Burger Shootout #1: Gourmet Food Trucks

>> Tuesday, July 26, 2011

This week, I'm going to try something different. If there was one food that epitomizes the hunger that San Diegans have, it's the burger. While outsiders might think that San Diegans go crazy over the fish taco, the true food that all San Diegans love is the burger. It's so in demand that every restaurant has to have a burger on their menu.

Naturally, it only makes sense for an intrepid blogger as myself to embark on a journey of adventure and discovery to find San Diego's best burger. However, with the format of this blog, it wouldn't be fair to pick one best burger. Therefore I have decided to pick the best burger in each of the following "tiers": food trucks, fast food, casual dining, restaurants. In the coming months, I will have a series of "burger shootouts" where I compare the burgers from all of these levels on some set of criteria, which will vary by each tier.

This week, I'll start with the gourmet food trucks:

The Criteria:
To judge the food truck burgers, I will rate the burgers based on a scale of 1 to 100 (higher is better) in different categories. Each category will be assigned a weight, and the final winner of the shooutout will be based on the normalized weighted average of the scores. The categories for the foot truck shootout are:

  • Overall Taste - weight: 3 - This score is assigned based on the overall tasted an enjoyment from eating the burger
  • Temperature - weight: 1 - Because I love a juicy burger, when I ordered each of these burgers I ordered it "as rare as you're willing to go"
  • Ease of Consumption - weight: 1 - Because these burgers are from food trucks, people are likely eating on the go. This category is based on whether the burger's bun fell apart or if stuff dripped all over and got messy
  • Value - weight: 2 - Eating from a gourmet food truck, one expects at least some value whether it's in the form of sides or something else. This category judges the price of the burger against what is obtained with the burger
  • Sides - weight: 1 - Even if sides were not provided for free, I ordered a side with each burger, so here is the score of the sides that came with the burger.
Additionally to qualify for this shootout, the truck needed to serve an actual burger of some form. I also decided that instead of trying to order the same burger at each food truck, I would allow each truck to serve me what they considered to be their signature dish.

The Contenders:
In the following section, I will give a brief overview of each of the contenders (in alphabetical order) in the shootout.

Bitchin' Burgers: website
Bitchin' Burgers is one of the newer food trucks in San Diego. As the name of the truck suggests, they specialize in burgers. What is not said is that they specialize in burgers made of grass fed beef. I did some searches to find out more about who owns and runs Bitchin Burgers, but the information does not seem to be readily available on the web at this time.

Devilicious: website
I've previously covered Devilicious in this blog, but since I last covered them, demand has them creating a new burger of the week every week for the menu. Additionally, since the last time I covered them, there has been some staffing changes. Chef Dyann Huffman Manning now fully owns and operates Devilicious while her husband Mark operates little brother truck Kalbiq.

The Gooch: website
The Gooch is possibly San Diego's newest gourmet food truck. Like Bitchin Burgers, not much comes up in a search about the owners of The Gooch. The Gooch seems to be focused on bar food, which fits their modus operandi as they frequently can be found serving food to bars. What attracted me to The Gooch was their naming convention on their two signature dishes; The Goochie Pop and the Goochie Mama.

Green Truck: website
While many food trucks try to portray an environmentally friendly image by using local and organic ingredients, the Green Truck is truly environmentally friendly. The truck runs on recycled oil and their kitchen is solar powered. The Green Truck isn't actually a single truck, but a collection of three trucks that run in LA, OC, and SD. Their signature dish is an all made from scratch veggie burger called The Mother Trucker.

MIHO Gastrotruck: website
While many of the trucks in this shootout are newer trucks, MIHO is one of the first gourmet food trucks on the San Diego scene. MIHO is run by Kevin Ho and Juan Miron (hence MiHo from the first two letters of each of their lats names) and focuses on organic and local produce. Miron and Ho both worked in the kitchen of the popular North Park restaurant, The Linkery before deciding to partner up to purchase the food truck. MIHO's menu changes weekly but has always included some form of grass fed burger.

