Hong Kong: Chachawan and The Cupping Room

Hong Kong's Chachawan

Hong Kong’s Chachawan

I actually first heard of Chachawan (206 Hollywood Rd., Sheung Wan) because there was a buzz in Shanghai when “Chachawan” opened. Lo and behold, Shanghai’s Chachawan was a complete fraud and copycat of the Hong Kong establishment. They literally even copied the logo. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), they couldn’t copy the food and since then, the fake Chachawan has been renamed StreeThai.

I guess the positive side to all of this drama was that Chachawan came on my radar. While I was in Hong Kong, I happened to be staying close by and absolutely fell in love with the place. Chachawan doesn’t serve your “typical” Thai food and you won’t be finding your normal curry dishes or pad thai on the menu. Instead, they serve dishes from the northeastern region of Thailand, Isaan. Having never visited Thailand, I can’t vouch for the authenticity, but I can certainly vouch for its deliciousness!

My friend and I started our meal with the highly recommended Gai Yung, grilled chicken thigh. This chicken has been marinated for 24 hours in garlic, pepper and coriander and then grilled inside wooden chopsticks. The outside skin is crispy and the chicken is moist and tender. I really loved the side sauce and recommend keeping it to douse your other dishes in it. We also ordered the Yum Makuar Yaw, which was an eggplant salad topped by a giant prawn and a soft-boiled egg. The eggplant had a wonderfully smoky flavor, but still had a level of freshness with the mint and coriander. The prawn was HUGE and grilled to perfection with the meat having that hint of natural sweetness.

We were both obsessed with Khao Pad, crab fried rice with egg and spring onions. Even though it’s a simple dish, it was chockfull of crab meat and reminded me of comfort food. My favorite combination was actually taking the sauce from the Gai Yung and pouring it over the rice. I didn’t really like the sauce that comes with the fried rice. Make sure you save room in your stomach for Roti Gluay aka Thai banana pancake. This crispy roti has a beautiful glaze of condensed milk on the outside and is filled with thinly sliced bananas. I’m not even the biggest fan of bananas, but I will happily order this roti every time I go to Chachawan.

Chachawan does not take reservations and also does not let you order food for takeout. So expect a wait. On the plus side, you can grab a drink at the restaurant/bar next door (same owners) and can chill out while you wait for your table. Honestly, I really enjoyed the food and would happily wait again for a table.

Cupping Room

Hong Kong’s: The Cupping Room

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Hong Kong: Dim Sum at The Boss and the Social Place

The Boss Dim Sum

The Boss Dim Sum

I love dim sum and when my friend recommended The Boss (58-62 Queen’s Road, Central) for their truffle noodles, I knew that I had to try it for myself. Located in the basement in a building across the street from Topshop, The Boss is actually a 1-Michelin star restaurant. Based on the photos online and their website, dinner looks to be spectacular, albeit at bit expensive. Dim sum, which is only offered at lunch on the weekends, seems like a good compromise.

Not knowing what to expect, The Boss’s decor was fancier than I anticipated and also smaller. I definitely recommend making reservations because the entire place did end up filling up. The dim sum was quite good. I really liked the har gau (shrimp dumplings), the outside skin was delicate and thin, but the inside was bursting with fresh pieces of shrimp. The siu mai was also nicely executed and I like their crispy spring rolls. The real star was the truffle noodles. I know it may sound weird to have truffle in Asian food, but this dish was so simple and so tasty. It’s just noodles, bean sprouts and truffles that have been stir-fried, but there is so much flavor in each bite. The Boss’s liu sha bao (salted egg yolk custard bun) was also amazing. My only mistake was eating it last when it had cooled down and so the filling wasn’t runny like it should have been.

Hong Kong: The Social Place

Hong Kong: Social Place

Another restaurant that is more well-known for their contemporary dim sum is the Social Place (139 Queen’s Road Central, Central). The Social Place’s decor was quite modern and their big center table was actually a bright blue ping pong table. They served some really creative and pretty dim sum, including mushroom buns and rose buns. It’s amazing how realistic they make the mushroom buns look like a shitake mushroom and the filling has truffle oil inside.

The Social Place- Food

Social Place Chinese Fusion Dishes

Another signature dish is the quail, which has crispy skin on the inside and succulent meat on the inside. We ordered a few more dishes like the scallops with tea leaves and stir-fried Chinese broccoli, which was cut to look like beautiful vines. One dish that I didn’t like was the diced beef with wasabi peas and cucumbers. I didn’t really think wasabi and beef made a good combination and having uncooked cucumbers mixed in was just strange.

