Sunday, April 26, 2009

Hop Li Seafood Restaurant: Dim Sum and Dinner! (CLOSED)

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EDIT January 3, 2015: Hop Li has been replaced by China Red, a higher end dim sum and seafood restaurant with an emphasis on high quality ingredients and regional specialties-- review to come.

I've written about Full House already in Arcadia. But what about it's competitor, Hop Li? It used to be full of people. The food was pretty good, and we pretty much frequently went there. Then, crowds diminished to almost an empty parking lot. And we left them alone for a while.

Now, it's back again, with something GREAT.

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It's their fourth anniversary! And to celebrate, they are offering a dim sum special of 1.38 a plate, which is a very, very good deal. The only other place that has prices like this is at Yum Cha Cafe, which is all the way over in San Gabriel. However, the deals don't last all week- during weekends and holidays, the price costs more than Full House- almost 2.50.


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Just entering the door, you can notice some changes. The colors are now a bit brighter. And on this sunny day, the whole inside of the restaurant feels sunny and bright. In other words, happy.

Interior

Even the dining area has changed. Gone are the dark wood moldings and intricate drapery. Now are chandeliers, a bright wallpaper, and white moldings.

So far, positives galore right? But what about the food?

Well, for the most part, dim sum is excellent. There is however a good idea if you want to get the freshest food. Get the seats closest to the kitchen door! Even better, get the table right at the fish-tanks (which the bottom "new" photo was taken from). Although there is a flow of incoming and outcoming traffic from the kitchen, you are bound to get the freshest items. And that now, will make you a happy clam.

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We started out with some preserved duck egg and meat porridge, which was excellent. Being 1PM, the servers were very nice as the restaurant wasn't too full. Would you like extra green onion and crispy fried wonton skins? Sure! Definitely a good dish, and it was chockful of the preserved duck egg and the meat, which both were very tender.

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This coconut and black rice/taro cake was good too! It was not overly sweet and wasn't gummy or anything like that. Almost seemed like a solid version of the black rice and taro sweet soup that we had at Phoenix, but a bit sweeter. Very good. Only letdown would be that after a while, the coconut started tasting artificial after a few hours to one of us.

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And of course, like what every good dim sum place should have, this place also has a fair share of meats which some people would stray away from. Care for some tripe, blood, or stomach?

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And before you get too scared from that photo of the meats, lets move onward to some yummy siu-mai. They are filled to the max with lots of meat, a piece of shrimp, and a topping of some fish egg like most restaurants do these days.

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Hop Li's version of tofu with fishcake isn't bad either. It's simply fried tofu with fishcake. A bit lighter flavor than I expected (especially with the brown sauce which typically is very flavorful), but an okay dish.

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Cold chicken feet here are very good. It's not just all bones, and they also pour some tangy vinegar on top. Mmm...

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This dish now, surprised me. Their fried cruller was actually crispy and HOT on the outside, and chewy in the inside. Typically, it is all cold at most dim sum restaurants. Their rice noodle sheets were very good- very chewy and also very thin. Dipping sauces included hoisin and sesame- pretty interesting to see sesame. We usually only get hoisin sauce with this dish at most dim sum restaurants.

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This dish comprises of mixed mushrooms including some shitake and king trumpet/oyster mushrooms, and rice noodle sheets with some soy sauce. Very good as expected- there was plenty of soy sauce, and the mushrooms were flavorful.

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But why get the mixed mushroom rice noodle sheets when you can get this? In total, there are 12 pieces of these cilantro and green onion rice noodle sheets when cut in half. Unlike the other rice noodle sheet dishes, you have to order this one via the server, and they freshly make it for you! But, it's the same cost!

You could clearly taste each ingredient used for this dish. The rice noodle sheets in dish obviously are very fresh, and are very chewy. Cilantro and green onion add some nice herby flavor to the dish. Only complaint? A bit too little of the soy sauce. Obviously, when the amount of the cheong fun is doubled in a dish, the soy sauce should be doubled too. In this case, it is not.

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A big advantage of getting the table closest to the kitchen door is getting the freshest items automatically. In this case, this table is very helpful. These were the HOTTEST egg tarts we have ever eaten. You could basically burn your tounge by touching them rich away! Even the paper smelled. When can that happen?

