Sunday, October 25, 2009

Face Cafe: An Update

Photobucket
(Yes, this is an old photo. Bad watermarking as you can see. Plus, no more Grand Opening sign now if you visit, and there is a new logo with the Face Cafe logo in Chinese)

Following on my list of cafes and Hong Kong style food in the SGV area is Face Cafe. Earlier readers would know that I did not have such a positive experience on my second visit. Improvements have been made of course between my last review and this review however, so today I am here to tell you about improvements and other items on the menu.

Basic improvements that have been made include the inclusion of take out menus for all parts of the day- breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Also, there is a new suggestion box nearby the cashier's desk. I am tempted to put the link to Eat. Travel. Eat! into the suggestion box but have not yet. If I do decide to put it in, I will do it myself :).

Complimentary-Soup
Side note: Be prepared to be annoyed by the constant watermarks. You see, I was angry and decided to put watermarks all over after my photos were used on other sites back in August when I was editing my photos for this post. Surprisingly, one on site the photo used was not related to the topic (How does my photo of Green Island in Temple City, CA become applicable to Cathay House in Las Vegas, NV?). Thank BzzAgent and Nextstop for spurring my mind...

Sorry for the rant and I most certainly apologize if you are annoyed and tired of seeing my watermark multiple times by the end of this post. Anyway, as you can see, Face Cafe has soups- but these soups are FREE during dinner (have not still been to Face Cafe during lunch). Both soups- the clam chowder and the minestrone soup- were flavorful and tasty. The clam chowder was a bit different compared to the normal free soup offerings at HK cafes, and it had plenty of clam meat and was slightly peppery which I liked. Minestrone soup was tomato-y and had multiple chunks of celery, carrot, beef, and onion which added more flavor.

Beef-Brisket-Noodle-Soups

How about I start with noodle soups for this review? Anyway, here you see two examples of beef brisket with thin egg noodle soups. The top one is what you would get normally- choy sum, a clear beef broth, chewy thin egg noodles, green onions, and slow cooked pieces of brisket (that are not hard to eat unlike on our second visit). However, the photo below with a yellow tinge to the beef is a curry beef stew noodle soup. We were longing for tendon in our noodle soup and the friendly employees suggested if they could use the beef for the curry for the noodle soup, which would have tendon in it. End result was quite delightful surprisingly. The beef broth which did not have too much flavor by itself already got bumped up in flavor with the addition of the curry beef stew.

Fish-Stock-Noodle-Soups
(I count the watermark 7 times in this photo above)

I know I wrote that the fish broth noodle soups were not that "great" as I expected on our second visit, but we still order the dish still. Pretty much the same still- a light fish broth (think what Red Ant Cafe had with their macaroni fish broth soup- that I did like very much...so you see my opinion has now changed with this fish broth- it is pretty good too), chewy and bouncy rice noodles, and pleasant toppings like fish puffs, seafood, and other toppings.

Chow-Fun-and-Mix-Grill

We are now bridging onto entrees now, but how about we first transition with Chicken Chow Fun with Swiss Sauce? At first I thought Swiss Sauce was going to be a cream sauce. I was wrong. Swiss sauce was actually a sweetened soy sauce as I learned as I was eating as well as reading Mochachocolata Rita's post on Tai Ping Koon in Hong Kong. So, the Chicken Chow Fun with Swiss Sauce had a pleasant sweet and salty taste to it which I enjoyed. The thick rice noodles were also chewy and smooth which I liked- no clumping or mushy taste which is what you get with overcooked rice noodles. Bean sprouts and green onions added a nice textural and flavor contrast.

The Mix Grill plate you see on the bottom photo above was ordered due to its value. The addition of one extra piece of meat was only a dollar (if I remember correctly), and since I was not too hungry and wanted to share, I ordered the Mix Grill of chicken cutlet and pork chop with mushroom sauce. This was very good, but I would have liked it even more if Face Cafe had given more mushroom sauce and placed the sauce on the side (because I like the crunch from the searing of the meat). Also, the vegetables did not look enticing at all to eat and tasted like canned food. However, the majority of HK cafes do like to put canned/frozen vegetables on their meat plates. I would have liked veggies like cucumber and zucchini more though. The meats were flavorful and had plenty of their original meat flavors unlike some places where meat tastes nothing like what it originally was.

