Sunday, July 18, 2010

Hong Kong - Sushi Sawa

It is a small little joint on a quieter side of Causeway Bay, and we entered with some apprehension and while service was a little spotty, the manager seemed like she knew what she was talking about, so we went with her suggestions.

To start, we had the thinly sliced Skipjack, which came swimming in a refreshingly sweet Ponzu dressing.  The fish went well with the sweet dressing and was an excellent way to curb hunger pangs.  Happy beginnings..

Our sashimi selection was also pretty decent with a snapper and white fish, followed by oilier yellow tail and salmon.  Portions were fairly generous and the fish, fresh.  For the price, you don't expect the best cuts, but you do get fairly decent value.

Similarly, the uni sushi was generous in the amount of uni.  However, unlike the better Japanese restaurants, the seaweed was already chewy by the time I bit into mine, a couple of minutes after it arrived.  I deducted points there since I had to give up biting through and mash everything together on my plate before ingesting.  Sigh..

The minced Hamachi with scallion and sesame was a variation of the usual Toro version but while decent, there was no excitement and I wasn't blown away by this.  The fish was also not tasty enough and was surprisingly bland and flat in taste even despite the condiments.  

The salt-grilled Hamachi jaw was surprisingly good.  Very generous chopped into 6 large sushi pieces, the fish was fall-off-the-bone fresh and well-grilled to detract from an otherwise fishy area of the fish.  Well executed and went well with the drizzle of lemon and grated radish.  

To finish, our Inaniwa udon in a pork bone broth was comforting.  Unusually light but still tasty, the combination of noodles and cabbage and mushrooms, made for a satisfying way to end the meal and ensured we left warm on an evening hit by rain from Typhoon Conson's path of destruction.  

Overall, an "ok" enough place to eat if you happen to be in the area but definitely nothing to write home about.  Also, I think the cooked food was significantly more impressive than the raw, so a second visit should see me getting a larger variety of the cooked stuff to sample.  

G/F., 64 Leighton Road
Causeway Bay
Tel: +852-3188 9166

Shanghai - 點石斋小宴 Dian Shi Zhai Restaurant


It's an interesting name to begin with.  But as CG's wife E explains over a pretty poor phone line, Dian Shi Zhai used to be a comic tabloid in the old days of Shanghai..

.. and so the explanation for the boy and girl caricatures at the entrance, etched onto old-style glass.  So in literal terms, it's a comic dining party.  The joke ends there though.  As you enter, it's like visiting a middle-class Shanghai family home in the '30s.  There is eager anticipation as we walk up 3 flights of stairs to our dining area, and happily to a table by the window.  As you soak in the atmosphere, you can almost imagine what it would have been like 70 years ago..

Since it was my first time, and I got the privilege of ordering, I chose some Shanghainese staples to test the place out.  After all, it would be such an anti-climax if they don't even do the classics right.  

The appetizer of chilled jelly fish heads were competently done.  However, unlike most places which deliver it tossed with a vinegar-based dressing already, this version came separate.  Interesting.  Chinese eat jelly fish heads for texture - it's also more expensive than the body for its slightly softer crunch.  Jellyfish is tasteless and so it acquires the taste of whatever it's dressed with.  In more cases than not, it is served cold and with vinegar which is dressed up, in this case, with soya sauce and a touch of sesame oil.  The dressing is a little bit more salty than usual but nevertheless went well.  

The deep-fried little yellow fishes were excellent and while done to a perfect crisp, it had a slight sweet-finish marinade which made it even tastier.

  Perfect with the aged Hua Diao wine we ordered, if only our servers remembered to bring it timely without our reminders.  It is the middle of summer but on a rainy day, it was cool enough to still enjoy a smooth yellow wine which I like for its almost herbal qualities, and a very subtle alcoholic finish.  

