Shanghai: YongFoo Elite and Han Mama

YongFoo Elite Garden

YongFoo Elite Garden

My mother was in town and she arranged a lunch with Chinese designer, Han Feng. Han Feng took us to the picturesque restaurant, YongFoo Elite (200 Yongfu Lu; 永福路200号), in the French Concession. YongFoo Elite is housed in an old historical manor, which over the years has served as the UK, Vietnam and Russia consulate. The house is surrounded by a beautiful garden that transports you to a different era.

Yong Foo Elite Food

Yong Foo Elite Food

Since Han Feng is a regular, she was in charge of the ordering. We had spring rolls filled with fish, fish filet pieces with bamboo, hong shao pork belly and stir-fried vegetables. My favorite dish was definitely the fish filet pieces with bamboo. The dish was so delicate with a simple fish sauce, but the fish was tender and practically melted in your mouth. Hong shao pork belly is a classic Shanghainese dish, but I really enjoyed this version. Sometimes hong shao pork belly can be overly sweet, but YongFoo Elite’s isn’t. The meat is braised perfectly and also very tender. While the spring rolls were very crisp and fresh, I wasn’t a fan of the fish-based filling. I prefer the pork/shrimp/vegetable variety instead. YongFoo Elite is a great Shanghainese restaurant to take out of town guests or someone you want to impress.

Han Mama

Han Mama

For a more casual bite, Han Mama (123 Nanyang Lu; 南阳路123号) offers affordable Taiwanese dishes in a modern and clean setting. When my friend and I went, we ordered the lu rou fan (braised pork over rice), dan dan mian (spicy sesame noodles), chili oil wontons and the beef noodles.

Han Mama Food

Han Mama Food

Lu rou fan is one of my favorite dishes and is total comfort food. There is something soul-warming about having soy-braised pork with ton of sauce over rice and reminds me of a dish my mother would make. Han Mama’s version of lu rou fan definitely did not disappoint. The dan dan mian didn’t leave much of an impression on me and I probably wouldn’t order them again. The chili oil wontons were definitely tasty and had that nice spicy and garlicky sauce to accompany it. For the spicy beef noodles, you can choose to have fat or skinny noodles. I recommend getting the fat noodles, which have a perfect consistency and a heartier texture. I personally thought that the soup base was a little weak and could have packed a little more of a punch. I was happy to see that the beef pieces actually had meat and weren’t just full of fat and tendons. Overall, it was a solid meal, the portion sizes were decent and the prices were good.

Shanghai: Brunch at Table No. 1 by Jason Atherton

Table No 1- Brunch

Table No 1- Brunch

I’m always on the hunt for a good brunch in Shanghai. A few months ago, Table No. 1 (1-3 Maojiayuan Lu; 毛家园路1-3号1楼) unveiled a new brunch menu that looked absolutely delectable.

Salmon Eggs Benedict and Raisin Scones

Salmon Eggs Benedict and Raisin Scones

True to their dinner menu, the brunch menu is also very limited. There was a small selection of egg dishes with different variations of eggs benedict or poached eggs on toast. Since I felt like I could make eggs on toast at home, I opted for the Eggs Royale, two eggs poached eggs on an English muffin with smoked salmon. The eggs were cooked perfectly and I liked that the hollandaise sauce was very light with a hint of lemon.

Table No 1- Scones

Table No 1- Scones

My mother really loves scones and I think that passion has been passed on to me. Whenever I see them on the menu, I always feel the need to order them. I was very pleased with the raisin scones at Table No. 1. Too often with scones, they are way too dense and disappointing. These were lighter and not too sweet. Proper British scones should be served with clotted cream (not butter) and these scones came with a lovely jar of clotted cream and jam. I was a happy camper.

Blueberry Pancakes with Poached Apricots

Blueberry Pancakes with Poached Apricots

I unintentionally ordered a lot of sweet dishes with the blueberry pancakes and homemade yogurt. The blueberry pancakes weren’t your classic American pancakes. It didn’t have that rich buttermilk taste. Instead of coming with maple syrup, these pancakes came with poached apricots and whipped cream. For an extra 30 kuai, you could top the pancakes with pan seared foie gras. I have had the foie gras at dinner before and I think it would have been the perfect complement to these pancakes. The foie would have added some nice extra fat to the pancakes and given it an interesting sweet and savory combination.

