Toronto – 100th Birthday Party

Bday Party 1 Pig Roast Whole

I went to Toronto last month. Why? Well, that’s a great question with a long answer that starts with my dad. When my dad was a kid in Hong Kong, there were these families with kids the same age who he’d play with. After many decades, my dad reconnected with one friend, who immigrated to Toronto along with the rest of those families my dad knew as a child. This man and his siblings were throwing their dad a 100th birthday party, and, as my dad explained, he was practically family, so just consider him “Uncle”. And you know how Chinese parties are – BIG. You invite all of your family and close friends (and their families).

So I drove up to Toronto with Albany John and my little sister, for this “Uncle’s” birthday party. Hey, Toronto has one of the biggest Chinatowns, food’s gotta be good right? And I was also just a wee bit excited to meet these people my dad had known as a child. Everyone was so nice, and we got to sit with one of the “kids” in our generation at the table. And then I met her sister, and my dad goes “Wow, you two look alike!” and we both did a double take since we actually did look pretty similar in the face (I’m a little bigger than her since I’m only half Chinese). And her Chinese name is one letter off of mine. You know, I’m usually in the minority any where I go, and I guess it’s just something I’m used to. My siblings and I look a lot alike, but we don’t really even resemble our cousins on either parent’s side very much. So it was a very different feeling for me to see someone who looked like me. A new kind of fuzzy, if you will.

Okay, they do not mess around with 100th birthday parties in Toronto. The first course was crackling suckling pig. Each platter marched out on parade by a server, with sparkler and glowing LED maraschino cherry eyes.

Bday Party 1-2 Pig Roast SkinBday Party 1-2 Pig Roast Skin 2

The skin was so good. The exterior was crackly and delicate, yet substantial. The fat underneath melted away as you bit in. I haven’t had a suckling pig this good in years, if ever.

Bday Party 2 Shrimp 2 ways pan broccoliBday Party 2 Shrimp 2 ways fried

Next up was shrimp two ways – fried in a sweet-and-sour style, and pan-fried with some broccoli and garlic. Plump, briny shrimp. The sweet-and-sour preparation wasn’t my favorite, but the vermicelli basket was novel.

Bday Party 3 Fish cakes stuffed with scallop, asparagus, and roe 1Bday Party 3 Fish cakes stuffed with scallop, asparagus, and roe 2

This dish was a first for me, and one I quite took a liking to. It looks like a fish patty, but stuffed inside is a tender scallop. The briny roe made it pop with salinity, and man that asparagus was a great supporting character.

Bday Party 4 Birds Nest Soup

Bird’s Nest Soup – Yay! Not shark fin soup. Very progressive. Usually for a party like this shark’s fin soup would be on the menu.

Bday Party 5 Sea Cucumber

The womp womp dish of the night that wasn’t so much a dud, just a very… uh… traditional food that no one really seemed as interested in. If I’m trying to conserve stomach space, I’m going to give a little less to sea cucumber. Sorry, sea cucumber, but that’s just how it works. This was actually one of the better preparations – the sea cucumber was stuffed with fish paste, so it added a bit of flavor and a slightly firmer texture. I don’t think anyone at our table finished this one.

Bday Party 6 Crispy Garlic ChickenBday Party 6 Crispy Garlic Chicken 2

Crispy garlic chicken was a big hit at the table – succulent chicken with crisp skin – what’s not to like?

Bday Party 7 whole fishBday Party 7 whole fish piece

Whole steamed fish! One of my favorite dishes ever. This was great – the fish was cooked perfectly, and that salty sauce compliments the sweet flavor of the fish so well.

Bday Party 8 fried lobster

Ginger fried lobster – this is where most of the table started tapping out from all of the different courses. And where I ate 75% of the lobster our table was served. Oh my gosh, it was so good. Chopped into easy-to-eat chunks, covered in that delicious ginger-scallion sauce.

Bday Party 9 soup

And then I started tapping out once the wonton noodle soup came out. Fresh noodles, gai lan, and shrimp wontons. I had a wonton because, hello, seafood.

Bday Party 10 11 Fried Rice and Cake

Oh yeah, then fried rice, and then some of the birthday cake. Stuffed. Absolutely stuffed.

