Yank Sing (San Francisco, CA)

Yank Sing
Rincon Center
101 Spear St
San Francisco, CA 94105
Dining date: 11/26/11

Somewhat surprisingly, I didn’t eat a whole lot of dim sum growing up (it’s a pretty regular occurrence nowadays). I’ve tried a limited number of dim sum spots in the city and unfortunately I can’t say I’ve found one I’ve really liked (Koi Palace is not in the city). However, I’ve heard from a number of people that the best is at Yank Sing, perhaps the most expensive dim sum restaurant I’ve been to. I’m talking $1.50 per shrimp dumpling (ha gow), $2 per Shanghai juicy dumpling (xiao long bao), and $5.40 for one slice of Peking duck. Goodness. I’ll admit I was in sticker shock.

Located in the Rincon Center, this location of Yank Sing is actually the second one. The restaurant itself is decent in size, but it’s huge when considering it spills out into the atrium of the building. Must fit hundreds. And it was packed (always a good sign!). Given the prices and sheer mass of people, this place must be making a killing.

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The service is cart-based, but ask for any menu item and someone will bring it out to you ASAP. And the servers are conversational in English. Probably the easiest, best service I’ve had in a dim sum place.

Nice teapot.

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Shanghai Kurobuta Pork Dumpling

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Pretty good actually. Nice skin and juicy on the inside, these were quite tasty. Given the price, I’m glad it was kurobuta pork but honestly I didn’t notice a difference.

Shrimp Dumpling

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Pork Siu Mai

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Both were not bad. Nothing special but decent variations.

Peking Duck

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I thought the duck was quite tasty and the skin was crispy too. I liked that the bun was fluffy and warm. Worth $5.40? Not so sure about that.

Pork Spareribs

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A rather typical variation. The pork was pretty tender and the black bean sauce was a classic, yet tasty accompaniment.

Half of our party were vegetarians, so we got a selection of veggie dumplings too.

Mushroom Dumpling

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Spinach Dumpling

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Chinese Broccoli

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Mushroom Rice Noodle

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I tried the mushroom rice noodle. The noodle was pretty well done, translucent and sticky. The mushrooms added their characteristic earthiness, but I thought it needed some soy poured over.

Honey Baked Seabass

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The fish was dense and  flaky but just a little bit overcooked. The sweet, gingery sauce was a good combination, but not worth $18.

Typical dessert-ish items came around on a cart and we opted for a few.

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Tofu Soup

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Egg Custard Tart

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Sesame Ball

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These were all pretty good. The tofu was light, silky and sitting in a warm gingery soup. Both the egg custard tart and sesame balls were served pretty hot and were good variations.

Compared to what I’ve become accustomed to in Los Angeles, Yank Sing was good (not great) but rather egregiously priced. Hell, I might as well have dim sum at WP24 for those prices. Still, I’d have to say this may have been the best I’ve tried in San Francisco Nothing was bad, and a number of items were quite good. Plus, it’s one of the cleaner dim sum places I’ve been to and the service was excellent. I could see this being a very viable option for a special occasion or for a large party (they take reservations) that was too lazy to make the trip to Koi Palace. Just don’t park in the underground lot; the Rincon Center garage is the most difficult parking lot I have ever seen. The spaces are incredibly small and it’s difficult to even navigate without hitting anything. The irony still amuses me.

Koi Palace (Daly City, CA)

Koi Palace
365 Gellert Blvd
Daly City, CA 94015
Dining date: 11/28/11

When I try to think of my favorite place for dim sum, a number of places come up. I really enjoy Sea Harbour, Elite and Lunasia in SoCal, but I think of only one in the Bay Area: Koi Palace. I’m not saying it’s the best in the Bay Area (I really haven’t tried nearly enough to make that sort of statement), but it’s a really good one. Heck, Jonathan Gold even recently said it might be the best HK-style restaurant in America.

My dad was craving Koi Palace so we dropped by on a Monday morning (there’s always lines on the weekend so a Monday was actually a very good time to go).  This would be my last meal in the Bay Area over the Thanksgiving weekend; given it’s on the way to SFO, it was an ideal stop.