As for the egg tarts, they had a flaky but a bit dry crust, and the custard was sweet and lightly eggy like most dim sum egg tarts are. But, you can not replicate the freshness of these egg tarts! No, baking them again at home to warm up to eat doesn't count.

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And just when you think those egg tarts are the most awesome things ever in the whole entire world, take a look at this. What's inside?

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A velvety, ultra smooth, silky, creamy, gingery, slightly sweet, and milk-y ginger milk custard. This was just awesome. The consistency could be said to be even creamier than creme brulee or flan. It really is that good. Now, if there was some more ginger juice in this dessert, it would be BOMB.

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Another visit obviously allows you to try more things. And so, we did!

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These pineapple buns were good as usual. Soft bread, crispy topping, and sweet custard interior.

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Now, here is something interesting. Some people call this a "Chinese rice crispy" or "Chinese rice puffs". You decide! Anyway, there's lots of the rice puffs and they are combined together with a sweet syrup. Sometimes, these are very fresh- sometimes they are not. So, it's more of a hit and miss. Typically though it is good.

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Another version of porridge at Hop Li is this dried vegetable with pork bone porridge, which has some good vegetable and meat flavors in the dish. It's a good option if you don't like eating preserved duck eggs!

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Lastly here are some "San Jian Bao", or pan fried buns. These are actually crispy on the outside, unlike some dim sum restaurants.

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And its interior has plenty of meat and vegetables which go along great with the bread and crispy edges.

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Just because this a Hop Li post and promised as said in the title, here is our dinner experience at Hop Li about a half year ago. Never got around posting this on Tripadvisor, so here it is here.

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Their menu for dinner is obviously very large. There's even a special dessert section in the menu, which not every restaurant has. But what are these "Mike Buns"? I'm assuming they mean Milk buns, but Mike might be the name of the owner. Typically though these have a taro or dry milk filling in them.

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We started off with some of their slow cooked soups, and this one was very flavorful, even if it looks very clear. However, like most restaurants, the soup was not cooked in the pot it was served in. Instead, it was cooked in a huge pot and then served in a smaller pot.

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A platter of head on shrimp came next, and they came along with a spicy soy sauce that had fresh chili peppers in them. The soy sauce was good, but the shrimp were frozen! I don't mind frozen for some dishes, but the frozen shrimp used for this dish affected everything- and it didn't taste as good compared to a freshly cooked shrimp.

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For our dinner visit, we also got a plate of "french style" beef cubes, which were cooked along with some fragrant basil and green onions. These were slightly sweet and spicy, and the beef cubes were very tender, similar to what most restaurants do with their beef cubes (add baking soda that is). The lettuce which the beef cubes were served on got a lot of the flavors from the beef as well and also got "cooked" by the beef, so they were good to pair along with some steamed rice.

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In addition, we also ordered a vegetable dish which also came with a topping of mushrooms (probably canned?) and plenty of dried beancurd sheets. The beancurd sheets were very good and soaked up the mushroom flavors from the sauce it was served in, and the mushrooms were very tender. The veggies were crisp like what most restaurants do nowadays.

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Lastly, we had this red snapper, which we waited for a very long time for. We were immediately disappointed when we saw the dish; the fish looked oversteamed, and it just looked like a sad fish. Like usual, the green onions and the soy sauce were good, but the fish was way too soft- almost mushy tasting. What a waste!

So...as usual for these seafood restaurants, DON'T get seafood here! Get any other dish other than seafood, and you'll be satisfied. Don't worry about the language barrier here either; the servers here speak pretty good english here compared to some restaurants in the area.

Hop Li Seafood Restaurant

855 South Baldwin Ave.
Arcadia, CA 91007
Tel (626) 445-3188
Fax (310) 445-3318


Hop Li Seafood Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Fresh and Easy's Tomato and Basil Veggie Crisps

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Last week, these crisps were available to sample at the Fresh and Easy "KitchenTable". And our whole entire party liked them. Well then, we got a bag of these chips. It cost 2.18 for a big but slender bag of these chips. An okay deal if you were talking to me!

What I like about this packaging though is that they show you the product already when you look at the bag. It's not some edited picture that covers up the bag; instead it is the real product right in front of your eyes!

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I finally found a good spot to take photos of food!

