Lao Dian Tou Tai Nan Yi Mian 老店頭台南意麵 – Excellent Tainan Style Noodles Near Tong Hua Night Market (Taipei)

Dieci – Excellent Japanese Style Italian Food

Dieci is a restaurant in the East Village serving Japanese style Italian.  Often times when one culture tries to adapt another culture’s cuisine to its own taste, the results are a disaster.  However, Japan has been able to take other cuisines and create something is different yet still good.  In particular, Japan is known for its French, Italian and Chinese cuisines.  In fact, Japan has Michelin star restaurants in such cuisines.  Dieci gives you a flavor for what this type of cuisine is.

The restaurant is a small room in the basement level.  It’s intimate and the type of place you would bring a date.  The service is always excellent and it’s an enjoyable place to have dinner.

Zuke Tuna Salad

This is sliced tuna with squash, snap pea and greens in a truffle soy dressing.  The tuna and vegetables are good quality, but the dressing was a bit too sweet.  It’s an alright dish, but I thought was a bit of an odd choice to put on the menu and didn’t really stand out. 7.5/10

Potato Gratin

This is small baked potato topped with uni.  This sounds awesome although I found that the uni and potato didn’t really do much for each other.  It’s well cooked, but it ends up just tasting like a creamy potato. 7.75/10

Chawanmushi

Chawanmushi is a savory Japanese egg custard that I grew up eating.  However, the chawanmushi at Dieci is far more decadent than what I grew up eating.  It has foie gras pureed into it, which gives it a much richer flavor.  It’s topped with mushrooms, chives and savory broth.  This is one of my favorite dishes here and I highly recommend ordering it. 8.5/10

Uni Egg Scramble

This is scrambled egg topped with uni and sturgeon caviar in a savory broth.  This is another dish I really like here.  The creaminess of the uni, saltiness of the caviar, the savory broth and egg really pair well together.  This is a great dish. 8.5/10

Brussel Sprouts

This is roasted brussel sprouts topped with parmesan, miso and walnuts.  It’s a pretty decent dish although I wouldn’t say it stands out. 7.75/10

Fluke Sashimi

This is fluke sashimi in a yuzu pepper and ceviche sauce.  This dish works better than the zuke tuna salad.  The sauce is not overpowering and goes well with the fluke.  8/10

Tagliolini

This is squid ink tagliolini with calamari in a tomato sauce.  The tagliolini is has great texture and is perfectly al dente.  The tomato sauce compliments the tagliolini and calamari perfectly.  This is another dish that I really enjoy at Dieci.  8.5/10

Ramen

This is ramen noodles in a spicy lamb bolognese sauce.  The noodles are al dente and bolognese sauce is hearty and goes well with the ramen.  8/10

Fettuccine

This is fettuccine with sea urchin and calamari in a creamy sauce.  The pasta, uni and calamari are good.  However, I found the sauce a bit lacking in flavor.  If the sauce was a bit more flavorful this dish could be a winner. 7.75/10

Filet Mignon Steak

This is a filet mignon steak topped with a truffle soy reduction and mushroom couscous.  The steak is excellent and the sauce pairs perfectly with it.  The mushroom couscous is a nice side dish to go with the steak. 8.25/10

Japanese Red Snapper Chazuke

Chazuke is a simple Japanese dish that I also grew up eating which is simply rice with tea poured over it and topped with seasoning.  This is a more refined version with seared red snapper on top of grilled vegetable rice ball with hoji tea soup poured over it.  The fish was perfectly cooked and went well with the rice and broth.  This was a nice dish.  8/10

Chocolate Soufflé

This was a special.  It was a chocolate soufflé with earl grey ice cream.  The dessert is pretty self-explanatory and was really good.  If they happen to have this, definitely order it. 8.25/10

Overall, while not every dish is a hit, the dishes that are good are excellent and it’s become one of the restaurants that I regularly go to.  I highly recommend checking it out.

Address:
228 E 10th Street
New York, NY 1003
(212) 387-9545
Dieciny.com

Curry Ya – A Japanese Curry Specialist Worth Checking Out In The East Village

Japanese curry is a homey and very satisfying meal for me.  It reminds me of growing up as it was one of those things that I thought was so good when I younger.  While curry is probably most associated with Indian cuisine, it is very popular in Japan.  Curry Ya specializes in Japanese style curry, which is a mild brown curry usually served with a meat, white rice and pickled daikon.

The restaurant is a thin space with only counter space seating enough for maybe 12 people.  Because the restaurant is so small, there can be waits at peak times particularly on the weekends.

Condiments

Condiments are on the counter in front of each seat and consist of red pickled radish, pickled onions and toasted garlic.  I highly recommend using all of the condiments as they go great with curry.

Berkshire Pork Katsu Curry

This was a deep fried pork cutlet with curry and rice.  The batter was crispy and not oily although not quite as light as a really good version.  The meat was nicely tender and decent quality.  Overall, the pork cutlet itself was pretty good although not amazing.  The curry is flavorful and quite good, definitely better than most other places in NY.  8/10

Dry Curry

This curry has ground beef with chopped onions, carrots, celery, raisins, a hard-boiled egg and fried onions.  The first picture has a deep fried croquette made of mashed potato and ground beef.  The second and third pictures have a mini Berkshire pork katsu.  The croquette was good and goes well with the dry curry.  The dry curry is much thicker than the normal curry.  It’s more heavily spiced with a stronger curry flavor than the regular curry.  This is a nice change from the normal curry and tastes great with rice.  8/10

Homemade Hamburger Steak Curry

This is hamburger with curry.  I like hamburger, but I generally prefer a fried item with curry, so while this is pretty good, I prefer the fried items and curry.  7.75/10

Baked Hamburger Curry

This curry rice baked in the oven in a cast iron skillet with cheese.  You can change any of the dishes on the menu to the baked curry.  While I generally prefer fried items with curry, we got the hamburger since this curry is heavier and we thought a fried item might be too heavy for this.  This curry is heavier because of the cheese, but I found this really delicious and probably the best dish at Curry Ya.  8.25/10

I enjoy eating at Curry Ya and I eat here regularly.  If you like Japanese curry then I’d definitely recommend trying it out as it’s the best version I’ve had in NY.

Address:
214 E 10th St
New York, NY 10003
(866) 602-8779
nycurry-ya.com

Bada Story – Great Korean Hwe (Sashimi) In Flushing

Bada Story is a restaurant in Flushing that specializes in hwe (Korean style sashimi).  Hwe is a little different than the Japanese sashimi as it tends to be served directly after being killed whereas most fish we have in sushi restaurants has been aged.  There is a misconception that great fish in sushi restaurants is super fresh when in fact the meat needs to have a little time in order to break down to get that very tender texture associated good sushi.  Also, hwe tends to be eaten with chogochujang which is gochujang (Korean spicy pepper sauce) mixed with vinegar and other seasonings like sesame oil.

Bada Story basically only serves hwe and you order set menus that offer a variety of other dishes in addition to hwe.  The restaurant feels like you’re in Korea and the interior looks like a cabin.  It’s a fun atmosphere where people are having fun eating and drinking.  The waiters speak varying degrees of English, but they have a couple of waiters who are fluent in English and the menu is in English, so communication is not an issue.

There are tanks where the keep the fish and sea cucumbers (the weird pinkish long things).

We got the fluke set, which was recommended by a friend of mine that is from the area.  This set was a shocking amount of high quality food for the price and we were very full at the end (everything below is part of the set).  It ended up being $65 per person including drinks, tax and tip!

Vegetables

These were raw vegetables served with tenjang (fermented bean paste).  They were fresh and tasted great with the tenjang.  8/10

Seafood Salad

This was a lettuce salad with fish roe and squid in a sweet ginger dressing.  The seafood was nicely fresh and it was tasty.  7.75/10

Haemul Pajeon (Seafood Pancake)

This is a typical Korean seafood pancake.  It wasn’t oily and was nicely crispy.  It came with a tangy soy sauce with peppers and onions in it.  The version here was good.  8/10

Steamed Egg

This is a steamed egg custard that is made with egg, water and sugar.  It’s a simple dish, but I always really like this dish as I tend to like eggy dishes.  8/10

Cheese Corn

This is yellow corn with cheese on top of it, which is common at Korean restaurants.  They also added corn, peas and shrimp here as well.  It’s certainly not gourmet, but there is something satisfying about the sweetness of the corn and the creaminess of the cheese.  7.75/10

Mussel Soup

This was a simple soup with mussels.  The mussels were fresh and the soup base is very light with the flavor of mussels imparted into it.  7.75/10

Fried Fluke

This was fried fluke with a slightly tangy soy sauce.  It was freshly fried and not oily.  The meat was tender and flaky.  It wasn’t anything special, but it was still pretty decent.  7.5/10

Sea Pineapple and Sea Cucumber Sashimi

This looks super bizarre, but the red-orange things are sea pineapple and the grey-blue things are sea cucumber.  While they look like they might be really mushy, the texture is actually somewhat firm and crunchy when you bite into it.  It was very fresh tasting and despite its bizarre appearance the flavor is quite mild and mainly tastes salty and briny.  You dip it in soy sauce with wasabi.  I found it to be quite delicious.  8/10

Grilled Whole Fish

This was a whole fish grilled with salt and lemon.  This fish was cooked properly, so the meat was tender, but they over-salted the fish, so it was a bit too salty otherwise I’d have given it a higher rating.  7.5/10

Mixed Sashimi Platter

This was a platter of several cuts of fish, octopus, abalone, shrimp, uni and this odd looking thing which I’m actually not sure what it was (I believe it might’ve been part of the sea cucumber).  Everything was very fresh tasting and surprisingly high quality.  I was quite impressed by this sashimi platter. 8.25/10

Fluke Hwe (Sashimi)

This was the main course.  The fluke was laid out on rocks with dry ice at the bottom, it was kind of over the top, but it did look pretty.  Fluke is a very mild flavored fish, so the flavor is quite subtle.  The meat was extremely fresh having just been killed so it’s got a firmer texture than you might be used to at a normal sushi restaurant.  I like to dip it in the chogochujang, which is tangy, sweet and spicy, but you can also dip it in soy sauce and wasabi.  It was good although I was pretty full by the time it showed up.  8/10

Kimchi

After the fluke they gave us some light kimchi, which was a nice palate cleanser.  7.75/10

Spicy Tuna Roll

This was just a small spicy tuna roll.  It was decent, but nothing special.  7.5/10

Maewoon Tang (Spicy Fish Stew)

This is a spicy fish stew.  I was so full by the time this came that I only really ate some to see how it tasted.  The ingredients were all fresh, but the soup was a little light in flavor.  Good versions of this stew tend to be spicier and have more the seafood flavor imparted into the broth.  7.5/10

Overall, I really enjoyed my meal here.  The food is good and it’s a fun place to come with friends.  It also happens to be very reasonably priced for what you are getting.

Address:
161-23 Crocheron Ave
Flushing, NY 11358
(718) 321-9555

Chiu Hong Bakery – A Hidden Gem In Chinatown

Chiu Hong Bakery is an old school Cantonese bakery located on the cusp of Chinatown and Soho. It’s the type old school Toisan family owned bakeries that are slowly dying in Chinatown. The place is dingy with no décor whatsoever. There’s not much more to say about the place other than it’s turning out some great pastries.

Lotus Seed Pastry (Lian Rong Su)

This is a flaky pastry that is filled with lotus seed paste. The dough was nicely flaky and not too oily or dry. The lotus seed paste was fairly dense and not overly sweet. It was pretty good. 7.75/10

Wife Cake (Lao Po Bing)

This is a thin flaky disc shaped pastry filled with a winter melon filling with roasted sesame. The version here is excellent, definitely the best version I’ve had in NY and pretty close to Asia level good. In particular the filling is excellent; it’s not the paste that most places have, but rather actual strips of winter melon. This is really excellent and definitely a must order. 8.5/10

Peanut Mochi (Hua Sheng Nuo Mi Ci)

Everyone knows about Japanese mochi, but there is a Cantonese version of mochi as well. I believe they were very popular a long time ago in the 50s or 60s. Anyhow, today they are an old school pastry that you don’t see a lot of people eating anymore. Chiu Hong’s version is excellent and homemade. The dough is very soft, thicker than Japanese mochi and dried coconut has been sprinkled on the outside. The ground peanut and sugar filling is delicious. These were really good. 8.5/10

Red Bean Mochi (Dou Sha Nuo Mi Ci)

These are the same except with red bean paste in the middle. 8.5/10

Red Bean Pancake (Shao Bing)

This was a thin disc shaped pancake made out of rice dough with red bean filling that has been lightly grilled on one side. The rice dough was soft, but had a slightly crispy texture on one side and the red bean filling was nice. This was surprisingly good as I thought it might be bad because it looked like it had been sitting around for a while. 8/10

Fa Gao

Fa gao is a steamed fluffy cake made of rice flour that kind of looks like a cupcake, but is much more fluffy. You normally eat these at Chinese New Years. They are simple, but fairly easy to mess up and are dry when they are bad. Unfortunately, these were a total dud here and were quite dry. 6.5/10

Baked Roast Pork Bun (Kao Cha Shao Bao)

This was a typical roast pork bun except the filling was really ugly and not the regular red or brown filling. It tasted much better than it looked although I thought it was meat wasn’t great. The bun was quite good and it could’ve been a good roast pork bun if it had a more flavorful filling. 7/10

Steamed Roast Pork Bun (Zheng Cha Shao Bao)

Same as the baked pork bun except it was a steamed bun. 7/10

I highly suggest trying this bakery because given it’s location in Soho, I can’t imagine it will be around that much longer. Some of the pastries here are really high quality and it will be a shame when they’re gone.

Address:
161 Mott St
New York, NY 10013
(212) 966-7664

Bangane – A Korean Goat Specialist And One Of The Most Exciting Restaurants In Flushing

I think I may get jaded sometimes when you go to as many restaurants as I do and it takes more for me to get excited these days than it used to. Luckily, Bangane is one of those rare finds that really got me excited.

Bangane is a Korean goat specialist restaurant located further down Northern Blvd in the sleepier part of the Korean section of Flushing. I’ve tried one of these places in LA a long time ago, but it was so long ago that I barely remember it as this point, so I was really excited to go re-introduce myself to this dish. This dish is pretty rare and even if you ask people from Korea about it you get this questioning look as it’s not common at all. I don’t know this for sure, but I’d guess this is probably country people type food.

