Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Needing that Fix.....

I guess its the time of year, or the warming weather. You can say, ‘Man what the hell? You just disappeared here for nearly a year and you don’t say why?’ ‘Is Toronto that much of food shithole?’. The explanations will come later, but I am here only to express my addiction. Yes, I have caught on to a type of drug lately. It’s been itching my insides pretty bad and acting up on me lately, the ones you roll up into a ball and shrivel in your bedroom corner. I have a confession to make

I need a serious fix of...


Oh the little bowls of perfection, from its elixir of life soup base, to its tender noodle and its sprinkled ingredients of heaven’s joy . The skies part when you eat it; men fight wars over it; babies sacrificed annually for it. Am I exaggerating? Yes! But its worth the praises! None of you can judge me unless you had the real deal.

‘Uhh...what about Ajisen Ramen? Isn’t that the real thing?’

I can only shake my head and cry. You have much to learn readers....

So how did the addiction started? Well, it goes way back to my earlier post, May 28 2009 (geez has it been that long?) when I first spent a mind blowing week in the hustle bustle Tokyo. It was my first experience of the authentic dish, not that crap they serve in Hong Kong. It wasn’t long until I made another successive trip to the mystical land of Japan in search of better ramen, from Osaka to Kyoto (which I have yet to blog about). The instant lure to the dish was a simple mix of chemistry; soup, noodle, maybe some slabs of pork...and most importantly, a hungry stomach of a poor college kid.

So here I am, writing a simple guide of the best ramen I have across the world, for the underprivileged and the ignorant. May you all rise from paganism!!!

Enter Kamukura! The ramen benchmark IMO

Located in the Shinsaibashi district of Osaka, it is by far the best ramen I have ever had in my life. It is a shop that keeps its recipe in an utmost secrecy.

You could taste a mix of sweet soy sauce and hints of lard in the soup, but you can never be quite sure of the ingredients. A distinctive taste that is hard to explain, even other bloggers have a tough time describing it. The noodles themselves were tender and you can even taste the soup somehow seep into the individual strands. A bowl of mystery, a bowl of awesome, a bowl of edible art.

Final sign of approval? The Egg.

Cooked on the outside, raw in the inside & still a cooking mystery to me. But the way the yolk oozes into your mouth when you bite it, unforgettable. In fact, the crew ended up eating at the place 3 times during our 1 week trip, and at a price at 800 Yen, it was the most affordable filling meal you can find in downtown Osaka. It's so good, it even got a celebrity sign of approval!

(yes, its that dude from prison break)

Unfortunately, that is when the addiction began. Throughout the rest of summer I was constantly hunting down locations around HK for anything remotely similar to ones in Osaka. Even the famous Domon Ramen I mentioned earlier didn’t quite live up to the Japanese standard.

Fortunately, I ran across Ramen Santouka 山頭火 in the new iSquare mall in TST, a ramen store that originated from Hokkaido Japan. It managed to ship itself to HK and expanded into Quarry Bay and TST. News spread quickly in the city of course as there was already a small crowd of loyal Japanese customers dining inside on its opening day.

I naturally ordered the Hell’s Gates (spicy tonkatsu) pork neck ramen with half boiled egg. Being a tonkatsu (pork bone) soup base, it was more predictable, and quite heavy, compare to the Osaka predecessor. The noodle was a little mechanical, you can tell they were frozen and packaged, rather than the hand-made texture in Kamukura. And at a hefty $90 HKD ($12 USD) per tiny bowl, it was mostly economic dissatisfaction, rather than the deficit in taste, that leaves a sting in the back in the wonderful ramen memories. But it is the closest to authenticity in HK...and a sufficient quick fix for any ramen addicts like me out there.

Now to reshuffle the focus to North America, finding decent ramen is like trying to turn desert sand into water. Impossible! Studying in NA is like a druggie going into ramen rehab. With a land where Japanese restaurants are mostly run by Koreans and Chinese (I kid you not), how would you ever find a decent bowl of ramen?

It wasn’t until I went to Los Angeles and god bless its vibrant community of Japanese people. It is really not that hard to spot long line when you drive past little Tokyo, in front of a little shop called Daikokuya!