The Social Place is a good option if you want to take guests to have a non-traditional Chinese meal. I also like the fact that you can order dim sum at dinner too, not just lunch. Perhaps the best part is that the restaurant is in the same building at Ten Feet Tall, a great place to get foot or full body massage. So you can treat yourself to a massage and then head down a few floors to enjoy dim sum at the Social Place.

Hong Kong: Via Tokyo and BAKE CHEESE TART

Via Tokyo: Green Tea Froyo and Green Tea Latte

Via Tokyo: Matcha Green Tea Soft Serve and Green Tea Latte

One trend that I’ve noticed about desserts in Hong Kong is the recent surge of places offering Hokkaido milk. Lately, any produce coming from Hokkaido, Japan seems to be of the highest quality (like the equivalent of eating Kobe beef). Apparently the cows in Hokkaido produce a richer and smoother tasting milk thanks to the local climate and bountiful grass zones.

Via Tokyo (106-126 Leighton Road, Causeway Bay) offers matcha green tea desserts and soft serve. This tiny shop only has a few seats inside so definitely expect a short wait if you want to eat on the premises. What makes Via Tokyo so special? Their matcha green tea powder comes from Kyoto and the milk comes from Hokkaido. I had read that they offer Royal Milk Tea flavored soft serve, but unfortunately, it wasn’t available when I went. On our visit, I ordered the green tea matcha soft serve with mochi pieces and my friend ordered a green tea latte. My soft serve was creamy without being too sweet and had a distinct tea aftertaste. I really loved the latte. It was easier to appreciate the Hokkaido milk in the latte because it was smooth, creamy and rich. We were too full to order any of the other additional pastries, but the éclair and mille-feuille looked delicious.

Bake Hokkaido Cheese Tarts

Bake Hokkaido Cheese Tarts

If you don’t believe that Hokkaido dairy is taking Hong Kong by storm, then you have to check out the line for BAKE CHEESE TART in the basement of the Sogo mall (B2/F, Sogo, 555 Hennessy Road, Causeway Bay). My friend and I just happened to come across BAKE CHEESE TART because we were wandering the food supermarket in the basement of Sogo. We saw a huge queue for cheese tarts and were told that the line should only take 20-30 minutes. As it turns out, our wait was 45 minutes. But, it was totally worth it.

These cheese tarts are made with three types of cheeses (2 from Hokkaido and 1 from France) and the consistency is a mix between a mousse and cheesecake. The crust was also amazing and reminded me of a cross between shortbread and a fortune cookie. It was crispy, but not flaky, with a nice crunch when you bite into it. When my friend and I ate ours, it was still slightly warm from being so freshly baked. The filling actually started to ooze out a bit. We still had a couple left and refrigerated it overnight. The next morning, we had them for breakfast and the consistency was quite different. I think that I prefer them warm, and would highly recommend reheating them in a toaster oven. So if you’re in Causeway Bay, I do recommend making a pit stop at Sogo and getting yourself from cheese tarts.

Hong Kong: Pololi and Sunday’s Grocery

Pololi Poke Bowl

Poke and Spam Musubi at Hong Kong’s Pololi

I really miss Hong Kong sometimes because I just feel that the food scene is far more exciting compared to Shanghai. I think it’s the fact that Hong Kong has more options for reasonably priced food compared to Shanghai.

I’m extremely wary about eating raw fish in Shanghai, but I’m a lot more trusting in Hong Kong. When I saw a friend post photos of the Hawaiian-style poke at Pololi (213 Queen’s Road Central; Sheung Wan), I knew that I had to go.

Pololi

Pololi Storefront

Pololi is a small take-out place nestled in Sheung Wan, just past a wet market. For your poke bowl, you can pick white or brown rice, salad or a combo of both rice and salad. You can pick up to two flavors of fresh fish too. I chose the Thai tuna and salmon combo. I really liked the lemongrass and slightly spicy flavors in the tuna and the salmon had some nice fat to round out my poke bowl. Everything was so fresh, flavorful and filling. I was pretty darn excited when I saw they also served spam musubi. If you’ve never had spam musubi before, it’s basically pan-fried spam sushi with teriyaki sauce. You can’t go wrong by ordering it.

