Sunday, September 25, 2011

Shin-Sen-Gumi Hakata Ramen- Fountain Valley, CA

Shin-Sen-Gumi Hakata Ramen- Fountain Valley, CA: Exterior

Our Irvine friend suggested that we try Shin-Sen-Gumi's Hakata Ramen, and so during a recent trip to Irvine we did! Shin-Sen-Gumi is easy to locate in this large strip mall thanks to its boldly colored signs. The colors actually represent "two" restaurants; one is dedicated to Hakata ramen (yellow) and the other to robata and yakitori (orange). Although there are two separate entrances and two separate rooms (connected by a small walkway), it is still possible to eat in either end of the restaurant and enjoy ramen.

Shin-Sen-Gumi- Fountain Valley, CA: Interior
Shin-Sen-Gumi- Fountain Valley, CA: Interior

We were seated in the robata and yakitori side of the restaurant since the other side was full. (Thankfully, we did not need to wait for an open table) It was exciting to sit here, as occasionally there would be chefs cooking fried rice or preparing other dishes.

Shin-Sen-Gumi Hakata Ramen- Fountain Valley, CA: 1/2 Size Ramen

Since my Irvine friend recommended the ramen, both my companion and I ordered ramen sets. At Shin-Sen-Gumi, they allow the customer to customize their ramen by adjusting the hardness/softness of the noodle, the strength of soup base, the oiliness of the broth, and the addition of various toppings (with an additional cost). More noodles can also be added for an additional cost.

Above is a half-size Hakata Ramen, part of the "L" set (1/2 size ramen, Takana fried rice, and salad for  7.50 USD). My companion requested for the hard noodles (since my Irvine friend recommended that), light soup base, less oil, and ginger and green onion (both are free toppings).

The chewy, thin, angel-hair like ramen was quite tasty with some extra shakes of sesame seed and some of the light, porky broth. The pork slices were lean, yet were tender and delicious. I would have preferred thicker slices of pork though; thin pork slices do not have that substantial chew that I like.

Shin-Sen-Gumi Hakata Ramen- Fountain Valley, CA: Salad

The salad provided a pleasant contrast to the hot fried rice and ramen, but the serving size was quite small.

Shin-Sen-Gumi Hakata Ramen- Fountain Valley, CA: Takana Fried Rice

The Takana fried rice on the other hand was nicely portioned; the fried rice was shaped into nice half circle and was garnished with some pickled ginger. We didn't care for the oiliness of the fried rice and that the vegetables were preserved vegetables (at the time, we did not know that Takana is the name of the preserved vegetable in use), but the fat granules of rice were tasty.

Shin-Sen-Gumi Hakata Ramen- Fountain Valley, CA: C Set- Hakata Ramen and Takana Fried Rice

I ordered the C-Set ramen, which comes with a regular Hakata ramen and Takana fried rice for 7.75 USD.

Shin-Sen-Gumi Hakata Ramen- Fountain Valley, CA: Hakata Ramen

With the full size ramen, I got to enjoy more of everything in the half sized ramen- a few more pork slices, some more green onions and ginger, a larger serving of noodles, and some more broth. The taste however was the same as my companion's bowl of ramen; my bowl was just saltier since I chose normal soup base instead.

For the most part, we liked trying the various items at Shin-Sen-Gumi and our extremely pleasant, friendly waiter (who apologized for any error and asked how the food was), but the closing to the meal did not impress at all. Another server did the check instead and had the courage to ask whether or not we wanted our change back; this does not seem to exemplify the "human development" that Shin-Sen-Gumi strives to develop in the workplace!  Never have I seen a waiter ask that question before;  it was laziness/greediness on his own part since he did not take care of us during the meal. My companion left Shin-Sen-Gumi quite unhappy due to that incident.