It took us nearly an hour (@ freaking 10pm) to secure a seat by the ramen bar, on their rickety old bar stools. Looking around at the store gave me the nostalgia of being in Japan again, with its decoration filled with Godzilla figures, mangas and old commercial posters. It also had a strong neural stimulating smell of tonkatsu soup.

I naturally ordered the extra large, and was amazed on how well cooked the soup base was. According to their menu (a viable source I guess?), they start cooking their pork soup base in the wee hours of 6am, and would only close when their soup base is sold out (around 11am). Although it lacked the sophistication as Kamukura, the mere fact ramen at such quality could exist outside Japan is astonishing. And it is the ever only time that I wanted to say ‘God Bless America’

So hopefully, I will continue updating this blog. Hope I enlightened those who had yet taste the glory of ramen, please note these address in your map/atlas. And please send me any ramen recommendation in your local neighbour, cuz that ramen itch is starting to kill me.

P.S. Sorry NYC, Rai Rai Ken in East Village just didn’t quite live up to standards. Please buy yourself an air ticket to the West Coast for the real deal kthxbye.


Kamukura (Osaka)- http://www.kamukura.co.jp/

Ramen Santouka (Hong Kong)- http://www.openrice.com/restaurant/sr2.htm?shopid=39763

Daikokuya (Los Angeles)- http://www.yelp.com/biz/daikokuya-los-angeles#hrid:U7mBMRTsOXsggElgCLvZqQ/src:search/query:little%20tokyo

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Errr....So Random?

So some wise guy decided to open a Hyatt Regency Hotel in Shatin, University station to be exact. For people who are not familiar with the area, to put it politely....its in the middle of fuck nowhere! It takes an hour walk to the closest shopping mall and surrounded by the mountain and the sea side, its an odd place to build a hotel.

So happens to be my parent's anniversary. To try something different and new, we decide to give our local Hyatt hotel a sign of support and try out their soon-to-be famous chinese Restaurant Shatin 18. Why 'soon-to-be' famous? well...I will explain later...

The restaurant itself is going for that New Hip Asian look, with the dim lighting, dark wooden benches and comfortable sofa booth seats. It also has a large open kitchen where you see their chefs spin their magic with the oriental culinary weapon aka 'The Wok'. The glass covered open kitchen makes the kitchen chefs looked like caged animals. Anyways, the place boasts itself for their wide selection of regional Chinese food, from Cantonese, Shanghai to Beijing. They even had a chef in a noodle bar to prove it, he hand makes lanzhou liamen/noodle in front of an audience upon order.

Mainly the dishes there are forgettable....
Special Appetizer Platter of BBQ pork, Roasted pork, Marinated Beef, Duck Liver, Spicy Pickles and mushrooms. The only thing amazing here is the surprising juicy BBQ pork. Melts in your mouth at first bite.
Stir fried Scrimp Balls....meh
Bak Choi in Fish Soup.....nothing too special hereBraised Tofu with Bamboo Shoot (nearly typed Baboon there ahahaa). Really well done...but nothing too fancy

So....why I am writing this review....because i left the best dish at the last...

Okay, I cheated...let me backtrack a bit

I first read about Shatin 18 from the uber awesome Time Out bi-weekly magazine, which writes some excellent food reviews in all areas of HK. It was the magazine that gave me the tip off of a amazing new style of Peking Duck, opening up in my own back garden. The chef in the house is an ex-chef of the infamous Quanjude/全聚德, one of the oldest and the most well-known peking duck restaurant in Beijing. The chef promises that he cooks the proper Beijing way, unlike the local method they use in local famous eateries such as Peking Garden. The ducks are hot blasted in a oven until all the fat melts away, leaving only a layer of crunchy skin.

(Sorry, the food was too good, I forgot to take photos...so have to steal from Open Rice...)

As the chef slowly peels away the skin of the duck, he explains carefully in the 3 unorthodoxymethods of eating

Method One: Only the Skin
You must dipped the skin in sugar. The crunchy skin will melt in your mouth, with a mix of roasted duck and sweetness swirling in your mouth. Hmmmmmm

Method 2: Only the Meat
Eat this the traditional method, with flour wrap, seafood sauce and a few stripe of pickle and onion. The tender meat and the wrap makes the whole thing taste like an awesome chinese-taco

Method 3: Skin with Meat Attached to ItMix this with Minced Garlic instead of Seafood Sauce. The garlic sharpens your taste bud and brings out the flavour of the duck from the skin.

