Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Day 7: Honolulu Cafe, YLK- Hang Hou, Hong Kong

MTR Rail Map

After eating lunch at Zen Chinese Cuisine, a thirty-minute ride on the MTR whisked us off to our next destination, Hang Hou; that is the second to last stop to the right on the purple line in the picture.

MTR Rail movement

Having recently experienced other subway systems in the United States, I really appreciate the clarity and simplicity of the MTR system. Easy-to-hear prerecorded announcements are made between each stop, and the busier lines have interactive maps (as seen in the first picture) that make it easy to identify one's location. The purple line did not have these maps, but the clear announcements made up for the lack of those maps.

Honolulu Cafe- Signage

When our friends met us at Hang Hou, they immediately treated us to egg tarts and milk tea at Honolulu Cafe, a chain that is quite famous for its egg tarts in Hong Kong.

Honolulu Cafe- Egg Tarts
Honolulu Cafe- Egg Tart with Milk tea

The egg tart and milk tea was a great starter to our Hang Hou visit. The Honolulu Cafe Egg Tart (4.5 HKD) had an eggy custard, and the crust was flaky while not being too oily.  Their milk tea was also excellent; smooth, creamy, and very robust in flavor.

Shopping Center Bee

In Hong Kong, shopping centers tend to be connect to each other if they are in close proximity, and Hang Hou was no exception. We probably walked through three different shopping malls during our visit, all of which were located under apartment complexes, and did not go outside. The bridges connecting each mall to another were covered, with shops lined across to maximize space. 

Shopping Center Holiday Season

Like in Pacific Place, the malls here also had large showcases for the holiday season. You'll probably see these temporary setups in malls in Hong Kong now, considering that it is now already November!

Multilayer Cake Rolls
Layered Cakes

We find items from other cultures in Hong Kong every visit, and this time we found baumkuchen, a European layered cake that has also gained popularity in Japan. We probably saw this in Hong Kong due to Hong Kong's Japanese and Korean influence; it is not unusual to listen to Japanese or Korean music while in a restaurant or to see people wearing the latest in Japanese or Korean fashion while in Hong Kong.

YLK, Hang Hou, Hong Kong: Signage

For dinner, we were going to eat at this place that specializes in crepes and shaved snow, but since that place was not open yet, we headed to YLK, part of the Yeh Lam Kwok chain. Yet again, we were visiting another chain restaurant; it is very difficult to escape from any chain/ restaurant with multiple locations/ hotel restaurant in Hong Kong!

YLK, Hang Hou, Hong Kong: Napkins and Sugar Packets

Also keeping up with the holiday theme, YLK had some holiday-themed sugar packets and a special Christmas menu the day we visited. A wide variety of items, from curry to steak, were available. Beverages that came with the menu items unfortunately came with no refills; this left us thirsty, since the regular tap water seemed not suitable for drinking.

YLK, Hang Hou, Hong Kong: Garden Raisin Bread

Some raisin bread (apparently from Garden, according to our friend), was served to our table after we ordered. It had all the aspects that appeal to the Asian consumer; a soft, tender interior with a light crust.

YLK, Hang Hou, Hong Kong: Borscht Soup

YLK, Hang Hou, Hong Kong: Cream Soup

Halfway across the world, we were met yet again here with either borscht soup or cream soup as choices for soup. I enjoyed the borscht soup, which was as good as any other Hong-Kong style borscht soup that I have had. The cream soup I did not get to try, but it looked decent.

YLK, Hang Hou, Hong Kong: Fruit Salad

My friend ordered a fruit salad with prawns, which had a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Surprisingly, even dragonfruit was part of the mix, along with apples, potatoes, tomatoes, raisins, and other ingredients.
YLK, Hang Hou, Hong Kong: Beef Curry

Not so surprising was the beef brisket curry, which had everything we expected in Hong Kong style curry: a pleasant mix of spices cooked with plenty of coconut milk and beef brisket and tendon. The curry here though was quite oily, and somehow both my companion and I got really full while not even finishing the bowl of curry that you see above.

YLK, Hang Hou, Hong Kong: Lamb Chops and Smoked Duck Breast

To round out the meal, my friends also ordered two meat plates: one was a lamb chop and smoked duck breast plate, while the other one featured ribeye steak. Both of these plates were actually very well executed, especially the ribeye steak, which was extremely tender. The sauce the accompianed it made it even better. On the other hand, my friend thought the lamb chop was average, and I felt the smoked duck breast, although as juicy and tender as it was, was too smoky.

