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.
Some Chinese food for you. One place new, the other has been around for a while.
Tasty Noodle House:
So, since the place first opened up at the beginning of September, fellow esteemed food bloggers like Jinxi, Faye, and Kirbie have all rotated through TNH.....and the results have been a bit mixed; especially with regards to the SJB. My good buddy Candice has gone a few times as well. So I thought it time that I rotate through and see what's going on.
So with coworker Calvin in tow, we went for an early lunch. Funny thing, our Server wasn't Chinese and couldn't pronounce any of the dishes, but was really very nice and tried real hard.
I thought the Chao Nian Gao on Kirbie's and Jinxi's post looked pretty good. So I ordered it.
I like this prep because there are subtle indications of the chef's skill in terms of handling the wok and seasoning. The flavor is usually nice and mild so there a nice balance between the slightly bitter vegetable - Jì Cài (薺菜 - Shepherd's Purse) comes through, usually with a touch of sesame oil. The rice cakes were a bit under done and on the hard side, but this wasn't bad at all. I think the version at Chef Zhu is better.
I like the version here because it's not timid, the wine flavor is upfront and strong. Most folks I know don't care for this cold chicken dish. Personally, I enjoy the bracing flavor.
This time around I decided to go with the crab and pork Xiao Long Bao.....
I'm pretty much done with the XLB here. This wasn't very good. The filling was too hard; there was a leakage problem, and the XLB that hadn't leaked had too little soup.
Calvin is a growing boy, so I needed to order something filling and went with the Mei Cai Kou Rou (steamed pork belly with preserved vegetable)....I know; it's a Hakka dish and the menu here leans toward the Hu Cai (Shanghai Cuisine) - Su Cai (Jiangsu Cuisine) style dishes. I thought the Hong Shao Rou I had on my previous visit wasn't cooked properly and was a bit under flavored so I thought we'd give this a try.
This wasn't very good. The pork was fairly hard and strangely dry, the preserved vegetable had no flavor, and the dish was spoiled by too much sesame oil which was basically the only thing you could taste.
Service, as on my previous visits was very nice. I was told that they do a decent chou doufu (stinky tofu) dish and that the Xun Yu ("cold smoked fish") is worth a try as well, so I'll probably return in the near future.
Tasty Noodle House 4646 Convoy St San Diego, CA 92111
*** Dedes' has closed
It has been a while since I'd really had a meal at Dede's. I had dropped by about a year and a half ago and had a terrible version of Liang Mian (Cold Noodles). But it had been a good long while since I've really had a meal here. Lunch was with two of my favorite people; Reza and Lily, so we got to try a bunch of different dishes.
The Liang Cai (cold dishes) was nothing short of terrible.
The cucumber really lacked flavor and the fu qi fei pian was tough and dry, the flavor bitter from chilies that seemed to have been burnt, not scalded. It had no "ma", numbing effect, as in there was a lack of Sichuan Peppercorns, nor was there any depth of flavor from say, a dash of black vinegar....
The Fish with Pickled Peppers was ok.
It wasn't particularly spicy and the broth seemed to have a rather strong poultry flavor. The fish was tender, but also a bit gummy; perhaps from using too much cornstarch during the marinade process.
So how was this years later? There are a lot more onions and the meat is lower grade and a bit tougher now. The flavor of the cumin was good, but I think this needed a bit more salt and I like a bit of garlic in mine as well. Not quite as good as I recalled.
We also got the Fried Intestine with Chilies.
This was actually a decent dish; the intestines were nicely prepped and fried; very crisp. The dish was not oily at all. Sadly, there wasn't enough Sichuan Peppercorn in this as well, making it seem quite incomplete in terms of flavor.
So there I was, Dumpling Hut had just opened and I walked in.
A few things became quickly apparent. First, these folks were very nice, unlike another recently opened shop who just seemed to want to do as little as possible for you, the folks here were just plain nice. Second, there's not much English here, something I kind of appreciate. Third, I don't think these folks have any restaurant experience at all. There were four tables of customers when I arrived and two parties came after me. I saw forgotten place settings, bowls, people seated with no menus for like 10 minutes, food sitting around....well when food did come out. My order actually took 40 minutes to arrive. Everyone, including the folks who came after me got served first.....I'm pretty sure the folks who came after me got my Guo Bu Li Baozi, you know, the stuffed buns that "even dogs would not eat". Something that was on that sign I saw back in May. I love all the styles of Tianjin Baozi....except this one particular model.