At some point in the night, my dad was talking with one of the Aunties, and it turns out that we were all related, and we were all cousins of some sort. Even more of a fuzzy! The connection requires a flow chart to explain, but the gist is that there’s a connection from 3 sisters from the same village. They’d previously thought that when the sisterhood was talked about, they used “sisters” meaning they were in Hong Kong from the same village on Mainland China. But nope, turns out they were sisters and most of us were related by blood at the party, and the birthday boy is actually my Uncle!

Afghan Kebab Express

 

Afghan Kebab Express is tucked away in the Chinese-character-ed shopping plaza at 305 Central Ave. One of my friends really likes it, and arranged a casual group dinner.

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Their menu is on the smaller side, which is good. There are some random funny dishes. Not the lamb shank in the background (which is a steal at $12.99, and so deliciously lamby and tender), but the chicken qorma in the center. It’s just on the menu as a side dish for $3.99, so obviously curiosity won out and we had to order it. It was interesting. More tomato based than creamy, and the veggies seemed like they came out of a frozen mixed Birdseye veggie bag, though at least they weren’t mushy. The chicken seems to be leftover kebab chicken since it had a nice char to it. Definitely an interesting riff on quorma/korma and a good way to repurpose leftovers on the cheap.
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Bolani – $2.99 per order. Okay, but not something I’d *have* to get again. Veggie filled fried thing.
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Lamb gyro (thanks for the love in the background, darling!) $5.99.
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Blurry gyro over rice ($6.99) platter.
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Beef kabab ($8.99) which you should really avoid ordering as it’s filet mignon, which is done no favors by cooking over a skewer and drying out by the time the exterior gets a char. They were pretty adamant that “that’s how it’s supposed to be”, but sawdust isn’t a flavor profile that our table was crazy about. After a bit of prodding they took it off the receipt and fired up a second order of …
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Koobideh kabab platter ($8.99). Hello delicious! Now this really shines as a kebab/kabab. Fatty ground lamb and beef charred to perfection over an incredibly large portion of rice. You know I’m not a huge rice fan, but this was delicious. I almost ate all of the rice, which is saying something.

All of the platters come with a side salad (some lettuce, raw carrots, cucumber, tomato).

There are also hot sauces in jars on the table to spice up your dishes at your discretion. Weeknight dinner was pretty dead, and not too many take out orders. Hopefully their business will pick up, but I wonder if the location is a problem. Service was ambivalent and efficient. Go for the fattier cuts and you’ll be very happy you came.

Taiwan Noodle – Updated Menu

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The Fuj mentioned some new dishes on Taiwan Noodle‘s menu over the winter, and after the third or so mention, I asked him and Elise to meet Albany John and me there for a meal recently, and they kindly obliged.

First up: Spicy Shredded pork stomach ($3.95) on the left, 5-Spice Beef Shank on the right ($5.95). Hefty portion of beef in that dish. Served cold like deli meat, still very meaty. The pork stomach is served over a bed of peanuts. It’s can taste a touch gamey, but if you order the fried pig intestines it tastes mild by comparison.
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The onslaught of shareable plates. Wood ear in the fore front, adding in the fried pig intestine (the red stuff top left) and scallion pancakes. Woah, the pig intestine was some stuff yo’ A-ma or Yeh-Yeh would be eating. That stuff was intense. Albany John is an old man at heart and he loved them (thank god, because the rest of us were not into them).
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Squid rings! These had a nice breading and chew on the squid. I could eat a plate of these on my own. They had a side of seasoned salt, which was already in the batter. They said it wasn’t really necessary, and it wasn’t, but I guess they’ve had enough people ask that they now just bring some out.
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Wonton soup on the left, and a dish from a new part of the menu – baked rice. This baked rice was seafood. It was a gravy type dish over rice. Kind of like baked fried rice, but with gravy. I’m not a huge rice fan, but I was really into this dish.
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Pretty sure I ate close to half of this on my own.

Oh wait, did we also get Xiao Long Bao? I think we did, but I must have been too busy gobbling them down! Haha.

