Bars/Lounges · Beer · Chinatown · Restaurants · Vietnamese

Paper Lantern – COVID-19 dine-in edition

Lovegastrogirl and I checked out Paper Lantern, a new underground tropical Vietnamese lounge in Chinatown. On Friday night, Paper Lantern was spinning some nostalgically old R&B tunes. So, for this post, let’s listen to “Try Again” by Aaliyah.

When we sat down, I immediately noticed two things. First, the staff take sanitation seriously. I saw tables being thoroughly cleaned in between parties. As this was Lovegastrogirl’s first time out in a restaurant since COVID-19, Paper Lantern’s safe practices put our minds at ease. Second, the music is played at an optimal level. For what my terrible eyesight lacks, my excellent hearing makes up for in spades. The music was loud enough to get into yet low enough to carry on a private conversation. A pet peeve of mine are restaurants that play music at a power level their speakers are unable to handle, resulting in fuzzy bass.

pina
Photo credit: @lovegastrogirl

The prices at Paper Lantern are easy on the wallet. Well-made and sizeable snacks range from $7-$12. Cocktails cost from $10-$18, wines from $9-15, and beers from $6.5 – $8. On the evening we visited, pina coladas were on special for $8 and a shot of premium rum sold at cost.

room
Photo credit: @lovegastrogirl

Lovegastrogirl and I had no problem sucking back our pina coladas. Our chilled glass stayed frosty until the last delicious drop. I liked that my drink wasn’t too sweet and I enjoyed the balance of rum to the flavours of the coconut and pineapple. A coconut flake lodged in my throat and I started self-consciously coughing. I looked around the packed room and thankfully, no one gave me stink eye.

Break even
Photo credit: Paper Lantern

Paper Lantern does a “break-even” special – a shot of premium liquor sold at cost. We tried Flor de Cana ($7.22), a 25-year slow aged 80 proof volcanic ash enriched rum from Nicaragua. I enjoyed the clean burn in my throat as it warmed me up.

shot
Photo credit: @lovegastrogirl

We shared an order of Beef Thịt Lụi Nướng ($8). We received three skewers of soy marinaded beef, topped with grilled and crispy onions and accompanied with a dipping sauce of coconut hoisin. We requested no peanuts due to Lovegastrogirl’s allergy.

skewers

I enjoyed the taste of the charbroil beef and the generous toppings on each skewer. Lovegastrogirl taught me a new trick. Get your friend to shed some light from their phone while you take a photo. Not only do you get a clearer and brighter picture, your flash doesn’t go off and blind other customers. L will be relieved.

skewer single
Photo credit: @lovegastrogirl

We tried the Thịt Ba Chỉ Ram Mặn ($10) – a stir fry of pork belly, shrimp and pineapple on top of steamed rice. I enjoyed the sweet and tart glaze on the caramelized pork and shrimp. The portion of protein and rice was generous. I would order this again.

pork bowl

I’m planning on bringing my work family in early August to check out more of the menu. Office Dad said he will come if he’s allowed to bring his wife Jay Low.  I like his wife, so I said sure. Office Dad told me that Jay Low used to have a little, but now she has a lot. He said don’t be fooled by the rocks that she got, she’s still Jay Low from the Block.

rice bowl better
Photo credit: @lovegastrogirl

For our third drink of the night, Lovegastrogirl ordered a Saturn cocktail ($10) and I ordered a glass of Reynolds Branco. This white wine was described as a tropical vacation in a glass.  I found this wine rich, creamy and smooth. I thought this was an unusual wine and I enjoyed the chance to try something different.

Saturn
Photo credit: @lovegastrogirl

I’m thrilled that Calgary has a unique speakeasy in the heart of Chinatown. This is something the neighbourhood needs – an urban escape with tropical beverages and  yummy Vietnamese bites. Chinatown is changing and I’m loving it. For information about the entrepreneurs behind Paper Lantern, check out food writer Elizabeth Chorney-Booth’s detailed review.

Cheap Eats · Chinatown · Chinese · Comfort food · Curry · Restaurants

Calgary Court Restaurant – COVID-19 dine-in

The thing about Chinese restaurants is that you have to know what to order. Perhaps because of the super long menu, not all the dishes are winners. I rely on my friend Ms. Biz to guide me to the best food. For our lunch date with Karplop, Ms. Biz picked Calgary Court Restaurant. For this post, let’s listen to “Heart is Cold” by The Damn Truth.

Ms. Biz recommends the HK style dishes at Calgary Court. She picked the Spam and Egg Sandwich ($6.25); Sliced Fried Fish Cake Noodle Soup ($10.50); Shrimp Dumpling Soup (sui kow, $10.95); and Hainan Style Curry Tender Beef Combo ($16.50). Karplop thought Ms. Biz ordered too much food. Ms. Biz tossed her sleek ponytail and stated that when she treats, she likes to ensure her guests have plenty to eat. In that aspect, Ms. Biz reminds me of my mother.