The restaurant has a very traditional looking wood interiors and looks like an old school neighborhood restaurant in Korea. It has this sort of rustic sleepy atmosphere, which I liked. The staff was very friendly and helpful. Most don’t speak English very well, but one lady spoke English decently and was able to help us order properly.

They brought out a nice spread of panchan.

Kimchi

I read a few reviews online who said they were well known for their kimchi. However, while their kimchi wasn’t bad, I found it too sweet and I thought it was just alright. 7.25/10

Jap Chae

This was standard jap chae (glass noodles), but was made well. It wasn’t overly sweet or over sauced as a lot places make it and was a pretty decent rendition although it was pre-cooked as most panchan is. 7.75/10

Bean Sprouts And Broccoli

This was bean sprouts and broccoli cooked with sesame oil; it was fine and pretty standard. 7.75/10


Dried Squid In Spicy Sauce

This is dried squid that is covered in gochujang (Korean chili paste). While it looks spicy, it’s actually sweeter as opposed to spicy. I always love this and it was quite good here. 8/10


Boiled Greens

Standard boiled greens, nothing special. 7/10


Lotus Root

These were lotus root cooked in a sweet soy sauce. They made these excellent here as they retained their crisp without being too tough and were not overly sweet as most places make them. 8.25/10


Egg Custard

This is a simple dish made from boiling eggs, water and sugar, which results in this egg custard thing with scallions. It’s pretty hard to mess this dish up and it was good here. 8/10


Pickled Radish Soup

This is a cold spicy pickled radish soup that is tart, slightly sweet and very refreshing. I always love when they give you this. 8/10


Pan Fried Goat Liver

This was goat liver that had been covered with egg and then pan fried in oil. It turned out to be quite good, it wasn’t metallic tasting at all, wasn’t dry and had good flavor. Also, while it looked really oily, it actually wasn’t at all. 8/10




Boiled Goat Meat

They bring out a big chunk of boiled goat meat on the bone and cut up the meat table side then they put the meat on top of a steamer which has a bed of scallions which have been steaming. You let it steam for a couple minutes then you take the meat, scallions and wrap it in lettuce with the various condiments and dip it in a really great smoky tangy spicy sauce. I wasn’t sure how this would be, but really it turned out to be excellent and one of the more exciting dishes I’ve had in NY in a while. The meat was tender, flavorful and had a slight gaminess to it that I really liked. I know a lot of people shy away from goat or lamb because they don’t like the gamey flavor, but I’m telling you this is really good and I believe most people will really like it. 8.5/10


















Jungol

The next course is a jungol, which is a big stew. They take the leftover goat meat, add more scallions and cook it in a spicy broth. The resulting stew was pretty good although I thought it could use a bit more flavor. However, one of the waitresses told us to put some of the spicy sauce with vinegar we used for the boiled goat into it, which was perfect as the tangy sauce gave it an extra kick of flavor that made it quite good. 8/10 (7.5/10 without the sauce)






Fried Rice

Normally when they do this, I never end up having enough room to actually enjoy it. However, this time I had enough to room to enjoy it. They take the soup pan, add rice and seawood to the leftover soup and keep cooking it until it turns into fried rice. It’s fairly light as far as fried rice goes because they don’t use any oil. Also, it’s not heavy flavored, but I liked it quite a bit particularly as a last dish. 8/10





Overall, I really enjoyed this meal and I’d highly recommend trying this place out as not only is it delicious, but quite unique in NY.

Address:
16519 Northern Blvd
Flushing, NY 11358
Phone: (718) 762-2799

Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong – Finally Good Korean BBQ In NY

Kang Ho Dong is a famous Korean comedian and former wrestler who started a chain on Korean BBQ restaurants in Korea.  Baekjeong refers to low class people in ancient times who were butchers by trade although it’s not a term people regularly use anymore.  Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong opened their first branch in the US in LA where it is very popular and well regarded.  Thankfully they decided to open another branch in Flushing.

Kang Ho Dong is located on Northern Boulevard in the Korean section of Flushing that is quieter and much less hectic than Downtown Flushing.  When you walk in you’ll find cartoon pictures and life sized cut outs of Kang Ho Dong everywhere.  The restaurant is large industrial looking open space that very much like you’re in Seoul although bigger than restaurants in Seoul.

We came at an off hour, but the service was pretty good and attentive.  I also love that they have the button, which every Korean restaurant in LA has.  When you press the button a waiter comes; it’s so practical, I kind of wish all restaurants had it!

Anyhow here’s what we got:

Panchan

They don’t give you much panchan at Kang Ho Dong; you only get a sweet potato pancake, sweet potato chunks in a sweet thick soy sauce and kimchi.  All of the panchan were decent although not outstanding.  7.75/10

Beef Brisket Soybean Paste Stew (Tenjang Chigae)

We ordered two BBQ sets, each came with a free soup and this was one of those.  Over years I’ve become a bit of a snob when it comes to these types of soups as my GF’s mom is an amazing Korean cook and I’ve realized how subpar most restaurants make these.  However, I was pleasantly surprised and this was a pretty decent.  The broth had good flavor and was not overly salty or watery like most places.  I don’t normally see beef in this dish, but the brisket was a nice touch.  I was surprisingly pleased by this.  8/10

Kimchi Stew (Kimchi Chigae)

Same as the beef brisket, I was surprised that it was pretty decent.  It was nice and spicy and not overly salty.  8/10

Buckwheat Noodle With Spicy Sauce (Bibim Naeng Myun)

I love naeng myun which are black arrowroot noodles; you can read more about here.  They are typically a summer dish as they are served cold, but I couldn’t pass them up.  They are either served in a cold tangy and sweet broth (mul naeng myun) or served dry in a spicy, tangy and sweet sauce (bibim naeng myun).  We got the bibim naeng myun.  It’s pretty self-explanatory and is served with slices of pickled radish and Korean pear.  This was a pretty decent version and I’d order it again.  7.75/10

BBQ Condiments

The BBQ meats came with several condiments including scallions and bean sprouts topped with gochujang (sweet and spicy red chili sauce), lettuce, pickled radish slices, thick sweet soy sauce with onions and we also got sesame oil with salt and pepper, which I forgot to take a picture of but I highly recommend getting (you need to separately order it).  I particularly liked the scallions and bean sprouts and I got multiples orders of that.  8/10

Thinly Sliced Beef Brisket (Chadol Bagi)

This is thinly sliced beef brisket, which you cook very quickly and then put in a lettuce wrap with condiments and dip in the sesame oil with salt and pepper.  The meat quality was noticeably better than other Korean BBQ restaurants in NY, which I generally find use pretty mediocre quality meat.  It was good and I was quite happy with it.  8/10

Premium Boneless Short Rib (Saeng Kalbi)

This was one of my favorite cuts of the day.  In NY, I usually get marinated kalbi because the meat quality is not that great.  However, unmarinated kalbi is the way to go if the meat quality is better as it is here.  The meat was nicely marbled with great flavor; you really didn’t need much more than the meat and some lettuce.  I highly recommend getting this.  8.5/10

Marinated Boneless Short Rib (Yangnyum Kalbi)

This is the regular marinated kalbi.  The cut of meat while fairly decent wasn’t as good as the premium cut.  The marinade was good although it tasted a bit sweet after eating the saeng kalbi.  Overall, it was certainly better than other places in NY, but wasn’t at the same level as the saeng kalbi.  8/10

Marinated Pork Collar

This was pork collar marinated in a sweet soy sauce.  The meat was nicely tender and the marinade was good although I will say after the saeng kalbi all the marinades tasted kind of sweet.  8/10

Premium Seared Pork Belly (Sam Gyup Sal)

This was the traditional sam gyup sal; it’s pretty self-explanatory and they do a good version here.  Make sure to dip it in the sesame oil with salt and pepper.  8.25/10

Premium Pork Jowl

This was interesting as it’s not common to find pork jowl at Korean BBQ.  As it turned out it was my other favorite cut of the day. It had a good pork flavor and while tender still have some springy-ness to it, which I really liked.  I would say this was the consensus favorite at our table.   Definitely make sure to order this.  8.5/10

Steamed Egg, Corn Cheese And Onion

When they cook your meat on the sides they put egg, corn and cheese and peppers and onions in these moats on the side the side of the grill.  As its cooking it cooks these as well.  They were all pretty good, but I think I liked the egg the best.  7.75/10

Overall, it was very good and I’m glad there is finally a good Korean BBQ place in NY.

Address:
152-12 Northern Blvd
Flushing, NY 11354
(718) 886-8645

Somtum Der – Great New Isaan Style Thai, But Hold The Somtum

Somtum Der is one of the latest additions to NY’s explosion in Isaan style Thai food with restaurants like Zabb Elee, Larb Ubol etc.  It’s kind of a weird because it’s a food that most NYers had no idea what it was until the last few years and then it just exploded. If you had asked me I wouldn’t have thought it would’ve caught on given its pretty spicy food which generally doesn’t work well against an American palate.  However, luckily I would’ve been dead wrong and now we have all this delicious food available.

Isaan is an area in northeast Thailand and Somtum Der is actually the NY branch of a Bangkok based restaurant, which is sort of funny because it’s a transplant of a transplant.   Isaan food is quite a bit different than the southern curries that most Americans associate with Thai food.  Instead it has a lot of salad type of dishes and various things like sausages, grilled meats etc.

The inside of the restaurant is dimly lit and fairly nice with all wood interior and long wooden tables. There is also a station with all their ingredients laid out and a guy who is mashing them to make various dishes such as their somtum.  The menu is helpful with lots of pictures and descriptions.  The wait staff is generally pretty friendly although I’ve noticed that when it gets busy they get overwhelmed and the service can be disjointed at times like that.

Tum Thai Kai Kem

I’m going to start with the disappointing stuff here and the somtum dishes despite being the restaurant’s namesake fall into this category.  This is spicy papaya salad with salted egg.  The flavors fell pretty flat here; the normal slightly sweet, sour and spicy flavors all tasted a bit muted and I thought the salted egg would add another dimension, but it didn’t really do much for the dish.  It was ok, but not something I would order again.  6.75/10

Tum Kor Moo Yang

This is spicy Papaya Salad mixed with grilled pork neck meat.  This was better than the tum thai kai kem, but still wasn’t that great.  The flavors were a bit better and the grilled pork neck meat was decent, but again really nothing special.  7.25/10

Larb Moo

This is spicy minced pork salad with green vegetables and chilis.  This was kind of bland, it wasn’t spicy enough and just generally wasn’t that flavorful.  6.5/10

Larb Ped

This is spicy minced duck salad with green vegetables and chilis.  This was definitely better than the larb moo although it was just alright on an absolute basis; for some reason they made it spicier and also a bit more flavorful, which helped the dish.  7.25/10

Moo Rong Hai Der + Khao Ji

Now that we’ve gotten through the duds, let’s get to the stars.  The pork is grilled with a thick layer of this spiced dry rub that is really delicious; it’s spicy, salty and has a semi-smoky flavor that is great.  The sauce it comes with is salty, sour and spicy and compliments the dish nicely.  It also comes with sticky rice that has been grilled that is a bit buttery in flavor and goes really well with it.  8.5/10

Sa Poak Kai Tod Der

This is “Der styled” deep fried chicken thigh, the chicken is perfectly crispy on the outside and very tender on the inside and isn’t greasy at all.  The sauce that is comes with is bit spicy, salty and sweet.  This is a good dish.  8.25/10

Moo Ping Kati Sod

This is grilled coconut milk marinated pork skewers.  The pork is tender and a bit of charred on the outside and the coconut milk has a slightly creamy coconut-y flavor.  It’s served with rice noodles and the same sauce as the moo rong hai der.  It’s very good.  8.25/10

Yum Tra Krai Sardine

This is sardines mixed with lemongrass, tomato sauce, herbs and spices in chili dressing.  It’s salty, sour and spicy with big chunks of sardines.  Silverjay on chowhound told me the first time he had it was served differently as the sardines were different and weren’t these big chunks.  It was decent, but I didn’t love it.  7.5/10

Goong Chae Nam Pla

This is prawn sashimi with green chili sauce and is probably my favorite dish here.  The shrimp meat is slightly sweet as prawn sashimi typically is.  The sauce is the spiciest thing I’ve had here and is spicy, sour and salty.  It really compliments the shrimp nicely.  Also if you don’t like really spicy food, I’d suggest taking peppers off as they are what is really spicy about the dish.  8.5/10

Yum Crispy Leaf Fish

This is chunks of crispy leaf fish in a spicy dressing.  This is another one of my favorite dishes here, the chunks of fish are crispy and the dressing is spicy, sweet, salty and sour.  It also has these vegetables which I’m not sure what they are and they look kind of like onion; they are really delicious with a unique flavor which is hard to explain.  I highly recommend trying this dish.  8.5/10

Black Jelly With Fresh Milk

This is chunks of shaved ice with small bits of black herbal jelly and milk that is sweetened and this brown powder on top.  It was alright, but wasn’t really what I was expecting.  7.25/10

Taro In Condense Coconut Milk

This is a warm sweet coconut milk soup with mochi taro balls.  The soup is sweet, salty and creamy and the mochi are very tender and I believe uses real taro as it tastes like taro.  This is really good and I highly recommend getting this.  8.5/10

Overall, I really like this place if you order the right dishes and stay away from their somtum and larb.  This is a great addition to NY’s Thai scene.

Address:
85 Ave A
New York, NY 10009
(212) 260-8570
http://www.somtumder.com/

Takahachi Bakery – My New Favorite Japanese Bakery In NY

Takahachi Bakery is a Japanese bakery that I discovered by accident this summer because it’s very close to where I get my haircut in Tribeca.  Japanese bakeries have always been one of my favorite things since I was a kid.  However, I’ve found the ones in NY to be somewhat mediocre, so I was very happy to find a good quality Japanese bakery.

The bakery is a long a narrow space with exposed brick walls and high ceilings.  It has a large display case showcasing its goods and a small space in the back to sit and eat.  The staff is nice and is pretty helpful.