Table No 1- Yogurt

Table No 1- Yogurt

I really enjoy homemade yogurt and do like it sour. Table No. 1’s version was just a little too sour for me. While there’s some fruit topped on it, I felt like it needed just a bit more honey to help sweeten it up a bit.

Overall, brunch was pleasant, but it’s not my top recommendation in Shanghai. Table No. 1 is also a little far since it’s out by the Cool Docks. I don’t know if I would make a special trip to go there again. However, if you’re looking for a solid brunch and are in the neighborhood, Table No. 1 is a good option for you.

Hong Kong: Sublime Japanese Food at Hanabi

Hanabi's Angel Bomb: Three Kinds of Fatty Tuna and Sea Urchin over Rice

Hanabi’s Angel Bomb: Three Kinds of Fatty Tuna and Sea Urchin over Rice

Sushi is my all-time favorite food, but I don’t eat it often in China. When my mother suggested dinner at Hanabi (4/F, 6 Knutsford Terrace, Tsim Sha Tsui), I happily agreed. Hanabi serves fresh fish straight from Japan, which is flown in every morning, cut from the careful hands of executive chef, Michael Chan. Chef Chan used to work at Nobu in Hong Kong. Hanabi only offers omakase menus and you can’t order a la carte. However, they’ll always ask if you have any allergies or food aversions before serving you.

Hanabi Appetizers, Sliced White Fish and Sake

Hanabi Appetizers, Sliced White Fish and Sake

My mother and I decide to go all out and order the Mankai omakase menu (1,200 HKD). It starts with delicate dish of five cold appetizers and then is followed by thinly sliced white fish sashimi. The white fish is smooth and so crisp and clean tasting.

Hanabi Creative Sushi

Hanabi Creative Sushi

Next course was Hanabi’s creative sushi. The top layer was a beautiful Hokkaido oyster that is so meaty and creamy. I could have eaten a dozen of them. The chef carefully smokes the bottom layer of seared fatty tuna topped with caviar. The top dish with the oyster keeps the smoke trapped inside so when you open it, the smoke clears aways to reveal the fatty tuna jewel.

Hanabi Sushi

Hanabi Sushi

What followed next was three varieties of daily sashimi, which included the largest amaebi that I’ve ever seen, and eight pieces of nigiri sushi. Watching Chef Michael at work is almost like dinner and a show. I was completely enamored but his ritual of cutting the sushi, rolling the sushi rice and shaving salt rocks hailing from the Himalayas and Iran. I really loved the tempura, which was unique. One piece was deep-fried king crab and the other piece was deep-fried uni wrapped in shiso leaf. I had never had uni deep-fried before and it was a heartier texture, while still maintaining its creaminess. The real highlight of the meal was the angel bomb sushi, a magnificent tower of three kinds of fatty tuna and uni. It felt like one of the most decadent bites of my life. We finished the meal with a soothing bowl of miso soup and a scoop of yuzu ice cream.

Hong Kong: Lab Made Ice Cream

Hong Kong: Lab Made Ice Cream

Obviously, Hanabi is a restaurant reserved for special occasions. The restaurant only holds 12 counter seats and two small tables so reservations are a must. If you happen to be hungry afterward, you can always top by Lab Made (Shop 42, 132 Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui), Asia’s first liquid nitrogen ice cream laboratory. My mother and I tried to mango ice cream topped with mango sauce, mango pieces and sago. The consistency of the ice cream was really smooth and it also tasted creamier. It was my first time trying liquid nitrogen ice cream and I liked it!

Hong Kong: Burgeroom and Farm House

Hong Kong: Foie Gras Burger at the Burgeroom

Foie Gras Burger at the Burgeroom

I love a good burger and when my co-workers recommended going to Burgeroom (50-56 Paterson Street, Causeway Bay) in Hong Kong, I only happily agreed. I became giddy when I saw photos of a nice big piece of foie gras on top of a juicy patty. Talk about combining two of my favorite foods!