On the menu as Steamed Pork Buns ($4.99), these, like much of the menu is pretty well priced. I'm pretty sure there was something going on with the steam process on this day as the parts of the bun were hard, as was the filling; two of which had pieces of bone in them. The flavor was pretty bland as well.
I also ordered the Pork and Celery Dumplings ($6.99).
I could tell that this place has potential; the wrappers were nicely made, though on the thick side had that tender, yet mildly toothsome texture, that I love in jiaozi. However, were some problems; the filling was on the bland side, I know, jiaozi is fairly mild in flavor, but these are bland. The filling is too hard. I'm not expecting them to stir the filling with chopsticks for two hours like the Missus's Fifth Aunt did in Qingdao, but I expected better. Also, notice the scum on top of the jiaozi; one of the dumplings had a leak and the scum had coated some of the jiaozi. Poor quality control, as was the pool of water on the plate, these weren't drained well enough. Still, these were better than MyungIn which made them significantly better than Dumpling Inn.
As for the service glitches? Well, I gave them a pass. It was only their second day of business.
Still, some of my friends were excited; especially those who had gone to high school and college in China...there was Jianbing Guozi on the menu. And yet, those that I saw coming out didn't look inspiring. Which is why I discouraged Xiāngjiāo from ordering it when she, Candice, and myself had lunch here two days later. On my first visit; I had run into a good friend's dad. On this visit, I ran into Faye! You can read her post about Dumpling Hut here. Nice seeing you Faye, though I didn't recognize you at first!
Again with the glitches, not enough chopsticks, no napkins, where's our bowls, one menu for the whole table.
We started with the Northern version of Sheng Jian Bao (Pan Fried Bun - $5.99)
This does look like the Northern version of SJB, much like what my MIL makes. It does have a bit of "soup" in it, if a bit too tough, but the steaming wasn't up to par as the unfried part of the bao was not springy and soft as it should be.
The Liang Cai we ordered; PigEar (Seasoned Pork Ear - $6.99), was fine if nothing remarkable.
Even though I know the owners are from Northern China and not the Shanghai area, we still needed to order the Xiao Long Bao ($6.99).
Dough too thick and without enough pull. The filling had some soup, but was much too sweet. No shredded ginger.
Like before, the best part of the meal was the jiaozi, this time the Pork, Egg, and Shrimp ($7.99) version.
This was better than the last time in terms of being drained and such. I still think the flavoring is a bit too mild. I know, I'm kinda psycho about this, but I think regular readers understand why.
Meanwhile, things were falling apart. The place had filled up and it was chaos. Folks ended grabbing their own menus, plates, chopsticks.....a table kept looking for soy sauce and was so desperate that I gave them ours. And we were waiting for our Guotie (potstickers)....there were tables who came in after us getting guotie, so were those ours? The place was totally in the weeds; Xiāngjiāo wanted to go ahead and help them....there was a serious disconnect between the kitchen and the dining area, food was coming out and just sitting....no one seemed to have assignments. They guy who took our order suddenly disappeared. I later saw him helping in the kitchen, which didn't do us any good. Candice had to leave, so we sent her a photo of the guotie when it finally arrived.
Wrappers too thick, gummy, not crisp enough, filling too bland. Honestly, I'm not expecting Qingdao Guotie, but these weren't very good.
And this would usually be enough. But I mentioned Jianbing Guozi to YZ. Now, coming from the same generation as the Missus, though in a different city (Shanghai versus Beijing), like my wife, she has a special place in her heart from Jianbing. She just had to try it. So there I was, back at Dumpling Hut. Sadly, they were out of the Jianbing that YZ recalls, the version with youtiao, instead we settled for the more modern version we saw in Beijing (I call it Xiāngjiāo's version since this is what she was used to when she spent 6 months in Beijing). The one with the cracker in it.
It was as the Missus would call it; "dead", limp, lacking in flavor, and obviously made ahead of time as it amazingly arrived in less than 5 minutes. Even the smear of bean paste seemed tasteless. So sorry YZ; all those memories down the tube.
They were also out of other items we wanted to try GuoBa Soup, Chicken Gizzards, Spicy Pork Stomach, Pig Ear, Braised Beef Shank, so we settled on Braised Pork Knuckle ($4.99), which lacked any significant connective tissue.
This was way too bland in flavor.
Regrettably, so was the Niu Rou Mian (Beef Noodle Soup $6.99).
