Dim Sum Truck

Introducing...Dim Sum Truck!

One of Alex's helpers

Sunday, the Husband and I were invited to attend a sneak peek of Los Angeles’s newest food truck, Dim Sum Truck!  I had tried a couple of their items at the Food Fest and liked them, so I was looking forward to tasting more of their menu.

Founded by Alex Chu, a young entrepreneur and graduate of USC, the Dim Sum Truck seeks to bring this classic Chinese cuisine to the streets of Los Angeles.  Those familiar with the food scene in this city know in order to get the “good stuff” when it comes to dim sum, one has to trek all the way to the San Gabriel Valley.  Not an easy thing for those who live on the west side, like me.

When we got to the truck, there was already a small crowd.  Not a problem as Alex and his crew already had food ready to go.

Har gow, shu mai, shrimp n' chive dumpling

First up were dumplings – har gow, shu mai and shrimp n’ chive.  Right off the bat, I noticed that these pieces were a little bigger than what I was used to getting at the restaurants.  The taste of each was on par with what you get at the restaurants, too, though.  Not a surprise given that Mr. Chu started his food career at a dim sum restaurant….

Baked BBQ pork bun

Chicken and ginger steamed bun

The sauce served with the trio of dumplings was salty and garlicky but lacking in the heat for me.  I didn’t mind because it complimented the flavors very well.

Next up was a duo of buns – a steamed bao filled with ginger and chicken and a baked bbq pork bun.  I tried the bbq pork first.  Stuffed with familiar sweet porkiness, this bun was quite good, though personally, I prefer the steamed version better because I like the texture and flavor of the steamed bread more.  I thought the bao was going to also be filled with bbq pork since char siu bao is a classic dim sum dish, so I was surprised when I tasted chicken and ginger.  The flavors were really good; I loved the ginger. But it was a little skinny in terms of the filling as you can see.

Zongzi - sticky rice with pork, sausage and mushroom

Dim Sum Truck was also serving up zongzi, a dish consisting of sticky rice with various fillings steamed in lotus leaves.  This version had pork, chinese sausage and mushrooms.  There was a nice earthy flavor infused into each bite from the leaves.  The pork was a little dry, though.  I did love the one piece of chinese sausage, juicy and intense.

Egg custard tart

Sesame ball

For dessert, there were egg custard tarts and lotus paste-filled sesame balls.  To caramelize the top of the tart, Alex broke out the kitchen torch.  The filling was smooth and perfect but the crust was not as flaky as I would like; it was a little soggy.

I’m used to the sesame balls being filled with a red bean paste.  The lotus version was a little less sweet but it was still good.  The shell was not oil-saturated and had just the right amount of chew to it.

Based on their website, Dim Sum Truck will also be offering up dim sum-Mexican fusion dishes like a roast duck taco,  which I tried at the Food Fest (yum yum yum), and a spicy tofu mulita.

Dim Sum Truck info

All in all, this was some good eats and I give them 4 NOMs!

Congratulations to Alex Chu for starting up a great truck!  I’m looking forward to encountering Dim Sum Truck often on the streets…

Dim Sum Truck on Urbanspoon

China Max

A couple of coworkers and I went out to China Max for lunch yesterday. I had been to this place a few years back for dinner but never got around to returning, even though it was a great Hong Kong-style Chinese restaurant.

I had read from Mmm-yoso’s review that dim sum was available and that’s what I and one coworker ended up getting and sharing, along with an order of their Beef Chow Fun.  The other coworker ordered a spicy chicken off their “Recession” menu ($9 for the entrée plus rice and egg drop soup).  While that may sound a little steep for a “Recession” menu, this was not a skimpy sized lunch special.  A large plate with the chicken over crispy noodles appeared and you could see the pepper seeds in the sauce denoting that this was not spicy on an American scale.  I tried a piece and yup, it had a kick to it.  Also, the chicken was nice and moist.  I don’t know if it was worth the $9 but it sure beat Panda Express.

China Max does dim sum a little differently.  Instead of ordering off carts that pass your table, you have a picture menu (handy for people not familiar with dim sum or know what they like but don’t know the name of it) and a sheet where you check off what you want.  The waiter collects the sheet and then a few minutes later, dim sum starts appearing on your table.  A lot easier and simpler than the cart places, in my opinion.  The selection of dim sum at China Max is decent and a lot of the classics like shrimp har gow (shrimp dumpling) and char siu bao (steamed bbq pork bun) are on the menu.  The cost is based on the items which are marked Small, Medium, Large and Kitchen.  Small dishes were priced at $3.75, Medium at $4.something, Large at around $5.75 and Kitchen varied from $8-11, if memory serves me correctly.