The Shootout:
Bitchin' Burgers: (I apologize for the poor image quality as I had to use my camera phone for this)
Chipotle Gouda Burger
I was extremely surprised from this burger when it was served. I thought that they had given me a regular bacon cheeseburger instead of the chipotle burger. Upon asking for details about the burger, I was told that the gouda cheese is mixed into the hamburger meat before it is formed into a patty. This didn't really work with my idea of a great burger because the juiciness of the burger was reduced by the cheese that was already integrated with the meat. Additionally, they burger was cooked medium as they had to cook the burger long enough to melt the cheese. Finally (as can be seen from the photo), the 1/3 lb meat+cheese patty was out of proportion with the thick brioche bread. The chipotle flavor from the aioli was also lacking to some degree and needed to be stronger. This burger was pretty much like a bad Blood Brothers song

Taste - 30
Temperature - 50 - medium
Ease of Consumption - 90
Value - 20 - $8.50 for a 1/3 lb grass fed beef burger (probably more like 1/4lb of meat), no sides
Sides - 40 - Sweet potato fries were standard frozen ones

Normalized score: 38.75

Pasilla Pepper, grilled onions, sweet corn topping with fried egg on a burger
This burger from Devilicious was the best burger I had eaten this year when I tasted it. The pasilla chili added a nice depth of flavor and was only mildly spicy. The sweetness of the corn juxtaposed with the spiciness of the pepper was very welcome flavor combination, especially when paired with the grilled onions for additional depth of flavor and the earthiness of the oozing egg yolk to marinate all the flavors together. Additionally, Chef Manning prepared my burger to a perfect medium rare maximizing the juiciness of the meat. Eating this burger was like listing to a Linkin Park hit.

Taste - 95
Temperature - 100
Ease of Consumption - 10 - It got all over the place
Value - 70 - $7 commodity beef burger + $1 for egg + free side salad
Sides - 80 - I enjoyed this burger with some mushroom risotto fried yummies
Mushroom Risotto Fried Yummies
Normalized Score: 76.88

The Gooch:
The Goochie Pop
Disclaimer: I was suffering from some palette fatigue when I tried this burger as I had already had another burger and alcoholic beverages, so I've gone ahead and bumped the taste portion up a little to compensate for that.

I was excited for The Goochie Pop because people seemed to like the reviews for it. I was also intrigued by the "bacon jam." Ultimately, I was disappointed. They took my "as rare as you're willing to go" statement a little too far and served a rare burger. This wouldn't have been a problem except they didn't seem to get a good sear on the outside of the burger, so the burger was completely lacking the charred goodness that is expected from a burger. I also felt that for a rare burger the meat to fat ratio was probably more of a 90-10 than the expected 80-20 as even the rare burger wasn't very juicy. Finally, there either wasn't enough bacon jam or the flavor of it just wasn't intense enough to not be drowned out by the thickness of the bread.  The burger from The Gooch was similar to the famous Dramarama song as the lyrics (or the bread in this case) was so thick that it distracted from the other elements of the song.

Taste - 60
Temperature - 60 - Rare
Ease of Consumption - 90
Value - 50 - $8 for a grass fed beef burger and no sides
Sides - N/A

Normalized Score: 61.43

Green Truck:
Mother Trucker
The mother trucker sauce seemed to be a combination of beets and something else. The beets gave it the red color as well as the sweetness. Overall, the burger was pretty enjoyable for a veggie burger. However, it distinctly lacked the juiciness and the savoriness in a regular burger, which totally removed a lot of the enjoyment for me. The trucker sauce, although it tasted good, was a little too thick and dripped around while eating. The burger from the Green Truck was like listening to a classic rock song where the lead vocalist is female instead of male.

Taste - 70
Temperature - N/A
Ease of Consumption - 85
Value - 90 - $6 for a burger made from fresh and local produce
Sides - 60 - hand cut sweet potato fries with chipotle ketchup - unfortunately the fries were soggy, but the ketchup was awesome

Normalized Score: 76.42

MIHO Gastrotruck:
MIHO Grass Fed Beef Burger
It's been awhile since I had this burger, so I don't remember exactly what the topping was. From the photo it looks like a brie burger with mixed greens and bacon. When I ordered this burger, I was extremely happy with the result. I had previous meals from MIHO where the burger was mediocre at best and I felt swindled for paying as much as I did. Of all the burgers I tried, this was probably the closest to a standard american cheeseburger, and sometimes all you want is the standard burger executed to perfection. This burger reminded me an all time rock and roll classic.