Here’s what we got:

An Pan:

An pan is a baked red bean bun and is one of the most common pastries you see in Japanese bakeries.  The version here is very good; the bread is soft and moist and the red bean filling has good consistency and is not too sweet.  The ratio of filling to bread was also perfect.  Overall, this is a solid version. 8.25/10

Mochi An Pan With Green Tea Powder:

This is the same as the regular an pan except with green tea powder on top, which gives it a slightly bitter green tea flavor and with mochi (rice dough) in the middle.  The mochi makes the inside chewy.  It’s pretty good, but I prefer the regular an pan over this.  7.75/10

Sourdough Green Tea An Pan:

This is an pan except they use a green tea flavor sourdough bun.  I couldn’t really taste the green tea and just tasted like a sourdough bun although very light in flavor.  It’s not as soft or fluffy as the regular bun with thicker and tougher exterior.  It was alright, but I didn’t think it was anything special.  7.25/10

Sweet Cheese Bun:

This is a fluffy white bun filled with a sweet cheese filling and topped with powdered sugar.  The bun is perfectly fluffy and soft and the cheese filling is really good.  It’s slightly sour, but sweet and almost runny.  This is excellent and one of the stars here.  8.5/10

Melon Pan:

Melon pan is the Japanese version of a Chinese bo lo bao (pineapple bun).  I’m not sure who actually came up with it first, but I’m pretty sure it’s Chinese originally although I did read that either the Chinese got it from the Mexicans (pan dulce) or the Mexicans got it from the Chinese.  Any which I love everyone’s version of this.  It’s a baked white bun with no filling and a hard sugary top.  The sugary top is really good and the bread is moist and fluffy.  It’s simple, but really good.  8.5/10

Sweet Potato Cone:

This is a cone shaped pastry that is filled with sweet potato filling that has been spiced with cinnamon and has sesame seeds on top.  It tastes exactly as it sounds and I love sweet potato so this was awesome for me.  8.25/10

Strawberry Shortcake:

This is just strawberry shortcake.  The cake was moist and light and the frosting is the typical Asian style frosting that is very light. However, the frosting was a bit too sweet; I’d prefer if it was less sweet.  I would’ve given a higher rating if it was less sweet.  7.25/10

Curry Beef Bun:

This is a baked bun filled with curry filling that has beef, potatoes and carrots in it and it’s topped with this savory herbal seasoning.  The bun is soft and moist as all of Takahachi’s buns are.  The curry filling is nicely flavored and the herbal powder seasoning on top is really good with the bun.  It doesn’t look that great, but it’s really delicious.  8.25/10

Soufflé Cheesecake:

This is my favorite thing here.  It’s really light cheesecake that is just slightly sweet and a bit sour.  I don’t know how to properly explain this, but it’s really good.  8.75/10

Pumpkin Roll:

This is a twisty roll that has swirls of pumpkin paste in it.  Again moist and soft and the bread goes perfectly with the pumpkin.  This was very nice.  8/10

Overall, I like this bakery a lot and if you happen to be in the area definitely give it a try.

Address:
25 Murray St (between Broadway & Church St)
New York, NY 10007
(212) 791-5550
takahachibakery.com

Tan Cang Newport Seafood – One Of My Favorite Restaurants In Orange County

Tan Cang Newport Seafood is basically an institution at this point in Little Saigon (Santa Ana and Garden Grove) and the San Gabriel Valley (San Gabriel and Rowland Heights).  They are known for several dishes, but famous for their lobster.  I’ve been eating here for several years now, but a recent really good meal prompted me to write a post about it.

To clarify the SGV restaurants are still affiliated with each other, but neither of the OC restaurants are affiliated with any of the others.  According to their SGV restaurants’ websites the Orange County ones are the originals, but were sold.  According to the Santa Ana restaurant’s website they are the original and the others are imposters (their site is no longer up).  This review is for the Santa Ana branch which I think is excellent.  The Garden Grove one is not as good.  The San Gabriel one was similar to the Santa Ana branch in quality.  I have not eaten at the Rowland Heights one.

Now that we got that out of the way, the food they serve here is billed as Teochew (Chao Zhou / Chiu Chow) food.  Teochew are Chinese from the Chao Shan region of China, which is eastern Guangdong.  They have their own language and their food is known for their fresh seafood and generally light cuisine (not a lot of oil, lots of steaming, braising and poaching).  It’s one of my favorite types of Chinese cuisine although it’s quite rare in the US.  Anyhow, this is not traditional Teochew food but rather is a mix of Teochew, Cantonese and Vietnamese.  The people who run the restaurant are Chinese from Vietnam and they speak a ton of languages (I’ve heard Cantonese, Teochew, Mandarin, English, Vietnamese and an Asian language I couldn’t figure out what it was).

The restaurant used to be smaller, but they renovated and doubled the size of the restaurant.  While it’s not going to knock your socks off its not a total dump like it used to be before.  The servers are generally reasonably nice although service is quick and brisk.  The short Chinese boss lady who I believe is the owner is really nice if you talk to her.

On to the food:

Kung Pao Chicken:

Most people associate kung pao chicken with Americanized-Chinese food, but it actually is a real Sichuan dish.  However, this is Tan Cang’s own take on the dish, which resembles the Americanized-Chinese version, but it’s drier without any gloppy sauce.  The chicken is very tender, slightly crispy on the outside and the sauce is a bit sweet and spicy.  I find it quite delicious.  8/10

Fried Tofu:

This is battered fried blocks of tofu topped with sautéed onions, green onions and chili.  It served with a dark soy sauce and a dish of salt and white pepper.  You can also squeeze a lime on it, which I recommend doing.  The batter is quite thin and while it looks really oily it’s actually not that heavy.  The batter is nicely crispy while the tofu retains a great soft texture.  By itself it’s rather plain, but with all the toppings, soy sauce and salt and pepper it’s delicious.  8/10

Spicy Basil Clams:

This is another popular dish, but I’m not that big a fan of it.  The clams are generally decent although not amazing quality.  However, but I find the sauce rather bland; it’s a brown sauce that is slightly spicy with black bean, basil and green peppers in it.  It’s an okay dish, but a bit of a dud.  6.75/10

Sauteed Snow Peas:

This is a classic rendition that is snow peas leaves sautéed in oil, salt and garlic.  The thing that is different is they use the really small skinny snow peas, which is not that common.  I like these small skinny snow peas more than the regular one.  7.75/10

Salt & Pepper Squid:

This is classic Cantonese style salt and pepper squid, which is squid battered in a salt and pepper battered and fried then topped with jalapeno.  Most of the time this dish is pretty decent with a good crispy batter and reasonably tender squid, but occasionally it can come out too oily. 7.75/10 (7.25/10 when they make it too greasy)

Salt & Pepper Shrimp:

Same dish as the salt and pepper squid except with shrimp.  They also give you a lime and a mix of salt and white pepper.  They do a better job on this dish as it’s always pretty delicious and never seems to be too oily. 8/10

Bo Luc Lac:

This is the French style beef in a black pepper sauce.  They don’t always cook this the same way; sometimes it’s more sauce-y and sometimes it’s drier.  The beef is nicely tender and the sauce is slightly sweet and peppery.  I like the version here better than most versions I’ve had in Little Saigon and it’s quite tasty with white rice. 8.25/10

House Special Lobster:

This is the house specialty and you will see it on every table.  You order it by the pound and the lobster are big ranging from 4-6 lbs.  They are battered in a sweet and spicy batter that is really delicious.  The lobster meat is sweet and tender and I really love the sweet roe (they are the red stuff in case you’ve never seen lobster roe).  The quality of the lobster can vary a bit; sometimes you get a great lobster and sometimes it’s just a decent lobster, but the way it’s prepared it always ends tasty.  8.5/10

Boiled Live Prawns:

This was a special from my latest trip.  These were classic Cantonese style boiled prawns served with a dark soy sauce with sesame oil and sliced jalapenos in it.  The prawns were live, huge and very fresh.  The meat was sweet with good texture and tasted great with the sauce.  I prefer slightly smaller prawns, but this was still quite good. 8.25/10

Geoduck Soup (Part Of Geoduck 3 Ways):

This was part of a special that was actually the reason I wrote this post.  The waiter told me they had live geoduck and the quality was especially good that day (I got upsold for sure).  The first way they served it was in a light soup where they had boiled the geoduck parts along with cabbage, mushrooms and other vegetables.  The result was a broth that was very light and tasted similar to a clam broth.  It was a nice light flavored soup, but it definitely needed a little white pepper to kick it up. 7.75/10

Spicy Geoduck (Part Of Geoduck 3 Ways):

This was sliced geoduck that was very quickly blanched then topped with a hot and sour sauce with basil and bean sprouts.  Everyone at the table was shocked at how good this was.  The hot and sour sauce was light and paired perfected with the basil and didn’t overpower the geoduck at all.  The geoduck meat was nicely tender and it was just generally a really good dish. 8.5/10

Geoduck Sashimi (Part Of Geoduck 3 Ways):

As a disclaimer since this was the only time I’ve had this dish here, I can’t say that it wasn’t a fluke, but wow this was amazing.  It was the standard geoduck sashimi that is sliced, put on ice and served with soy sauce, wasabi and pickled ginger.  This geoduck was so fresh; it had a good crunchy texture and tasted briny with no fishy taste whatsoever.  It was honestly a lot better than the geoduck I’ve had at top sushi restaurants in NY and LA.  It’s so simple that I can’t tell you much more to describe it other than it was really good.  Also as a side note, the geoduck 3 ways was $35 per lbs and we got 4 lbs, so it wasn’t cheap.  8.75/10

Overall, while it’s certainly not fancy, I really like the food at Tan Cang.  It’s always just delicious and really satisfying.  I highly recommend coming here.

Address:
4411 W 1st St
Santa Ana, CA 92703
(714) 531-5146
tancangnewportseafood.com

Sushi Nakazawa – How Does It Compare To Jiro? I Don’t Know Or Care, But This Is Some Of The Best Sushi In NY

Sushi Nakazawa was recently opened by Daisuke Nakazawa who is famous for being the apprentice in “Jiro Dreams Of Sushi” who made tamagoyaki two thousand times before Jiro finally said it was good enough quality to be served to customers.  Naturally before he even opened up there was a lot of buzz about him, how he compares to Jiro, how his experience in Seattle might have shaped him and many other permutations of that conversation.  Well I’ve never been to Jiro (and neither have 99.9% of the people asking how it will compare), but I can tell you this he’s making some of the best sushi in NY right now and is solidly in the top tier sushi level with places like Sushi Yasuda and 15 East.

The restaurant is located in the West Village.  The space is a long narrow space with a sushi bar upfront and tables in the back.  The window facing the sidewalk is floor to ceiling and gives the restaurant a more open feel versus most sushi restaurants which feel enclosed.  It is a beautiful space and I really like how it feels more casual than other sushi restaurants.  The service was excellent and attentive.  Daisuke Nakazawa is a very nice guy. While his English is not great he’s always smiling, laughing and is engaging with customers which is rare in NY.

We got the sushi omakase which is $150 for 21 pieces (a lot of people asked me about that).

I’m going to comment on the sushi rice here since it is a commonality amongst all the sushi.  It was excellent and on par with Yasuda which has the best sushi rice in NY.  The texture was great, perfectly al dente and the flavor of the vinegar was nice and not overpowering or too weak.  The flavoring is a bit different than Yasuda, but it’s a tossup as to whose rice is better.

Another thing I’ll comment on is he uses way more locally caught seafood than other places and I’ve heard some complaints about that because of the price of the meal.  My view is that the seafood was excellent and I don’t care where it’s from if it’s really good although I understand the price vs where the food is from argument, but I’ll let other argue over that.

Here’s what we had:

Wild King Salmon

This was from Alaska and was served with sea salt and yuzu.  The meat was very light colored and quite delicate tasting.  I thought the sea salt and yuzu really complimented it nicely.  8.5/10

Alaskan Sockeye Salmon

This had a slightly stronger salmon taste although again it was excellent.   8.25/10

Scallop

This was from Maine and was live.  They brought the whole shell out to show us before serving it to us.  It was sweet and bit briny, a really standout scallop.  8.5/10

Seared Geoduck

The searing gave the geoduck a very smoky flavor and the soy sauce complimented it nicely with some saltiness.  While it was not super tender it also wasn’t tough like some geoduck.  I thought it was good although not amazing.  7.75/10

Steamed Abalone

This was from California and was steamed for 4 hours.  This was good for abalone although abalone is not my favorite sushi as I find it a bit hard and not that flavorful.  That said this was better than most abalone you get in the US as it wasn’t that tough.  7.75/10

Pike Mackerel

This was from Japan.  It was really great and was the best piece I’ve had in the US.  8.75/10

Pickled Mackerel

This was from Japan and pickled for 5 days.  The pickling killed any fishy flavor and I thought it was a really nice tasting piece of mackerel.  8.25/10

Trigger Fish

This was from Long Island and served with liver.  The fish was quite light tasting with a good firm texture.  The liver was a nice touch as it gave the fish an extra bit slight liver flavor which made it a much fuller taste overall.  8/10

Fluke

This was from Long Island and served with yuzu.  This was a standard, but good piece of fluke.  8/10

Spear Squid

This was from Long Island and it was quite tender actually.  Squid itself does not have a ton of flavor, so the soy sauce is definitely necessary.  7.75/10

Shrimp

This was from New Caledonia and while I normally don’t like ebi all that much this was definitely the best piece I’ve had in the US.  It had been recently cooked, so it was slightly warm.  8.25/10

Shima Aji

This was from Japan and it was a really great piece of fish.  Tender and just had great flavor.  8.5/10

Skip Jack

This was from Japan and was smoked.  It was nice with a very slight smokiness to it.  8.25/10

Blue Fin Tuna

This was wild caught from Boston.  It was interesting because all of the tuna was from one fish from Boston which I’d never had tuna from Boston.  I thought it was surprisingly good, nice tuna flavor with pretty good texture.  It’s not like the best stuff I’ve had in Japan, but it was actually very nice.  8.25/10

Chutoro (Medium Fatty Tuna)

This was wild caught from Boston.  It was nicely marbled and buttery.   8/10

Otoro (Tuna Belly)

This was wild caught from Boston.  It was also nicely marbled and buttery.  8/10

Uni (Sea Urchin)

This was from Santa Barbara.  I was a little worried because it looked bit weird, but once I took a bit it turned out to be excellent.  It was sweet, briny and creamy.  It was definitely a respectable piece of uni.  8.25/10

Salmon Roe

This was from Alaska.  Wow this was a standout; this was by far the best ikura I’ve had in the US.  It wasn’t fishy at all, nicely salty with just generally good flavor.  8.75/10

Anago (Conger Eel)

This was from Japan.  It was a nice piece of anago with good texture not too mushy and the sweet sauce was not overwhelming.  8/10

Tuna Handroll

This was a tuna handroll that had a bit of liver in it.  While tuna handrolls are not my favorite, this was very good for a tuna handroll with a good ratio of fish to rice to nori8.25/10

Tamago

Here is the infamous tamago from Jiro Dream’s Of Sushi.  This was different than most as it’s the kind that is more of a cake as opposed to an omelette, so the texture is more spongy.  It was fairly sweet and delicate tasting.  I thought it was good although I think I prefer the traditional tamagoyaki more.  8/10

Overall, I really liked Nakazawa across the board.  I thought the food was some of the best I’ve had in NY this year, the service and setting were great and Nakazawa was a really nice guy.  I highly recommend coming here as soon as possible.