The beef curry combo includes a soup of the day, steamed rice and a coffee or tea. For an extra dollar, you can upgrade to a cold milk tea. Ms. Biz asserted that the only restaurants that make an authentic Chinese milk tea belong to Taste of Asia Restaurants. She pointed out that even the complimentary tea we were drinking was Yellow Label Lipton tea. When I asked why Lipton tea is considered a positive, she answered it is the standard for HK style milk tea.

Ms. Biz asked me if I was familiar with this style of soup, as it is a herbal broth that Paw Paws (Chinese word for grandmother) make for their family. I was surprised to see so much soft meat on the soup bones. The broth was sweet and hot. The pieces of carrots and melons were firm and not overcooked to mush. The broth was infused with tangerine peels and dates, which according to Ms. Biz is conducive for cooling down your body temperature in the summer months.

One of Ms. Biz favourite dishes at Calgary Court is a quintessential HK staple – the luncheon meat egg sandwich. The mountain of pale yellow eggs is almost custard-like. The crispy golden brown slice of spam gives the sandwich a pop of saltiness. The softness of the fluffy bread melded against the eggs and spam and perfectly cradled the two ingredients together.

Ms. Biz believes Calgary Court makes the best sui kow (shrimp and wood ear mushroom soup dumpling) in Calgary. I gasped in disbelief, “Even better than Lucky Place?” Ms. Biz doesn’t jest. One order of sui kow comes with six dumplings and each dumpling contains two large pieces of whole shrimp. What makes this dumpling irresistible is the delicate crunchy filling of shrimp, water chestnuts and bamboo shoots. Karplop mentioned the flavour of the broth was tasty and encouraged me to drink more. I love eating with Karplop and Ms. Biz. They are so giving, I always feel cared for when I eat with them.

Ms. Biz mentioned that though the ho fan noodles aren’t made in house, the noodles are still homemade. She pointed out how generous Calgary Court is with the black seaweed and sour pickles. The fish cake was sliced thin and silky soft. Ms. Biz said what makes this soup sing with umami is the addition of ground dried flounder and pepper flakes.

My favourite dish was of course the most fattening one – curry tender beef. The beef was marbled with juicy bits of fat. The potato was so soft, it disintegrated when I bit it. Ms. Biz said the sauce is made with condensed milk and coconut milk. I could tell because the curry was ultra rich and creamy.

The week prior, I ordered takeout from Calgary Court. I ordered a dish FoodKarma recommends – the Shrimp & Egg Fried Ho Fan ($16.99). I was impressed with the large pieces of pink, crunchy shrimp. The wok hei was subtle. The portion of egg sauce and noodles was so generous, it spilled in my takeout container. Make sure you get some of Calgary Court’s chili oil – it added the necessary heat that cuts into the thick, eggy sauce.

I told Ms. Biz I didn’t care for the Pan Fried Turnip Cake ($6.50) because I found the texture too hard and oily. Ms. Biz said to never order dim sum at a HK style restaurant. Around this time, Ms. Biz saw a friend from across the room. He came over to chat with her. I overheard him say he ordered the salt and pepper squid and tofu and shrimp dish. I fought the urge to tell him not to order dishes like salt and pepper squid at a HK style restaurant because no one likes a know-it-all.

FoodKarma and Josiahhh saw my Instagram posts of all the food and recommended the next time I come, I try the Baked Portuguese Pork Chop on Rice ($16.99). I also want to try the Hainan style steamed chicken with rice ($15.99), which appears to be a featured specialty dish. I know L would enjoy the food at Calgary Court.

Photo credit: Taste of Asia

One of many things that impress me about a Chinese restaurant is the wide selection of dishes you can get and how common it is for diners to customize their dishes. I think it’s impressive that a chef can make so many dishes and improvise based on a customer’s preference. I also want to mention that during my past two visits, how good the service has been at Calgary Court. As I don’t speak Chinese, I really appreciate the extra dose of courtesy I received from staff.

 

 

Cheap Eats · Chinatown · Chinese · Restaurants

Lucky Place – COVID-19 dine-in edition

 

Ms. Biz and I met up in Chinatown for lunch. Though my go-to restaurant Chong Fat just opened up again, I took this opportunity to dine at Lucky Place. I still fantasize about the dishes Ms. Biz ordered back in June 2017. For this post, let’s listen to “Fantasy” by Mariah Carey.

I notice when my mother, Office Dad or Ms. Biz order off the menu, there’s a series of follow-up questions, suggestions and recommendations. With my severely limited vocabulary, I can’t do the necessary dialogue. I wish my parents pushed me harder in Chinese school.

menu 2

The dish I dream about is the Beef Shank and Tendon with Gai Lan and Double-Fried HK Style Chow Mein ($15). I’m not joking. Below is a picture I keep at my desk in case my boss wants to have a team lunch in Chinatown. That way, I can easily show the server at Lucky Place the dish I want to order.

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Once in a blue moon, I take the picture out and stare at the glistening pieces of tendon and beef shank. Sometimes I wonder if my love for dining out is a problem, bordering on obsession. I can’t stress about it. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

eef

As I said before, beef shank and tendon chow mein isn’t on the regular menu. Ms. Biz requests that the chow mein is pan-fried on both sides and gai lan is substituted for bok choy.