Manhattan & Queens

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Albany John’s Aunt and cousin were visiting NYC from California one weekend recently. Albany John and I took Megabus down, and it was hands down my worst experience with them to date. I will probably not use them again in the future because of how poor the service was. Their bus was 90+ minutes late with a heat index of 100+F  with only one update as I was driving there saying that the bus would be delayed, but not why, and just to stay in the area nearby the bus stop. The driver had extremely limited and poor communication skills, and there was a loose, capped syringe with needle on the bus entry way. When someone mentioned this to the driver, his only response was a frazzled shrug and “Heh, I don’t do drugs. I don’t do drugs!” The ride back was thankfully without incident, but after I emailed customer service, I only received a generic reply 10 days later that answered absolutely none of my questions or concerns. The main reasons I take Megabus is because of their timeliness, safety, and my previously positive experiences with them, but this was so awful… I’ll just drive myself next time I even think about going to NYC. Any way, once bitten twice shy, you know? Thanks for letting me vent.

So after all of that fun (the bus was also jam-packed, roasting), I made my way over to Copia to meet a friend where some of her friends were guest bartending with cheap (for NYC) drink specials.

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And then we continued the party at some pub place after that.

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Tasty fried calamari

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After that we huffed it to Rego Park to crash with Maka & CVS. Lunch the next day was from this place called Asian Bowl. They do some Thai & Chinese dishes. Sure, the name’s a little hokey, but they made some dishes that weren’t very heavy, and they’re all Kosher (no piggie :'( ), and only use olive oil.

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Albany John got Pad Thai and they had some really meaty shrimp in it. The chicken were really thin shreds, though. I thought it was a little heavy with fish sauce, but Albany John really liked it.

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I wasn’t super hungry, so I got some wonton soup, which they use chicken for. Very light, but good simple flavor.

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You know Albany John’s family is in town when we do something other than eating, hee hee. We visited the tenement museum in Manhattan that afternoon.

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Here are some houses that used to be tenements. But aren’t tenements any longer. I thought the tour was a little long, and they seem to really stretch out all of their information through multiple tours, which is unfortunate, because I’d like to be able to see everything in one go, not have to schedule 4 tours to see an entire building.

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Any way, enough with the educational stuff. I managed to convince everyone to walk on up to Big Gay Ice Cream on the East Side.

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The shop is tiny. Like, really tiny. Like, very easily under 400 sq ft tiny.

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So tiny. So very little waiting room. But they are fairly quick.

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I got the Monday Sundae which was a nutella lined waffle cone, soft serve twist, with dulce de leche, sea salt, and whipped cream. I’d read a bunch about them, and perhaps I’d built them up just a bit in my head, because while I enjoyed it, I didn’t think it was all that amazing or soul shaking. The dulce de leche was tasty with the sea salt, but the actual ice cream I didn’t really enjoy. It was okay, but nothing special. I’d say you can skip the Big Gay Ice Cream if you’re coming from Upstate New  York. The toppings are what set this shop apart, if only the ice cream matched it.

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Albany John got a $7 horchata milkshake, and it only dawned on me when we checked out that I’d just spent over $14 on ice cream for two people. Wow, a $7 milkshake makes that $5 milkshake from Pulp Fiction look like a deal.

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It started pouring, so we found the closest restaurant: Caracas for arepas. It was on the same block and reviews looked promising. We were a group of 7, and the guy who sat us told me that they normally don’t seat 7, but since they had the space he’d do it this one time, but they usually don’t. I kind of get the policy, but we 7 were in and out faster than a few other tables of two next to us. Eh, whatever.

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I was starting to drag, when I noticed that they had Blue Bottle coffee on the menu! Yay, my favorite! Unfortunately, this was a really bitter and sour cup. Oh, poor Blue Bottle coffee. All of the other adults went for some kind of boozy concoction, which I heard were quite enjoyable.

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Apps. Soup and fried yucca patties, i think.

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Plantains like woah.

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Arepas galore! These were all under $10 and quite enjoyable. We pretty much ordered half of the menu.

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The next day we wound up in a mall and my stomach reached “Eat something or be a grumpasaurus” level. So Boc Boc Chicken looked like my best option.

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Fair menu prices, and they touted organic chicken. Cool.

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I got the Korean flavored chicken strips/pops. Which were just breaded fried chicken. Sigh. I was hoping for spicy. Or at least some flavor. But otherwise they were fine, just bland. At least they weren’t dry.

Fried calamari at the mall? From a take out counter? And it was good!

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Oh, and if you need a discreet roomie in Rego Park, here’s your guy. These were all over the place outside.