The taste of these obviously were fantastic. Tomatoey and a bit spicy with the black pepper. There was also a hint of basil flavor. Good texture in this potato chip actually- very light and crispy, not not thin. It kind of felt like eating the cassava crisps on Air New Zealand or the shrimp chips but more dense at a restaurant. This chip is a bit addicting. Once when you eat one, you want more. And there are several that are heavily seasoned- those are the best ones!

These veggie crisps also kind of reminded me of Calbee chips too. Their flavors seem to be pretty similar for some reason.

A friend of mine that ate this said it reminded them of spaghetti! They felt like they were eating spaghetti when eating the chip.

Best part though, was that these weren't oily! You would not get a oily residue onto your hands after eating them- at most it was a bit of the seasoning.

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Overall it's also a "healthier" snack for people who like chips. Only 130 calories for 1/6th of a bag, and there is no saturated fat unlike regular potato chips. The daily value for the fat content is also lower at 11 percent. Still high, but a bit less compared to your usual potato chip. You also get a bit of calcium and vitamin A, as well as plenty of iron by eating this snack.

I highly recommend it. :) UPDATE: And after 2 weeks, at least 8 entire boxes of the product has been sold at our local Fresh and Easy. Pretty popular item I guess! It's still available for tasting at the Arcadia Fresh and Easy as of 4-25-2009.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Green Onion Pancakes: A Learning Experience!

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After reading the blog Use Real Butter on how to make green onion pancakes, as well as watching videos on making green onion pancakes, I decided to make a batch of green onion pancakes over the spring break.

Result? Not what I expected! Well...there is no fault on the videos I watched or on Use Real Butter. The problem was me.

I wasn't looking at the recipe on how to make the dough at all when making it. And guess what? I added 3 cups of hot water. Yes, three cups. Just because some thought in my mind was thinking the dough was a one to one ratio. NOT! It really was a one to four ratio of water to flour. So...with not a lot of flour left, I used 6 cups of bread flour to balance it out. Now it is a one to two ratio. It worked for the time being, but later on I had to add flour while rolling the dough and making the green onion pancake.

Who was kneading and combining the flour and water together? Well...it wasn't me.

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It was our bread maker! Yes...it had the option of to just make dough, and so I utilized the feature. Worked pretty well for the most part. It would have been easier though if I followed directions and added the appropriate amount of flour!

Anyway, on making the green onion pancakes- it is fairly simple, and there are also several ways to do it. Most people do the pinwheel like method, which is to roll out a piece of the dough, add salt and oil too it as well as green onions, and then roll it back up like a log and then make the dough look like a pinwheel shape. Of course though, with so much dough...we cut corners later on. We combined the dough together with the oil, salt, and green onions, and then folded it, rolled it out, and folded the dough to make the layers.

Overall taste? Pretty good. But most of them (we made 11 pancakes with the dough) weren't like green onion pancakes from Mandarin Noodle Deli. They were drier- less oniony, and not as chewy. But about 4 of them were halfway there. And why is that?

Well... we put a ton of green onions in. Plus, we put plenty of oil and salt. It seems like the oil is the one which makes the entire pancake more tender and chewy. And according to our taste, it also looks like the restaurants put oil into the dough as well as use oil that has green onion flavor in it so that there is plenty of onion flavor throughout the pancake. Smart.

Would we do this again? Maybe. But on a smaller scale. This experience though taught us a lot of things:

1. The restaurants use a TON of oil in their green onion pancakes
2. You need a lot of green onions. Don't run out!
3. Scallion oil method- probably important for a good green onion pancake!

Anyway, here is the recipe:

Green Onion Pancakes
Inspired by Use Real Butter and Videos on Youtube. And personal background knowledge!

Ingredients:
Flour
Hot Water
Green Onions
Oil
Salt

1. Prep your green onions by slicing them. You want a lot of green onions- at the supermarket, you probably would want one to 2 bunches of the green onions dedicated just to making the green onion pancakes.

2. Make the dough! As said above, the ratio of hot water to flour should be around one (for hot water) to 4 (for flour). So...for example, if you had four cups of flour, you would use one cup of hot water. In addition, add salt too. Add one teaspoon for every cup of flour you use.

3. Knead the dough (in a bread machine or by yourself) and let the dough rest. Add some flour to where the dough is resting so that the dough won't stick.

