Archive for the ‘Restaurant’ Category

Rise of the RoachCoach

August 19, 2011

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Sorry if I offended anyone but “roachcoach” is my enduring term for these infamous “gourmet” food trucks.

Tonight I stopped by the Walmart in Union City for the weekly roachcoach gathering and found many many vendors. Unlike other gatherings (e.g. Edgewood Eats or Off the Grid) the selection is much smaller and there are repeats in the type of venues offered.

I went there in part because I saw CBS’s Eye on the Bay. However I believed they sort of missed the mark on that segment. Sure, I would not classify all the foodtrucks featured as gourmet but all of them are a newer breed of roachcoaches. Instead of being a jack of all trades and a master of none, they narrow their focus. However it does not payoff for all of them but if you follow the foodie scene there are some extraordinary ones.

These new breed of vendors remind me of the street vendors in the east coast and Asia, where they only sell one thing and try their best to be the best at what they sell. Too bad this might not be true for all these new breed of roachcoach vendors. Some just repackage the ideals of others and do not contribute any new ideals. Then there are those that are there just to cash in on this trend and do not put their hearts into what they make.

Enough with the new, what about the original roachcoach vendors? They invented fusion before fusion existed. Where else can you get a spaghetti meat sauce fried rice breakfast burrito? The old timers were all about the customers that this new generation misses. Some even had an alternating gourmet menu on the side. Have you had a fresh bowl of beef stew won ton noodle soup from a foodtruck before?

The fish taco I had tonight was good but I did not find it amazing. It cost $9 for two and was bigger than tacos I have had from taquerias before. But was this worth the price? I have attached and embellished photo above for your review. Tell me what you think about this trend?

New Big Brother Cafe 大哥大茶餐廳 in Union City California

August 16, 2011

Big Brother Cafe
大哥大茶餐廳
1640 Decoto Rd, Union City, CA 94587

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Recently I noticed a lot more of these Hong Kong cafes opening up and the latest one of these is Big Brother Cafe. It is more like Cousin’s Cafe in Newark or Cooking Papa in Santa Clara versus Venus Tam’s in Newark. They have 12 yelp reviews but you can tell those people do not know what they are talking about. These cafe are a lower middle class establishment in Hong Kong which resemble their upper class British tea rooms, that is why we see a lot of Chinese dishes that seems to resemble European dishes (e.g. Milk tea, custard tart, baked pork chop…). The variety is smaller than Cooking Papa but the seating is very comfortable and it is opened late. If you like this place you would like Cooking Papa (in the south) or Ming Tasty (in the north).

The first thing you look for in a 茶餐廳 is the tea, it is in the name. True enthusiasts would also look for the pastry then the fusion dishes such as the baked pork chop over rice. Many of these places, even in Hong Kong, no longer make or serve the pastry. But if you are into the pastry then I recommend going to Lido in Richmond BC. No pastries here and I did not have the plain tea but I did get then baked pork chop over rice and Singaporean Chow fun. I drank the yin yang red bean (some fad in Hong Kong) but the coffee over powered the whole drink, so I need to drink the milk tea by itself. The Singaporean Chow Fun is not to spec (e.g. Not all the standard ingredient are there) but was acceptable for what it had. Most of these cafes do not make the curry they use to cook with and this is true for this cafe as well. So the curry is not good but it is probably as good as it can be given that curry. Regarding the baked pork chop over rice, the first thing I am looking for is a good egg fried rice at the bottom of the dish. They were acceptable to me but it could be better. The rice was not loose, did not have a taste of the Wok, and did not have an aroma of egg. They did not add anything extra (e.g. Peas and carrots) to the sauce, it did not have cheese on the top, and it seems to be thickened with cornstarch instead of a roux (which makes it easier to brown). It was less vinegary and more sweet than most of the cafe of this type. The pork chop was pretty standard as well, I would have liked a juicier and more tender chop.

I would say that is worth a second look since the service is friendly, it is open late, and has comfortable seating. But if it wants to stand out in a sea of these cafes it needs to be more than standard and have something (not necessarily everything) extraordinary. Interestingly the name of this cafe is the same as a popular dish at Venus Tam’s Cafe, but I cannot find that dish in this cafe, why is that?

Cooking Papa Restaurant
2830 Homestead Road
Santa Clara, CA 95051
http://www.mycookingpapa.com

Ming Tasty
1652 East 14th Street
San Leandro, CA 94577
mingtasty.com

Wat Buddhanusorn Thai Buddhist Temple

March 13, 2008

Wat Buddhanusorn
36054 Niles Blvd.
Fremont, CA 94536
(510) 790-2296
www.watbuddha.iirt.net

What makes a dining experience great can be different for different people. For me it is not just about the food, but it can be many things. I have been to many church bazaars and many Buddhist Temples, but this one stands out for me so far.

Unlike many bazaars, which feels more like people doing business than volunteering, this place is very different. It made me feel like I am actually on a street with many food stalls. The use of the Tokens gave me more comfort in spending money there, because it was meaningless to haggle with the vendor. Many of the volunteers and attendees were very jovial and welcoming, even though no real money was really being exchanged.

