San Diego-ans (or wishful visitors)! I’m teaming up with the kind staff over at Del Mar Rendezvous to give away a free Restaurant Week dinner for two ($30 value each).
All you have to do is LIKE my Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/clarissapwei) and leave a comment on this post on what your favorite Chinese restaurant is. Elaboration on why welcomed but not required.
Include: Name, Email, Fav Chinese Restaurant Name.
Yes, I’ll be checking on whether or not you “liked” my Facebook page. No bias here. I’ll be randomly drawing a name using a computer generator and will notify the winner next week on Thursday, September 6.
Fine print: Contest ends Thursday, September 6 at 12:00 am. It’s for two dinners including upgrades to either the Mongolian Rack of Lamb and/or Chilean Sea Bass and good for the dates of Sept. 8 – 30.
How’s the food? I wrote about it here.
What: San Diego Restaurant Week at Del Mar Rendevous
When: September 16-21
Price: $30 Prix Fixe
I was invited to Del Mar Rendevous in San Diego for a Restaurant Week preview yesterday. Now I’m not normally a big subscriber to Americanized-Chinese food, but I am an advocate for it.
I’m almost hesitant to group Del Mar completely in the Americanized category. The chef is a Taiwanese immigrant and a lot of the dishes on the menu are stuff you can find in the authentic eateries in the SGV (i.e. steamed dumpling sampler, sanbeji, walnut shrimp)– they just sound fancier and have a much heftier price tag.
As I have frequently ranted about before, what exactly does the word Americanized even mean? These are Chinese chefs making Chinese dishes, just catering to a different audience. Etymology aside, Del Mar is a solid Chinese restaurant for a fancy night out. I’d say it’s the perfect Chinese food for an American audience — dishes are saucy and oozing with flavor.
And sometimes the shoddy service and lack of wine and craft beer selections at a more “authentic” Chinese resto just doesn’t cut it — especially if you’re looking to impress a date. Del Mar makes up for that slack with attentive service, an extensive local craft beer selection, and a four course menu (during Restaurant Week) with plating arrangements. And the portions are generous. Still recovering from breakfast at a Taiwanese joint in L.A., my plus one and I were practically full by the time we finished the appetizer.
It’s a good thing. This is a Restaurant Week deal that won’t have you pulling up to the nearest In-N-Out after a meal. Come hungry.
We started off with the sesame crusted seared ahi and steamed dumpling sampler. “Eh” on the dumplings. The skin was a bit tough at the edges and the fillings weren’t particularly juicy. But the tuna was the real winner of the meal.
It’s a sashimi grade ahi that’s crispy on the outside with a beautiful marbled pink in the center and drizzled with wasabi aioli. I found myself greedily soaking up all the aioli on the plate with each slab of fish.
For the entrees, my friend got the rack of lamb (shown above) and we had reserved the three-cup chicken, or “sanbeiji,” the day before (limited orders available each day). Now I’ve had this dish before at the likes of Uncle Yu’s and Cafe Fusion back in L.A., where I was never really a fan. The dish is traditionally really heavy and loaded with soy and basil. Somehow, Del Mar did it right.
Apparently the chef was hesitant on introducing this dish to a heavily Americanized clientele because the skin and bones are still on the chicken (lol, c’mon guys). But we’re glad he did.
It’s 14 ounces of chicken thigh meat chopped into small pices and sauteed with fresh basil, garlic, ginger, and red chilies. The chicken is first cooked to high heat to release the bone marrow and then simmered to allow the meat to absorb the flavors from the marrow and the sauce. The overall product is a light but saucy dish that comes with a complimentary side of white or brown rice.
Admittedly did not try the rack of lambs, but Dan ate all of it clean off the bones. It may not look like an Asian dish, but the ingredients do have a oriental twist: teriyaki glaze, red bell pepper, green onion, white onion, and an addicting bed of sautéed green beans that I couldn’t stop picking at.
Dessert wasn’t Chinese, but man – if you’re planning on stopping by, get the cinnamon banana egg roll. It’s basically a churro stuffed with banana cheesecake.
Redondo is my new favorite beach. The crowds are minimal, there’s a neighboring suburbia, and it’s just a really relaxing place to rent a bike and take a good summer stroll without the harsh glare of retail stores and the annoyance of a heavy tourist presence.
Headed here with Dan and Jackie for a nice day trip. We rented beach cruisers – $8 an hour, locks and baskets included – from Marina Bike Rentals (505 N Harbor Dr, Redondo Beach, CA 90277) and rode up and down the shore for an hour. It’s a fabulous route — modern beach houses on the right, and a open beach with tan bods and gorgeous people to the left. Not a lot of noise, save for the occasional guy on his patio stringing a guitar.
And of course, keeping true to my Asian food obsession, we did not leave without paying a visit to a local Asian eatery. This time: Izakaya Bincho per the rec of KungFoodPanda. From the bike rental shop, Izakaya is roughly a 10 minute walk.
It’s situated on the boardwalk and is this totally unassuming restaurant. We had the hardest time finding it and when we did, the place looked like it was under construction. A man (who we later learned was the chef) was just sitting in the back next to a pile of fans. The restaurant wasn’t going to be open until 7 pm. It was 6.