Address:
23 Commerce St (between S 7th Ave & Bedford St)
New York, NY 10014
(212) 924-2212
sushinakazawa.com

Tao Hong Bakery – A Solid If Unremarkable Chinatown Bakery, But Try The Mango Sticky Rice Ball

Tao Hong Bakery is a bakery I noticed because of a positive review on chowhound, which you can see here.

It’s a rather small and non-descript Cantonese bakery which would not particularly standout if you were just walking by it.  The interior is quite small with two display cases at the front and side and that’s really it.  The lady who runs the place is quite nice and can speak English pretty decently if you don’t speak Chinese.

Here’s what we got:

Pork Floss And Crème Bun

This is a baked bun that has pork floss (rou song) and a slightly savory white crème in the middle.  The bun itself was quite good; it had a slightly sweet flavor and was nicely moist.  The pork floss was good as well, but I’m just not a fan of the savory cream which sort of reminds me of room temperature butter.  This is a good version of this type of bun and probably the best one I’ve had in NY, but as a dish it’s just not my thing.  7/10

Egg Tart (Dan Ta)

The actual egg custard was pretty good; it had a decently egg-y flavor and was fresh.  The crust was standard, but not as flaky as I like it.  It was a pretty decent rendition, but I prefer Double Crispy or Ka Wah. 7.75/10

Coconut and Red Bean Pudding

This is a square of cold coconut and red bean pudding with some coconut shavings on top.  The pudding is creamy, but fairly light and not too sweet.  It’s not heavily flavored and generally tastes a bit more of coconut than red bean as the red bean flavor is faint.  It’s decent although I wouldn’t go out of my way to get it, but if you happen to be here might be worth trying.  7.5/10

Vanilla Cake Roll

The cake was decent although it could’ve been a bit moister.  The vanilla crème was good and it’s slightly salty which I liked as it contrasts nicely against the sweet cake.  It was decent, but nothing special. 7.25/10

Steamed Pork Bun (Cha Siu Bao)

The bun itself was pretty decent, fresh and reasonably fluffy.  However, I wasn’t crazy about the sauce; it was that red sweet sauce and it was a bit gloppy and too sweet.  I much prefer Mei Li Wah’s to these.  7/10

Mango and Coconut Glutinous Rice Ball

This is the standout here.  It’s a fairly large mango flavored glutinous rice ball covered in coconut shavings with fresh mango in the middle.  The lady told me to eat it the same day.  The glutinous rice ball was very soft and tender with a slight mango flavor and was sweet although not too sweet.  The coconut shavings add a nice textural contrast and flavor.  The mango in the middle was very fresh and tasted great.  This is the one thing I’d say is worth coming here for.  8.25/10

Overall, everything at this bakery is fairly decent and it’s definitely an above average bakery in NY.  Although I didn’t feel like anything was particularly standout with the exception of the mango ball and I prefer Double Crispy and Ka Wah for Chinese pastries.

Address:
79 Chrystie St (between Canal St & Hester St)
New York, NY 10002
(212) 219-0981

Sakura-Ya – Old School Amazing Mochi in Gardena

Sakura-Ya is the last and my favorite of the three places I’ve posted about which I’ve been going to since I was born; the other two being Sakae Sushi and Mitsuru Cafe.

Sakura-Ya is an old store opened in 1960 that specializes in Japanese confectionary called mochi and manju.  They are old school still make all their mochi by hand and still owned by the same family.  However, the original husband and wife I grew up seeing seem to have largely retired and younger generations of the family run it day to day.  This is great news because I’ve actually been worried for years that it would shut down when the original owners retired, which would be a huge shame.

It’s located in an old strip of stores in Gardena.  For a long time it looked like no one had renovated the exterior since 1960, but recently they re-did the store front and it looks much better.  However, the interior has looked exactly the same for as long as I can remember.  It’s a white room with display cases and a bit of decoration, but overall it’s pretty bare bones.  The staff is mainly family and are extremely nice.

Starting from top left going clockwise: kuri manju, imo manju, ohagi, kinako green mochi, pink mochi, kinako green mochi (again), kashiwa mochi, kiku manju , white mochi and green mochi

Here’s what we got:

Kuri Manju

This manju has an exterior made of wheat flour and mashed chestnut filling.  The exterior is quite thin and moist while the filling is sweet, smooth, doesn’t have a strong flavor and is a bit drier (although not in a bad way).  It’s a simple pastry, but it’s good.  8/10

Imo Manju

This manju has a similar exterior to the kuri manju, but is filled with mashed sweet potato.  The sweet potato filling has been spiced with cinnamon, which gives it a fantastic flavor.  This is one of my favorite items here.  8.5/10

Ohagi

Ohagi is a type of mochi that has red beans on the outside with a ball of glutinous rice in the middle.  The beans have the casings giving it a nice textural contrast.  It tastes exactly how it sounds and is one of my favorite mochi8.5/10

Kinako Green Mochi

These are mochi where the skins have yomogi (mugwort) in them giving them a green color and a certain flavor which is sort of hard to describe, but is quite light.  The rice dough at Sakura-Ya is so good; it’s extremely soft and delicate, much more so than other stores.  The red bean filling is perfect; not too sweet, smooth, but still has textural contrast from the red bean casing.  It is also topped with kinako powder, which is a roasted soybean powder that gives it a slightly bitter flavor, which I enjoy a lot.  8.5/10

Pink Mochi

This mochi is pink because of food coloring.  The skins are the same, so they’re amazing.  The filing is mashed white bean, which is very smooth and sweet.  It has a slightly more muted flavor than red bean, but is just as good.  This is a must-order.  8.5/10

Kashiwa Mochi

This type of mochi is wrapped in a leaf.  The dough is much more gooey and sticky than the normal mochi and the leaf imparts a certain sort of herbal flavor to the dough.  The filling is the same red bean filling.  While this is still quite good, it’s not quite as good as the regular mochi8/10

Kiku Manju

This manju has a very thin open pancake made of wheat flour that is filled white mochi and red bean paste.  It tastes just like it sounds and while it’s pretty good, it’s not my favorite overall.  I found the rice dough to be not quite as soft and delicate as the rest and I prefer the straight dough with beans as opposed to the pancake.  7.5/10

White Mochi

This is straight forward rice dough with red bean paste.  This is a really good one.  8.5/10

Green Mochi

Same as the kinako green mochi without the kinako.  This is another winner.  8.5/10

Overall, this place is great and it really stands out from the crowd.  I highly suggest trying it out.

Address:
16134 S Western Ave
Gardena, CA 90247
(310) 323-7117

Sakae Sushi – This Is Not Jiro, But It’s Still Awesome

Sakae Sushi is one of the three places I mentioned in my post on Mitsuru Café that I can remember going to for as long as I’ve been alive (the third place is Sakura-Ya) because all of them are older than I am.  I’d feel like my blog is not complete until I’ve got a post on all three places.

The “restaurant” is not even a restaurant, but is rather a very small take-out place located right on Redondo Beach Blvd across the street from Pacific Square Shopping Center in Gardena.   This is not the high end sushi that you find at say Mori or Zo rather I think of it as “comfort” sushi that you eat at home.  They only makes 6 sushi items: nori maki, inari, ebi, saba, tamago yaki and California rolls.  Here’s all of the sushi except California rolls because I don’t like them:

Inari

Inari is a fried tofu skin pouch that has been marinated in a semi-sweet sauce that I believe has mirin, sugar, soy sauce and dashi and filled with sushi rice.  One note about all of their sushi is that the rice is rather sweet compared to most sushi places although I like it and it complements the sushi well. Normally you see these in the Japanese markets in their prepared food section, but those don’t taste nearly as good as Sakae; the rice is very fresh and the tofu skins are marinated just perfectly.  8.5/10

Tamago Maki

Tamago maki is a futomaki roll that instead of having nori (dried seaweed) as the outside layer instead it has thin layer of tamago (semi-sweet egg omelette) layer on the outside.  It is filled with shiitake mushrooms, spinach, tamago, pickled kampyo and oboro (the pink sweet stuff).  It’s fairly self-explanatory in flavor and the version here is very good. 8.25/10

Nori Maki

This is the same as the tamago maki except the outside is nori instead of tamago and it will have a piece of tamago as part of the filling.  This is also excellent.  8.25/10

Saba Sushi

Saba sushi is mackerel has been marinated in vinegar.  My grandmother said that traditionally you were supposed to have white meat, a bit of dark meat and skin on each piece.  This is the exactly how they do it at Sakae.  I really like their version; the fish is just right and goes great with the rice.  8.25/10

Ebi Sushi (Cooked Shrimp)

I’m not a huge fan of ebi as I find it rather plain and that’s the same here although I will say it’s better than most since the shrimp tastes fresher.  7.25/10

1st pic (clockwise from top left): inari, saba, nori maki, tamago maki

2nd pic (clockwise from top left): ebi, nori maki, tamago yaki, inari

Overall, I really like this place and if you happen to be in Gardena do yourself a favor and pick some up for yourself.  Also, if you happen to be going anywhere around New Years and want a large order be aware that you need to call weeks or a month in advance because they do sell out for the large orders.

Address:
1601 W Redondo Beach Blvd, Ste 112
Gardena, CA 90247
(310) 532-4550

New Kam Hing Coffee Shop – One Of The Best Sponge Cakes In Chinatown

New Kam Hing is an old school Cantonese coffee shop on Baxter Street in Chinatown.  It’s really small consisting only of a kitchen and small display counter.  It’s a true specialist only offering a handful of items and for many years it’s been known for its great sponge cakes.

It was originally run by an old Cantonese woman, but she decided to retire at one point and I heard it was going to close.  However, it appears that the Mexican worker who has worked there forever has taken over and now runs the place (he can speak some Cantonese btw), so it appears that this place will be running for a long time to come hopefully.

Sponge Cake:

There is only one thing to order here and this is it.  This is an egg-y sponge cake that will remind you of an egg-y version of angel food cake.  The version here is moist, egg-y and quite good.  The only version I’ve had in NY that is close to it is Ka Wah, which you can read about here.  While pretty-self-explanatory this is definitely quite good.  One thing to note is that they are significantly better when they are freshly baked as opposed to when they have been sitting around (I suggest warming them up in the microwave if you come when they have been sitting around for a while).  8.5/10

Overall, while not a destination spot if you’re in Chinatown during the day this is a great place to pick up a nice light snack.

Address:
119 Baxter St, Ste B (between Canal St & Hester St)
New York, NY 10013
(212) 925-0425

Mei Li Wah – A Cha Siu Bao Institution; Amazing Cha Siu Bao? No…The Best In Chinatown? Probably

Mei Li Wah is a Chinatown institution and my blog would not be complete if I didn’t cover it.  It’s a cha chaan teng / cha can ting (literally means tea restaurant), which is a type of old school Cantonese restaurant that is common in Hong Kong serving tea, coffee and various cheap foods.  In particular Mei Li Wah is known for its various buns.

Originally, Mei Li Wah was a rundown super old school Toisonese run place, but a few years ago they changed ownership, renovated the restaurant and hired a much younger staff.  Now it’s a much brighter, cleaner and new looking restaurant.  The service is still fairly quick and brisk although it’s nicer than before when the old guys had little patience if you didn’t know what you wanted right away although some people liked that as part of the character of the place.  I’m not one for nostalgia, but I do miss the old school feel of the old Mei Li Wah a bit.

Generally, I stick to their buns, which are all displayed up front as I find a lot of their other food to be pretty mediocre.

Steamed Pork Bun (Cha Siu Bao / Cha Shao Bao):

This is their most famous item.  It’s a fluffy steamed white bun filled with diced cha siu (BBQ pork) in a brown sauce.  One of the major differences between MLW’s and others’ versions is that the sauce is much more savory and brown than the normal sweeter red sauce.  The sauce is the best thing about this bun as I really like that savory flavor.  The cha siu itself is decent although sometimes it can a bit too much fat in it.  The bun has a nice slight sweetness to it, but I’ve noticed over the last year or so that it’s become noticeably less fluffy than it used to be.  I still think this is the best cha siu bao in Chinatown, but because of the decline in quality of the bun I’d say it’s good, but no longer great.  7.75/10 or 8/10 on a good day (a few years ago I’d have probably given it an 8.25 rating)  

Baked Pork Bun (Cha Siu Bao / Cha Shao Bao):

This is baked white bun filled with diced cha siu (BBQ pork) in a brown sauce.  Same exact filling as the steamed version.  While I normally much prefer steamed cha siu bao, MLW’s baked version is actually quite good and maybe better than its steamed version as the bread is quite good with a nice honey glaze on the outside.  8/10

Big Bun (Dai Bao / Da Bao):

This is another famous offering.  It is similar to a cha siu bao except it’s bigger and filled with chicken, Chinese sausage, half boiled egg and shitake mushrooms.  They used to make these quite well, but I’ve noticed that the bun has gotten way too dry since they switched ownership.  The filling tastes like it sounds and is reasonably tasty.  Overall, it’s decent version, but not great.  7.25/10

Cocktail Bun (Gai Mei Bao / Ji Wei Bao):

This is the sleeper for me here.  This is a baked bun with sugar on top and a minced buttery and sweet coconut filling.  The bread is nicely moist and the sugar on top adds nice textural contrast.  The filling is good and not too buttery like most places.  I’m not sure everyone will like this as much as I do because I really like gai mei bao, but they make this really well.  8.25/10

Overall, they are pretty decent cha siu bao and certainly better than the vast majority in Chinatown which are quite mediocre.  I’d recommend coming to try out the cha siu bao and the cocktail bun.

