CNY at Hong Kong Bakery and Bistro

Gung Hey Fat Choy! I kicked off my Chinese New Year Festivities at Hong Kong Bakery & Bistro with a bevy of local bloggers. Daniel B. organized the dinner to try the set menu featuring two dishes he’d never tried before. Set Menu A was on our hit list.

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Seafood & Fish Maw Soup was up first. A nice light fishy soup with egg white bits, thickened with cornstarch. If you’re wondering what fish maw is, it’s the gas bladder that helps the fish go up and down in the water. It’s pretty flavorless. Overall, good light start to the meal.

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Next up was the fabulous salt and pepper PLATTER. My family usually gets salt and pepper shrimp, so this was a real treat. It featured (from bottom clockwise): tofu, squid, bait fish, ribs, and in the center… jellyfish. Oh man, I want this platter all of the time! It was great! Salt and pepper tofu makes tofu automatically delicious, even if you’re not a tofu fan. Salt and pepper squid is an automatic win (though these were  bit small so they got a teeny bit overcooked/chewy). Salt and pepper bait fish. This was delicious, and not something I see very often in Cantonese/Hong Kong cooking. IMO very under-utilized because these tasted fantastic – briny and simple. Just tell squemish people that they’re fish strips, nuggets, or more squid. They won’t be able to tell.
Salt and pepper ribs. Where have you been all my life? Man, if there was a star, this was it. Crispy exterior, savory interior. Yes. Total win.
Jellyfish is a CNY mainstay dish, and it was nice to try the s+p riff on it.

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Abalone course. Abalone slices over bok choy and shiitake mushrooms. Abalone is another popular Chinese New Year dish because it’s expensive and symbolizes prosperity. But overall it doesn’t have a lot of flavor going on by itself, so it picked up a lot of the shiitake flavor. I wasn’t crazy about the thick brown sauce over it, but I liked how tender they got the abalone. This stuff can be prepared differently, and I’m not a fan of the texture when it’s rubbery and not cooked as much. This provided a lot of give. You know it’s a traditional dish when it’s expensive and the best you can say is that it wasn’t tough.

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Lobster, my love! Gotta love double ginger scallion lobster. Coated in a light cornstarch startch ginger scallion sauce, this fried lobster is another mainstay, and I was surprised to hear that Daniel B. had never tried it before. I’ve failed him as a friend! This was a great preparation of the dish. The lobster was juicy and succulent, and chopped up to dig out easily. “Easily” is probably a relative term, as part of the fun of this dish is getting messy eating it!

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Crispy Chicken is another traditional dish. This was covered in a garlic sauce, but the garlic flavor was pretty mild overall. Mmm, adorned with garlic crispy bits, too. This is a great dish any time of the year. Juicy plump chicken, crisp skin, simple chicken flavors. It’s a real crowd pleaser.

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Ultra blurry pig feet dish. Another first for Daniel B. This preparation was a bit tougher than other versions I’ve had. I prefer softer versions, but overall the flavor was good. Rich and meaty without getting too funky. The pieces were chopped up into easy to grab bits to gnaw on. There’s a lot of gnawing in Hong Kong/Cantonese Chinese food culture. 20160209_203636

Dessert time! What a pretty fruit platter!

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Red bean and tapioca soup  for dessert part two to end it on a sweet note.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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!

Parivar Chat

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Ah, Parivar. One of my favorite casual spots for a quick dinner. No need for reservations, and you can pick up ingredients from the grocery store part of the store on your way out. Pista Falooda ($4.49) is a great way to have dessert with dinner.
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Samosa chat ($4.99) on the left, Idili Sambar ($3.99) and Dahi Vada (4.99) on the right. The Samosa were fine samosas, which came with a big bowl of chickpea masala.

The Idili are delicately steamed rice cakes, and the dahi vada are fried lentil-based doughnuts. Yet despite being fried, they taste deceptively light. Coconut chutney rounds them both out.