If you are using price as meter, I am sure you can find cheaper food somewhere else. American Buddhist Cultural Society in Fremont probably can be cheaper , since donations are not monitored and many attendees can refill as many or as much times as they want, until the food runs out. The people in ABCS are very friendly as well, but they do mainly speak Chinese (Mandarin) and is pretty serious about etiquette and decor. The banquet is also held only on Sundays, as well, but it starts at around 12PM till about 2PM. Although it does not seem to be required, many do attend the service, which starts at 10AM, but it is in Mandarin only. They serve a vegetarian fair (non-strict because they had cake which probably contains eggs), compared with Buddhanusorn, which serves shrimp, chicken, and pork.

You probably can get better quality (in my opinion) Thai food at The Original Krung Thai Restaurant in San Jose, because the curries are much thicker and food more spiced up. Quality is a very subjective trait. However, I can say objectively, that the ingredients are very fresh and are handled with the utmost care. I felt that the volunteers were cooking for their own family members, which is not how many restaurants are ran. A good example of this is how they ran the Pad Thai station, because they refused to cook as many orders as possible at once, and only cooked one order at a time. I also found the Thai Iced Tea really good, because I found the spice to be not as overwhelming as the ones in the restaurants.

This is definitely a good place to stop for a visit, if you are looking for a unique dining experience. The food is authentic and the environment is unique. The people are welcoming and easy going, so you do not have to worry about being converted if you do not want to. It is almost like traveling to a small piece of Thailand without the price of airfare.

Here is how my list of places to get Thai food:
1. The Original Krung Thai Restaurant (in San Jose)
2. Wat Buddhanusorn Temple (in Fremont)
3. Tuk Tuk Thai Cafe (in Berkeley cost a little more than Thai Basil, but better atmosphere)
4. Chiang Lai Thai (in Berkeley simular to Thai Basil but hidden)
5. Thai Basil (in Berkeley in the Asian Ghetto, too crowded)

What is your opinion?

Thanks,
H.

Is it me or does nobody cares about “Tea”?

March 1, 2008

Being Chinese (and once British controlled Hong Kongnese), I love my tea. I love it pure, I love it mixed, but I can only have it one way and not the next.

I am a traditionalist when enjoying it pure. No tea balls or filter needed except nice pure tea, hot water and a porcelain cup or dedicated clay tea pot. But where can you buy real tea today. It seems everyone is selling it and no one appreciates it. I love “Eye On the Bay”, but when I saw how they served up Oolong as Kung-fu tea, it made me wonder who can I trust, even the tea shop was sacrilegious.

In pure Chinese teas there are different ways to enjoy different teas. You always heat up the containers that will contain the tea, so that the temperature change is minimal. You do not want to scald the tea, but the aroma is in the tea’s steam. Some teas require a rinse (i.e. Kung-fu teas) , while most is just a steep. When the tea is ready to drink the leaves automatically fall towards the bottom, so there is no real need for a tea ball or filter. Also depending on the tea, some are packed into the pot and they let it sit, and mix the concentrate with hot water to enjoy. In some parts of China nowadays, they do have tea bar in which they do let you sniff the emptied glass cylinder to check out the fragrance like sniffing the cork of fine wine.

To have expensive teas in Bay Area Dim sum places is just a waste (even though once upon a time I used to enjoy it at Koi Palace in Daly City) since the food items are so heavily spiced. Most hot Chinese teas, do help in digestion, especially if the food is greasy, which seems to be the case in most Chinese restaurant around the bay. Although you can drink pure teas plain, they can be paired. With some expensive teas like Golden Monkey Tea the flavor is light (but the finish is smooth), you can only pair it light flavored dishes (i.e. almond tofu?) to get the best out of it.

In areas in and around Hong Kong the milk tea is made with a blend of Western (anything to the west since Europe does not produce) teas. It is a copy of the teas the British drink (ironic the Chinese are copying something they probably drank first, which maybe a copy of the yak tea drank in Western China and introduced to Marco Polo). Most producers use two pot of boiling water and something close to a pantyhose. In Hong Kong the best milk tea is referred to silk pantyhose milk tea. Although most do not use a pantyhose today, it is rumored that it used to be made with a pantyhose as a filter, giving it a smooth finish. The tea blend is poured into the filter and dipped in the first pot a couple of times to rinse it. It is believed that the tannins of the tea gives it the sour bitter tastes and a rough texture finish. The goal is to rinse it enough to remove the tannins, but leave the maximum flavor. Sure some can hide this flaw with cream, but then you lose the intense flavor of the evaporated milk, some even use condensed milk (not original as well). I do not know why they prefer evaporated to fresh cream, but maybe the weather down there inhibited it. This is the drink that most SinoWestern dishes are served with, the other drink is the YinYang, which is half coffee and half milk tea.

The YinYang is simple yet complicated, because both flavors have to come through. So far I have not found a similar YinYang in the BayArea as in Hong Kong. I have tried to make it with good coffee such as Columbian or Sumantra, but the coffee over powers the flavor of the tea. Any suggestions?