We ordered:
– shrimp har gow
– char siu bao
– pork and shrimp shumai
– fried potstickers
– bbq pork cheung fun (bbq pork wrapped in a rice noodle topped with a sweetened soy sauce)
– pork spare ribs
– turnip cake
– egg custard tarts

This coupled with an order of beef chow fun ended up being quite a large order for 2 people and we ended up with leftovers.

Some of the dishes like the pork spare ribs were a little milder in flavor compared to the other dim sum restaurants I’d been too.  Most of the dishes were steamed so they were not heavy or oily.  The fried potstickers were quite light and had a good crispy skin and moist filling.  The pieces seemed to be a little bigger than what you get at Emerald or Jasmine.  I really enjoyed the bbq pork cheung fun; I think that was my favorite. The beef chow fun was also quite good.  Altogether, the meal ended up a little less than $40, not counting the spicy chicken dish.

The only downside is the service.  I guess it’s not really that different from other Chinese places I’ve been to but they aren’t attentive and it’s really hard to flag people down to get something as simple as a water or tea refill.

Overall, I was quite pleased with the food experience and would come back for the dim sum.  It was a lot quicker coming here for a workday lunch than it was going to a cart place.

I give China Max 3 NOMs.

China Max
4698 Convoy Street #C101
San Diego, CA 92111
(858)-650-3333

http://www.chinamaxsandiego.com/
China Max Seafood on Urbanspoon

Dumpling Inn

Been craving dumplings for a while now so coworkers and I went to Dumpling Inn for the first time yesterday for late-ish lunch (got there around 1pm).

The place is tiny; fortunately, they had 1 table left open and it was large enough to accomodate our group of 5.   Even after we were seated, there were people coming in and out and at some point, there was a short wait.  I’ve heard this place gets crowded on weekends.

We placed an order of Xiao Long Bao, pork n’ chive dumplings, chow mein. I also added a request for jellyfish. The jelly fish here is excellent ($6.95). The sauce is refreshing and cool and the jellyfish nice and crunchy. The chow mein ($9.25) was okay but I felt that it was a little bland. The serving portion was large since it was meant to be shared family style. I loved the Xiao Long Bao ($6.95/10); however, do not shove it into your mouth right away as it is filled with super hot moist pork and a little soup. The pork n’ chive dumplings ($6.95/10) were a sad thing. The dough was extremely mushy and the taste – bleh. Skip these! I’ve been told the potstickers here are excellent and I did see quite a few people ordering them. Maybe I’ll order those next time.

The service here is excellent. I guess being a small restaurant means you don’t have to have worry about a lot of customers at one time.

As for the prices, not bad! For the two dumpling orders and chow mein, the total ended up being around $8/pp for a group of 4, including tax and tip. Not exactly a filling lunch but comfortable.

3 NOMs for Dumpling Inn.

Dumpling Inn
4619 Convoy St
Ste F
(between Dagget St & Opportunity Rd)
San Diego, CA 92111
(858) 268-9638
Dumpling Inn on Urbanspoon

Eating our way thru the Bay…area that is.

Last weekend, Dan and I went up to San Fransisco to attend the wedding of one of my good friends from high school. Lovely lovely…(^_^)…interesting even what with the fire alarms going off (not during the ceremony, thankfully)! There’s something surreal about being at a Chinese style reception and hearing the mostly-Asian crowd singing “Livin’ on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi at the top of their lungs.

Since this is a review blog…food review from our weekend!!! I have to apologize that I don’t have pictures of the actual food save 1 item. We did have a camera but we just were so caught up in seeing old friends and having fun that we never really broke out the camera. =/ Instead, you’ll have to make do with the pictures I found on the intarwebs.

Chili's - Chipotle Bleu Cheese Bacon Burger

Chili’s at the LAX Airport – Chipotle Bleu Cheese Bacon Burger:

What a huge burger! The chipotle added a nice subtle kick. The bleu cheese was quite potent and sometimes overpowered the burger depending on how much was in the bite. The burger patty was moist. The bacon was thick and crispy. A fantastic burger that satiated my hungry tummy. Oh and yummy crisp fries that weren’t all air. This is a 4 1/2 NOM burger.

After check-in at the beautiful Hotel Sofitel San Francisco Bay, Dan and I paid a visit to their bar. Their specialty drinks were a bit unusual, using freshly made juices and organic herbs like basil. They had an avocado martini which I did not try. Instead, I opted to go with the dark n’ stormy – fresh ginger soda and rum. Supposedly, it’s a common drink in the Caribbean. Tasty, especially if you are fan of ginger. I also tried a mango drink that I liked even better as all I could taste was the mango. Dangerous! I just wish I could remember what went into it…bitters, I think.

