Our May trip to California: dining perspective

Boy, it has been a busy week. Yesterday, I remarked to NPY that we were traveling just a week before. While I got out my overall trip recap, the food posts are still outstanding. I’m getting around to this one because it’s shorter than the food post that I’m also drafting for the other blog. :P

Wong Lee Bakery [Yelp]

On our first full day in San Francisco, I dragged NPY to the storefront of Golden Gate Bakery and we could tell from the street corner of its block that it was closed. And I swear it’s the same sign I saw last year in April. NPY thought the bakery was closed for good because when you peer in between the gate and through the hazy front door, it looks like display cases are askew – not like they were just closed for the day.

It turns out that the bakery is run by two elderly ladies who apparently don’t need to open every day and they will take long vacations even during high season. There is even a website you can check, Is the Golden Gate Bakery open today? to save yourself the trip. So I will check ahead of time next time and roll-forward this To-do item!

So we continued to wander around Chinatown and hit jackpot on Jackson Street at Wong Lee Bakery. There was a small line which was processed quickly and gave us time to decide what we wanted to order. It was great to have the mix of dim sum and bakery and we could get a cold drink to boot!

On the first day, we ordered sticky rice bun, an egg tart and one of their “Grand Opening Special” cold milk tea bubble tea for $0.99. I was wary that “sticky rice bun” came in a bulky and filling doughy bun but it was really just a thin dumpling skin which is the best sticky rice-exterior ratio. The egg tart was okay and the tea was great value.

On the second day, we looked for a different spot to try and walked along Grant to no avail. We ended up back on Jackson Street and across the street from Wong Lee at a take out dim sum join. I ordered a zongzi and perhaps because I asked for it for takeaway and unwrapped, she stuck me with a cold one. While it was filling and pretty tasty, NPY wanted something else so we went across the street and were back at Wong Lee. From what I can remember, we got another egg tart, a couple of buns and $0.99 milk tea.

By the third day, we thought we would make it a streak and I went straight to Wong Lee to load up before our long road trip to Los Angeles. We finally tried their dim sum properly with an assortment of siu mai, shrimp dumplings, daikon cake and a savoury chicken bun. And a $0.99 milk tea. It was all decent and I really enjoyed the chicken bun which was chockful of ingredients and a half of a hard-boiled egg.

 

 

The House

Last year, I visited San Francisco solo for several days and stayed at my cousin’s place and overlapped with her just one evening. She and her husband took me out to The House and had a splendid dinner. Thereafter, when I talked to someone, it seemed like the place to go and people who also visited that summer (it certainly helps when a friend spends a few months there and gives you a reason to visit) were all going to The House. It made it easy to pick a restaurant during our three-day stay as NPY had not yet gone to The House.

I was late to make a reservation for the first night we were in town and the next evening was Mother’s Day. But it worked out in that we passed by the restaurant on our way back to the hotel after a day of walking around (so many hills!), left our name and then returned after freshening up an hour later. We got a two-top by the window and could watch the people walking by.

With three diners, we tried at least seven dishes dishes. With just the two of us, and with us having snacked/eaten all day long, we were limited to three. Time to choose wisely!

Funny enough, I ended up ordering the fried salmon roll again. It is delicious and filling and good value. Because I knew it would be a winner with carbs and a juicy steak, I ordered the warm wasabi noodles with angus flatiron steak. the noodles, as I had been warned on Yelp, were short on strong wasabi flavour. And since it would be a turn from what I had tried before and rave reviews, I ordered the Kurobota pork chop with pomegranate currant sauce. I’m ever so happy to have pork chop with something other than apple sauce. NPY thought it tasted Chinese and I put my finger on it when I finally identified as tasting like cha siu (roasted pork) glaze. Which is delicious. NPY concluded it The House is less fusion and more Americanized (but tasty) Asian food.