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Boogied out to Flushing on my last day for nibbles with my uncle. We went to Jin Cheng, the place YehYeh used to go to a lot, especially with him. Beef and bitter melon as our nod to Yeh-Yeh.

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Special fried rice, the kind with scallops in it. Not bad for a rice dish.

Jade Asian Restaurant for CNY 2011

I’m a firm believer that all whirlwind trips need a jolt of caffeine. When you score free bus tickets on MegaBus with their WIN200K seats code for a 2:30 departure in Albany and a 7 am departure in NYC the next day, yeah. I think caffeine just about does it.

We stopped off at a McDonald’s just past Woodbury Commons and I picked up some coffee. Say what you want about the golden arches, but when your only other option is Lavazza, Mickey D’s is top shelf by comparison.

Our bus driver was a hilarious Ralph-alike from the Honeymooners. It made for an enjoyable trip.

We made it over the river and through the woods to Flushing. Otherwise known as uptown on the 1, and all the way to the end on the 7 line on the subway.

We made it to Jade Asian Restaurant by about 7 pm. Not too shabby for a weekend. We had reservations for 7:30 and they seated us no problem. It got fairly full. Not 100% full, but almost. Jade Asian Restaurant is located just around the corner from the subway stop at 13628 39th Ave, Flushing, NY 11354.

I think Yeh-Yeh wanted to go back to his spot (Mellie’s), but my dad wanted to try some place new. I’m glad he did, because I did too. The inside of Jade Asian Restaurant was really nice – definitely a banquet hall. And we weren’t sat next to the bathrooms in a corner like we were at Mellie’s last year.

Red tablecloths, and cute chop sticks!

They had a limited menu they strongly recommended ordering off of. Which I thought was kind of different for a Chinese restaurant (because you can just be like “Okay, make me XYZ this style” and they will even if it’s not on the menu), and evidently so did the rest of my family because I think we just ordered a few dishes that weren’t on the limited set menus. I’m still a loser who can’t read or understand any Chinese, so I have no idea if we got some dishes from the set menu, or if we just ordered stuff that wasn’t at all on the menus.

My sister is back on the raw food diet again, and had like, 2-3 of these fruit plates. Believe it or not, being on a raw fruit/veggie diet is not very easy to accomodate at a Chinese restaurant. I know, you’re shocked, right?
My dad asked a bunch of times for a fruit platter, but they were really busy and kept saying they wouldn’t be able to do it, but then would manage to bring an occasional plate out. Weird, because we were willing to pay for a large fruit platter so my sister could eat with us. It was like when your Mom is like “No, you can’t go to camp. We don’t have enough money.”, and then wakes you up two weeks later going “Get up, you have to leave for camp. Now.”. Definitely pleasant surprises.

They ended up not charging us for any of the fruit plates, so that was really nice of ’em. It was just an interesting experience.

Appetizers! Cold jellyfish and Chinese ham. I usually don’t fall in love Chinese ham because it tastes like gelatinized rubber, but this was fucking awesome. Super hammy and smoky. Not fatty or gel-y. We ordered a 2nd one of these. That good.
The jelly fish was also good, but the ham was the star here.

WHOLE CRISPY FLOUNDER BEING BONED OMG, YEEESSSS!!!

This is not a dish for dieters, but one just about all of us at the table loved. Yeh-Yeh grabbed the head and relished it. All of those crunchy bone bits. My Dad’s awesome lady also enjoyed the heck out of it. So fishy. So fried. So crunchy. So gooood! How could I not like a dish that is a)FRIED, b)Seafood, and c)fried so that you can eat more parts of the seafood than if it were cooked any other way?
Seriously, the only part you can’t eat is the spine. The bones on top are like crunchy fish chip rinds.

In the foreground is gingery beef with Chinese broccoli. Lots of gingery flavor – really bright and light flavors going on.

In the background is a dish I need to figure out how to make at home – dried scallop covered snow pea tips. Dried scallops cooked until they’re mush with some other saucy kind of liquids. Plopped on top of lightly cooked pea tips. Yummy.

And in the foreground is crispy chicken. Very moist. Nice and crispy. Yeh-Yeh giggled and told Albany John and me “Mmmm. So good. So many chicken getting killed today. For New Year. Heeeh heeh heeh. Don’t tell your sister. Heeeh heeh heeh.”