Main-Menu-Entrees
(Like the blur effect on the tofu dish? I wonder how the blur would have looked if the image was captured on my new camera)
And now we move onto dishes that are not as filled with meat. Above you see the fried tofu with golden mushroom (enoki) and dried scallop and asparagus with mixed mushrooms. Personally I like both of these dishes- after all my dining companions have ordered these dishes twice consecutively already. The fried tofu was silky and had light crisp on the outside, and the dry scallop and enoki mushroom sauce is mouthwatering and pairs so great with rice :). On the other hand, the asparagus with mixed mushrooms (buna-shimeiji, button, king oyster) is a tasty vegetable dish with a light garlic and broth flavor to it (think the fresh cooked entrees at buffets at Morongo and Gold Coast). Only problem- once I got a dirty button mushroom that was coarse on the bottom. As one of my mentors would have said, it was "interesting".

Curries

To round out this post are two varieties of curries. Unfortunately, my dining companions and I were not happy about both of these dishes. The top photo is a Thai green curry with scallop and eggplant. It would have been a tasty dish, but it had too much of a sour and lemongrass flavor which overpowered the dish. Plus, the curry sauce was too spicy for our tastes (they did not even ask what level of spiciness we wanted). Drink up on the tasty iced lemon tea! At least the veggies and the scallops were okay- plenty of them too.

The bottom photo of the set of two above is a Hong Kong style beef stew curry. Definitely not comparable to Tasty Garden's delicious beef stew curry. There was way too much beef stew, which for this dish was yucky, as the beef stew had no flavor at all to it. It basically tasted like if you cooked the beef for a broth for hours and then took it out to eat with some curry sauce. Otherwise, the rest of the dish was pretty good (onions and potatoes) but a bit salty for our tastes.

Fleet of Police Motorcycles

Now what is this? I was trying to take a photo of a long line of motorcycles which were stopped while I was eating. However by the time I took the camera out, the motorcycles were moving. When I snapped the photo, an innocent civilian on a bicycle passed by, taking center stage in the photo. :)

Face Cafe
301 E. Valley Blvd.
Alhambra, CA 91801
Tel: 626-282-8899

Face Cafe on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 19, 2009

Tasty Garden-Arcadia

Lemon Tea
(The addicting and delicious H.K. lemon tea)

Like I said before in "Jazz Cat Cafe-Alhambra", I can not write about Garden Cafe 3 times without even writing about its nearby competitor down the street, Tasty Garden. Both of these places opened their doors around the same time, and are Hong Kong style cafes. However, Tasty Garden focuses on Hong Kong style dishes, while Garden has a larger variety of international and fusion dishes to choose from. These different interests that these restaurants have makes for plenty of difference.

Front

Coming from the entrance from the parking lot (NOT the front- park in the large back parking lot, not on the street), you will find a large drinks and desserts area, which they call "T. Tea Express". In addition, you will find plenty of seating for waiting as well as eating, along with a fish tank (for display). This area has changed quite a bit from its opening. Before, the billboards for the items available was completely glass, where the text would then change color. Pretty and expensive. Now it has been simplified to wood and paper. Cheaper, but easier to read.

Interior

Walking further after the dessert area through the arch leads you to the main dining area. If you ever find yourself with no one to assist you, just simply walk to the main dining area and someone will help you (this occurs often during off hours). As you can see in the photos, Tasty Garden's interiors have a mish-mash of various colors, mainly brown, beige, and orange. Even the waiters have different colored shirts to differentiate between their jobs.

Table Setting

At every table is a standard place setting of a plate, chopsticks, placemat, napkin, and fork. In addition there is also a condiment platter (vinegar, pot rice soy sauce, et cetera), bowls and spoons, and the afternoon tea menu. The plates at Tasty Garden are quite interesting and have various designs- some have cherry blossoms and fish themes.

As for ordering, Tasty Garden does have a lunch special menu which offers discounted drinks. In addition, Tasty Garden has a afternoon tea menu from around 3-5:30PM which offers a discounted item along with a free drink. Lastly, there is also a new dessert menu which has the items in the dessert area as well as some others. We've tried all except for the dessert menu and so, we definitely have plenty to write about today.

Corn and Chicken Rice

How about we start with the plate rice dishes. Tasty Garden offers plenty of rice dishes- baked rice, hot pot rice (which is electrically cooked like at Green Island- across the street May Mei is gas cooked- more flavor!), fried rice, and plate rice. Above is the chicken and corn rice. An immediate difference from places like May Mei is that Tasty Garden uses egg fried rice for the bed of rice, not steamed white rice. So, the dish does get a bit complex in terms of flavors- sometimes I like it, but sometimes I wish it was just plain rice. The topping is simply a chicken, corn, and egg sauce which is light, not salty, and simple. Nothing too special, but a nice way to fill you up for lunch. If you are a light eater, you probably will take about half of the plate home. Makes for nice leftovers as long as you do not mix the sauce and rice together.