   

Plentea [Yelp]

We stayed in the Hilton San Francisco Financial District (thank you Air Miles and mum generously donating them for our use) on Kearny Street so we were walking on it and explored in the evening. Two restaurants that intrigued us are Ramen Underground (but we were always full from dinner already) and Plentea. The first time we passed by during the day, there was a queue out the door for Plentea. When we passed by later in the evening, there was a sign on the door they were closed because they ran out of bubble tea. The same thing happened the second evening where they ran out of bubble tea and were closed by 10 p.m. I joked that we should try to have bubble tea for breakfast to get to try it.

On our last evening, a Monday night, they were still open when we went in on the evening and I was so happy. Then we saw the prices and decided only to order one drink. We were full, anyways. Why is it so pricey, a basic bubble tea starting at $5.

While we waited for a long time for our drink as only one staff was trained to make the green tea matcha smoothie and he was busy re-doing a drink for what appeared to me to be a fussy customer, I saw on a blackboard the offer for a discount if you bring back your bottle.

You mean we can keep the branded milk bottle? We looked surreptitiously around and it does appear so. Well, then it is a better price in that case. Interesting business model.

 

Yummy Bakery and Cafe [Yelp]

We kept walking by this bakery on Jackson Street on our way to and from Wong Lee and on our last morning I supplemented our larger order with Wong Lee (eight hours of driving ahead!!) with a visit to Yummy Bakery. I picked up a mocha bun because it is novel but it wasn’t so great in execution. And when I saw a bun fashioned into a crab like Boudin sourdough is and it was filled with NPY’s favourite, red bean paste, I had to get it. It was so cute and it was better than the mocha bun.

BCD Tofu House

The last time I was in LA, I did not have the savvy to visit Koreatown for food. But since then, I have watched K-Town Cowboys (lol) and enjoyed several dinners in Koreatown in New York (and many more in Toronto) – it’s a good bet.

A day before we went to BCD Tofu House, we drove through Koreatown en route to somewhere else and I was hugely impressed – it went on forever. The next day, we were back and located BCD Tofu on a less cluttered part of the strip.

The Koreatown location of BCD Tofu (for there are many) is open 24 hours a day and the dining room is one big and clean room furnished with a dark wood interior. It was entirely different from my imaginings of a cramped dive.

We had plenty of choices for tofu soup options and NPY and I happily ordered one each. I got vegetable toppings and medium spicy. NPY got a soy bean paste – which is unheard of in our parts for tofu soup – with no spice. The banchan were plentiful and we were pleased to see the whole fried fish we each got.

I wonder if BCD has different pricing in the late night because I was surprised each tofu soup was not dirt cheap. After the plenty and variety of the banchan was factored in, I certainly am not complaining about value. But it’s not Toronto with Canadian prices and super value!

Palms Thai Restaurant

One more re-visit for LA was to go to Palms Thai. You can tell that when I last visited LA and it was with my sister, she was visiting some lists of cheap-but-well-rated LA restaurants. Palms was among them (so was Diddy Riese and C&O Trattoria). It was the restaurant I planned for when we would be in Hollywood, to keep our costs under control and get in an Asian (i.e., rice was present) meal.

I ordered our “staple” assortment including a red curry (chicken), pad thai and steamed rice. I ordered a large steam rice which is highly unusual but it was really cheap! Oh, and a Thai iced tea because I was bugging NPY all week starting in San Francisco to get Thai iced tea. Best to get it where it would be made best!

The rice and curry arrived in giant bowls by comparison to most Thai restaurants I’ve been to. There was plenty of rice for three servings each. The curry was lighter on flavour than I would like and super simple on ingredients – just chicken, red pepper and green pepper. Nonetheless, it hit the spot after a week of traveling and eating out all week. The pad thai came later. Bean sprouts took up half the plate but there was enough to be sure. It was heavy on the tomato flavour and not spicy in the least. I loved how they offered as the “meat” both steamed and fried tofu and the big chunks of tofu that was present when I ordered steamed.

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