And of course my sister looked over and was like “What?” and we were all “Oh, nothing. Yeh-Yeh really likes dinner.” And Yeh-Yeh was all smiley and “Yeeaaahhh. Really good. Heeh heeh heeh.” And then I think he told her about all the chickens getting freshly killed for CNY.

DUDE! I’ve never had this. It was veal short ribs. Like galbi short ribs, but made with VEAL. And cooked medium rare to medium.

SO FREAKING GOOD AND TENDER. They were lightly seasoned, but it wasn’t a soy-fest. They really let the tender flavor of the veal shine through. CVS and Maka were able to join us, and Maka loves a good serving of veal.

Pork chops. The fried and saucy kind. Kind of like what we had at Ala Shanghai for Chinese New Year dinner with the Upstate crew, but… not as good. The meat was a little chewy for the large pieces, and the batter quickly became soggy underneath the sauce. Didn’t stay crisp like Ala’s.

In a way, though, this dish made me happy. Albany John and I looked at each other while eating it, and I was like “It’s good… but it’s not like Ala Shanghai’s pork chops.” and Albany John agreed. I was happy because it means that Albany’s Chinese food scene is not only getting diverse, but isn’t playing second fiddle to NYC Chinese cuisine. Not every dish at every restaurant in NYC or Albany is going to be perfect, but it seems like the rates of dish success are on par.

Resto-made noodles and fried rice. The noodles were good to accompany other dishes and absorb their flavors/sauces. The noodles were nice and tender, and there were plenty of them. At first I thought they were kind of bland, but they were really good eaten with other foods.

I thought the fried rice was okay. A little dry for me, and there were cranberries in it. Plus some shrimp and scallop bits. It was okay, but I’m not a big fan of rice any way, so it kind of takes a lot to make me flip over rice dishes.

Then it was time for dessert! Red bean tapioca dessert with a mochi dumpling.
Dinner was about $200 for 8 people. My cousin was also supposed to come, but sadly she wasn’t feeling well and couldn’t make it. Next year! haha
Yeh-Yeh and my Dad were nice enough to give Albany John and me some laisee (lucky money envelopes). Technically we aren’t supposed to get it because we’re married. But we’re still younger, so I guess that’s why. I didn’t run in to any other little kids, so I just gave my sister one of mine.

We ended up spending the night at my Yeh-Yeh’s place. My dad brought an air mattress that he let the Mr and me use, my sister slept on a fold-out couch, and my dad took a little mattress. We were all having a sleep over in the living room. It was fun. We used Albany John’s iThing to skype with my bro. Yeh-Yeh loves seeing his great grandson.


The next morning we woke up early to leave from Flushing to the lower west side of Manhattan. I am normally a neurotic planner, but I let my sister do a little bit of the time management and… well… I might still be a little neurotic about planning. We left later than I wanted to and took the 6 am train out of Flushing. If you know the city, you know that there is no way to make it to the lower west side from Flushing on a Sunday schedule in 45 minutes. So we used my trick from the last time I almost missed a bus back to Albany – get out somewhere in Manhattan and beg taxis to take you a short distance because you need to be somewhere NOW. Definitely works. But there aren’t that many taxis on the road at 6:30 AM, and everyone that drives one wants to take someone to the airport, not 12 blocks south west. I managed to pull puppy dog eyes and begging hands on an off duty cabbie who was nice enough to give us a ride.
We made it back to Albany safe and sound, and many an espresso was had once I got in the house. Gung hey fat choy!


Chinese New Year 2011 at Ala Shanghai

Last night was Chinese New Year. And I ushered in the year of the Rabbit at Ala Shanghai with AoA Mary and her guy, Daniel B., CelinaBean, Sandor, a new friend, and Albany John.

We had reservations for 8 at 7:30, and by 8 pm, all of us were assembled. The parking lot was paaaaacked! It was a very popular place. Glad I made reservations in advance. Hey, you don’t chance dinner on Chinese New Year.


They even busted out red tablecloths! I had the lucky problem of more people than the reservation wanting to come. I think 8 people was just the right number to come, though, space-wise. It was also an auspicious number, too. And thankfully the people who were unable to make it were also gracious and understanding,too. It’s probably the first time in my life I’ve had more people want to come and I’m very happy for it – it’s a good kind of dilemma to have.