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Some DIY Pani Puri ($4.99) on the left, and a bowl of tokri chat ($5.99) on the right.
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Paneer Dosa ($8.99!) I love the gigantic dosas here. But make sure you bring a bunch of friends to share like I do! I loved the texture and flavor of the paneer in the dosa. So good.
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Full meal ($7.99) two of the prepared dishes from the bar in front (okra and.. some other veggie dish I forget now) with a hefty side of basmati rice, dal, two parathas, one dessert, and spicy pickle and yogurt sauce on the side. The only clunker here was the dessert. A little overly soft, and the flavor is a little oily. Desserts seem to be Parivar’s weakness. Their savory dishes are a treat, but I’ve never really enjoyed their desserts.
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One of the Indian Chinese dishes. These tend to be really salty, and that’s coming from a salt lover. It is fun to have a little bit of, but so overwhelmingly salty that I would probably not order this as a single item to eat solo.
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Bread pakodas ($1.50 each) stuffed slices of bread and deep fried.
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Gobi Indian Chinese on the left, another delicious dosa!

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.

Good Night Noodle

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The Good Morning Cafe is expanding to become Good Night Noodle, a pho-centric Vietnamese restaurant.

They had a gathering of local bloggers one night to try out some of the the dishes that Good Night Noodle would feature.

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I’ve been following Good Morning Cafe for a while, but never managed to get up there (as I am a horribly late person and I just don’t leave my house early enough to get to breakfast places). This was also an awesome chance to learn more about GMC and their commitment to buying locally, easily summed up by their motto of “eat good * do good * feel good”.

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It’s a clean, open space with plenty of tables. Now, breakfast is always problematic for me, but dinner is much easier to add to my calendar. Good Night Noodle is projected to open in April 2014.

The Capital Region as a whole doesn’t have too many Vietnamese places – there’s Kim’s, & Van’s in Albany (and I know, I know so are My Linh and Pho Yum, but both of sit on the high side of menu pricing), Saigon Spring in Clifton Park, and soon Good Night Noodle in Ballston Spa. And it’s worth the drive.

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Shrimp Summer Rolls – with the addition of red bell pepper for a textural crunch.

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Vegetarian summer rolls also with red bell pepper. Good Night Noodle prepares Vietnamese food a little bit differently than most traditional Vietnamese restaurants. There is more of a focus toward using local produce and meats, and 95% of the menu will be gluten-free (and that 5% will mainly be dessert).

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Perfectly wrapped spring rolls!

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Pho condiment platter of hoisin sauce, Thai basil, cilantro, limes, jalapenos, and bean sprouts.

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Quick pickled veggies in apple cider vinegar.

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Chicken meatball pho. This was an awesome broth. Actually, all of the Good Night Noodle broths are awesome. Full bodied and warming but not too rich or heavy, which tends to be my broth preference. This was rich with chicken flavor. This bowl would be considered a small and will retail for about $7 per bowl. There will be large options available as well for $10-12.

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The bowls from the Good Morning Cafe were a bit on the shallow side, and Good Night Noodle has an indiegogo campaign to raise funds for the start-up and initial operating costs of setting up Good Night Noodle. This will include deeper bowls for more broth in their pho, among other kitchen upgrades/purchases.

The chicken meatballs use toasted rice flour, coconut oil, and aminos (aminos in place of soy sauce). It’s a great spongy texture – kind of like a fish cake, but chicken-y. It’s an awesome addition to pho – delicious on its own, but also great for soaking up a bit of pho broth. Once Good Night Noodle is open there are also plans of a chicken meatball sandwich.

Ok, more on the broths – the veggie broth is SO rich, thick, and delicious I’m going to have a hard time picking which soup I’d want – veggie, chicken, or beef. Normally I’d just brush off the vegetarian broth and likely go for beef, but this vegetarian broth really gives the other broths a run for their money.

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Dessert! Orange Blossom Cupcakes, and the best vegan cookies I’ve ever had.

Chinese New Year in Flushing 2014

 

 

Last weekend I drove down to Flushing to celebrate Chinese New Year with my family. It was our first year celebrating without Yeh-Yeh, our family’s patriarch. That didn’t really hit me until shortly before my drive down, but for me simply having these traditions with family keeps us together and that is what is important.

The drive down was a breeze (when I drive to Flushing from Albany I go: 90E > Taconic > 84E > 684S > 678SHutchinson River Pkwy> Whitestone Bridge. It’s about 15 minutes more than taking 87S down, but it saves on the tolls up until the Whitestone Bridge ($7.50) and breaks up the drive into smaller chunks so I don’t get bored. It also probably seems more complicated to hop off of the Taconic onto 84E, but it’s a much smoother drive with better drivers than taking the Taconic down all the way (you avoid where the road narrows, and all of the crappy drivers on it).
I got in shortly after 5, and figured I’d have to drive a while for parking, but found free street parking within 30 minutes! Woo hoo! I didn’t have to move the entire time I was there. I don’t know about you, but when I head down to NYC, I like to park and just leave my car until I’m ready to head back home.