Our favorite appetizer was the bean curd sheets, a Shanghainese specialty, which were done the thinnest I have ever seen but still retaining enough elasticity to lend towards a chewy texture and soaking up the clean flavors of simply sauteed Chinese mushrooms, and made fragrant with Chinese parsley and sesame oil.  So simple but so very well executed. 

Our first mains was the quintessential dish which marries both the fresh river shrimps and the flash-fried crab meat, painstakingly extracted from crabs in nearby local lakes.  The freshness of the dish is apparent from the extreme crunch from the prawns and the creamy flavorful crab mixture.  My only complaint is that it seemed to lack much taste - perhaps after the good appetizers - that I thought the ginger in the crab overpowered everything else and became inadvertently bland.

However, the shrimps were still a lot better than the only disappointment of the night.  Our lion's head in a similar crab meat mixture was awfully bland, and unfortunately did not deliver the expectations we had placed on this - yet another Shanghainese classic.

For fibre, I get my favorite local loosely-translated into chicken-fur vegetables.  I never got round to asking why they are such and can only imagine its the way they look when plucked.

To finish, the Shanghainese noodles tossed in simple scallion oil and made even tastier by the adornment of deep fried dried shrimps.  阳春捞面 or Yang Chun Noodles is definitely a flavorful staple which any Shanghainese should be proud to call his/her own.  Such a simple way to blend otherwise none-too-exciting ingredients together for a brilliant taste.  

Overall, I thought it a great place to enjoy a local Shanghainese meal that wasn't too oily at all, and especially great for people looking for a touch of the old Shanghai.  If you're lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of the neighbor enjoying his shower, modest only through very frosted glass.  The only thing you might not like is that China still allows smoking in restaurants, and it's not a big enough place for the smoke to not get in your eyes..

徐汇区永嘉路 320号 
(No. 320 Yong Jia Road in Xu Hui District)
Tel: +86-21-54650270/1 

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Hong Kong's Swiss Style Chicken Wings

People growing up in Hong Kong would reminisce about the days they used to go to Tai Ping Koon(太平 馆)to have Swiss-style chicken wings (瑞士 鸡翼) with rice and that would be a real treat.  The history behind Swiss-style chicken wings is not entirely clear to me.  I've heard that it actually has nothing to do with the Swiss at all.  

In the colonized days of old, a Chinese chef was asked about this dish and he said that it was "sweet-style" chicken on account of the sugar factor in the dish.  But the Englishman who heard it thought he said "Swiss-style".  Whether there's any truth to this simple lore about the origins of this dish, its popularity has transcended the decades and this dish is still offered in the Cha-chan-tangs (茶餐厅) of Hong Kong.  Of course also at the institution that is still Tai Ping Koon.

Earlier in the week, I went to one of Hong Kong's better known cha-chan-tangs Tsui Wah (翠华)and ordered it.  Inspired, I decided to create my own version at home, with a less sugary twist but similarly adored and soaked up by the Nissin(出前一丁)instant noodles, thus the dish 瑞士 鸡翼捞丁.

Simple traditional goodness re-created at home.  Happy weekend!

Hong Kong - Yu 渝酸辣粉

As the Chinese economy grows from strength to strength, the world is ever more intrigued by what the country has to offer, especially in cuisine.  The vastness of the country and the different climates within makes for a dizzying array of cuisines to suit local palates.  And Sichuanese, one of the renowned cuisines, is certainly gaining in popularity, especially as people from around the globe takes to spicy food a lot more than they used to.  A lot of what the world saw (outside of Sichuan that is) had been largely bastardized, tamed versions, since the mainstay of the cuisine, the Sichuan pepper, was not readily available.  Also the use of sugar to neutralize the heat has been frowned upon by Sichuanese.  Today, with world distances shrinking by virtue of increasingly convenient transportation, and the growing popularity of immigration, the world is seeing Sichuanese cuisine, that is closer to the real thing.  The little eatery in Causeway Bay is testament to this.