Shin-Sen-Gumi Hakata Ramen
18315 Brookhurst St, #1
Fountain Valley, CA 92708
Tel: (714) 962-8971

Shin Sen Gumi Hakata Ramen on Urbanspoon

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Koi Palace- Daly City, CA

Koi Palace- Daly City, CA: Exterior

While we were driving, I searched for restaurants outside of San Francisco so we could eat and not deal with evening rush hour traffic. I came to the conclusion that Koi Palace was one of the best Chinese options in the Bay area after glancing through Foodnut's website and looking at various restaurant photos on Yelp and Urbanspoon, and so we stopped at Koi Palace for dinner.

Koi Palace- Daly City, CA: Lion/Logo

The exterior of the restaurant suggests a fancy, upscale look, and while Koi Palace sounds like an original name, its Chinese name is not. Similar to other Chinese restaurants, Koi Palace's Chinese name is an allusion to a famous place or restaurant in Asia; in this case, Koi Palace's Chinese name, pronounced as "Lei Yue Mun", is a allusion to Lei Yue Mun in Hong Kong, a popular place to enjoy fresh seafood. (read more about Lei Yue Mun at the Hong Kong Tourism Board website)

Koi Palace- Daly City, CA: Live Seafood Tank
Koi Palace- Daly City, CA: Seafood Tanks

Entering the restaurant we were greeted with large seafood tanks which housed quite a vast variety of seafood; look at the copious amount of geoduck in the photo above!

Koi Palace- Daly City, CA: Making Dragon Beard Candy

A surprising fact: Koi Palace makes their own dragon beard candy! Dragon beard candy is not mainstream in the United States; it is quite difficult to make and as a result is quite expensive. Eight imported, miniscule pieces of this candy (smaller than the ones made in the video) cost more than 2 USD at my local Asian supermarket. These sold for more than that obviously, but they are hand-made.

Koi Palace- Daly City, CA: Interior

Seated at the table I felt like I had seen this interior before, and I was right. Cindy Lo of Food Makes Me Happy had posted about this restaurant several years ago. I read her review again and was very glad that we did not need to wait at all for seating.

Koi Palace- Daly City, CA: Tea, Silverfish and Peanuts, Pickled Vegetables

Seated down we were asked for what type of tea we wanted and it was served on a tea warmer. If you haven't noticed, Koi Palace's logo has been marked on the tea cups and tea pot as well; the logo in fact incorporates the Chinese character for tea in it!

Along with the tea came dishes of peanuts and marinated vegetables. The peanuts were mixed with crunchy, fried silverfish and stir-fried in a sweet and spicy sauce that made the peanuts extremely enjoyable. The marinated turnip, cucumber, and carrots were lightly acidic and crisp--extremely refreshing after the long, but enjoyable drive!

On a side note on rice: the waiter asked us if we wanted white rice or steamed rice and we ordered the steamed rice thinking it would be the usual rice. However, steamed rice is special and is also more expensive at 2 USD for a small bowl; each bowl of rice is individually steamed. At first we thought this was how everyone had their rice, but this is actually a premium option. If you just want regular rice, order white rice("bat fan", not "jing fan"--pronunciation in Cantonese).

Koi Palace- Daly City, CA: Duck

We didn't care so much for the soya duck slices (12 USD), which is served with a dish of vinegar. The duck slices are quite salty and the sweet soy sauce element that is typically seen in master stock dishes is missing; I tasted star anise and sesame oil instead. What some may or may not like is that the duck is boneless; it is all meat and skin on the plate, along with a small layer of beans in the bottom of the dish.

Koi Palace- Daly City, CA: Soup
Koi Palace- Daly City, CA: Ginseng, Dried Scallop, Chicken, Pork, Mountain Yam Braised Soup

Filled with dried scallop, silky black chicken, pork, and ham, the Soup De Jour(10 USD) was served in a petite bowl but was extremely concentrated in flavor. I appreciated that they actually steamed the ingredients individually instead of placing all the ingredients into one large pot and taking the soup away from the pot for serving. There were five pieces of ginseng in the soup, and as a result the soup tasted primarily of ginseng and meat. On a side note, the Soup De Jour does change daily and so the ingredients, along with the prices may change as a result.

