Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Mama's Lu Dumpling House (一口福) - Bad Grammar, but solid food (Monterey Park)

Outside Mama's Lu

Ah, being behind on food blogging and photo editing. It seems that some food bloggers are better than others, but sadly, I'm pretty behind.

On one raining evening in the SGV, I met up with Matt of Mattatouille, Christine of folie a choisauce, Mike of Pepsi Monster, and Jackie of Citynitz for a Northern Chinese "doughy" dinner at Mama's Lu, a place recommended to me by a friend that I had yet to try. Since I was the lone FOB, *ahem* I mean Chinese speaker of the group, I took the liberty of ordering for the group. Seriously, shouldn't this place be called "Mama Lu's" instead of "Mama's Lu?"


Green Onion Cake (蔥油餅) - $1.99

We started off with 2 orders of their famous green onion cake. Although it's one of the most simplest thing on any menu, especially at a Northern Chinese style restaurant, I've had some pretty horrible green onion cakes in my days (soggy, oily, you name it). The version found here is simply delicious. Crispy, flavorful, and at only $1.99 to boot, it's hard to beat this version based on taste and price. Call it Chinese Pizza or whatever, it's just plain delicious. Probably my favorite thing found at Mama's Lu.

Shanghai Rice Cake (上海炒年糕) - $5.99

House Special Fried Rice (楊州炒飯) - $6.99

The Shanghai rice cakes were similar to what my mom would make for me at home. The rice cakes, stir fried with some Chinese bok choi, pork strips, and other seasonings were pretty authentic and delicious (and yes, A LOT better than the version found at Din Tai Fung). The house special fried rice was ordered probably due to my love of fried rice. Eaten with ketchup, with hot sauce, even eaten plain, I love fried rice. Heck, I'm sure I'll even like the fried rice found at Panda Express (note: this writer has never stepped foot inside a Panda Express, but sadly has eaten at PF Chang's). With pieces of carrots, peas, Chinese sausages (臘腸), and shrimp, the fried rice was pretty damn solid.

Juicy Pork Dumplings, 10pcs (小籠湯包) - $4.50

Again, going back to my previous post about Din Tai Fung, for something $3 less than DTF, you really can find something as tasty, but a lot better for your wallet. A basket of juicy dumplings (XLB) should not cost close to $8. I enjoyed the soup dumplings here, but the skin is slightly thicker than the version found at DTF. It's a minimal difference, at least for me, and should not deter most of you to try the XLB here.

Fish Dumplings, 8pcs (魚餃) - $4.99

Honestly, I preferred the fish dumplings at Kingburg a lot more. The version here, at Mama's Lu was slightly watery, and bland. It wasn't bad, but it just wasn't as good as I had hoped.....

Fried Pork Bun, 6pcs (生煎包) - $5.50

Ever since Noodle House closed down in Arcadia early last year (one of the last meals I had with my ex), I've been searching long and hard for some good fried pork bun. From Dean Sin World, to Kingburg, heck, even the ones at Shau May, I've yet to be satisfied, and sadly, the version here wasn't up to par. I miss the buttery taste of the dough and the juicy filling that awaits to be eaten. While the fried pork bun wasn't exactly bad here, it was just OK.

Pan Fried Dumplings, 8pcs (鍋貼) - $4.50

While the potstickers were pretty solid here, I think I still prefer the version at Dean Sin World slightly more.

In the end, while there were some slight missed during the dinner at Mama's Lu, I was generally satisfied with the items we ordered. As mentioned earlier, I especially love the green onion cake and the house special fried rice. I went back after this dinner and tried the kung pao chicken, and it was actually pretty good. Look, at under $10/person with tax and tip, it's really hard to knock a place too much for their food, and it did not disappoint. Overall, it's a place I enjoyed and plan to make repeat visits. There may be better dumpling places out there, or even better place for fried rice, but based on location, price, and food, it definitely has earned a "solid" rating from me.

*Note* I gotta love my pictures from my old Nikon point and shoot.....*sarcasm*

Final Grade
  • Taste: 4 out of 5
  • Decor: 3.5 out of 5 (gotta love these LCD TVs at these Chinese places around SGV)
  • Service: 3.5 out of 5
Mama's Lu Dumpling House
153 E. Garvey Avenue
Monterey Park, CA 91775

*Note* Close Wednesdays
Hours of Operation
Thurs-Tues: 10:30am -3:00pm, 5:00pm - 9:00pm

Mama's Lu Dumpling in Los Angeles

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Quality Seafood - I like Uni, do you? (Redondo Beach)

Quality Seafood

After perusing through my pictures from my trips to Torihei, I realized I'm too lazy to get the review out today, but I did notice a few uni pictures I took at Redondo Pier and realized I could use some right now!