On a wet and muggy night, full from the day's intake of junk food, we were looking for something light to fill up before heading to bed.  The lights from this eatery on a backstreet of Causeway Bay, where many bars and restaurants have popped up, looked inviting enough.  So before the decided to call it a night, we quickly ordered 2 summer coolers - Green Bean laced soya milk, and a Sichuanese jelly drink.  Both refreshing and none too cloying.

Our orders were heavier on the appetizers, the first being a century egg special with Sichuanese chillies.  When it showed up, I asked if the lighter colored eggs were salted eggs, but was told they are actually Sichuanese century eggs.  Similarly tasting, they were perhaps less mercuric and had a firmer yolk, while the Canto versions we are used too were creamier although more pungent.  Both went well with the sesame-laced chili slivers.

Our other appetizer was a marinated wood ear salad dressed with garlic and vinegar, and well chilled to make for yet another refreshing dish.  Of course, the toasted sesame and Chinese parsley added the complimentary fragrance to what would seem a bland dish.

The bean jelly sheets with a typical Sichuanese numbing spice with crunchy beans and peanuts was just spicy.  Nothing else to speak of - the bean sheets were too soft to not have any texture to them and the spice was unfortunately one -dimensional.  No hint of salt, vinegar or other taste-grabbing feature.  A little disappointing unless you just want to get a lot of heat into the system.

My favorite from supper was actually the Sichuanese dumplings.  Tasty minced pork fillings with traces of shrimp in a very rich and tasty chicken superior stock.  If not for fear of MSG (which my MSG-sensitive brain indicated there was little of it used here), I would have finished the whole bowl.  Perhaps I needed it badly to neutralize the heat, but it was in any case a satisfying way to end the meal.

4 Yiu Wa Street
Causeway Bay
Hong Kong 
Tel: +852-2838 8198

Hong Kong - Burgeroom

Burger joints have sprouted up in Hong Kong faster than I can finish a burger.  The obsession with best beef patty, best bun, most innovative burger combi have taken the territory by storm.  Burgeroom's differentiation is burgers and coffee.  They use Illy beans so it's of a better quality than your average coffee stop but it's not spectacular.

So on a hot summer's day, after a workout, the first thing was to make a beeline for the fridge and pick out a cold Bundaberg Ginger Beer, one of my favorite ginger beers in the market.

Since it was our first time, we decided to order 2 burgers and split them so we could try at least 2 offerings.

The first we chose was the Portobello Cheese Burger.  Be warned: the burgers are piled high and no normal person can fit it all between jaws in one sitting.  So be prepared for a completely messy affair.  I hate eating with my hands and regretted not going for the fork and knife option which I saw another woman do.  Oh well..  at least they have a decent albeit small washroom to get presentable again.

The burger was thick and juicy, and generally enjoyable.  It tasted a little more marinated than usual and I thought a little on the salty side to take away from the pure beefy goodness of the patty.  The saltiness could also have been from the cheese - thought they could have used something better than the usual fast-food slices, since the theme seemed to be to be "gourmet burgers".  The winner was the giant portobello which was as thick and juicy, and which balanced the flavors from the patty well.  A very delish combination.

Our other choice was the Ling Fish Egg Burger, which tasted like a breakfast dish on account of the egg.  Generally tasty again on account of the egg and tartar sauce.  Fish was decent although this was not a WOW! by any means.  Still enjoyable though, especially if hungry.

For a burger joint, we were probably most disappointed with the fries.  Perhaps our choice of the Melted Cheese Fries were flawed.  The fries were ok, but the cheese sauce was not melted from real cheese but from the stuff squished out of a bottle.  Overly salty, without hints of real cheese and overall, made the fries extremely sticky, salty and worst of all, flacid too quickly.

Overall, a decent enough experience if you're in the neighborhood but nothing to write home about.  And certainly not worth the wait, as I've heard people have had to endure close to a half hour waits at peak hours since it's a really tiny place but tea time on a relaxing Sunday was pretty doable for me.  I think they had tea sets where you can get mini burgers too.