Minced Beef Rice with Egg
(The result of sitting next to the window where the sun is seeping through the closed blinds)

Another rice dish we order here is the minced meat rice, which also has an sunny side up egg on request. No, it is not as beefy or flavorful as May Mei's version, but it does have more rice. In all, it is pretty good- the sauce has a slight sweet soy sauce flavor similar to other HK cafes.

Wonton Noodle Soup

Now let's move on to noodle soups. The wonton noodle soup is a simple noodle soup consisting of five wontons, thin egg noodles, pieces of choy sum, and a light broth which is topped with sliced green onions. We like Tasty Garden's version quite a lot. Not only the bowl is large (but deceives you with its thick bottom), the egg noodles have a nice bite to them along with a slight bounce (although they are precooked- see the clump?). The wontons are large and are chock full of pork and shrimp pieces which are seasoned nicely. Green onions add a nice brightness, and the choy sum adds some needed veggies. A great simple dish for lunch.

Wonton and Beef Stew Noodle Soup

Pay a dollar more and you can also get some pieces of beef in your soup (or the other way around- 5 wontons for a dollar extra). Tasty Garden's beef stew is quite good and tender which is what we like. Not many places seem to actually cook their beef stew to the point that the beef is tender and falls apart. Tasty Garden is one of the places not in that category.

Preserved Vegetable and Duck Rice Noodle Soup

Coming in during Afternoon tea hours, we like to order the Preserved Veggie and Roasted Duck Rice Noodle Soup which comes along with a cup of tea or coffee with unlimited refills. Again, this is quite simple- a big bunch of thin and bouncy rice noodles are put together with shredded pieces of roasted duck and a handful's worth of preserved veggies ( in this case it is preserved mustard green), and covered with a light broth (slightly different from the wonton noodle soup broth- less flavor). Fills you up quite easily even if it is an afternoon tea dish! You'll get about 6 individual bowls from this bowl- plenty to eat or to share.

Soy Sauce Chow Mein
(Another photo in the blind and sun area)

We do not always order noodles in soup form obviously. Above is another staple dish- soy sauce chow mein. Tasty Garden's version offers thin chow mein noodles that have been cooked to a slight crisp on the edges as well as bean sprouts, green onions, soy sauce, sesame seeds, and yellow chives. It is a oily dish and so we asked them to decrease the amount of oil and they obliged. What makes this dish different than say getting it at a dim sum restaurant is that the noodles are fresh and very warm and all the textures are the best they can be. Bean sprouts have a nice crunch. Yellow chives and green onion add brightness. The slight crunch from the noodles along with the noodle's bouncy nature adds an interesting texture sensation. Again, soy sauce chow mein is a simple dish, but Tasty Garden makes a tasty rendition.

Concubine Chicken (House Special Chicken)

How about regular entrees, you may ask. Well, we have tried some of Tasty Garden's large menu of HK dishes. Above is their House Special Chicken (concubine chicken) which is full of chicken flavor. The chicken is relatively lean and has plenty of bones like you would expect, but unlike regular boiled chicken cut into pieces, this retains a LOT of chicken flavor, just like Green Island. However, the ginger and green onion sauce is quite different than the competition. It not only looks different but also tastes different. The ginger is coarse in feel, not smooth. It is a good accompaniment but be prepared for a large textural difference when you compare it to other places.

Fried Tofu with Mushrooms

Tasty Garden's Fried Tofu with dried scallop and mushroom is also a delicious dish. The fried tofu is very crispy and hot, and the mushroom sauce adds tons of flavor. The mushroom sauce tastes similar to what you would find in sharkfin soup or braised abalone- concentrated in flavor. Mushrooms taste like the way they are- mushrooms, and the dried scallop adds bursts of concentrated scallop flavor. You'll find your free plate of rice (one free with every entree, like Green Island) to be devoured quite quickly when eating this dish.

Beef Stew Curry

Really however, my favorite and most ordered dish here at Tasty Garden from the beginning of the school year is the Beef Stew Curry. The beef stew is taken from the slow cook pot and then simmered in the curry sauce which has both bell peppers (a necessary ingredient for the Hong Kong style curry taste, I have found) and onions. Curry sauce is quite spicy, but not too salty either. I've been having this for at least 10 meals (that is also leftovers with this dish), so you can see how I like it. After all, eating this dish requires a ton of rice, as there is plenty of meat and sauce. Ask for tendons too if you like- they are also very tender and melt in your mouth. We have asked them to add tendon now- the photo above has no tendon, and shows more curry sauce than beef stew (compared to usual).

Choy Sum

How about a veggie option now? Tasty Garden offers plenty of veggie stir fries and dishes and we quite like the simple choy sum in supreme broth. The choy sum is cooked to tender but still with a slight crisp, and the soup is slightly salty and great with rice. Good side dish to go along with all the other dishes I have been showing you.