Koi Palace- Daly City, CA: Steamed Black Bass

Koi Palace was also where we were introduced to a fish we have never tried before: black bass (30 USD, 1.5 pounds). Steamed fresh fish, when offered, is a reliable gauge to see whether or not I should return to a Chinese restaurant, and this black bass certainly passed the test with flying colors. This fish was fresh and the flesh was firm yet flaky; bass is definitely firmer in texture than say cod, but is still smooth. I really liked the soy sauce as well, which was light and perfect with rice and the scallion and cilantro garnish.

Koi Palace- Daly City, CA: Bok Choy and Oysters in Supreme Broth

Typically I do not see oysters and vegetables as the two main ingredients in a dish, but Koi Palace happens to pair oysters, bok choy, and broth together and it is excellently rendered (18 USD). The supreme broth was high quality--clear and light in taste--and the bok choy was pleasantly crisp. The gogi berries brought plenty of sweetness to the fat, briny oysters in which the fresh chili pepper soy sauce (available on request) is the perfect complement.

Koi Palace- Daly City, CA: Jalepeno Soy Sauce

We really enjoyed how the fresh chili pepper soy sauce provided an extra kick of flavor to the oysters. Best of all, this generous serving of fresh chili pepper soy sauce was complimentary; we found that somewhat unusual since now some restaurants are beginning to charge for their diminutive portions of their own fresh chili pepper soy sauce.

Koi Palace- Daly City, CA: Lotus Root and Pork Cheeks in Special Sauce

Our waiter suggested pork cheeks with lotus root (16 USD) as a specialty to order; the reason that it is a specialty is the sauce. Apparently the sauce is quite popular in San Francisco (popular enough to be bottled, anyway); in this application it provides some smoke and sweet/salty flavors to the firm, slightly chewy pork cheeks. The lotus roots crunch like cucumber, providing a nice textural contrast to the dish.

Koi Palace- Daly City, CA: Tortoise Jelly

After our meal, the waiter suggested that we have their turtle jelly for the complimentary dessert. Free turtle jelly? Totally unexpected! Koi Palace's turtle jelly is served cold and sweetened beforehand. There is some depth of flavor and bitterness but not as much as I would expect in a fresh, hot turtle jelly; it is also somewhat easy to scoop up which is somewhat a negative, as turtle jelly from turtle jelly purveyors in Hong Kong is quite difficult to scoop up (it literally falls off the spoon as you attempt to scoop it). Offering a competent turtle jelly as a complimentary dessert though is impressive and provides a strong ending to a great meal.

United Plane
(spotted a United plane while in the parking lot)

Although the prices are slightly higher than usual at Koi Palace, the quality and taste of the food provides a good return on investment. Typically I am disappointed with higher-end Chinese restaurants, but this experience was remarkably different. It was a great meal to start our trip in the Bay area, and into San Francisco we went after the meal. Thanks Foodnut for the recommendation!

Koi Palace- Daly City
Serramonte Plaza
365 Gellert Ave
Daly City, CA 94015
Tel: (650) 992-9000 

Koi Palace on Urbanspoon

Find the rest of the posts in this series at this trip's TRIP INDEX.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Driving Scenes: Los Angeles to San Francisco

Driving on Interstate 5- Roads and Hillsides 

There are certainly a multitude of ways that one can get from Los Angeles to San Francisco, but driving allows one to perceive the amazing landscapes along the way. Driving to Los Angeles to San Francisco can also be done in several ways; one can pick the Interstate-5  for the shortest drive, the U.S. Route 101 for a "more interesting" drive, or the State Route 1/ Highway 1 for a long, oceanside drive.

Driving on Interstate 5- Hillside

Although my companions and I chose the 5 freeway to go to San Francisco, we still passed by some picturesque areas: plenty of farmland and mountain views. Maybe it was coincidence, but the blue sky and beautiful clouds enhanced the appearance of everything we saw during this drive.

Driving on Interstate 5- Clouds

The clouds that day were beautiful; arranged in beautiful patterns, it was easy for me to get distracted from my reading selection. In this picture it seems like as if a fleet of clouds are moving towards one direction.

