Jul 142013
 

Another post from my recent trip to the Bay Area… this is the last one, I promise ^^” I actually wish this weren’t my last post and that I had more time to eat more things while I was there, but alas – I’m already making a list of things I want to hit up next time.

One of the things that I definitely knew I wanted to eat was dim sum. Since moving to San Diego nearly a year and a half ago, I haven’t had dim sum at all. Partly because S doesn’t really like dim sum (he doesn’t like seafood, and what’s dim sum without seafood?), and also partly because there hasn’t been any place that’s been highly recommended to me. So, I called up a couple of my old friends and asked them to meet me at Oakland Chinatown for dim sum. Originally I had wanted to go to San Francisco, but my flight was leaving from Oakland so it was more convenient.

There were several places to choose from, but I picked Legendary Palace – I’d been there once before (even though I didn’t realize this until I actually stepped in the restaurant), and the Yelp reviews were not bad. It was super crowded, and I had all my luggage with me at the restaurant, so I actually didn’t get to take many photos of the place itself. So, food-pics-only post here.

Siu Mai (Pork Dumplings)

Siu Mai (Pork Dumplings)

Har Gow (Shrimp Dumplings)

Har Gow (Shrimp Dumplings)

 

Beef Cheung Fun (Beef Rice Noodle Wrap)

Beef Cheung Fun (Beef Rice Noodle Wrap)

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Jul 062013
 

When I lived in the Bay Area, one of my favorite places to eat was at Shooting Star Cafe in Oakland Chinatown. It was open til quite late (after 1am on most nights) and offered Hong Kong cafe food. Unfortunately, it is a restaurant genre that San Diego is severely lacking – the only option we’ve got is A Cafe, and I can’t even bring myself to write a post about that place because, well, it’s just not very good. So when I returned to the Bay Area in June, I just had to return to Shooting Star.

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The menu is quite extensive, and I didn’t get pictures of all of it, but here’s a teaser version:

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I love the baked dishes in HK cafes, so I ordered one of my old favorites, Baked Portuguse Chicken over rice:

Baked Portuguese Chicken over Rice

Baked Portuguese Chicken over Rice

This dish is basically a sweet-ish curry with coconut base. I’m not sure why I’m so drawn to it – I think I just really like curry, and baking it a bit gives a nice crunchiness to the bread crumb top. Yum.

Baked Pork Chop over Rice

Baked Pork Chop over Rice

My friend ordered the baked pork chop over rice, which is a classic HK cafe dish. It’s also pretty involved, since it’s a fried pork chop with a tomato-based sauce spread over it, and then baked with cheese on top. I’ve had the version here and it was quite good. The pork was very tender.

 

Seafood over Crispy Noodles

Seafood over Crispy Noodles

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Apr 182012
 

I had been eying Jong Ga House for quite some time before I finally had the chance to go for a friend W’s birthday celebration.  Since I didn’t look at the menu or do any of the ordering, I’ll keep the post brief.

I believe we had some sort of all-you-can-eat BBQ special, because W just kept ordering more platters of meat.  My favorite was the pork belly, as always – grilled to a crisp edge, just perfect.

Grilling beef and pork belly

Grilling marinated chicken

As with most all-you-can-eat places, they also serve you a wide variety of side dishes (to fill you up so that you eat less meat, haha).  They are actually usually really delicious, which poses the problem of what-do-I-want-to-fill-my-belly-with-oh-I’ll-just-stuff-myself-with-everything.

Banchan (side dishes), cold noodle soup

As you can probably tell, this ended up being one of those super gluttonous meals.  One of the reasons I love table-top grilling is that it provides an opportunity for friends to gather around the table and cook together! (Okay… “cook”.)  Of course, my clothes smelled like grilled meat for the next week or so (reminder to self: never wear nice clothes to a Korean BBQ, even if it’s a special occasion), but the food and the experience were very enjoyable.  If you are fortunate enough to live in the Bay Area, I would definitely consider Jong Ga House next time you want to plan a Korean BBQ dinner with friends!