Hot and smooth, the tendon was soft and almost jelly-like. Lucky Place’s tendon reminds me of bone marrow, rich and full of fatty beefy flavour. I thought the portion of beef shank and tendon was very generous for the price.

Chowmein

The double pan frying of the noodles results in a brittle texture that soaks up all that rich brown gravy. The dark emerald green leaves were slightly bitter while the slender stalks were sweet and crisp.

Small Bowl noo

Ms. Biz ordered a combo set – Minced Pork and Century Old Egg Congee and Thai Style Salted Fish How Fun ($9.99). The moment this dish hit our table, I could smell the fish. I loved the pungency of the fish and pork floss. Ms. Biz mentioned salted fish is expensive to purchase at a store.

fish noods

The rice noodles were marvelously chewy and caramelized from the wok. The fragrance of the wok hei always gets me weak in the knees. Most home cooks can’t achieve the coveted wok hei because you need a commercial stove to cook at a high temperature.

noods two

A lot of Chinese restaurants serve congee that is smooth and liquidy. I prefer Lucky Place’s version because the soup is thick and fluffy. The soup was loaded with goodies like slippery chunks of century old egg, shards of fresh ginger, ground pork and green onions. This is my ultimate comfort food.

congee

If you aren’t fluent in Chinese, show the owner the pictures on this blog or pick up a version of their new English menu. Ask for the Beef Brisket & Chinese Greens on Rice ($11.95), then request a substitution of fried chow mein ($1.50) and gai lan ($1.99). If there’s any confusion as to what type of noodles you are requesting, point to my picture.

menu 3

Please be patient when dining at this restaurant. The owners are doing the best they can while doing the work of four, so service is slower. English is not their first language, so be open to communicating by pointing at pictures or showing images from this post.

Trust me. The food is worth the effort and the prices are a steal. This feast was only $25 and I had leftovers for L. To date, I haven’t found any other Chinese restaurant in Calgary that makes tendon this good. Hitting the Sauce gives Lucky Place two fat thumbs up.

Lucky Place Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Chinatown · Chinese · Dim Sum · Restaurants

Dim Sum at the Chinese Cultural Centre Cuisine – COVID-19 edition

My friend Karol is busy helping restaurants gain more exposure during the COVID-19 pandemic. Most recently, she worked with YYC Takeout Specials and helped to raise $3,000 for families and children in need.

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Now that spring is finally here, let’s listen to something weather appropriate. For this post, I pick “Violin Sonata No. 5, Op. 24” by composer Ludwig van Beethoven.

When I saw Karol’s dim sum post from the Chinese Cultural Centre Cuisine (CCCC), I started to salivate. Look to the dish at the bottom left. Holler! What huge balls! I asked her if I called, would the staff be able to communicate with me in English? Karol said yes, but if I was worried, I could text my order to the manager. I took her up on the offer. My Chinese pronunciation is terrible as I can’t hit the right tones.

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Unfortunately, the day I called the restaurant was slammed hard. By the time the manager responded, L and I had already left Chinatown. Karol felt terrible and insisted on treating me to dim sum. I told her I would only accept her generous offer if in exchange, she tried some of the frozen dim sum I bought from Chuen May Food Product.

dim sum feast

I was impressed with the takeout dim sum. The Har Gow (steamed shrimp dumplings) was fantastic. The shrimp was plump and had a nice snap to it. When it comes to the har gow “skin”, I am particular. Too often, restaurants serve over steamed har gow, resulting in a damp skin that splits apart when you pick it up with your chopsticks. I like it when the wrapper is a touch dry and has some resistance to it. The wrapper was perfect – firm and slightly sticky.

hagow

The Siu Mai (steamed pork, shrimp and roe dumplings) was enormous. I’ve never seen a meatier sui mai. The wrapper was firm yet silky, and thick enough to stand proportionally against the ginormous meatball.

siu mai

Good siu mai has a unique texture and flavour. The pork and shrimp mixture was pleasantly crunchy from the water chestnuts and bamboo shoots. The shrimp and pork mixture was juicy and so flavouful. I’m going to ask Karol if the restaurant will sell me their dim sum frozen, so I can make it at home. Freaking fabulous. This is one of CCCC’s best dishes.

sui mai 2

The Green Peppers Stuffed with Shrimp Paste is a must order.  I counted three to five shrimps per pepper. The shrimp itself was crunchy with a bouncy texture to it.

green pepper 2

The green pepper was still firm, crisp and sweet. I could taste charred smoky flavour in the black bean sauce. Despite the cilantro, it was still a winning dish.

