Archive for September, 2010

Tai Pan Price, Chop Suey Quality – Tai Pan Restaurant 聚寶樓(巴洛奧圖)

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

Tai Pan Restaurant 聚寶樓 in downtown Palo Alto used to serve decent set lunches so we went over for a quick bite today. We were expecting to pay a little more for the better environment in this upscale Chinese restaurant but were surprised by the prices on the menu. Instead of reasonably priced business set lunches, they were serving dim sum at twice the price found in other restaurants in this area.

Without asking what kind of tea we wanted, the waiter brought us chrysanthemum-puer (菊普) in a fancy acrylic teapot. I looked around and saw people at the other three occupied tables were also drinking the same tea and figured that that was the only kind of tea they would provide. I am an easy-going guy who can drink any kind of tea even though I am a true believer that flowers and tea don’t belong to the same pot. Fortunately, I couldn’t detect any flavor of  flower in the tasteless liquid coming out of this pot.

To give them credit, all the dim sum were hot when served – they were made to order. With so few customers, they could not afford to pre-cook too much food. There were more BBQ pork in the rice noodle roll than I had ever since before. Unfortunately, the BBQ pork was very tough to chew. The rice noodle roll was soft – too soft to hold the BBQ pork inside – and sticky and was not 爽 at all. We tried but could not finish this dish.

The “skin” of Shrimp Dumpling was again very soft and sticky. There were two pieces of frozen shrimp in each dumpling; the chef obviously did not know that shrimp dumplings would taste better with a little bit of “fat pork” and bamboo shoot to complement the shrimp.

Like the Shrimp Dumplings, the skin of the Pork and Dried Shrimp Dumpling was also very soft and sticky. The ingredients inside were bland, hard and chewy. The beef balls did not taste any better but at least I could tell that they were made of real beef.

The sticky rice in the Sticky Rice in Lotus Leaf was actually not too bad but there was not much else.

In the past twenty years, we have seen this restaurant changing hands, and name, several times. Probably will not come back again until there is a new name on the door.

Tai Pan Restaurant 聚寶樓
560 Waverley Street, Palo Alto, CA 94301
Tel: +1-650-329-9168

Chasing the Mid-Autumn Moon – ABC Seafood Restaurant 富林魚翅海鮮酒家(福斯特市)

Saturday, September 25th, 2010

Winnie was so kind to organize a Moon-Chasing (追月) dinner for the gang at ABC Seafood Restaurant 富林魚翅海鮮酒家 in Foster City. Even though I had less-than-satisfactory experience at ABC a few months earlier (see, we decided to give this place another chance.

Highlight of the dinner was the Cabazon fish 石九公 – its meat was sauteed (炒球) and the head and tail were made a soup with mustard cabbage and beancurd (芥菜豆腐湯). Soup and sauteed fish together cost US$91. This soup was very good – it looked like milk and was delicious. The ham and scallop fried rice (火腿帶子炒飯) was also outstanding. The rice was dry (i.e. not oily) and spongy (彈牙). Complimentary desserts were also better than usual – there was a banquet at this restaurant; these desserts were probably left-over from the banquet. Other dishes could have been less oily though.

ABC Seafood Restaurant 富林魚翅海鮮酒家
973 East Hillsdale Blvd., Foster City, CA 94404
Tel: +1-650-328-2288

月到中秋份外明 – 奇華餅家(密爾比達市)

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

Looks like it will be rainy in Hong Kong for the next few days and my friends over there may have a “moonless” Mid-Autumn Festival this year. Although we have cloudy sky here today, the moon still manages to break through with its bright light. It is not perfectly round yet – we still have a day to go – but big and bright.

To celebrate the festival, I went out to buy a few moon-cakes at Kee Wah Bakery 奇華餅家 in Milpitas. Kee Wah is a branch of the famous bakery in Hong Kong bearing the same name and it is my favorite place to get Hong Kong style cakes and buns such as 菠蘿包 and 雞尾包.

When I grew up in Hong Kong, I used to prefer moon-cakes with lotus seed paste and egg yolks (蛋黃蓮蓉月). In those days, only older folks would eat moon-cakes with mixed nuts and ham (火腿伍仁月). However, I have noticed in recent years that bakeries have improved the ingredients and baking skill of these mixed nut moon-cakes that they seem to taste much better than before. They are more crunchy than those with lotus seed paste and even young guys like the Food Lover start to enjoy chewing the nuts and tasting the flavor of ham.

