a nice firm mouth feel:
The toro was rich and tender as expected:
The hirame arrived with just a sprinkling of rock salt as did this wonderful plump oyster:
In both cases, the salt instead of shoyu emphasized the clean flavors of the seafood and the sweet/tangy flavors of the sushi rice.
But the number one highlight of the evening was this:
Alaskan cod ovaries served slightly warm. Rich creamy fecundity, even more decadent than uni, sinfully delicious.
I don't usually discuss restrooms, but I was moved by the Ansell Adams poster on the wall:
It is sad to think about our government rounding people up, taking them from their homes, and putting them in camps.
Kokoro, 3298 Greyling Dr. Ste. B, San Diego, CA 92123, (858) 565-4113 (website)
I waited a couple of weeks.....but if there was any month that was just perfect for hot pot, it was this past February. On a rather chilly day, I headed over to Tasty Pot. And was surprised to see one of the "guys" from Village North! We saw each other and cracked up....apparently, he is a good friend of VN's owner and will help out when necessary. The young lady serving me on this day was really very nice as well.
And they also had one of my favorite hot pot condiments....fermented bean curd.
The menu boasts "combos" for lunch and dinner. Numbers 1-8 is $11.99 for lunch and $12.99 for dinner. Number 9 - 12 is $14.99 for lunch and $15.99 for dinner. And comes with rice or glass noodles and iced tea (unfortunately only sweetened) for lunch.
I went with the Taiwanese Supreme Spicy ($14.99) at medium spicy. These hot pots come loaded with stuff.
As you would imagine, this is more about quantity, but you can't say you're not getting variety. Which ranged from "meh", the clams were hard as rock and kind of messy, surimi, cuttlefish rings like rubber, to decent, the fried tofu puffs, the pork, which was sliced nicely thin, but had no flavor. I enjoyed the bean curd, the blood cake, and the tendon the most.
Overall, you couldn't complain about the portion size, there was no way I could finish all of this. I ended up taking leftovers home, but not until the really nice young woman partially refilled my broth! How nice. I do think the overall flavor while decent, didn't have a good a "ma-la" as what I had at Boiling Passion....though it's hard to argue with the portion size and variety at Tasty Pot.
On one rather rainy day, Calvin and I headed back to Tasty Pot.
Calvin decided to get the Stinky Tofu version ($11.99). Man, that intestine was delicious.
This was scaldingly hot, though not too spicy, and mild in flavor....until I dumped a good amount of fermented bean curd into it. The very thinly sliced lamb was very tender, but didn't have the gameyness associated with good lamb that I enjoy. As with most hot pots, it's those bean curd products I enjoy, along with mushroom and this was no exception.
Again, really generous portions....it's nice and warming on a cold day, the service was very nice. Like Boiling Passion, I'm not sure if I'll be a regular customer, but this wasn't bad at all.
Here's a couple a of places I passed on my way to and from work and one that I had intended to check out, but had already closed.
Okan Diner Replacing Izakaya Kanpai:
Driving home down Clairemont Mesa Boulevard, I noticed that the signage for Izakaya Kanpai had changed. I took a closer look and to my surprise; it said....Okan Diner!
I guess Okan's Empire is expanding yet again. So now it'll be a threesome, with the original Okan (Mom), Oton (Dad), wouldn't it be funny if they named this shop "Bozu"?
Be interesting to see what the menu's going to be like.
With Havana Grill and Private Kitchens opening in the last two years; the complexion of this strip sure has changed. I'm sure that the parking situation will probably become a bit tenuous as well.
5430 Clairemont Mesa Blvd San Diego, CA 92117
Gourmet City Changes Ownership:
The sun is rising a bit earlier these days. And on my typical 6am drive to work, I noticed a new Grand Opening sign on Gourmet City.
My sources tell me they now serve Cantonese fare in addition to the previous menu.
5541 Clairemont Mesa Blvd San Diego, CA 92117
Pho 87 Opening Soon:
A few weeks back, the Missus wanted me to pick something up from Northgate Market. I ended up having breakfast at Café Dore (post upcoming). On my way back home I noticed that the signage for Pho & Banh Cuon Ha Long Restaurant had changed to Pho Huong Viet. And while my sources told me it was still under the same ownership, I made a mental note to check them out. Having to make a return trip to Northgate Market, I turned into the parking lot at the corner of 54th and University.
And found that the place was being renovated. The sign on the door said "Pho 87 Noodle House. Coming soon in 2 weeks."