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I’ve been to Koi Palace a number of times, located in Daly City just south of San Francisco. Most of the dim sum places in SF are cart-based; I prefer ordering from the menu. I think the food comes out fresher and allows for better planning…but you do lose out on the spontaneity of the carts. Koi Palace has a combination of both, a menu to order from while servers come around hawking other items. Perfect!

The restaurant’s stance on shark’s fin is quite clear. At the front entrance is an advertisement offering the fins for sale – $550/lb.

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Love this teapot setup! I’m not sure why I haven’t seen this elsewhere, but it’s such a practical idea to have a candle underneath keeping the tea warm.

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Steamed Shrimp Dumpling

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These dumplings, or ha gow, are one of my standard-bearers at any dim sum restaurant. It’s so simple and easily comparable across restaurants. Kind of like a margherita pizza at a pizza place. The skin was translucent and slightly glutinous while the shrimp plump and moist. Passed the test!

Shrimp, Pork and Mushroom Dumpling

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These siu mai were good as well, served piping hot. Flavorful chunks of pork and shrimp made up the bulk of flavor.

Shrimp Rice Roll

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The noodle here was good, not great. It wasn’t quite as…sticky and glutinous as I was looking for, but the shrimp was spot on.

Deep Fried Crab Claw with Shrimp Paste

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These were fried to a nice crisp and I liked the moist shrimp filling. The small crab claw on the inside was slightly overcooked, but I find that’s true almost everywhere.

Shanghai Style Juicy Dumpling

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These were embarrassingly bad. The wrapper was mediocre – soggy and mushy, and the juice was leaking from many of them. The meaty interior wasn’t particularly memorable, either. Not sure what happened here.

Dried Scallop and Meat Sticky Rice, Lotus Leaf Wrap

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A good lotus leaf rice dish, albeit nothing special.

Glutinous Dumpling with Pork

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This is one of my dad’s favorite items. I liked the fried, sticky wrapping in tandem with the salty pork.

Tofu in Sweet Ginger Soup

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Soft, silky tofu in a warm lightly sweetened gingery soup. Not bad.

Hand Roasted Suckling Pig

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This was outstanding. I’m not sure how they prepared this, but I think they removed the skin beforehand, skimmed off much of the fat, and crisped it up separately…then put it back together. What resulted was relatively lean pieces of really flavorful and moist pork with extremely crispy pieces of pork skin. Wow. Packed with a porky flavor and a very subtle sweetness (I think from some beans on the bottom), if there was one flaw it was that it was served lukewarm.

Sugar Egg Puff

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These were served fresh and warm, and were light, airy and covered in sugar. The interior was so soft and moist while the outside was sweet and yielding. It was basically like a fresh sugar doughnut. A really nice way to end the meal. My mom had three.

I thought this was a good meal and typical of my past visits. It wasn’t perfect (I’m looking at you, xiao long bao), but everything was quite good with some very high ‘highs’ (the pork was phenomenal).  Everything was served rather hot and fresh (aside from the pork, intentionally) with rather clean flavors. Pretty tasty and satisfying. I’d have to say this is my favorite in the Bay Area from my somewhat limited experiences, and compares favorably to some of the best I’ve had in SoCal.

Mission Chinese Food (San Francisco, CA)

Mission Chinese Food
Lung Shan Chinese Restaurant
2234 Mission St
San Francisco, CA 94110
Dining date: 11/25/11

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Mission Chinese Food, the permanent pop-up from the Mission Street Food team (Commonwealth) has been one of the most talked-about restaurants in San Francisco this year. SF Chronicle food writer Michael Bauer and GQ’s Alan Richman both loved the food. It was named one of the 10 best new restaurants by Bon Appétit this year. And when Ferran Adria came to San Francisco two months ago to give a talk, he was seen with Manresa’s David Kinch coming here afterwards. It must be worth a try, right?

The restaurant calls its food “Americanized oriental” cuisine. Items like a rice porridge with Dungeness crab and oxtail, broccoli beef cheek, salt cod fried rice and Asian style barbecued brisket sound intriguing enough. Dishes are priced from $7 to $13.