Driving on Interstate 5- Road to the Mountain
Driving on Interstate 5- Curves

Simple scenes such as a curve around a hill were so beautiful thanks to the lush greenery in the area.

Working Farmers

We happened to also see lots of farmers at work in the wide expanses of farmland; living in a metropolitan/suburban area, it is somewhat difficult to see where our food actually comes from, and this drive up through the Central Valley region was a great way to see and learn how the farms operate.

Murray Family Farms Farmers Market Signage

For a rest stop, we stopped by at the Murray Family Farms' Farmer's Market. They had large signs on the freeway on what they offered which prompted us to stop.

Murray Family Farms Whiteboard
Murray Family Farms Trees
Topanga Quality Sage Honey at Murray Family Farms

Much as I enjoyed looking at the various citrus fruits on sale (at relatively decent prices), I did not like how they were selling products from other businesses at an inflated price. This Topanga Quality Honey (Sage) can be found at Whole Foods, Fresh and Easy, and the manufacturer itself at significantly lower prices than the 10+ dollars we paid per jar of honey. The honey however is delicious; clean, sweet, yet thick with a viscosity similar to maltose.

Driving on Interstate 5- Agricultural Pesticide/Irrigation Plane

Right after departing from Murray Family farms, we spotted an insecticide plane. Apologies for the blurry picture!

Driving on Interstate 5-Farmland and Communication Towers
Driving on Interstate 5- Farm

Continuing on the drive, we encountered yet more large expanses of farmland which grew other crops. The vibrant color produced by the melange of crops is certainly a sight to see.

Driving on Interstate 5- Cow Farm

What is not particularly exciting along the drive is passing by the cow farms; the cows are amusing, but the stench that can accidentally flow into the vehicle if the air conditioning is not on "recirculate" or if the windows are open is extremely strong.

Driving on Interstate 5- Farming and the Hillside

I really liked how the mountains are so "soft" in this picture; purple mountains can be seen after all! There were certainly some hints of purple, brown, and green when I looked from afar.

Driving on Interstate 5- Farm and Clouds

Here is yet another interesting cloud formation that looks like it is the path to somewhere.

Driving on Interstate 5- Wide Expanse of Farmland

We passed by again another tractor, where the plowed land looked like smooth ocean waves.

Driving on Highway 152- San Louis Resevoir Recreation Area
Driving on Highway 152- San Louis Resevoir Recreation Area

After a long drive on the 5 freeway, we switched to the State Route 152. The view suddenly changed; a large body of water welcomed us, and the curving route along with the lush greenery was something special to be driving on.

Driving on Highway 152- San Louis Resevoir Recreation Area Hillsides
Driving on Highway 152- Winding Roads and Green Hills
Driving on Highway 152: Hill

The deep green colors and curving roads remind me of British countryside, and the hill in the picture above is something that reminds me of China! We passed by such beautiful scenery we certainly did not mind the slower speed we had to drive at; it allowed us to have more time to savor the landscape. Large recreational areas were the main view for this section of the drive, but there was still some farmland; as we passed Gilroy, garlic aromas flowed into our vehicle for a short duration.

There are plenty of farm stands if you wish to purchase some produce, but virtually all of them were closed when we drove through. If you see one that is open, do stop by as you might not find any more farm stands on the route!

Intel: Silicon Valley
McAFee: Silicon Valley

Soon enough, we were in the Silicon Valley. These buildings are quite a contrast to all the nature and farmland we saw just approximately a half hour before we arrived in this area.

Naval Air Station, Moffett Field Hangar
Naval Air Station, Moffett Field Hangar/ Buildings

Like what I saw in Tustin, air stations with gigantic hangars still exist in other parts of California; this one is Moffett Field.

This six hour drive went by quite quickly! I guess it was probably because it was my first time going through. Koi Palace in Daly City, CA was our next stop.

Find the rest of the posts in this series at this trip's TRIP INDEX.