In my post mentioning that Great Wow looked shuttered; "GT" mentioned the Hillcrest spot, which I posted on back in November. At that time it seemed to me like Wow was expanding....after all, this spot seemed maybe one-third the size of the Convoy location. This weekend, I had to pick something up in Hillcrest for the Missus, so I went to check the place out.
Well whaddya know; the place had opened. In need of some lunch, I decided to check the place out.
They've really packed it in here! The tables and chairs looked exactly the same as the restaurant had on Convoy.
There's a small bar area here as well. The really nice young man manning the front told me that right now; "it's happy hour all day"!
The current menu looks quite temporary; a bunch of stapled together pages with photos......there were only three varieties of jiaozi available, 1 vegetarian, 2 with shrimp.
While looking thru things the older gentleman dropped by this for me.....
Man, when had I last seen this in San Diego? Seven Layer Meat Cake. Basically layers of thin scallion bread with a light sprinkling of seasoned, ground meat between the layers. The flavors were pretty good, on the rich side. Enjoyed the crispness, but this looked a bit over-cooked and was the exterior was on the hard side instead of crisp. Nice try though.
My hot tea arrived; which helped to balance out all that richness.
I went ahead and placed an order for the Shrimp and Chive dumplings.
And this was brought to my table. Wow; a Xian Bing!
This was deeply browned, but was nice and crisp with a light chewiness. Not a big fan of the filling though, it was just rather bland.
Meanwhile, since I was the only customer in the place, the nice young man dropped by and we had a nice chat. It seems that they've bought into the Trinitea franchise at this location. They are paring down the menu while trying some new items. I did mention how much we enjoy the radish version of Xian Bing; like we've had Beijing Pie House, though I'm not sure how that would go here in Hillcrest. They are trying a few more vegetarian options.
I had noticed that they were making my jiaozi to order....very nice.
I finally broached the question about the Convoy location and was told that yes, that shop is indeed closed. It is going to be (yet another) a hot pot restaurant.
Meanwhile, yet another sample....a hot and sour soup was brought to my table.
Man, I was getting full just eating samples!
I didn't think I'd be able to finish my Shrimp and Chive Jiaozi.
So, how did these measure up? The wrappers were a bit thicker and had less chew to them than I recalled. Very plump and moist....super moist. Like the Shrimp, Pork, and chive I had at Convoy, the chive flavor came through quite well, but the filling was quite salty.
Still, not bad.
I'm still wondering how Hillcrest is going to do with Xian Bing, Jiaozi, and items like that. I'm hoping they give them a try. The Trinitea take out window was doing good business though.
Trinitea & Great Wow 3865 5th Ave San Diego, CA 92103
I decided to visit when the weather was running on the cold side. The place had just opened their doors and I was curious.
Man, they've gone full bore with the wood paneling thing.
Though the light fixtures and the chairs are the same, the table tops look a bit different. There's now a noodle/dumpling making booth in the back corner, though I never saw anyone amking either on any of my visits.
Being a bit chilly; I decided on the Lamb Hand Ripped Noodles ($8.99).
Like Kirbie, I thought the noodles were quite good, a bit of spring to them, good chew, very nice texture all around. The lamb was decent, on the chewy side, and only fairly gamey. For some reason, I didn't enjoy the cabbage in this soup, which was perfectly scalding hot! The broth also had too much white pepper in it, causing it to be too bitter for me.
This was decent, the portion size generous....at least in terms of noodles and soup. So I returned a few days later with Calvin in tow. I'd first introduced him to Yang Rou Pao Mo at Xi'an Kitchen. Turned out he loved it. So he was eager to try out Noodle Hut.
While looking at the menu; Calvin noted that it really did resemble that of Xi'an Kitchen with a few exceptions.
We started with the Preserved Eggs and Tofu a bargain at $4.99.
While not as good as the version we had at Shan Xi Magic Kitchen, this was still decent. The tofu had been adequately drained, the earth-sulfuric tones of the pidan, matched with the scallions and Peppercorn Oil was vey nice. The tofu added a refreshing layer to the dish. I'd been trying to get the Missus to try this at Shan Xi Magic Kitchen, but She wasn't interested. Last time I went, they didn't have it on the menu. I took the leftovers home and the Missus really enjoyed it........go figure....when will She trust my taste?
Of course we got the Yang Rou Pao Mo ($8.99).
Aside from the waxy, totally wrong bread (hopefully one day they'll get it right here in the states), which I've gotten used to; there were some hard pieces. The broth was too watery and bland. The lamb was nice and tender, but like the broth really lacked the "skatolic" barnyard essense that makes this dish so rich and hearty.
