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% 


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Ho Kee Cafe

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


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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.














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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

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