Hai Di Lao: The Disneyland of Hot Pot

Dancing Noodles at Hai Di Lao

In partnership with Westfield Santa Anita.

Memories of hot pot have always involved family and friends around one or two boiling pots of broth on hot plates, set upon the dining room table and enjoyed over conversation, often during the holidays such as Lunar New Year. Sometimes, it was simply the way my mom handled a meal when there were going to be a lot of people coming over for dinner. Raw cut meats, vegetables, bean thread noodles, and tofu were laid out on the table, waiting their turn to get dunked, cooked, then retrieved before being dipped into a personal bowl of XO sauce
beat with a raw egg, and eaten.

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Pingtung Brings Pan-Asian Café Favorites to Melrose

Neighborhood Hot Spot

It’s curious that Pingtung is called an “Eat-in Market,” the “market” designation perhaps being a way of propping up the Asian goods that lie on overhead (to me) shelves along the sides of the deep-drawn cafe. Though I have a few guilty snack pleasures such as Yan Yan, Shrimp Chips, that clear, Japanese soda with the swingy little ball, Calpico and the like, I’d make the trek to 99 Ranch, Mitsuwa or Zion if I wanted to go Asian grocery shopping. (I’m trying to cut down on the snacks, much less MSG-laden ones, anyway.)

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Favorite Dish: Shanghai Rice Cakes With Sponge Gourd at Ding’s Garden

Shanghai Rice Cakes With Sponge Gourd

I’ll be up front about it: We had the stinky tofu, too. It did not quite make the “favorite dish” descriptor.

But it’s an experience worth having if you haven’t, already. Just bring friends to prove you did it.

As far as what I actually liked (and not ordered with purposes of boosting street cred), I have to say that the Shanghai Rice Cakes tossed with sponge gourd (or luffa) were a standout at Ding’s Garden during our Taiwanese (and dare I admit, yes, derivative Chinese) food crawl. Perfect for reheating at home, this dish had gummier rice cakes than those at Din Tai Fung and also had a lighter sauce – and less of it. Shreddings of pork provided the flavor, and the sponge gourd was a nice recall to the xiao long bao I had at Su Hung in Taipei that were filled with this veggie in addition to pork - instead of just pork. (Su Hung is the alt. to waiting 2 hours for a seat at DTF – Taipei, by the way.)

I love this vegetable because it’s somewhat sour and unexpected, but it’s still subtle and therefore palatable to those who are curious about uncharted Asian vegetables. The gumminess of the rice cakes might put some off-guard – especially those first introduced to rice cakes by DTF – but glutinous rice is really so commonly used in the cuisine that I’m more apt to consider DTF’s over-cooked, perhaps. But, if you like the sweeter variety, stick with the always-reliable Din Tai Fung.

Try many things at Ding’s Garden, but definitely make one of those dishes these particular Shanghai Rice Cakes. You can never have too many.

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Mon – Sun

11 AM – 10 PM

Cash only

Ding’s Garden
18922 Gale Ave
Ste A
Rowland Heights, CA 91748
626.810.0600

Healthful, Conscientious Pan-Asian at Fresh East Is Actually Delicious

Emperor's Lamb ($12.95)

Good Chinese, Indian and other Asian food is known to be sourced from the dirtiest, rudest hole-in-the-wall shops around town – especially east of our Metropolis off the 10 and 60 freeways. I can put it this way:  There were plenty of great reasons to visit my aunt who lived in West Covina for those two years, and they were all within a two-mile radius around the house she later flipped.

Spicy Garlic Noodles ($8.25)

There’s usually a direct relationship between taste and MSG in Asian food, however. It’s just one of those known facts, along with the cost-effectiveness of an often cash-only operation – and a lot of these Mom and Pop shops using styrofoam and other unrecyclable products and just plain being un-green.

Fresheast is the first known-to-me Pan-Asian place that integrates an Eco-conscientious (organic when they can) business model into actually delicious food. No MSG is in their recipes, all their sauces are made in-house and their plates are made from recycled, bio-degradable palm fronds. As for your side, you can choose from white rice, brown rice, quinoa or greens.

Interior

The best part of all of this is that they’re Midtown Lunch LA price point-friendly (that is, under $10). To start, anyway (sorry, Zach, you’ll have to drink water). They also have beer and wine on their menu, so you can wash down your Jidori Chicken with some Singha or Fess Parker Pinot Noir. And there’s free parking. In West Hollywood. And there’s energy outlets! And wifi! Talk about blogger-friendly.