Green pepper

The Lo Bak Go (pan-fried turnip cake) was thickly sliced and soft. When I bit into the cake, the shreds of the moist pieces of turnip fell apart. The tiny bits of dried shrimp and pork gave a surprisingly amount of umami.

turnip

L said he wasn’t expecting the BBQ Pork Pastry to be so sweet.  I prefer eating this dish cold because the pastry becomes drier and more crumbly and the sweetness becomes less pronounced.

pastry

Dim sum is the ultimate comfort food for me. This feast reminded me of all the weekly get together my mother would organize for our family and friends. Boss Lady is notorious for over ordering at restaurants.  I have to say, she is the ultimate hostess. Generous and hospitable to the point of over the top, Roman-style gluttony.

inside pastry

I can’t wait to have dim sum again. I plan to order the sui mai, har gow, and green peppers with stuffed shrimp paste. I also want to try the lo mai gai (mini sticky rice), steamed shrimp pork and chive dumplings, shrimp rice roll, and the eggplant stuffed with shrimp paste. I’m also going to ask for a side of yellow and red Chinese mustard.

plaste

You know how Zoolander couldn’t turn left on a runway? I can’t plate food for the life of me. Despite my disability, you can still see how delicious the dim sum is at CCCC.  Give it a try. I know I’m going to order again. Hitting the Sauce gives The Chinese Culture Centre Cuisine two fat thumbs up.

The Cultural Centre Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Chinatown · Korean · Restaurants

No Man’s Dinner – Moon Korean BBQ

On Thursday, @loaf2go and I hosted our third No Man’s Dinner at Moon Korean BBQ. We named this dinner “Lovers’ Feast” because the event was the night before Valentine’s Day and we wanted to order from the all-you-can-eat menu. For this post, let’s listen to “Love Machine” by The Miracles.

Originally, our reservation was for 12 guests. By noon that day, one member said she was sick. A couple of hours later, another member said something came up. Loaf2go, T, YYCFoodiePak and Mr. YYCFoodie arrived early at Moon Korean BBQ. I arrived two minutes before 6:30 p.m. Pink Baller  arrived exactly on time. True to her name, Pink Baller brought a cake from Wow Bakery.

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Loaf2go, YYCFoodiePak and I were excited to finally meet Pink Baller. We all follow her on Instagram and I’m intrigued with her travel posts. I like to be frugal when I travel, so I enjoy living vicariously through her. In her last trip, I followed her fancy footsteps to top restaurants, helicopter excursions, and a Vegas Knights hockey game.

sides

By 7:00 p.m., I made the executive decision to order our food, even though Seashell and her guest were absent. We ordered from the basic all-you-can-eat menu ($24.50): fried chili tofu; Korean vegetarian pancake; braised pork side ribs; sweet and sour pork; spicy pork bulgogi; spicy beef bulgogi; pork ribs; spicy pork bulgogi; spicy chicken; kimchi; bean sprouts; sweet potatoes; lettuce; beef udon soup; vegetarian japchae; and cold buckwheat noodles.

Our server told us to order some dishes in smaller quantities as he thought we ordered too much. I’m glad we listened to him because it was a lot of food. Below are pictures I stole from Pink Baller and Loaf2go’s Instagram accounts. All the photos under NoMansDinner are Loaf2go’s photos.

tofu

The fried chili tofu wasn’t that spicy. The exterior was crispy and the tofu on the inside was light with an airy texture. I thought the tofu could have used a little salt.

pancake

The vegetarian pancake was cooked well – each side was nicely crisp. I would have liked it with some seafood or more sauce as I found the flavours muted.

nood pull

Pink Baller and I thought the vegetarian japae noodles were delicious. The noodles were soft and pliable with a sweet, salty, savoury seasoning. The medley of onions and greens were cooked so that it still had a bite to it. Loaf2go noted there was too much white pepper in the noodles.

ribs

The Korean BBQ meats were the best thing on the menu. All the meats arrived hot and freshly cooked. Our group’s favourite was the pork ribs. The pork was tender and juicy. I’d order the pork ribs and spicy chicken again.

pork

The pork side ribs reminded me of pi gwat – a Chinese dim sum dish of steamed pork ribs with black beans sauce. The ribs were meaty and soft. We were given one condiment to use for our BBQ meats – a reddish sauce that reminded me of Chinese mustard. The meats weren’t heavily seasoned. Loaf2go said for Korean food, she is used to more potency and individual flavour notes within a dish as opposed to one sauce.

pork bones

YYCFoodiePak enjoyed the cold buckwheat noodles. I found the coldness of the buckwheat noodles jarring. I preferred the beef udon. The broth was flavourful and the beef itself was very tasty. The noodles were hot and slippery.

tofu bite

I thought the sweet and sour pork was similar to ginger beef. The pork was cut into strips and battered. The sauce was light and syrupy.

sweet and sour

We were so full, we didn’t order a second round. At this time, we began to play the guilt trip game because no one wanted to eat more but we were worried we would get charged for the leftover food.