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For dinner we went to Jin Cheng Restaurant, which I protested because last year we had a pretty craptacular experience at the kid’s table, and I thought we went there more for its close proximity to Yeh-Yeh’s condo than the quality of the food. I’ve since discovered they are better at lunch, or when they’re not busy, so they’re not a total lost cause, but I had prepped myself for a less-than-awesome Chinese New Year dinner because Chinese New Year Weekend in Flushing = every Chinese Restaurant is gonna be mobbed.

I was pleasantly surprised with how GOOD dinner was. Maybe it’s because we were a smaller group and not two big tables. (Maybe Yeh-Yeh was in the kitchen yelling at the chefs for me 😉 ) It was my dad, his best gal, my uncle, Albany John, and me.

We started off with Beef and gai lan. Great wok hei on the beef, and super tender.
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Honey-walnut-mayo prawns with broccoli on the left. Plump and fat shrimp, no complaints there. Fresh crispy skin chicken at the top, and the same beef on the right (after initial decimation)

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Lobster Cantonese-style with ginger and scallions. We got two big lobsters. So perfectly cooked. I would say this is one of my favorite ways to eat lobster. This way, or just steamed.
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Whole steamed flounder. Mmm. It looks big, but it’s easy to eat a lot of. So light and good.

Albany John and I went for a little walk after dinner to digest. Naturally we wound up at Tous Les Jours, a French-Asian bakery.

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Like most Asian bakeries, there’s a bunch of goodies laid out for you to pick yourself, plus refrigerated things behind the counter.

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I wanted to keep walking, so we had a late-night (for Flushing, i.e. 9 PM) picnic on a bench near the police station (I know romance).

I usually love the stuff Tous Les Jours makes, but man this was mixed bag. The vanilla milkshake was really unpleasant – lots of large chunks of ice, and cheap vanilla ice cream. Bleh. And $4.50 to boot.
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Here was the statue we noshed at, right in between the hubbub of traffic.
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Macarons: skip. Red velvet on the left and Oreo on the right. Red velvet had no notable red velvet flavor, and used a pasty vanilla buttercream as the filling. The black “Oreo” macaron also bore no flavor of its namesake, and was equally pasty. Disappointing. I should have avoided from the start because while these were not cracked, they had some cracked macarons on display, and if they took pride in their macarons, the cracked ones would never be up for sale.
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Albany John got a cream cheese pastry. These are epically delicious in an it’s-so-bad-for-you kind of way. I’m pretty sure I could hear one of his arteries start to clog. They don’t skimp on the cream cheese.

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I had a backup pastry which was tasty – a soft and fluffy bun filled with sweet potato filling and covered in almond flour/meal. Yum. Stick with the baked goods you can pick yourself and you’ll be good.
The next day we kicked off the day eating (of course).

Joe’s Shanghai to start for breakfast. We got there right when they opened at 11 AM and had no wait.

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Bready, soft scallion pancakes.
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Big steamer full of 8 Pork & Crab Xiao Long Bao (soup dumplings). If you go to Joe’s Shanghai, you absolutely must get xiao long bao. The tongs are kind of unnecessary, and the teeth on them can pierce the skin of the dumpling, and there goes all of your soupy goodness. Their skins were good (but Ala Shanghai’s are thinner!), but the broth is where these dumplings shine. Each soup dumpling contains a glorious broth. Each dumpling is a treat, and if I think just a bit, I can relive those flavors for just a moment. The broth is thick and rich, with hearty flavors from both the pork and crab, but neither standing out over the other and instead combining to make this magical soup that you can’t get enough of.
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Shanghai style rice cakes, with some veggies and meat. Nice softness and wok hei.

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Two big bowls of soup. I think their soups are a bit on the bland side, at least after eating the xiao long bao. Beef chuck on the left, pork and veggies on the right. Noodles are okay, but they need a little salt or something. I think the soups at Taiwan Noodle are better though (deeper broth flavors and better noodles).

Then Albany John and my uncle split off to do their own thing, and Dad and his gal and I were off to have more adventures. I was SUPER excited because I was planning on going to Sunrise Kitchen & Hardware Supplies (4205 Main St, Flushing, NY). This place is awesome for all of your Asian kitchen gadget needs.