We asked the young lady for a recommendation and she suggested the Spicy Chicken Soup...so to her surprise we ordered the Szechuan "Pork Gut Soup in Casserole" ($10.99)
While there wasn't much intestine in this soup, and what there was didn't seemed to be prepared very well, it sure was spicy....though on the thin side and we both missed the "ma" (numbing) sensation that we enjoy from Sichuan type dishes like this. Again for eleven bucks, the portion size was quite generous.
And so, this would basically be it. Except for all the long days I've been working. At the end of one particularly long day, I told the Missus that I wasn't up to the task of making dinner....so She requested that Pidan and Tofu dish. Take-out on the way home.
The portion size was well worth the $4.99.......until I opened my big fat mouth and said that we could do better just making this ourselves. Sigh. So now it's organic tofu, preserved egg, scallions from the yard, and Sichuan Peppercorn Oil at home.
I also ordered the Cumin Lamb.
Man, this was a good sized portion. Though for my taste, there wasn't enough cumin, nor enough flavor overall. The lamb was thick sliced and rather tough. Thin sliced onion is a nice addition, but the red and green bell peppers seemed like filler. I also missed cilantro in this as well. This was more quantity over quality for me.
Which kind of describes Noodle Hut. I think most folks prefer that. Sorry to say; that's not our preference. Though I'm thinking I need to try the jiaozi here. One of these days.
I had been wondering what was going on with Dumpling Hut since they closed for a spell. While keeping the Dumpling Hut moniker, the Chinese "name" had changed. The folks at Sizzling Pot King told me they had changed owners, but I hadn't seen any change of ownership notice. Still, even though my meals at Dumpling Hut left something to be desired, I was still curious, so I returned soon after they reopened.
Man, they've really....really, brightened up the place.
Though looking around a bit you notice some interesting "features".....
The place was really quiet when I visited. I was the only customer....during my entire meal.
I got to thinking that I'm probably the wrong "demographic" when my water arrived....with a twisted straw.
As for what to order, well, the "new" Chinese name had clay pot in it.....
So deciding to play it safe, I ordered the Pork Chop Rice Clay Pot ($11.50). The young man working recommended getting it "spicy". It came out in a donabe style pot.....which I've seen at Daiso for four bucks....in case you want one.
So, not quite "pork chop", more like spareribs, very tough, very salty, very one dimensional in flavor. The best item was the over cooked boiled egg. The broccoli was basically a garnish as it wasn't seasoned at all. The rice was fine; I think I would have preferred the "regular" as this was basically chili oil on rice; it was very greasy, one-dimensional spicy, some anise, and not much else. A lot of rice though.
Well, perhaps these were new owners, but the end result of my meal was the same.......
It was interesting though, Calvin was kind of interested in the place. And one day, (it was Tuesday) we went to Village North which was closed. So Calvin, JohnF, and I headed on over to Dumpling Hut.
Like my previous visit, we were the only folks in the place for the entire meal. I'm thinking this place is targeting a younger demographic after more snack like food and drinks.
We started with the Shenjian Bao ($7.99).
Liked the nicely brown and crisp bottoms of the buns. The texture of the tops were gummy, chewy, and these didn't seemed like they were steamed right. The pork filling wasn't moist enough and was pretty darn bland.
Next up was the "Guotie", I put that in quotes. So these Pork "Potstickers" ($8.99).
Good lord, basically a wrapper enrobing ground pork, then put into a pan and cooked like basic pot stickers. This reminded me of stuff you'd have from the frozen food aisle. I mean, I really didn't expect, say QingDao Guotie, but this was worse than what I'd had here before. Greasy, too chewy, not good eats at all....
The best item we had was the Spicy Tripe Hot Pot ($8.99).
Not very much tripe in this one; but it was prepared decently; perhaps a bit too hard, but properly cleaned. The broth, while rather singularly spicy, with no numbing tones, looked to be bone broth based.
It was back to the "the norm" with the next item. Calvin grew up in the SGV, a mere short walk from 101 Noodle Express....so of course we had to try the Niu Rou Chuan; the Beef Roll ($6.99), which was just plain tragic.
Very dry, not pan fried enough, with a cardboard like texture; the "da bing" was terrible. What's with the lettuce? Smeared with standard issue hoisin, the thin piece of beef was fine...what there was of it.
Check out the "photo" of the beef roll in the front of the restaurant. Does not even look like the same dish.
And to add insult to injury; we liked the look of the Sam Sun Dumplings on the window.
This is what we got ($11.50).