Burgers, onion rings, melted cheese twister fries and fried mozzarella cheese balls

Burgers, onion rings, melted cheese twister fries and fried mozzarella cheese balls

This popular burger joint doesn’t take any reservations so expect a slight wait at peak dinner time. What I loved most about ordering my foie gras burger was that the guy asked if I wanted a double or a single! It took a lot of self-restraint not to get a double. These burgers are HUGE and messy. The patties are so thick and juicy that it is literally impossible to take an entire bite of the whole burger. The foie on top of the burger was absolutely incredible, just adding to the overall richness of the meat patty. I also really liked the twister fries and the fried mozzarella cheese balls. I would happily go back the next time I’m in Hong Kong.

Dim Sum at Farm House

Dim Sum at Farm House

A trip to Hong Kong wouldn’t be complete without getting dim sum! My mother took me to Farm House (1/F, Phase1, China Taiping Tower, 8 Sunning Road, Causeway Bay), a Chinese restaurant that actually specializes in seafood. Farm House’s dim sum menu is limited, but there are definitely some solid dishes. The har gau (shrimp dumplings) were filled with huge, crisp shrimps and a paper thin wrapper. I was even more pleased with the siu mai (pork and shrimp dumplings), which were also juicy and tasty. One of the Farm House’s signature dishes are the chicken wings stuffed with glutinous rice. That bad boy was delicious. The skin was super crispy and lightly fried and the sticky glutinous rice was flavorful. I’d definitely recommend ordering it.

Farm House Shi Dan 是但

Farm House Shi Dan 是但

One dish that I also really enjoyed was the shi dan 是但. It’s a steamed savory egg custard topped with seafood, duck, mushrooms, vegetables and salty egg yolk. While this is a simple dish, it’s almost like having an “egg custard soup,” which is perfect with white rice. It was also the perfect dish for my grandmother because it was soft and easy to eat.

If you travel to Hong Kong, I hope you have a chance to stop by Burgeroom or Farm House. It’ll definitely help satisfy any cravings!

Shanghai: Tapas at Malabar and Tomatito

Malabar in Shanghai

Malabar in Shanghai

Tapas restaurants are definitely popular destinations in Shanghai and I found two places that I really like. My friend Cher took me to Malabar (1081 Wuding Lu; 武定路1081号), which is on the popular and lively restaurant street, Wuding Road. We ordered croquetas, olives and grilled baby squid to start. The croquetas were a little too oily and I probably wouldn’t order them again. I did love the olives, which were meaty in texture, and the grilled baby squid. The calamaritos a la plancha “con su tinta” were cooked perfectly and the chimichurri sauce complemented it really well.

Malabar: Ribeye and Manchego Cheese

Malabar: Ribeye and Manchego Cheese

I was so excited to see ribeye steak from Uruguay on the menu and we happily ordered the 300g portion. This steak was served medium rare with an onion compote and roasted potatoes. For only 175 RMB, this dish is a total steal! The meat was tender and flavorful and I loved the onion compote. I saw that this one of my the most popular dishes in the restaurant with practically every table ordering one. Finally, Cher and I ended our meal with manchego cheese, which was a healthy portion of cheese and a tomato jam. Malabar is definitely a popular restaurant because the place filled up and people were waiting in line to get in. For the pricing and quality of food, I think it’s definitely a solid spot for tapas.

Tomatito Tapas

Tomatito Tapas: Albondigas and “Broken Egg”

Tomatito (2/F, 99 Taixing Lu; 泰兴路99号2楼) is part of the famous El Willy Group and is the more casual restaurant compared to sister restaurants, El Elefante and El Willy. I’ve been to Tomatito twice and the place is always popping.

