House of Nanking

17 11 2012

House of Nanking is a Chinese place over here in North Beach. The story is, apparently, that it was just a regular hole-in-the-wall Chinese place in a sea of a million Chinese places (just on the outskirts of Chinatown), but that this one was the place. Like, you know how there’s 50 billion restaurants in the City, but there’s only lines out the door at a proverbial handful? It was one of those. So they spruced the place up (a little bit), donned a multi-colored sign, and continued to attract lines down the block and guidebook tributes.

Salt and pepper shrimp with mushrooms

I finally went a few weeks ago with the ladies. They don’t take reservations, so you have two options: get there at like 5.30 so you don’t have to wait, or get there later and be prepared to wait outside for a table. We opted for the former option this fine night, and were seated promptly. After perusing the menu for a bit, we were confronted by our neighboring diners.

“Try this,” said the man.

He gave us some of his beef broccoli. And then bits of another dish. He and his wife insisted that the way to order here is to just tell the waitress what you don’t want, and let them do the rest. While this method of ordering has historically been the antithesis of my idea of a path to a good meal, I’ve totally come around to it. I was the only veggo*, but my friends obliged anyway, even though I did not require such treatment. We told the waitress to bring us anything without meat, but that fish was ok. In addition to a pointed order of  “melts in your mouth fried calamari” for good measure (the menu indicated this was “highly recommended”, and I almost always listen to menus).

Melts in your mouth fried calamari

Being a calamari snob, this wan’t my favorite dish. It was pretty tender though, and tasted good. Just a bit soggy for my taste, though I suppose “crispy” was not promised in the description. The other items they brought were all good. My favorites were the salt and pepper shrimp with mushroom (see photo at the top), and stirfried baby pea shoots with garlic and chili flakes:

Stirfried baby pea shoots

The “Fang’s panfried garlic fish” with seasonal Chinese veggies was also good:

Fang’s Panfried Garlic Fish

My least favorite items were some of the other girls’ favorites, so I won’t knock them:

Bao Bing Wrap: tofu, scallions, and crisp Chinese veggies wrapped in a flour pancake served with plum sauce.

Glazed eggplant with sweet potato

Overall I liked the food and would recommend the place. I certainly think there were more things on the menu that I would have liked to try, so I’m sure I’ll be back.

*read: vegetarian. And, in my case, half-assed vegetarian (pescatarian).

House of Nanking on Urbanspoon





China

23 05 2012

I went to China. Hi, I’m back.

I ate food there. And I didn’t get any food poisoning as I am wont to do on vacation. Yeay! Even though I can’t exactly provide the same restaurant reviewing service about places in Beijing, I can still show some juicy pics and tell tales of some of the neato stuff I ate while I was there. And because I can, I will.

Picture of food so you’ll keep reading.

I will start by saying that we mainly ate at “Western” style restaurants in Beijing. This is not to say that the food at these restaurants isn’t Chinese or that it’s not authentic — it just means that the facility operates in a Western style. Typically, these restaurants are large, and you’re seated at a table by a hostess. The menu is typically very expansive and full of pictures. Your order is taken by a waiter/waitress. Sometimes this person speaks some English, often not so much. The pictures are helpful for this. Your food is brought to you and is typically meant to be shared among the people at your table. You use chop sticks. The facilities are clean and the food is of high quality like you might expect in, say, San Francisco.

You can get a $1 meal at a street vendor, which is certainly an “authentic” experience, but I don’t eat at the hot dog stands here, so I’m not sure why I would do it there. Not that I’d chide someone who did do that, but I’ve had my taste of food poisoning in a third world country, and I’m not willing to be as risky as I perhaps once was. So. We went for the classed-up places. And since we knew a local, he showed us to the best of the best.

Ok, I’ll shut up and get to the pictures:

First: pizza. Yeah, pizza in Beijing. What were we thinking? We were thinking that it was really good, that’s what. Also, deep fried Oreos. Ridiculous and not as good as I wanted them to be. But, there they are.

Amazing pizza from Kro’s Nest in Beijing. This pizza was like 30″ in diameter; half cheese, half veggie with white sauce. It was really good.

Deep fried Oreos are not as good as they sound.

Next up: wood ear mushrooms. These are all over the place (like, in food, not just on the ground) in Beijing. They’re delicious.

Wood ear mushrooms! Yum!

And then we had one of our first “fancy” Chinese dinners, which was totally worth the exorbitant price.

Eggplant with melted cheese in a bread bowl. Genius.

Veggie food stuffs in a banana leaf. Hard to eat, but delish.

Not-as-spicy-as-it-could-have-been mushroom dish. I was glad for the lack of spicy.

Next stop was a grungy dumpling restaurant waaay out behind a bunch of blind masseuse shops. (Your guess is as good as mine.) The dumplings were very good.

Cold dish of tofu skins (or something). A bit sweet, very tasty.