Taste - 90
Temperature - 100
Ease of Consumption - 85
Value - 35 - $8 for a grass fed burger with no sides +$0.75 for bacon
Sides - 80 - hand cut kennebec fries with house made ketchup, these fries were double fried also, so they had a nice crunch (unlike previous miho visits with the soggy fries)

Normalized Score: 75.63

From these results, Devilicious took a narrow victory over the surprisingly showing of the Green Truck. Devilicious scored high in the taste, but nearly lost the shootout due to the mess that was created from eating the burger. The Green Truck scored high in the value segment where other trucks struggling, making up for the above average taste, possible suggesting that the weighting of the scoring system may have been inaccurate. Following in a close third was MIHO, which had a great burger, but was undone due to the pricing of their burger.

In the lower tier, we had The Gooch and Bitchin Burgers. Originally The Gooch offered tater tots with the burgers, which would have increased the value score, but since there were no tots, they fell out of competition. I also didn't order any sides from The Gooch, who perhaps needs to add some more compelling sides than just onion rings. The truck that needs the most work in my opinion is Bitchin Burgers. I feel like that truck is still trying to find its way as it originally started with burgers on ciabatta bread (luckily for me they moved beyond that), and now is mixing the cheese with the patty. Not only does this seem to lessen the serving size of the meat to the customer since it is measured to 1/3 lb, it also seemed to remove some of the juiciness of the burger.

Ultimately the best food truck burger is the best burger on the truck you can find (or visits your area). Next time, I will examine the best burgers from fast food restaurants since those are fairly ubiquitous.



>> Thursday, July 21, 2011

Date of Dining: 4/17/2011
Price: ~$35 for entree and appetizer
Location: 750 W Fir St, San Diego, CA 92101

The Quick Bit:
+ fresh handmade pasta
+ reasonable prices
+ friendly service
Δ The acoustic ambiance of the space could be toned down
Δ Some dishes could have more variation in sauces

Disclaimer: I went to Bencotto with people that knew the owner and his wife, but it was not communicated to the kitchen that I was a blogger.

Looking at the menu of Bencotto, one is bound to be worried that the food that comes out of the kitchen might just be food from The Olive Garden; the chief worry being the "build your own pasta" portion that dominates the entrees. However, if one were to be put off by the "build your own pasta" menu, they would potentially miss a truly wonderful opportunity to experience authentic Italian food in the heart of the Little Italy district of San Diego.
Bencotto's concept is like Occam's Razor; the food should just be totally simple, taste authentic, and leave the diner happy. The focus and selling point of Bencotto are two things: for the appetizers there is a selection of salumis and prosciuttos delivered from red meat slicers at the bar, and for the entree their pastas are all handmade fresh to order. 
Heading the kitchen of Bencotto is Executive Chef Fabrizio Cavallini. Chef Cavallini grew up in Emilia Romagna and hails from a family of chefs. He graduated from Hospitality Institute in Modena and worked as the Head Chef of Europa 93,Osteria Artidoro, and Beccofino in Milan. At Osteria Artidoro, Chef Cavallini met Guido Nistri, General Manager and Owner of Bencotto. Along with his wife Valentina, Nistri manages both the front of house and kitchen of Bencotto. He can often be seen making the rounds in the restaurant making sure everyone is having a good time.

Salumi with Gnocco Fritto
The salumi were cut from the red wheel slicers and paired with the gnoccho fritto. From left to right we were served mortadella, sopressata, salame calabrese, and prosciutto di parma. All of the salumi were made in house, and it was apparent in the taste that the salumi maker knew what they were doing. Personally I enjoyed the salame calabrese the most as I didn't really like the flavor of the chili in the sopressata. Some reviews from the 4-letter gushed over the gnoccho fritto, but I found it bland and boring; it appeared to just be some basic pastry that was deep fried so it would puff up and lacked seasoning and flavor in the dough mixture. Despite the miss of the gnoccho fritto, the meats stood on their own and delivered a great start to the meal.
Calimari in Umido
Most Italian restaurants that serve calamari serve some sort of throw away calamari fritti that relies on the flavor of the deep fried oils to cover the natural flavor of the calamari. When I saw that Bencotto served a proper sauteed version of the calamari, I knew I had to try it.
On the presentation, I was put off by the lone floating piece of bread in the bowl. Alone, it was not enough to supplement the entire appetizer, and I don't think it improved the plating. Despite the looks, the calamari were only slightly overcooked, but were definitely fresh. The broth had a nice element of spice that elevated the dish. 
As I dined at Bencotto with some regulars, they knew that we could order tripe from the kitchen even though it wasn't on the regular menu. Tripe is one of those ingredients that is very difficult because it has to be boiled long enough to become soft to chew, but not so long that it becomes overcooked and loses its chewiness. The window to hit for this "temperature" is relatively narrow. The tripe served at Bencotto was superb, which was especially surprising since they probably didn't expect to sell any of it during service that night.
Once again, I was put off by the additional piece of bread garnish added to the appetizer, but that was quickly forgotten as I enjoyed the chewiness of the tripe contrasted with the sharpness of the cheese and the delicate spice in the sauce. This sauce was much thicker than the calamari sauce, so it was much easier to sop up with the bread. 