Sundays Grocery Food

Sunday’s Grocery: Scotch Egg Sandwich, Fried Chicken and Chickpea Salad

Another exciting discovery in Hong Kong was Sunday’s Grocery (66-68 Catchick Street; Kennedy Town). I never had the chance to eat at Yardbird, but I was really excited to hear that founders opened a casual storefront in Kennedy Town. Sunday’s Grocery is part liquor store, part take-out sandwich shop. It’s a small storefront and actually could easily be missed among the hustle and bustle.

Sundays Grocery

If you can, I’d highly recommend that you visit Sunday’s Grocery on a Saturday. It’s the only time they serve their fried chicken and I think also the only time you can get the Scotch Egg sandwich. For the fried chicken, you can order original or Korean-style or half/half. My friend and I decided to get the combination of both. In Hong Kong, you can find a special breed of chicken that is extremely high quality. The chicken fat is actually yellow and not white. I was very pleasantly surprised to bite into my fried chicken and discover that it was this special breed! It was extra tasty and also tender. I actually preferred the original flavor over the Korean-style because the Korean chicken was too sweet for my liking.

I love scotch eggs and could not resist ordering the scotch egg sandwich. This was probably one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever eaten in my life. My soft-boiled egg was deep-fried in a coating of minced meat (I want to guess it was chicken or pork). I was so impressed by everything. The egg was fried perfectly. The meat coating was seasoned and actually juicy and not dry. By having the soft-boiled egg, you had a beautiful oozing egg yolk coating each bite. The sandwich is small so I definitely recommend ordering a side of the chickpea salad. I literally do not know what they put in the chickpea salad that made it so tasty, but there were small pieces of roasted cauliflower and deep-fried falafel croutons sprinkled on top. I think I could have eaten a half-gallon of this chickpea salad.

I will admit that the prices are not cheap at Sunday’s Grocery as a sandwich is 88 HKD and definitely on the small side (I think I could eat three of them). Also, since this is a take-out place, there’s really no seating. You can either sit outside on small milk crates or stand at a very small counter for two people. It’s a no frills establishment, but definitely a place to try out in Kennedy Town.

Shanghai: Bull & Claw Brunch and Al’s Diner

Bull and Claw: Lobster Eggs Benedict

Bull and Claw: Lobster Eggs Benedict

It’s hard to get excited for brunch in Shanghai. I know, total #firstworldproblem if there ever was one. Ever since Madison closed, there’s been a hole in my life because brunch just doesn’t compare elsewhere. Also, I don’t want to pay an arm and a leg just to eat brunch on the Bund. I’m really happy to report that Bull & Claw (466 Xikang Lu; 西康路466号) in Jing’an was one of the most enjoyable brunches I’ve had in ages. It was warm this past weekend and they were able to open all of the sliding doors and let in the fresh air.

Bull & Claw in Shanghai

Bull & Claw in Shanghai

Bull & Claw offers a three-course set menu: 1 course for 85 RMB, 2 courses for 145 RMB and 3 courses for 165 RMB. Considering that they had cocktails and fresh juices listed as one of the courses, it’s really easy to decide to just splurge and go for all three.

Bull and Claw Brunch

Bull & Claw Brunch

I ordered the brioche French toast and lobster eggs Benedict while my friend ordered the Turkish menemen. I have to admit that the French toast was the only lackluster part of my meal. The bread was really dry and although the salted caramel sauce was delicious, it couldn’t make up for the fact that the bread was horribly dry. I want my French toast to be a custard-like consistency after soaking in beautiful creamy batter all night. This French toast didn’t really have much taste.

However, the rest of the food made up for the poor French toast. While you do have pay an extra 80 kuai for the lobster eggs Benedict, it is totally worth it. The English muffins were toasted well and topped with bacon, a healthy portion of spinach, beautiful pieces of lobster, perfectly poached eggs and hollandaise sauce. I loved my dish. The lobster tasted fresh with great texture (not that weird mushy consistency). The spinach and bacon made the dish felt more substantial and the whole dish is surprisingly filling. I couldn’t even finish it (and I ate this first before trying the French toast). My friend’s Turkish menemen was absolutely delicious. Similar to a shashuka, two eggs are baked in a casserole dish with tomatoes, onions, peppers, sumac, yoghurt and spices. The menemen definitely has a little bit of kick and is spicy and flavorful. You also get two toasted pieces of bread to soak up all that liquid goodness. I can’t wait to go back to Bull & Claw soon and try more of their dishes.