While I appreciated the noodles, which I was told is made inhouse and had a nice al dente texture; the beef was cold and very salty, so it had obviously been made separately from the broth since the soup, to quote the Missus, "tasted like someone had waved a beef bone above it". Sad.
Like before, the jiaozi, this time Pork and Napa was the best item.
Though like my first visit, though not as water logged, it wasn't drained well. This time I took a photo. Boiled dumplings, or specifically shuǐjiǎo...literally "water dumplings" really depend on basic steps being carried out and simple flavoring and texture carry the day.......of ocurse I do like the Qingdao Black vinegar with pounded garlic.
I really like the folks here. I hope they make the adjustments necessary in terms of service and procedures to get things running efficiently. I'm not totally sold on the food, though I'll probably return in a few months to try the lamb jiaozi....hopefully they won't be out of them.
Dumpling Hut 8046 Clairemont Mesa Blvd San Diego, CA 92111
Again Ed (from Yuma) is blogging about his road trip in June 2014. Who knows what Kirk and Cathy will be blogging about next.
On our trip to Paso Robles in June, 2014, Tina and I could see old friends, go wine tasting, and eat in some of the fine restaurants in Paso – but we also could stop in the San Gabriel Valley on the way up to Paso and on the way back.
On our return trip, Tina found a good deal on a room in the Hilton Hotel on W. Valley Blvd. in San Gabriel:
The hotel could not have been more convenient, smack dab in the center of the San Gabriel Valley and across street from San Gabriel Square, better known as the "Great Mall of China." The room was well furnished, the basement parking garage easily accessible, and the staff friendly and helpful. When checking in, we told the clerk, Adolfo, that we were staying there to be close to all the Chinese restaurants. "Yes," he said, "very authentic. The first time I went into one, I ordered orange chicken, and they all laughed at me."
That Thursday afternoon, we were tired from driving and needed to stretch our legs and what better way than walk around and look at restaurants and menus. It didn't take long for us to be overwhelmed by the choices and overheated by the bright sunshine. On our way back to the hotel, however, we decided to explore the little restaurants in Hilton Plaza, the small two-story stripmall just to the west of the hotel itself. Some things looked interesting, so we decided to dine close to the room that evening.
Shanghai Dumpling House:
We were early and only one other table was occupied in the small, clean restaurant:
Tina ordered honey lemon iced tea ($2.75), which she liked very much:
Having just driven in from Paso Robles where we had been feasting on wine country cuisine, we wanted basic simple foods. Cucumber in Sauce ($4.35) sounded cool and refreshing:
Amazingly simple, but simply amazing. Irregular chunks of freshly cut cucumber lightly sprinkled with salt and mixed with garlic bits and a touch of sesame oil. Not much sauce, really, but fresh and delicious, clean and refreshing – a perfect antidote for our four hour car ride.
The Beef Rolls Pie ($5.95) was next. A large and flaky green onion pancake wrapped around numerous beef slices, fresh cilantro, and a spicy/tangy hoisin sauce:
I suppose the pancake could have been a little browner and crunchier, but the flavors were excellent, and Tina and I were both impressed by the tender and flavorful beef:
Also served at the same time were the xiao long bao, Juicy Pork Dumplings ($6.95). We have had enough experience with boiling hot XLB exploding in our mouths that we ate half of the Beef Rolls Pie before we attempted even a single dumpling. But when we did, we were completely blown away.
If you look at this picture, you will see no spilled soup in the steamer; each dumpling is intact:.
One at a time, we would take our chopsticks, grab the little morsels by their topknots, carefully lift them off the paper, add a drop of black vinegar, lay them on the tongue, close the mouth, and chew. The juicy soup flooded the palate and the mildly seasoned pork ball was tender and tasty. Worthy of the mmm-yoso dance.
We were amazed by the dumpling wrappers. They were thin and elastic without being tough or chewy. When we raised the dumplings out of the steamer their bottoms sagged downward but never tore and never leaked. Just perfect Shanghai dumplings.
The last item to arrive at the table was the Stir-fried Vegetables ($5.95), in this case perfectly cooked baby bok choy:
For most of you, I'm sure this dish looks plain and pretty boring. However, the freshness of the tendercrisp young vegetables and the wok skills of the chef made this very inviting. In fact, we ate every piece of baby bok choy as well as everything else we were served at Shanghai Dumpling House – with no leftovers. That almost never happens anywhere.