Tagliatelle al Nero di Seppia
Chef Cavallini considers this dish his signature dish of 2011. The tagliatelle is mixed with squid ink and served in a spicy pink sauce containing prawns. Furthermore, the portion of prawns is a generous helping. For being his signature dish, I thought this dish really delivered on the promise. The pasta was cooked perfectly al dente, and the shrimp were fresh, flavorful, and not (extremely) overcooked.
If there was a knock on this dish it's that there were essentially two types of shrimp in the dish. First there are the larger prawns that are readily seen in the photo, and then there were some smaller shrimp that were mixed in with the pasta. While I was extremely happy for the generous portion of shrimp, it did seem somewhat confusing that there were two different types of shrimp (so different flavors) in the dish, and that the smaller ones were slightly overcooked as a result (since they were smaller). However, this was only a minor blip and I otherwise enjoyed the dish immensely.
Cioppino Bencotto
The Cioppino was served in the same sauce that the earlier squid had, so it was somewhat disappointing. However, the extra seafood in this stock added some additional depth to the broth, so it wasn't a total loss. The salmon was slightly overcooked, but the other seafood was cooked well.
This wasn't a particularly strong dish, but it wasn't extremely weak either. In the end, we were too full for dessert so we called for mercy.

Overall, I was extremely impressed with Bencotto. I was hoping to have gone back for the "pasta your way" before posting this review (hence the delay), but I never made it back. However, I was told by many others that the pasta is hand made, cooked fresh to order, and was as high in quality as the squid ink pasta I enjoyed.

The food at Bencotto was fresh, authentic, and very tasty. The hand-made pastas and balances sauces really set it apart from some other Italian restaurants in San Diego. On the strength of my experience at Bencotto, I award it the bit award.


Hong Kong - Foodie Utopia or Culinary Dystopia?

>> Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The final destination of my trip to China was Hong Kong. Hong Kong has been idolized by many a food travel show host and described as some foodie equivalent to Hajj where all foodies must make the journey at least once in their life. Due to the confined living spaces in Hong Kong, most families don't have a kitchen (or at least not a large one), so they are forced to eat out for all their meals in the day. This has created a naturally large demand and competition between all the restaurants in Hong Kong to create the gastronomic Mecca. Being the fanboy that I am, I ate up all of the praise and was looking forward to Hong Kong as the highlight of my trip to China.

One thing I noticed in Hong Kong was that I wasn't welcomed as a food blogger. When I started taking photos of the food I was eating, I would get dirty looks that made me worry they were spitting in my food. At one of the restaurants, the waitress was sent over by the manager to question why I was taking photos of the food. For the most part in China, I seemed to be dismissed as the crazy American tourist, but in Hong Kong I was treated more as an undercover health inspector or reporter looking for a scoop on breaking a story.

Temple Street (Kowloon Bay):
The Temple Street Night Market is one of the largest tourist stops in Hong Kong. The hotel I stayed at pretty much recommended this location exclusively as a place to visit. I was told that I would be able to sample the seafood delicacies of the South China Sea. Thinking that sucking some crustacean brains would be the perfect cure for my travel weariness, I set out with some gusto to the Night Market.

I had been dragged through the Women's Market earlier in the day so I mostly ignored the overpriced trinkets for sale that appeared to be more or less the same as the other markets. After walking the length of the market, we settled on a crowded seafood restaurant that reeked of seafood fried in garlic.

