Some observations I made while dining out in Hong Kong. HK has an awesome food scene, but there were a few adjustments I definitely had to make. So without further ado, here are my top 5 rules for eating out in Hong Kong! Continue reading Rulebook: Eating out in Hong Kong→
I won’t lie. There’s a very special place in my heart for Burmese food, because it brings me home. The sound of chilis and garlic ground with a stone mortar and pestle, the aroma of caramelized onions, and the pungency of fermented fish sauce. And I had a obscene amount of it while visiting the Midwest last month.
Nha Trang is a Vietnamese restaurant embedded deep inside a narrow strip mall on Valley Blvd., a stone’s throw away from my childhood home in San Gabriel. Nha Trang gets name from a seaside city in South Vietnam, but it’s really just known for 2 kinds of noodle soup: bun bo Hue (originates in central Vietnam) and bun rieu. The place itself is small and cramped. Parking can be difficult. Nonetheless, people are always willing to wait because their noodles are good.
Until the late 1990s, Battambang’s space housed a Japanese AYCE sushi buffet. I would know, having spent my childhood a few streets down. When my parents felt like treating us to a nice meal, they’d truck my sister and I for a seafood feast there.
After failing to find interesting dishes at the Songkran festival (documented here), my friend and I decided to eat at a sit-down place, Sapp Coffee Shop, a pretty prominent Thai food landmark in the area.
Sapp Coffee Shop is in a strip mall on Hollywood Blvd. It’s nondescript on the outside and similarly plain on the inside. At the recommendation of one of Alvin’s friends, we decided to try this place for ourselves.
Once inside, I was immediately taken back to Thailand (the King’s portrait is found in practically every shop). There are portraits of Thai kings hanging from practically all four walls. I won’t say anything critical about the Thai king (god forbid I fall foul of Thailand’s insanely strict lese majeste laws, which makes criticisms of the King or Crown Prince punishable with up to 25 years in prison), but Thailand’s monarchy has been able to cultivate a god-like aura surrounding the King by capitalizing on the country’s otherwise weak democratic institutions.
Sapp offers a variety of dishes not normally seen at Thai restaurants, including boat noodle soup. Everything is pretty cheap too ($5-7 per dish)! Another plus in my book.
We split the Thai boat noodles, noodles served in a rich and spicy broth of pork blood, innards and topped with fried pork skin, meat balls, and slices of pork. Found throughout Thailand as a street food, it has an interesting taste profile: spicy, sweet, salty and sour, all at once. Both of us weren’t exactly awed by the noodle soup. It was alright, but I didn’t like the noodles. I personally prefer Pa Ord Noodle (on Sunset), which allows you to customize the order (they offer 4 types of noodles). Sorry, Sapp!
(Apparently the dish people rave about is the boat noodle soup with beef, but since I don’t eat beef, I don’t have much of an opinion to offer.)
We also split the seasoned duck noodle soup, another common Thai street dish, made with a soy sauce base. Okay, not gonna lie, I was really disappointed with the portion size. The dish came with a measly four duck slices, and the broth to noodle ratio was pretty extreme.
Considering how salty duck noodle soup is, it’s not like I could have downed the broth alone. And yes, the dish was too salty for my sensitive taste buds. No go.
As for drinks, I was tempted by the cheap prices ($2), so we got a longan juice drink (listed as num lum yai) and Thai iced coffee, as the Thai iced tea had run out for the day.
P.S. Thanks for the pics, Alvin (even though I took most of them.)
Sapp Coffee Shop
5183 Hollywood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90027
Every year, my mom’s side of the family gathers for a Chinese-style banquet dinner to celebrate Father’s Day. I’ve missed this event for the past four years, because of conflicts with finals. This year, I finally had the chance the chance to join again to indulge. At dinner, my mom jokingly quipped that we were having an eight-course dinner because ‘eight’ in Chinese (八) sounds like ‘dad’ (爸).
The reservations were at New Capital Seafood in Rowland Heights, one of the few major restaurants in the area to serve Chinese banquet meals. I’m personally not too fond of fancy feasts (pardon the unintentional pun), because the portions are overwhelming and the dishes are pretty bland (texture-wise and in taste).
Since it was Father’s Day, there was a huge hoard of families waiting in the lobby and outside, since the restaurant was packed to the brim. Luckily, my aunt had made reservations for a banquet room a few days before.
Traditionally, Cantonese meals include two soups, a savory soup presented at the beginning, and a dessert soup at the end. The fish maw wasn’t excessively salty, but it wasn’t particularly appetizing either. Nonetheless, I drank two bowls of it.
Along with the soup came a cold cut platter of roasted meats, including char siu pork, chicken, seaweed, jellyfish, and roasted beef. Since most of my family doesn’t consume beef, it all went to waste, for both tables.
Next was the much beloved candied walnut and shrimps with mayonnaise, one of my favorites of the night.