YLK, Hang Hou, Hong Kong: Lamb Chops and Smoked Duck Breast

What was also really great about the plates were that the vegetables were actually decent--not from a can. The overall quality of these plates definitely made up for the 100+ HKD price tag.

MTR Station: Hang Hou, Hong Kong

Soon enough, we had to depart from each other again, and it was time to make that same trip back to our hotel. It was time for yet another fun day in Hong Kong, now that almost everyone in the party was back in good condition for eating and traveling. Thankfully however, these visits would remain constant for the rest of the trip, since the Pacific Ocean was no longer in our path of visitation.

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

Saturday, November 12, 2011

R&G Lounge- Chinatown, San Francisco, CA

California Highway

Driving back from Stanford and the event, we were met with a pleasant sunset; the sun made the green mountains shine even more so, and everything became even more picturesque. During our drive we made dinner plans; after crossing off one Chinese restaurant off the list to visit (Koi Palace), we decided to visit another one: R&G Lounge in Chinatown, which our friend recommended us to visit.

R&G Lounge- Chinatown, San Francisco, CA: Signage

Parking was easy to find; there is a parking structure that offers validated parking a block or so away from the restaurant. However, getting the seat at the restaurant was not. We forgot to make a reservation, which I highly advise making for any popular restaurant when visiting San Francisco such as this one, and as a result we waited for 45 minutes for an open table.

R&G Lounge- Chinatown, San Francisco, CA: Exterior

What can one do in a loud, crowded atmosphere with no book? I spent my time taking pictures and learning about how the queue system works instead. Like some restaurants in Hong Kong, R&G utilizes a computerized queue system that splits a certain type of party (e.g. 1-2 people, 7-10 people) to a separate queue which will then notify the employee when that certain type of table is ready for the customer.
We also talked to the employee about San Francisco and seafood; she told us that she eats live seafood when she visits the Los Angeles area instead of in San Francisco, although she will occasionally go to San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf for seafood.

R&G Lounge- Chinatown, San Francisco, CA: Seating

Downstairs, it was not actually as modern as the entrance or the name suggested; instead, it was a blast from the years past; something akin to Sam Woo BBQ in San Gabriel. The prices however were definitely not Sam Woo prices; they were much more expensive!

R&G Lounge- Chinatown, San Francisco, CA: Mashed Chicken and Sweet Corn Soup (Bowl)

We began our meal with hot steaming bowls of mashed chicken and sweet corn soup (bowl, 12 USD). It's a traditional preparation: lots of starch was applied to create the "thick, savory broth," while corn, wispy strands of egg, and "tiny pieces" of chicken were interspersed throughout the soup. We enjoyed light flavor of the soup that was enhanced by the sweet corn.

R&G Lounge- Chinatown, San Francisco, CA: Red Vinegar Saucer

Vinegar is sometimes added as an accompaniment to the soup, but the amount given from our request was miniscule. This saucer barely fulfilled what someone would put for one small bowl of the soup.

R&G Lounge- Chinatown, San Francisco, CA: Drunken Squab

The drunken squab (17 USD) on the other hand was extremely flavorful. The wine marinade had an extremely strong flavor due to the alcohol content, yet the squab retained its own flavor while being nicely accented by the marinade. 

R&G Lounge- Chinatown, San Francisco, CA: Princess Chicken (1/2)

R&G's princess chicken (half, 15 USD), also called gwei fei chicken, was a fine rendition. The free-raised chicken meat was fragrant, tender, and supple, with its flavor enhanced by being marinated with salt, green onion, and some sesame oil. It wasn't as "chicken-y" in flavor in comparison to what we have had in Hong Kong, but nevertheless was pretty good. Likewise, the green onion and ginger dipping sauce was fresh and pretty good, but not outstanding.

R&G Lounge- Chinatown, San Francisco, CA: Three Treasures with Black Bean Sauce

We liked the three treasures with black bean sauce (14 USD); which is essentially shrimp paste stuffed in cubanelle and red peppers, between coins of eggplant, and pockets of soft egg tofu. The black bean and soy sauce sauteed with spring onions provided plenty of flavor to this well-executed dish. Unfortunately, my companions found the peppers to be exceedingly spicy-- probably the white membranes were not cut out well. I on the other hand found the peppers to be fine; I guess I was lucky!