Shanghai Dumpling House, 227 W Valley Blvd, San Gabriel, CA 91776, (626) 282-1348
Xiang Wei Lou
Thursday night's dinner had been so easy and delicious that we decided to try another place in the same stripmall – Xiang Wei Lou, a small Hunan restaurant that Kirk wrote about several years ago:
The place was small, but well lit and inviting – though now I wonder about all those specials posted along the wall (what did we miss?):
Both Tina and I had been intrigued with Kirk's description of the pork intestine at this restaurant, so we discussed chitlins choices with the very helpful young server. "You know that's the, the, the intestines of a pig," she said, rubbing her lower abdomen, as if perhaps we were such clueless Anglos that we didn't understand what intestines were. We found that sweet and amusing. Kirk had not liked the pickled vegetables he had chosen with the intestines, so with the assistance of our server, we settled on spicy pork intestines ($9.99), which she assured us came with some vegetables:
It was good to see that the restaurant has not lost its touch with intestines. These were truly excellent. As Kirk said, they were split lengthwise and well cleaned, and Tina and I especially appreciated their richness and tender chewy texture. The promised vegetables included extensive celery, scallions, garlic slices, and both red and green sliced chilies. The veggies added flavor, spice, and crunch. Being over cautious, we had ordered the dish medium spicy, which was okay because there was a lot of noticeable heat, but the dish could have been even hotter.
Again being cautious, we had ordered the house fried rice ($5.99) not spicy:
This was excellent fried rice, the Hunan smoked pork giving it a unique touch.
That same smoked pork provided the flavor for the smoked pork with string bean ($8.95):
The beans were perfectly cooked in a very hot wok and tasted fresh and green beany. The pork – though it looks like bacon – has a different smoky flavor profile. This dish was probably our least favorite, though still pretty good, like someone's least favorite child.
The last item to arrive on the table was the house special, Steamed Spicy Whole Fish ($9.99): The fish was extraordinarily tender and melted in the mouth. While it had that fresh water fish flavor, it was not muddy or fishy. The profusion of chopped dried chili pods and crushed garlics provided flavor certainly, but this dish was not excessively spicy, and the flavor of the fish came through very well. We liked it:
Xiang Wei Lou, 227 W Valley Blvd # 118A, San Gabriel, CA 91776, (626) 289-2276
Overall, we had two excellent interesting dinners, and appreciated the convenience of eating next to our hotel. I also just want to thank Kirk for making me a more adventuresome eater and helping guide Tina and I to some of the good places in San Diego and elsewhere. Thanks Kirk!
There are a handful of restaurants that I've been kind of down on for the last couple of years and Dumpling Inn is one of them. My last couple of visits a couple of years ago just weren't satisfying and the the restaurant's namesake....namely Jiaozi went severely downhill after the owner opened, then sold the Dragon's Den. Even before then, the only dumpling worth my while at Dumpling Inn was the shrimp and chive version.....of course, the Missus, with Her QingDao heritage won't touch any of the jiaozi here with a ten foot pole(though She tells me I'm more picky than She is)....my coworker "YZ" once even told me, "you know, that's really NOT Chinese food....." And yet, the place is beloved by many....though I will say, I did not see a single Chinese customer during any of my three visits. I'm sure they come here, but I never saw a single one. Still, I thought I really needed to circle back here and give the place an honest try......
And I thought the Shrimp and Chive Jiaozi was the way to go, which is over eight bucks now ($8.25).
So where to start.....I usually begin with the wrapper, but why not go to the miniscule amount of filling in these....very bland, even with chives, it's literally the size of a dime. I'm going to start calling this place "Dime-pling Inn". The wrappers were too gummy for my tastes are really not very good.
Then there's the Xiao Long Bao ($7.75), which folks rave about.....which is actually better than any of the jiaozi.
Dough has that uneven, sometime's hard texture of something that's been frozen for a bit. The top of the folds are hard, not enough soup, quite bland, if this is the best that San Diego has to offer........
I'd rather hold out for one of my trips to the SGV......
Black vinegar is not the standard here, you need to ask for it. They treat it like elixir of the gods. As soon as you pour some into the dish, they immediately whisk it away....kind of funny actually.
Still, I know someone who loves this place and during a discussion he convinced me to really give it a try here, putting aside all manner of dumplings and actually try some of cooked dishes. Fair enough, so I went with the dish he considers the best here on my next visit, the Sea Bass with Black Bean Sauce, now this is "lunch size", but not really what I consider "lunch priced" at $9.75.