Jong Ga House
372 Grand Ave., Oakland, CA
(510) 444-7658

http://www.jonggahouse.com/

Hours
Mon-Sat  11am-10pm
Sun  12pm-10pm

Nov 172011
 

A couple of weeks ago, it really felt like winter arrived in Berkeley – the sudden temperature drop and onset of rain was certainly a departure from the pleasant fall weather we had been experiencing. To me, this meant the start of hot pot and soup :)

I have been eyeing the tofu stew at Sura for a while, and I thought that a cold and rainy evening would be the perfect time to try it out. Most of the tables at the restaurant have a cooktop for their barbecue selection, but since my dining companions and I were simply interested in the tofu soup, we were seated at a table without the cooktop. It felt a bit isolated to be in a different ‘section’ of the restaurant, but we didn’t have to wait for a table this way.

Banchan (side dishes)

Assortment of side dishes. Most of them are standard, although I particularly enjoyed the dried tofu curd and sweet potato puree(?). You can ask the waitress for ‘refills’ of any or all of them, which is nice.

I had no idea which tofu soup would be good, so per the waitress’ recommendation, I ordered the seafood.

Haemul sundubu (Seafood tofu stew)

It actually ended up being pretty disappointing. The soup was not very flavorful, and neither the tofu nor seafood really stood out to me. Maybe we should have gone with the barbecue.

Haemul Pa Jun (Seafood & green onion pancake)

Seafood pancake was good – the batter was so crispy that I wonder if it was deep-fried. Plenty of green onions and assorted seafood inside. It was flavorful enough even without the vinegar-based dipping sauce.

In the midst of so many other good Korean restaurants, Sura really did not stand out to me. If I ever do come back, I am sure that I will not try the tofu soup again. Maybe there is a reason that most of the tables have a cooktop… next time, I will be here for the grill.

Sura
4869 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA
510-654-9292
Hours:
M-Su  11am-10pm

Photos courtesy of T.C.

Nov 162011
 

I visited the Oakland location of Burma Superstar last weekend, and let me just say that it was very crowded. For a party of three, we were told a 45-minute wait – but actually we were seated within 15 minutes or so. The caveat (since there is always one) was that three of us were squeezed into a tiny two-person table, and less than a foot from each side of us were other tables. Haha. So it was a bit crowded, and you should be prepared for a squeeze if you come at a popular hour (say, Saturday evening). Service was decent – our water glasses were filled, our orders taken, etc… but it was just so busy that you couldn’t help but feel neglected at times.

Onto the food. Three of us shared a Tea Leaf Salad, which has been featured on the Food Network (unfortunately I haven’t had the time to find the show or episode yet…).

Tea Leaf Salad

The salad arrived as pictured above, with all the components neatly separated: peanuts, fried garlic, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, lettuce, tomato, lemon juice, fried fish, and of course fermented tea leaves. The server actually tosses it for you tableside, which was pretty fun. It was also really delicious – the tea flavor really came through, and all the different textures from the various components mingled really nicely and complemented the soft tea leaves.

We also each picked an entree:

Braised Pork Belly with Bok Choy

As you might guess, this was my choice. (I have an obsession with pork belly.) In fact, everything about this dish – from the seasoning to the bok choy – had a very heavy Chinese influence. It was very nicely cooked; really tender (of course – it was pork belly!) and flavorful. I liked the flavor of the sesame sprinkled on top – added an extra bit of ‘fragrance’ to the dish. My favorite entree out of the three.

Fiery Lamb with Tofu

Actually, this dish also seemed very Chinese-influenced as well (maybe it’s because we are Chinese, so we are automatically drawn to certain things on the menu?). It was basically lamb stir-fried with dried bean curd (豆乾), chili peppers, string beans, bell peppers, in a five-spice sauce. The lamb was nicely cooked, not spicy enough by my standards to be called ‘fiery’, but pretty good dish overall.

