Hakkasan (Las Vegas, NV)

Hakkasan
MGM Grand Hotel & Casino
3799 S Las Vegas Blvd
Las Vegas, NV 89109
Dining date: 5/12/13

hakkasan

London-based Hakkasan first appeared strong on my radar when it opened in San Francisco late last year. I had heard great reviews but just couldn’t fit it in while I was up there during Christmas. That location was the tenth in the worldwide chain, known for its high-end Chinese cuisine; in fact, two of its locations (NYC and London) have garnered Michelin stars, a relative rarity for a Chinese restaurant. Hakkasan’s eleventh location marks its biggest splash of all, with a $100 million, 5-floor, 75,000 square-foot restaurant/nightclub. Literally and figuratively, it’s Las Vegas’ biggest opening this year.

The ground floor is the main dining room; above it, the private dining area overlooks the main room. The third floor is the exclusive Ling Ling lounge, followed by two additional floors for the nightclub. The dining room, dim and full of blue hues, is divided into many sections making the room appear to be full of smaller, more private dining areas. Although this location is more known for its huge club and all-star DJ lineup than its restaurant, the cuisine here is supposed to be just as serious as the rest of the chain.

hakkasan dining room

hakkasan dining room

hakkasan dining room

Continue reading

San Tung (San Francisco, CA)

San Tung
1031 Irving St
San Francisco, CA 94122
Dining date: 12/24/12

san tung exterior

San Tung is consistently one of San Francisco’s most popular Chinese restaurants, known for its long waits almost as much as its food. Located in the Sunset district of the city, the first-come first-served restaurant always seems to have a crowd waiting outside, especially on the weekends. Its 3,000+ Yelp reviews (currently a 4-star rating) place it in the top 10 of most-reviewed S.F. restaurants and I feel like I always hear it mentioned when people talk about “must-try” dishes in the city.

What’s the must-try dish? San Tung is known for noodles and dumplings, but their real signature is their “dry fried” items. Shrimp, calamari, flounder, beef and chicken are fried by the batch here, then glazed in a sweet-savory sauce. The most popular, by far, is the chicken wings.

We came early on a Monday for lunch and got one of the last tables available.

san tung interior

Continue reading

Lunasia (Alhambra, CA)

Lunasia
500 W Main St
Alhambra, CA 91801
Dining date: 8/27/12

DSC_0761

Dim sum is something that I often enjoy as a weekend lunch. It’s a very ‘social’ meal always involving the sharing of a variety of small plates. The multitude of flavors and textures is something that’s pretty unique, and it has become a sort of comfort food even though I didn’t eat it all that often growing up.

I’ve been going to the Lunasia spot for a few years now, the first time being when it was Triumphal Palace. Ownership/management changes have resulted in some name and chef changes, but I’ve enjoyed meals here pretty consistently. Long lines on the weekends tell me I’m not the only one.

DSC_0834

Lunasia’s ordering is menu-based; you order off a menu and the plates come directly from the kitchen. It’s not quite as playful or curiosity-inducing as the cart-based places, but I find the food to come to the table much fresher. Turnover is usually pretty quick at popular joints with the carts, but you never know how long it takes a dish to get from the kitchen to the table. My favorite “delivery model” is actually a combination of both; some places are menu-based with a handful of carts coming around – the best of both worlds.

Pictures of each dish and English descriptions is key in choosing what to order!

DSC_0774

DSC_0766

Scallop Taro Cake

DSC_0789

A crispy exterior hid a hot filling of taro, scallop and what I think was ground pork. The sweet-salty combination was a good one, and it was fried just right.

Steamed Chicken Feet

DSC_0786

Hong Kong Roasted Duck

DSC_0793

I thought this was a well-executed roast duck with a crispy skin and succulent, moist meat. A sweet soy glaze provided extra depth in flavor.

Crispy Shrimp Roll

DSC_0802

This was a different one for me; small chunks of shrimp, complemented by parsley, were fried in a light batter. Loved the textures, and the shrimp and parsley were balanced well.