Hong Kong Egg Waffle Maker

Now now now now now... I can not end this post without a very special dessert that is offered here at Tasty Garden. Can you guess? Hint hint. Look at the photo above. What is that machine. What does it make?

Hong Kong Egg Waffle

The machine makes Hong Kong Egg Waffles, a favorite dessert and snack of mine, as you can see from a previous post. Tasty Garden's is actually quite good compared to most places in Hong Kong. In Hong Kong these past years, I have been getting a lot of misses in terms of a tasty egg waffle. Either the interior is so dry and hard to chew, or the outside is as hard as a cracker. Yuck. Tasty Garden does a pretty excellent job most of the time though. The outside is crispy and hot (most of the time), and the interior splits into 2- one side becomes half of the outer shell with nothing, and the other side is the chewy,eggy, soft, and sweet dome shaped interior. Quite comparable to my favorite HK egg waffle in Hong Kong, with the exception that this version is quite sweet in comparison. Oh well...after all restaurants do have to cater to a clientele 7000+ miles from where this snack is widely served.

Only negative for such a good snack? The price. Hong Kong's cost- 10-15HKD (cheap to overpriced- about 1.50USD). Tasty Garden: 4.50USD. Do the calculation, and the price at Tasty Garden is 3 times more than in Hong Kong. After all, it is expected that customers pay more for a snack that competitors do not have in the area.

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UPDATE November 28, 2009

Just a bit more items to show you.

Watercress Soup

The watercress with chicken soup was pretty good, but for the same price I could have made a giant pot of it enough to feed eight people with a larger portion! As you can see in the photo the watercress cooked for a very long time- not very good in my opinion.

Soy Sauce Tofu Pot

Think the soy sauce tofu pot will have no meat? Well, you are wrong. The fried tofu pieces actually have a filling of bouncy shrimp mousse inside them. Mushrooms and green onions add flavor to the dish. A pretty filling dish just by itself, with the free rice of course. No frying problem this time around. I guess you should just tell the employee serving you to not to fry the tofu for so long.

Lamb Hot Pot

The lamb pot had pieces of rehydrated dried bean curd sheets as well as lamb, which was served with fermented bean curd sauce. Very rich in lamb flavor and very warming to the body- perfect on a warm day! The fermented bean curd sauce is a proven match for this dish, so obviously it worked well with the lamb. Interestingly, I got the flu from last month the day after eating this meal, but according to the doctor it was not due to the lamb pot or any of the food.
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And if you thought this was the end of my post and wish to read more, go over to Tripadvisor and read my earlier review of Tasty Garden with more photos of different entrees like the filet mingon cubes and minced beef and egg porridge.

Overall, Tasty Garden is a reliable spot for Hong Kong cuisine, and its opening hours makes it convenient for a daytime meal or a late night snack. Can't tell you how many times I've been here after coming back from LAX from a long plane flight or from picking someone up at night. Food is simple, tasty, and well made. Nothing too WOW, but if you are looking for Hong Kong dishes you will find nice results here.

Tasty Garden
1212 S Baldwin Ave
Arcadia, CA 91007-7510
(626) 445-9388
tastygarden.us

Arcadia Tasty Garden on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 12, 2009

Jazz Cat Cafe-Alhambra

Exterior
(My attempt at heavily editing an image (for me at least) in Photoshop. Do you like it?)

I was really hoping to write a positive and glowing review of this place. All of my previous experiences at Jazz Cat when it first opened were memorable and most certainly delicious. Large portions and interesting food. Cook by yourself tableside shabu-shabu that came with fishcake was a highlight to me and others. Curry and egg omelet rice which I ordered due to the Dotch Cooking Show was served in a large plate and was exceedingly delicious. We returned several times, but pretty much forgot about the place after a nighttime experience there where we had to wait for a long time. Driving to Alhambra was already pretty far. Waiting for a long time for food...not a great idea!

However, I and a dining companion decided to eat here after passing by on a drive back home. Why not Jazz Cat? After all, I've talked about Face Cafe twice already (and will do a large update the next post after the next, which is Tasty Garden). Plus I need to try more restaurants for more variety on the blog. After parking in the back (limited parking spaces!)... we stepped into Jazz Cat's doors.

Interior

Yes, it was just like as it was years ago. Posh black tables, leather seats, and a red and black color scheme. Plenty of cat inspired drawings all over the place. Also, jazz and bossa nova music pumping through the speakers. There was one thing missing however: PEOPLE. Where were the crowds?