Chicken Kebat

We all agreed that this was the least special dish of the night, even though it was recommended by our waiter. It just seemed too… simple? I didn’t care for the large chunks of tomato, and the whole thing reminded me of.. sweet and sour sauce. Haha. Looking at the menu again, I wish we had tried something like the Classic Burmese Chicken – alas, next time. I do hope to come back – maybe on a weekday, if it is less crowded – to try some of the not-so-Chinese dishes. Let me know if there is anything that you really enjoyed here!

Burma Superstar
4721 Telegraph Ave., Oakland, CA
510-652-2900
Lunch:
M-Su 11:30am-3pm
Dinner:
M 5pm-9:30pm
Tu-Th, Su 5pm-10pm
F-Sa 5pm-10:30pm

Photos courtesy of T.C. Apparently the iPhone 4S has better white balance than the Nexus One.

Oct 192011
 

Since my first trip to the College Avenue area last year, I have been hearing about I-Squared, an “Iranian and Rustic Italian” restaurant. Iranian + Italian, of course, gives rise to its name, I^2. Several people have recommended it to me, but because it is a bit pricey, and because College Avenue is sort of far from where I live, I never paid a visit. But finally, last month I had the chance to try it out!

In the midst of all the other restaurants nearby on College, it actually doesn’t really stand out. The interior has a modernist/ minimalist feel, which I really like. The restaurant is small, but pretty empty on a Wednesday before 6pm..

Restaurant interior

Loved the S&P dishes, although they are pretty impractical as far as actual usage:

Salt & pepper and water carafe

Now, onto the food:

I Squared Salad: warm goat cheese, roasted corn, mushroom, avocado, mixed greens, tossed with aged balsamic vinegar, and extra virgin olive oil. $9

The salad was well-balanced, but I think the mound of goat cheese was a bit.. weird. I would have personally preferred for the cheese to be crumbled and distributed evenly throughout the salad already.

Steamed black mussels: with garlic, saffron, and wine. $7.

The mussels were OMG-worthy delicious. The mussels were nicely cooked, and more importantly, that garlic-saffron-wine sauce is magic. It also goes super well with the bread… I usually only eat one or two pieces of bread, but I think I finished half a loaf just dipping the bread in the saffron sauce.

Linguine Tuto Mare: New Zealand mussels, jumbo prawns, shell clams, parsely, garlic, saffron and peppercorns, served with Linguine and topped with three citrus zest and Parmeggiano Reggiano. $18.

This was from the “Italian” part of the menu, I suppose. I must say that this did not impress me very much – maybe it is because the previous steamed mussel appetizer was too hard to follow.

Now, I must apologize because I forgot to photograph the most recommended item on the menu: braised lamb shank. It was served with pearl pasta and steamed zucchini, topped with artichoke hearts, saffron, yellow split peas, tomatoes and a red  wine sauce. It was possibly the best lamb dish I have ever had – and that is saying something because my family eats a lot of lamb. I am so sorry that there is no photographic evidence of this delightful dish, but I assure you that I will order it again when I return.

Finally, for dessert:

Persian Delight: Baklava & saffron-pistachio ice cream. $7.

The baklava was not so memorable, but I did love the saffron-pistachio ice cream. It was not too sweet and ended the meal on a refreshing note.

I really enjoyed my experience here, and maybe it’s because there were not many customers, but we received very good service. I have heard complaints about the service here, so maybe we got lucky. Nevertheless, I would love to return for a special occasion of some sort, because the food here is definitely celebration-worthy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I-Squared
5403 College Ave, Oakland, CA
510-658-4400

Mon-Sat     5-10pm (Happy Hour 5-6pm)

To-go boxes :)

Oct 182011
 

My quest for decent barbecue around Berkeley continues. Previously, I have tried Looney’s Smokehouse and T-Rex BBQ, and a friend recommended that I try The Brick Pig’s House in Oakland. I know this place is highly rated on Yelp, but just haven’t had the chance to go. But when S. was here last time, I sort of dragged him there straight from the airport.

On the website, they advertise their barbecue style as simply, ‘Southern’ – and claims that the main difference between Southern and the rest of the regional styles is the emphasis on the combination of meat, sauce, and seasoning, rather than the smokiness. I’m not sure if I have ever heard of such an explanation (after all, the difference between all the other regions is in the sauce), but if the food turned out to be good, I don’t care what they say about Southern barbecue.

