You Don’t Have to Be a Crazy Rich Asian to Eat at Dragon Beaux

I just got back from a very nice dinner in the City for my book club meeting. We read Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan and our meeting place was appropriately held at the fancy Chinese restaurant Dragon Beaux in the outer Richmond district of San Francisco.

Dim Sum is usually eaten during brunch, but with its popularity it seems that some high end Chinese restaurants have begun to offer it in the evenings.

We decided to start with a couple of dim sum plates as appetizers. I’ve been wanting to try out the basket of colorful xiao long bao or soup dumplings. Each order comprises of five dumplings made with different colored skin or wrappers. The green wrapper is made with spinach and has kale, the black wrapper is made with squid ink and has black truffle, the bright yellow wrapper is made with tumeric and has crab roe, the red wrapper is made and filled with beets, and the beige colored wrapper is the traditional one made with juicy pork. I tried the tumeric and squid ink ones. They were innovative and fun to try once. I would probably stick to tradition in the future.

We also ordered the wild mushroom and chicken buns. These soft bao are colored to appear to look like giant shiitake mushrooms. They were light, delicious, and so cute! I would definitely order these again.
The Peking duck was quite tasty, but I was a little disappointed that the skin was not crispy. It was nice that the plate included twelve buns so we could each make two sandwiches of duck skin, cucumber, scallion, and hoisin sauce.  
The pea sprouts with garlic was our vegetable of choice. If you have never tried the large ones, they taste a lot like spinach. This is always a safe vegetable to order.
The mapo tofu is a spicy dish made with soft tofu and ground pork. This was one of the best prepared versions of this dish that I have ever had. The gravy makes it go well with white rice.
The last dish we ordered were the spot prawns in rice noodles. It was nice that our waiter evenly plated this dish for us. Everything about this dish was fresh and I’m glad we noticed this on the special’s menu.
Finally, we selected the crispy organic milk roll. I didn’t plan to eat one of these because I was quite full, but it came with six. I would describe it as fried dough filled with milk pudding. It was much better than I expected.  
They provided us with a couple of complimentary desserts. One was the sesame mochi made with raspberry and the other were almond cookies. I enjoyed the mochi, but the cookies were a bit dry.
I was very satisfied with my meal at Dragon Beaux. Coming from Oakland, it is a bit of a trek to get there, but I would definitely come back.  The six of us paid $35 each including tip and two of us had beer. You don’t have to be a Crazy Rich Asian to eat here!


The Longevity Peach

It’s been a long weekend. Friday night after work, I went to the San Francisco Giants Game. (Woohoo! It was the first of a three game sweep of the LA Dodgers that takes the Giants to the Postseason.) Saturday was a 14-hour fun filled day of geocaching in Yolo County. This morning, I ran 9 miles, took a quick nap, got a mani/pedi, and the evening concluded with the birthday party of the century that I have been planning, my grandma’s birthday. That means I am tired and you get a quick and dirty blog.

photo by Debbie Yee

Tonight about eighty friends and family members celebrated my grandmother’s 99th birthday with a dinner banquet at East Ocean Seafood Restaurant in Alameda. This is really one of my favorite Chinese restaurants in the East Bay. When I am asked for a recommendation for Chinese food, I have suggested East Ocean many times. They have good quality food and service. They’re also good for dim sum. 

We had an excellent nine course meal not including the three desserts. We ended the meal with the longevity peach. This is a traditional dessert served at Chinese birthday celebrations because it represents immortality. It’s shaped like a peach and filled with sweet lotus seed paste. 99 years is a long life, but we are still counting.

photo by Murphy Lau

Duck Hunt: New King Restaurant

The first thing you see when you walk into New King Restaurant (actually, entrance is from the back door via their parking lot) is a window display of roast meats including roast pork, BBQ pork, and roast ducks.  
New King is located on one end of International Blvd., only a few blocks from Lake Merritt and serves a combination of Chinese and Vietnamese food. A close friend introduced me to this place about a year ago. She frequents the place often in the mornings to pick up a Vietnamese iced coffee. With a lot of choices in Oakland for Chinese or Vietnamese food, I have been drawn to New King more often in the past six to eight months.  
One day I was craving wonton noodle soup and discovered that New King makes a good one. You can select one or more of their roast meats hanging from their display as a topping. The plump wontons are filled with pork and shrimp. I found the wontons to be fresh and just the right size. The egg noodles also had the right texture. My topping was a delicious BBQ pork. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to savor the sauciness of the BBQ as much because it slowly melted away in my soup. 

