Archive for the 'Chinese' Category

Cruising for Babes

During our year-long stay in Vietnam, The Astronomer and I are working for a humanitarian organization called East Meets West. We reported to our first day of work on August 1st. In my brief employment history, my first day at East Meets West goes down as the best. We started off by talking to our boss Rad for an hour or two, then we wrote one-pagers about our interests and skills, and then we went on a site visit to two hospitals (one public and one semi-private). At the hospitals, we met some children who are benefiting from East Meets West’s program, “Operation Healthy Heart.” As if that weren’t exciting enough, later that evening we went out to dinner with Rad’s family and a visiting doctor from the states.

At around 7 PM we boarded a boat resembling a giant fish on the Saigon River for an evening of fine dining and entertainment. We relaxed and left the ordering to Mrs. Rad. The Astronomer and I both opted for Soda Chanh (lime juice, sugar, soda water) to start. Even though I avoid drinking my calories in America, I’m branching out while in Vietnam because the water quality is poor.

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We started off with a crab and white asparagus soup that reminded me of Aunt Tina’s seafood soup served at my family’s Christmas gatherings. Following the soup were some wonderful cha gio (egg rolls), which I dipped in fish sauce to add a little zing. The Astronomer consumed six egg rolls and would have eaten more, but he didn’t want to look too piggish in front of our hosts. Our final appetizer was goi tom thit (salad with pork and shrimp) served with shrimp chips. The salad was especially delicious this evening because I had gone through so many days without fresh vegetables.

Our main dishes included steamed giant prawns, bo luc lac (steak with French Fries), chicken with oyster mushrooms, fried rice, and rau (greens). The prawns were a bitch to peel and sorta tasteless; the cost to benefit ratio was low to negative. The steak and fries were a garlicky treat, especially dipped in some catsup. The steak was the tastiest well-done meat I’ve had in ages. I was completely stuffed by the time the chicken arrived, so I only ate some mushrooms. The fried rice was seasoned to perfection and the greens were good as well, but both arrived a little late in the game. All in all, the food on the boat was top-notch. We’re looking forward to taking The Astronomer’s family on board when they visit in December.

A meal on a fish-shaped boat would not be complete without some hip gyration and pyrotechnics. How does she do that?

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Jasmine Seafood Restaurant

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July 4, 2007
Cuisine: Chinese, Dim Sum

4609 Convoy St, Suite A
San Diego, CA 92111

Phone: (858) 268-0888
Website: http://www.jasmineseafoodrestaurant.com/

While most people in San Diego were celebrating the Fourth barbecuing at the beach and watching fireworks, my mom, grandma, aunt, and  I headed to Jasmine for dim sum—nothing says America like non-proficient English speakers serving up copious amounts of meat. Since I reviewed Jasmine last December, I thought I’d treat this post as a Dim Sum 101 of sorts for individuals who have never experienced the delicious chaos that is dim sum. 

Jasmine is my family’s choice eatery for dim sum because they offer great variety and service. Their dining room is incredibly spacious and always bustling with carts filled with meat, seafood, vegetables, and desserts. While some dim sum restaurants have diners order from a menu, this is not the case here. At Jasmine, diners are seated at tables and choose their delights as carts roll by. Prices are sort of a mystery in this process, but one can be certain that everything is priced reasonably. Once a dish or dishes have been selected, the individual pushing the cart uses a tiny stamp to imprint a symbol on to the table’s bill. The bill stays on the table and more stamps are added as the meal progresses. At the end of the feast, the total is tabulated based on the number of stamps.   

The cardinal rule of dim sum is to never order vegetables. If you’re in the mood for healthy or light fare, dim sum is not the way to go. Stick with the meats, seafood, and carbohydrates. While we’re at it, don’t bother with dessert either. The only worthy exception to the dessert rule is Dauhua, which is hot tofu in a ginger syrup that is wonderfully sweet and spicy. 

It is best to consume dumplings and the like with soy sauce and some hot chili oil, especially if you want a little heat. Furthermore, I would recommend going to dim sum with a large party in order to sample as many dishes while avoiding leftovers. Here are some of my (and my family’s) favorite dim sum offerings:    

Shrimp Har Gow ($4) 

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Shrimp Har Gow are steamed dumplings filled with large chunks of plain shrimp. The outer wrapping is made of tapioca flour, which adds a chewier consistency to the dumpling.   