Various Seafood Tanks (Top: various clams, Bottom: Uni (Sea Urchin))

Uni Master at work

Pictures of my delicious uni

Now, originally, I was not a fan of uni. I may have been traumatized from the low quality uni served at Todai Buffet while I was in College. As time progressed, I've enjoyed eating uni at various sushi restaurants, but this was the first time I had uni (sea urchin roe) inside the sea urchin itself. Unaware of the price, I assumed it would be quite hefty, similar to the uni I've had previously. However, the sea urchin was sold at $6.99/lb and my alien looking creature was actually less than $7, what a bargain! Rich, fresh, and delicious are three words I would describe about this magnificent creature. While it was a bit uncomfortable seeing the tentacles of the sea urchin move during its roe comsumption, the quality of the uni quickly made that uneasy feeling quickly dissipate.

Quality Seafood not only carries a decent selection of cooked food (primarily seafood, but they have chow mein! *sarcasm*), but they do carry a massive amount of fresh seafood for you to enjoy at home, or in our case, eating it there. They carry a variety of fishes, crabs, lobsters, oysters (freshly chucked between $1.50 - $1.90, I believe. Bargain!), and of course, our good friend, the sea urchin. I highly recommend visiting Quality Seafood whenever you're around the Redondo Pier, you can't really beat the price and quality of this place!

For another blogger's POV, visit what my karaoke buddy Gourmet Pigs has to say about Quality Seafood.

Quality Seafood
130 S International Boardwalk
Redondo Beach, CA 90277
(310) 374-2382

Friday, June 12, 2009

Kingburg Kitchen - One of the better NRM deals in town! (San Gabriel)

Outside Kingburg Kitchen

After getting my Canon dSLR just days before my Urasawa dinner, I've stopped using my P&S camera (other than the Jitlada dinner), and subsequently, I gave it to my mom for her to use. However, after going through a few folders of my old back logged pictures shot by my point and shoot camera, I've stumbled upon some pictures from my go to spot for beef noodle soup (NRM) in the San Gabriel Valley, Kingburg Kitchen.

Sign states: Order, Make, Wrap, Pan Fry (re: Pan Fried Bao)

A hearty bowl of Beef Noodle Soup

After trying the various beef noodle soup around town (Kam Hong, A&J, Noodle King, Dai Ho, Ding's Garden (2 of them), and even at Cotton Candy), there were always something that I wasn't too happy about with the bowl of noodles I ate. In a way, my cravings of a bowl of beef noodle soup has never been met. Sadly, even after Kingburg, I found there's still no perfect bowl of NRM on this side of the Pacific, yet, this was the best of the best here.

To go in depth about NRM, ramen, or any bowl of noodle soup, the broth is key. My friends, the broth for this bowl of NRM at Kingburg is terrific! It's savory, rich, and not too salty. It definitely has a lot of flavor. The chunks of the beef used here was very soft and tender, one of the better ones I've eaten. Sadly, the only real thing lacking from this bowl of noodle soup were the noodles themselves. The noodle here was not bad, but it just doesn't stand out. I've longed for some with more of a texture, or what us Taiwanese people would say "Q Q." In fact, I almost wished I could smuggled the noodles from Kam Hong and dump it into the soup here for the perfect NRM! (So yes, the best noodles IMO are found at Kam Hong. Their knife cut noodles are terrific, but sadly, their soup can be a bit bland). In the end, the soup, with a side of baby bok choy, mustard green and green onion completes what I call one of the best NRM in the SGV. Yet, this is just part I of the combo meal offered here.

Dumplings (w/cabbage, pork and shrimp)

Part II of the combo meal were the 5 pieces of dumplings chosen from a list of filling types. For the 3 seafood, or the fish dumplings, the combo becomes $7, for all other choices, it's $6 with the bowl of noodles. Honestly, this IS a recession dinner. Cheap, delicious, and causal. The dumplings were made fresh to order and the fillings were generous, if not overflowing. It's one of the few times I didn't need any soy sauce/chilli/vinegar to add to the taste as the flavors from the filling were far from bland. I'd even say this is probably the best place you could go, solely for dumplings.