The chef insisted that each serving must contain EXACTLY 88 pieces, no more, no less. I guess its for Good Luck?

So how random is it? You are in the middle of fuck nowhere of Shatin, so happens to find a 5 star hotel, in a restaurant that calls itself Shatin 18, being served by one of the best Peking Duck chefs in the World? And the Duck? Best you ever had! Don't care if it cost $360HKD each.

Final Verdict: Do it for the Duck. Its worth the trip. Maybe as good or even Better than Peking Garden. No Jokes. NOW GO THERE BEFORE MORE PEOPLE FIND OUT!

Original Time Out Review: http://www.timeout.com.hk/restaurants-bars/features/26793/sha-tin-18.html
Openrice: http://www.openrice.com/restaurant/sr2.htm?shopid=30739

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Deadliest Meal Ever......

Your stomach is boiling, your head covered in sweat. Your breathing in uncontrollable, your lips are shaking.

Why is it so hot everywhere around you? Why do you feel so exhausted? Did you just ran a marathon?

No....you just ate Sichuan.

Recommended by a good friend of mine from Poly U, he said that some of the greatest food are hidden in the old neighbor of Hung Hom. He brought me and a bunch of friends from my summer internship to try out some serious 'authentic' Sichuan food you can ever find in HK. Funny thing was that it happen to be around the corner from my other review of 聯記川王涼粉, my other humiliating spicy ordeal.

The shop is unnoticeable, like an average looking cha chan teng, it blends in with the odd mixtures of shops along this aging street. During daytime, it serves only Spicy Rice Noodle so casual diners or office workers. The real good food is only served at night.

When we order the dishes, they give us a variety of spices to choose from, 'Tiny, Small, Medium, Large, Super, Extreme'. The choice of words....interesting. It didn't help the store owner, a Sichuan Woman, tease Cantonese people that none of us could handle spices. So...us being young simple-minded students, decided to step up to the challenge and order EXTREME for all of our appetizers. BIG MISTAKE
The meal started with pig lungs and stomach, a chewy appetizer to open up the dining stomach. Spicy Pig Intestines and Red Chili Oil Dumplings. You can tell by the bits of chili and the red colour of each of the dishes that this place is seriously no jokes. The feelings and emotions you get from eating Sichuan is indescribable. I first thought that I was fine after the first few bites. Then eventually the spice crept up to me. My lips began to shake and rumble out of my control and I was starting to lose my taste buds. Every bite I took, my eyes began to water in pain. WTF? why does it feel like torture when I am simply eating a meal? I instantly ordered a beer to help cool down my mouth.
Amazing, the extreme spiciness from the appetizers made our mouths more adjusted towards the less spicy main dishes, making it taste extra better. The best dish in the restaurant, their 口水雞/ Spicy Chicken (or literally Saliva Chicken). The meat is surprising tender and not dry at all. The spices actually sharpens the chicken taste, making it extra tasty. It also came at a big portion. We loved this dish so much we ordered a second one. By the time the 水煮魚/Spicy Fish arrived, no one on the table had the energy or the taste buds left to enjoy this dish. Our mouths were just numb, and the fish was full of sneaky hidden bones, so the mixture of the two leads to very scary choking scenarios. I honestly need to come here the second time to try out this dish again, I honestly couldnt taste anything when I had eating it.

The owner was amazed how much spice our table endured throughout the meal, but laughed at how many bottles of beer that we drank to neutralize the spices. Everything in the restaurant tasted authentic, something you rarely see in HK and the chef is no joke when it is adding spiciness to the dishes. By the time the meal was over, I couldnt even stand up straight, my whole body was wobbly trying to control that burning sensation in my stomach.

Final Verdict: Definite must try for Spice Lovers. But you cant take spice at all, AVOID AT ALL COST

Friday, August 7, 2009

sadly....the best ramen in town?