For breakfast, we met up with some friends at the restaurant at the hotel, Bay 223. I had the cinnamon butter french toast with a side of applewood smoked bacon ($18). Dan opted for the steak and eggs ($22). My french toast was good but I wish it had more cinnamon on it as I could barely taste it. The bacon, on the hand, was perfect – cooked to a nice crisp. I tried a bite of Dan’s steak. I prefer my meat to be cooked medium rare/medium so his well-done steak was cooked too well for me but it was still moist and tender. We had unlimited refills on orange juice and coffee was delivered in a french press. The service was impeccable. We never had to ask for anything. Though the food was good, I found the prices to be expensive for what we got.  (3 1/2 NOMs)

After the ceremony, a group of us hung out at the bar again. We ordered some fried calamari and the Mediterranean platter (hummus, tzatziki and an olive tapenade with pita bread) to nosh on while we killed time till the reception. The calamari was disappointing as the pieces were tiny and half the basket seemed to be batter flakes. The platter, however, was not. The tzatziki was not your typical kind; instead of yogurt, they used cottage cheese as the base. It was nice as it added a good texture. The olive tapenade was excellent, if you like olives. The hummus was thick and fresh; it still had a little bit of a grainy texture from the beans and a strong garlic flavor. (3 NOMs)

The reception was at Zen Peninsula, a Chinese family restaurant in Millbrae. In case some of you aren’t familiar with Chinese weddings, it’s basically one giant food fest. You are seated at a large table with a lazy susan and the waiters bring dish after dish after dish after…well, you get the idea.

Anyways, when we got there, my first impression of the place was that it was bright and clean inside. There were the usual fish tanks, nicely stocked with lobsters, prawns and various fish. They had set up an open bar in the back across from the tanks. On the other side of the room was an appetizer station dishing out vegetable egg rolls and these little buns with bbq pork…not char siu bao (steamed) but baked/fried. The egg rolls were perfectly fried – crispy and not oily. I liked the buns more – moist filling and the bun was almost cake-pastry like.

On to the entreés:
Now, not everything looked like this (the chicken wasn’t a whole one) and there weren’t as many walnuts on the shrimp dish plate. But yes, this is what we got.

Barbeque platter with suckling pig – There was a nice arrangement of various parts of the pig, thinly sliced on the plate with a side of jellyfish. On the sides were pieces of pork belly and some other part I’m not familiar with but had before. In the middle was a section of pork with the skin still on, perfectly fried to a crisp. It was all tasty and none of the meat was dry. I enjoyed the jellyfish, something I don’t get to have often. It looks a bit unappetizing (Dan described it as looking like snot), but don’t let it deter you from trying it. The texture is similar to soft cartilage and the flavor light.

Stir-fried calamari and scallops over greens – The scallops were cooked perfectly and seemed fresh – buttery texture and no fishy flavor. I don’t recall trying the calamari since I had calamari earlier. The greens were sugar snap peas. Cooked lightly, they were still crunchy which was a nice contrast to the buttery scallops.

Honey walnut prawns – This dish comprises of prawn tails cooked in a light mayo sauce and garnished with honey covered walnuts. This is a great dish to order as it’s not too exotic for those with a less adventurous palette. I am not a big fan of mayo and sometimes restaurants will be heavy-handed. In this case, the cooks were not; there was enough sauce to coat the prawns but no more than that.

Braised shark’s fin soup with shredded chicken – I had never had shark fin soup before so this was a treat. I was a little disconcerted as it’s well known, the inhumane way some fishermen harvest shark fins. But since it was served, I went ahead and tried it. The soup was thick, like syrup.  The flavor was rich, like a meaty broth that overcame the flavor of the shredded chicken pieces. As for the shark fin itself…um…I’m not sure if it is like tofu and takes on other flavors or if it was masked.

Braised sliced abalone and shitake mushroom – I am not sure if I’ve ever had abalone before. This dish comprised of a large whole shitake mushroom and a thin slice of abalone. The abalone, like other shellfish, when cooked correctly, had a buttery texture though it had a stronger flavor than scallops. As a lover of mushrooms, I thoroughly enjoyed the shitake.

Stir-fried lobster with ginger and scallion – I’m not sure what they mean by stir-fried because this dish didn’t look like what I thought. I was expecting pieces of lobster meat with chunks of ginger and scallion. Instead, whole lobsters segmented into manageable pieces showed up, heads included. Dan thought this dish was too fishy but I thought it was fine. The lobster was a little overcooked as the piece I had bordered on rubbery.

Green tea chicken – This dish involved part of a roasted chicken, skin and bone included, cleaved into segments. Moist with a nice crispy skin, I’m not sure where the green tea came in. It’s a common dish you’ll find at restaurants like this, popular among the patrons.

Honey smoke sea bass – By this point, I was full so i don’t know if that influenced my opinion of this dish. I took one bite and deemed it too fish-flavored for my liking. Given my penchant for preferring sushi as my method of consuming fish, any slight bit of fishy flavor ruins dishes like this for me.