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Loaf2go took on the beef udon and complained that she was doing all the eating. I rolled my eyes and said I came on hot and heavy in the beginning of the meal and I ate more than anyone. I could see Pink Baller was tactful and she politely picked at the sweet and sour pork and a pork side rib. T finished up the japae noodles and ate more of the BBQ meats. YYCFoodiePak said she was going to order strawberry ice-cream. She’s not a team player. Mr. YYCFoodie ate more meats and reassured us we wouldn’t get charged for the little amount left on the plates. I could tell he’s done the all-you-can-eat before.

ake

Pink Baller was so sweet to bring a cake to her first No Man’s Dinner. I love combination of the fresh strawberries with whip cream and vanilla sponge cake. Strawberry cake is simplicity at its best. I told Pink Baller she’s invited to my upcoming fried chicken party, an off-the-record No Man’s Dinner event.

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For all-you-can-eat, Moon Korean BBQ doesn’t disappoint. Unlike other similar venues, all the hot food tasted freshly prepared. Stay tuned for the next No Man’s Dinner at Sukiyaki House. However, we are going to have to enforce our house rules. Bring out the Chinese feather duster!

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For those of you who didn’t grow up in a Chinese household, the chicken feather duster is used to discipline children for the slightest infraction. Before my father would use this atrocious device to “clean house” he would solemnly say, “This is going to hurt me more than you.” Based on the expression on his face as he levied the feather duster on our tiny, outstretched hands, he didn’t look like he was suffering.

Moon Korean BBQ Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Cheap Eats · Chinatown · Chinese · Dim Sum · Restaurants

U & Me – Dim Sum Special

I’m planning a trip to Vegas and I wanted advice from Ms. Biz. She knows her restaurants and she travels to Vegas six times a year. She also dines at some of the best restaurants in the world. I was hoping for her toned-down list, as I’m no baller. For this post, let’s listen to “9 to 5” by Dolly Parton.

I wanted to eat at Chong Fat but the restaurant was closed. Lucky Place was too busy so Ms. Biz suggested U & Me for the dim sum set lunch. For only $42 bucks, we could pick two “A” dishes and five “B” dim sum items.

For our first “A” dish, we picked gai lan, which is similar to broccoli but firmer and sweeter. Ms. Biz gleefully noted that the greens were good looking and not over boiled. I never heard anyone call a vegetable attractive, but yeah, I’ll eat that. The smell of the garlic was intoxicating. The greens were hot temperature wise but still crisp.

Our second “A” dish was the XO Fried Turnip Cake. The turnip was lightly grilled, the exterior browned and crispy. Each piece was steaming hot and pillowy soft. The grilled red peppers and green onions were tossed in a spicy seasoning. The portion was generous.

I don’t normally eat Steamed Beef Beat Balls because there is cilantro in it. However, I indulged because there wasn’t an obvious abundance of the green herb. Ms. Biz said the balls were not over steamed and she liked the texture, which was bouncy and spongy. The flavour of the beef was mild. I would order this again.

The Baked BBQ Pork Buns tasted like it was right out of the oven. The pastry was warm and sweet. The pork filling was very warm. This was my least favourite dish because I didn’t like the sweetness of the pastry and filling.

One of the best dishes was the Shrimp in Rice Roll. The ample amount of shrimp was crunchy. The rice roll was slippery and soft. The light soy sauce was mildly salty, just enough to compliment the shrimp and noodle combination.

My mother would approve of the Meat and Peanut Dumplings. The wrapper wasn’t over steamed. I like the simplicity of the flavours and the clean pop of the boiled peanuts.

The Deep Fried Turnip Cake is a must order. It’s decadent and savoury, with a thousand layers of pastry. We only ate half a cake, because it’s that rich. I think the fried turnip cake is U & Me’s signature dim sum dish.

Ms. Biz gave me her list of go-to restaurants to try in Vegas: Joel Robuchon, Raku, Magul Korean BBQ, Monta Ramen, Bouchan, Wynn Buffet, and KJ Kitchen. I’m knocking off Joel Robuchon because there’s no way I’m paying that much to gain weight. I will hit Raku, Magul Korean BBQ, Monta Ramen and Ping Pang Pong for some late night eats and dim sum.

I kept the bill by my tea cup so I could pay after our meal. However, Cruising is sneaky and went up to the cashier to pay while Ms. Biz held me back. On the walk back to work, Ms. Biz told me Cruising’s birthday is coming up. I told them I was taking them to Caesar’s Steakhouse for lunch. This time, I was paying and there’s no fighting me. Ms. Biz said she would split it with me. I told her no way in hell would I let her. This Chinese etiquette thing is getting ridiculous and I’m no mooch.

I came back to the office and regaled my boss with my description of the food and prices at U & Me. He wants to know the details, so here it is. Every single blessed day, U and Me offers this set lunch from 11:00 a.m. – 5:00 pm. If you dine before 11:00 a.m, there are rice and congee deals for only $2.99. There you have it – Calgary’s best dim sum deal.

U & Me Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Brunch · Chinatown · Chinese · New York · Patio · Restaurants · Special Occasion

New York – Bar 54, Ellen’s Stardust Diner and Cheong Fun Cart

Beep Beep wanted to have a drink at Bar 54. She mentioned the bar was overpriced and touristy, but she wanted to see the rooftop view of Chrysler Building and of lower Manhattan. We toasted to her birthday with an Aperol Spritzer ($26) and a Rosolio Spritz ($26). The spritzer tasted gross and reminded me of cough medicine. Pro-tip – stick to wine. We much preferred our glass of Rodney Strong Knights Valley ($19) over the cocktails. After midnight, we decided to call it a night.