R&G Lounge- Chinatown, San Francisco, CA: Mixed Vegetables with Mushrooms

Various high-quality ingredients, including celery, carrot, lotus root, sugar-snap peas, snow fungus, and button, enoki, and oyster mushrooms, were used in the creation of the mixed vegetables with mushrooms (18 USD). These vegetables were served mainly as-is, passed through the hot wok with oil and salt to the plate, which allowed us to enjoy the existing flavor of each ingredient.

R&G Lounge- Chinatown, San Francisco, CA: Red Bean Tapioca Dessert Soup

Restaurants in Chinatown seem to vary their service and items depending on the race of the customer; this red bean tapioca dessert soup was only served to Asian customers, while fortune cookies were served to everyone else. In Philadelphia's Chinatown, one restaurant served fried wonton wrappers with sweet and sour sauce were served to non-Asian customers, while Asian customers received nothing. I feel that R&G should serve this red bean tapioca dessert soup to everybody; the red bean and fat tapioca pearls were tasty, and the dessert soup was nicely sweetened too. People should taste this; if you happen to receive fortune cookies, ask if they could give you this dessert soup instead.

San Francisco, CA: Hilton at Night
(Hilton in Chinatown, located nearby R&G Lounge)

R&G Lounge we felt was competent in their offerings, but there was certainly some influence from the customers in their food, like the heavy use of starch to thicken sauces and the offering of fortune cookies to some customers. 

San Francisco, CA: Tunnel

And so the second day of our Bay area trip arrived at a close. It was time to get ready for some more college and attraction sight-seeing!

631 Kearny Street
San Francisco, CA  94108-1810
Tel: (415) 982-7877

R & G Lounge on Urbanspoon

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

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Cha for Tea (University Center)- Irvine, CA

Cha For Tea, Irvine, CA- Exterior

Although we have stepped into Cha for Tea a couple of times, we have never actually eaten there until recently, after (finally) visiting the weekend farmers market at the University Center (see Monster Munching's blog post for more information). The employees though have enthusiastically greeted us and familiarized us with their line of products, which come from Ten Ren, as the Cha for Tea chain is a subsidiary of Ten Ren.

Cha For Tea, Irvine, CA- Hot Almond Black Milk Tea with Pearls

Cha for Tea lures customers into their stores by taking a Tevana-eqsue sales tactic: offering small samples of their products. This time, we were offered cups of hot almond black milk tea, of which we enjoyed so much that we ordered a large portion, coupled with pearls. (3.89USD + 0.60USD for large size + 0.47USD for pearls). Cha for Tea is open to adjustments, so we asked for no sugar in the tea; this led to a creamy tea that was barely sweet, with depth provided by the black tea and fragrance from the almond powder used in the making of the tea. The baristas actually try out the tea for each order to ensure that the quality is up to par. I didn't find the boba to be sweet though; it stayed chewy and soft, but its sweetness seemed to have seeped away from itself to the tea instead.

Unfortunately, I happened to spill this large cup of boba while photographing some other items below. However, the employees were still nice enough to make another full cup and gladly cleaned up the mess I created. I apologize for making such a mess! The second cup they made it with "less sugar", and that to me was perfect in terms of sweetness.

Cha For Tea, Irvine, CA- Tofu Curry With Rice

One of my companions ordered the curry tofu with rice (6.74 USD), which the sauce is apparently cooked with jasmine tea. Although we did not taste the tea in the curry, it was still a nicely composed dish. The tofu in this case was simply steamed and topped with the curry sauce, while the salad had a dressing in which my companion really liked. The corn on the other hand we did not care for; it was quite obvious it came from a can.

Cha For Tea, Irvine, CA- Beef Stew With Rice

My Irvine friend ordered the beef stew with rice (6.74USD), which likewise had the same sides as the curry tofu dish. The beef stew apparently is cooked with pu-erh tea (a deep, strong flavored tea if it is of high quality), but the fragrant spices in the "szechwan sauce" made it very difficult to taste any of the tea flavor. Nevertheless we still liked this dish; the beef was tender, and there were plenty of vegetables in the stew.

Cha For Tea, Irvine, CA- Beef Noodle Soup 

My Cha beef noodle soup (8.25 USD) seemed to be composed of beef stew with noodles (can substitute between egg or glass noodles), "sour mustard", crisp cabbage, green onions, and hot broth. It is a lighter preparation; not too bold in flavors or spice, which I appreciated.  The noodles were somewhat on the softer side, most likely due to the heat from the broth.