Address:
64 Bayard St (between Mott St & Elizabeth St)
New York, NY 10013
(212) 966-7866

Mitsuru Café – Great Imagawayaki (Taiyaki), Homemade Mochi And Other Japanese Treats in Little Tokyo

Mitsuru Café is one of three Japanese places that I can literally remember going to for as long as I’ve been alive; the other two being Sakae Sushi and Sakura-Ya in Gardena.  All of these places serve very simple Japanese dishes that I love and fondly remember.

Mitsuru Café is a little café located in Japanese Village in Little Tokyo.  While they have renovated the outside, the inside still looks like it’s from the 60s with old faded walls with specials taped on them, a counter with an open kitchen and old wooden tables.  At the front window they have a griddle that cooks the imagawayaki as well as a display case showing a variety fried foods and other stuff such as dango.  Its super old school and really brings you back.  I rarely sit down and eat, but when I’m close to Downtown LA I almost always stop by and get some food for myself or to bring back to my family.

Imagawayaki:

This is what you will see people waiting in line for.  Imagawayaki is a pancake cooked in a griddle with red bean in the middle.  More commonly you will see taiyaki which are the fish shaped ones.  The key to a good imagawayaki are being fresh off the grill, good tasting batter and the right batter to bean ratio.  Surprisingly, I’ve had a hard time finding a good one in Asia even in Tokyo and Taipei where they are very common.  One of the three characteristics is always wrong; it’s a cheap snack and most of the vendors just don’t take them seriously.  Mitsuru still makes the best one for me.  They are really fresh, hot and slightly crispy, the batter is not too thick and has a really good flavor.  The only knock is that the an (red bean paste) is a bit too sweet.  I highly recommend trying these.  8.5/10

Ohagi:

Ohagi are a type of mochi with red bean on the outside and a rice ball in the middle; definitely one of my favorite.  The ones here are true home style and taste like the ones my family made when I was a kid.  They’re pretty ugly, but the beans are really fresh and the rice balls are very nice as well.  It’s a simple confectionery, but you’ll notice the difference versus the ones you buy in the super markets.  8.25/10

Daifuku / Yomogi / Black Sesame Daifuku:

These are also homemade.  The daifuku are the standard white ones, the yomogi the green ones that use mugwort (one of my favorite) and the black sesame daifuku are the ones covered in black sesame.  All of them have red bean in the middle.  Even though these are homemade honestly they don’t taste much different than the major local brands like Mikawaya.  They are still good, nicely fresh and taste just like they sound.  While not exceptional like Sakura-Ya, they are quite good and worth eating if you happen to be buying other stuff.  7.75/10

Inari:

Inari are a type of sushi that look like footballs.  They are marinated tofu skins stuffed with sushi rice and sesame seeds.  They are fresh and pretty decent although they’re not great like the ones at Sakae Sushi.  Again these are good and worth checking out if you’re here, but not going to blow you away.  7.75/10

Futomaki:

These are the sushi rolls that have tamago (sweet egg omelet), takuan (yellow radish pickle), this pink sweet stuff that looks like cotton candy and pickled gobo (burdock root).  The ones here are pretty standard and while tasty not out of the ordinary.  These are another one worth checking out if you’re here, but not worth going out of your way for.  7.75/10

Overall, if you want to try some great imagawayaki and homemade mochi, I’d highly recommend coming here because this is the type of stuff that one day you will not be able to find anymore.  Also please note that they only carry the ohagi and mochi on the weekends.

Address:
117 Japanese Village Plz Mall
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 613-1028

Hou Yi – Extremely Reasonable Hot Pot In Chinatown

Hou Yi is a hot pot specialist restaurant located in the northeastern Fujian section of Chinatown that borders the Lower East Side.

Hot pot is a pot of broth which you cook raw ingredients in and then dip in various sauces.  Surprisingly I’ve had a hard time finding a decent hot pot place in the city and usually go to Flushing to Baidu to get my fix, which you can see here.  It’s surprising because it must be one of the most universally popular dishes amongst all types of Chinese people.

The restaurant is a small place that quite ugly even for Chinatown with bright orange walls, dim yellow lighting and ugly wooden tables.   The service was fine and relatively efficient.  Both times I’ve been there has been a wait, so I’d either go early or late.  The price is $23 for all you can eat hot pot including drinks, so it’s very well priced.

I’ll break down the hot pot by different aspects:

Broth:

We got regular and spicy broth.  Both were pretty standard, but good.  The light broth is a standard mild flavored broth and the spicy one is a Sichuan style ma la broth.   The spicy one is very spicy and spicier than the broth I’ve had at most Sichuan restaurants in NY, so if you can’t handle spicy food I’d avoid it.  7.75/10

Meat:

We got the beef and lamb.  While they were frozen they seemed reasonably fresh to me.  I liked the beef better than the lamb.  My GF thought the beef wasn’t good quality, but I thought it was fine.  The lamb was alright, but was a bit gamey (my GF did not like it at all, but she doesn’t like lamb in general).  7.5/10 for the beef, 7.25/10 for the lamb

Non-Meat Sides:

They have a variety of standard non-meat sides of vegetables, dumplings, fish balls etc.  We got fried tofu skin, fried tofu cubes, corn, tofu, enoki mushrooms, daikon, cabbage, Hong Kong style fish balls, Fujian style fish balls and some other stuff which I’m forgetting.  I thought all of it was good except I thought the Hong Kong style fish balls were too processed tasting and the fried tofu cubes were mediocre as well.  7.75/10

Sauces:

They don’t have a lot of options for sauces, I used the sesame and sha cha sauce.  The sha cha sauce was not provided on the tables and I had to ask them for it.  Sha cha sauce is a dried shrimp sauce, which you can read more about here.  Both sauces were pretty standard tasting, but reasonably decent.  The major shortcoming of this place for me was the lack of variety of sauces.  I normally like to make my own with soy sauce, chili oil, garlic, sesame oil and cilantro.  I felt like it was missing an element without that.  7.5/10

Overall, while it’s not amazing hot pot, it’s pretty decent and extremely reasonably priced.  If you’re looking for your hot pot fix in the city without going to Flushing this is a decent place.

Address:
112 Eldridge St (between Broome St & Grand St)
New York, NY 10002
(212) 625-8989

Yuji Ramen – Some Very Interesting Ramen…At Whole Foods

Yuji Ramen is run by Yuji Haraguhi and was originally a pop up at Smorgasburg.  However, he has now set up a temporary pop up restaurant on the 2nd floor the Whole Foods on Bowery and is moving to a permanent space in Brooklyn after July.  Besides being well known for having some very unique ramen, Yuji is also interesting because they do a ramen tasting menu, which unfortunately is completely booked out.

The space is just a long wooden counter on the 2nd floor of the Whole Foods, so there isn’t too much to say about the restaurant itself.  It’s very casual and similar to going to a food court because you order at the register and then can either eat at the counter or one of the various tables on the 2nd floor.

Here’s what we got:

Bacon and Egg Mazemen:

Mazemen is a style of ramen that is basically ramen with very little or no soup; I believe it’s a fairly new concept from Japan (feel free to correct me on that).  They use a thicker yellow egg noodle that is kind of like fettuccine.  The noodles are excellent; they are perfectly al dente and have great texture.  The toppings are a soft boiled egg, crispy pieces of bacon, dried bonito shavings and greens.  There is also a light slightly sweet sauce that I believe is soy sauce based.  It’s quite a flavor bomb between the bacon, bonito and sauce.  It was pretty tasty although heavy and probably not something I would order very often.  7.75/10 (8.5/10 for the noodles, 7.5/10 for everything else)

Salmon Cheese Mazemen:

This mazemen has salmon cured with lemon zest and Sichuan peppercorn, nori (seaweed), greens, the same light sweet sauce and yes it has cheese on it! The cheese sauce is a mix of Camembert and heavy cream.  The creamy sauce goes well with the noodles and salmon although it’s quite heavy.  Overall, it was a bit more a novelty for me than something I’d probably order again although it was reasonably tasty. 7.5/10 (8.5/10 for the noodles, 7.25/10 for everything else)

Roasted Miso Vegetable Mazemen:

This mazemen has cauliflower, carrot and turnip in a barley-based miso sauce topped with shredded kale and seaweed.  This one tastes exactly how it sounds and is definitely the lightest of the mazemen offerings.  It’s not quite the flavor bomb that the other two are, but I probably liked this one the best because I could eat it on a more regular basis. 7.75/10

Shoyu Ramen:

While everyone has been talking about the unique mazemen and the ramen tasting menu, the star for me has been the shoyu ramen.  The broth and toppings change daily depending on available bones and trim from the Whole Foods meat and fish counters downstairs.  The noodles are the thinner ramen noodles, which were nicely al dente and good quality.  The broth was pork bone based; it was very nice and had a level of complexity that doesn’t just rely on a lot of salt and can only be done by teasing the flavor out of bones.  They had smoked blue fish as the topping, which was nice and complemented the ramen nicely without overpowering it.  I really liked the ramen here and it’s probably my favorite ramen in NY right now.  8.25/10

Overall, I really like the shoyu ramen here and the mazemen is definitely interesting.  I look forward to trying to ramen tasting menu one day (probably once they open in Brooklyn).

Address:
95 E Houston St, 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10002
(646) 262-1358
https://www.kitchit.com/tickets/YUJIramen

Café Hong Kong – The South China Garden Guys Are Back!! (And Yes They Are The Best Restaurant In Chinatown)

South China Garden was my favorite restaurant in Chinatown, which you can read about it here.  It was one of the only places in Chinatown that you could get consistently good Cantonese food.

Needless to say I was quite dismayed when they were forced to shut down after they lost their lease.  However, I recently received wonderful news when the owner’s son emailed me to tell me they’ve re-opened as Café Hong Kong.  Also, the owner is still the head chef along with his brother, which means the food is being cooked by the same people.

The new restaurant is smaller, modern and much cleaner looking.  Some of the staff is still the same from SCG.  The menu is smaller and now includes a fairly substantial section Hong Kong café style foods (baked pork chop rice, spaghetti etc).   However, it still has most of the staple Cantonese dishes, which I previously ordered at SCG.

Salt Baked Squid (Jiao Yen You Yu):

This is exactly the same as before which means that they make the best version in Chinatown.  The salty non-greasy batter and tenderness of the squid makes this a solid rendition of this dish. 8/10

Lobster in XO Sauce (XO Jiang Chao Long Xia):

This is again the exact same quality as SCG.  In fact I thought the quality of the lobster was actually better than SCG (although I’ve only tried it once).  The XO sauce tasted great and this was a winner. 8/10

Stir Fried String Beans:

This was slightly different than SCG as there weren’t any preserved vegetables in it, but other than that it was the same.  It’s the classic stir fried string beans with minced pork and dried chilis.  They still get good wok hay meaning the flavor you get from effectively smoking the food in a wok at a very high temperature.  This is a definite winner. 8/10

Fried Garlic Chicken (Suan Xiang Cui Pi Ji):

Another SCG classic and it again tastes exactly the same although the dish is a little smaller.  The meat is very tender and the skin is perfectly crispy and the garlic compliments it perfectly.  This is still one of their strongest dishes. 8.25/10

Eggplant in Garlic Sauce Casserole (Yu Xiang Qie Zi Bao):

I ordered this randomly because I saw it on another table.  While it was cooked nicely, making the eggplant nicely tender, I found the sauce to be a bit on the bland sauce.  I like the sauce to be slightly sweet and spicy and it just didn’t have enough of that.  7/10

Peking Pork Chops (Jing Du Pai Gu):

This is the Cantonese version of sweet and sour pork chops.  The pork chops are perfectly fried; the meat is tender, the outside is crispy and it’s not greasy or oily at all. The sauce is slightly different than SCG in that they added more pineapple to it and while it was still good it wasn’t quite as good as SCG because I prefer less pineapple flavor.  7.75/10

Steamed Buffalo Carp (Qing Zheng Yu):

This is the typical Cantonese style where you steam the fish and then pour hot oil and soy sauce over the fish.  The fish was cooked perfectly and was very tender.  The sauce was excellent as well being both salty and very slightly sweet.  While I am not surprised their technique was good, the quality was the fish was surprising.  Carp typically has this muddy flavor that I really do not like and while this had a very little bit of that it was not that noticeable and really made this an enjoyable dish.  While I still prefer an ocean fish, this was quite good.  8/10

Normally, I wait to go a few times to report on a place, but I thought that I should report on this as soon as possible.  I definitely recommend trying Café Hong Kong out.

Address:
51 Bayard St (between Bowery & Elizabeth St)
New York, NY 10013
(212) 608-5359
http://www.cafehongkongnyc.com

Yopparai – One Of My Favorite Izakayas In New York

Yopparai is a relatively new izakaya in the Lower East Side.  My friend Silverjay on chowhound recommended it to me so I almost immediately tried it as I was missing good Japanese food after coming back from my Tokyo trip.

Izakaya are a style of Japanese restaurant where you drink beer / sake / sochu and eat various dishes to accompany those drinks.  The dishes are generally somewhat smaller dishes and there is usually a large variety such as yakitori, oden, fried dishes, sashimi etc.  They are extremely popular in Japan and have also become reasonably popular in NY as well.

The restaurant is located 1st floor up from the ground level inside an apartment building.  Strangely you need to ring a doorbell to get into the restaurant.  It’s laid out as is a long narrow space that is mainly a long counter with seats accompanied by small tables along the wall.  You can watch them prepare the food if you are sitting at the counter, which I always like to do.  While it’s small, it is comfortable and homey.  The décor and vibe really make it feel like you’re in Tokyo.  The owner and his wife are both extremely nice and helpful.  The service is generally good although some of the younger servers can be somewhat forgetful.