My favorite dish was definitely the Emperor’s Lamb, which really impressed me in that there was little-to-no gamey taste. Their Jidori Chicken was also solid and had really good flavor. The Spicy Garlic Noodles were so-so, but nothing extraordinary. It seems that for the most part, they’ve been able to hone in on the right recipes, creating dishes that utilize fresh and made-in-house ingredients while keeping the price point fairly low.

I also loved the Fresheast juice, which was a great, natural energy drink made with beets, kale, apples and other ingredients. Feel like coconut? They got them. And don’t forget dessert. Their sorbet flavors are potent yet fluffy – I loved the mango!

So try it out. You won’t get that MSG hangover or icky feeling you typically get after consuming bad-for-you Chinese. And if you’re looking to get some work done, you might as well bring your laptop, too.

All food, wine and beer were hosted.

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Open daily, 11 AM – 10 PM

Happy Hour: 4 – 7 PM daily
Get 50% off wine and beer with food purchase

Free parking, energy outlets and wifi

Menu

Fresheast
8951 Santa Monica Blvd- Suite G1
West Hollywood, CA 90069
310.859.9989

Taipei, Taiwan: Savory Snacks at Su Hung Restaurant

Braised pork belly, onion and cilantro

It was one of my last nights in Taiwan when my mom and I met one of her old childhood friends at Su Hung, a restaurant surprisingly located in a shopping structure adjacent to a subway station. As we ascended the stairs, a hot pot restaurant caught my eye – but I was ever lucky that Su Hung was the one that came recommended.

Loofah greens and shrimp soup dumplings

I had decided to resist the hype of Din Tai Fung, further dissuaded by word of endless waits and an eagerness to avoid being lumped into the “eating tourist” demographic. After all, why settle for the merely better-than-Arcadian version of the restaurant chain, with possibly an even worse wait? I had a bloodline to honor.

Su Hung offers not pork soup dumplings, but rather loofah-greens-and-shrimp soup dumplings. You can eat more of these than the very popular pork version and you’d be hard-pressed to find a more specialized soup dumpling anywhere else in Taipei – much less in America. There is less soup in these, but they’re a nice departure for diners looking for something lighter, a little different and less obvious.

Braised crab egg tofu

There are plenty of other dishes at Su Hung that will quench your appetite for the savory, including the very delicious tofu dish which comes in a stone pot immersed in a broth made with braised crab eggs. Though I enjoyed pretty much everything that came out from the kitchen, this was my favorite preparation of tofu during my entire Taiwan trip (and you can guess that with all the meals shared with relatives, vegetarian and non-, there were a lot). Never the brave one to crack the middle innards of a crab shell open (I’m a leg woman), I really appreciated this delicious sauce and barely fried tofu with a texture that was silken yet could hold its own to the temperature. Boiling stone pots never fail to excite me as they approach the table – and this one far exceeded even my expectations.

Simmered noodles

If you’re looking for a unique yet delicious noodle dish, order the Simmered Noodles – a simple bowl of wheat noodles-in-chicken-broth that attains its complex taste and texture by, you guessed it, simmering for a long time. It’s dressed with tiny dried shrimp and green onion, and was perfectly comforting for that rainy day we happened to eat at Su Hung. Divy up that medium-sized bowl with your dining partners, and your seconds and thirds will show you that you wished the portion was even bigger. Guess you’ll have to order another, or another of their specialties.

And of course, the title picture may evoke memories…of the East Village. Rather than being portioned out individually at Momofuku for $9 a pop, you’ll get enough green onion, wilted cilantro (just like New York) and braised pork belly to fill 6 “bao” tacos for NT $360 (USD $12). You actually are given only 4 shells to begin with, but the waitstaff will graciously bring you more should you have more honey-braised pork belly to stuff them with. Of course, this is an unfair price point and cost-of-living comparison, but it’s just one more reason this dish is a definite must-order when you dine at Su Hung. It’s your favorite Hunan-style hamburger, ever that much closer to the source.

Sesame rice crepe with red bean filling

No meal is complete without dessert, and Su Hung has the perfect version of your typical red bean-filled sesame rice balls you would otherwise see being wheeled around, cold, on carts at San Gabriel Valley dim sum. This version comes hot and flat, like a freshly-made, sweet rice crepe, with the red bean oozing out from all sides at which it is cut.

Su Hung offers unique and well-executed dishes that will surely enrich your Taipei dining experience. It was ironic that the Taipei Times’ review of the place published online on the very day I dined there. It had mostly favorable views, consistent with my pleasant experience.  It seems as though the businessmen that line their tables are really on to something – and those looking for a solid meal, period, would serve themselves well to take their cue.