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Sadly for me, they took the week off for Chinese New Year. No cheap and awesome kitchen supplies. Next time. Sigh.
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Saw some lions on the street.
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Went to Rose House for an English-style tea break. Overall, I’d say it’s a nice place if you want to get away from the loudness and crowds in a pretty atmosphere and comfy seats, but that’s about it. All of the teas seemed to taste the same, and they were on the expensive side – $9.00+ per small pot.

Service was weird. A server initially told us there was a 2 hr sitting limit because it was the weekend (which was fine and totally reasonable), but then after being there for a total of 40 minutes the same server took away our tea warmers and started checking the pots. There were no crowds waiting for a table, either.

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Their butter cookies were decent, and despite finding a hair in the rose hips jam after I spooned some on a cookie it was freaking DELICIOUS.

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I broke off to explore on my own and found Pho Hoang on Kissena Blvd.

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There are tables, but order here at the counter for to-go orders. It also shares space with a Chinese butcher further near the front of the store. It’s not the cleanest looking space, but $4.00 for a banh mi was calling my name.
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Hello gorgeous. A nice baguette tucked into a parchment sleeve.

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SO GOOD! Look at that bread. It’s deliciously perfect little baguettes with a crisp exterior that gives way to a soft, squishy interior. Great for banh mi and stuffing with julienned veggies, pate, meat, and cliantro. Yum, yum, yum.
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$4.00 for all of this, versus $6.50 (to start) for a small banh mi at Pho Yum in Albany that doesn’t even use the right bread.

I wound up going to a friend’s that night.

The next morning we went to Jade Restaurant for dim sum with one of my aunts and some cousins.

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More lions!

The wait wasn’t too bad, but my aunt saw a friend of hers who was a manager, and we got whisked off to a side room that I’ve never seen before (that was opened up to handle the Chinese New Year crowds). That was awesome – less loudness and craziness, all of the carted dim sum goodies.
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Food, food everywhere. So good.

We hung out for a bit, but soon it was time to hit the road.

But not before hitting up Pho Hoang one last time since Albany John was back.
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And there was a DRAGON group that came in!
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I got a regular banh mi ($4.00) & a duck banh mi ($6.00).
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They withstood the drive up pretty well – the bread stayed crisp and the interiors didn’t get soggy.
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Duck on the left, regular banh mi on the right.

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We both thought the regular/standard banh mi was better than the duck banh mi. Better flavor overall. The duck was good, but man, the veggies and meat are just SO good!

Northeast Dumpling House

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Want fresh handmade dumplings? Northeast Dumpling House is your bet for freshly made squidgy dumplings. I think they still have some kinks to work out, but overall they’re a nice new addition to the Chinese food scene in Albany. Here are my experiences on two recent visits:

First visit:

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Woodear and cucumber on the left (aka cucumber & black fungus $5.99) and boiled dumplings on the right.

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I went with about 6 other people on this first trip – you want to bring a large group when you go to Northeast Dumpling House because there are 15 dumplings to each order. It’s kind of a crazy-large amount and it’s kind of weird that there isn’t a smaller amount available. Boiled dumplings are $7.99-8.99 and fried are $8.99-$9.99 per order. There’s beef, pork, and lamb options, and they are all pretty solid. I think my favorite so far are the pork and chive boiled dumplings.

 

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We got an order of the spiced potato and special pancakes on Jeff’s recommendation from All Over Albany’s Eat This article. They didn’t ask us how we wanted the potatoes done (hot or cold) and they came out hot. Eh, they were okay, but they tasted pretty bland to me, even with the occasional pepper slice in there to jazz things up.

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BAOS. BAOS. Get the baos when you go here. We got several orders (2 per order, $2.99) of beef baos and lamb baos. These buns were nice and squidgy (squidgy is very good when it comes to baos and dumplings), tender, fluffy soft baos, and there was a bit of juice inside each bao. They also weren’t stingy with the meat inside! I hate it when you get a big bao, and you’re all like “YEAH, bao!” and then it winds up being 90% bun with a dollop of meat inside.

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You also really, REALLY want to get the Spicy Sauce & Squid ($6.99). Most of their side dish items are cold, and this is no exception. Hot pepper slices, chili oil, chili flakes, and perfectly cooked squid.

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The fried beef dumplings were some of my favorite fried dumplings. I think the meat in the dumplings is a little smooth for my liking, but this is just my personal preference. I generally prefer coarse grinds of meat.

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2nd Visit:

Daniel B. came up for a weekend away from New Jersey and had Northeast Dumpling House on his list. Albany John, Jon in Albany, Chef Brian Bowden and his gal, and another pair of friends joined us on a Saturday night for a festival of eating.