So our time was spent (and eventually a handful of quarters) at the nearby arcade for a good hour.
We eventually ran out of things to do…just because the place is a little ghetto and run-down.
When the clock hit 7, we were the first customers in the three-booth-eight-seats-at-the-bar restaurant (point: it was tiny).
The evening kicked off with a miniature sake tasting. After all, that’s what an izakaya is for.
And then came the food. I think we went a little bit overboard. It started off with complimentary edadame beans and then a delicious chicken wing plate.
Next were the agedashi plates and my favorites of the night: agedashi tofu, agedashi mochi, and agedashi eggplant. We had heard Izakaya is known for their agedashi tofu and figured why not order everything else that was agedashi — which means deep-fried with the dashi sauce.
My next favorites were the yakitori bowl (the most expensive at $9.00) and the meatballs.
Succulent meat and very tasty, saucey rice.
I loved the spicy mustard dipping sauce. They already come marinated in some sort of thick soy sauce.
Lastly we had a bunch of skewers, which were totally Dan’s idea. I’m personally not a big fan of skewers, let alone skewered offals. I did of course for the sake of research try the gizzards. The texture takes getting used to, but it’s sufficiently salty and according to Dan, was a great complement to his beer.
Although the wait was horrendous, it was definitely forgivable. The entire restaurant was managed by the chef and one waitress with broken English (who were both complete sweethearts). And we were personally in no rush to leave. It was a great hour and a half spent sipping on sake and the constant stream of plates kept on eternally entertained.
It came out to be a pricey $87 — but it really wasn’t anything unexpected. The meats were cooked to an astonishing perfection. Those chicken wings, skewers and yakitori were the epitome of the words juicy and succulent.
We finished off with vanilla, green tea, and red bean ice cream.
Izakaya is a great place to go if you’re not in a rush, feel like sipping on some beer or sake, have money to spend, and just want to slowly soak in the beach vibe. The food is worth the price you’re paying, and the comfy atmosphere of the entire place creates a really intimate atmosphere.
112 N International Boardwalk
Redondo Beach, CA 90277
Sometimes the perfect solution to the summer drawl is a long overdue road trip. I visited SF in the first time in a decade (yeah it’s been that long). It was me and the girls and a very memorable 80s night at the oh-so-hipster Cat Club and a less memorable one at some Asian joint with a crowd awfully reminiscent of the SGV (hah).
Though our itinerary revolved around the nightlife, the standout of the weekend trip was Mission Chinese Food.
Yes, I’ve heard the laments of SF Chinese food. How it doesn’t compare to Los Angeles and that it’s stuck in that Gold Rush, Chinese take-out, tacky era. But I knew I couldn’t leave without trying Mission Chinese Food.
Now, part of my job is to round-up weekly reviews and constantly digest the NY restaurant industry. And let me tell you, the pan-Asian/fusion has been the summer trend in the big city. Andy Ricker’s Pok Pok NY and Bowien’s Mission Chinese are drawing so many people to the other side of the river that restaurant critics are actually taking off points for the wait and the hefty cab fare. I’ve put in so many mention’s for Danny Bowein’s newly-opened and over-hyped Mission Chinese in New York that I felt like I knew the menu inside-and-out already.
So I did it. I dragged Lani across the town and sat her down at Mission Chinese. The criticisms came rolling in.
A little background about Lani. She hails from Yunnan (think spicy food that’s awfully common to Sichuan). And she also happens to be one of the most passionate and patriotically Chinese people I know. In high school, she’d run around campus singing the Chinese anthem.
“This fried rice tastes like the stuff we have at home.”
“This decor is so stupid.”
“This is 100% marketing.”
“It’s good, but why is it famous again?”
“I would come here again. But I would never take my parents here. Never.”
I agree. Mission Chinese food is delicious. Better than the stuff I’ve had in New York and probably better than a lot of mom-and-pop SF Chinese restaurants too.
But from the perspective of people who grew up eating Chinese food – it’s nothing special. Dishes like Mission’s are accessible at mom-and-pops in the SGV. The problem? These “authentic” restaurants aren’t Western-friendly. The menu translations are a bit odd, the interior a little sketchy, and the atmosphere — nowhere as chic and comfy as Mission Chinese.
As I explained to Lani the background of Mission Chinese and the hype surrounding it, she got noticeably annoyed. And as I told her the stories behind Yunnan Kitchen (chef Travis Post) and Pok Pok NY (chef Andy Ricker), I could tell she wanted to scream. It was the same debate we’ve heard over and over again (see: Eddie Huang vs. Francis Lam).
“These guys are just taking other people’s culture, remarketing it, and making money off of it.”
I thought back to the article of Bowien + Andrew Knowlton of Bon Appetit in Chengdu that spurred similar emotions within me from a journalistic perspective.
Our heated conversation on Chinese food died down eventually as we enjoyed our amazingly crispy fried chicken and soaked in the mala flavors of the mapo tofu. Next we were off debating about why “Asian night clubs” even existed.
But it all goes back to the same themes: authenticity, marketing, and owning up to culture.
Lung Shan Restaurant
2234 Mission St
San Francisco, CA 94110