Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Newport Seafood
Continuing on with LA. I had been tipped off by a friend that some of the best lobster ever could be find in a legendary but seemingly unassuming Vietnamese-style Chinese restaurant in the San Gabriel Valley. When we arrived, there were around 20 people crowded around the entrance waiting for a table--quite a good sign in my book. After around an hour wait, we were finally seated.

Cat Fish Hot and Sour Soup (Canh Chua Ca)

In terms of flavor, this was a standard hot and sour soup you could find at a typical Vietnamese restaurant. They were pretty generous with the ingredients, though, and the bowl came brimming with tomatoes, bean sprouts, pineapple, catfish, and bamboo shoots. Sour and spicy, this soup really helped to whet the appetite.

Clam with Spicy Hot Sauce (Chem Chep)

These were some of the biggest, plumpest clams I've ever had. The sauce was well seasoned with parsley and japaneos, but I found it a bit too thick. That did not deter me from the clams though; I haven't had clams this huge and fresh in way too long.

Steamed Tilapia (Ca Cap Gung)

This was a well-executed Chinese-style steamed fish. The flesh was perfectly cooked and soft, exhibiting the flavor of the yellow chives, parsley, and ginger piled on top. Delicious.

Shaking Beef (Bo Luc Lak)

Newport Seafood is well known for their shaking beef, and this definitely lived up to the hype. The pieces were tender yet lean and most importantly, a delicate medium-rare. The flavor was excellent--a rich oyster sauce with black pepper. So how does this compare to the Slanted Door? Niman Ranches and organics aside, SD's beef were in bigger, thicker cubed cuts. In addition, they were sauteed with the onions, while Newport kept the beef and the raw onions separate. SD's beef also had a cleaner, more citrusy flavor, while Newport's was more rich and intense. I think I prefer Newport's more "down and dirty" version.

Newport Special Lobster (Tom Hum Tan Cang Dac Biet)

Arriving on a two-foot long platter, the huge five-pound lobster really stole the show. The pieces were lightly battered and stir-fried in a salty, sour, and slightly-sweet mix of garlic, peppers, and onions. The lobster was incredibly fresh, juicy, and plump (as with all seafood at this place). This lobster preparation was a very welcome change to the sous-vide and butter-poached methods I usually have. In addition, tackling this lobster was fun--in Newport's atmosphere, or lack thereof, most customers are pretty uninhibited, making for one of the tastiest and messiest lobster experiences out there.

Newport Seafood
835 W. Las Tunas Dr.
San Gabriel, CA 91776

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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Din Tai Fung Dumpling House
Just finishing up some meals from last weekend. No trip to Los Angeles is complete without a visit to Din Tai Fung Dumpling House in Arcadia. DTF's roots trace back to Taiwan, but has since spawned into Japan and China, both in which it is experiencing immense success; its location in Arcadia, the only outlet in the States, is also having trouble meeting demand. This world famous dumpling restaurant is known for its xiao long bao, or juicy soup dumplings. These dumplings' popularity has grown quickly in recent years, as evidenced by the popularity of NYC's New Green Bo and Joe's Shanghai, both of which are absymal, I might add. The line was insanely long, but the restaurant was equally efficient. While it seemed like we would have to wait over an hour in the 95 degree heat, it only turned out to be around 35 minutes.

Steamed vegetarian dumplings

These were wonderfully light. The wrappers were thin with perfect al dente consistency. The stuffing, a stir-fried mixture of finely minced cabbage, vermicelli, and mushrooms, had a clean, subtle (white) peppery flavor. I am usually weary of vegetarian dumplings because they are so bland, but these were great.

Juicy pork/crab dumplings

Hailed as some of the best soup dumplings around, these lived up to the hype. The stuffing was quality, with a high ratio of crab meat and roe to pork. The soup, which captured the essence of the crab, was intensely flavorful. Innards aside, it all comes down to the wrapper (and the structural integrity it ensures). I marvel at how the dangerously thin and delicate wrapper amazingly held the meat and soup together. Dip the dumpling in vinegar with some ginger streds, and let the dumpling burst in your mouth. Simply divine.

Shrimp and pork wonton

These weren't as good as the soup dumplings, but they were above average. The shrimp was extremely fresh and crisp. Slightly thicker than the other wrappers, the skin was silky smooth.

Steamed beef noodle soup

This wasn't the rich, hearty Taiwanese braised beef brisket noodle soup that I expected. What came out was a bowl of steamed beef tendons served with thin noodles in a very tasteless broth. Medicine Eatstation, anyone?

Stir fried green beans

Crunchy, fresh, and garlicky; not too oily.

As you can see, making these dumplings is labor intensive.

Verdict? World famous for their dumplings, and a damn well deserved reputation.

Din Tai Fung
1108 S Baldwin Ave
Arcadia, CA 91007

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Sunday, July 09, 2006

Harris Ranch
Over July 4 weekend, I headed down to Los Angeles for two days for some sun and great meals. Instead of flying, I opted to drive instead--a decision driven in part to visit the Harris Ranch Steak House in Coalinga, situated about 185 miles from San Francisco. Just four miles from the restaurant is the feedlot for the cattle about to be consumed. You really can't miss the smell driving north.

The ranch is quite charming all over. Their gift shop sells some nostalgic American memorabilia, as well as steaks for you to take home.

After a short wait, we were finally seated. With various cow raising equipment mounted on the walls, the decor of the dining room was very "Paul Bunyan." Adding to the beefy ambiance was the clientele, which exuded all the connotations of the average Fresnoan. Anyway, we started off with the salad which comes as part of the steak meals. It was the typical steakhouse salad--average iceberg lettuce, canned kidney beans, generic croutons.

8 oz. Filet Mignon

The filet mignon was divine--tender (a knife really wasn't required) and juicy, with the perfect doneness just below medium rare. The meat was bursting with flavor, indicative of the quality of the beef as well as the aging process. I had been craving a good steak for a while (how feminine of me) and this really hit the spot.

The sides were alright at best. The grilled vegetables and buttered corn were generic; the side of baked beans was so salty I didn't even touch it.

10 oz. Prime Rib - served with creamy horseradish and Au-jus

I also got to try a bit of the abundantly marbled prime rib, which was juicy and flavorful.

I had initially intended to detox a bit for the weekend after a series of flavor-blasted meals, but the trip to LA effectively ruined that plan. If you find yourself driving on the stretch of road between northern and southern California, do stop here; given the other options in the area, you don't really have a choice, now do you?

Harris Ranch Inn & Restaurant
24505 West Dorris Avenue
Coalinga, CA 93210

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