Milkshake at Al's Diner

Milkshake at Al’s Diner

I was really excited to try Al’s Diner (204 Xinle Lu; 新乐路204号), which offered greasy, comfort food and homemade ice cream from Gracie’s. Gracie’s started with a small ice cream cart outside of House of Lasagna, but Al’s Diner offers a full ice cream bar with a myriad of different flavors. You can make any of her ice cream flavors into a milkshake and I decided to get the Winterberry and White Chocolate one. Considering the high quality of her ice cream, this milkshake was absolutely magical. It was bursting with berry flavor and so deeply satisfying. The only thing that could have made it better would be if it was slightly thicker and also slightly cheaper (60 RMB for a shake).

Al's Diner: Honey Sriracha Chicken Wings, Patty Melt and Kimchee Fried Rice

Al’s Diner: Honey Sriracha Chicken Wings, Patty Melt and Kimchee Fried Rice

When my friend and I met up, we were starving and quickly ordered the honey sriracha chicken wings, patty melt and kimchee fried rice. The chicken wings came in 2nd after the milkshake. They were crispy, but not too greasy, and had a nice sweet and spicy flavor. The accompanying cole slaw was really meh (needed more mayo), but that just leaves more space in your stomach for chicken.

We weren’t as pleased with our main dishes. The patty melt was two Australian beef patties with caramelized onions, mushrooms and Gouda cheese. The bread was buttered and toasted perfectly and the filling was done well, but the meat had no taste. It needed some more salt and pepper and I found myself slathering ketchup all over my melt. The side of fries were definitely good with a great crisp. While the patty melt lacked flavor, the kimchee fried rice was bursting with it. Chinese sausage and mushrooms are mixed well in this rice and I liked the fried egg topping. I just found this rice to be WAY too oily and I couldn’t have more than a couple of bites.

I would love to go back to Al’s Diner, but I would try different dishes. I’ve heard really good reviews about the lemon ricotta and blueberry pancakes that I definitely want to try. While I did enjoy my milkshake, 60 RMB is a little too steep and I’d recommend going on Mondays when they have 30 RMB milkshake specials.

Bay Area Delectable Eats

San Francisco's Financial District

San Francisco’s Financial District

I only go home back to the Bay Area once a year for Christmas. This year, I was home for longer and made sure to take full advantage of all the culinary masterpieces that the Bay Area has to offer. Here are the highlights!

Craftsman and Wolves Rebel Within

Craftsman and Wolves Rebel Within

Craftsman and Wolves opened in San Francisco after I left the city. I’ve been dying to try their Rebel Within muffin for over two years. This beautiful savory muffin has asiago and parmesan cheese, scallions, crème fraiche and sausage mixed into the batter. But the true pièce de résistance is the soft-boiled egg inside. When you cut it open, the yolk oozes out and helps create a sauce to dip your muffin in. Craftsman and Wolves also served their Rebel Within with a small container of homemade Tabasco salt. Save that baby to sprinkle on other foods in your life. While it’s $8 for a muffin, it’s definitely worth it. Make sure to go early because they often sell out before noon! The woman in front of me in line bought 9 muffins to go. That’s how good they are.

Clam Ramen from Ramen Izakaya Goku

Clam Ramen from Ramen Izakaya Goku

I love ramen. While there’s ramen in Shanghai, I just don’t think it compares to what I can get at home. My friend took me to Ramen Izakaya Goku in the Mission. Since this was technically “2nd dinner” (we had appetizers at a Christmas party), I wasn’t starving so I decided to order the garlic clam ramen. I don’t often see clam ramen on the menu and this did not disappoint. Instead of the rich, fatty tonkotsu broth, this was a much lighter, but still tasty soup. I really liked how bountiful and fresh the clams were too. I love corn in my ramen so I paid a little extra for it, but I should have gotten another egg. It’s a perfect ramen egg– marinated and soft-boiled.

Lobster Roll at Lobster Me

Lobster Roll at Lobster Me

The only lobster roll that I can find in Shanghai is at Goga. While it hits the spot, it’s definitely not the best lobster roll that I’ve ever had in life. In the basement of the Westfield Mall in SF is Lobster Me. They have several different styles, but I decided to go for the Connecticut: warm lobster tossed with melted butter and chives. It was kind of annoying that you can’t order the lobster roll as a standalone. You have to order with chips and cole slaw (I upgraded the chips to fries). The sandwich was really delicious and I liked that the bread was thick and buttered. The lobster was plentiful and not overcooked. It’s definitely on the smaller side and almost feels more like a “snack” than a meal. I easily could have eaten another sandwich.

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