Scallop and Shrimp Dumpling ($4)

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Scallop and Shrimp Dumplings are very similar to Shrimp Har Gow, but with the addition of scallions and scallops. The generous filling of scallops and shrimp inside the dumpling makes this a particularly luxurious treat.  

Salt and Pepper Calamari ($7.95)

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Salt and Pepper Calamari is one of the best dishes at Jasmine. Calamari are lightly dipped in a salty batter and fried briefly to a crisp. The texture is chewy and the taste is savory with a bit of spice from the fresh chilies.  

Steamed BBQ Pork Buns ($2.50) 

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Steamed BBQ Pork Buns are a dim sum staple. The BBQ pork filling is sweet, but not cloyingly so, while the bun is soft and moist. This dish also comes baked, which makes for a golden and crispier bun.

Ox Tripe with Ginger and Scallion ($2.50)

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Ox Tripe with Ginger and Scallion highlights tripe well and is overall very mild on the palette. I adore tripe for its slightly rubbery texture and flavor absorbing properties. This thinly sliced preparation reminded me of the tripe served in phở.

Lotus Leaf Sticky Rice ($4.30)

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Lotus Leaf Sticky Rice is glutinous rice that has been prepared with chicken and dried shrimp and steamed while wrapped in a lotus leaf. The lotus leaf only adds a light flavor and more importantly, keeps the rice moist and sticky. This savory dish is a great complement to any dumpling.

Shrimp Siu Mai ($4)

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Shrimp Siu Mai is a shrimp meatball enclosed partially in a wonton wrapper. Since the outer wrapping is quite thin, the focus in this dish is on the shrimp. The siu mai is not as tender as the har gow, but still delicious.   

Steamed Assorted Meat Tofu Roll ($3.60)

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Pork, chicken, bamboo shoots, and mushrooms are wrapped in sheets of bean curd and served in a savory, but oily sauce. A bit of soy sauce really sets off the flavors and cuts through the dish’s oiliness.

Stewed Beef Tripe with Turnip ($5.60)

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Whereas the Ox Tripe with Ginger and Scallion was sliced thinly and mild in flavor, the Stewed Beef Tripe with Turnip was the complete opposite. The beef tripe was cut in thick chunks and bathed in a ginger sauce. The ginger permeated the tripe creating an outstanding flavor.   

Chicken Feet with Black Bean Sauce ($2.50) 

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Many members of my family (especially my grandma) adore Chicken Feet with Black Bean Sauce, but I’m not too fond of this dish due to its squishy texture and lack of deep flavor. I’m surprised how fatty chicken feet are considering chicken are on their feet all day! Everyone should try this dish at least once since it’s a classic dim sum offering.

Beef Rice Rolls ($4.30)

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Beef Rice Rolls consist of a beef filling wrapped in large, flat rice noodles and served in a mild soy sauce. Shrimp rice rolls are also available. Beef Rice Rolls were my favorite dim sum dish as a kid and I still really enjoy them. Be extra careful when eating this dish because the rolls are very slippery.

Szechuan Hunan

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June 22, 2007
Cuisine: Chinese

274 S 20th St, Philadelphia 19103
Btwn Rittenhouse Sq & Spruce St

Phone: 215-546-8080
Website: none


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Wonton Chips with Duck Sauce (complimentary)

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Szechuan Tofu ($6.95)

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Bird’s Nest ($11.95)

The Astronomer: When I recently discovered that no less than three of my friends in the Philadelphia area have birthdays during the same week as mine, plans for a joint celebration began to materialize. It was of course essential that the gathering involve amazing food, so I began researching possible destinations. I wanted to try somewhere new, preferably a reasonably priced BYOB. After much thought, I settled on a restaurant that The Gastronomer and I had long been yearning to try: Mama Palma’s Gourmet Pizza. We had heard nothing but good things about the food, although I did read some rather alarming comments in customer reviews concerning the service. “No matter,” I thought, “We’re a carefree and considerate group, and besides, we’ll probably be drunk. It won’t matter if the waitress is a little grouchy.” How wrong I was.