Kee Wah Bakery 奇華餅家
1718 N Milpitas Blvd, Milpitas, CA 95035
Tel: +1-408-956-8999

No Complaint – Venus Tam Café 大家樂茶餐廳(庫比蒂諾)

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

Called 遜仔 in mid-morning to get some idea for lunch; he suggested Venus Tam Café 大家樂茶餐廳 in Cupertino that opened half a year ago.

The place was full when I arrived at 12:30pm but a table was available when somebody left as I was walking in. This restaurant offers a variety of Lunch Specials 商務午餐 each at $6.95. The set lunch includes a cup of soup, a piece of garlic bread, a main course and choice of tea or coffee.

The soup was OK but not great. The bread could be more crispy. The main course was huge. I finished the three large pieces of pork chop that tasted like tree bark 柴皮 but only one-third of the rice. 遜仔’s spareribs with rice was OK. 遜嫂’s congee was not probably cooked and she barely touched the chicken rice.

If you are hungry and just want to refuel, you can’t really complain about the lunch here. For US$6.95, what can you expect?

Venus Tam Café 大家樂茶餐廳
20956 W Homestead Rd., Cupertino, CA 95015
Tel: +1-408-865-1122

Shanghai Dumplings at 上海新天地(薩拉度加)

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

We used to regularly go to 上海美食坊 in San Jose for authentic Shanghainese food until it was forced out by an apartment development a few years ago. Recently I was happy to hear from a friend that the same owner had opened a new restaurant, Shanghai Dumpling 上海新天地, in Saratoga about a year ago.

We arrived at 11:30am and had no problem finding a table. This place wasn’t full for the hour we were there but a friend had told me that there would usually be customers waiting at the door on weekends.

The Green Onion Pancakes 蔥油餅 were thin and crispy. It tasted good; I would like it to be a little bit more moist though. The Steamed Pork Buns 小籠包 were great. They were quite a bit bigger than those I had in Shanghai and Taiwan. The “skin” was very thin but did not break when I picked one up with my chop sticks. They were juicy and delicious; there was no need to add any vinegar and ginger.

The fried noodle and rice cakes were authentic Shanghainese – crunchy (有咬頭), sweet and slightly oily as for traditional Shanghai cuisine.

In addition to dim sum and noodle, we also had the traditional Pork with Preserved Vegetable and Peas 雪菜毛豆百葉肉絲 and a soup, the Preserved Pork and Bamboo Soup 醃篤鮮. The vegetable dish was good and not watery. For those who are not familiar with Shanghai cuisine, you may wonder what 醃篤鮮 mean. 醃 is obviously something preserved; 鮮 is “fresh”. 篤 actually means 燉 (stew) in the Shanghainese dialect. When you stew preserved pork with fresh ingredients such as bamboo shoot, vegetables and fresh meat, you have a perfect pot of 醃篤鮮. Every housewife in Shanghai used to know how to prepare this soup; not so sure about that today.

Want a genuine Shanghai meal in the South Bay for reasonable price? This is the place.

Shanghai Dumpling 上海新天地
12172 Saratoga-Sunnyvale Rd., Saratoga, CA 95070
Tel: +1-408-253-2232

Disappointing Dim Sum – Champagne Seafood Restaurant 上品皇廷(聖馬刁)

Monday, September 13th, 2010

Some of you believe that I have good food every day but nothing could be further from the truth. I have my fair share of mediocre food all the time and that does not bother me at all – bad dining experience actually gave me the opportunity to warn my friends like you so you wouldn’t have to suffer.

We happened to be in San Mateo at noon today and decided to try the dim sum at Champagne Seafood Restaurant 上品皇廷. To make a long story short, the dim sum was pretty bad. The Pan-Fried Dried Shrimp Rice Noodle Roll 香煎蝦米腸 was only “covered” with sauce and tasteless inside. The BBQ pork in the rice noodle roll 叉燒腸 was tough 韌. Pan-Fried Pumpkin Cake was fried sticky rice cake with a little bit of pumpkin paste inside. Turnip Puff 蘿卜絲酥餅 was very oily and had strange taste – the oil they used for frying was probably not fresh. I couldn’t find any dried scallop in the Sticky Rice in Lotus Leaf 瑤柱糯米雞.

Apparently, most potential customers already knew what we found out about this place; it was still half empty when we left at 12:45pm.

Champagne Seafood Restaurant 上品皇廷
88 East 4th Ave
San Mateo, CA 94401
Tel: +1-650-343-6988

Cracking Crab in the South Sea

Saturday, September 11th, 2010

South Sea Seafood Village 南海漁村海鮮茶寮 in Millbrae was half full when we arrived at 6:30pm and quickly filled up in the next hour. There were a couple parties waiting for table when we left at 8:30pm. Business seems to be picking up at this place but is still not as hot as The Kitchen on the next block.

In addition to the Soup of the Day, we ordered a couple of meat dishes for the youngsters, a vegetable dish, and the main attractions – shrimp and crab.

South Sea is one of only a few restaurants in the Bay area to offer small coon shrimps 花蝦 which are perfect for boiling (白灼) as appetizer. These shrimps were so fresh and sweet 鮮甜 that adding any condiment such as soy sauce would only ruin the taste. By the way, market seafood prices were clearly posted on the wall next to the tank so customers could see what they had to pay.

The waitress suggested that the crab be pan-fried with egg yoke – that would have a rich flavor (惹味) – but we preferred the crab to be cooked with ginger and scallion. That could better preserve the fresh taste of crab meat. It was good.

The young boys seemed to love their BBQ pork, roast duck and fried shredded beef; they finished them in no time. Bamboo fungus with crispy tofu was serviced with young pea sprouts (豆苗) at the bottom. Taste of this dish was not bad but nothing spectacular.

All in all, this is a good place to have simple family dinner.

South Sea Seafood Village 南海漁村海鮮茶寮
195 El Camino Real, Millbrae, CA 94030
Tel: +1-650-692-0688

Another Subpar Japanese Restaurant – Akane in Los Altos

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

We were tired of the restaurants nearby and drove over to Los Altos looking for good food. At 12:30pm, it took a while to find a parking space in downtown Los Altos. Fortunately, the space we found was close to our destination – Akane Japanese Restaurant.

The restaurant was very spacious and comfortable. However, as soon as I visited the restroom, I knew right away that this place was not managed by Japanese.

The portion of my sashimi combination was very generous but not as fresh as what I could have in other Japanese restaurants around here. You would be very happy with this order if you cared more about quantity than taste. They charged US$2.5 for a bowl of miso soup and US$2 for a bowl of rice.

Mrs. Food Lover had bento lunch with beef teriyaki and tempura. Beef was overcooked and tough; tempura was thick and oily.

Guess whether I will come here again?

Akane Japanese Restaurant
250 3rd St, Los Altos, CA 94022
Tel: +1-650-941-8150

Oyster Lovers’ Paradise – Tomales Bay Oyster Company

Saturday, September 4th, 2010

On this Labor Day weekend, the Food Lover and some old schoolmates went north to have an Oyster BBQ. Our destination was Tomales Bay Oyster Company in Marshall, CA which specializes in fresh, farmed oysters from the Tomales Bay. They sell fresh oysters, clams and mussels and provide picnic table and barbecues. They also provide a nice bay view to go with the food.

We started at 8am from the South Bay and got there by 10am. It is important to get there early to secure a table. The place was full by around 11am and late comers faced a long wait for tables.

We first got a dozen each of small, medium and large oysters just to try them out. The small ones tasted great but it was so much work to shuck them for so little. The large ones did not taste as good as the medium ones, so we decided to get 50 medium ones for the feast. That proved to be more than enough for the eight of us.

I had my first one raw; it was fresh and delicious but a little bit salty because I did not pour out all the sea water. I did not make the same mistake for the ones to follow. Before the trip, I was expecting others to bring lemon, lime and Tabasco to add flavor to these shellfish. How wrong was I! I obviously had forgotten that Albert, a.k.a. “South Bay God of Cookery” 南灣食神 was there. He brought ginger, scallion, soy sauce, oil and also Lee Kum Kee Black Bean Garlic Sauce 李錦記蒜蓉豆豉醬. Take a look at the pictures and you will see that we were “cooking” rather than BBQing the oysters.

In addition to oysters, we had the usual vegetable salad, garlic bread, sausages, corn and wine.

Good company, good food and good view. This is a place worth going with friends.

Here’s a video showing how to shuck an oyster:

Tomales Bay Oyster Company
15479 Highway One, Marshall, CA 94940
Tel: +1-415-663-1242