One important lesson we learned as we sat down was that when they give you chopsticks in Hong Kong, you pour tea into a cup and then soak all the utensils in the tea to "sanitize" them. You then pour the tea into some throwaway bucket after ordering and before your food arrives.
steamed clams in black bean sauce
I figured I wanted a quick fix and I saw several other tables had ordered this item and figured it was a home run. Instead of being that grand slam out of the ballpark, it was more of that foul ball that pop ups around first base and ends up being and easy out. The dish was way too salty and overwhelmed the palette. To make things worse, this dish was pretty unbalanced towards overbearing spice, which coupled with the saltiness was a bad combo.  This dish was also desperate for the inclusion of some Thai basil, which usually accompanies it. The freshness of the basil would have helped cut into some of the fishy flavors of the seafood.
Deep Fried Mantis Prawn
So one of the supposed great in season seafood items I was supposed to try was the mantis prawn. When this dish came out, I was pretty disappointed as these were some of the smallest "prawns" I've ever seen. Don't you need something like a U12 or U15 distinction to be labeled a prawn? I think these must have been U20s or worse.

The garlic frying smell that I had been indulging in was brought out with these mantis prawns and I thought I would be able to sate the craving started by the smell. Unfortunately, the prawns were fried to oblivion to the point where they had lost all texture (or maybe these prawns were just that bad). Instead of succulent chewy meat, the texture of the prawn was a mushy mealy mess of being stuck to the shell. It was bad enough that I'd say for sure that these prawns were previously frozen and someone totally messed up the freezing process so that large ice crystals formed in the freezing, destroying the texture of the prawn.

Despite the scallops being small, this dish was well cooked and well balance. The garlic and mung bean noodles were a nice compliment to the soup that formed in the steaming of the scallops.
Steamed Local Fish
It looks like someone wounded this fish before it was brought out. However, I believe that happened because they were checking if the fish was fully cooked. This fish was cooked perfectly and steamed well and was easily the best dish of the night. The ginger soy sauce was a base for the steaming liquid that brought out the nice gelatinous properties of the fish.

Fu Sing Shark Fin Seafood Restaurant (Causeway Bay):
1/F., 68 Yee Wo Street, Causeway Bay, HK
When looking at the choices of Dim Sum restaurants in Hong Kong, I settled upon Fu Sing as the "online consensus" choice. Hong Kong is famous for the Dim Sum and I was determined to have some good Dim Sum.

One thing that was apparent about Fu Sing was that they were attempt to move beyond the tradition Dim Sum in certain aspects, but still were able to execute classical favorites as well. It was also apparent that they were used to a small party ordering a lot of food since they decided not to serve everything I ordered.
Napkins were actually provided as well as a complimentary peanut and tofu amuse!
The one dish that every online poster talked about in Fu Sing was the Char Siu (BBQ Pork). In general the Cantonese are famous for their BBQ dishes, but the Char Siu at Fu Sing was alleged to be particularly spectacular.
Char siu
Even with all the hype, this dish over-delivered on my expectations. It was like expecting The Dark Knight to be good, but never just realizing how good it really was. The Char Siu was prepared such that the outside had a nice hardened crust, but the inside of it was so tenderly succulent that it nearly melted in my mouth. The sauce was the perfect balance of sweet, savory and smoky. My dining companion said that she actually didn't like eating Char Siu, but she really enjoyed Fu Sing's version of it.
Shau Mai
These shau mai were excellent as well. The classic shau mai expectation was maintained in the shape and construction of the dish, but was also modified with the inclusion of the egg on the top. The egg brought a nice earthy finish to the dumpling, which enhanced the enjoyment of the meal. The sweetness of the pea also provided a nice textural and sweet element to the dumpling. Again, my dining companion usually is not a fan of shau mai, but found herself enjoying this version of it.
Har Gow
If the other dishes served were an example of how the classics were being modified in new directions, the har gow (shrimp dumplings) where an illustration of how well the classics are executed. In my opinion, the key to a good har gow is the the skin. The outermost portion of the skin must be filmy and strong enough to hold in all the juices of the dumping, but the inner part must be soft enough to provide a luxurious mouth feel for the sweetness of the shrimp and savoriness of the shrimp broth in the dumpling. The skin of this har gow was exactly what I expected and fulfilled all my desires for high quality dim sum.
Red bean mochi
These red bean mochis were fried to perfection. The outer layer had just the right amount of crunch to contrast a soft and delectable interior. The red bean interior provided just the right amount of sweetness, and the candied walnut was also a nice touch.
Fried Turnip Cake
The friend turnip cake is my favorite dim sum item. Fu Sings interpretation of the Turnip cake has the outside coated and fried to be similar to a hash brown. Additionally there is a layer of seafood paste that adds a nice twist to the classic. Normally I would be appalled by the inclusion of the seafood as I figure it would detract from the turnip cake, but what was brilliant about this dish was that the turnip cake and the seafood paste had roughly the same texture, and the seafood paste did not overshadow the turnip cake. Rather, the natural saltiness of the seafood mixed with the turnip cake and enhanced it.