Dumplings! All veggie, of course.

Then on to the famous duck restaurant in Beijing where there is always a wait if you don’t have a reservation. We didn’t. We waited. Everyone liked the duck. I tried it; it tasted like chicken. This other stuff was way better.

Egg stuffed tomatoes. Weird. Good.

Stir fried bamboo shoots. But not the yucky ones they put in chow mein here. These might have been the best thing I ate the whole time.

These pot-sticker-sized balls of flavored tofu were soft like hummus. It was very hard to pick up, but really, really good. I wanted to spread it on a sandwich. I still do, actually.

We took a cooking class where we made this stir fry:

Stir fry of egg, carrots, cucumber, wood ear mushrooms, garlic, leek, lily flower ,and ginger. They added pork to the non-veggie one.

Then Jon and I ate food in Shanghai. We started off the weekend right by ordering way too much food. This restaurant had amazing light so my photos actually look good (finally).

The menu said fried bran or something weird, but it was really some sort of cold tofu or gluten dish. It was a bit sweet, had a spongy consistency, and was quite tasty.

The real deal: sweet and sour shrimp. This sweet and sour sauce was indeed both sweet and sour. It was creamy with mustard undertones. It was very good but also very rich.

Eggplant dish. Good but not great. So pretty though. And tongue-singeing hot (temperature, not spicy).

There it is: Chinese noodles. This wasn’t called “chow mein” on the menu, it was just called noodles. (Which is what it was.) I liked it.

We were having a harder time finding places to eat in Shanghai just because we didn’t do the appropriate research and didn’t have a local to point us in the right direction. This Italian place was right on the river and had good reviews (ah, the joys of traveling with a smart phone). This pizza was fab.

Yeah, another pizza. This one was really, really good. At “The Kitchen” on the east side of the river in Shanghai.

At the YuYuan Bazaar in Shanghai (crowded as ALL GET OUT. no, seriously, I wished everyone would get out…) there were a million dumpling shops. Some of them had immense lines. Few of them had any signage in English at all, though many had pictures (but you can’t see what’s inside the dumpling?!). We got all rogue and stood in front of the stock tray and pointed to some tubs of dumplings. No food poisoning + delicious dumplings = win.

Shanghai dumplings!

And if you’ve made it to the bottom of this post, kudos to you. Your prize will be a dumpling. I will give you a gift certificate for the place in Shanghai. Redeem at your leisure.





China Best Restaurant

2 06 2010
Atmosphere: 3/5   ♦   Service: 3/5   ♦   Food Quality: 3/5   ♦   Value: 4/5
Times Visited:  A million   ♦   Will I Return?:  A million more
___________

China Best HaywardChina Best is just up the hill from Cal State East Bay (formerly Cal State Hayward), up on the hill in Hayward.  It’s in a small shopping center with a quickie mart, a Subway, a pizza joint, a dry cleaners, and a rotating variety of relatively unmemorable shops.  China Best is by far the greatest thing about this shopping center; I’ve been coming here since they opened their doors in 1999.

CB is actually quite a disputed spot; I know people who do not like it there at all for a variety of reasons.  I, however, do like it.  It’s clean, the service is friendly and ridiculously fast, and the menu has a good selection of veggie and non-veggie items.  Patrons order at the counter where there are always the same two ladies taking cash and serving the food—literally every single day for 11 years I think these two ladies have been stationed in the same spot behind the counter.  I have never seen them missing; it’s almost eerie.

China Best

The inside of China Best Restaurant in Hayward.

The menu is divided up into sections: seafood, chicken, beef, and vegetables are the main items, in addition to appetizers, soup, rice, and noodle dishes.  They offer a “luncheon” deal that includes an entree, steamed rice, and a won ton, a “combo” meal that includes an entree, rice, and chow mein, or “a la carte” dishes that are just a huge plate of a single entree.  It’s a pretty good system; I always order the combo to get  a little bit of everything.

My old go-to was always the sweet and sour chicken, back in the day.  Shows you how long I’ve been going to China Best.  Since my veggie years began, I have typically ordered the dry fried string bean dish, which is green beans fried in a light, salty sauce, with plenty of garlic chips sprinkled throughout.  It’s delicious.  Other veggie dishes include string beans with tofu, mixed fresh veggies in black bean or curry sauce, garlic tossed fried broccoli, hot and spicy tofu, and eggplant, zucchini, or asparagus with tofu.  The variety of meat dishes is even more extensive; they certainly offer something for everyone.

Fish

Sliced Fish Fillet Cooked in Orange Peel Sauce Combo meal from China Best Restaurant in Hayward.

I’ve recently taken a liking to Sliced Fish Filled in Orange Peel Sauce; it’s tasty though not very sweet or orangy (in a good way).  Boyfriend orders sweet and sour prawns which are very generously covered in deep fried batter, slathered in sweet and sour sauce, and topped with veggies and pineapple.  It’s not health food, people, but it’s good.