Mama Palma’s does not take reservations, so The Gastronomer stopped by early in the evening to sign us up for a table at 7:30. When the hour came, several members of our party were late to arrive, and we were informed that only full groups could be seated. Fair enough. It’s a small restaurant—it makes sense that they wouldn’t want to waste space by seating incomplete parties. Finally everyone arrived. The Gastronomer went inside and informed the hosts that our party would include 9 people, rather than 8 as we originally had expected. They grudgingly marked off the 8 on the list and wrote a 9. It became clear that reserving a table early in the evening had been futile, as they were not going to actually place us in line for a table until we were all present. We asked for an expected wait time and were told 15 minutes.

Two or three times during the next hour one of us cheerfully asked how the prospects were looking for being seated. We were alternately ignored or greeted with a tone of acute annoyance. Some in their hunger wondered whether we should just screw it and head over to the Irish Pub, but in general our spirits remained high. We could tell that there was one particular table that they wanted to seat our party at, and it looked like the current occupants would be gone before long.

Finally, at almost 9:00 we were called inside. The table had been set with 8 chairs. “Oh, remember, we have 9… it’s okay, we’ll just pull up a chair.” At this point the manager stormed out of the kitchen and basically screamed at us: “You can’t pull up a chair. I won’t put up with this any more! Either one of you leaves, or you don’t eat here!” We briefly protested: “Come on, be reasonable… there’s plenty of room… we’ve been waiting so long…”, but the response was absolutely not. He seemed to genuinely think that we would send a friend home so that the rest of us could stay and enjoy the pizza. I offered to share a seat with The Gastronomer, but to no avail. We headed for the door. In the shuffle The Gastronomer left her purse hanging on a chair, and I had to awkwardly squeeze by the raging manager to get around to the far side of the table and retrieve it. I felt a legitimate fear that he might deck me with a right cross. Some of the younger employees looked uncomfortable and apologetic but obviously feared for their jobs if they should speak up.

As frequent readers of the site will have noticed, I generally come away with good impressions of most every place that I eat at, but I am truly appalled by Mama Palma’s. This is the first time I can remember having walked out of a restaurant without even being seated because the service was so bad. Seriously, don’t go eat there. Tell your friends not to eat there. The pizza is probably terrific, but it is absolutely not worth it. There are too many restaurants in Philly that offer delicious food AND great hospitality for them to be able to get away with that crap. Several members of our party thought up creative means for revenge, but we’re a classy bunch, so it’s unlikely any will be carried out.

When we had finished being rudely booted from our chosen birthday dinner destination, we were left with a dilemma. It was doubtful that any of the tasty BYOBs in the vicinity would be able to seat such a large party on a Friday night with no advanced notice, but we had little choice but to wander the streets in search of a restaurant willing to take us in. It was looking increasingly likely that we would end up celebrating at the Fox and Hound. As we passed Rittenhouse Square, someone said off-handedly, “Maybe we should just get Chinese food.” As we have already established, I LOVE Chinese food (see Susanna Foo), so of course the answer was a resounding yes. We ducked into a restaurant called Szechwan Hunan. It was practically empty, and they quickly moved several tables around so that we could all sit together. What fantastic service! I was blown away. They also provided menus, a bottle opener, glasses for both wine and water, and unlimited refills of their delicious wonton chips with duck sauce. It was almost as if they were genuinely grateful for our patronage.

As everyone began to order, the mood lightened noticeably. We were finally going to get to eat. I’m always torn when I go to Chinese restaurants between ordering one of my proven favorites (mostly chicken with sweet sauces: sesame, orange, lemon, etc.) and trying something new. This time I was feeling adventuresome, so I went with a dish called the Bird’s Nest. The “nest” turned out to be made of pan-fried noodles and contained chicken, peppers, and other vegetables. Strangely, the whole thing rested upon a bed of iceberg lettuce. The dish was satisfying, but not as flavorful as some of the better Chinese items I’ve had, and the crispy noodles were rather awkward to eat. In the end, I’d probably be happier sticking to my old standbys. To its credit, the Bird’s Nest was enormous, and I found the leftovers much easier to eat after the noodles softened up overnight.

The Gastronomer ordered a tofu dish with a variety of vegetables in a savory Szechwan sauce, which she found quite enjoyable. It was mildly spicy and came in a generous portion size. Like the Bird’s Nest, the dish tasted better the following day after the tofu softened.

The food at Szchewan Hunan is high quality, but falls short of truly outstanding. In any case, they managed to save the evening for us, and for that I am extremely grateful. If I have another opportunity to order Chinese food before leaving Philadelphia, I will certainly consider them.