On any other occasion, I would have called this the best dish of the meal, but Fu Sing's Char Siu is seriously on some transcendent level. 

When I had that Char Shiu, I nearly shed a tear of happiness as I knew I had come to the mountaintop of Char Siu in my life. After eating this Char Siu, I don't think I will ever eat another Char Shiu as good as this in my life. In the trip to China, I was hoping to discover many such Chinese foods that I could say were the pinnacle of Chinese cuisine, but I really only believe that this Char Siu fit the criteria for food in that vein.

If I was reviewing the restaurant separately, I would give Fu Sing the gigabyte only because the service was somewhat lacking and they didn't bring all the dishes out that we ordered.

Mak's Noodle (Jordan):
G/F., No. 55 Parkes Street, Jordan, Kowloon

One of the defining qualities of Cantonese food is supposed to be the Wonton egg noodles soup. I decided that I wasn't going to go to Macau to try the best and settled for Mak's in Hong Kong.
The noodles actually arrived like this
After digging out the wontons
The first thing that you'll probably notice is how small the bowl is. This is not an optical illusion; normal Americans will probably have to order at least two bowls to be full.
One of the big discussions about the wontons in the wonton noodle soup is the shrimp to pork ratio. Mak's allegedly uses a 60-40 pork to shrimp ratio. The broth was both savory and also had a strong umami flavor and a hint of sweetness, which really complimented the noodles and the wontons.
Wontons and Dumplings Soup
So what happened was that we ordered a combo, which consisted of 2 bowls of noodles an the gai lan vegetable and shared that. Apparently this is what a normal person orders for themself at the restaurant in order to be full. Since we had two orders of noodles I decided to get something slightly different in the second bowl to compare.
The dumpling included some mix of shitake and wood ear mushrooms with the pork and shrimp. Although it was different I didn't necessarily feel it was any better than the wontons alone.
Gai Lan
The vegetable that finished the combo. It was pretty much the run of the mill expected gai lan.

Overall, Mak's was not an amazing destination, but it was definitely very good. If there was a branch open here in San Diego, I would probably visit at least once a month and it would have been good enough for a bit award.

Tim Ho Wan:
Flat 8 G/F Phase 2, Tsui Yuen Mansion, 2-20 Kwong Wa Street, Mongkok, Kowloon
Tim Ho Wan was recommended by one of my friends, and is one of the 1-starred Michelin Dim Sum Restaurants in Hong Kong. After Fu Sing (which has no Michelin Stars), I had pretty high expectations coming into this meal.
Longan Soup
This was the first dish to come out and was an indication of just how bad the meal was going to be. There was way too much sugar in this soup, and it should have been held off until after most of the other dishes instead of served immediately. One spoonful of this was about three spoonfuls too many.
Deep Fried Glutinous Dumpling 
From the photos on the walls, this seemed to be one of their signature dishes. After taking a bite, I was wondering what chef would actually want to have their name associated with such an atrocity. While the dumpling wrapping was fine, the inner portion of the dumpling was a mishmash of discordant strong flavors that competed with each other. When I was eating this, I felt as if this was a bunch of different goatse images competing to gross out the diner.
Fried Turnip Cake
This take on the turnip cake illustrates everything that can possible go wrong with the turnip cake. There was not a good fry on the turnip cake, so there was no textural contrast. In addition it was weak in the umami flavor and under-seasoned, which made it bland. I had to add a lot of soy sauce to dip this, which then subsequently overwhelmed the flavor of the turnip for having too much soy.
Steamed Beef Tendons???
I don't actually remember what this was, but it might have actually been the best dish of the meal since I don't remember anything bad about it.
Steamed Dumpling in "Cao Chow Style"
This seemed to be another one of the signature dishes that was plastered along the walls. Compared to what I said about the skin of the dumplings of Har Gow at Fu Sing, you could tell just looking at this dumpling skin that something was wrong. These skins didn't have enough of the inner filling, which was a shame because the Cao Chow Style included some cooked nuts and vegetables in the mix, which brought interesting textural elements. However, the skin was not able to stand up to these flavors so instead of mixing together harmoniously, the dish was once again a jumble of discordant flavors competing against each other.
Har Gow
Again, just looking at the skin of these har gow, you could tell that this wasn't going to work out well. To make matters worse, it seemed like the shrimp in these har gow were frozen poorly, so some of that texture and natural sweetness of the shrimp was missing. Overall it was a very muted flavor har gow.
"chinese tamale" pork wrapped in glutinous rice wrapped with tea leaf
This dish was probably my favorite of the meal (as far as I can remember). It's not that this dish was particularly well done, but that it was something that was at least familiar and executed well. The pork in the wrapping was well cooked and the sauce mixed well with the rice to provide a nice kick of the flavor. The tea leaf also contributed some tea notes to the rice flavoring.
Steamed Beef Ball with Bean Curd Skin
When I made dumplings recently, I tried a bunch of different fillings including an 80-20 grass fed beef mix that I paid about $8 a pound for. In my own personal test, the $1 a pound ground pork beat out the beef handily.