S. and I were quite indecisive about what to order, so the owner suggested that we share a rib & brisket dinner, which includes two sides and cornbread.

Brisket & Ribs Dinner, $17.60

Macaroni salad (side)

Coleslaw (side)

Despite the cheap-looking containers, the food was really delicious. The ribs, while not fall-off-the-bone like Phil’s in San Diego, were the best I’ve had in Berkeley so far. I loved the brisket, too – not super salty like brisket can sometimes be, and very tender. They also did not drown everything in barbecue sauce, so it was indeed a great combination of meat and seasoning. As for the sides, we liked the cole slaw (probably because there was an abundance of mayo..) but decided that the macaroni salad was just okay. Next time, I think I’ll try the baked beans instead.

The Brick Pig’s House is definitely my favorite barbecue place around here. The owners are incredibly nice, and the food is delicious. I can’t wait to go back!

The Brick Pig’s House
5973 Shattuck Avenue, Oakland, CA
510-923-1789

Hours:
Tu-Sa    12-8pm

Sep 022011
 

To be honest, since moving to California, I have been eating much less meat. Maybe it’s because I’m being affected by all the vegetarian cuisine available around me, and that there is an abundance of locally grown vegetables in Berkeley, but I noticed that I don’t eat as much meat nowadays.

That being said, I will never say no to steak. Haha. And since S. has been craving steak since forever, I decided to buy a Groupon for Prime Spot Bar & Grill in Oakland and try it out with him.

The restaurant is a bit hidden and doesn’t look very impressive, but I was still hopeful. We had called about an hour ahead on a Saturday night and was able to secure a table for two without a wait.

Since the place is called “Prime Spot”, we both decided to try the prime rib. It comes in four different cuts: 8oz, 10oz, 14oz, and 16oz. I ordered the 8oz, and I chose Oven Roasted Style (with their “Prime Spot signature sauce”). S. chose the 14oz (or was it 16? I can’t really remember), with Blackened Style (seared on an hot iron, seasoned with Cajun spices). We also chose to split the soup of the day, corn chowder (mm, corn).

Corn chowder soup with freshly ground black pepper, $5.50

The soup was creamy and had plenty of corn, and we both enjoyed it, but it wasn’t really super memorable.

"Lake Merritt" (8oz) cut prime rib, oven-roasted style, served with garlic mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli ($19.95)

Actually, this dish kind of (ok, really) reminded me of how much I liked steak :P It was so juicy and tender and well-seasoned. I preferred the oven-roasted sauce to S.’s blackened style – I felt that the Cajun spices were a bit too salty. I really enjoyed the garlic mashed potatoes as well – they were chunky, which is the way I like ‘em. Broccoli.. is broccoli. Haha.

I am so glad that Groupon gave me the opportunity to try this place. (Our deal was $50 worth of food for $25, I believe.) Even without the deal, I think the prices are pretty reasonable, especially for such a pleasant and filling meal. I would definitely recommend this place if you ever have a steak craving and don’t want to drive into the City (or shell out a lot of cash). Mm.. steak! :9

Prime Spot Bar & Grill
3417 Grand Ave, Oakland, CA 94610
(510) 268-1840

Hours:
Tu-Su   5pm-1opm

Aug 162011
 

As you probably already know, I love spicy food and Szechuan cuisine. So, I was very excited to try Spices 3 (辣妹子) in Oakland Chinatown. First impressions of the restaurant actually weren’t so great: the place was small and mostly empty on a Sunday evening, and it was rather dimly lit and depressing. But I was still excited about the food.

Hot & spicy beef combination (夫妻肺片), $4.25

To start, we ordered my favorite appetizer, beef and tendon slices in chili oil. If done well, the meat is tender, not too salty or greasy (it’s supposed to be a refreshing dish to kick-off your meal, after all), abundantly spicy to prepare your palate. At Spices 3, sadly, this was not done so well. The meat slices were basically soaked with chili oil – which wasn’t even that spicy – and all you could really taste was the grease coating. What a waste of some nicely sliced beef and tendons.