First the fish, the batter was kind of greasy, like it was fried in oil at too low a temp. The fish was moist and tender though. My big question is "where's the black bean sauce"? There was so little of it, you can easily see that whomever made this didn't coat the fish very well. Vegetables almost raw. However, as a consolation prize, the rice was perfect. In total, on the bland side......
Still, I decided to give it one more go....this time ordering one dish I'd really enjoyed on previous visits and another I'd never had here.
First something on the menu I'd never had Satay Lamb with Chinese Greens ($12.75).
The Sa Cha sauce was really mild, lacking in a deep savory flavor that I like. Nice good portion of Gailan, done well. The lamb was "wok'd" quite well, very tender, but this was really too mild for my taste. Still, this was the best dish I had overall......
Mostly because the Jellyfish Salad ($8.25), an old favorite of mine surprisingly came out near the end of my meal; I thought they'd forgotten, but here it was.....
I kind of wish they had forgotten about this as the sauce tasted watered down and there was still an astringent flavor, mildly reminiscent of acetone, telling me that this was hastily prepared. A ig disappointment.
It would be easy enough for me to close the book on Dumpling Inn, but I saw something that would at least bring me back eventually. As I was eating, a gentleman in a wheelchair came in, apparently he was a regular as all the ladies here knew him. They sat him at a table, went to the back and returned with a ziploc with what looked like custom eating utensils that he could use.....I guess he really is a regular! This brought a smile to my face...maybe I'm not the biggest fan of the food here, but I'll surely support a place that takes care of their regulars. So I guess I'll be back......someday.
This post isn't about a Kirk Road Trip or one by Cathy. This post is about a meal Ed (from Yuma) and Tina had on a road trip exploring a little of the culture and cuisines in the LA area.
Tina and I were staying in Montebello, just south of Monterey Park. Saturday night was going to be our last dinner in the area. Of course, we would eat Chinese food, but Tina insisted “no seafood.” We were looking for something reasonable, no frills, no stress. Thanks to some postsby Kirk, we decided to try a Shanghai style dinner at Giang Nan – if we could find the small restaurant at the backend of a small anonymous strip mall at 306 N. Garfield. Luckily for us, it was all lit up for the holidays:
We were fairly early, so there were few other customers in the small restaurant when we arrived, and the place was not full even later when we left:
The restaurant seemed clean and nicely if sparingly decorated. The service was also friendly and knowledgeable – our young female waitperson was very helpful and pleasant. The menu was extensive and offered us a lot of choices, so we found some dishes we knew we wanted, but we just guessed about others.
We began with chicken in wine sauce ($4.95):
This cold chicken appetizer tasted fresh and clean with a light background flavor of the wine sauce. Very enjoyable.
The duck in supreme sauce ($5.95) was also pleasant. The thick sauce had a pronounced 5 spice flavor and complemented the chilled leg and thigh of roast duck. Sweet spice and savory flavors matching the cool rich duck flesh:
We felt we got lucky with our order of shredded pork and bamboo shoots ($5.95). Really enjoyed the textures of the pork, bamboo shoots, and green onions. The dish was lightly sauced so that each ingredient was present and accounted for. Of course, I am a huge fan of bamboo shoots since I just love their earthy woodsy flavor and unique texture, but it is hard to imagine anyone not relishing this dish:
We wanted a purely vegetable dish and braised green beans and shredded potato sounded different and interesting:
The dish arrived at our table still steaming hot. The green beans were perfectly cooked and the sauce, dark as it looked, was not too salty or overwhelming. Only the potato strips, which tasted too soft, like they came from a package of frozen french fries, were somewhat disappointing. Still they provided a bland and soft contrast to the crispier green flavored beans.
Our helpful waitperson had suggested that we have some rice with the meal, and when I asked her to recommend a particular rice dish, she eagerly pointed to the salted pork and vegetable rice ($5.95):
Her recommendation was spot on. In some ways, this was the most impressive thing we tasted all evening. The greens, the slightly salty pork belly chunks, and the hot, almost creamy rice were well balanced and the layered flavors of the dish all worked together. We thanked her a couple of different times for the recommendation.
The last item to arrive was an order of pork xiao long bao ($4.95):
These were really good. Although a couple of them had lost some soup, every one was wonderfully juicy:
The pork flavors of the dumplings were excellent, and the wrappers neither too thick nor too tough. We also appreciated their somewhat small size. Once they cooled just a little bit, they were perfect one-bite treats. It seemed odd to receive them at the end of the meal, but we had no trouble gobbling them all up. Just like a desert, I guess.