11:30 AM – 2 PM
5:30 PM – 9 PM

Su Hung Restaurant
2-1, Jinan Rd Sec 1
Taipei City, Taiwan
02.2396.3186

Savor Sundays Return to Whist at The Viceroy

Whist at The Viceroy

The weather lately has confirmed that it’s officially fall in Los Angeles, and you may be looking for a good spot for a Sunday dinner as you wind down your weekend. Thankfully, Savor Sundays at Whist are back and they’ve got four different rotating themes just to keep things interesting.

I had the opportunity to visit during their “Southern Favorites” theme and Executive Chef Tony DiSalvo as well as Chef de Cuisine Chris Crary did a great job comforting my guest and me with their buttermilk fried chicken. It was perfectly breaded on the outside and incredibly juicy and flavorful on the inside and out. The butter lettuce wedge had a perfect buttermilk dressing, as well.  The drinks were prepared nice and stiff. I’m curious to see how the other themed menus will turn out – and it’s up to you to find out.

Butter Lettuce Wedge

Nov. 14 – Southern Favorites

Butter Lettuce Wedge, Bacon/Tomato/Blue Cheese/Herb Buttermilk Dressing
Buttermilk Fried Chicken with Bacon Cheddar Biscuits/Collard Greens/Grits/Mashed Potatoes/Market Slaw
Pecan Pie, Knob Creek Caramel/Vanilla Ice Cream
Featured beverages: Mint Julep, Sweet Tea Bourbon, Root Beer flight

Oct. 24/Nov. 21 – Spanish Style

White Gazpacho, Crisped Jamon Serrano/Grapes/Almonds/Garlic
Valencia-Style Paella Shellfish/Chorizo/Chicken
Churros and Horchata
Featured beverages: white and red sangria

Buttermilk Fried Chicken

Oct. 31/Nov. 28 – French Flavors

Frisee aux Lardons, Poached Egg/Hazelnuts/Shaved Truffles
Toulouse-Style Cassoulet, Pork/Sauccison/Duck Confit/Tarbais Beans
Tarte Tatin, Cinnamon Ice Cream Canele
Featured beverages: French 75, Rhone Valley wine flight

Nov. 7/Dec. 5 – Chinese “Takeout”

Hot and Sour Wonton Soup
Spring Rolls/Dumplings/Shrimp Toast/Squab and Lettuce Cups
Moo Shoo Pork, Peking Duck, Housemade Pancakes
Shrimp Fried Rice
Featured beverages: Tsing Tao beer, lychee wine, Greenteani cocktail

So be sure to make your reservation and enjoy a delicious fall Sunday dinner inside the beautiful Whist.

All food was hosted.

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Every Sunday through December 5, 2010

5:30 – 9 PM

$35/per adult, $15/per child under 12

Whist at The Viceroy
1819 Ocean Ave.
Santa Monica, CA 90401
310.260.7514

Chinatown Summer Nights Are Here

Go Metro to Chinatown | Photo credit to brianlattaphotography on Flickr

It seems that August is quite the month to experience Los Angeles. And if you need ideas, start with the first ever Chinatown Summer Nights to get a taste of L.A.’s original epicenter of the Chinese American experience. Call it a revival of sorts – because we urbanites are tired of San Gabriel Valley getting all the attention, aren’t we?

This Saturday and every other Saturday in August, Chinatown Summer Nights will showcase cooking demonstrations, the area’s restaurants and bars, stores and art galleries, music, martial arts demonstrations, interactive dance and movement workshops, family workshops and even temporary public art installations. And of course, there will be (OK, non-Chinese) food trucks – specifically Nom Nom Truck, India Jones Chow Truck, Spring Street Smoke House, The Patty Wagon, Papas Tapas and Fry Smith.

One of the best perks of the festival is presented in the form of discounts to the local restaurants in Chinatown. Be sure to print the coupons since you’ll need them to claim your discount (or get your copy at the festival’s info booth). Participating restaurants will include Hop Woo, Golden City, Full House Seafood, New Dragon Seafood and Golden Dragon.

Family workshops will run from 5 – 8 PM and cooking demos will take place in the West Plaza at 5 and 8 PM. Sharon Hoy, a top Chinese chef and cookbook author, and Eddie Lin of Deep End Dining will be the MCs. KCRW DJs Raul Campos, Anthony Valdez, Jeremy Sole and Aaron Byrd will alternate each week to spin tunes for your dancing pleasure in the Central Plaza.

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Saturdays, August 7, 14, 21 and 28, 2010

5 PM – 12 AM

Free admission
Shuttle will be provided to/from Chinatown Gold Line Metro and Central Plaza
Free bike valet

Chinatown Summer Nights
Chinatown, Los Angeles
Between Broadway & Yale Street, from College Street to Bernard Street