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Daniel wanted to try the spicy potato & special pancake. I passed since it wasn’t my jam the first time around. The pancakes are cool, but I’m just not down with the potato.

We also got to try the pork & pickled veggie soup. That was really rockin’ soup, and I’m willing to bet the noodles are hand made since they’re making the dumplings to order. They were tender, but still had that delicate chew fresh noodles get. The broth was also solidly porky and balanced, although a jab of sriracha didn’t hurt.


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Cucumber & dried tofu ($5.99). This was sheet bean curd, and I think this should be easy to recreate at home. Basically just tofu sheet, cucumber, carrots, chili flakes, and a dash of chili oil and vinegar. Pretty refreshing to me, but meh to others.

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The beef omasum ($6.99) was another awesome dish from their cold side dishes menu. The tripe was very well prepared  with just enough heat to make it interesting (I wouldn’t really call it spicy. Yes, there was a little heat occasionally, but nothing that had me reaching for the tea). The texture was both tender and chewy, if that makes any sense. Sometimes tripe can be chewy almost to the point of being like chewing gum, but this was not like that. This had something more of a tendon amount of chew to it.

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The fry job on the dumplings was pretty heavy this time, lots of slick oil on the plates. We pretty much ordered one of each dumpling this time.

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More spicy squid!

Another new thing we tried was the shrimp and egg boiled dumpling, which I enjoyed. The egg was pretty muted, it was more like a shrimp and veggie dumpling.

NE Dumps (my nickname for them) is still in the “new” phase. Both times I went in they were pretty dead. Which is kind of crazy for a weekend.

Here’s some areas for improvement:
Customer service – both times we had to flag down the waiter to order, then to get the checks. Tea refill on the first visit was inattentive on the first visit, and nonexistent on the 2nd visit, even though I did the “move the lid” trick to signal that we were empty. This slowness in service is also mind boggling to me, because Chinese service is usually quick, quick, quick. The dishes came out quickly once we ordered, this seems to just be a FOH issue. I’m guessing they are new to owning a restaurant and still learning the ropes as service was a little better on the 2nd visit.

Some specials listed only in Chinese. I am a “bad Chinese” and can’t read most characters, so like many of their other non-Chinese customers, I have no idea what the specials are on the board.
Consistency. The fried dumplings on the first visit were much less greasy than on the 2nd visit. The baos on the 2nd visit weren’t quite as tender as the first visit, and there was no soupy goodness inside.

Dumpling orders in quantities of 15. Orders of 8-10 would be easier for smaller groups of people to try more variety. The “Bull Paddywack” aka beef tendon is already crossed off the menu.

Cool Stuff they have going on :
BYOB

No huge rush, which is different from the “turn-n-burn” style most other Chinese restaurants have, so you’ll be fine to linger at the moment.

Some really delicious dishes on the “Side Dishes” menu that aren’t on any other menu in the Captial Region. I’ve never been much of a tripe fan, but NE Dump’s take on tripe (omasum) will bring me back here to try it out.

Cheap. If you go with a group, you can order most of the menu and still walk out for under $20 per person with tip.

Hand made to order dumplings!

A Friendly Soup Competition

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Some of my zany friends decided to have a friendly little soup competition. It wound up being 7 people! I decided to judge, because it means I could eat all of the soups. 🙂 It was a good competition to judge.

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The first soup was a Thai-style curry coconut soup with squid, shrimp, mushrooms, and some caramelized onions, served with a cocktail on the side. Not a bad way to start of the competition, and the curry heat was tempered well with the coconut milk.

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A corn-centric soup with homemade creamed corn and roasted corn/peppers. The corn bits I got erred more on the burnt side and not roasted, and the oil was a little heavy for me from this soup.

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This was Albany John’s rustic soup – french lentils, onions, cabbage, garlic, and a slice of bacon. Not my fave soup because of the cabbage, but the other judges liked it.

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Italian Divorce Soup. Loved the name – so cute! Veggies, hand crushed tomato sauce, sausage, chickpeas, ditalini. Mmm, what’s not to love? This was such a great winter soup.

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The “prettiest presentation” soup!

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I now require all soups to be served to me in cocktail glasses. This was a slow cooker stewy soup with squash (butternut in this case, but any hard squash can be used), turkey, chickpeas, and an awesomely bright parsley sauce on top. This wound up winning.