Here’s what we got:

Homemade Masu Tofu:

This is a block of homemade tofu in a thick clear savory broth.  The tofu has good consistency and is clean tasting.  The broth is a bit savory and salty although not overly flavorful.  It comes with grated ginger, shiso and bonito shavings which are always a great compliment to tofu.  While this dish was not amazing, it was solidly good. 7.5/10

Mentaiko:

This is lightly roasted spicy marinated cod roe.  I don’t usually order this because I find it somewhat off-putting if it’s not good quality.  However, I had a feeling it would be good here and I was right.  It had a nice toasty flavor from being very slightly charred and the eggs have this great briny flavor that tastes wonderful with beer.  I also like the crunchy texture you get from the eggs.  This was great and probably among the best I’ve had in NY.  8/10

Ebi Shio:

These are grilled prawns served simply with salt and lemon.  The prawns were fresh and the meat was sweet and cooked perfectly.  I really enjoy prawns served simply with just salt and lemon which are the perfect compliment.  These were great.  8/10

Tsukune:

These are chicken meatballs and are probably my all-time favorite yakitori dish.  They are tender and the charred flavor from being grilled coupled with the sweet soy sauce marinade is really great.  They do a very nice job on these here and are the best version I’ve had in NY.  8.5/10

Sashimi:

We got hamachi (yellowtail), shima aji (striped jack) and aji sashimi (spanish mackerel).  I thought the sashimi was surprisingly good as I wasn’t expecting much; everything was all fresh and delicious.  In particular the hamachi was quite good. 7.75/10

Homemade Natto:

Natto are fermented beans.  They are slimy and have a strong and somewhat bitter flavor.  When I was a kid I couldn’t stand them.  I only started to like them in maybe the last 5-7 years and now I am the only person in my family besides my grandma who likes them.  The version here was good; it was served with bonita shavings, shiso and mustard.  I like it best over hot rice, but the version here was still quite nice.  I will warn you ahead of time if you’ve never had this prepare not to like it. 7.5/10

Gyutan:

This was Washu beef tongue and was advertised as Sendai-style.  Sendai is a port city in Japan that is probably now most famous for unfortunately being the epicenter of the tragic 2011 earthquake.  On a happier note this beef tongue was wonderful.  It was perfectly cooked; it was tender with a nice charred flavor from being grilled.  It was served with lemon which was great contrast to the beef-y flavor of the tongue.  It was also served with cabbage as well.  8.25/10

Washu Beef:

This was a special of Washu beef seasoned with just a little salt and pepper.  You were given a skillet with a piece of fat which you melted and then cooked the beef in.  This was wonderful and among the best dishes I’ve had here.  The beef was very tender and had great flavor.  This was a very simple, but excellent preparation.  8.5/10

Beef Stew:

This was tendon with tofu in brown gravy topped with diced green onions. While it looked and sounded delicious unfortunately it was one of the big duds here.  The gravy and other ingredients were fine, but the beef was terrible; it was gristle-y and hard to bite through.  I’m not sure what happened, but it was so gristle-y that it made it almost impossible to eat.  6/10

Ramen Style Pork Belly:

This was the other dud.  It was pork belly served with menma (fermented bamboo shoots), kamaboko (type of processed fish cake) and green onions in a ramen like broth.  Basically ramen without the ramen noodles.  The broth was savory and fairly decent tasting and the other ingredients were good.  However, I found the pork belly to be overcooked, so it was kind of dry.  This was a good idea, but the execution was off.  6.75/10

Oden:

This is a Japanese winter stew that consists of a light soy sauce dashi broth with various ingredients stewed in it.  This has been one of my favorite home style Japanese dishes since I was a kid as my grandma used to make it.  In these pictures I ordered black daikon (radish), satsuma age (fish cake), kuro tamago (boiled egg) and hanpen (fluffy fish and yam cake).  The broth is nice; slightly sweet and salty although I prefer my broth a little lighter than the one here although this is still good.  All of the oden was good and in particular the satsuma age and black daikon were particularly good.  The one that I thought was a bit weaker was the kuro tamago as I found the egg a bit on the dry side.  Overall though this is the best renditions I’ve had in NY.  8/10

Anago Yanagawa:

This is anago (salt water eel aka conger eel) simmered in dashi broth with soft scrambled egg and mushrooms.  I’ve always loved this dish.  The eel and egg are nicely tender and are perfectly complimented by the sweet dashi broth.  I will say the dashi broth is a tad too sweet, but I really like this dish with some rice.  7.75/10 (would be higher rating if the broth was slightly less sweet)

Jidori Tamago Toji:

This is the same dish except with chicken and onion instead of eel and mushroom.  It’s also quite good. 7.75/10 (would be higher rating if the broth was slightly less sweet)

Yaki Onigiri (Soy Sauce):

Yaki onigiri are grilled rice balls with various filings that are very popular in Japan.  This was brushed with Sekigahara soy sauce.  I put up 2 pictures because in the 1st picture that is how they normally look, but 2nd time they were flatter and served with nori.  I’m not sure if something got lost in translation in my order.  Anyhow, these were pretty good, but as a personal preference I prefer regular onigiri.  However, if you like yaki onigiri you will like these.  7.5/10

Yaki Onigiri (Red Miso):

Same as the other yaki onigiri except with red miso paste.  7.5/10

Beer and Sake:

The beer they serve here is really ice cold and is great with your dinner, so I’d definitely recommend getting a beer.  They have a nice sake list as well and the owner is pretty knowledgeable (now this comes from someone who only knows a bit about sake, so take that with a grain of salt).

Overall, I really enjoy the food here and I definitely think it’s one of the best izakaya in NY and worth checking out.

Address:
151 Rivington St, 1st Fl (between Clinton St & Suffolk St)
New York, NY 10002
(212) 777-7253
http://www.yopparainyc.com

Yeh’s Bakery – You Want Me To Go To Flushing To Get A Boston Pie? Yes.

Yeh’s is a Taiwanese bakery that’s been recommended to me for a long time, but it’s taken me years to finally getting around to trying it.  When I decided to revisit Main Street Imperial, which you can read about here, I decided I should do lunch so that I could try Yeh’s as well.

Yeh’s is located near Main Street Imperial which is not in downtown Flushing and is closer to the LIE.  The bakery is very small with just two glass display cases.  Unlike most Chinese bakeries, they have a much more limited selection consisting with a few types of cakes, cake rolls and traditional Chinese pastries such a sun cakes and moon cakes.

Sun Cake (Tai Yang Bing):

Sun cakes are a traditional Taiwanese pastry from Taizhong / Taichung.  They are difficult to find outside Taiwan and last time I was in Taipei they were actually even difficult find to there with one bakery even jokingly telling me “go to Taizhong if you want those”.  I believe they’re not that popular amongst younger generations.  Anyhow, it’s a circular flaky pastry that looks similar to a wife cake (lao po bing) with a filling made of malt sugar.  At Yeh’s the English name says “honey cake” or something like that and while the flaky exterior is normal, the filling does taste like honey which is not normal.  However, I liked the honey flavor and it was much better than other sun cakes I’ve had in NY.  It isn’t close to a real good one in Taiwan, but it’s a decent version and worth checking out. 7.75/10

Boston Pie:

This is what they are known for.  It is a cake with cream custard filling and powdered sugar on top.  The cake is extremely light and fluffy literally one of the lightest cakes I’ve ever had anywhere.  The cream custard in the middle is also really light with the perfect level of sweetness (i.e. its sweet without being really sweet).  While it’s really simple this is one of the best cakes I’ve had in Asian bakery even in Asia.  I highly recommend you try this, it is really good.  8.75/10

Green Tea Roll:

This is another specialty.  It’s a cake roll with green tea flavoring and vanilla cream in the middle.  The cake is more dense than the Boston Pie and similar to pound cake.  The green tea flavor is very light so you will barely notice it and the vanilla cream is again only slightly sweet.  While not amazing I thought it was solidly good especially if like vanilla cake rolls as I do. 8/10

Overall, I really enjoyed this bakery a lot and if you like Asian style cakes then I highly recommend you try this place.  I look forward to trying the rest of their cakes and pastries.

Address:
5725 Main St
Flushing, NY 11355
(718) 939-1688

Main Street Imperial Gourmet – There’s A lot More To Taiwanese Food Than Street Food

Taiwanese food is definitely one of my favorite Chinese cuisines.  It’s a delicious mix of southern Fujian food blended with regional cuisines from all over China that came about because the large influx of mainland Chinese immigrants to Taiwan during the Communist Revolution.  However, I feel like people often tend to only associate Taiwanese food with street food and maybe beef noodle soup.  While these are certainly great and delicious there is much more to Taiwanese food than these two types of food.  Main Street Imperial is a Taiwanese restaurant whose strong points are not street food, but rather more home style type dishes.

The restaurant is not located in Downtown Flushing, but rather further down Main close to the LIE, in the 2nd area in Flushing that has many Chinese restaurants.  It’s small and homey with some décor in that it has colorful pieces of paper that have various dishes written in Chinese on them.  The servers are really nice and are pretty helpful although I’m not sure they really speak English very well.  The other issue you’ll run into is that about half the menu is not translated into English and some dishes are listed only on the wall in Chinese.  I’ve provided the characters of the dishes I ordered since some of them are not translated to English, so I’d suggest printing them out if you don’t read any Chinese.

Here’s what we got:

Sauteed Cabbage (Chao Gao Li Cai 炒高麗菜):

This is one of the house specialties.  It’s a simple dish of cabbage sautéed with oil and garlic.  While simple they do a nice job on this dish and it’s quite tasty.  The cabbage retains some crispness and the oil and garlic compliment it well.  It also has some wok hay (the smoky flavor you get from effectively smoking food by cooking it at a very high heat in a wok).  Overall, this is a solid dish.  8/10

Oyster Omelette (Hao Zai Jian / Oh Ah Jian 蚵仔煎):

I almost never order this outside Taiwan because it’s so easy to screw up, but a friend wanted it and surprisingly it was much better than the 1st time I came here (so can’t tell you it wasn’t a fluke). The omelette was crispy and not overly gooey.  The sauce was sweet, but not overpoweringly so and the oysters were decent tasting.  Overall, I actually enjoyed eating this which is rare in the US.  7.5/10

Clams in Basil Sauce:

I didn’t order this dish, so I’m not actually sure what the exact Chinese name of it was on the menu. This was clams cooked in a slightly spicy light brown sauce with basil.  This is a pretty common Taiwanese sauce.  I thought the sauce was nice being slightly spicy, sweet and salty and I love basil so that was great as well.  The clams were decent quality, but not amazing. 7.5/10 (could’ve been higher rating if they used better clams)

Three Cup Tofu (San Bei Tofu 三杯豆腐):

“Three cup” is a famous style of preparation that involves one cup of soy sauce, rice wine and sesame oil hence the name “three cup”.  There is also sugar, ginger and basil in it as well.  While three cup chicken is the most common it can also be cooked with other meats or tofu.  This was fried cubes of tofu in the three cup sauce.  The outside was perfectly crispy while the interior remained soft, which was great texture wise.  The sauce was both sweet and salty as it should be with the basil being a nice compliment.  Overall, this was one of the best dishes I’ve had here.  8.25/10

Three Cup Chicken (San Bei Ji 三杯雞):

Oddly unlike the three cup tofu, this dish ended up being not sweet whatsoever and was a little overly oily.  The chicken was very nicely tender, which was the best part about the dish.  It was an alright rendition, but a little too oily and plain flavor wise.  Gu Xiang’s version is much better than this and flavor wise Liang’s Kitchens’ version was better, but Main Street did a better job than Liang’s actually cooking the chicken (i.e. it was very tender here).  7.5/10 (could be a higher rating if they improved the sauce)

Sesame Oil Kidney (Ma You Yao Zi 麻油腰子):

This is one of the house specialties that I read about on a Chinese blog.  Its slices of kidney sautéed in sesame oil based sauce.  The kidneys are cooked very well so they are perfectly tender and they did a good job so the metallic flavor you can get in kidneys is only slightly present.  The sauce has a slight flavor from the sesame oil and has some soy sauce flavor as well and because they seared the kidneys at a high heat in the wok you get a bit of the smoke-y slightly burnt taste which is nice.  If you like kidneys this is a very good rendition of kidneys. 7.75/10 (I like kidneys, but don’t love them otherwise it’d get a higher rating)

Salt and Pepper Shrimp (Jiao Yen Xia 椒盐虾):

This was on the wall and I saw a couple of tables order it, so I decided to try it.  This is just typical salt and pepper shrimp, but they did a nice job on it.  The batter wasn’t too heavy or oily and had good salty flavor.  The shrimps were fresh and good sized.  I don’t have too much more to add to this other that it was good and worth trying, probably one of the better versions I’ve had in NY. 8/10

Putz Fish (Bu Zi Yu 布子魚):

Putz is actually something I’ve never had and I’m not even sure I’d even heard of it until ScoopG on chowhound mentioned it.  So I made it a point to try it this trip (you can read more about it here).  I tried ordering the whole fish on two occasions, but both times on of the waitresses told me that the pieces were better quality and flavor so I should order those instead of the whole fish.  The fish pieces were nicely cooked and tender.  The sauce was a nicely light soy sauce based sauce that wasn’t overpowering.  The thing that I ended up liking the best about this dish was the putz; it reminded me of a sweet olive.  Overall, while not mind blowing this is a solid dish and I’d recommend giving it a try for something different. 7.75/10

Red Cooked Ribs (Hong Shao Pai Gu 紅燒排骨):

I was trying to order another dish, but the waitress told me that that dish was too similar to the Hakka stir fry (which I forgot to take a picture of), so she recommended this dish.  These were ribs cooked in a style called “hong shao” which you braise meat in a sauce made up of ginger, garlic, chilli, sugar, soy sauce and rice wine.  The sauce here was pretty thick, thicker than normal.  The ribs were cooked decently although I’d have preferred them to be a little more tender.  The sauce was just ok, I found it to be kind of bland.  I probably wouldn’t order this again. 6.75/10

Can’t Taste Stinky Tofu (Chi Bu Dao Chou Dou Fu 吃不到臭豆腐 ):

This is another one of the house specialties. It literally translates to “can’t taste stinky tofu”, which I think it’s called because the way the chef cooks it he cooks out most of the stink, so it’s only faint.  The stinky tofu is fried in a slightly spicy and salty red meat sauce with cabbage.  It’s a bit hard to explain, but definitely order this dish it’s very good. 8.25/10

Fly Head (Cang Ying Tou 蒼蠅頭):

This is my favorite dish here.  It translates to “fly head” (I have no idea why it’s called that) and its diced garlic chives, red chili, minced pork and fermented black beans all stir fried together.  This dish is the type of dish you really need a hot wok for because the wok hay adds a whole new level to this dish.  It’s spicy, salty, smoky and just delicious.  This is the dish to come here for. 8.5/10

Overall, this is probably the best overall Taiwanese restaurant in New York and it’s worth your time to check out.