G/F, 7 Caroline Hill Road
Causeway Bay
Hong Kong 
Tel: +852-2890 9130

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Hong Kong - Tonkichi Tonkatsu Seafood

Japanese Katsu or cutlets, commonly associated with the golden brown deep-fried breaded cutlets of meats and seafood.  Definitely always a welcome food - who can quibble with deep-fried?  Of course, for the few of us who do try to watch what we eat or eat the good stuff sparingly, we try to limit our katsu intake.  But if most seem to think it's the best in the territory, any foodie worth her salt must try.

Unfortunately, there are many rules to dining at Tonkichi.  First, take a number.  Then you must ensure your whole party has arrived before you can seat.  Thirdly, you only have an hour and 15 minutes to down it all, while trying to savor the experience.  Hmm...  pretty stressful.  I can't believe the people who have voted this place "romantic".  Far from it unless HongKongers have begun to like romance the way they work and live - Hectic!

We get seated, order the staples and told we need to wait about 15 to 20 mins for the food to arrive.  Ok, that means 60 to 55 minutes to eat!  Added stress...  but we get a bowl of sesame seeds to play with.  For the obsessive compulsive, you can grind away without engaging in conversation till your food arrives.  Pretty good idea, huh?  There are various schools of thought about how fine you need to go.  I don't think there's a right answer.  Ultimately, you need to pour the brown katsu sauce over it to get a sesame infused sauce.  It's like peanut butter - do you like yours smooth or crunchy?

Exactly 15 minutes later, our tenderloin arrives.  Note: there are 2 kinds of pork on offer - we chose the tenderloin over the fillet because we were told it has more marbling, juicier, and tastier.  Check, check, and check.

And since the name of the restaurant has the word seafood in it, of course we order the assortment of shrimp, scallop, oyster and for good measure, a crab mayo croquette.  I liked them all - very fresh and lightly done so as to retain the natural juicy crunchiness of each distinct piece of fruity de mare.  The only one I didn't like was the crab croquette - way too much mayo for my liking and hardly any taste of crab.

Overall, I can see why people like this place.  The cutlets are all done to perfection ie. well-fried and not greasy at all.  Light and super crisp.  Also, the use of good pork and seafood of course adds to the greatness of the cutlets.  And for the health conscious, the free-flow of chilled shredded cabbage throughout the meal soaks up any grease, and helps you eat more than you should.

I'm not the sort to brave the queues ever so often but if I ever get a craving for katsu, this place certainly makes the list.

Room 412, Podium 4
World Trade Centre
280 Gloucester Road
Causeway Bay
Hong Kong
Tel: +852-2577 6617

I Heart Chestnuts

There is something about chestnuts I like.  The subtle sweetness, the almost creamy but not heavy texture and the myriad of combinations this fruit or nut goes with.  Or not!  On its own, it is as heavenly and calls to mind the late-in-the-year holiday spirit.  Nothing like standing near a street vendor roasting chestnuts in the middle of winter.  Hard work for him but such warmth for those passing by.

In the heat of summer, and boy, are we having one heck of a summer, confectionary is probably best.  And by chance, Sogo was carrying this great import from Japan centered around the chestnut, obviously.

And so, I take it home, all pretty and lovely.  And then excitedly take away the ribbon and wrapper...

Well, more work to do..  still pretty though.. really can't beat the Japanese when it comes to packaging.  So much for Green, carbon footprint, and all of those good things.

And then viola!  The prized inside of soft sponge, with Yuzu-infused mashed Azuki read beans, and generous strewn, neatly of course, along the centre of the cake, whole candied steamed chestnuts, so you don't have to hunt for the few.  They are there for the taking and satisfactorily too.

Definitely one of the better ones I've had.  And I've had it for breakfast and desserts.  Really works with the cuppa tea or coffee.

And no wonder, this one's been in existence for 350 years and have won a variety of prizes, gold no less.   Not a regular feature here, so enjoy while you can.  Literally, while stocks last.