My favorite noodle dish at New King is a Vietnamese dish called Hu Tieu Mi Nam Vang Kho, where the broth is served on the side. It comes with assorted sliced meats including some intestines as well as seafood. Topped with an abundant amount of cilantro, there are other deep flavors that meld together to make this dish wonderful. It’s nutty, garlicky, and kind of umami.  

If you look closely enough, there are two kinds of duck that hang on display. The first is the common Chinese roast duck. The other is a flattened duck called Peipa duck. I had never eaten Peipa duck before. Last Friday, I planned “Duck Day” for a small group of my colleagues. I bought the two ducks cut up, brought them back to the office, and we ate.  
Two liked the traditional roast duck (pictured on right) best and two liked the Peipa duck (pictured on left) best. The Peipa duck was a bit leaner and had a deep sweet flavor I enjoyed very much. Most importantly, the skin was crispy like what you would find on a Peking duck. One coworker found this one “gamey,” but that didn’t bother me. I did a Google search to find more information on the Peipa duck and interestingly enough, it was named after the Pipa, a Chinese guitar that is pear shaped. When the duck is cut open and flattened, it resembles this instrument.

Aside from flavor, I look for a crisp tight skin and juicy meat on a traditional roast duck and this one had both. I have enjoyed New King’s roast duck a few times now and I find that it is one of the best you can buy in Oakland.
I would be remiss not to mention the roast pork at New King. I bought a small sample and my colleagues devoured it. With its crackling skin, I can’t imagine anything better at that moment of consumption.

Tian Jin Dumplings: A Special Hole in the Wall

A “hole in the wall” is a small and unpretentious place often used to describe restaurants.  Tian Jin Dumplings in Oakland Chinatown is literally a hole in the wall.  You stick your face in front of a window (hole) and order your food for take out.  My coworker and I have been meaning to go there for awhile and finally went last week.  

There are only six cooked items on the Tian Jin Dumplings menu, and we attempted to get all six.  Unfortunately two of the six items had already sold out so we could only get four.  We had to wait about fifteen minutes for our food to be ready.  One could potentially eat in one of the two small tables on the sidewalk.  On this particular day, it was very windy, so we took our food to the Oakland City Center to eat.  

We started our lunch with the savory Tianjin crepe which is an egg based crepe with black sesame seeds filled with Chinese donut and preserved vegetables.  I thought it was quite unique in both flavor profile and texture.  It is actually one large crepe that is cut into two.  This alone could be a meal in itself.  My coworker and I only got through half the order.  

Next we tried the biscuit.  The biscuit was very boring and really a waste of carbohydrates.  I don’t recommend this at all.

The first dumplings we ate were the chive dumplings.  These pieces of wonderful are generously filled with pork and chives.  

The alternate dumplings were the cabbage dumplings, which I liked best.  They were moist, juicy, and some of the best dumplings I have had.  

Tian Jin Dumplings definitely impressed me as well as others.  I brought the leftovers back to the office and shared some of the remaining dumplings with two other coworkers.  After sampling, they both requested that I take them there In the near future, which I agreed.  But next time I’ll get there early so I can try the two sold out items – tea smoked egg and the Tian Jin pork bun.    

Chino: Chinese Transformed

The word for Chinese in Spanish is Chino. That may or may not be apropos for the name of a Chinese restaurant located in the Mission district of San Francisco. My BFF and I went there for lunch a few months ago. I got a good energetic vibe as I walked into Chino. It was bright, hip, and not a typical Chinese restaurant (host is not a young Chinese female).