We were about to enter the subway when a dirty looking man peeped through the gate and started babbling in a high-pitched baby voice: “Nooo? Yesss! Nooo? Yesss!” Before I could stop myself, I responded “Noooo.” Subway Guy looked excited and repeated “Yesss?” I sternly shook my head and said firmly “No!” Since we hadn’t entered through the gate, he assumed we were looking for another train. He said if we went up the stairs and to the left, the other train would be there. I didn’t like his eagerness and the fact he wanted to continue our ‘conversation’ so we pretended to exit. When I heard him take off, we returned to wait for our train. There was another guy there who there who half-heartedly muttered, “Noooo? Yesss!” We ignored him. For this post, let’s listen to Trouble by Pink.

A minute before our train arrived, Subway Guy came back and told his friend he couldn’t find us. I pulled my large black hood over my head. Beep Beep whispered, “Your disguise sucks. You are not fooling anyone.” She was right because Subway Guy spotted me and said something that is so obscene, I will not repeat it. I’ve already said too much. My father reads my blog. Knowing Ludwig, he will tell on me to my mother. I know I’m going to get a flurry of emails from Boss Lady telling me to quit creating drama and getting into trouble. Sorry ma, old habits die hard.

On the way home, Beep Beep really had to pee. She ran ahead and then would stop, crouch down with her knees pressed together and bellow “Nooo?” Then she turned around to face me and coo, “Yesss!” I doubled over with laughter and couldn’t breathe or walk until she stopped mimicking the Subway Guy. Omigod, we are so immature.

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The next morning, Beep Beep woke me up at 6:30 a.m. so we would to make it to Ellen’s Stardust Diner by 7:00 a.m. Ellen’s is known for its singing wait staff. Beep Beep ordered the Smoked Salmon Plate ($20). The cook forgot to put the cream cheese on the bagel. Our server was absent so she ate her bagel without any cream cheese.

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I wasn’t feeling well, so I ordered a ginger ale and a Fresh Fruit Cup ($9). I found the assortment of cantaloupe, honeydew, grapes and pineapple incredibly fresh and sweet. Beep Beep took a bite and said it was normal fruit, I was just hung over. I ordered a latte ($6.50) that tasted like it come out of a vending machine from the 90s. Beep Beep said I should have just drank her latte, because she didn’t like it either.

I enjoyed the confetti that fluttered down from the ceiling. Some of the wait staff differed in charisma, but I enjoyed listening to them sing. A staffer came come out and gave a long story about how hard the staff worked to both sing and bring your food, so donations for their singing classes would be appreciated. The suggested additional tip was $20 bucks.

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Before we left for the airport, we stopped by Union Square Farmer’s Market, Little Italy and Chinatown. Beep Beep wanted us to try the Cheong Fun Cart. After using Google maps, I found it. Beep Beep asked a waiting customer if this was the famous Cheong Fun Cart. I knew the lady Beep Beep asked had no clue. I looked up the cart on Yelp to confirm the pictures of the cart and location. The lady said no, we needed to go to a cart that was ten minutes away. I told Beep Beep this was the right cart and showed her the matching pictures I found.

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Beep Beep freaked out because there was only a small slit through the metal cart where the vendor’s face would pop out to ask you what you wanted. The elderly woman working there was tiny, and it looked like there was enough room for her and her husband. I requested two small cheong funs ($1.50), one with pork and the other with chicken and an egg (50 cents). I added green onions and requested no cilantro.

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Oh my goodness. If you are into the texture and subtle flavours of Chinese dim sum, you’ll love these silky pools of noodles. The noodles are made fresh for you, and it was everything I was craving. Steaming hot, soft with little specks of meat and sauce to give it the right amount of savoury, salty flavour. Next time I’d omit the egg as I found texture of the yolk too dry. I would also add hot sauce. Since Beep Beep and I were sharing, I didn’t add any.

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Cheong Fun Cart was one of our favourite eats in New York. When Beep Beep complained again about the work conditions, I informed her that the woman working in the cart was the owner, so it was her decision. If she wanted to unionize, she could. Besides, after only three days in the Big Apple, I too would want to be enclosed in a metal container to protect me from being spat on, hustled or spoken to in an indecent manner.

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Before we left for the airport, Beep Beep found me a Trader’s Joe store so I could stock up Everything But the Bagel seasoning and Mushroom & Company Multi-Purpose Umami Seasoning Blend . Happy 40th birthday Beep Beep! I had an amazing time with you.

Ellen's Stardust Diner Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Cheap Eats · Chinatown · Chinese · Restaurants

Ho Won – Lobster and Wine

It’s a small world. It turns out Bottlenick knows the daughter of the chef at Ho Won, aka the flash-fried squid magician. If you don’t recall my fake news blunder on Reddit, you can read it here.