There were definitely a few minus points about Kingburg. I'm not a huge fan of their pan fried bao, one of their specialties. The flavor and the skins just don't quite match up to what I have in mind to a good pan fried bao. I wish I had a picture of it, but it was from my pre picture taking days. In addition, the server can be slightly pushy with the various products here, so if you only want the combo, then stand your ground! There will be a language barrier, but as what stated, "pantomiming works like a charm." If that doesn't work, call me out and I'll eat here with you! LOL

Props to Tony C. of Sinosoul who introduced me to this place. Not only is this place close to my house, I've missed this place on my drive to Golden Deli and other restaurants on Las Tunas in the past. This might be a little hole in the wall in a strip mall that features El Pollo Loco, but Kingburg Kitchen shouldn't be missed. Order the $6 or $7 combo, so your stomach AND your wallet will thank you.

Final Grade
  • Taste: 4.5 out of 5
  • Decor: 3 out of 5
  • Service: 3 out of 5
Kingburg Kitchen
715 W. Las Tunas Drive
San Gabriel, CA 91776

Kingburg Kitchen in Los Angeles

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Din Tai Fung - World Famous Soup Dumplings (aka XLB)? I think not! (Arcadia)

Outside Din Tai Fung

Din Tai Fung, one of the most famous names in either side of the Pacific when the topic of Xiao Lung Bao (XLB, soup dumplings) is mentioned. I've had it a few times in the two stores in Taipei (which has since expanded to 3 stores), and I was also dragged there a few times to the Arcadia location when I first moved to Southern California. Everytime, my reaction to eating here was a "meh." I was never impressed, but since I never took food pictures then, I figured it was about time to try Din Tai Fung again. I joined Jackie of citynitz and her boyfriend David for some XLB, since it's been awhile since we each had DTF.

"Hey Amigo!" I'm looking at you!

Dining room of the new wing of DTF

Workers wrapping the dumplings

Similar to what Anthony Bourdain had mentioned previously in No Reservations about restaurants in New York City , the Mexicans actually dominated the kitchen at Din Tai Fung, more specifically, the wrapping area. Even though I have no real gripes about this, I personally prefer an Asian person making the XLB, but hey, that's just me. I mean, do you really want to see a Chinese dude making your burrito? Same concept, but ya.....I'm going too deep with this. The new wing of DTF has 2 areas in the dining room, but most importantly, takes out the hour(s) long waits DTF had previously. Now, onto the food...


Beef Noodle Soup (NRM) - $7.50

I'm not sure why I ordered the NRM here, because I recall it wasn't very good when I had it in my previous visit, and at over $7, it's definitely more expensive than most places in the SGV. Not only it was expensive, the bowl was probably 2/3 the size of a bowl of NRM found elsewhere, it just wasn't very good. The noodle had a slight "somen" texture, and the soup was quite bland. In addition, there were probably about 3-4 pieces of beef in the bowl, so we were lucky enough to get piece of beef each. I wouldn't recommend this bowl of NRM to anyone.

Pork Chop Fried Rice - $7.25

I admit, I liked this dish, but don't be fooled by the picture, the portion was pretty tiny. Actually, to stop repeating myself, EVERYTHING at DTF were small. The pork chop was pretty juicy laid over a bed of flavorful egg fried rice. A solid dish, but I wish it was either cheaper or the portion size was bigger.

Juicy Pork/Crab dumplings - $9.25

Juicy Pork Dumplings (XLB) - $7.50

Since we're at Din Tai Fung, how can we not order their soup, or how they have it on their menu, juicy dumplings? We decided on the crab and the regular pork versions to compare. Honestly, I'd avoid ordering the crab juicy dumplings as it's not worth the $2 extra as it lacks any real crab essence, thus tasting similar to the regular pork version. What I do like about the XLB here is their thin skin, which made it really enjoyable to eat, but overall, the flavor was not much better compared to Dean Sin World, Mei Long Village, and various other San Gabriel Valley XLB hotspots. Now, to the million dollar question, was this XLB worth the extra $2-3 compared to other locations? No, it really wasn't. I know this place is world famous, and has attracted millions of Japanese tourists to the streets of Taipei, but I'm just not very impressed.

Stir Fried Rice Cakes, Shanghainese style - $7.25

This was a tasty, but nothing noteworthy. Honestly, I had a better version at Ding's Garden on Valley/San Gabriel the following week, but at $2 dollars less the cost compared to here, and 50% more in terms of portion size.