We were seated and I was excited by the decor and the fun environment. I loved the colorful plastic chopsticks. If xiao lung bao, Shanghai soup dumplings are on a menu, there is no question that I have to order them. The ones at Chino were pretty good. The dumpling skin was a little on the thick side, but sometimes they have to be in order to ensure the dumpling doesn’t get punctured and the soup spills out.
One of my BFF’s favorite type of dumpling are the wontons in chili oil so we ordered them. These were filled with shrimp and they were quite good. The little bit of heat elevates these dumplings immensely. Although I didn’t see any Chinese employees, their dumpling master is a native of Shanghai.
If you go to a typical dumpling house, you will not find bao de chicharon, aka pork belly sliders with avocado salsa and pickled onions. You will definitely find it on the Chino menu and they were delicious.
When I saw cold sesame noodles on the menu, I was immediately reminded of the popular dish eaten by New Yorkers. This is not something I have seen on Bay Area menus. This version had cucumber, mushrooms, and summer squash. It didn’t quite meet my expectations, but I did enjoy the vegetables.
We shared a matcha green tea soft serve for dessert. The soft serve is made using Straus Cream and was topped with fruity pebbles. The colors defined the restaurant. I actually loved the smoothness of the soft serve and the matcha flavor was awesome. This was my favorite thing at Chino.
Chino just screams fun and I’d like to go back with a few more people in order to try a larger variety of food. I would also want to make it dinner and see what their cocktail menu is all about.

Chino is located at 3198 – 16th Street (cross street is Guerrero Street) in San Francisco.

It’s Cold: Time for Jook

As the temperature drops below freezing in parts of the Bay Area, I am always seeking something warm to eat. Rice porridge also known as congee and called “jook” in Chinese is something I love to eat when it is cold.
The basic ingredients of jook is rice, water, and salt and it takes hours to cook over a stove top as the rice has to slowly break down. I have cooked it all day in my crock pot. In order to add flavor, you need to add other ingredients or toppings. Ingredients can range from the inexpensive pork and thousand year old egg to the pricier ones with abalone or frog legs. After Thanksgiving, my family has made a turkey jook and a ham jook. The bones of the turkey or ham add a lot of flavor.
My friend and I recently went out for jook on a cold evening. Hands down the best place for jook in Oakland is Gum Kuo in Chinatown’s Renaissance Plaza. We decided we would share a bowl of jook and a couple other items. It didn’t take long for us to agree we would have jook with filets of fish. The jook at Gum Kuo was super creamy. The flavor was plain tasting until we added the green onions, cilantro, soy sauce, and white pepper. It was tasty, comforting, and hit the spot.
The most popular thing you can order on the side to dip into jook is a fried savory bread stick also known as a Chinese donut. I only like a few pieces so I don’t tend to order it. Popular at Gum Kuo is their made to order rice noodle rolls. These are stuffed with different items and has a sweet soy sauce poured over the top. We ordered my favorite which has crispy roast duck, BBQ pork, and garlic chives. The three ingredients together were harmonious.
The final item we ordered was salty fish and chicken fried rice. You can get chicken fried rice at most Chinese restaurants, but they don’t always have the preserved salty fish for this dish. I can’t recall the last time I had this, but my friend and I were really happy we ordered it because it was the best thing we had this evening.
Gum Kuo is my go-to place for jook and other cheap Chinese comfort foods. Cash only.

Eating Alameda: Ark on Park

My friend and I were headed to Alameda one weekday evening to grab a bite to eat. Park Street is filled with lots of restaurants and it appears more and more restaurants have been opening up there lately. Although Ark Chinese Restaurant has been in the neighborhood for a long time, it is a place I never noticed. But when my friend said they have hand pulled noodles, I was convinced to try it.

The last time I ate at a restaurant where you can actually watch noodles being pulled was when I was in Hong Kong.

We were sadly just a party of two and I say that because I would have liked to have been able to order more items to try. We still ordered four items, way more than we could eat.

We had the xiao lung bao which are the dumplings that hold meat and soup inside. As you bite into them, you get a nice squirting of delicious soup. For that reason, they are also known as juicy buns. The ones at Ark have thicker skins and overall were satisfying.

Although reviewers talked highly of the garlic noodles, these were not the hand pulled noodles. We decided on the chicken noodle soup instead. The hand pulled noodles were soft, thin, and tasted great. The broth was light and it had the right amount of thinly sliced white meat chicken. My only complaints were that the bok choy was overcooked and the temperature of the dish could have been hotter.

The Ark braised egg tofu came out next. I assume they attach their name to it because it’s a signature dish. It definitely tasted like one. The tofu has a light crispiness to it on the outside but a delicate softness on the inside. It was mixed with two kinds of mushrooms in a brown sauce. This is an excellent vegetarian option.

I wanted an additional vegetable so we ordered the stir fried string beans. Although it was cooked with garlic, it was flavorless.

Overall I enjoyed Ark. I look forward to more visits so I can try more items like the green onion pancakes, crispy chicken wings, and garlic noodles!