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After dinner at Commonwealth last year, my mother and I dropped in to get some takeout for the rest of the family. I didn’t get a chance to try any (or see any of it), but the words “terrible” and “awful” were both used in their description of the food. I was totally shocked, but I knew I’d have to try it myself.

Not surprisingly given the hype, lines are a frequent occurrence outside the no-reservation restaurant; there must’ve been at least 20 people waiting outside this past Saturday night at 9pm. However while everyone else was still nursing their Thanksgiving food coma, my mom, dad and I dropped in for lunch the day after Thanksgiving. What do you know – there was no line!

Westlake Rice Porridge oxtail, dungeness crab, soft-poached egg, cilantro

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This was a sort of a hybrid between a Westlake beef soup and a traditional congee (rice porridge). The lineup of ingredients was an all-star cast so I had to order it. Served piping hot, small pieces of crab and oxtail were scattered throughout the bowl filled with bits of soft rice, strands of egg and a clear soup. The dish was fine, somewhat disappointing. I expected the oxtail and crab to play a more prominent role, maybe with a little bit of oxtail stock incorporated into the soup. In actuality, the soup was very mild in flavor and the oxtail/crab really didn’t bring a lot to the bowl. Don’t get me wrong, the soup was tasty but it didn’t live up to its all-star cast of characters.

Salt Cod Fried Rice escolar confit, chinese sausage, egg, scallion

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I thought this was another fun dish using salt cod instead of Chinese dried fish. Its effect was similar, adding a fishy flavor to the rice to pair with the sausage and aromatics. However, we all thought this plate was a bit heavy-handed with the salt.

Smoked Beef Brisket Soup Noodles cheung fun, mire poix, cardamom, turnip, broth

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Whereas the rice porridge was served hot amid wisps of steam, this soup was served warm. The brisket here was very tender and incredibly smoky, infusing the soup with that flavor. Rice roll noodles added some additional substance to the full-flavored dish.

Kung Pao Pastrami explosive chili, celery, potato, roasted peanut, steamed rice

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A familiar preparation of pastrami was stir fried kung pao style with something called “explosive chili.” I was fearful but actually found the heat to be present but not unbearable. The meat was tender and flavorful, and I thought there was a pretty decent balance of ingredients. My dad wanted more meat and less “filler” ingredients though.

Dessert isn’t served at Mission Chinese, but why would it need to if Bi-Rite Creamery is only a few blocks away?

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Salted caramel on the bottom, honey lavender on top. I don’t miss Carmela at all.

My dad said this meal was definitely better than his previous experience, but the meal still did not live up to high hopes. I thought the food was “just okay” (definitely not awful), with flavors not really coming together as well as I had wanted. The menu is incredibly intriguing, integrating Chinese food with Western techniques and ingredients. I so badly want something like this to succeed and elevate Chinese food on both the local and national scene. Although this meal failed to impress me, Mission Chinese Food seems to be doing just that.

WP24 (Los Angeles, CA)

The Ritz-Carlton
900 W Olympic Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90015
Dining date: 9/24/11

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There were only a few places on my dad’s list of places to try while in LA. Scarpetta’s brunch was one, Bouchon Bakery another, and WP24. I’ve been once before and was pleasantly surprised. It was more authentic than I imagined it to be and the food was pretty tasty. But, I’ve struggled with the cost a little bit. The tasting menu, at $130, is at the high end of most restaurants in LA. Plus, it was way too much food for one meal.

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This time, we opted for the a la carte menu. Three courses are $80 while a fourth will bring the total to $120. Cheaper, and apparently still a lot of food.

It’s easy to want to compare WP24 to some of the San Gabriel Valley’s finest, but I don’t think that’s a fair comparison. The experience is totally different. For starters, it’s in the Ritz Carlton with a really nice view of downtown LA. The decor, level of service, and quality of ingredients are on an entirely different level. I think the most legitimate peer group is to compare WP24 to other fine dining restaurants, whether it be Asian or not.