Not only was this a very reasonably priced dinner,:
but we received so much food that it was also our Sunday brunch as well, and we still felt bad throwing some leftovers away. Giang Nan is certainly not a fancy restaurant, but we will happily return for rustic Shanghai cuisine the next time we are in the area.
Giang Nan, 306 N Garfield Ave, Monterey Park, CA 91754, (626) 573-3421; Open 11 am - 3pm, and 5pm - 10 pm daily
I took some time off at the end of last week. We had an appointment in LA and since I'd been working pretty hard over the last couple of months, I thought it would be good to take an extended roadtrip. Our first day would be in our old neighborhood of Rowland/Hacienda Heights and then we'd move further "North" for a few days.
Since this was a multi-day trip, we stopped at HK Plaza to stock up on some snacks and tea for our trip.
We also took the time to see what was going on here.....
Arriving at almost 2 pm on a Wednesday, we were shocked to see how busy the place was! The crowd was composed of mostly older folks and larger groups. I really could have done without the middle aged woman dressed almost "cosplay" style in a short plaid skirt, blouse, and schoolgirl like sweater....yikes, it gave me the heebies!
The service was rather slow, but it could be understood since the place was slammed.
We started with the Xun Yu - "Shanghai Style Smoked fish", which as I've often explained, isn't really smoked. In what seems like the "new style" of Hu Cai (滬菜), this is served warm (deep fried after marinating) rather than as a cold dish.
I enjoyed this version as it was light, mildly "winey", not too sweet (though still too sweet for the Missus), with a nice soy flavor. Even though this was obviously fresh water fish; it lacked the muddy flavor I find unpleasant. This was much better than the version at Shanghai Number 1. I also thought the portion size was nice for an appetizer.
I will say that the tea we ordered - Ti Guanyin, a favorite of mine was just plain insipid.
I didn't see one of my favoite dishes; jellied pork on the menu, so we went with the mutton version instead.
I loved the texture, but the sauce provided was just wrong. I ended up opting for black vinegar instead.
Of course we had to get Xiao Long Bao. We went for the Pork and Crab version.
These were average at best. The tuft at the top was too hard, the wrappers ok....no leakage here, if perhaps a bit too thick and gummy. I thought the filling had decent flavor; not too sweet, but you could definitely make out the crab. Not enough soup though.....hardly any soup.
Some of the other dishes....stuff we could order if we could handle left-overs like the Braised Pork looked really good. So I think we'll probably be back.
Overall, this was a nice start to our roadtrip, which would be taking us North, culminating with dinner in San Mateo at Michelin Starred Wakuriya. Man was I going to enjoy this roadtrip!
Shanghailander Palace 1695 South Azusa Ave Hacienda Heights, CA 91745
The interior remains the same, as does the really nice folks who run the place.
I'm thinking the lunch hours help the place as does the advertising in Lighthouse. On both of my visits, most of the customers I saw were Japanese. It's probably a good move for the place. Even though the owner is ethnically Chinese, he's from Japan.
On my first visit, to get things off to a good start, I ordered the dish I enjoyed most during my previous visits; the House Special Chicken with Garlic Sauce. Earlier I described this as being a " poor man's Dezhou Pa Ji/Dao Ko Shao Ji". Well, it seems like we're getting a bit more poor here.....
I liked the color, but this had much less flavor and was much more dry than what I'd had before. I had already thought that it needed a more complex vinegar-sweet flavor, or something to balance out the raw garlic......it seemed to have taken a step in the opposite direction. Sadly, this was still the best item I had on my visits.
Now on to the "not so secret - secret menu" item, the Xiao Long Bao. When the white distilled vinegar and sparse shreds of ginger hit my table, I knew I was in trouble. I mean really, I don't mind changes if you have something that you think is an improvement; but this is just cheaping your way through this. Oh, and maybe adding Chinkiang Black Vinegar might help that chicken a bit too.
Geez, these were bad....the first thing that went through my head was "where are you buying these"...because the hard and dried out wrappers leads me to believe they had been frozen for a while. Also, there was a distinct lack of soup and the filling was on the tough and chewy side. 'Nuff said. If you want to compete with DumplingInn for the worst XLB, I say you got a contender here. Sad that a place with such nice folks would serve something like this..... But, like friends tell me, I'm the only person they know who thinks that "Din Tai Fung's XLB is kind of a gimmick." So it's probably a personal problem......