Anyway, we then received a menu from a very friendly and professional male server, and looked around. The menu had changed significantly. It had gone down in choices and options. Now there were pretty much four main items to choose from: a donburi, udon pot, tomato and corn rice with a item, and garlic butter rice with a item. Not a very big selection. Plus, the prices were not very cheap either-7.50 for one of the rice items is more than the competition.

The drinks also now came without a cute piece of circular red rubber on the bottom to put your glass on. Rubber to a napkin would have been fine to me. But rubber to nothing is a significant change for what this place is like!

Anyway, we ordered minutes later, and then a small salad arrived for each of us.

Free Salad

A very simple salad indeed, consisting of canned corn, crunchy and icy iceberg lettuce, and a creamy mayo like dressing (but it was translucent looking...). The combination of the ingredients was scrumptious, but the dressing was very questionable. What was it?

We drank more ice water for the time being, which actually did not have a big tap water taste at all to it. It tasted more like filtered water. After a while, our items arrived.

Japanese Eel/ Tomato Corn Egg Rice

My companion ordered the egg omelet tomato and corn rice with Japanese eel (unagi), which also came with some dried bonito fish flakes and green onions. As you can see, the presentation was simple and pretty. The eel was pretty lean and thin in terms of thickness, but otherwise it was like any other roasted eel you would get from a fast food place. The tomato and corn rice was boring and bland- it was pretty much fatty rice mixed with canned corn and tomato paste or ketchup. Most certainly the dish was a interesting combination for flavors, but for me, it did not really work. The tomato and the eel did not blend together well and instead felt like they should have eaten separately. Overall, nice plating, but otherwise not that great.

Apple Curry Pork Chop/ Garlic Butter Egg Rice
(Whoops...did a mistake with these two pictures. Do you notice it?)

I ordered the Garlic Butter omelet rice with apple curry and pork chop. This again was also a small serving, especially compared to my first visit. At my first visit, the rice for this dish (with the exception of the rice being simply steamed rice) covered the whole plate- a large mound like what you would find at May Mei. Now is what you see. Similar to my companion's dish, this was unusual, especially the pork chop. Not only did it look like it was some processed meat, it also was really hard to eat, being extra tough and hard to chew. The batter and the meat were separated from each other easily. Again, not good!

However, the apple curry was nice. A nice hint of sweetness to go with the thick curry which was also probably from a box.

This combination worked out actually better compared to the tomato and eel. The garlic rice was not very tasty by itself (it did not taste like fresh garlic but rather like garlic powder/garlic salt), but when everything was combined together the curry overpowered the rice flavors slightly, thus making it okay. However, the quality of the pork chop and the curry made me not too happy about the dish.

Overall, I am not very happy about the way Jazz Cat Cafe is now. I do hope however that their new location in San Gabriel, will be better. A new space brings new opportunities, and I want to see differences from this experience.

Again, as I have said before, it saddens me when I see food that looks great but does not taste great. And plus, Jazz Cat Cafe also had decent service and a good atmosphere. Jazz Cat pretty much had all the bases for a good restaurant. However, the food was simply lacking in quality, and when a restaurant asks someone to pay 7+ dollars for a entree, it should not taste like processed or pre-made food.

Jazz Cat Cafe
640 W Valley Blvd

Alhambra, CA 91803
(626) 293-8999

Jazz Cat Cafe on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Cumin Cabbage

Cumin Cabbage

Normally, I do not frequently post recipes onto the blog as I have a huge list of NEW restaurants to post about. However, this post has been waiting for too long- as you see the watermark is even the old one and not the new one with the copyright logo. There is also another reason for posting this recipe now: Weekend Wokking! As you see, this month's ingredient is CABBAGE.

The inspiration for making this dish was yet again from a restaurant, just like how I was inspired by Phoenix Inn's Mixed Seafood on Tofu. In this case however, it was inspired by Hong Yei Restaurant, which I was able to try their cumin cabbage (no post on this restaurant as I tried leftovers). The cumin cabbage was slightly spicy from dried chili peppers and chili oil, and was fragrant due to the abundance of cumin. In addition, the cabbage was crisp, but also very oily (boo). Since it seemed like it was easy to make, we tried making it at home with some adjustments to what we had.

Some of our adjustments included the lack chili peppers and chili oil, as well as using less oil and cooking the cabbage longer until slightly translucent. However, you can always cook the cabbage for a shorter amount of time and include chili pepper/oil for spice!

Below is the recipe. Very easy and simple! And for those who do not like cabbage a lot, this dish will hopefully make you enjoy cabbage more often. It did for me!