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Sweet Basil Pinarita Patron Silver, Pineapple, Thai Basil

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I’ve been on a thai basil kick lately, so I had to try this cocktail. The alcohol of the tequila definitely hit up front, but I think the sweetness of the pineapple and aroma of the thai basil helped to balance this out.

While we were still debating what to order from the extensive menu, we received a couple of amuse bouche. I found them both to be promising, but just lacking in something.

Shrimp Toast with Sweet Ginger Chili Sauce

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I thought the shrimp filling was very tasty, but found the exterior toast to be overly browned/crisped, having a a much crispier texture that I would’ve liked.

Curried Seafood Turnovers

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The second dish out of the kitchen were these turnovers. Again, good flavors with a subtle curry, but it was slightly dry.

We opted to each order an appetizer, with my mom going with the 3-course and my dad and I sharing the Peking Duck for a fourth course.

Crispy Suckling Pig Black Plum Purée, Sweet Bean, Chinese 10 Spice

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I really liked these the last time I had them, but didn’t find the pork to be quite as flavorful this time (it was leaner this time too). It was still pretty good though, with a perfectly crisped skin.

Steamed Diver Scallop and Shrimp Sui Mai Dumplings Ginger-Garlic Crab Sauce, Fresh Chives

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I liked the sweet, plump chunks of scallops and shrimp in these dumplings. I really enjoyed the flavors here, especially with the subtle ginger and garlic in the sauce. Very simple, but tasty.

Crisp Lettuce Cups Maine Sweet Shrimp, Rice Sticks, Pickled Ginger-Serrano Chili Vinaigrette

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The flavors were pretty clean here; I could taste the sweet shrimp, cilantro, and slight heat of the chili in that vinaigrette. The lettuce was, indeed, crisp, adding a welcome subtle texture to this dish.

Whole Sea Bass Baked in a Fragrant Salt Crust Zhenjiang Black Vinegar, Ginger, Shallots, Scallions, Mala Flavored Oil

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The fish was first presented in its salt crust, then taken back to remove from the salt and plate. I thought the fish was pretty good..it wasn’t overly moist but wasn’t dry either. However, I thought it a little difficult to find the tiny bones in the fish especially when it was so dark in the restaurant. At this price level, I expected to have the bones removed.

“Szechuan Style” Steak Au Poivre Prime Filet of Beef 10oz., Smoked Chili-Shallot Sauce, Scallions, “La You” Hot Oil

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A solid piece of steak, very tender and cooked well. The sauce added some depth of flavor with a very mild heat. Nothing too exciting, but done well.

Grilled Lamb Chops Marinated with Korean Gochu Jang Chili Pickled Ginger Sauce, Crispy Garlic, Wild Arugula Salad

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Similar to the filet, the lamb was cooked a nice medium-rare. The arugula was a nice touch (always like it with red meat), adding a fresh, bittery flavor to go along with the ginger-based sauce.

We also ordered a couple of sides to go along with the entrees.

Shanghai Noodles Fresh Chilies, Thai Basil Leaves, Slow Cooked Oxtail

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I really liked this one. A noodle dish with oxtail and thai basil? Money. The oxtail was rich and tender, while the thai basil brought a really nice aromatic essence to the dish.

XO Fried Rice Maine Lobster, Fried Shallots, Budding Chives

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A good fried rice, for sure, but I was looking for something more at $18 a bowl. I thought the small pieces of lobster were overcooked, too.

Whole Roasted Duckling “Peking Style” with Traditional Garnishes (For Two)

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My dad and I shared one additional entree. A whole duck was presented then cut, served with all the traditional accoutrements including the buns, cucumber, scallions, radish and hoisin sauce. It was seriously a feast that the table could barely contain, and the duck was done really well. Good flavor with a really nice, crispy skin.

While we were pretty full by now, the a la carte menu included dessert – five of them were available to choose from. Apparently, WP24 is in a transitional phase in their pastry department, with Cassie Ballard taking over the reigns from Sally Camacho. We tried a little bit of the old, and a little bit of the new.