Susanna Foo Chinese Cuisine

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June 20, 2007
Cuisine: Chinese, Pan-Asian & Pacific Rim

1512 Walnut St, Philadelphia 19102
Btwn S Sydenham St & S 15th St

Phone: 215-545-2666
Website: www.susannafoo.com

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Mongolian Lamb Pillows – Stuffed with Tarragon, Cumin & Leeks, Chinese Eggplant with Ancho Chili Sauce ($8)

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Kung Pao Tofu with Scallions, Jalapeño Peppers & Red Onion ($8) 

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Tea-Smoked Peking Duck Breast – Fuji Apple Chutney, Braised Fingerling Potatoes, and Sautéed Chinese Vegetables ($29)

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Classic Mu-shu Pork with Pressed Bean Curd, Brandy Hoisin Sauce, Steamed Pancakes, and Scallions ($18)

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Chocolate Dipped Fortune Cookies (complimentary)

The Astronomer loves Chinese food with all of his heart. He would eat Sesame Chicken and dumplings everyday given the chance. Sometimes I wonder if he would be better off dating a Chinese girl with a wok. Or better yet, a Chinese girl whose parents owned a restaurant. Now, that would be a heavenly match…

The Astronomer requested we celebrate his 23rd birthday at Susanna Foo because word on the street is that she serves up some mean Cantonese and Shanghai cooking. I was a bit hesitant about The Astronomer’s choice because I have two general rules about dining at ethnic restaurants: Firstly, the price range should be inexpensive to moderate because great ethnic eats can always be found on the cheap. Secondly, the majority of the restaurant’s patrons should be of the ethnic identity of the cuisine because it is a sure sign the food is authentic and not watered down for the masses. Needless to say, Susanna Foo is pricey and serves a non-Chinese clientele. While I would have personally passed on dining there, it was The Astronomer’s birthday, so I put aside my preferences for the evening.

We arrived on time for a 7 o’clock reservation and were seated right away at a table large enough for four. The noise level inside the elegantly decorated restaurant was unexpectedly robust, mostly due to happy hour revelers at the bar. I dined at Susanna Foo seven years ago with my mother and brother and sat in the upstairs dining room, which was much quieter. However, on this evening the space appeared to be closed. The crowd in the main dining room seemed to consist mainly of business people and a few couples.

The Astronomer began his birthday feast with an order of Mongolian Lamb Pillows stuffed with tarragon, cumin and leeks and served with Chinese eggplant in an Ancho chili sauce. The pillows were tender, but lacked the strong lamb flavor we were hoping for. The pillows tasted like good-quality meat in wonton wrappers and not the least bit Mongolian (whatever that means). The eggplant was slightly undercooked, but still appealing. The Ancho chili sauce was sadly tame. I’d take five dumplings for a dollar from Dumpling House any day over these.

For my appetizer, I ordered the Kung Pao Tofu, which was listed on the “sides” section of the menu. For a side dish, the tofu’s portion was huge and came with two servings of white rice. I was really impressed by this dish. The Kung Pao sauce was perfectly spicy and not too peanut-y, the tofu was lightly browned and firm, and the variety of vegetables were impressive. Although we probably shouldn’t have eaten the entire plate, it was so good we couldn’t help ourselves.   

For The Astronomer’s main course, he had the Tea-Smoked Peking Duck Breast served with Fuji apple chutney, braised fingerling potatoes, and sautéed Chinese vegetables. The Astronomer thought that the duck breast was well-seasoned and flavorful, but not as succulent and juicy as he wished. The sides were decent, but definitely nothing spectacular. The apple chutney was not very chutney-like and resembled more of a thick and colorless puree. The Astronomer detested the Chinese vegetables underneath the duck due to its bitterness, but liked the fresh apple slaw atop the duck.

For my entrée, I ordered the Classic Mu-shu Pork served with a Brandy Hoisin sauce and steamed pancakes. Mu-shu pork is one of my all-time favorite Chinese treats for its unique flavor combinations and fun assembly process. Susanna’s high-end interpretation of Mu-shu was fantastic. The meat mixture was an interesting blend of pork, bean curd, mushrooms, red peppers, and scallions. The Brandy’s essence came through nicely in the hoisin sauce. The pancakes were abnormally thick, resembled miniature tortillas, and held the contents well. All three components gelled together perfectly for a delectable wrap. As per usual with Mu-shu, there were too few pancakes for the heaping portion of pork. Susanna’s Mu-shu was better than average, but for $18, it really ought to be.