Address:
5914 Main St
Flushing, NY 11355
(718) 886-8788

Spicy Village (Formerly He Nan Flavor) – Delicious Henan Food In Chinatown

Spicy Village was originally a branch of Henan Fengwei from Flushing.  Around 6 months ago they were supposedly shutting down and possibly re-opening in another space on Allen.  Luckily that never happened and instead they ended up changing their name to Spicy Village, but everything else remained the same.

Spicy Village specializes in cuisine from the Henan province in China.  Henan is a landlocked province that is northwest of Shanghai.  I’d love to give you some long winded background on Henan cuisine, but I don’t actually know that much about their cuisine as I have little experience eating it as isn’t prevalent or popular in the parts of China I usually visit.  This Wikipedia article discusses it a little bit.  I believe the owners are actually from Fuzhou as I’ve heard them speaking in the Fuzhou dialect with customers.

The restaurant is typical Chinatown in that it has very little in the way of décor although it is clean.  The service is fine and the lady who runs the place is really nice.  She also happens to speak English well and the entire menu is translated into English, so you will have no issues ordering.

Here’s what we got:

Cucumbers and Smoked Tofu (Liang Ban Huang Gua Dou Gan):

This was typical cold marinated cucumbers and smoked tofu called dou gan in Chinese.  The pickles are tangy and a bit sweet as well.  The version here was alright; it had decent crunch and flavor, but they were missing the really good flavor you get in a good version.  I wasn’t really a fan of the dou gan as it was pretty plain tasting.  7.5/10 for the cucumbers; 6.75/10 for the smoked tofu

Pancake with Pork (Rou Jia Mo):

This is a shredded pork sandwich with cilantro.  The bread is sort of like pita bread and is crispy from being toasted.  The pork is actually quite light and is savory from the brown sauce they cook it in.  It will remind you of the pancakes from Xi’an Famous Foods except the bread is thinner, it’s not as heavily spiced and it’s lighter.  Overall, it’s not amazing, but it is a tasty enough pancake.  7.5/10

Pancake with Beef (Niu Rou Jia Mo):

This is the same as the prior pancake except with beef.  However, I find the meat to be a little more flavorful, so I’d give the nod to the beef version.  7.75/10

Soup Dumplings (Guan Tang Bao):

While these look like misshapen ugly Shanghainese soup dumplings they are actually quite good and different than regular soup dumplings.  The skins are a bit thicker and there is no soup inside.  However, they are delicious as the filling is very flavorful.  I actually enjoy these more than I do most Shanghainese soup dumplings in NY (I only like Nan Xiang actually).  These are one of the best dishes here.  8/10

Homemade Steamed Dumplings (Shou Gong Shui Jiao):

These are typical northern Chinese style dumplings with thicker skins and pork and chive filling.  I like their dumplings, but I don’t love them.  The skins are decent, a bit on the doughy side, but I find their filling to be a bit bland. I end up using a lot of black vinegar and chili oil to make them tasty. 7.25/10

Black Bean Sauce Huimei (Zha Jiang Hui Mian):

Hui mian is thick wheat noodles that I believe are Henan in origin.  Zha jiang mian literally means “fried sauce noodle”.  You may know this dish as it is a ubiquitous dish in Korean-Chinese restaurants where Koreans took northern Chinese dishes and fit them to Korean tastes; they call it ja jang myun.  I think it’s almost more popular with Koreans than it is with Chinese despite it being Chinese in origin.  The Chinese version is more of a meat based sauce similar to a ragu.  This can taste very different depending on who is making it.  Here the sauce is fairly light in flavor and mainly just tastes like meat.  I added some chili oil which made it a lot better.  The noodles are excellent as they are a bit al dente and have great texture.  Overall, the dish was decent, but not great. 7.5/10

Spicy Beef Brisket Huimei (Ma La Niu Nan Hui Mian):

This is a spicy beef brisket noodle soup.  The beef brisket has been simmered for a while so it was quite tender and also had a good five spice flavor.  The noodles are excellent being nicely al dente.  The broth is flavorful and a bit spicy.  While a bit different from traditional beef noodle soup, this is my current pick for the best beef noodle soup in NY.  I think it far surpasses the various Lan Zhou noodle places around Chinatown (and Flushing) as the beef and broth are far superior in quality.  This is another one of my favorite dishes here.  Also, definitely use some chili oil and black vinegar, it tastes great with it.  8.25/10

Oxtail Huimei (Niu Wei Hui Mian):

This was an oxtail broth noodle soup with the hui mian.  This was one of the duds here; I thought the broth was a bit bland, so there just wasn’t that much to it.  We had to add a lot of chili oil and black vinegar to make it more interesting.  6.75/10

Grilled Pepper Chicken with Rice (Qing Jiao Ji Fan):

This was a surprise dish as I don’t think I’ve heard anyone mention it.  Its stir fried pieces of chicken in slightly spicy and sweet sauce with diced green peppers.  The chicken is tender and the sauce is really good, it’s a bit peppery, smoky, spicy and sweet.  It tastes great with rice.  This is one of my favorite dishes here.  8.25/10

Spicy Big Tray Kitchen (Da Pan Ji):

This is the dish that made them famous.  It’s large chicken casserole in big iron pot.  There are big chunks of very tender chicken on the bone and potatoes topped with cilantro. The sauce while it looks really oily isn’t actually all that heavy.  It’s also ma la in flavor, which is normally a Sichuan flavor profile.  “Ma” means the numbing sensation you get on your tongue from the Sichuan peppercorns, while “la” means spicy.  While it is ma la, it’s not nearly as ma la as what you get at most Sichuan restaurants.  It’s a bit hard to explain this dish, but it’s really good, so just hurry up and go try it. 8.5/10

Sweet Peanut Filled Rice Ball Soup (Tang Yuan):

Tang yuan has always been one of my favorite Chinese desserts, so I almost always get them when I see them on a menu. They can have various fillings, but here they serve them with peanut filling.  The peanuts are not chopped that finely, so the chunks are pretty big. The filling also had these pinks things, but I couldn’t figure out what they were and they really didn’t taste like anything. The skins were decent, but not as super tender as I prefer them. These were alright, but I think this is the way Fuzhou people prepare them because this is the way they always taste at Fuzhou restaurants in NY.  I prefer the Cantonese preparation.  7.25/10

Overall, I enjoy this place a lot and it’s somewhere that I eat at quite regularly.  It’s also one of the few bright spots in a fast dying Chinatown, so I’d highly come recommend coming here to support them.

Address:
68B Forsyth Street
New York, NY 10002
(212) 625-8299
http://www.spicyvillageny.com/index.html

Han Joo – Great Korean Sam Gyup Sal (BBQ Pork Belly) Specialist in Flushing / Murray Hill and the East Village

Han Joo is a well-known Korean restaurant located in the Korean area of Flushing / Murray Hill.  As I’ve waxed on about in the past I love specialist restaurants because you know exactly what you’re going for and you know they are going to make it well.  At Han Joo they specialize in sam gyup sal, which is Korean pork belly BBQ.  They are also known for the fact that they don’t BBQ the meat on a typical Korean BBQ grill, but rather on crystal plate, which I’ll explain more about later.

The restaurant is located right in the middle of Korean area of Flushing / Murray Hill, which is the real Koreatown in NY.  It’s a small restaurant that like most restaurants in the area doesn’t have too much in the way of décor.  The service was fine and the hostesses seemed nice although I don’t think they speak English very well (my friends speak Korean).  However, the menu is translated into English (as you can see from my pictures below), so you should have no problems.

Ban Chan:

Ban chan are the small dishes that they give you for free at the beginning of the meal at Korean restaurants.  Here they gave us pajun (pan fried pancake), broccoli and seaweed with gochujang (chili paste), kong na mul (bean sprouts), sweet pickled radish strips, potato salad, marinated cold eggplant and jalapeno in soy sauce.  These were all good, nothing amazing, but competently made.  7.75/10

Crystal Grill:

Unlike most places in NY that use the regular metal grill, at Han Joo they bring out a thick crystal plate which is propped up diagonally with a fire underneath it and you grill you meat on it.  It looks cool although I’m not sure if there is a huge difference aside from the fact that your meat never actually touches fire.  Although the other added bonus is that the juices from the pork run down the plate and they put kimchi at the bottom which baths in it and you eat this kimchi which is delicious.

Thick Fresh Pork Belly (Kal Saeng Sam Gyup Sal):

Han Joo offers several different types of sam gyup sal, which you can see in the pictures of the menu above.  The first cut we got is the thick fresh pork belly was pretty similar to normal sam gyup sal except it was a little thicker.  It had great flavor and the meat was nicely fresh.  It’s pretty explanatory, but it was delicious.  This is definitely among the best sam gyup sal in NY and is a “must order” dish. 8.5/10

Marinated Pork Belly With Green Tea:

My friend who eats here fairly regularly said the thick cut is the best, but we decided to get the green tea as well so I could try some other flavors.  This was not cut quite as thick and was dusted with a green tea powder.  The powder gives it’s a green tea flavor and makes it a little more salty.  It was pretty good although I preferred the thick fresh pork belly.  8/10

Condiments:

The sam gyup sal comes with a variety of condiments including tenjang (bean paste), kinako powder (roasted soybean flour), sesame oil with salt and pepper, marinated onions and green onions, pickled radish, green peppers and raw garlic.  Personally I like it with sesame oil with salt and pepper and some kinako powder.  I also like it to wrap it up with the marinated onions and green onions in lettuce wraps and dip it in the sesame oil with salt and pepper.  I love pickled radish as well, but I usually eat it separately.

Purple Rice in Pumpkin:

The rice is pretty good here; nice and al dente.  I also love pumpkin so I liked this.  8/10

Tenjang Chigae:

Tenjang chigae is a simple bean paste stew.  It’s something people eat at home all the time, but for some reason restaurants in NY can never really get this right.  This wasn’t very good.  6.75/10

Mul Naeng Myun:

Mul naeng myun is a cold buckwheat noodle dish that has origins in North Korea and is usually eaten during the summer.  It’s served with ice, pickled radish, Korean pear and hardboiled egg.  The broth is tangy and sweet and the buckwheat noodles are slippery and have a bit of bite to them, but aren’t al dente per se.  I love mul naeng myun, but I find that the difference between a good version and an ok version to be relatively large.  It was ok here, but nothing special. 7/10

Overall, I thought the sam gyup sal here was great and definitely worth your time.  Also, they have opened a branch on St Marks in the East Village, so if you don’t want to trek all the way out the Flushing you can find it right here in the city as well.

Flushing / Murray Hill Branch:
41-06 149th Pl
Flushing, NY 11355
(718) 359-6888

East Village Branch:
12 St Marks Pl (between Cooper Sq & Astor Pl)
New York, NY 10003
(646) 559-8683
http://www.hanjoonyc.com

Traditional Haig Road Putu Piring – Putu Piring (Kueh Tutu) Something New and Delicious For Me

When I was planning where to eat in Asia, I intentionally looked for a few rare dishes that I wanted to try because 1) I can’t get them in the US and 2) they were the types of old school stuff that is likely to disappear one day or at least be difficult to find made properly.

In Hong Kong, I ate at dai pai dongs and in Singapore I decided to try some interesting desserts.  The three I came up with were mi chiam kueh, muah chee and putu piring.  I didn’t end up having enough time to try all of them and only got to try the mi chiam kueh at Tanglin Halt Original Peanut Pancake and putu piring at Traditional Haig Road Putu Piring.  I’ll save muay chee at Hougang 6 Miles Famous Muah Chee for next time.

So what is putu piringPutu piring is a steamed cake made out of rice flour dough filled with gula melaka (carmelized palm sugar) and topped with freshly grated coconut.  It’s also called kueh tutu in Singapore, but I believe that’s basically the Chinese version where they mix the coconut with the gula melaka inside of grating it on top.

According to various blog posts I read many people consider Traditional Haig Road Putu Piring the best in Singapore and a couple of posts said the best ever.  So I decided that I needed to try this place as I’ve only had kueh tutu once when I lived in Singapore a long time ago.

The stall is located in a mainly Malaysian part of Geylang.  As with much of Geylang, the area feels much different than most of Singapore as it’s chaotic, dirty and there are tons of street stalls set up.  It actually feels much more like Malaysia than Singapore.  Also, it’s located inside the Mr. Teh Tarik; I got kind of lost and had to ask some people where it is, so hopefully this saves you some time finding the place (there is a picture of it below).

Putu Piring:

The outside cake is soft and has a very similar texture to an Indian idli if you’ve ever had that.  The inside is sweet and tastes similar to brown sugar.  The grated coconut is very fresh and I was slightly surprised because they lightly salted the coconut so it was very slightly salty, which I was not expecting.  Overall, I thought these were really tasty; they are the type of thing that I would get all the time if this place was close to where I lived.  8.75/10

Overall, I enjoyed this and I’d recommend checking it out if you’re in the area.

Address:
#01-02 Mr. Teh Tarik Coffee Stall
970 Geylang Road
Phone: 94229017

Annie’s Peanut Ice Kachang – Excellent Ice Kachang With A Twist

Singapore sits right on the equator and if you’ve never been there then you might not realize exactly how hot and muggy it is.  During the day you end up sweaty and wanting something refreshing.  After finishing eating at Outram Park Ya Hua Bak Kut Teh, which you can read about here, I decided ice kachang sounded pretty good and walked over to check out Annie’s Peanut Ice Kachang.

Almost every country in Asia has their own version of shaved ice, but they all are the same basic premise of a mound of shaved ice with sweet toppings.  In Singapore and Malaysia, it’s called ice kachangIce kachang is a mound of ice that usually has colorful sweet syrup (sometimes even gula melaka), condensed milk and a variety of toppings that can include red beans, sweet corn, grass jelly, cendol and attap chee (palm seeds that look like weird eye balls) among other things.

Annie’s is a hawker stall located in Tanjong Pagar Market and Food Centre, which is a small hawker center located on the 2nd floor of a huge residential building in Tanjong Pagar close to Chinatown.  This hawker center is kind of old school as its cramped, run down and quite hot; definitely a very local vibe.  At the stall you’ll immediately notice the amount of media clippings and awards she has as it’s a fairly well heralded stall.