Stir-fried E-fu noodle – A simple dish, egg-noodles stir-fried. The noodles were good, not rubbery but not undercooked either and they had a nice flavor.

Yang Chow fried rice – I was stuffed silly by the time this dish came around. Sad as it looked really appetizing. Fluffy rice fried with shrimp, minced bbq pork, and vegetables, the few bites I managed to take were delicious. I wish I could have taken this back to the hotel for a midnight snack.

Dual wedding dessert – This involved a red bean-filled pastry, a puff pastry, and wedding cupcakes (the couple went with cupcakes instead of cake). All were delicious. The cupcake I tried was the most memorable. Rich chocolate with a coffee frosting, this was moist and delectable.

Red bean dessert soup – I opted out of trying this as if I ate anymore, I would be ill.

I give this wedding feast 4 NOMs.  As for everything else about the wedding, this Catty Critic had a ton of fun and is overjoyed for the newlyweds. Hope they have a 5 NOM life together!

The next morning we headed into the city to meet up with some other friends. We rendezvoused at Pier 39 and had lunch at Eagle Cafe. I had a bite of the crab cake appetizer which was very good. The crab tasted fresh; it was nicely fried and had a rich flavor even without sauce. I ordered their famous crab salad sandwich with garlic fries. Dan went for the fried shrimp with garlic fries. Since there was a mix up (our waitress was a bit lost or overwhelmed or something), I noshed on his fries while I waited for my lunch to arrive. A lot of times, garlic fries means fries with some garlic powder. These fries had minced garlic. The fries themselves were shoestring style so they were a little too thin; steak fries would have been a better choice of cut, especially to scoop up those yummy pieces of garlic. When my food arrived, the sandwich was quite huge. The crab salad was delicious. Like the crab cake, there was fresh crab and great flavor. It wasn’t too wet which signaled to me that this wasn’t prepared too early and left to sit out. The ratio of filling to bread was great and fresh romaine and tomatoes were included.  Eagle Cafe gets 3 1/2 NOMs.

Well, that concludes the culinary aspect of our trip!

I’ve got some other reviews to catch up. We watched “No Country for Old Men” last night and are watching “The Dark Knight” on Friday (in IMAX!!) so I’ll have to post reviews for those. And I have yet to see “Hellboy 2”; we are hoping to do so sometime this weekend.

We like Chi-a-nese, if you please….

About 3 years ago, while driving down Hollywood Blvd, I spotted a sign for a Chinese restaurant – Kung Pao Kitty. Naturally, as someone who goes crazy over anything either feline-related or involving food, this made me squee. It took over a year for me to venture back and try the place. By then, it was a well-established eatery that was seeing good business.

With its lanterns, red walls, bamboo plants and dim lighting, this corner restaurant is both casual and chic. It offers a decent menu that includes a good variety of meat, seafood and vegetarian options that most Chinese restaurant patrons would be familiar with. The drink menu is more limited in selection but does offer wine and beer, as well as a sake, and the restaurant has a small bar for those looking for something a little stronger. If you are a fan of black and tans, try Kung Pao Kitty’s take on it – the Black Cat, made with Chimay and Guinness.

For starters, you’ll find the usual items – cream cheese wontons, potstickers, eggrolls. The lettuce cups seem to be a popular order as I see many people gnoshing on these. I found the battered shrimp to be heavy on the coating, however, and the shrimp pieces small.

Most of their main dishes are generous on the vegetables but they don’t necessarily skimp on the meat. Sometimes, it can be a little bland depending on who is in the kitchen so be sure to have soy sauce, salt and pepper on hand. Their spicy dishes aren’t very spicy, though I tend to like things hotter. The String Bean Chicken and Szechwan Chicken were both good every time I’ve ordered them. The coconut curry dish was also tasty. The portions are large, meant to be shared amongst the group family style. Brown rice is readily available for those who are more health-conscious.

I have not ordered dessert there, being too full each time so I can’t comment on that.

The service has waffled between attentive and needing a flare gun to flag someone down. I’ve walked in and been seated right away as well as stood around waiting for someone to notice me and show me to a table. I have noticed that during the busy times, it does look like they could use one more waitress as I’ve only ever seen at most 2 girls working (not including the person behind the bar).

In terms of prices, it’s actually a pretty affordable place for West Hollywood. Entreés range between $7-16 and most couples can eat there for $30-40, not including alcohol, and most likely will have leftovers.

If you’re out wandering West Hollywood, Kung Pao Kitty is a decent choice to eat at if you don’t want to do fast food or spend too much money.

The Catty Critic gives Kung Pao Kitty 3 1/2 NOMs.

Kung Pao Kitty Asian Eatery
6445 Hollywood Blvd.
Hollywood, CA 90028
Phone: 323-465-0110
http://www.kungpaokitty.com/
Price: $$
Kung Pao Kitty on Urbanspoon