We got the set menu for 8 and some pork xiao long bao for those who’d never tried it at the urging of Daniel B.

We had some pickled cabbage to nosh on while waiting for the rest of our group to show up (center), and then above are two of the four cold appetizers. In the front is a spicy dish with beef and peanuts. The back is aster salad – so yummy and textural. Pork Xiao Long Bao.

Pork Xiao Long Bao – two orders.

Dried beef and mock duck, the other two of the four cold appetizers. The dried beef was very tasty – it’s a Chinese texture that I love – chewy in a tendon kind of way (but not tough), and beefily flavored.

The mock duck was dried tofu sheets filled with vegetarian stuffing. Does it taste like duck? No, but I guess it kind of looks like duck slices. Tasty either way you eat it.

Dinner was at a leisurely pace, which was nice because we all hadn’t seen each other in a while. We closed the place down!

Here is the seafood soup – the squid (or cuttlefish) bits were SO tiny and delightfully chewy! Plus there was tofu, shrimp, scallops, and some egg. Really tasty soup. Light but hearty at the same time. I had three bowls. THAT good.

Here is the shrimp dish, seafood soup, and flounder fillets with seaweed.


The flounder and seaweed was AMAZING! Perfectly crunchy nuggets had me wishing for a pile twice as big just to eat for myself. Lanny Lau, the manager/owner, came over to explain that the seaweed was toasted and ground up and mixed with the flour for a batter to fry the fish in. It was a great savory-vegetal flavor, and the fish itself was moist and tender. It’s something I’d like to try making at home, but I don’t think I’d execute nearly as well. These stayed crisp for the entire duration on the plate (which wasn’t all that long, hee hee) and also had a salt to dip them in. You know the salt I’m talking about – Cantonese restaurants usually serve it with crispy chicken.


The shrimp popped in my mouth. So sweet. Lightly cooked to let their shrimpy glory shine. They were smaller guys, but very tender.

Sea Cucumber! I was excited to try this dish – I’d never had sea cucumber before. It was good. Really good. It came with some shiitake mushrooms and very thin slivers of chicken. Great combo, and had a nice smoky flavor overall.

Sea cucumber was kind like frogs legs, super soft beef tendon, and fish. Really interesting. I liked it. It was very smooth, but not like jelly. Very lightly flavored – delicate, even. I’d say you should try this if you haven’t. It’s not that “weird” of a dish in terms of flavor or texture.


SHANGHAIESE PORK CHOPS! It was deep fried and covered in a sticky-sweet sauce. Like if salt and pepper pork chops had a little extra coating on them. This was quite nomtacular as well. If there’s one thing I love more than pork, it’s pork that’s been fried.

Look at that – it’s like saying “I am a sexily delicious piece of pork.”

The CelinaBean dish! Bok choy and shiitake mushrooms. Perfectly cooked bok choy quarters, and some delightfully steamed shiitakes. It’s dishes like this that make me lurve shiitake mushrooms. It was a good “breather” course…

Before the duck came. One whole crispy duck. So good. And plenty for 8. Sandor was a card and was like “Oh, please, nobody take all of the dark meat… oh wait, it’s duck. It’s ALL dark meat. Bwahaha!”

LOOK AT THAT SKIN!!! Perfectly moist meat, crispy duck skin. What more could I ask for? Delicious.

Fried rice. I’m not normally a rice fan, but this had hints of smoke, and the veggies were nice and firm – really lightly cooked. Some ham and shrimp in there, too. Good stuff.

Dessert time! Steamed red bean buns. I was impressed with how tender the baos were. The dough was very soft and tender. I know they were just steamed, but I’m not sure if I’ve ever had buns this soft before.

Dessert soup! It was a rice ball kind of soup – small mochi balls floating in a sweet egg soup. Albany John was expecting something like red bean soup like we get for dessert in NYC with my family. But that’s a Cantonese thing – this was totally not at all like red bean and tapioca dessert soup. Great way to end the meal. Filling, but like the seafood soup – light yet hearty.