4. Make the pancake. Form about softball sized balls from the dough, and roll them out until they are pretty thin. Then, add plenty of oil- the whole surface should look pretty much shiny. Afterwards, add plenty of salt- this is to your taste. We used about 1 1/2 tablespoon of salt for each pancake. Afterthat, sprinkle PLENTY of green onions. Then, roll the entire thing back up to a log like shape, and then roll the log shape into a pinwheel like shape.

OR

Just take the dough, roll it out, add oil, salt, and green onions, and then fold it as many times as you can until it looks compact.

5. Roll out all the pancakes you have into circles- or whatever shape you desire :)

6. Pan fry in a bit of oil.

7. Serve them piping hot and crispy. For storage, they will keep for about a week in the fridge. To reheat, steam them to restore some moisture (and to make the interior chewy) and then crisp them up either by a toaster or pan frying them yet again. Or...just toast them up in the toaster or oven.

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These green onions were not made in the pinwheel method but the folding method. We used less oil in these and not a lot of green onions either so these weren't as delicious compared to the ones above which had plenty of green onions.

Hope you enjoy it!


And as a side note, this is the 100th post on Eat. Travel. Eat! Time has flown very fast.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Homemade White Bread

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Yes, we got ourselves a bread machine.

More specifically, a CBK-200 bread machine from Cuisinart. It wasn't easy to find either. Some were for display and not to be sold, while others were damaged. Luckily though, we found one after driving, calling, and talking to the cash register people!

We did several loaves of bread already with this machine, and not all of them were successful. Some had a very weird flavor. All of them had a way too hard crust.

And so obviously, we implemented some different ways to change it. And now...it's a very fun machine to use, and plus, the bread is scrumptious.

Watching the machine do its thing is very interesting. At the start, it just looks like pile of flour floating on liquid. But then, as the paddle mixes, the mixture of ingredients changes into a dough. The dough then bounces around, almost looking like it is fighting against the paddle because it stays on one corner of the pan until the paddle stops and then continues twirl around.

After a while, the dough rises, and then gets kneaded for about thirty seconds. And then, it rises again. You can then take out the paddle if you like, and then it bakes.

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And after baking you can take the bread pan out, which for me used to be a very hard task. I would use to almost burn my fingers due to the hot pan and clamps. The thing you do to make it effortless is to hold a wet towel, and push the bread pan to the back of the machine, doing one side at a time. It works much easily, and there is less fighting with the clamps. I hope that Cuisinart solves this design flaw soon, as it could hurt people!

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The finished product (this one came as a medium crust) is pretty good. When you eat it fresh and warm, you can smell all the bread aroma. The interior is ultra soft, and the outside crust is hard and crispy for the most part. We find it good to eat with your usual bread accompaniments- whether it be unsalted butter or cheese, it is good when warm!

Like to make this bread at home? Well, the recipe is here below:

Homemade White Bread (for use with a bread machine)
Adapted from Cuisinart's Recipe Booklet

Recipe (for a one pound loaf)
3/4ths cup of water
2 "splashes" of milk (appoximately 1/8 of a cup)
2 tablespoons butter (unsalted or salted doesn't matter)
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon salt
2 cups bread flour (we use Fresh and Easy's unbleached bread flour for this)
1 teaspoon yeast (rapid rise or regular works fine)

Instructions:
1. Take out your bread pan for the bread machine.
2. Place the ingredients into the bread pan, in the order listed above.
3. Put the bread pan into the bread machine.
4. Turn on the bread machine and set it to settings of light crust and a one pound loaf on the "white bread setting". Or...pick whatever you like. The loaf of bread above was made in the medium setting, but the light tastes better. Pick medium and the bread comes out tasting like California Pizza Kitchen's bread!
5. Let the machine do its work! And take out the bread paddle (if you want to)
6. Eat when done. Slice the entire bread when it is cold though. Just take samples of the bread when warm.
7. Keep the bread moist with a damp wet towel to cover. The bread will keep for at least a week.
Optional: Pour a bit of oil on the top of the bread during the start of baking, and let the oil go to the sides of the pan too. You will create a crispy and thin crust after baking- and if you keep the bread moist with a towel it will then become a thin, soft crust.

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A steam of bread aroma floats into the room. Mmm. Soft, chewy, pillow-y interior and crisp exterior when fresh. Mmm...

Hope you enjoy it!