Cumin Cabbage
Serves 4 as a side dish

Ingredients:
1 medium head of cabbage (or red cabbage)
2 cloves garlic (use less or more to your own liking)
2 1/2 tablespoons ground cumin ( or enough to heavily sprinkle the cabbage)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon oil
3/4 cup water

Tools:
A wok or pan with a lid
A cutting board
A large knife
A large salad bowl (for rinsing the cabbage)
A spatula or other long tool for moving the food in the pan

Directions:
1. Take the head of cabbage out and cut into thick shreds.
2. Soak the cabbage in a tub of water for about 10 minutes to remove some bitterness as well as removing any dirt. Move the cabbage around in the water and then drain all the water out.
3. Mince the garlic into small pieces. Set aside.
4. Preheat your pan to medium high (if nonstick) or high heat (if using a wok). Add the oil in.
5. Add the garlic into the oil and cook until the oil is fragrant. The garlic should start to look shriveled in the oil.
6. Add the cabbage and stir everything in the pan around. Then, add the water in, and close the lid of the pan, and decrease the heat to medium or medium high heat and cook until the cabbage is translucent on the edges and is starting to get translucent in the middle. The water should be almost not visible by the end of this process.
7. Sprinkle the cumin evenly all over the cabbage, and then add the salt. Stir evenly and cook for another two minutes.
8. Pour out onto a serving platter and enjoy!

Weekend WokkingI am submitting this recipe to Weekend Wokking, a food blogging event created by Wandering Chopsticks to find the multiple ways we can cook one ingredient, which for this month is CABBAGE. The host this month is Graziana of Erbe in Cucina (Cooking with Herbs).

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Diamond Jamboree Weekend: BCD Tofu House, 85C Bakery and Cafe, and HMart

Like I stated last week, I said I would write a post on our visit to the OC that was made several weeks ago. This purpose this time was finding a place close to UCI for their welcome week to eat, and so after I proposed the restaurants that I wanted to visit to my dining companions and they disagreed on it (like Brodard as it was 15-20 minutes away and we had to go back again to UCI), I randomly thought about Diamond Jamboree after reading a boatload of posts on it from Eileen's blog, Eileen Likes to Eat. Diamond Jamboree as a whole sounded awesome. Not only was there plenty of restaurants to choose from (and so we randomly picked one that sounded familiar looking at our phone), there was also a chance to restock on some items we wanted for home and for one of my dining companions. Thus, Diamond Jamboree it was for our lunch destination.

After a five minute drive, we arrived at Diamond Jamboree and drove around the area. It seemed quiet and looked like a business and housing area. Our perceptions changed as we entered into Diamond Jamboree.

Quiet? Who said that? No, there were people walking all over the place to visit retail outlets. There was a Super HMart with its parking lot full. Parking looked like it would be a hard task. Busy, busy, busy! So, we split up into two groups so that we could multitask: get a table at a restaurant, and park.

BCD-Tofu-House

In this case, the restaurant we chose was BCD Tofu House. It sounded very familiar from my previous readings on blogs, and since we were wanting for some Korean food we all agreed on it. Gamble? Yes. Especially since I did not remember anyone writing about this place.

When we went in, there were people waiting for a table, and so we wrote our names on their waiting list and waited. In the meantime I walked around outside and found 85C Bakery and Cafe. Only word I can say: it was shocking! However, our table was soon ready at BCD Tofu House and so I went back.

Interior

The interior was a bright interior with two large flat panel TVs (tuned to a news show where their salad was being talked about- this never changed, so I guess it was on a loop), and plenty of wood, metal, and glass accents around the place. It was mainly very modern and sharp. In the doorway, there was also a small fridge dedicated for their premade items which were made by their subsidiary BCD Food. Interestingly, they charged more than the next door supermarket, H Mart, for some of the items, like the larger jars of kimchi.

(Click for a larger view- looks blurry now as it is uploaded to Blogger. The real photo is not blurry!)

We sat down and right in our faces was a placemat which had all the menu items on it. As you can see, it is a fairly simple menu, with a section for soon tofu, combinations, a special menu (Korean BBQ and some other items), and lastly the "in house items", which are the items in the fridge at the door. We decided to order two items from the combination menu and the waiter circled our items on one of our placemats according to who ordered them. Shortly afterwards, the banchan arrived, unlike at Young Dong Garden where we would wait for at least another five minutes for the banchan.

Panchan

The banchan consisted of five dishes, including napa cabbage kimchi, radish kimchi, spicy clams, fishcakes, chilled yellow pickles, and spicy cucumber. As you can see, several of the items were from their "house made" menu, such as the napa cabbage kimchi, clams, and pickles. I enjoyed the all the kimchi dishes which had a nice snap from the vegetables, and also were very spicy in comparison to my local Korean restaurants. The spicy clams included multiple pieces of minuscule clams which were very "clammy" in terms of flavor which were then marinated in gojuchang, and served atop on pieces of cabbage. One of my favorite dishes of banchan, sliced fishcakes, were warm and had plenty of soy sauce and spicy flavors, along with the pieces of previously fried and sliced tender fishcake. We as a group also enjoyed the spicy cucumbers which also were tossed in gojuchang and still retained a nice crunch. However, we were not too fond of the yellow pickles which were bland.