There are times when I get a bit of ramen craving. Just something about a simple bowl of noodles that makes me satisfy. And since ramen was the only food I could afford back in my trip to Tokyo, I guess Me and ramen bonded during that 5 day tour.

Here back in HK, ramen selection is a little....lacking. There is the Ajisen Ramen chain....which throws in odd mixes of ingredients and invents a new flavor of ramen every week. It really lacks the authenticity and the tradition of Japanese Ramen.

蔡瀾 recommended Domon, a small ramen store located inside Granville Circuit. Of course, Domon is already a large food chain with stores all around HK, but he recommend people trying its first original store, where the main chef still works. Apparently him and the chef go wayy back, and the chef spent 10 years in japan learning how to cook ramen, and decided to set up a shop in a quiet little alleyway, just like all good japanese restaurants. Of course, granville now blew up into a fashion street...so not so quiet anymore.
When you first enter the store, you already smell a very strong tonkotsu/Pork Bone Soup in the air, its bubbling from the ramen soup that is cooking in the open kitchen. On the counter was a row of shochou leftover from past customers. It is a tradition in some japanese restaurant to keep the unfinished bottles of rice wine for their customers, so that they could finish it for their next meal, I guess it is to build customer loyalty and a sense of community. Most japanese wannabe restaurants in town don't even offer such service due to the lack of shelf space, I guess seeing this shows that this place serves quite a few local japanese customers already. And by listening to the chatter around the restaurant, I could hear someone speaking japanese.
Anyways, I got myself a Butter Ramen in their famous tonkotsu soup, a 蔡瀾 recommendation. The butter slowly melts into the soup, bringing out the soup flavor even more. The soup base was a little bit milder than the ones in japan, I guess its to cater towards the chinese taste buds, but its nice and thick with a good pork taste to it, alot better than any crappy ramen joints out there. The ramen itself was alright, very chewy and was not overcooked, and it had a nice mix of ingredients of corn and bbq pork. But overall, it was the well cooked soup base that was the defining factor in the whole dish. Surprisingly, it was the amazing scrimp gyoza that stole the show. It is voted as the one of the best dumplings in HK by 飲食男女 magazine. The skin was finely crafted, thin enough so you could see the ingredients inside, but thick enough to hold the fillings inside. The filling was a mix of onions, minced pork and bits of pig fat...that slowly dissolves, giving a swirl of flavors in your mouth. Wow.....they should specialize in making dumplings...

Final Verdict: It's a little pricy, weighting in around $80 for a ramen plus the gyoza side. But IMO best ramen in town so far.....Sure, its not Japan good...but its sadly the best we got :(


Tuesday, August 4, 2009

L'Atelier de Suck!

The following restaurant takes place two hours after my last entry......

I guess I am extra critical on famous restaurants, especially critically acclaimed French restaurants that is featured in the Michelin Guide. With all the hype built up by food critics, you naturally would expect the food to feel like a divine intervention, as if the clouds in the sky will part and angels will descend from the heaven to spoon feed you. After all, these restaurants do cost a fortune to eat.

So it was time for me to try out L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon, a Michelin two star international restaurant chain ran by celebrity chef Joël Robuchon himself. Ok I lied. I really didnt try L'Atelier, its just too damn expensive, not even Super Mom Saturdays could afford it. But what I COULD afford was its little brother, Le Salon de Joël Robuchon, its cafe branch located right below L'Atelier. Initially I was looking for a place for quick tea around Central, and was choosing between the wonderful looking Cafe Landmark, or the hidden Le Salon. Since the waiters seemed overly enthusiastic in sitting us, we chose Le Salon.