After eating here, the only conclusion I made was that this was my last visit to this overrated dumpling house. I never understood the lines, I never understood the NY Times article that pimped this place back in 1993, and I never understood all the people I've met previously that raved about the Xiao Lung Bao found here. It was disappointing, to put it nicely. The space is really nice and clean, and definitely a place you could bring your non-Asian friends to for a satisfying meal. I, on the other hand is done with this place. For $15/person, we had to do a 2nd, but much enjoyable dinner at Sin Ba La. Honestly, the other fools can have their DTF, I can just chill at my hole in the wall XLB place and not worry about lines nor do I have to worry about paying $15 for a meal that I wasn't too keen about.

Final Grade
  • Taste: 3 out of 5
  • Decor: 3.5 out of 5
  • Service: 3 out of 5
*Update* I was probably too harsh with Din Tai Fung. I might not like it, but it's probably better than a "2" for taste. I still won't go back though.

Din Tai Fung
1088 S. Baldwin Ave.
Arcadia, CA 91007

Din Tai Fung in Los Angeles

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

FoodDigger Dinner @ Church & State (Los Angeles)

Church & State

To say I've been slacking is an understatement. What's better for my "comeback" post than the dinner I had @ Church & State hosted by FoodDigger

Various outside shots of Outside Church & State (one of the sous chefs caught me taking a pic @ top)

During my dinner @ Urasawa a few months back, I met Will and Brian of FoodDigger and was told of an upcoming dinner event planned at Church & State, and being the curious foodie that I am (or at least try to be), I was definitely interested. Even though I've never used FoodDigger previously, as I was wasting my time using Yelp, I've definitely heard a few bloggers post there and it seems to be dedicated for people that are interested in food instead of a site full of douchebags trying to use it like "eHarmony." Safe to say, I'm very interested in what FoodDigger had to offer and of course, dining with a few Los Angeles food bloggers was just icing on the cake!

Along with the FoodDigger group (Marshal, Will, Eddie, and Chris), joining me at Church & State were kevinEats, gastronomy, Kats9lives , weezermonkey, Pepsi Monster, i nom things , and LA and OC Foodventures. We were prepared to feast on the menu prepared by Chef Walter Manzke, formerly of Bastide and all the wine were picked by the Sommelier, Josh Goldman.

Floc de Gascogne

As one of the later arrivals, I was not able to get a shot of the bottle of the Floc de Gascogne, but the white wine served on the rocks with an orange peel was refreshing and delicious! This drink was meant to be paired with the Gougeres (shown below)


We were started off with a plate of gougeres, or puffs made of Gruyère cheese. Creamy, and slightly salty, but delicious. Quite a good pairing with the Floc de Gascogne.

2008 Hughes Beaulieu

Beignets de Brandade de Morue (Cod Fritters)

Iced Kumamoto Oysters

Following up the gougeres, we were presented the second wine pairing of the above 2008 Hughes Beaulieu to go along with the Beignets and the Kumamoto Oysters. The Beignets were made of cod, potatoes, and we had a saffron aioli to use for dipping. The beignets were delicious and paired wonderfully with the Hughes Beaulieu. The kumamoto oysters also went along with the wine shown above. The kumamoto is probably my favorite type of oyster, as I prefer the smaller oysters for its sweeter taste compared to the larger sized varieties. The oyster, with a dash of the red wine mignonette was delicious.

2007 Domaine des Persenades

"Bistro Sushi"

Gambas à la Niçoise

Following up the oyster was the "Bistro Sushi," which was smoked herring with fingerling potato salad. The saltiness from the herring meshed well with the slight tang from the potato salad. The second dish that went with the 2007 Domaine des Persenades was the Gambas à la Niçoise. The spot prawns, from Santa Barbara, was lightly cooked and dressed in olive oil, lemon, and various vegetables was delicious. Both dishes went well with the wine pairing as the prawn was definitely fresh and tender. Definitely, one of my favorite dishes of the night.