Meat and Cheese Board and Nachos

Meat and Cheese Board and Nachos

While Tomatito serves classic Spanish dishes, there are also a lot of unconventional items. In terms of dishes that I would recommend, I liked the albondigas. These meatballs are served in a casserole dish with potatoes and tomato sauce with some sliced bread. The “broken egg” dish is a fried egg served ripped up on top of potatoes, BBQ pork belly and chilis. It was an interesting combination and felt very hearty with the potatoes. However, I felt the nachos were less successful. These nachos were also topped with multiple fried eggs, but I felt it made it too difficult to eat. Nachos are meant to be eaten with my hands and not my knife and fork. My favorite dish of the night was definitely the calamari (non-fried), which was tender pieces of squid served with a garlic aioli and lemon juice.  My second favorite dish were the steak “air baguettes,” which were crispy crackers topped with cheese spread and a slice of beef.

Pom Pom Cookies Cake

Pom Pom Cookies Cake

The second time I went to Tomatito, it was for Cher’s birthday and I brought a special ordered cookie cake from Pom Pom Cookies. I’ve written about my love of Pom Pom Cookies on my blog before, but this was my first time ordering one of her cookie cakes. I ordered a triple chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting. I cannot rave enough about how AMAZING this cake is. Each layer is a thick, chewy cookie, which makes this cake incredibly dense. Since the “cake layers” were heavier, I actually liked that the cream cheese frosting was on the lighter side. While it may look small, the cake can literally feed 20 people. There were 10 of us and we could only eat half. It is deceptively filling. If you’re interested in one of Pom Pom Cookies’ cakes, you can email her directly for flavors and pricing (info@pompomcookies.com).

Trattoria Ski Bar in the Dolomites

View from Hotel Belvedere in Falcade, Italy

View from Hotel Belvedere in Falcade, Italy

I had a work trip in the very north of Italy in the province of Belluno. We were far north, close to Austria, up in the Dolomites mountain range. It was absolutely incredible to be surrounded by so much lush greenery (and fresh air). I can only imagine how beautiful it would be in the winter, covered in snow.

If you want to visit this area, you definitely need a car. I’d recommend taking the train to Venice, renting a car and then driving 1.5 to 2 hours to the area. Unlike the rest of Italy, the restaurants close very early, around 9pm or before. We had a difficult time finding a place that was still open and were frantically calling different places. We got very lucky when one restaurant, Trattoria Ski Bar, agreed to stay open even though we didn’t arrive until 9:45pm.

Trattoria Ski Bar

Trattoria Ski Bar

I had to write about Trattoria Ski Bar because it was literally one of best meals of my life. The owner was super friendly and greeted us warmly. Rather than have us order from the menu, he suggested to let him take care of the meal and pick and choose his favorites. We started our meal with a plating of different types of pasta. The first one was an eggplant gnocchi with fresh tomato sauce and cheese. Rather than using potatoes, there was only eggplant in this pasta. This gave the gnocchi as wonderfully light, but flavorful consistency. It was my first time having eggplant gnocchi and now I want to learn how to make it! The second pasta dish was a beetroot-filled gnocchi with a brown butter sauce, topped with poppy seeds and cheese. This was my favorite pasta dish. I loved the contrast of the sweet beet with the savory cheese and sauce.

The wonderfully amazing food at Trattoria Ski Bar

The wonderfully amazing food at Trattoria Ski Bar

Next, we had a plate of carbonara-style linguini with lardons and cream sauce. For our main meal, the owner suggested deer with pan-seared polenta and mushrooms. However, he also mentioned that he had tagliata, which is grilled steak. Whenever I’m outside of China, I can’t pass up the opportunity to have red meat. Steak is so expensive in Shanghai and it’s all imported from Australia/Canada (I miss my American steak). While the rest of the table had deer, the owner happily substituted my main for steak. My meat was cooked perfectly. It was tender and so good with the mushrooms and polenta. The other highlight of the meal was the pan-fried cheese. I wish I knew which local cheese it was, because it was deliciously gooey and rich. While the apple strudel is a specialty of the region, you can pass on it at Trattoria Ski Bar. It was the only sub-par item of the whole night. I was honestly too full to care and could barely eat it anyway.

Gorgeous views in the Dolomites

Gorgeous views in the Dolomites

If you have the opportunity to visit this area, I could not recommend Trattoria Ski Bar any more. Let the owner take care of you and you will not be disappointed. Also, I’d recommend staying in the Hotel Belvedere, which has amazing views, comfortable rooms and a great breakfast buffet.