Cha for Tea is a good option, if not a tad expensive for some items, for people passing around the area. One will be able to find cheaper options for similar food and drink elsewhere, but nearby UCI, Cha for Tea is the place for higher quality tea and food served with a smile.

Cha for Tea (University Center) 
4187 Campus Drive, M-173
Irvine, CA 92612  
Tel: 1-949-725-0300 

Cha For Tea on Urbanspoon

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Day 7: Zen Chinese Cuisine (Pacific Place)- Admiralty, Hong Kong

Zen Chinese Cuisine, Hong Kong- Exterior

We thought we would try an actual dim sum lunch while in Hong Kong, so we headed downstairs to Zen, one of the two major Chinese restaurants in Pacific Place. Zen is a solid Cantonese institution that has been in Pacific Place for more than ten years. Its location brings a more of a business-type clientele, but there are certainly plenty of locals and tourists that patron Zen (like I have during my past visits to Hong Kong).

Zen Chinese Cuisine,Hong Kong- Peanuts

Seated at our table, we were handed two different types of nuts to munch on: candied walnuts that had a hint of seaweed flavor and salt and pepper fried peanuts. I really liked the candied walnuts, but it seemed as if the employees were too busy to hand us any refills; it was Christmas day after all.

Zen Chinese Cuisine,Hong Kong- Red Bean Dessert Soup

The special Christmas day menu had a wide selection of typical dim sum items as well as items not typically seen during dim sum. The bright red color in this red bean dessert soup signaled that the red beans in the soup were dried red beans, and not canned or packaged prepared red beans or red bean paste. Orange peel, a traditional ingredient in red bean soup, was also added into the soup. We did not find the soup to be very smooth on the mouth, but that probably comes as a result of a light mashing of the dried red beans and not a complete puree.

Zen Chinese Cuisine,Hong Kong- Pear Dessert Soup

Another dessert soup we ordered was the pear and almond and snow fungus dessert soup. This soup in general is good for the throat, and Zen's rendition is on par with what is expected for this soup-- slightly sweet and brimming with pear flavor.

Zen Chinese Cuisine,Hong Kong- Roasted Pigeon

Crispy skin and extremely juicy and tender pigeon meat awaited us with this platter of pigeon. It was probably the best item of the day, and at only 52 HKD for one pigeon, it was very reasonably priced compared to my local restaurants. Dipping the meat in the salt provided next to the pigeon intensified the already strong flavors of the meat.

Zen Chinese Cuisine,Hong Kong- Roast Pig

Roasted suckling (?) pig however was not that impressive; although there was plenty of skin, most of plate consisted of bones spread in haphazard directions. It was difficult to savor the meat, which was tender and smoky.

Zen Chinese Cuisine,Hong Kong- Rice Noodle Roll
Zen Chinese Cuisine,Hong Kong- Rice Noodle Roll Dipping Sauce

Old-fashioned cheong fun, or “Chinese Pasta” as labeled on the menu, did not turn out to be as good as we were hoping for. The cheong fun's layers were not distinct; instead they were stuck together. We liked the sesame sauce served along side, but the hoisin sauce seemed as if there was a lot of artificial coloring added.

Zen Chinese Cuisine,Hong Kong- Scallop and Pea Sprouts Rice Noodle Roll

The scallop and pea tips cheong fun was better, but the rice noodles were still not that impressive The fillings were fresh, but the rice noodle layer could have been a bit chewier and possibly thinner.

Zen Chinese Cuisine,Hong Kong- Stuffed Chicken Wing

A popular item at Zen is the stuffed chicken wing; the chefs prepare the dish by removing the chicken meat and bones from a chicken wing and then stuffing the wing with lots of lotus sticky rice. Fresh of the fryer, the crisp chicken skin provided a pleasant contrast to the chewy sticky rice. 

Zen Chinese Cuisine,Hong Kong- Fish and Rice Vermicelli Soup

Our meal ended in a dismal bowl of fish rice noodle soup. Too much orange peel was added into the broth to counteract and fishy flavors from the fish meat, and it overpowered the entire dish, from the fish meat to the broth the noodles were soaking in. Without the orange peel, it would have been quite delectable.

Our Christmas lunch at Zen represented several ups and downs; I would advise sticking with more of the traditional dim sum items instead. Unfortunately, it seems as if restaurants do not perform at their best during a holiday and this experience seemed representative of that perspective.

Zen Chinese Cuisine
003, LG1 Pacific Place, 88 Queensway, Admiralty
金鐘金鐘道88號太古廣場LG 003號
Tel:  (852) 2845-4555

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