Shrimp Har-Gow

DSC_0807

A dim sum standby, I found these to be a good example. The noodle had a nice sticky chew and was packed with plump shrimp.

Pork Siu-Mai

DSC_0817

Another dim sum staple, these came out piping hot. I thought these were very flavorful, though a bit heavy on the fat-pork ratio.

Shanghai Dumplings

DSC_0820

The next thing to come out of the kitchen were these dumplings, which I found to be on the doughy side and devoid of the characteristic juicy filling. Not sure what happened here.

Pan-fried Potstickers

DSC_0829

I thought these simple potstickers were a disappointment too. The dough was sort of soggy and easily broke apart, not to mention being kind of oily too.

Shrimp Rice Noodle

DSC_0813

We rebounded with one of my dim sum favorites. Soft, glutinous noodles were wrapped around individual shrimp and drenched in soy – this simple dish was done well.

Egg-roll Rice Noodle

DSC_0825

This was another new item for me – shrimp paste was fried in a dough, covered in rice noodle. I liked the crispy texture that the fried dough provided, while the shrimp/rice noodle/soy combination had already proven to be a winner.

Located in the same plaza, milk tea from Tea Station was an ideal cap to the meal – always a plus when dining at Lunasia!

DSC_0841

DSC_0844

There were a few misses, but due to vast menus, it’s hard to find a spot that does everything well. I found the food to come out fresh and hot from the kitchen, and the ‘highs’ greatly outnumbered the ‘lows.’ In my opinion, Lunasia remains a strong bet for dim sum in LA.

Clams in Black Bean Sauce

Dining date: 3/18/12

clams in black bean sauce

Growing up, my family would often celebrate special occasions at Great Eastern restaurant in San Francisco’s Chinatown, ordering a host of dishes to share family-style. Over the years, there have been a number of staples including this dish of clams in black bean sauce. Like many dishes I often ate when I was younger, it’s become something very homey and comfortable.

I first made this dish at some point during my college days. It’s actually a very easy (and fast!) dish to make, primarily requiring ingredients already in the pantry of a typical Asian household. I’ve prepared a number of variations of the dish; the one below is pretty close to the one I ate growing up, with the exception of the addition of Thai basil. As far as I know, Thai basil isn’t particularly authentic in Chinese cuisine, but I really like the aroma and flavor it provides to the resulting broth. Perhaps this dish is best described as Chinese with a bit of southeast Asian flair.

Like most stir-fry dishes, I rarely measure anything but I think I’ve got a pretty close approximation below.

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons canola oil
3 scallions, sliced thinly with white and green parts separated
1/4 cup sliced ginger
1 1/2 pounds littleneck clams, cleaned and scrubbed
2 tablespoons black beans, lightly crushed
1 large clove of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine
3 tablespoons (about a dozen leaves) fresh Thai basil, slicing optional
1/2 teaspoon corn starch, mixed with enough cold water to create a slurry
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions:

I first started by soaking the clams in fresh water for about 45 minutes to remove any sand or impurities, then lightly scrubbed each to remove any debris.

When the clams were cleaned, I added the oil to the pan over high heat. Once the oil was shimmering, I added the white parts of the scallions and the ginger. I like to cut my slices of ginger on the larger side so that they’re easier to avoid when I’m eating.

aromatics

After about 30 seconds, add the clams and cook for 2 minutes. Add black beans, garlic and Shaoxing wine (and any sliced chilies, optional) to the pan and stir to combine. Some recipes call for adding stock at this point, but I don’t think it’s necessary. There should be plenty of juice released by the clams to create a hearty broth.

clams

As the clams open, remove them from the pan and put into the serving dish. I think this is an important step; some clams take a few minutes longer than others to cook. The ones that open first can overcook by the time the last one opens. So I remove them one-by-one as they’re done, finally leaving just the resulting brown liquid.