Next were the stir-fried scallops with asparagus. I like the special attention to presentation. But the dish was just alright. Greasy and boring by the second serving.
The fifth dish to be presented were the braised sea cucumbers with bok choy and mushrooms. Sea cucumbers were so sparingly used, I found only a sliver to try… Not that sea cucumbers are particularly tasty. P.S. A lot of Chinese folks think that sea cucumbers are a panacea, curing everything from sexual dysfunction to high cholesterol.
The king of all courses was the rock lobster, fried with a starchy batter. I couldn’t get a shot of the entire lobster (not least because my prime lens makes it hard to take photos of large objects), but because the lobster was humongous, much larger than I’ve encountered at most restaurants.
Eating lobster is tedious, because of all the shells and compartments you have to gnaw your way through. These darn crustaceans… Nothing special, if you ask me.
Another one of my favorites for the night was the Peking roast duck, eaten with little mantou-like breads, on which hoisin sauce is slathered on. The duck was finely sliced, and the skin was crispy and the meat tender. Also, the meat wasn’t as fatty as I anticipated.
As we headed toward the end of the meal, we were served soy sauce chicken and a plate of fried (and uncut) noodles. As the name implies, the soy sauce chicken was pretty salty. I didn’t try to attempt seconds.
After all the main course dishes were taken away, a server dropped off the final dish of the evening, a dessert soup made of red beans, translucent tapioca pearls and lotus seeds. I thought the soup was very watery and diluted. Most likely, the restaurant was rationing this dessert soup, because of a busy night.
I loved the tea that was served for the evening though. The chrysanthemum tea was very crisp and full, with the subtle fragrance of chrysanthemums. The Oolong tea had a nice kick and aroma as well.
A note on the service: I was perturbed, as was the rest of my family, at the pacing of the meal. The servers frequently came into the room to bring out one dish after another, as if they wanted us out as quickly as possible. Also, the servers were removing plates left and right, even though we were clearly not done. I can say that within 30 minutes, all of the major dishes were served, which is highly unusual at a banquet style meal. I understand that it was a busy night, but it’s downright rude to rush a special meal.
New Capital Seafood (半島海鮮酒家) 1330 S Fullerton Rd, Ste 207 Rowland Heights, CA 91748
Last Friday, Josie and I drove over to UCLA to attend our friends’ graduations. It was sort of bittersweet, as it marked the end of our close friends’ undergraduate journey at UCLA. Time flies by so quickly. It was just last year that I sat in those same exact seats, waiting to turn my tassel.
To celebrate Michelle’s graduation, we decided to eat at Siam Chan, after deliberating on a handful of different Thai restaurants in the West LA area. I was a bit skeptical, as the average yelp rating for the place was 3.5 stars, respectable but not spectacular.
The seating space was tiny, a bunch of tables crammed into a room probably the size of a small living room. We waited for a few minutes outside as the waiters reconfigured the tables to seat our party of 5.
All of us, famished and a bit dazed, quickly made our orders and awaited the food’s arrival. The menu offerings are typical for any Thai restaurant. There’s also a dinner special (for $10) that comes with Thai iced tea, shrimp fried rice, egg and salad), for a limited selection of entrees.
The Thai iced tea that Josie and I ordered arrived first. It was more milk than tea, and I could barely taste the brewed black tea (as the above photo illustrates–well-made Thai tea is dense with a strong brew of black tea, almost pitchblack at the bottom).
Josie ordered the spicy fried rice. Unfortunately, the restaurant had run out of mint, so the dish felt like it was missing something. The fried rice came in generous portions, but was not spicy, as the misleading name implied.
One of our friends, Janet, ordered a classic, the pad see ew, pan-fried rice noodles with beef.
The vegetarian in our group (and c/o 2012 grad), Michelle, was split on getting a vegetable curry or a red curry. She opted for a red curry, which comes separately with the rice. I honestly dislike restaurants that charge separately for bowls of rice, especially for dishes that, by default, are eaten with rice. Who the hell eats curry without rice? -_-
The eldest (also graduating this year with a Master’s!), Rosalie, ordered another classic Thai dish, rad na (also known as lad na), stir-fried rice noodles drenched in a starchy gravy. ‘Twas alright. Just your average rad na.
I tried to be a bit adventurous and ordered the jun pu, described on the menu as “Thai rice noodles pan-fried with real crab meat, egg, onion and chili.” First, the portion sizes were measly, fit for a kid’s menu. Second, where was all the “real” crab meat? Third, where did all the chili go? The noodles were not spicy at all. The dish was lackluster. It tasted like pad thai, except more sour-sweet and soggy from all the oil. I wouldn’t have guessed it was pan-fried.
All in all, Siam Chan was just okay. It delivered what I expected from the 3.5 star rating on Yelp, but I can’t complain about the price. There are plenty of other Thai places in West LA that provide tastier Thai.
P.S. Shout out to UCLA’s class of 2012! Congratulations Michelle, Rosalie, Laurie, Alvin and everyone else~!