The lady (presumably Annie) who runs the stall is really friendly and was very happy that I liked her ice kachang.  Not sure how well she speaks English, but the whole menu is in English so you’ll have no problem.

Ice Kachang:

The ice at Annie’s is quite fine; it’s not total powder like the best shaved ice desserts I’ve had, but it’s definitely more fine than average, which is great.  Now as I mentioned before ice kachang can have a lot of ingredients in it, but Annie’s keeps it’s pretty simple with ground peanuts, red beans, sweet corn and the little green worm shaped jellies you get in cendol.  So what’s the twist?  The twist here is that she adds ground peanuts, which is not common at all, in fact this is the first time I’ve ever had it on ice kachang.  According to some blogs Annie actually started this (I don’t know whether that is true or not).  Anyhow, the peanuts are not factory made and are roasted and ground at the stall.  You can really taste the difference as they are very fragrant, have great crunchy texture and really add a nice dimension to the ice kachang.  The other thing is that while it looks really sweet because of the syrup, it’s actually not that sweet, which I like.  You almost felt like you ate nothing after finishing this.  While it’s not as good as the best shaved ice I’ve had in Taiwan (I think they make the best shaved ice) it was very good and certainly an above average ice kachang8.5/10

Overall, I enjoyed the simplicity of the ice kachang here and it was very refreshing on a hot day.  I don’t think it’s a destination type place, but if you in the area I’d definitely check it out.

Address:
Tanjong Pagar Market and Food Centre, Stall #02-36
6 Tanjong Pagar Plaza
Singapore

Outram Park Ya Hua Rou Gu Cha – Amazing Bak Kut Teh (If You Like The Peppery Bak Kut Teh)

Outram Park Ya Hua Rou Gu Cha is an old and famous bak kut teh restaurant in Singapore.

Bak kuh teh is a soup made from simmering pork ribs for many hours with various spices.  It directly translates to “meat bone tea” (rou gu cha 肉骨茶).  There is also more than one version; there is the Teochew version that is very peppery and has more garlic in it, there is the Hokkien version which is darker because of soy sauce and has a more herbal flavor and there are also other versions in Malaysia particularly in the Klang Valley, but I’ve never been there so I can’t really comment on what the difference is with their bak kuh teh.  Most people have a strong preference for one kind versus the others; I prefer the Teochew version as I love the peppery flavor.

The restaurant is located off Keppel Road on the ground floor of this residential building.  There isn’t too much décor to the place as it’s kind of a coffee shop setting, but it’s not rundown and it’s clean.  The service was fast and efficient and my server was nice as well.  I’m not sure how good or not good their English is, but the menu is totally translated into English and they give you a paper checklist, so you just check off what you want.

I found this video of the restaurant which you can see here.

Stewed Peanuts:

I love boiled peanuts; I never understood why they aren’t more popular in the US.  Anyhow, these are stewed in a lu wei 鹵味 sauce, which is a braising technique uses a master stock that is constantly re-used (i.e. they keep filling it up).  The peanuts were very soft and had a nice flavor from the lu wei sauce which was slightly sweet and salty.  These were a nice condiment.  8.25/10

Salted Cabbage:

This is called kiam chye in Teochew I believe. It’s diced up salted that cabbage has been boiled.  It’s a bit salty and sweet.  It’s a nice condiment as well. 8/10

Bak Kut Teh:

They serve the Teochew style bak kut teh here, which is peppery (think black pepper not like spicy pepper) that I really like.  However, some people find it too peppery, so not everyone may like this as much as I do.  The broth is very light, not oily or heavy at all and has a great flavor that you can only get by simmering bones for hours.  The ribs were quite tender and tasted good although I did sort of mess up because I forgot to ask them for long ribs (chang gu 長骨) as it’s not on the menu and you have to specially ask for it, but the ribs were still nice anyhow.  They give you a you tiao (fried crueller) and a dark soy sauce with cut up chili in it.  The you tiao wasn’t very good because it wasn’t fresh, so it was a bit soggy.  I liked the dark soy sauce with chili in it, but I tried not to use it too much since I thought it overpowers the soup a bit.  Overall, I really enjoyed this a lot as it’s the type of thing I could eat every day and be totally happy.  Fyi, there are free re-fills of soup.  9/10

Ter Kah:

Ter kah are pigs feet braised in a lu wei sauce.  Here you have the option of getting the lean or fatty kind.  Since it was pretty early in the morning I decided to get the lean version. The lean version is much less collagen-y / fatty and had more meat as opposed to collagen.  The meat was nicely tender and I like the lu wei sauce which was a bit sweet and salty.  This was a nice accompaniment to the bak kuh teh, it would’ve been really good with some rice, but I was going to other places that day so I didn’t want to fill up on rice.  Overall, this was quite good and I’d get it again.  8.5/10

I’m not a bak kut teh or ter kah expert, so it’s totally possible there are better places that this (and please tell me if you know them), but I really enjoyed my meal here and this was one of my most satisfying meals this trip along with Sin Huat and Nam Sing.

Address:
7 Keppel Road
#01-05/07 Tanjong Pagar Complex
Phone: 6222 9610

Lee Tong Kee – Famous For Ipoh Hor Fun, But Come For The Chicken

Lee Tong Kee is famous for being one of the first places to bring Ipoh hor fun to Singapore from Malaysia (it moved to Singapore in 1948).

Ipoh is a predominately Chinese city in Malaysia that is known for its Chinese food.  I remember when I lived in Singapore people used to always tell me that I needed to go to Penang and Ipoh for great food.  Unfortunately (and stupidly) I never went as I always got sidetracked going to other cities in Asia, so I’ve still never been although I’ll make it one of these days.

Anyhow, Ipoh hor fun is flat white rice noodles (he fen 河粉) that can be served in soup or a brown gravy and can have different toppings such as seafood, beef and wontons.

Lee Tong Kee is located in Chinatown and is very close to Maxwell Road Food Centre.  We actually came here after eating at Old Airport Road Food Centre and Hong Lim Food Centre (if you’ve been following my recent posts you’ll realize how gross it is that two people ate all this food in one sitting…I literally didn’t eat dinner that night and still wasn’t hungry the next morning).  Anyhow, I haven’t been here before, but I’m sure they must’ve renovated recently as the restaurant looks brand new and the décor is supposed to be old school Chinese décor, which I liked and thought was a nice touch especially in Chinatown where most places are pretty sparse in decor.  The service was fine and our server was nice (believe she was from mainland China).

Wanton Hor Fun:

The wontons were excellent, nice skins and good fresh shrimp filling.  The vegetables on top were cooked perfectly and the noodles were also cooked nicely.  The light brown sauce was light and clean tasting although it was a bit on the bland side although I always find the gravy in Ipoh hor fun to be a bit bland.  Overall, I liked it, but didn’t love it as I find Ipoh hor fun as a dish is a bit bland for me.  8/10

Lee Tong Kee Tender Chicken:

This was boiled chicken, prepared very similar to how the chicken in chicken rice is prepared with oyster sauce on top.  This was a total surprise, it was really good.  The chicken was very tender and the skin was perfect and separately nicely from the meat.  It was very flavorful and I really liked it with the oyster sauce, which gave it some extra flavor.  Surprisingly, this was as good as the chicken at Tian Tian Hainan Chicken Rice, which I had eaten the day before (I love Tian Tian).  If this was a free range chicken with a bit more chicken-y flavor this would be a 9.25 or 9.5 for me.  I would come back just for this chicken. 9/10

Overall, I enjoyed the food and would like to come back to try more when I haven’t eaten at like 7 places beforehand!

Address:
278 South Bridge Road
Singapore 058827
Phone: 6226 0417
http://www.ipohhorfun.com/

Hua Kee Hougang Famous Wan Ton Mee – Famous, but Ultimately Disappointing Wonton Mee

Hua Kee was another famous stall I went to at Old Airport Road Food Centre.  They specialize in wonton mee and there are actually three famous wonton mee stalls all in the same row; one with a red sign, one with a yellow sign and one with a green sign.  We decided to go to the one with the red sign (#01-02) which is covered in various news articles and awards.

Wonton mee is wonton noodle soup and you can order it “dry” or “soup”.  The “dry” version has noodles that are tossed in sauce with broth on the side and the “soup” version has noodles in broth that are not tossed with sauce.  In Singapore, the “dry” version noodles are tossed in a sweet chili sauce that I believe uses ketchup as well although you wouldn’t be able to tell if you didn’t know.  This is different than in Hong Kong where the noodles are usually tossed in oyster sauce.

I found a video of the stall which you can see here.

In the video, he talks about how they used to make their own noodles, but now they don’t and basic stuff about the history of the stall and his technique.  This stall is also very old as it started in the 50s, but the owner’s father.  I also believe the owner is a Teochew (I actually heard you have to be Teochew to have a stall at Old Airport Road, but I’m not sure if that is a myth or not).

Wonton Mee:

I got the “dry” version which I usually prefer to the “soup” version.  I found the noodles to be pretty decent, they were reasonably al dente and had decent flavor.  I also thought the wontons were pretty good as well.  The cha siu was not good at all; it was sliced incredibly thin, was very dry and had no flavor (looks nothing like the cha siu in the video).  The chili sauce was also too sweet and I didn’t think it had that great of flavor either, which was a disappointment because the reviews said the sauce was great.  Now the video says that it was is suited to Teochew tastes and I think Teochew people like their food a bit on the sweet side, so maybe it’s just a difference in taste, but I just found it be pretty mediocre.  The broth on the side was okay, but nothing special and it was a bit too salty as well.  Overall, I found this to be a pretty mediocre bowl of wonton mee.  Now I will caveat this with the fact that I much prefer the Hong Kong style wonton mee to Singapore wonton mee.  However even with that said I’ve definitely had better bowls of Singapore style wonton mee than this one.  7/10

I wouldn’t bother with this place if you happen to be at Old Airport Road Food Centre.

Address:
Old Airport Road Food Centre, #01-02
51 Old Airport Road
Singapore

Toa Payoh Rojak – Famous and Delicious Rojak at Old Airport Road Food Centre

Toa Payoh Rojak is where I went at Old Airport Road Food Centre to get my rojak fix.  Rojak can mean many different things depending on where you are as there are many different versions that are very different from each other.  They are all basically a type of salad, but today we’re talking about the normal Singaporean fruit rojak that has cucumber, pineapple, jicama, bean sprouts, deep-fried tofu puffs and cut up you tiao (fried crueller). This is topped with ground peanuts and a dressing is made up of water, belacan (shrimp paste), hae chor (shrimp paste), ginger bud, sugar, chili, lime juice and maybe a few other spices.

Now, I knew this was a well-known stall.  However, researching later I found out that a lot of people consider this the best rojak stalls in Singapore.  As such there is a long line here and they actually have a real numbering system where your number pops up on an electronic sign when you’re rojak is ready, which I liked as it was a lot more efficient.

I found this video on youtube of the chef at work, which you can see here.

Rojak:

The sauce here was quite good; it was sweet as it normally is, a bit spicy because of the chili paste and had a good fermented flavor from the shrimp paste.  The ingredients were all fresh and good tasting.  Another thing I liked was that the you tiao was crispy as they toast it before you serve it so you don’t get a soggy you tiao.  Overall, it was a very solid version.  Now I will caveat my rating in that I don’t love fruit rojak as a dish, it’s pretty decent, but not something I really crave.  It’s more a side dish to me, so while I thought that while this was quite good for rojak, but it’s still just rojak to me.  8.25/10

Address:
Old Airport Road Food Centre, Stall #01-108
51 Old Airport Road
Phone: 69589380

Lao Fu Zi Fried Kway Teow – Very Good Char Kway Teow At Old Airport Road Food Centre

So this was another place I ate at Old Airport Road Food Centre.  This stall is pretty well known for its char kway teowChar kway teow is one of the most famous hawker dishes in Singapore and Malaysia. It is made from flat rice noodles (he fen) stir-fried with soy sauce, chilli, shrimp, bean sprouts, chives, egg, Chinese sausage and sometimes cockles.  The traditional places use pork fat to fry it and put in crispy bits of pork lard.  However because of health concerns a decent amount of places in Singapore don’t use lard anymore or only use it on request (I generally prefer it with lard).  If you’ve never had it before it is similar to beef chow fun, but a bit sweeter.

This stall is one of two well-known char kway teow stalls at Old Airport Road (Dong Ji being the other).  It has a constant line, so be prepared to wait a bit.  They have several sizes, but we got the smallest version because we were eating at so many places.

Char Kway Teow:

I described what char kway teow is made out of earlier, but the real key to good char kway teow is someone who really knows how to stir fry it well.  In Chinese cooking wok hei is when you stir fry food at a very high temperature and effectively smoke the food.  The flavor is amazing and it is definitely one of my favorite aspects of Chinese food done properly.  Experience seems to be one of the key things to learning how to create good wok hei, so it’s really a matter of finding a talented and experienced chef to get wok hei correct.  Anyhow, the version here was very good; it had good wok hei and nice flavor.  It was a bit on the sweet side and I don’t think they used lard because there weren’t any crispy bits and it was on the lighter side for char kway teow.  They did use cockles which I liked as the cockles were good and fresh tasting, not fishy at all.  Overall, while it was probably not the best char kway teow I’ve ever had in Singapore, it was certainly a very good and certainly above average rendition.  8.75/10

If you’re at Old Airport Road Food Centre this is a place worth checking out.

Address:
Old Airport Road Food Centre, Stall #01-12
51 Old Airport Road
Tel: 83334828

Geylang Lor 20 Banana Fritters – Pretty Good Pisang Goreng (Banana Fritters) At Old Airport Road Food Centre

As I just discussed in my Nam Sing post, I ate at many places at Old Airport Road Food Centre.  Another place I stumbled upon was Geylang Lor 20 Banana Fritters.  Here they serve pisang goreng, which is a Malaysian dish that is just fried plantains except here they used pisang raja which are a type of sweet banana.  The batter was nice, it wasn’t overly thick and wasn’t oily whatsoever.  The banana inside was sweet and this was a very nice fritter.  8.25/10

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Overall, this isn’t a destination type place, but if you’re at Old Airport Road Centre it’s worth trying out.

Address:
Old Airport Road Food Centre, Stall #01-57
51 Old Airport Road
Singapore