I really didn't feel good about doing just a single visit. I really wanted to find something I thought was good here, so I decided to give it another try.
I ordered another dish I'd had before, the Shrimp Pan Fried Noodles, which I thought had some potential, but was just very weak in flavor.
Well, I gotta give it to Red Moon. If anything, they sure are consistent. The noodles are crisp without being powdery, the shrimp so nicely done, for some reason, they like their vegetables this side of what I consider optimal, but that's no big deal. What is a big deal for me is the lack of flavor........this was so bland. I did something I almost never do, as I want to understand the flavor....I made friends with the white pepper and soy sauce...Kikkoman soy sauce....for Chinese food. I took most of it home and had the Missus try this. The only thing She could say was "so sad......."
I also decided to try something I hadn't had before, the Crispy Garlic Chicken.
To me, this tasted like an overcooked chicken katsu (which it was) with a drizzle of something like katsu sauce, topped with a brown sauce. At least this had flavor, but it seemed like something I'd do at home. And that Chicken Katsu was really tough.
I had thoughts of going back to Red Moon yet another time, but decided to give it a rest. This is not my cup of tea. I will say that Red Moon serves the best "Chinese" style food in that strip mall, but being better than A Cafe....I dunno if that's much of a prize. All I can say is horrible parking lot, mediocre food, very nice folks.
Red Moon Noodle House 4646 Convoy St San Diego, CA 92111
After having some poke from Hawaaian Style Poke in the parking lot of 99 Ranch Market, I realized it was still too early to check out my "lunch stop". So what better to do then check out 99 Ranch Market? In fact, after walk around 99 Ranch Market, I drove up the street and had a look-see at 168 Market, which wasn't around the last time we visited Vegas.
The set-up of this 99 Ranch Market reminded me of the Irvine location.
Items are a bit more expensive here as well. Love the Engrish signs as well.....
Further up the street is 168 Market, which I thought was the cleanest of the three I visited.
I left 168 and jumped into my car and headed over to the plaza that housed Shun Fat Market. On the second floor is a Shaghainese Restaurant called Three Villages that had been mentioned to me a couple of times.
The set-up was a bit odd; at least for me. The "front" or street facing entrance is locked and really is just a large sign. You have to go around the corner and fine the entrance and the place almost looks vacated.
But of course it wasn't........the place was empty when I arrived though. I had to call out to check if they were actually in business.
Ordering was pretty simple. I'd come here for the Xiao Long Bao. I did make it a "combo" for a buck more and got some soup....a very plain soup with bean thread and tofu.
Actually this kind of plain, but hearty soup is the kind of thing the Missus likes....me, not so much. I will say that it was a pretty large amount of soup.
The XLB arrived soon after. First thing I noticed was how doughy and thick looking the wrappers were.
Still, I'm not the biggest fan of the over-worked, very thin wrappers and these ended up having a decent light stretch to them.....I still thought they were a bit on the thick side.
The filling was disappointing. Since they only have straight up pork XLB, I didn't expect a great range of flavors from the soup, but this was pretty weak, lacking in a good pork flavor and having no sweetness what so ever. The filling also had some hard bits as well.
Still better than anything in San Diego though. That's really not saying much.....
Three Villages Restaurant 5115 W Spring Mountain Road Las Vegas, NV 89103
After lunch I headed downstairs and had a little stroll through Shun Fat Market.
Since I was headed back to our room, I picked up a couple of Suan Nai for breakfast.
Just walking through these three markets you could notice things. The cleanest and busiest was 168. Both 168 and 99 Ranch Market actually listed the origin of their seafood, SF did not. The least cleanest was SF. I also saw a woman pick up a fish with her hands at SFM, then after putting it back she washed her hands....in the tank holding the clams! As I walked to my car in the strip mall, I smelled an acrid odor that everyone knows.....I saw the pool of liquid near the stairs. Unlike the seafood in SFM, I knew the country of origin of this liquid..... "urine-nation". Yikes.
After our quick meal at Happiness Restaurant, the Missus calculated that we could still make it to San Gabriel and check out Shanghai No.1 Seafood Village before it got too crowded. Shanghai No.1 had been creating some buzz around the SGV, though I think it's more for the amount spent on decor (I've heard over a million) then the food. The restaurant is located in the same strip mall as Beijing Restaurant and where Green Village was before it shut down. The restaurant really doesn't look like much from the outside.
But the interior is something to behold, looking like an old Shanghai nightclub/restaurant.