Stinky fried tofu (酥炸臭豆腐, $4.25

Interestingly, this place served Taiwanese-style stinky fried tofu – which sort of made me question exactly what regional cuisine this restaurant is supposed to serve. But the stinky tofu was so good that I also quickly forgot about all my questions. Crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, plenty of ‘stink’. I didn’t even really bother with the sweet and sour dipping sauce. It was good enough on its own.

Pork intestine casserole (五更腸旺), $8.95

Our main dish of the evening, pork intestine casserole. This dish is not for the weak-stomach – main ingredients are pork intestine and pork blood. It also should contain pickled cabbage hearts for an acid component, and the spicy-ness should come from pan-fried chili peppers. Spices 3′s version of this dish did not have the pickled cabbage AND used jalapenos (AND added cilantro as garnish, which I would never do).. all these things combined gave it a very foreign flavor. The dish tasted decent; just not the authentic 五更腸旺 that I had hoped for.

My overall impression of Spices 3 was just all right. Although I loved the stinky tofu, the two supposedly classic dishes that I tried really lacked authenticity. I may come back to try some of the other dishes, since this time we ordered so few items – but so far, it’s not at the top of my Chinese food list.

Spices 3 (辣妹子)
369 12th St, Oakland, CA
(510) 625-8889
Hours:
Mon-Thu 12pm – 11pm
Fri-Sun 12pm – 12am

Aug 032011
 

I am always in search of good barbecue. After living in the South for more than 10 years, it’s pretty important to me. There are many different regional styles of barbecue, and my favorite is the ‘Eastern North Carolina’ style, characterized by pulled pork and a tangy, vinegar-based sauce. After moving to California, I have been in a constant search for a go-to bbq restaurant. In San Diego, there is Phil’s BBQ - the best I’ve had in California thus far. In Berkeley, I have tried Everett & Jones in Jack London Square, and T-Rex BBQ  on 10th St. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to locate photos from those posts anymore, but overall, I think barbecue in the East Bay is rather unimpressive.

So, to continue my search for a decent barbecue joint around here, S. and I ventured to Looney’s Smokehouse in Oakland (54th and MLK Jr. Way).  It certainly did not have the modernist decor of T-Rex; nor was it busy like E&J. When we visited, it was mostly empty, and the place really reminded me of an almost run-down diner/bar. I hope that this places gets more business than what we saw.

Their menu is quite interesting: they offer different meats and entrees, and you choose your sauce. They cover most of the regions, including Kansas, Texas, North Carolina, and South Carolina (no Memphis). They also have some others with special ingredients such as honey barbecue, bourbon, and habanero.

S. decided to get a half rack of baby back ribs with the South Carolina spicy mustard sauce ($16.95). They were nothing like the fall-off-the-bone tender ribs at Phil’s in San Diego, which was rather disappointing. The spicy mustard barbecue sauce was good, though I don’t know anything about its authenticity.

Half rack baby back ribs (SC style sauce)

I bravely ordered a pulled pork sandwich  with North Carolina sauce ($9.50)**. Sandwiches come with a side, so I chose coleslaw (other choices were potato salad or fries), and we also ordered a small mac ‘n’ cheese on the side. The pulled pork was all right – on the dry side, but fixed by adding some extra sauce. Their mimic of the tangy North Carolinian sauce sort of missed the mark. It wasn’t a bad sauce – it was just not the real thing. At all. Sides were decent – the coleslaw was nicely tangy yet sweet, the mac ‘n’ cheese was creamy – but nothing too impressive.

Pulled Pork Sandwich (NC style sauce) with coleslaw, mac n cheese

Unfortunately, this means that my search for BBQ in the East Bay continues. Nothing on Yelp really stands out to me anymore – although I do want to make a visit to Sneaky’s in SF, which claims to specialize in Carolina-style pulled pork. Does anyone have any more recommendations for me?

**By the way, if you don’t know anything about N.C., you should know that pulled pork there is freaking amazing. Can’t find anything like it anywhere else.