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Bottlenick, L and I decided to visit for dinner when the Magician was working. Pro tip – you can bring your own wine for a small corkage fee. Bottlenick said he would bring a bottle of bubbly. For this post, let’s listen to Amy Winehouse – Fuck Me Pumps.

I asked my friend the Wine Wizard what sort of wine pairs best with fried squid. He recommended something that has great acidity like a Riesling or an Austrian white called Gruner Veltliner. I went to Highlander Liquor store to shop for something that fit that description. An employee recommended Weingut Robert Weil –  Klosterberg Klosterberg ($48).

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I thought I was quite clever to wrap a wet tea towel around my bottle and then to freeze it so that the icy cloth would keep the wine cold. However, when I arrived at the restaurant, my dripping brown bag alarmed the servers. Pro-tip – get a reusable cold bottle sleeve like Bottlenick.

Bottlenick popped open his bottle first. Got to say, I preferred his pick over mine. I thought the dryness of his sparkling wine worked better with the squid than my Riesling, which was a tad sweet and I thought for the price, wasn’t anything special.

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We ordered pea tips, lobster with fried noodles and salt and pepper squid. The first to arrive at our table were the pea tips. Bottlenick was expecting a more dainty dish – not the luscious, vibrant greens that we received. Pea tips taste like a hybrid mix of peas, spinach and gai lan (Chinese broccoli). I love the delicate crunch of the stems. I’m not sure how much the lobster or pea tips cost, because L didn’t take the receipt and couldn’t remember how much they cost. Pea tips normally average around $23 dollars a dish.

The fried squid ($13.99) arrived so blistering hot I could feel the heat steam in my mouth. The squid itself was toothsome and not chewy. The batter was stellar – thin, brittle and broke apart when you bit into it. I usually eat fried squid with plain white rice and hot chili sauce. However, I passed on ordering rice because I thought the noodles would be enough.

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I haven’t had lobster in a long time. Usually, I’ll wait till I visit my family back in Richmond. The lobster was cracked in such a way that made it easy to remove the sweet meat. The lobster dish with noodles is a must order at Ho Won. The noodles retained its crunch despite the white sauce, which tasted like Alfredo without the cheese.

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I prefer the ginger and green onion version as its more fragrant and flavourful. I told Office Dad I never tried the white sauce before and I thought all Cantonese style lobster and crabs were served with the green onion and ginger sauce. He said the white sauce is automatically given to non-Asian customers unless specified. Dammit L and Bottlenick – you got me the wrong sauce.

I remember as a kid, when we went to a Chinese restaurant for a banquet, lobster would be a messier affair. We would use slippery metal lobster crackers to get to the meat. There would be bowls of hot lemon water to wash our fingers afterwards.

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At the end of our meal, we received fortune cookies. Bottlenick viciously crushed his cookie and then left it on the table. I don’t think he likes fortune cookies.

At 7:00 pm on a Saturday night, Ho Won was packed. I noticed the majority of the clientele are Asian, which is a good sign that the food is good. The Magician does indeed have special powers. This visit was far superior to the lunches I’ve enjoyed in the past.  I’d love to return again, particularly when he is working. Hitting the Sauce gives the Magician two fat thumbs up.

Ho Won Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Chinatown · Korean · Restaurants

Bon-ga – Chinatown

Ay Caramba took me out for lunch for my birthday. She surprised me in the morning with two beautiful blue bowls along with some coconut, almond and chocolate mix. She also ordered me to take a lieu day on Friday, so I could prepare for Beep Beep’s visit. For my birthday weekend posts, I’m going to play my favourite tunes. First up is Yo-Yo Ma – Bach Cello Suite No.1 Prelude.

I wanted to keep our group small, so I invited Asian Persuasion, Office Dad, and Pak_to_eating. Lam Jam emailed us earlier in the week and wanted to meet for lunch on the same day, so I extended the invitation to him as well. When we left the office, a coworker mentioned that we were a homogeneous bunch and wondered if it was a prerequisite to be Asian to join our lunch. I thought that was funny because whenever other people go for lunch, I’m sure no one would think – “Wow! That group has something in common – they are all Caucasian!”

As with most Korean restaurants, we received complimentary banchan – tiny side dishes that compliment the meal. When we asked for a refill, our server gave us double the amount. I liked the pungent pieces of kimchi, marinated mung bean sprouts, and musaengchae (white radish).

We ordered Gamjatang – a boiling pot of pork bones, potatoes, and cabbage. I asked for only a little spice because Ay Caramba can’t handle the heat. I know this is a popular dish, but I find it too cumbersome and messy to eat the meat still attached to the bones. I wouldn’t order this on my own.

I specifically ordered the Spicy Squid and Pork Sizzling Plate ($32.99) because of Bruce K. He raved about this dish on Yelp. He’s quite the intense foodie, so I wanted to see what the big deal was about.