Sweet and sour prawn

Sweet and Sour Prawns Combo meal from China Best in Hayward.

The chow mein is something of a contested item—you either love it or you hate it.  With a combo meal comes a portion of chow mein noodles with nothing in it.  No carrots, no meat, no bean sprouts (take a deep breath, Dad).  Just soft, delicious noodles.  If you like them, they’re great.  And I like them.  The rice is standard, not much to discuss.  With each meal also comes a bowl of hot and sour soup which is excellent.  I used to crave it when I was away from home.

Hot and sour soup

Hot and Sour Soup is delicious from China Best in Hayward.

Overall, I think China Best is great.  It’s not somewhere you go when you’re on a diet.  It’s not somewhere you go every night.  But now and again, for a quick (and I mean quick) bite of yummy Chinese, it certainly hits the spot.

China Best on Urbanspoon





Chef’s Experience

25 01 2010
Atmosphere: 4/5   ♦   Service: 5/5   ♦   Food Quality: 4/5   ♦   Value: 4/5
Times Visited: A few   ♦   Will I Return?: Yes Indeed
___________

Chef’s Experience China Bistro is one of Hayward’s newest chic restaurants stationed bravely on Foothill Boulevard near A Street.  They’ve cleverly revamped this rather large space to accommodate a stunningly modern design, with elegant and tasteful decor that is a complete surprise when entering from the dingy parking lot behind the run-down shopping center where CE is located.

Let’s face it, downtown Hayward needs a face lift.  It’s gotten better over the past few decades – B Street can actually gather a crowd (that isn’t necessarily gang related) on a Saturday night – but overall, the decrepit storefronts that line Foothill, Main, and Mission and many of the cross streets aren’t terribly desirable destinations for most folks, especially the younger crowd.  And while many businesses have tried to change this, only few have succeeded like Chef’s Experience has.

Opened only a few years ago in early 2005, this medium-sized bistro restaurant has been going strong.  The place looks great, giving the feel of an upscale restaurant without the hassle of having to drive very far (if you’re in the Hayward/Castro Valley area, that is).  And even if you are a bit further, I would recommend a trip in for a night at this place – the Hot Braised Salmon is to die for, figuratively speaking (unless you’re a salmon).

Seating area inside Chef's Experience in Hayward.

So, the place looks great: check.  The menu is extensive and offers many delicious sounding choices: check.  The service is quick, friendly, and competent: check.  And the food?  Well the food is just great.  Checks all around, my friends, go and eat and be merry.

I’ve been a few times but this last time I feel like I really perfected my dish-choosing skills and ordered all excellent items.  The last time we went, I wasn’t a huge fan of a couple things we ordered – which isn’t to say they weren’t good, I just didn’t like them a whole lot.  But this time, we made a b-line for the good stuff: shrimp dumplings to start, not one but two orders of hot braised salmon (there were 4 of use eating), dry fried string beans in black bean sauce, fake chicken (I love gluten!) kung pao style, and just some plain old white rice.  It was fabulous.

Dry fried string beans, rice, and kung pao style fake chicken at Chef's Experience.

Let’s talk about that salmon for a moment.  I was craving this for weeks since my last visit to The Chef.  Imagine sweet and sour chicken.  Now, instead of tiny little balls of chicken, try instead a nice meaty slab of delicious fresh salmon.  Then get rid of that heavy, greasy breading and replace it with a similar substance that is instead thin and crisp.  Now, imagine that the thick sweet and sour sauce made of corn syrup and red dye #2 is instead light and thin and slightly less corn-syrup-esque, with orange dye #2.  Then scatter a generous amount of cooked broccoli (not that raw crap that Chinese restaurants so often like to throw at you) around the plate.  That is how the Chef makes hot braised salmon, and damn it if it isn’t one of the best foods I’ve ever had.

Digital SLR photography cannot capture the sheer scrumptious-ness of the hot braised salmon at Chef's Experience.

As for the rest of the dishes, the dumplings were simply heaven, as you might expect from a deep fried breaded thing, the fake kung pao chicken was good (my mom would like me to duly note that she thought this dish was GREAT), the green beans were super duper good (and healthy too – I love veggies!), and the rice was…rice.  The tea was delivered promptly and continually in heavy, pretty pots, and my mom even ordered me a delicious dessert-y mudslide-type drink (Kahlua, Frangelico, Bailey’s, Coffee, and Chocolate swirls) after she saw me ogling it on the little drink table menu, and it was a tasty treat.

Shrimp dumplings and yummy drink.

I even gave this place a 5/5 for service since the wait staff is so dang nice, intelligent, and responsive, time after time.  I’ve only been a few times, but my mom and her boyfriend report that they receive similar service every time they go.  Way to be on top of things Chef’s Experience, we need great places like you here in Hayward!

Chef's Experience China Bistro on Urbanspoon








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