In the last of the supposed signature dishes, I was hoping the steamed beef balls would be a saving grace to an otherwise disappointing meal. Unfortunately, this was possibly the worst of the signature dishes. I was expecting a light and airy meatball that somewhat resembled a meatloaf but with more soy and umami notes that are apparent in Oriental cooking. Unfortunately, these beef balls were heavy and were not refined in taste.

Yung Kee Restaurant (Central):
The final element I was told to try (by several people) in Hong Kong was the roast goose. It was supposed to be so good that it would make me forget about the Peking Duck in Beijing. Because I would have to travel out of Hong Kong and back into China to Shum Tsum in order to find the "Roast Duck capital," I instead decided to try the "most famous" Roast Duck Restaurant in Hong Kong, which also happens to have 1 michelin star.
Just like Quan Je De, I think "most famous" restaurants in China are basically a guarantee that the meal is going to suck.
Thousand Year Duck Egg and Ginger
So when we sat down, the waiter automatically brought this out and I assumed it was complimentary. Little did I know, I was actually being charged for this. It was just your standard thousand year egg with some poorly picked ginger.
1/4 Roast Duck (Dark Meat)
Basically it was horrible. You can probably get a better tasting Chinese Roast duck in Oklahoma City than this roast goose tasted.
Char Siu
I've had better Char Siu in San Diego. This was appalling. What especially made this bad was that the piece was probably 40% fat and the fat had cooled to the point where the texture was extremely unpalatable.
"char siu" pieces that are mostly fat
random throwaway vegetable
What made this meal especially appalling to me was the bill. The total cost of this meal was about $70 US. Bad service, even worse food, and a cold and dry atmosphere.

Overall, the trip to Hong Kong wasn't quite the culinary Who's Who I was hoping for. I had hoped to stop by Bo Innovation and see how Chinese Molecular Gastronomy was, but never got around to going. While I had a great time at Fu Sing, I had horrible experiences at Tim Ho Wan and Yung Kee. In the future, I think I will need a local foodie to guide me around the streets of Hong Kong to avoid the many pitfalls. Hong Kong is no longer a place where you can walk into any random restaurant and expect a great meal.

In the end Hong Kong is neither the utopia or dystopia, but it seems to be a city on the downturn as far as restaurants go. With much of the talent migrated to Vancouver, Singapore, or Shanghai, Hong Kong is in desperate need some inspired new ideas before it falls into culinary oblivion.

Furthermore, I have no idea who is handling the Michelin guide for Hong Kong, but I think the standards are far off from whoever was doing the LA/Vegas guide. I've had some great meals from restaurants in LA that should basically be 3 stars if they were scored on the HK scale, but those restaurants are mostly unrated.

If you go to Hong Kong, find a local that is willing to guide you around and offer to pay for them to eat with you and maybe some other benefits. Apparently that is the best way to find the best places to eat.


About This Blog

gastro bits is a blog that juxtaposes the geeky with the foodie; it is an attempt to be educational about food, yet entertaining at the same time.
None of the reviews are meant to dissuade you from trying anything by yourself, but simply to provide information for you to make a more informed choice.
If any special treatment is provided to the blogger, full disclosure is presented at the beginning of the post.

  © Blogger template Webnolia by Ourblogtemplates.com 2009

Back to TOP