Marjolasian Layers of Dark Chocolate, White Espresso Mousse, Cashew Nougatine, Coffee Ice Cream

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A classic from Camacho’s menu – beautiful layers of chocolate, espresso and a nutty noutatine. Loved the design. The crispy wafers were so delicate and crisp, and each layer displayed a unique flavor. A complete bite through each layer contained a rich chocolate-espresso flavor, as well as a nice crunch from the wafers and nougatine. The coffee ice cream was delicious.

Birds Nest Chocolate Truffle Cake, Crisp Won Tons, Condensed Milk Ice Cream, Fresh Raspberries

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One of the entrants from Ballard’s mind, I thought this was another interesting one. A rich chocolate truffle was contained inside this “nest” made of wonton wrappers. How cool! When cracked, the molten center oozed out; really nice with the creamy condensed milk ice cream, as well as the textural interplay of the fried wonton wrapper. Imaginative play on the traditional Chinese Bird’s Nest Soup.

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The bill came with cookies and an almond tuile.

I again left WP24 satisfied and very full. I think some of the plates were really well-done and justified their price tag (lettuce cups, Shanghai noodles, Peking duck, both desserts and maybe suckling pig), while some were probably best saved for a favorite restaurant in the San Gabriel Valley (XO rice, maybe lamb/beef).

Three courses ($80) is probably an appropriate amount of food for most. But yeah, it’s still rather expensive. If I had to choose an expense-account dinner in downtown LA, this would probably be it. Also, I think it’s a really solid option as a special occasion restaurant for non-Japanese Asian food.

Din Tai Fung (Arcadia, CA)

Din Tai Fung
1108 S Baldwin Ave
Arcadia, CA 91007
Dining date: 7/30/11

Din Tai Fung is the type of restaurant I hear about even when I go home to San Francisco. “Have you heard of this restaurant in Arcadia…” or “you should try this dumpling place called Din Tai Fung.” It’s no wonder why – with three locations in the US and branches all over Asia and in Australia, it’s arguably the most famous place in SoCal to get dumplings (xiao long bao in particular).

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Needless to say, a restaurant like this comes with pretty high expectations (and long lines). I’ve found almost everyone fits into one of two camps: love it, or find it overrated and overpriced. If you were to ask me where I fell a couple years ago it was probably the latter; however, today I would say it’s closer to the former.

Upon entering, you can see fresh dumplings being made. Love that.

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House Chicken Noodle Soup (Steamed)

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This might be my favorite item here. The chicken broth is perfect with its well-salted, hearty chicken flavor. The noodles, made fresh, have a delectable chew. It’s really simple, but it’s something that really resonates with me.

Shanghai Rice Cake with Chicken

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I liked the nice chew to the rice cakes, lightly coated in a sauce that I think was oyster sauce. Some onions lended a little bit of fresh crunch too. 

Juicy Pork Dumplings

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The pièce de résistance – xiao long bao. The best xiao long bao in LA is a controversial argument…mine are here. The dumplings are always filled with a rich, savory juice but it’s the skin that separates these for me. Thin, stretchy and delicate, I really liked that the dough took backseat to the meat and juice with these dumplings.

Shrimp & Pork Dumplings

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I liked these as well. Plump pieces of shrimp made up the bulk of the filling, as well as a little bit of the juice.

Vegetarian Dumplings

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I found these to be just okay. Relative to their meaty counterparts, I found these dumplings to be rather dry with a dense, woodsy flavor. Probably pretty healthy, though.

Sauteed String Beans with Garlic

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Tasty garlic string beans, cooked quickly in a wok. I liked the gentle texture still left in the beans, but I don’t think these were a uniquely better example though.

Noodles with Spicy Sauce

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Love the noodles here. They were smothered in a sweet-spicy sauce that I enjoyed.

The perfect dessert was a milk tea from the nearby Ten Ren’s Tea Time. I’m very picky about my milk teas, but this one is one of my favorites.

