Sunday, February 25, 2018

Ho Kee Cafe: Authentic Hong Kong Cafe Fare in San Gabriel

Always on the lookout for great, authentic Hong Kong food in LA, I was excited to find recently several of my favorite staple dishes and drinks at Ho Kee Cafe!

Like most fantastic food finds in the SGV, Ho Kee firmly focuses on their food vs. ambience, though the cozy space does have its own charming touches like roof-facades over main counter areas inspired by traditional temple architecture.

My favorite dish here is the revelatory Wonton Noodle Hong Kong Style ($8.95) - the best wonton noodle soup I've had in LA thus far.  I'll ask for you to kindly excuse the blatant use of foodporn vocabulary here, but the measure of a good wonton to me are the ration of filling to skin, and then the quality of both as indicated by texture and flavor.  And Ho Kee's is fantastic on all fronts: super fresh, robust, springy shrimp with nice clean snap is in perfect proportion to the supple, thin wonton skin that is skillfully crafted so that it does not fall apart on pickup. 

The chefs let the fresh juicy savory sweet flavors of the shrimp shine through, with just a touch of pepper to spice things up to just the perfect level.

Noodles are perfectly cooked so that they are not too chewy/ tough and not too soft, but perfectly springy and clean, comforting soaked in steaming hot clear broth.

The cafe fare is ordered a la carte and readily available.  But Ho Kee also offers a 'Private Kitchen Menu' of higher end dishes that typically requires advance order.  However, when possible they will make a few of the dishes from this menu available without that pre-planning.  I was lucky enough on the night of my first visit to be able to try from the Private Kitchen menu: Razor Clams ($43).  I haven't seen these on many menus around town, and was excited to see that the preparation is similar to what I had at famed Tung Po at Java Road market in Hong Kong.

The slender beauties are steamed in clear broth and topped with fried garlic and scallions for punches of flavor and texture contrast to the soft yet structured clam meat. Below the razor clams, a layer of glass noodles to soak up all the delicious juices and flavors.  Pretty pricey, and not something to be repeated often, but beautifully cooked.  This one is best ordered with a larger group to share, so that you can order other dishes as well to experience.

Back on the regular menu, I'm also a fan of the Two Kinds of Meat ($12.95) plate, where you can choose from among their housemade barbecue items.  I chose roast duck and char siu.  The duck had flavor intensity, and fantastic crispy skin with a pleasing layer of fat below for that perfect crisp juicy umami explosion in your mouth. The barbecue pork was great as well, but not as unforgettable as the duck. For those who are singular in their love of certain barbecue meats, you can order single types too, like the Roast Duck Plate ($9.95).

Lastly, what Hong Kong cafe with any pride would not also offer a great milk tea?  Ho Kee offers a very fragrant, silky creamy milk tea that I love, and also another Hong Kong iconic drink, "yin yang" or Milk Tea Coffee Mixed (Hot) ($2.95) on the menu. I liked the milk tea better.

Most diners around you will be speaking Cantonese, a good sign of authenticity of cuisine - the restaurant is attracting those who have roots in Hong Kong.  And indeed, when I eat here it feels like home.

On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 6 bites  
Presentation - 5 bites
Originality - 5 bites
Ambience -  5 stars
Service - 6 stars
Overall experience - 6 bites
Price - $$ (2 bite marks)
Probability of return visit - 100% 


Ho Kee Cafe

533 S Del Mar Ave, San Gabriel, CA 91776
Ph:  626.766.1076
Parking: in attached open air parking lot (limited spaces) or street parking


Sunday, January 21, 2018

1MB Travels: Hong Kong: Lan Fong Yuen

Whenever I’m back in Hong Kong, one of my must stops is Lan Fong Yuen, a now more than 50-year-old street food stall that persists against the odds, in the shadow of glossy skyscrapers and encroaching concept restaurants and bars and modernization.

They are said to be the inventors of the Hong Kong silk stocking milk tea, a local adaptation of colonial British high tea made more affordable with lower grade leaves, and with a higher level of caffeine to fuel the hard laboring masses through their work day - and use of evaporated milk both due to lower cost than fresh milk, and using its sweeter and creamier properties to balance out the intense tannins from the tea.

The precise blend of tea leaves is a closely-guarded secret, but Hong Kong milk tea in general is said to be a mix of black teas possibly including orange Pekoe, broken orange Pekoe, Ceylon, Assam, and dust.

The tea is 'pulled' though fine nets that resemble silk stockings, multiple times from a height, the better to 'press' the leaves for intensity of flavor while aerating, then poured into a mug pre-filled with evaporated milk and sugar for an incredibly fragrant, smooth drink that perfectly balances intensity with velvety sweetness (catch in action in video below).

There are many cafes that serve Hong Kong milk tea now, and many variables can impact the final body and taste, including ratio of tea to water, length of steep, amount added to evaporated milk (and brand of milk - many use the classic Black and White brand) - and Lan Fong Yuen may no longer be the absolute best, but it is the original, and a classic cup of nostalgia.