N.V. Terres Dorees FRV100 (Sparkling Gamay)

Assiette de Charcuterie (From Top: selection of artisian and housemade pâté, rillettes de porc with prune confiture, terrine de foie gras with port-wine gelée)

First of all, I'd like to say I really enjoyed this particular sparkling Gamay. I almost enjoyed it as much as the V.Sattui's Gamay Rouge that I purchased in Napa recently (I bought half a case, so let me know if you want to drink it with me sometime =P ). The meat selection in the charcuterie were good, but nothing spectacular. Yet, the hit of the night, at least for me was the foie gras. Even though I had some fine foie gras at Urasawa and my recent trip to Montreal, the terrine de foie gras was delicious. Along with the brioche and pickles, it was fantastic. Hell, I probably could have finished 2 of those canisters if I wasn't watching for my cholesterol.......And as mentioned earlier, the FRV100 sparkling gamay was a delicious fruity wine, perfect on a nice summer afternoon.

2007 Domaine Boisson

Asperge à la Tashiro

Escargots de Bourgogne

This dish was name after Marshal, the co-founder of FoodDigger , as he donated the lobsters used in the particular dish for the evening. (Note: This dish was only available for this particular evening) The lobsters, from Maine, along with Hog Farm's Asparagus was fantastic. Being a fan of seafood, and like the prawn from the dish from above, was definitely very fresh. This dish wasn't just aesthetically pleasing, it was delicious! The 2nd dish with the wine pairing was the escargot, and it was actually the first time in my life having escargot. Baked in garlic and parsley butter, the escargot was soaked in the garlic butter goodness. Simple, yet wonderful at the same time. The puff pastry, similar to a baked french onion soup was used to soak up the buttery sauce. Honestly, I could use one of these RIGHT NOW!

2007 Maupertuis La Guillaume

Flamenkushe (w/caramelized onions, bacon, and Gruyère cheese)

This dish was similar to a thin pizza, but quite delicious with the ingredients used. However, the most interesting part of this course was the wine pairing. This particular wine (the 2007 Maupertuis La Guillaume) had a distinct taste that even until now, I'm not quite sure if I enjoyed it or hated it. Whatever my feelings towards the wine may be, the taste of the wine did complement the richness of the flamenkushe quite capabily.

2007 Domaine Cros de Romet

Moelle de Boeuf (Roasted Bone Marrow)

I don't think this dish needs much explanation. The rich, buttery taste of the bone marrow spread onto some crispy crouton bread with some parsley and onion to balance the fatty taste from the marrow. This dish was so good, Will was practically eating the marrow off the bone (Sorry for exposing you out to the public on this one Will!). In fact, I liked the Moelle de Boeuf dish here better than a similar dish I had at L'Express in Montreal.

2006 Domaine Etxegaraya

Steak Frites

If there could be any "disappoint" in the meal, this simple steak frites might be it. The pommes frites, cooked in lard was terrific (of course, lard makes everything tastes great, doesn't it?), but the steak was slightly overcooked, thus it was a bit tough and chewy. However, the meat was flavorful and had I not had the other magnificient dishes ahead of this one, I might not be so "disappointed" with it.

Julien Fremont Cidre Brut Par Nature

Dessert (Crème Brûlée, Cherry Tart, Apricot Tart, Croustade aux Baies, Pot de Crème au Chocolat)

The desserts offered at Church & State were pretty standard, but none really stood out in my opinion. I was happy to see Crème Brûlée offered as it's probably my favorite dessert in general. The wine pairing for the dessert course was also slightly strange. I was expecting a more crispy, fruity taste in terms of the cidre, but it was more earthy than I expected. Not bad, but just slightly surprising upon tasting it.

Chef Walter Manzke at work

Church & State seems to have gained much steam since the arrival of Chef Manzke. I hope that this place will continue to thrive and the dishes stay at this calibur. There are many other dishes on the menu that I wouldn't mind trying, and I've heard great thing of their cocktail selection at the bar. Located at the old Nabisco factory, Church & State is definitely not one of those hipster restaurant located in West Hollywood that's more known for their celebrity sightings, rather, it's known for it's quality French Bistro cuisine, at a fair price. Great job Chef Manzke, I look forward to trying your other dishes at a later date.

Again, this dinner would not have been possible without the gang at FoodDigger. You've made new bloggers like myself feel welcome and I look forward to contributing and seeing the site grow over time. I liked the ideas you guys brought up during the dinner, and I'm waiting for it to launch so I could add it to my reviews.

My FD Profile

My dinnermates that has already chimed in on their 2 cents about the Church & State Dinner:

KevinEats (thanks again for taking such meticulous notes)
i nom things

Church & State
1850 Industrial St.
Los Angeles, CA 90021
(213) 405-1404

Church & State on Fooddigger