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Din Tai Fung definitely does not present the best value in the SGV as most of their items are at the upper end of their respective price ranges. However, I think the execution is top-notch, and they serve some of my favorite noodles and dumplings in the city. And given the oft-long lines, it’s hard to say they’re charging too much for the food.

China Poblano (Las Vegas, NV)

China Poblano
The Cosmopolitan Las Vegas
3708 Las Vegas Boulevard South
Las Vegas, NV 89109
Dining date: 3/27/11

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China Poblano is probably Jose Andres’ most unexpected concept. When I first heard about this place, I thought he was going to be creating Chinese-Mexican fusion. Dude. Weird. However, that’s not the case. The cuisines are kept separate here, just presented together. That means Chinese noodles, dim sum and other small plates served side-by-side with Mexican tacos, ceviches and guacamole. How would this work?

Andres is shooting for authenticity here – I’m sure I’m not the only Asian person really skeptical about this. He’s got help though; Andres has hired (imported) chefs from Mexico and China to help him out.

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We started with the “cold tea.”

Cold “Tea” for Two a punch-like creation of green tea, tequila, and beer

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I thought the tequila was rather strong in this. It just wasn’t noteworthy at all.

Happy Buddha Vegetable Spring Roll cucumber, carrot, zucchini, water chestnuts

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We started with these vegetarian imperial rolls. These were okay, nothing special.

Shrimp Mojo shrimp, sweet black garlic, roasted poblano peppers

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The shrimp here were cooked well, with a  nice depth of flavor from the garlic. The poblano was a tasty accompaniment as well.

Like Water for Chocolate fried quail, dragon fruit, rose petals, chestnut, dragon fruit sauce

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This was one of the strongest dishes of the evening. The skin of the quail was quite crispy, while the meat was juicy and flavorful. The dragon fruit added a refreshing sweetness, which went really well with the quail.

Swallow a Cloud Hong Kong wonton, shrimp/pork, bok choy

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Next was our $16 wonton noodle soup. I thought the filling of the wonton was soft like it was pureed to a very smooth texture – I would’ve preferred to still have a little bit of density. However, the flavors were there and the noodles were pretty good. The light chicken broth was the perfect soup.

Dan Dan Mien hand-cut wheat noodles, spicy pork sauce

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I haven’t had a dan dan noodle dish since Lukshon’s highly controversial one. I found the noodles to be fairly mushy, and the flavors of the sauce to be muddled. I didn’t get a lot of pork flavor, nor was there any spice really. Odd.

We also ordered up a few orders of tacos at $9 a pair.

Pescado Frito fried fish, Mexican salsa

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The fish of the day was mahi mahi. The fish was fried perfectly – delicately crispy with light, moist flesh. There was a little bit of heat here too, which I thought was a nice touch.

Pollo a la Parrilla grilled chicken, mole sauce

chicken taco 500x335 China Poblano (Las Vegas, NV)

Next was this chicken taco. The mole was pretty good, though the chicken wasn’t too moist…I wouldn’t quite call it dry though.

Barbacoa del Res Oaxacan-style barbecue beef, guajillo chile, pickled cactus paddle

barbacoa taco 500x335 China Poblano (Las Vegas, NV)

The barbacoa taco (shredded beef) taco was quite good, though a bit on the oily side.  I thought the onions and poblano added some welcome flavor, though.

Carnitas braised baby pig, pork rinds, spicy salsa verde cruda

carnitas taco 500x335 China Poblano (Las Vegas, NV)

This was easily my favorite taco, and one of the best I’ve had in the recent past.  Tender, moist pork was topped with crunchy chicharrones and a salsa verde. Everything here was executed well – extra flavor and crunch from the chicharrones, as well as from the salsa verde made for some delicious bites.

There were misses, but in all, I was pleasantly surprised with the food. I don’t consider myself anywhere near an authority for Chinese or Mexican food. Anyone who is looking for really authentic Asian or Mexican – look off the strip. The food here was tasty, and for the most part, had the Chinese and Mexican flavors I was looking for. It was on the expensive side, but I understand there is a premium for being on the strip, as well as for having Jose Andres’ name on it…even if this isn’t the type of food people typically associate him with.