The rice balls were light and chewy – a great texture. And the soup itself was lightly sweet, but you’re not going to get a sugar coma from it. I would have had seconds, but I was so full from dinner, I could only finish my bowl.
Dinner was a little over $20 per person with the XLB added in for tax and tip included. Not shabby at all for all of that food!
Ala Shanghai is running the Chinese New Year special into mid-February, so you could pop over for a group early Valentine’s day dinner and really impress your date. Just sayin’.
My Chinese New Year festivities have only started. I still need to see my little sister to give her laisee, and then we’re going down to Flushing to celebrate Chinese New Year with my Yeh-Yeh tomorrow. Might even see one of my cousins I haven’t seen since I was a little girl! Gung Hey Fat Choy! What are your CNY plans?

OctoRice!

I found baby octopi at the Asian Food Market (Colvin Ave, Albany, NY) for only $3.99! It was in the freezer section and sold in 1 lb frozen blocks. I finally got around to thawing it out, and cooked it two ways.

Yummy!

They came whole. These are more like large octopus babies, or very mini octopi. One would fit in the palm of my hand. I simmered a few whole for about 45 minutes in some water with a bay leaf and salt. Really tender. I know their heads look a little like leaking zombies, but this was easy to prepare. And then I used that liquid to make rice with! Really subtle flavor. I wouldn’t have been able to guess that it was made with octopus broth.


The other way was just lightly pan searing it for a few seconds. Watch the tentacles move under the heat from the pan. This was also good stuff. Kept a nice chewy texture. Like salt and pepper squid, only with non-battered octopus.

If you like squid, you’d like these little octopi. They tasted really similar.

Sushi Tei with CelinaBean & Mark

I was lucky enough to have lunch with Celina Bean at Mr. Pio Pio earlier this week, and we had planned on inviting our buddy Mark along. What’s that saying about all good intentions? I don’t know – I’m terrible with sayings, but we forgot to mention it to Mark, so we felt like we should meet up for lunch again. Y’know, get the band back together.

So we went to Sushi Tei for lunch. Celina had mentioned how awesome the soups were when we were at Mr. Pio Pio (hey, when you love food, you talk about all kinds of food). There was a lunch special with salmon don & mini tempura udon for $9.95. Celina & I both went for it.

If that was the mini – wow, what does the regular look like? I could cup my hands around the bowl and still have some room. If I weren’t a glutton, the mini udon probably would have been a satisfying lunch. One large tempura-ed shrimp, some scallions, chewy udon noodles, and a deeply flavored broth.

That broth is some satisfying stuff. And the soup retained its warmth through my entire meal. No icy cold soup here!

One of the reasons I love Japanese food is the presentation. When you dine in you get food served in partitioned boxes, or beautiful containers like this. It looks like a little present.

And the best kind of present was inside! Three long slices of salmon over some sushi rice with a shiso leaf topped with salmon roe. Wasabi and pickled ginger, too.
I thought that the salmon don was going to be the big feature, but the soup was larger than this box. Still, it was a lunch portion in the way Japanese food is generally portioned out – not ginormous amounts where you need a take-out box to bring half of your meal home, but rather a satisfying amount you can eat in one sitting.
The salmon was fresh, nice and fatty like I like it. And man, I’m really starting to like salmon roe. I used to think it was just too intense, but now – it seems like it’s just up my alley.
Overall, a really nice lunch that didn’t leave me feeling like I needed a nap afterward. The company wasn’t too bad either. I never imagined I’d be casually lunching with writers one day, catching up, chilling out. Surreal.

Canned Salmon Sushi

Canned salmon sushi. You heard that right. Canned salmon sushi. It’s a combination of cheap, lazy, inventive, and DELICIOUS.

I’d already gone to the store to get sushi rice and a cucumber, and figured Albany John and I would do vegetarian sushi for dinner. This would have been fine, except I hadn’t realized we didn’t have much in the way of vegetables for sushi aside from carrots and the aforementioned cucumber. And a few eggs. The hell? Yeah, I do that a lot. Plan on something, but kind of forget a key and crucial part of it. Like the fillings for sushi part. Jeeze.

So foraging around the house, I found a can of salmon.

Oh, we’re gonna make this work.

And it did. I pretty much just added some stuff to it so it came out like spicy tuna mix/dip stuff. Whatever you want to call it, it made an adequately bastardized sushi filling. Cooked spicy tuna roll.