We were here during lunch, but the dinner menu is also available. We asked to look at the dinner menu....and got what was to be the typical service here....lousy, abrupt, and perfunctory at best.
The menu really looked like those we saw in China, an over-sized volume of glossy photos, with each dish described in detail. I had read several accounts saying that the dim sum was expensive, but of course those folks hadn't eaten dim sum in San Diego recently. Here the small is $1.98, medium $2.98, large $3.98, and "specials" $4.98.
Since we had already eaten, our ordering habits had to follow a strategy we have when eating multiple meals in the SGV.....folks always look at me strangely when I tell them we actually have a strategy for eating, like I'm crazy or something. Only folks like my good friends and fellow bloggers like Kirbie and "CC" understand that I'm not totally insane.....partially perhaps, but not around the bend.
We started with the Lily and Corn Porridge ($4.98):
I took one sip of this and went...whoa....the base of the porridge was dried scallop, which just brought it up several notches. Also, notice the smoothness...it basically looks like milled broken rice! Most places serve you rice porridge that looks like rice and water....heck, that's what mine looks like even though there's abalone in it! This was the best I've had in a while, not too starchy or gummy, smooth, nice savory flavor that enhanced, but didn't overwhelm the added ingredients....quite nice.
Next up was the Abalone sticky rice in Lotus Leaf ($3.98):
Loved the way this was executed, the rice wasn't over-cooked and mushy. The rice had absorbed the maximum amount of smoky flavor from the lotus leaf. There was a slice of abalone, but it was pretty rubbery and instead of a whole egg yolk, there was a smear of yellow. Overall, this was good, but a bit on the rich side.
Next up was the Shanghai Vegetable Bun ($1.98). Now I enjoy the version at Chin's, but this was in another league.
These weren't very big, but the flavors were. The version at Chin's tends to be too bready and sweet. This one had a mild yeastiness and the filling had that balanced salty-bitter-sweet flavor I enjoy.
So far so good.....but from here our meal kinda took a turn in the wrong direction. If you've read our little blog long enough, you know that we just couldn't have a Hu Cai (滬菜) meal without trying the Xun Yu. Here's it's called Old Shanghai Smoked Fish and this one is priced fairly high at $12.99. Supposedly this is not made in the traditional way, but cooked to order, which, if you've ever made this - marinated-deep fried-marinated, seems a bit odd. The dish, which was on the small side was presented well.
The Missus took a bite and told me I wouldn't be able to eat it. But of course I had to try.....man, this was some of the muddiest fish I've had in a while. It tasted like I stuck a handful of dirt in my mouth. The textures were interesting, the exterior light and crisp, the interior almost like silken tofu, which I found odd considering this is fish. I just couldn't bring myself to eat another bite.
The Xiao Long Bao was also terrible ($4.98) - if anything was over-priced on the dim sum menu it was this.
First the folds were hard and gummy, not made well. The flavor of the soup was on the mild side and the filling was hard....much too hard for Xiao Long Bao. This would probably do in San Diego, but not in a Shanghai style restaurant in the SGV.
The one item I really wanted to try were the Shenjian Bao ($2.98):
Not to incur the wrath of my friend YZ from Shanghai, who will automatically tell me how wrong it is for SJB to have folds on the top. This was fluffy, the dough on the sweet side, but had a nice amount of salty-sweet "soup".....much too sweet for the Missus, but I liked it. The meat wasn't anything special and this was fairly good overall....it looked better than it was.
The service really didn't live up to the standard of the design and decor.....this was basically lipstick on a pig. When we asked for boxes they were basically thrown at us...the whole objective seemed to be around turning over tables....I guess someone has to pay for the furniture, right?
I thought the execution of the dishes were better than the actual flavors, the SJB is a good case in point. The Missus and I had an interesting conversation about the food on the drive back home. The Missus came to the conclusion that I'm pretty unbiased when it comes to Chinese regional cuisine....I wasn't raised on the stuff, but became immersed during our years in the SGV, so I was basically a blank slate. She was raised on a combination of Lu Cai - Shandong cuisine, of the Jiaodong style and spicy Hunan/Sichuan cuisine. So the flavors of "South of the Yangtze" really don't appeal to Her.....interesting theory.
As for the dim sum at Shanghai No.1...well let's just say it won't make me forget about Sea Harbour or Elite.
Shanghai No. 1 Seafood Restaurant 250 West Valley Blvd Suite M San Gabriel, CA 91776