Yellow Covina Fish

We also received a yellow covina fish for every combination we ordered, which meant we had three. These were easy to split apart and I did not have much trouble with the diminutive bones. Everything was edible except for the backbone, and the tail was fried to a nice crisp crunch. The covina fish meat had a pronounced flavor and its flaky and firm texture matched well with the crunchy exterior.

Rice Pot

In addition, we received three stone pots worth of steamed rice, which then one of the waitresses then scooped into three bowls with a large rice spoon. Immediately after, she poured tea into each of the pots for a rice soup. I was hoping to scoop out more rice as there was plenty of rice on the edges still, but my hopes were shattered as our waitress without asking poured the tea into each stone pot. Still, I was able to fetch some pieces of rice.

Soon Tofu

I am sure though that you would much rather now look at the main dishes from the combination sets now after seeing all the free components. And first off is what BCD Tofu House's main dish is: Soon Tofu. With a pretty much two thirds of the menu contaminated with the words soon tofu all over (this includes combination), you would expect a good soon tofu from BCD Tofu House. Most certainly, they do not disappoint. The soon tofu pot above is the Assorted Soon Tofu which comes with any combination (you can also ask your server to substitute with a different soon tofu- we did), and has beef, shrimp, and clams. Plenty of meat! The tofu they use is House Silken Organic Tofu, and in the soon tofu, the tofu was slightly firm but not as tender as what silken tofu usually is like. This allowed the tofu to still be soft, but it did not break apart as easily. Pieces of shrimp were tiny in terms of shrimp meat, but each shrimp also had a load of shrimp roe which was yummy. In terms of flavor, the soon tofu was spot on and flavorful. Much better than Korean restaurants in Arcadia.

Teriyaki Chicken

I do not think I have showed you such a blurry picture for quite a while now right? Anyway, the photo above is the Teriyaki Chicken, not the typical BBQ Chicken that you would find in a Korean restaurant. As you can see, the meat was burnt pretty heavily- not to our liking at all. However, the chicken was moist with hints of ginger and soy, as well as a light sweetness from the teriyaki sauce. Overall it was okay, but there were better things that we ordered. Such as the....

Kalbi

...kalbi, which was very tender, had great marbling of fat, and had a great flavor from the marinade. Tastewise, it was better than Young Dong Garden and Han Yang Garden. However, what brought the dish down completely was again, the burnt chunks from the grill. We dipped the kalbi in water, and what came out was darkish brown/black hues. This means they did not clean the grill very well. However, there was a dish which had no problems with burning.

Bulgogi

Which was the bulgogi, which had small thin slices of beef which were not clumped up together. Nothing was burnt, and the marinade flavors of the kalbi were here too. In addition, the bulgogi was not oily compared to the kalbi, but was still juicy and tender. As you can see pretty much by my description, my dining partners and I enjoyed this dish the most out of the meat dishes. This and the soon tofu were the favorite dishes of the visit!

Overall, our experience at BCD Tofu House was very good, only let down by the burnt pieces of meat which were substantial. If I were you I would tell the waiter to tell the chef to not cook the meat as long/cook at a lower temperature so that there is less char on the meat. In addition, the combination dishes were smaller compared to the dishes for a single item of a item from the combination set, at least for the meat dishes. We saw kalbi piled up high, but our dish had probably about 6/10ths of the larger dish.

Service was fast but friendly, and the employees sometimes came with refills of some dishes of banchan without us asking. I think we will definitely come back again here to BCD when we are in the OC, but of course, we still have a list of restaurants to try.

BCD Tofu House
2700 Alton Pkwy
Irvine, CA 92606
Tel:
(213) 382-6660
www.bcdtofu.com

BCD Tofu House on Urbanspoon

Anyway, now full from our meal at BCD Tofu House, we wandered down to the 85C Bakery and Cafe as I and a dining companion had gone to visit it earlier while we were waiting for seats at BCD Tofu House, and also I had read a post about it on Eileen's blog. Now, it was really busy, similar to JJ Bakery in Arcadia (10+ people waiting in line, et cetera). However, 85C appeared to look exceedingly busy due to these reasons:
1. The area where you pick out the bread is extremely small, unlike at JJ Bakery in Arcadia.
2. The major walkways are crowded due to the fact that the bread picking area and the cashier area is smushed together. Plus, the kitchen doors are right in between, and the employees need to constantly go in and out of the kitchen to respond to customer requests and replenish the bread in the bread area.
3. 3/4ths of the space is used as a sitting area, while the rest is used as selling. Not a good proposition for where people are constantly buying things, not sitting down eating.