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A vegetarian soup – apples, asparagus, and squash. This was a pretty rockin’ veggie and sweet soup.

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This was a potato garlic soup that came in a very close 2nd place. Oh man, was this an awesome soup. Roasted garlic (a LOT), a browned roux base, potatoes, and lots of cheese. So rich and a great winter soup.

Mask at New World Mall Food Court

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After my 24 hours in NJ, I headed to Flushing to see my Uncle. We hung out for a bit, and then headed to the food court at the New World Mall for a bite to eat. Flushing mall food courts are freaking awesome – they’re stalls for single businesses. Which means a huge selection of cheap eats! Mask is one of the newest restaurants in the food court, and they are running a special – $9.99 for your own personal hot pot (chicken, beef, lamb, fish, or vegetable) plus a drink. That is so crazy cheap.

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Mask has their own special hot pot tables set up near their stall at the food court. Here’s what they look like before you get your hot pot set up.

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And here’s what they look like after. Woah food. I got the lamb slices on the left, and a huge basket of veggies on the right. The lamb slices were frozen. I’m wondering if they pre-portioned them out. The lamb flavor itself was a little on the gamey side, but added nice flavor to the weak bone broth my Uncle and I both got. They also had a spicy kim chee based broth and one other broth I forget at the moment. I didn’t feel like being all that adventurous with soup flavor with the drive home looming in front of me.

There were so many veggies in that basket – a bunch of crunchy green lettuce leaves, sweet potato slices, tofu, one weird wedge of tomato, sweet potato noodles, enoki mushrooms, and tons of bok choy quarters. It was a great way to cap a weekend of dietary indulgence.

There’s also a make your own sauce bar. My uncle made me his blend, which was way on the garlicky side and something my sister would have loved. I mean, if she ate meat or any of the other components of the sauce.

But this was an awesome find in Flushing. If you pay in cash they don’t charge sales tax. Cheap, super filling dinner for $10. This is especially good for the people who don’t like sharing food, germs, or both with traditional hot pot.

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Dessert time! This place had a bunch of mango desserts, and was definitely a younger type of place. They even had dine-in where you tipped inside. Interesting, and lots of young people on dates here.

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I got a mango pancake. It’s an eggy pancakey wrapper over whipped cream and mango. Super yum. Something like $4-5 for two big squares.

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My uncle got this mango soupy pudding thing for dessert. Something like $6 for a big bowl. This is probably one of the pricier places in the food court, if that tells you anything.

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Mango pancake interior. So full of yes.

What a good weekend filled with food, friends, and family. I really like solo road trips every now and then. Not every weekend, but once every month or two they’re great for clearing my head. The freedom of the open road, driving my very own car, blasting my favorite crappy tunes, going off to have edible adventures and seeing people I care about that bring me joy.

Seoul Korean Restaurant

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When the temperatures dip, I start craving hot, comforting foods. One especially frigid night, I went to Seoul Korean Restaurant in Peter Harris Plaza. The interior is pretty sparse so far, but brightly lit and inviting all the same.

Service was good – friendly and on-point but not in-your-face. 5 banchan were on the menu that day – lightly cooked sesame oil’ed veggies and a white seaweed salad on the top row. Spicy radish, kimchee, and spicy cucumbers/onions in the bottom row. Very well flavored, all of it. I was especially fond of the white seaweed – it tasted a touch creamy and sweet, with an addictive texture that was part chew, part crunch.

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The soups are huge, and in the $12 price range. A great value for the amount you get, and the flavors they yield. Tteok Manduguk in the foreground, and I think it’s yook gye jang in the background – a spicy beef soup (comes with rice).

Tteok Manduguk is awesome – mandoo/mandu dumplings in a light bone-style broth, then add in tteok. Oh man, I can’t think of a way to make a soup much more awesome. Dumplings + soup = Awesome. Dumplings + Soup + Chewy Rice Cakes = Awesome^n
So good, and so piping hot. The dumplings had delicate skins that held up well to being in a soup (good structural integrity, no disintegrating)

I’m foggy on the name of the soup in the back, but it was a spicy beef soup that came with a side of steamed rice. It was spicy and well flavored, and not so hot that you’d start sweating while eating it.

Overall, I can’t wait to get back and try more of their dishes. The menu is small and focused, and the food was satisfyingly hearty without being heavy. But I can’t imagine trying more than just the soups on my own – time to go back with a group to tackle more of the appetizers and entrees!