These were very unsatisfactory; the wrappers were too hard and seemed to be typical store bought wrappers. The 1/3 piece of shrimp was fine, but this was underflavored. definitely not what I expected from a place like this....well based on the meal, I should have expected this.
I think this visit was worse than my previous visits under the "previous management". The food was quite underwhelming. I probably won't be going back.
Dumpling Hut 8046 Clairemont Mesa Blvd San Diego, CA 92111
Except for some additional decorative lamps and paintings of Biàn Liǎn, those "face changing" masks, the place looks the same as on my last visit. Though, those masks are usually found in Sichuan.....so maybe they were just leftover from the previous restaurant?
Speaking of Sichuan....the menu has a mixture of Sichuan, Hunan, some oddball dishes like Lion's Head Meatballs and Egg Foo Young (?!?), and a whole column of totally "ABCDE" (American-Born-Chinese-Dining-Establishment) dishes.
Go figure. There's one soft-spoken, sweet young lady who works here, but everyone....I counted a total of 9 staff on one of my visits is very nice.
On my first visit; a solo affair, I waned two dishes. I went down looking for typical Hunan dishes and they were out of just about everything. I did get something with La Rou. Though it wasn't my favorite La Rou with Suan Do (or even the three smoked meats - La Wei He Zheng ) which is on the menu, but a version with dried bamboo shoots.
In terms of flavor this was much better than what I've had from Village Kitchen. And while some of the pork was on the chewy side, the flavor was spot on; smoky-salty, the rehydrated bamboo crunchy. Peasant food, I took this home and it reminded the Missus of Her grandparents in Hunan.....a bit of salty, slightly spicy La Rou with a lot of rice. The spice level left something to be desired....though we tend to enjoy the heat level at places like Hunan Chilli King.
So I had worked my way through some of the dishes and struck out; so the nice young lady told me to order something called "Pork Belly w/ Preserved Napa in Brown Sauce" ($11.65). Not sure what this was going to be; I chuckled when it arrived at the table....it was Mei Cai Kou Rou; which, correct me if I'm wrong, is more of Hakka dish.
There was one thing fairly true to the Hunan taste. This lacked any sweetness at all. Not much saltiness either....just kind of bland and the mei cai was too hard a chewy. The pork belly had been done decently, it was "chopstick tender", but this was quite bland for my taste. I thought that even Facing East made a superior version of this dish.
Anyway, I took the Smoked Pork dish home and the Missus really enjoyed the left-overs, so not feeling like cooking one evening, we headed back. Looking over the menu for dishes we struck out again. The Missus wanted some Liang Cai - cold dishes, and it was no Bueno; no pork ear, chicken feet, duck tongue....so we ended up with a total routine Bean Curd Skin.
Basically bean curd skin, nice and crunchy, in a decent Chili Peppercorn Oil. Though this tasted like something I'd make at home.
We tried to order the La Rou with Dry Beans again, but still no Bueno and got the version with bamboo, which ironically, is not on the menu.
We wanted a vegetable dish, but after trying a couple of items from the menu that wasn't available; we got the Leek with Shredded Lotus Root ($8.65).
We both enjoyed this simple dish; the lotus root nice and crunchy, though the pungent chives gives the Missus heartburn. I'll probably end up making something similar at home in the near future.
One weekend afternoon, needing a late lunch; like 230pm, Village North was closed so we decided to head back to Beauty Hunan. Where we tried for the Smoke Pork with Dry Beans again....and again ended up with the version with Dried Bamboo, which the Missus enjoyed anyway.
Looking at the menu, I noticed something called "Preserved Egg and Eggplant with Jalapeno" ($11.65). I asked the Missus and She said that yes indeed, this is the same dish that we enjoy at Village Kitchen. Hmmm....I'm wondering.....
This was a fairly large portion size, and while spicier than the version at Village Kitchen, it is not as well executed. Not nearly as creamy, some of the pieces of eggplant were huge and not as tender, and without that nice earthiness of the eggplant and light sulfuric touch of the preserved egg.
Pretty much at a lost, we decided to just get the Dry Cooked Pork Intestine ($12.65) which was much to salty and not very spicy.
The intestine was not cleaned very well and was too rubbery and we did without a doubt miss the "ma" (numbing) sensation of the Sichuan version of this dish. We did enjoy the Chinese celery in this, but that's about it.
So, I'm not sure if or when Beauty Hunan will have it's full on menu. right now it's a "one-trick-pony" for us. The customer demographic is kind of interesting; a lot of guys ordering the "ABC" dishes during my lunch visits, interspersed with young folk ordering stuff like the Dry Pot items. We thought the service was nice, not perfect, but really nice young folk. I'm not sure when I'll be back for a full meal....though I think the Missus is going to want the La Rou from here.....in whatever form the have it.