Interior

See? I told you. The area where I am is the bakery area. Where the person in green is the sitting/coffee area where very little customers go to. Everyone else is looking for bread. The line that you see below goes out the front door, which is also very close to the cashiers desk. Lastly, yes, that lady who is pointing upwards is actually pointing at me NOT to take this photo. However, by the time the sound of her voice went into my ears, I had already snapped the photo and closed the camera. Too late.

Actually, I was amazed at how watchful the cashiers were. They were busy already enough. Not did they have to toy around with their touchscreens for each customer's purchases (what I did for a year as a volunteer job last year for the school cafeteria- this was not easy with 150 students clamoring in...and then finishing the job in 12 minutes), they also had to PACKAGE each bread in plastic wrap. Talk about time that could be saved if other employees already had packaged the items.

Anyway, you probably want to hear about the food. So, we first looked around and saw items like the Calamari, which was a piece of black bread. However, we then saw a lady holding 6 large pieces of an oblong bread. Why so much? So, we asked an employee what it was, and it was a piece of brioche- their bestseller according to her. So, we requested for four loaves. While that was happening, we waited in the line.

So, I went around outside and visited ceFiore which Eileen had talked about in one of her posts. Unlike ceFiore in Arcadia, ceFiore in Diamond Jamboree was self-serve. However, no employees were outside, and no sample cups were apparent. This was yet another negative which I experienced at our Arcadia location at the Westfield Mall. The employees seem to be nonexistent! So, I left. CeFiore, you need to think about hiring better employees.

Brioche
Photo taken at home after the one hour drive from Irvine

After my escapade to ceFiore, the rest of my group had already come out from 85C Bakery and Cafe, and so we immediately tried out the brioche to see how good it really was.

Interior of Brioche

As you can see, it was definitely not like a regular brioche like what I had at Rossio at the MGM Grand Macau. 85C's brioche was light, slightly sweet, and fluffy, with a light sugar crust. This was almost exact to Breadtalk's Hokkaido Dome which we tried in Beijing. However, in the bottom of the brioche, there was a thin layer of vanilla cake which crumbled easily. By far this was addicting (same reaction as what we had with Breadtalk's Hokkaido Dome), and by the time we arrived at home we had polished off one and a half of our four loaves. Yum, yum, yum. After you eat these types of bread though for more than a week, it does get tiring (reference: Breadtalk).

85C Bakery & Cafe
2700 Alton Parkway, Suite #123
Irvine, CA 92606
Tel:
(949) 553-8585
www.85cafe.us

85°C Bakery Cafe on Urbanspoon


Now, we headed off to our last stop in Diamond Jamboree: the Super HMart for restocking of items at home. Yes, the layout was interesting. In front was all the produce and it seemed like that was the borderline of HMart. However, to the further right, were restaurants, bakeries, and a prepared food section. Behind that (and the produce) was the refrigerated sections, housing kimchi, meats, seafood, et cetera. After that to the left were dry goods, and if you went further straight in the aisle with seafood you would reach a frozen food area. Now, going left you would see the appliance section, and if you turned left again you would see check out. Confusing most definitely.

Anyway, we did get plenty of items at HMart, like the kimchi we saw at BCD Tofu House. We also tried multiple samples and got items like beech mushrooms which were cheap at only 1 dollar per pack (our local area: 2 dollars when not on sale). Seasoned sheets of seaweed were particularly cheap. However, there was one item which we found which was enticing and too good not to not put on the cart. Seaweed salad!

Packaging

Or as they call it, Japanese Seaweed. Why am I hyping it? Well, as you may have read through last week's post on Maki and Sushi, this stuff doesn't come cheap in my area. 15 dollars a pound?! Too much for me. But HMart has it for 8 dollars a pound. Much more manageable.

Seaweed Salad

However, although the price was low, the seaweed salad tasted just like Full House's Seaweed Salad, but fresher (as it wasn't sitting out in a dim sum cart!). Crunchy pieces of seaweed with a hint of seaweed and vinegar. Nom. Nom. Nom.

Aren't people in the OC so lucky to live around such places like HMart and Diamond Jamboree? This was a eye opener for us. It was amazing to see how busy and active this mall was, and plus the offerings were excellent and of good quality. We'll definitely be back at Diamond Jamboree if we ever come to the OC again for a UCI reason. :)

Diamond Jamboree
2700-2750 Alton Pkwy
Irvine, CA 92606