Add corn starch slurry. We don’t want a rich gravy, but this will be just enough to create a little body so that the broth isn’t too watery. Add Thai basil and allow it to infuse its flavor for about a minute. Salt and pepper to taste. I usually find there’s enough salt packed into the black beans, but obviously this depends on the brand.

Pour the broth over the clams and garnish with the sliced greens of the scallions. Serve with steamed white rice.

clams in black bean sauce3

I like to pick up the clams and suck them straight from the shell, scooping up some of the broth into each clam. Yummy. I also like to pour some of the broth into the rice just to double-up on the flavor there. While the tender-yet-chewy clams are very tasty on their own, the broth is the difference-maker in this dish. The natural juice of the clams is layered with ginger, onions, garlic, Thai basil and, of course, the black beans. Pretty delicious if I say so myself!

Hong Kong Lounge II (San Francisco, CA)

Hong Kong Lounge II
3300 Geary Blvd
San Francisco, CA 94118
Dining date: 12/24/11

HK Lounge exterior

Hong Kong Lounge (formerly Hong Kong Flower Lounge) has been a popular dim sum option in San Francisco for decades. I haven’t been there in a long time (maybe over a decade), but it’s a consistently popular place capturing much of the Richmond district dim sum market. Just earlier this month, they opened up an offshoot a few blocks from my parents house where the old Straits Cafe used to be. It was time for a return.

After a breakfast of porchetta from the Roli Roti truck and a cheeseburger from 4505 Meats at the Ferry Building Farmers Market, I awoke from a long nap hungry for something  a bit lighter. Some steamed dumplings sounded like just what the doctor ordered.

There are no carts here; everything is ordered off the menu upfront. It was just me and my dad for lunch and we ordered many of our standbys.

Shrimp Dumpling

ha gow

The skin was a bit thicker and denser than what I was anticipating, but the shrimp was plump and juicy. I prefer a thinner skin, but these were good dumplings.

Siu Mai

siu mai

In my first bite I thought to myself “these are really tender and moist.” My second thought was the realization that there was a high level of fat content, much more than I usually see. I didn’t really like this – I wanted more meat. Also, there was hardly any shrimp.

Juicy Pork Dumpling

XLBs

A little doughy but I appreciated the fact that these were quite soupy. Presentation-wise not so hot, but the porky flavor was right on.

Baked Pork Bun

pork buns

pork bun

These were interesting. I usually see the crispy stuff on the top on sweet buns filled with a cream or custard or something. Here I thought it added a nice textural element to the BBQ pork and onion filling. Not too shabby.

Shrimp Noodle

shrimp rice roll

Similar to the ha gow, the noodle was good…but a little thick and dense. The shrimp pieces were pretty large and cooked well.

Fried Pork Dumpling

salty pork dumplings

This wasn’t as flavorful as other examples I’ve had. It needed more pork filling; the glutinous skin dominated in both texture and flavor.

Fried Chicken Wings

chicken wings

These were quite good, juicy with a crispy skin. The chilies and scallions added much of the complementary flavor.

It’s been too long since I’ve been to the original so I can’t compare them, but this was pretty close to my expectations. The dim sum was good, but nothing was particularly noteworthy in the world of dim sum. All of this food was thirty dollars after tax, so I thought the price was pretty good. I suspect if my parents ate dim sum on any regular basis, this could be the spot for them out of sheer convenience. However, I’m sure they would agree with this assertion – Koi Palace is worth the drive.

 

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.

atrium

ambiance

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.

teapot

Shanghai Kurobuta Pork Dumpling

shanghai dunplings

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

shrimp dumpling

Pork Siu Mai

siu mai

Both were not bad. Nothing special but decent variations.

Peking Duck

peking duck

sliced peking duck

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

spareribs

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

mushroom dumpling

Spinach Dumpling

spinach dunpling

Chinese Broccoli

chinese broccoli

Mushroom Rice Noodle

mushroom rice noodle

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

sea bass

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.

dessert cart

Tofu Soup

tofu soup

Egg Custard Tart

egg custard tart

Sesame Ball

sesame balls

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.