The seating in the place is a little awkward, each table is placed between each pillars on the 3rd floor of the mall. But the seating area is a little to small, so my seat pokes out into the mall corridor. It really lacks the comfortable seating like other cafes
We had to order the food at a separate counter across the mall, and the waiters will then kindly serve us the food.
Got a Chocolat noisette, a salted caramel tart, Freshly squeezed apple juice, and a Blue Mountain Coffee....The chocolat noisette was good, it had the perfect sweetness, like the Magnolia cupcakes in NYC. Nice and creamy. Funny how the sign says 'This is not edible'. The salted caramel tart was even better, very finely made and not overly sweet. The cakes and tarts in Le Salon were all made very well and bite size, not bad for $35HKD.
Here's when the rant starts........
For a $55HKD ($8CAD) coffee, you get a rather average sized cup,and it is disappointing that it is only half filled, as if the restaurant was having a shortage on coffee bean. What making it even moreee disappointing was that the coffee itself was sour, a sign that the coffee bean are kept in a moist area and had become moldy. It tasted like the sour coffee you get in Cha Chan Tengs, was pretty awful....and I felt robbed that I paid $55 for it....especially from a cafe like this.

The apple juice.....just tasted like normal apple juice.....but it cost $45.

And finally, the service! It was absolutely terrible!
1. First told us there were seats....then told us we had to wait because they were full
2. Finally got us seats....but only pointed at a general direction of where the table is in the mall....no escort service........we had to guess where our table was in Landmark...
3. Food took a long 20 minutes to serve, even though none of them required any additional heating or special preparation
4. The coffee came with no cream. what kind of cafe serves coffee without cream/milk?
5. Getting a glass of water and milk took the waiters another 15 minutes

Final Verdict: Cake set? Wonderful! Everything else? Yuck! Sorry, no angels here...no divine intervention or heavenly miracles. You better luck looking for them Cafe Landmark next door, you get better service....and better coffee.

At most....just get their tarts and cake sets takeout...and AVOID their beverages at all cost.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Super Mom Saturdays: the SoHo Expedition

I noticed I am a little behind on the Super Mom Saturdays updates. Sor Sor. Been busy for the past few weekends, so there were a few 'canceled' SMS. Now its back to full swing....

First off, Dorothy, my old high school friend & idol food columist for HK magazine, tipped me off on a new restaurant that opened up in town. The place is an experimental restaurant opened up by the famous furniture shop 'Homeless', an trendy stores that sells a variety of designer furniture. It's not your average IKEA, the place is always stock with the latest gadgets and gizmos for the house that makes people go 'Ohhhh!' or 'Ahhhhh!'. Always a prime location to show around for tourists who wants to see the designer shops around the SoHo area.

Anyways, for a creative shop like this, it would be interesting to see what innovative ideas they could come up for a restaurant. Modestly named 'Basement', it is situated right under the original 'Homeless' store on Gough street, it sits hidden in a very run-down and dirty looking alleyway. Dorothy claims that it has a 'medieval cellar' like dining experience, and has uber SoHo cheap Italian lunch sets starting at $88HKD. The decor inside is honestly as crazy as it sounds, with half of the shop decorated in a wine cellar look...(photos from open rice)
And the other half of the place decorated like an art studio....So the meal started off with bread, salad and soup. Nothing too special here. Bread is nicely homemade and baked. The disappointing thing is that the soup kinda tasted like Campbell Canned veggie soup... I was more intrigued by the utensils and kitchen wares they use, from the odd looking shaped butter spreader to the weiner dog shaped salt and pepper holders (not in photo)I ordered a Grilled Sea bass with pesto sauced Rissottto....
This dish turned out to be AMAZZINNGGG. The risotto dissolves in the mouth in every bite, as it absorbed both the olive oil and the fish oil from the sea bass, giving a fresh Mediterranean taste. The good mix of olive oil and herbs makes the risotto not too dry in texture and also not too oily.

My mom had a cream sauced and mushroom parapadelle, a sort of like a big fatttt fettuccine. It was a little experimental as both of us have no clue what parapadelle is, and it turned out to be big wonton wraps looking noodles ahahaha. Sorry forgot to take photos. But it was equally as awesome as the risotto.

The only disappointing thing about the restaurant was that the proportionals were small. Extremely discouraging given by the looonng hot trek up the hilly district of SoHo. But for the fine quality, service and decor. The place is worth visiting again.......if I want another Supermodel diet....

Another funny thing was that not a SINGLE chair in the restaurant were the same! All imported from their parent designer store upstairs, we were given a choice to sit around odd assortment of stools, benches and chairs, from chess pieced shaped chairs to a bird nest looking ones. A few customers were actually leaving their tables to try out different chairs in the restaurant throughout the meal. Rather amusing and a smart marketing campaign IMO.