Tapioca in everything was curious at first, but where is the value? Sure if the tapioca is done correctly it gives me some interesting texture and flavor, but it still can be dangerous or cumbersome at the end. I really do not see the novelty in it anymore. The adding of flavors, like adding flavor syrups to an latte is cute, but milk tea to me is still about flavor and texture finish.

What about Chai? Well I can not compare it with HK milk tea or Thai Iced Tea, because the specs are also different. Maybe because I am Chinese I prefer the Chinese pure and HK milk tea more.

As teas go I like them in the follow order:
1. Pure tea
2. HK milk tea
3. Taiwan milk tea
4. Chai
5. Thai milk tea

Top 3 Taiwan milk tea places:
1. Tea Station (on Cedar in Newark)
2. Tapioca Express (on Decoto in Union City)
3. Fantasia (on Cedar in Newark)

Top 5 milk tea places:
1. Venus Tams Cafe (on Jarvis in Newark)
2. Tea Station (on Cedar in Newark)
3. Cousin Cafe (on Cedar in Newark)
4. Tapioca Express (on Decoto in Union City)
5. Fantasia (on Cedar in Newark)

What’s your fav? How do you rank them?

Thanks,
H.

Happy Cafe

February 27, 2008

Happy Cafe
723 Webster St
Oakland, CA 94620
(510) 986-0163

For those looking for American fair, this is not the place for you. This is what it is, a Hong Kong street style tea cafe. People that are from Hong Kong can sort of appreciate this place, but most will complain that there are no custard tarts (H.K. style) and or pineapple buns with butter. It is not for people used to American Diners or the likes of Denny’s, but their food is definitely on the cheap.

The closest competitors in this field around that area are the following:
D&A Cafe on 8th St.
ABC Bakery Cafe on 9th St.
St. Anna Cafe Shop on 8th St.

This is considered a fusion between true Hong Kong and British cuisine. You might see many dishes with a familiar Western name, but does not resemble it at service time. They are not trying to stiff you but, it was changed in Hong Kong. To truly enjoy this place you can try the Chinese items and compare them to the other Chinese places around the area or order the SinoWestern dishes but please compare them to those palaces only. Comparing SinoWestern dishes to Western Dishes is like comparing Bristish to German Dishes just because both chef has Blond hair and blue eyes (not meant to be racist).
To me this seems to be the best place so far. It does not seem to carry as much MSG as the dim-sum places around the area. The portion is pretty good for the price. And the service is pretty prompt considering the price.

If you decide to be adventurous and try places like these, I would recommend that you try the Chinese fair first, because I do want you to be turn away from their SinoWestern cuisine (you will never know what your missing). Once familiar give there specials a try they are what most of their usual customer gets, because it is really cheap.

There are a couple of things to look for in a Hong Kong Tea cafe:
1. Tea (Not Chinese tea, but the milk tea. It should be bold, not bitter, and smooth to the taste.
2. Happy Hour appetizer specials (It is not bar food but can be very filling at a low price)
3. The specials they have for breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner (You will definitely get more for you buck. It is not overly filling but will hit the spot.)

So far this place ranks #1 for me in breakfast spots, because it is cheap, quick, and makes me happy.

Here is my top 5 for breakfast:
1. Happy Cafe (on Webster in Oakland)
2. The Country Way (on Mowry in Fremont)
3. Denny’s Restaurant (on Industrial Pkwy in Hayward)
4. Venus Tam Cafe (on Jarvis in Newark).
5. Baldie’s Cafe (on Decoto Rd. in Union City).

What is your take any reommendations?

Later,
H.

Sala Thai

February 26, 2008

Sala Thai #1
39170 State St
(between Beacon Ave & Capitol Ave)
Fremont, CA 94538
(510) 792-0770

Sala Thai #2
44800 S Grimmer Blvd
(between Fremont Blvd & E Warren Ave)
Fremont, CA 94538
(510) 445-0088

Maybe I should have went on a weekday but me and my friends decided on going to Sala Thai #1, since it has a pretty good ranking on Yelp.com and it has won best Thai in 2005. We had two curries, two bowls of rice, and one Pad See Eiw, but we did not share. The bill came up to be about $31 before tips, but that is normal for around here.

Since I had the Pad See Eiw, this is what formed my opinion of this restaurant. The service is better than “Banh Thai Restaurant”, but I still felt a little rushed. It seemed the waiter wanted me to order, finish, and get out quickly, because he kept prompting me to go to the next stage of dining before I was ready.

It is pretty hard for me to finish the Pad See Eiw, because I felt the chicken was a bit over cooked and dry. The dish was also lacking the flavor of the wok (me being Chinese), and was spice less. This is unusual for Thai, since they are know for their spicy flavor. I hope that is was an assumption more than the norm for them. Either way I am not fan so far, because I have had better elsewhere such as Tuk Tuk Thai in Berkeley. The portions were sufficient for an individual, but it seems to be half as much as I am used to from other Thai restaurants.

I can not say that this is a bad restaurant, but I believe there are better choices for me around this area.

Later,

H.