The original's success spread to several key locations in Hong Kong, and I would say which you choose to visit depends on your personal preference.

The Sheung Wan location is designed to evoke nostalgia, renovated to look like an old school dai pai dong but housed within a very modern shopping center at the Hong Kong Macau Ferry Terminal. This is a better location if you want to sit down in a clean, modern environment intentionally infused with old school charm via decor and ambience.  The food selections seem to be higher quality here as well.

The Central location is authentically old school, no frills in the most fantastic way.

However, you have to be ready for not the most hygienic environment, communal seating, and a HKD$25 minimum food purchase requirement to sit down inside (due to the cramped space and expense of real estate in that neighborhood), and while many rave about their pork bun and noodles, I find them forgettable.  You can get the milk tea to go from the window out front, and while waiting for tea preparation you can duck back to observe the process.

To me Lan Fong Yuen stands not as a symbol of defiance against progress, but a reminder of  a community's roots, how far we’ve come, and the importance of cherishing history (and the 'whys' of, and heart behind creations that endure) and ways it informs, fuels and supports our present and future, a message that is as relevant as ever.


Hong Kong

Lan Fong Yuen 蘭方園

Central location:
2 Gage St., Central, Hong Kong
Ph: +852 2544 3895

Tsim Sha Tsui location:
WK Square, Shop 26 (basement), Chungking Mansions, 36-44 Nathan Rd., Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong

Sheung Wan location:
Shun Tak Centre, Shop 304D, 168-200 Connaught Rd., Sheung Wan, Hong Kong


Sunday, November 26, 2017

Holiday Bites 2017 - Gift Ideas for Your Favorite Food and Travel Lover

The holidays are upon us once again, and this year there are so many creative food themed gifts for the foodie / travel lover in your life! 

1.  For the Lover of Seafood to Wear Heart on Sleeve Chain / Finger 

Amazing artists who are also ocean lovers have poured their passion into incredible handcrafted jewelry pieces so that your favorite seafood lover can literally wear their love of marine creatures around their necks, fingers etc.

Here are some of my personal favorites - and yes I snagged these for my collection already:

Sea urchin ring with exquisite level of detail:

Buy from: Cirer on Etsy  $121.08 (currently on sale for $102.92)

Oysters (and Scallops and Mussels) sterling silver / 14K Gold pendants inspired by real life beauty of foodie favorites.

The oyster pendant shown is made from a real seed oyster from Cuttyhunk Shellfish Farm in Cuttyhunk, MA. Flip the shell over to reveal a hidden freshwater pearl! Also available in a larger size, and with the second half of the shell.

Buy from: Laura Blanc Jewelry from $100

2.  For the Fashionista and Haute Cuisine Enthusiast

Love this metallic, fun glittery Finer Things Caviar Coin Purse from Kate Spade, with a spoon zipper pull!

Buy from:  Kate Spade $98

[Deal alert: get 3% cash back by going through eBates first (free to sign up)]

3.  For Pun Lovin' Sushi Lovers

Edible: For LA locals:  California Roll cake inspired by Dominique Ansel's newest bakery location that just opened at The Grove LA!  Made with avocado mousse, vanilla lime mousse, honey gelee and almond biscuit.

Buy from: Dominique Ansel Bakery (LA location only @ The Grove)

For some, anytime is sushi time.

Buy from: eBay $154

[Deal alert: go through eBates first to get up to 2% cash back]
Socks.  Printed and shaped like sushi - not just sushi print, but they roll up to look like an actual sushi roll.

Buy from: The Grommet $12.95 per pair

Sushi gummy candy bento box

Buy from: Amazon $11.25 or Tokyo Central

4.  For Jetsetters / Wanderlusters

Travel lovers know what it's like to be caught without Wifi  / cell service in a place where you don't speak the language and need to find your way around.  The brilliant minds at Iconspeak have created awesome wearable solutions: tees and tote bags pre-printed with easily recognizable icons customized to popular travel destinations.  Need to find the Colosseum, or the nearest glass of wine, or the closest WiFi hotspot, while in Rome?  No problem, just find a friendly face, point to the appropriate icon and commence local engagement/ travel memories, a semi-lost art in the age of tech addiction.

Buy from: Iconspeak $22 for tote bag

5.  For the Home Chef and Lover of Puns

Have a little fun especially for Italian food lovers, gift them kitchen accessories shaped like their favorite pasta shapes so that they can have literally every aspect of their kitchen infused with their favorite food while creating their  masterpiece meals!  Set includes silicon Farfalloni pot grips (2 units), 1 Ravioli spoon rest, 1 Penneli garlic peeler, &3 Mafaldine elastic bands.

Buy from: Monkey Business  $39.99 (or from Eataly where you can also pick up fresh or gourmet dried pasta to go with the pun pasta accessories :))

Then go full-pun and pair the gift with a greeting card from Etsy.