Beauty Hunan Restaurant 8199 Clairemont Mesa Blvd San Diego, CA 92111
Almost two months since I first visited Village North, it remains a somewhat quirky enigma. I've visited and they've been closed....seems they are closed on Tuesdays. They don't have hours formally posted.....just scribbled on the portable grease board. And what's with the "Soft Opening" sign still up? I asked if they were still in their soft opening period and got an interesting answer; seems that their permanent sign hasn't arrived yet....so they are still air quotes, in "soft opening" mode.
Still, I really like the young folks who work here....they are friendly and very nice. And the décor is no shrinking violet; though the Chinese Rap music can be a bit much and there was the time one of the guys was on the small stage trying out VR gear.
After having me pick-up the Suan Cai Hot Pot to go a couple of times, the Missus finally decided we should drop by for dinner.
Which turned out to be a nice meal. This time we ordered the Stir Fried Version of Suan Cai and Pork; simply called "Sour Cabbage" ($12.99) on the menu.
Man, this was good. The textures and seasoning; with garlic and star anise was just the way the Missus likes this dish. It was pleasantly slightly gooey and comforting. These guys really know how to stir fry. The Missus had a new second favorite.
I say second favorite because She really enjoyed the Pork Intestines in Dry Pot ($12.99).
I really hesitated in ordering any Sichuan here; but man, this was really good. Every ingredient had been nicely prepped and seasoned separately. The intestine had been expertly cleaned and even had that inner "fatty" layer. I've never had them ask me "how spicy" here; something I like and respect. This was nicely "ma-la". The Missus immediately said that this was a level above Sizzling Pot King in prep and execution. I've now had this a couple of times with other folks and they all agree; this version is quite good.
Lily and I decided to take "YZ" out for a celebratory lunch and they (as usual) let me pick. My choice....Village North. We had some of the usual suspects; but also ordered a couple of more traditional Dongbei style dishes. Starting with one of the classic dishes; Dongbei La Pi; mung bean sheets in sort of a salad, Multicolor Clear Noodle ($11.99) on the menu.
Again very nice prep; everything from the thinly sliced vegetables to the pork and egg was seasoned separately. The dressing; a sesame paste black vinegar concoction; with a touch of wasabi tasted like a lighter version of what I make at home; though without as much sesame paste. It's a nice combination of nutty-sour-sweet. Pretty good overall; this will go well during hotter weather.
We also tried something simply called "Stewed Assorted Delicacies" ($18.99 - 农家一锅鲜) on the menu.
Basically a dish of stewed/braised pork ribs; which is then stir fried with corn, potatoes, and green bell peppers. This wasn't very good; it was basically too salty; the pork ribs were on the tough side. The best items were the corn and potatoes.
Still we'd had some of the other dishes and both Lily and "YZ" really enjoyed things....especially the suan cai.
Hearing that this place had the Missus's approval; my "Food Gang" decided we should have dinner here. We ordered a bunch of stuff I'd had from previous meals; the suan cai, intestine dry pot, guo bao rou, di san Xian, and a couple of new ones. Our young server recommended something simply called "Flank Steak" ($15.99) on the menu. It arrived looking all the world like Chinese Black Pepper Beef.
The was another winner. The beef wasn't tender per se; it was toothsome without being tough, with a nice display of the stir fry skills, which in this case seems to be velveting.
We also ordered some chuan'r (skewers), which were fairly sub-par.
The lamb really needed much more cumin....the mantou....was topped with sugar...if this were Beijing; I think it would be brushed with a sweet bean sauce. I know this is what Xiāngjiāo was hoping for. Alas, it was not to be.
During one of my take-out visits; the really nice young man who works here named "Victor" told me his favorite item on the menu was the Fried Shrimp with Dried Red Pepper ($14.99). So when I recently dropped by for lunch; I ordered it.
This was pretty good; crunchy shells, the whole numbing-hot ("ma-la") thing going on. Nicely prepared....like I said...these guys do real well with a wok.
Though in terms of seasoning; the Zi Ran Yang Rou - Cumin Lamb ($14.99) left much to be desired in terms of cumin-spicy-salty tones.
So, in the end, we have a nice new option. I'm still not quite sure of everything on the menu.......but perhaps that's the fun of exploring. I think there are dishes on the menu to entice the beer-drinking, young crowd.....but then again, there's some serious cooking skills on display with some of the dishes.