So for dessert.....
I guess I was a little too hungry to take a photo aahahhaa. We trekked up to near the top of the SoHo escalators...all the way to the mosque to find this little corner cake store...It's a tiny bakery that has a window stool seat of 3, and is always swamped with a nice buttery aroma steaming from the kitchen. I have been here previously with Kelvin and Moeha to try out their cake selections, most of them were rather average....EXCEPT FOR THIS!Their mouth waterinngggg White Chocolate Cheesecake! Originally discovered by Moeha, its starting to become the cake shop's specialty. In fact, a pair of couples were picking up their order of White Chocolate Birthday Cake when we entered the shop.

The cheesecake itself has a very creamy texture and not hard and dry like other crappy cheesecake you regularly get in cafes. The cake itself is mixed with coco butter giving it a hint of white chocolate in every bite. And the cake selection itself.....sad that only one thing in the whole bakery is good...but the White Chocolate Cheesecake is delicious enough to make me coming back :D

Final Verdict: I guess you get what you pay for, the cheap lunch set will come in small proportions. But the fine taste makes Basement worth the trip up to SoHo if you are looking for some European Food. Vanilla is not even worth asking, you should go NOW for the white choc cheesecake!

Basement: http://www.openrice.com/restaurant/sr2.htm?shopid=31877
Vanilla: http://www.openrice.com/restaurant/sr2.htm?shopid=15046

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Escaping the HK Hustle Bustle....

A friend of mine once said to me....
'Omg Leo, Hong Kong is such a Hustle Bustle place...'

..naturally my reply was....
'WTF does Hustle Bustle mean?'

Of course growing up in this fast paced city, I never really knew how intense the city could feel. But even Hong Kong people could feel how stressful the city could be on the body, especially if they spend the day in the densest populated district in the world...Mong Kok.

Sometimes you wish for a peaceful place for you to sit down, escape the rushing crowd, and avoid the steamy sauna summer heat. With a help of HK magazine, I managed to find a small cafe tucked away in a run down apartment building in the heart of Mong Kok.

Full Cup Cafe, which naturally rhymes with its chinese name 呼吸咖啡茶館, meaning 'Breathing Cafe', I guess its a smart play on words as the cafe give locals a chance to catch a breath of fresh air, away from the smog-filled busy city streets. Of course the place is a little hard to find, and it tries really hard to hide itself, relying only by word of mouthadvertisments. The entrance is hidden a dirty wet side alley between the old apartment buildings of Mong Kok, soaked with air con water dipping form the apartment next door.
The two-story cafe has a nice vintage design, walls are littered with old movie posters, shelves of old toys, a projector showing clips of European commercials and a mix of odd looking chandeliers dangling from the ceiling. And it was surprising quite, an odd tranquility sensation you will never get in MK. According to HK magazine, the Art Director for the film 'Lust and Caution', Lai Pan, calims that Full Cup is the only cafe that can give him inspiration and a creative enviornment for him to work.

Anyways, enough about the place, how is the food?

The cafe claims to serve everything homemade, from the cheesecake to their coffee beans, so they charge a slightly higher prices than other coffee shops. They charge exceptionally higher prices for their 'specialty' coffees...This is my awesome looking Japanese White Mocha.....which turned out to be a float as well. Topped with whipped cream and a little stick of frozen coffee....it was Fatty McFatty in a cup. A little to sweet for my liking...but very nice coffee.Arvin's Chocolate Banana Coffee, I personally don't like it too much because I am not a banana person, it made the coffee taste slightly bitter. Arvin loved it though.Moeha and Aldric's Mint Latte. You can actually see the green mint syrup on the bottom of the cup. They loved it, it had a good mix of mint and coffee, not a drink you can usually get at a normal coffee shop.
Oh...and don't get their cheesecake. It was ridiculously small and pricey. We even used an iphone for size comparison. Even though it tasted wonderful.......its not worth the $40HKD.

Final Verdict: A nice escape from the city. Good coffee, relaxing environment, and its a nice change from Starbucks. Anyone around the neighborhood should definitely give it a try.