This dish is a winner. The toothsome slices of soft squid and the tender pieces of pork were delicious. Make sure you eat this dish with rice, as it soaks up all that yummy sauce. I didn’t find this dish spicy at all. I wonder if it was because I told the owner that Aycaramba doesn’t like spice.

Asian Persuasion wanted to order the Pajun – a savoury seafood pancake ($19.99). Considering how thick the pancake was, I surprised the batter was so light and crispy. I’ve had pajun that’s gummy and heavy.

The pancake contained squid, shrimp and greens. I thought it was a tad light on the seafood. Still, very tasty and I would order this dish again.

One of the best dishes was the Japchae ($18.50). The sweet potato noodles were bouncy, sweet and savoury from the sauce. I liked the combination of the crunchy vegetables, beef and assorted mushrooms. Asian Persuasion said it is easy to make japchae, as it’s just a few key ingredients. I have made japchae before but it didn’t taste nearly as good as Bon-ga’s. I think I don’t put enough sesame oil and sugar in my version.

Persuasion wanted to try the Asian Beef Bone Soup ($13.99). The broth was milky white and cloudy. The meat was soft. Office Dad shared a piece with me, as the bowl was pretty small.

The flavour of the broth was mild. I thought this was the weakest dish, it just lacked the vibrancy of all the other dishes. However, a hot soup is nice as it rounds out the meal and warms you up.

I would return again with a group to try the Korean BBQ combos. Just a heads up – Bonga is a small mom and pop operation. During our lunch, the restaurant filled up with other groups. The owner and one server were kept busy. The owner would still checked in on us and whenever we needed anything, there was a buzzer at the table. Thanks Ay Caramba for setting up this lunch date and treating me. Hitting the Sauce gives Bon-ga two fat thumbs.

Bon-Ga Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Chain Restaurants · Chinatown · Chinese · Restaurants

Dagu Rice Noodle

Dagu Rice Noodle replaced the old Y2K restaurant in Chinatown. I persuaded Ay Caramba, Office Dad and Asian Persuasion to check it out with me at lunch. For this post, let’s listen to Red Hot Chili Peppers – Under the Bridge.

The restaurant was packed when we showed up, but we were lucky enough to snag a table after waiting for only five minutes. We interacted with several servers, as there wasn’t a dedicated server for a section. I found the staff efficient and helpful.

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Here’s a pro tip. If you see a server delivering a bowl, do them a favour and get the hell out of their way. The bowls brought to the table arrive at 300F. Also, Instagramers be quick taking your photos or video. Customers are instructed to cook their meats immediately, or else it won’t be cooked at the proper temperature.

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Asian Persuasion thought it was funny that the soup spoons were gigantic. I found the spoons difficult to sip from. Instead, I used the spoon to scoop up the bits of goodness and then use my chopsticks to pick up the item.

All soups are made daily from pork bone, with the except of the tomato soup. No MSG is used. Apparently, every night, Dagu uses 100 pounds of pork bones for the broth, which makes it rich with collagen and nutrients.

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I ordered Crossing the Bridge Rice Noodle Soup ($11.49), which came with fresh wuchang rice noodles, and two beef slices. Toppings include a quail egg, fish cake, corn, crab sticks, root vegetables, lettuce, and two odd pieces of meat that looked like salami and ham. I can handle my spice but I got to say, Dagu was the spiciest I’ve ever tried.

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Asian Persuasion and I turned bright red and sweated profusely for an hour. Our mouths were burning. She had the sense to put some of the hot oil in a bowl, which helped to reduce the hot heat.  She asked our server if we could get some hot water or more broth in our bowls, but he shook his head. He said next time to ask for half the spice.

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Of all the toppings, I enjoyed the fish cake the most. The corn was chewy and sweet. The noodles were slippery and soft. I asked for a noodle refill because I couldn’t sip on the broth and I thought it would counteract the spiciness. I wish I didn’t order the extra noodles because I was uncomfortably full for hours after our lunch.

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Office Dad’s Pickled Cabbage Rice Noodle Soup with Fish Slices ($13.99) was the winning dish. I loved the white pepperiness of the broth and the sourness of the pickled cabbage. Office Dad likes the chunky pieces of white fish. Asian Persuasion, Office Dad and I both liked the fish soup the best.

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Ay Caramba ordered the Signature Rice Noodle Soup with Braised Bone-in Beef ($13.99) and added additional beef slices ($2.99). She raved about the broth and thought it was superior to the soup served at One Pot. Ay Caramba was so full from all the meat that she couldn’t finish her noodles or the fish cake.

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Funny coincidence – Foodly_yyc posted this photo on Instagram. Turns out he was at the restaurant the same time. I can see my coworker and the back of my navy blue blazer. I also took a picture and judging from the angle of Foodly_yyc’s photo, I might have captured him as well.

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My office mates are eager to return. Dagu is a welcome addition in Chinatown. Just a warning – if you have dietary restrictions or just particular in general, I would give this place a pass. The language barrier plus the hard coreness of this cuisine is not for everyone. Also, if you have young children, make sure they stay seated and don’t wander around the restaurant.

Dagu Noodle Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato