Best Xiao Long Bao in East Bay

I am super excited to share a recent discovery of delicious xiao long bao in the East Bay. Din Ding Dumpling House is located in the City of Fremont. It is still a bit of a trek, but at least for me, I don’t have to cross a bridge to get there. I have made three trips to Din Ding Dumpling House in the past few months and I’ll share the highlights.

Of course the driving factor of every visit is the xiao long bao, soup dumplings. When I say soup dumplings, I literally mean soup inside the dumplings. Din Ding offers two types, one with pork and the other with pork and crab. I feel like a purist as each time I have only ordered the pork variety. Each order comes with eight dumplings on a bamboo steamer. The dumplings are dipped in ginger and vinegar before the pork and soup explodes in your mouth.The wontons with spicy sauce are some of my favorites. I believe in quality over quantity and that is the case here. These wontons in chili oil are topped with egg, wood ear, and carrots providing for some extra textures.  

I found the beef brisket noodle soup to be simple and comforting. It comes with baby bok choy which balances the bowl.  
Din Ding usually offers a few different stir fried vegetable options. I have noticed that their veggies always looks fresh, bright, and glistening. I enjoyed their pea sprouts with garlic very much.
 I had the qishan minced meat noodle dish. They call it a dry noodle dish, but that is completely inaccurate as it’s not dry at all. The noodles are drenched with loads of goodies such as beef, egg, potato bits, green onions, and carrots that are bound by gravy that is meant to be mixed together.
Ham fried rice is more like spam fried rice. There’s something nostalgic about this plate. It would make a great after school snack. The canned meat provides such great flavor to the dish.  

The deep fried rice cake is a great choice for dessert to end a meal at Din Ding. It’s warm, crispy, chewy and filled with red bean.  

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Goodnight Hawker Fare Oakland

The East Bay community is saying goodbye to Hawker Fare in Uptown Oakland, which closed its doors last night after almost six years. Hawker Fare is Chef James Syhabout’s Southeast Asian street food focused restaurant. I was able to dine at Hawker Fare on one of its final nights last week with a friend and her daughter.

One of the favorite dishes of the evening was the fried chicken. Similar to Japanese chicken karaage, these crispy nuggets of chicken thighs were well marinated, breaded, and deep fried to a golden perfection. It was served with a chili jam and went especially well with sticky rice. It was a hit for my friend’s daughter as well.

In the last several years I have been obsessed with the Laotian dish, Nam Khao, fried rice ball salad. I have been in search of the best fried rice ball salad in Oakland. I just love the mix of savory, tart, and spicy flavors and then the awesome crunch you get with this dish. Unfortunately, the fried rice ball salad at Hawker Fare fell flat for me. One huge factor was likely that it didn’t include pork meat. I also felt that the texture was chunkier than I have had at other neighborhood Laotian restaurants.

Similar to how I must order fried rice ball salad, my friend must order the Laotian style papaya salad. Some might call it umami and others might call it funky because of the flavors of fermented fish and crab that are very prominent. In general, this dish was fine, but my friend thought it was too saucy.

We also shared the mussels steamed in coconut milk. The fresh mussels from Washington are cooked in a coconut broth made with unique spices including fresh galangal, Makrut lime leaves, lemongrass, and fish sauce. The broth was so good, I envision dreams about it.

We ended the evening with condensed milk soft serve. I’m really gonna miss their soft serve machine. It was always a refreshing way to end a meal here.

The closing of Hawker Fare is sad for me, but likely bittersweet for Chef Syhabout. I still remember how cool it was that he opened up the restaurant in the exact location of the Thai restaurant his mother once opened. The saving grace is that there still remains a Hawker Fare, but you’ll have to cross the Bay Bridge to get there. He opened up a second Hawker Fare in San Francisco about two years ago.  

Sunday Funday in Napa County


Today I took a trip to Napa County with friends. We weren’t going wine tasting, but had planned to hike Mount Saint Helena. Hiking up five miles on the Stevenson Memorial Trail would take us over 4,000 feet to St. Helena’s peak.  
With so much rain and lack of exercise lately, the hike was much needed. It was a gorgeous day for this ten mile roundtrip hike. The views were beautiful. I admit that I felt out of shape as my muscles were really sore as we descended.  
Before heading back home, we stopped at Oxbow Public Market for an early dinner. I felt that I deserved a nice piece of steak. Five Dot Ranch Cookhouse is where you can get local and sustainably raised beef. I was attracted to the menu item “you pick it, we grill it.” The butcher shop meat case had some amazing pieces of meat. I then noticed the special of the day which was a 7 oz skirt steak with potato puree, roasted Brussels sprouts, and a bone marrow glace for $20. I was sold.  
My skirt steak was cooked a medium rare as I requested, and was tender and full of flavor. The potatoes were buttery and creamy, while the Brussels sprouts were roasted to perfection. As much as I deserved a steak dinner, this dinner plate deserved to be eaten. I was completely satisfied.  
Before the long ride home, I wanted to have some coffee. I stopped for a cappuccino at San Francisco based Ritual Coffee.  

 I guess it’s no secret I was also going to use the loo too. The barista sure has a good sense of humor.

ABC Cocina: New York City

When my friend and I got back to New York City after the Women’s March, we went “out on the town”. That may be a bit dramatic; we went to have a late night dinner. But it is a trendy restaurant, so I think that still counts. We headed to ABC Cocina, a tapas style restaurant in the Flatiron district. I thought tapas would be good since we really wanted cocktails and we could share a few plates.

We hit the bar first since we had to wait for our table to be ready. We decided that we had a lot to celebrate. Twenty years ago, we were roommates at San Diego State University and today we Marched on Washington with hundreds of thousands of like minded individuals to show solidarity. We both decided we would start with a glass of sparkling wine. The only time it really matters that you are getting the first glass of anything is when it’s champagne or sparkling wine. It was nice to see the bottle being opened by the bartender. And what a generous pour. Cheers!

After reviewing the menu, my friend and I agreed on four items. One was the roasted beet and citrus salad with celery, cilantro, and chilies. This was the first time I’ve had a beet salad with a Latin twist and I loved it. I thought all the ingredients with its vibrant colors melded together nicely. I look forward to trying to replicate this at home.
I believe that the crispy brussels sprouts we ordered were deep fried. Although it came with a blue cheese aioli to dip, I really didn’t need it. The crisp salty vegetables were on point.
On the menu at ABC Cocina, was roasted honeynut squash with goat cheese and pepitas. I had never heard of honeynut squash. It is sweeter than the standard butternut squash which I enjoyed.
Around this time, I got my cocktail. The bartenders had a special drink called “Made to Measure,” which our waiter recommended. The concoction of rum, activated charcoal, passion fruit, vanilla, black pepper, and lemon not only looked awesome, it was delicious. This cocktail will remain unforgettable.
Our fourth dish was charred octopus with smoked paprika, creme fraiche, and guajillo vinaigrette. To this day, I haven’t met an octopus I didn’t like.  
For dessert, we agreed on the salted caramel flan. I love the sweet and savory combination so it was pure genius to add a little extra touch of salt to this amazing dessert.  
On a prior visit to New York, I dined at ABC Kitchen, this time around it was ABC Cocina. Next trip to New York will be a visit to ABC V, the vegetarian inspired restaurant that is soon to be open.