Recipe? It’s barely one: Canned salmon, spoonful or two of cottage cheese, spicy condiment (to taste). Mix to combine and YOU’RE DONE! Ta Da! Cooked, cheap spicy salmon rolls. And no mayo!

And then there was everything else I made. Combinations of tamago, strips of cucumber and carrot, and some acorn squash. And tons of toasted black and white sesame seeds. Soooo good.

Tamago is super easy to make. And super tasty. Basically, you take 2-3 eggs, add in a shot (1.5 oz) each of mirin and soy sauce, and then cook it like this. I just make them in a large pan over low heat. It doesn’t come out in a perfect square, but no one will notice when you’re eating sushi rolls, or cut the ends off to make nigiri sushi.

And don’t forget to toast your nori! Just a leeettttell bit. It changes the flavor of the nori up so you don’t wanna stop shoving piece after piece in your mouth.

Here’s the last platter of sushi. I made about 9-10 rolls of sushi out of 1.5 C sushi rice (dry and then cooked) and 5 sheets of nori (cut in half). And it was way easy for two people to eat. Maybe too easy.

I made most of my rolls inside out, because they stick together better for me when I roll them. But I also rocked out a few traditionally shaped (but not filled) rolls. They held their shape better than the inside-out rolls. Actually, the tamago rolls are probably the closest thing to traditional there.

Making your own sushi is time consuming (I’m no Chef Saso (oh man, I miss those indulgence rolls)), but if you’ve done it a few times, it’s still fun and way cheaper than going out.

Bros Tacos

It was Alumni Weekend for the mister. This meant a lot of hanging in the student ghetto in Albany with his fraternity, and eventually getting hungry. One of his brothers lived in California for a few years, and we figured a trip to Bros Tacos (319 Ontario St, Albany, NY) was right up his alley.

We talked the place up, since it was “new” for alumni, and whenever we’re in the area Albany John and I like to stop by.

We ordered. It was empty, but it still took a while for our food to come out. So that problem’s still there at Bros.

Albany John got a chicken torta. Chicken was fine, but the bun was, for lack of a better word, terrible. All dense and uniformly soft, and tasted kind of stale/old. A sad excuse for a torta bun. I mean, they couldn’t have toasted it up a little bit to get some crunch? Or grilled the outside?

He also got a vegetarian tamale. The masa for it was great – nice corn flavor, moist, and not too dense, but the vegetables looked like they came out of a mixed bag of frozen veggies. Cubed carrots, corn, and peas. Lame. I wouldn’t advertise that as a special. I mean, that’s it? It looks like something hastily put together with some random leftovers. It also came out lukewarm. I guess they couldn’t bother heating it up enough, either. That made it doubly disappointing. We ended up tossing about half of it.

I got a shrimp burrito with sour cream chipotle sauce. I’ve had it before, and it’s a pretty good combo. I like that they cook the outside of the burrito, too. Adds some nice crunchiness to it.

Unfortunately, the burrito innards were also lukewarm. The shrimp was cooked well, but was pretty sparse. But my main complaint is that this burrito is JUST rice, beans, shrimp, and chipotle sour cream. That’s it. I mean, it’s basically a carburrito. And I thought Bombers was heavy on the rice. But man, Bros takes the cake.

I love carbs, but the shrimp gets lost in the burrito with all that rice and beans. Plus, it looks impressively sized, but when it’s mostly rice and beans? Major let down. I would have thought there’d be something else in there.

Albany John’s friend got a pork tamale. He ate it, so I guess it was better than the veggie tamale. He also got a taco plate, which is two tacos, plus rice and beans. I probably should have just ordered some tacos, because these looked the best out of everything else we ordered.

They didn’t even have hot sauce out. When Albany John asked for some, they gave him some of their spicier salsa, but said they didn’t have hot sauce… weird, right? Tacos, but no hot sauce? Heck, they have hot sauce at all of the fish fry places around here.
Overall, I wouldn’t say our experience was terrible, but just meh. It was definitely a let-down from times past, and I wish we hadn’t hyped it up to our friend from Cali. It almost seems like it’s basically geared toward students, in that it seemed so much different since we last went. I really hope we just went at an off time, where they were like “Oh, whatever, it’s not busy so who gives a crap” because I would be seriously bummed to hear it’s like this all of the time.