Buy from: Etsy $4.50+

6.  For the Wine / Cocktail / Sweets Enthusiast 

Serious drinkers and DIYers: let them age their own spirits in mini oak barrels that add instant klout to any desktop. Size matters too: not just about the fun look, the smaller sized barrel accelerates the aging process, so that your recipient's choice of spirit will age up to 10 times faster. Oak is beloved of distillers because it imparts flavor to spirits through three main compounds resulting in vanilla and marzipan-like flavors, buttery, coconut notes, and astringency and spice.  Handmade by coopers in Manassas, Virginia. Ages 21+.

Buy from: Uncommon Goods $130 for 2L barrel with rum & whiskey making kit and personalization

Up the game even more with glasses beautifully etched with maps of their favorite (drinking?) cities from Chicago to NYC to LA (~24 city options at last check!). 

Buy from: Uncommon Goods $14

Novelty options: Get them in an island state of mind whether they are spending the holidays in the depths of northern winter or somewhere with lots of sun, sand and sea.  The Pineapple Lover set includes a cocktail shaker, 12 oz. tumbler, set of shot glasses, bottle opener all in pineapple shapes (gold, silver or copper options) and metal straws.

Buy from: WP Design $160

[Deal alert: save 25% sitewide with code: HOTPOTATO]
Fun themed chocolates handcrafted in Texas:
  • (2) Martini Glasses in dark chocolate filled with salted caramel
  • (2) Caviar Canapés in solid milk chocolate
  • (2) Olives in milk chocolate filled with chocolate nougat
  • (1) Vodka Bottle in white chocolate filled with chocolate caramel + sea salt
  • (1) Lemon Slice in solid white chocolate
  • (1) Word Tile in solid white chocolate
 Buy from: Maggie Louise $38

Or for a sleeker boxed set gift, check out Sugarfina's "But First, Cocktails" candy bento box including eight fun flavors in beautiful packaging:
  • Brut & Rosé Champagne Bears® 
  • Peach Bellini
  • Champagne Bubbles
  • Jamaican Rum Snowballs
  • Paloma Sours 
  • But First Rosé Roses
  • Bubbly Bears®
  • Martini Olive Almonds

Buy from: Sugarfina $65

If they are more solely devoted to bubbly: gummy bears made with Dom Pérignon Vintage Champagne in two beautiful flavors: classic Brut and fashionable Rose would be a fun twist gift. Named "the perfect party favor" by Cosmopolitan magazine. Non-alcoholic.

Buy from:  Sugarfina starting at $8.50 for small cube to $45 for 2.5lb bulk bag that you can pick into your own gift packaging

Or step it up with a Sugarfina x WP collab Champagne Bears Cocktail Kit so that your favorite jetsetter can get their dose of bubbly up in the air first class style no matter if they're actually in coach.
    Kit includes:
  • Small-batch elderflower syrup
  • Sugarfina Champagne gummy bears
  • 0.5-oz. jigger
  • Bar spoon
  • Linen napkin
  • Recipe card
  • Stainless steel storage tin
Just add alcohol (not included - maybe hit up duty free at the airport before boarding)?

Buy from: Sugarfina $24 or Sur La Table $25

[Deal alert: sign up for eBates (free) and click through their Sugarfina links first to get 2.5%-5% cash back on your purchase] 

Stocking stuffer option: Cocktail lip balm Stewart & Claire, a trio of tasty cocktails to kickoff the holiday season:

Negroni: originally created as a limited edition for Campari: spiced orange and juniper-scented lip balm that does the Negroni justice.

Old Fashioned: cedar, bitter orange and a touch of vanilla, cinnamon and black pepper

Tiki: virgin coconut oil with a little mandarin essential oil: vacation in a tube.

Buy from: Stewart & Claire  $23 (or find at Paper Source stores)

7.  For Fruit Lovers

Serious gift: taste the sunshine in each handcrafted bite of pate de fruit made from all natural fruits from amazing chocolate and confections master Christopher Elbow. Flavors are seasonal but may include:  raspberry, apricot, blood orange, strawberry, black currant, blueberry, passion fruit, mango, morello cherry, green apple, white peach, pear, coconut, kiwi, and pineapple.

Buy from: Christopher Elbow $24

Novelty gift: Get through the winter with fruit scented lotions / skincare and lip products that are housed in fun fruit shaped containers like this mango butter (they also have banana, apple, peach etc.)

Buy from: Tonymoly $12 for hands & feet mango butter

8.  For People Who Literally Live for Tea Time

For tea lovers who are so serious they need to jetset with their own accesssories: travel tea set with bamboo tray, gaiwan, server, and four tasting cups and stainless steel tongs plus padded zipper pouch for easy carry during travel.

Buy from: Red Blossom Tea $120

For tea drinkers of the more punny variety: Pair tea with literature in the punniest way with book shaped tea tins emblazoned with titles from Anise in Wonderland to Matcha Do About Nothing to The Picture of Earl Grey!

Buy from: NovelTeas $29 

Lovepop Cards

Felt Toys dim sum

World Power Adaptor Tumi
Buy from: Tumi $


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