We concluded our celebration with some chocolate dipped fortune cookies.

I really enjoyed all of the dishes I sampled this evening, but at the end of the meal, I still believe that my personal policies regarding dining at ethnic restaurants hold true.

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Dumpling House

May 27 and 28, 2007
Cuisine: Chinese

118 Eldridge St, New York 10002
Btwn Grand & Broome St

Phone: 212-625-8008
Website: none

Chives and Pork Boiled Dumpling (10/$2.00)

Chives and Pork Fried Dumplings (5/$1.00)

Sesame Pancake with Beef ($1.50)

Sesame Pancake with Tuna Fish ($1.50)

Gastronomer: This past Memorial Day weekend, The Astronomer and I headed to New York City for a 36 hour food tour. The only items on our agenda were breakfast, lunch, and dinner, which kept us busy and well-fueled. Prior to embarking upon the city, I meticulously researched and composed an ambitious list of eateries I wanted to try or revisit:

  1. Babycakes NYC: 248 Broome St New York, NY 10002 (212) 677-5047
  2. Billy’s Bakery: 184 9th Ave New York, NY 10011 (212) 647-9956
  3. Bouchon Bakery: 10 Columbus Cir. New York, NY 10019 (212) 823-9366
  4. Doughnut Plant: 379 Grand St New York, NY 10002 (212) 505-3700
  5. Dumpling House: 118 Eldridge St New York, NY 10002 (212) 625-8008
  6. Magnolia Bakery: 401 Bleecker St New York, NY 10014 (212) 462-2572
  7. Momofuku Ssam Bar: 207 2nd New York, NY 10003 (212) 254-3500
  8. Momofuku: 163 1st Ave # 2 New York, NY 10003 (212) 475-7899
  9. N.Y. Dosas: W. 4th St. at Sullivan St New York, NY 10014 (917) 710-2092
  10. Peter Luger Steak House: 178 Broadway Brooklyn, NY 11211 (718) 387-7400
  11. Shake Shack: 11 Madison Ave New York, NY 10010 (212) 889-6600

Due to a combination of time and stomach constraints, we didn’t make it to all the places listed above. But seven unique delights in 36 hours isn’t too shabby! Our first and last meal was at Dumpling House located in my brother’s ‘hood—the Lower East Side.

Astronomer: Dumpling House was an amazing find—delicious northern Chinese cuisine at truly incredible prices. With my friend Miho in tow, the total dinner bill for three came out to a mere $8 for twenty pork and chive dumplings, two large stuffed sesame pancakes, and a bottle of water. Placing our order in the chaos of the crowded, tiny restaurant was not easy, but we eventually managed to communicate with the staff and received our food.

Gastronomer: While the wait at Dumpling House can be long due to its immense popularity and limited staff, the open kitchen provides great entertainment. There are a handful of stools located in the back of the restaurant for in-house diners, but the restaurant’s cramped space isn’t the most inviting. We took our dumplings and sesame pancakes to Roosevelt Park two blocks away to enjoy.

Astronomer: Both varieties of dumpling were flavorful and juicy; so juicy in fact that we were forced to eat standing up to save our clothes. I preferred the boiled dumplings, while the Gastronomer liked the pan-fried ones. We all agreed that both types were irresistible.

Gastronomer: The fried dumplings had the most wonderful texture that was both soft and chewy, especially along the crisped edges. The boiled dumplings’ exterior was delicate and subtle. The pork and chive interiors were seasoned fantastically; definitely no soy sauce required.

The sesame pancakes were an interesting creation—giant spheres of dough are deep fried and cut into triangular wedges. The wedges can either be eaten plain or sliced down the middle and stuffed with tuna, beef, or vegetables. Each sandwich is garnished with pickled carrots and cilantro, which reminded The Astronomer and I of bánh mì. The tuna filling was spicy, while the beef was smoky in flavor. I highly recommend the tuna sesame pancake. 

Astronomer: We liked everything so much that we gave Dumpling House the honor of being the only place that we visited twice on our tour, returning the next evening after our plans to eat at N.Y. Dosas fell through.