Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Technology Leaving Us Old Diners In The Dust

Heaven knows it's tough enough ordering at an authentic Chinese restaurant if you don't speak Chinese. Throw in a technological hurdle and it's a gauntlet. I'm not talking about putting in your order on an iPad. I've kind of gotten the hang of that. But walking into Dasheng  BBQ in Monterey Park, I notice no menus. I asked the guy behind the counter for a menu, he says they don't have one. He then pointed to a poster on the wall and said you need this. "What that?" I asked. He then whipped out his smart phone and pointed to one of the apps. As it turns out their menu is only accessed somehow via the Chinese language WeChat app, with the menu only being in Chinese, though I had no idea of the mechanics since I didn't have We Chat on my phone.  

Coincidentally the Los Angeles Times recently ran an article by reporter David Pierson about how vendors of home made dumplings and other foodstuffs were selling their wares on WeChat    Pierson actually contacted me while writing this article as he was searching for someone  (even someone anonymous) who had purchased home made food items on WeChat to see if I knew anybody.  I couldn't help him except to give him the name of another person who might know.  But if you read his article you can see he did indeed manage to interview an end user.

The article quickly led to a thread on the Food Talk Central message board from people curious about how they could use WeChat to partake of these home made Chinese goodies.  Going to the WeChat application provides no apparent entry into this part of the foodie world.  There is nothing to indicate the existence of an equivalent to Facebook's Marketplace.  But where questions about the local food scene are normally quickly and easily resolved on this and other local food message boards, there has been no definitive answer posted.  

This silence actually isn't surprising.  When you read Pierson's article, strangely, depending on the particular food product involved, these WeChat sales may or may not be illegal.  It depends upon whether the food contains any meat or not, meat making it illegal.  Consequently, sellers certainly want to keep a low profile, while consumers don't want to put their food source at risk.  This is reminiscent of more than a decade ago when we used to buy frozen dumplings from a house in Monterey Park, from a "dealer" that we had heard of by word of mouth.   That operation was mentioned in a thread on the then vibrant Chowhound Los Angeles message board, but then the thread soon mysteriously disappeared.  Interestingly, that household operation subsequently became Mama Lu's Dumpling House.

I have since installed the We Chat app on my phone, though I'm still not sure what the drill is.  It probably has something to do with the QR Scan feature in WeChat.  Coincidentally, I just received an email with a Chinese language solicitation regarding Burberry products. The email had a QR Code embedded in it. On a hunch, I opened up WeChat's scan function, then put the QR Code image in the view box. and snapped it. That created a message link with the name and picture of a person who I presumed to be the seller, with the direction to first send a friend request to that person. Once you are friends then you can communicate with the person.  In conjuction with an article I found that incidentally noted that WeChat was a pioneer in a nascent business to customer direct messaging marketing approach, I'm thinking the answer lies is getting the vendor and the customer to identify and message each other on a one to one basis.  I'm guessing scanning the QR code is the facilitator in bringing the parties together, as opposed to something more organized like Facebook's Marketplace.  So I'm guessing when you go to Dasheng BBQ they give you a QR Code that you scan into WeChat which sends you their menu on your phone.  Or something like that.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Two Days in Phoenix

I've had a very strange relationship with the city of Phoenix (or as the stewardess on a recent flight I took from LAX to Phoenix repeatedly pronounced it, Fennix.)  It's only 400 miles from my home in Los Angeles, meaning a short one hour flight or an eight hour drive.  Yet after first visiting Phoenix in 1966 while still in college, my next trip there wasn't until 2004.  And since then I've been there 10 times, so I'm now fairly familiar with their Chinese food scene as reflected in my Menuism article on Chinese food there.  

Recently, a newly opened (well actually, new ownership of an old restaurant) called House of Egg Roll (sic) in suburban Chandler has made such a splash that it made one publication’s list of the top 50 Chinese restaurants in the U.S.  My guess is that the current owner purchased the predecessor Americanized Chinese restaurant and didn’t bother changing the English language name, since it’s irrelevant to Chinese speaking clientele.  So as soon as I picked up my rental car at Sky Harbor Airport on Sunday morning, I made a bee line to Chandler.   House of Egg Roll is now a Shaanxi style restaurant  and their pita bread lamb soup was the best I’ve had.  It was better than Shaanxi Gourmet in Rosemead in the San Gabriel Valley,  the best of several Shaanxi style restaurants in the SGV, which is saying a lot.  Before heading to the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale at Gainey Ranch, I also picked up a nice order of pork bing from Chengdu Delight to eat in my hotel room.  Just as good as in Los Angeles.


Shortly after I arrived in Scottsdale, I received a message from my friend and former co-worker Dave Isaac.  Somehow, Dave had parlayed his CPA practice with a secondary career as a radio talk show host.  Indeed, Dave once had me on his radio show to talk about Chinese food and our working days together..  Since my hotel was in Scottsdale and Dave lives in Peoria, we couldn't meet in the Chandler/Mesa area where most of the good Chinese restaurants in the Phoenix area are located. Fortunately, while I was in Chandler I was able to pick up Chinese newspapers with restaurant advertisers and I found some new restaurants that I hadn't tried, and luckily there was one new advertiser in north Phoenix,  Ann’s Asian Bistro, in the city of Surprise, some 30 miles west of the Hyatt Regency in Scottsdale.  I had driven through Surprise once, eight years ago when I last drove from LA to Phoenix, and considered Surprise to be at the edge of nowhere.  It was even west of Sun City, America’s first retirement community which I actually remember opening up around 1960.  Nowadays the western part of Phoenix flows seamlessly into Sun City, and now Surprise, so it met Dave the next night for dinner.  Ann’s is one of the few new Cantonese restaurants in Phoenix, as with most Chinese communities in the US, the bulk of the new Chinese restaurants are non-Cantonese.  At Ann's we ordered the beef chow fun, garlic string beans, and salted fish tofu casserole, all of which were reasonably good, particularly the salted fish casserole.  And we practically had the entire restaurant to ourselves as there was only one other diner there the whole evening.

After my meeting ended late Tuesday morning, I headed down to Mesa to try some other new restaurants that I saw in the Chinese newspaper.   First stop was B J Noodles, where I was expecting to have some dumplings or perhaps noodle soup.  But then I saw something on the menu described as “grains fish”.  I asked what that was, but the waitress was unable to explain it.  Since it wasn’t marked spicy I decided to try it.  That was a good choice because it was an absolutely delicious dish of sliced fish in a white sauce with sauteed sliced cucumbers and wood ear fungus.   I wolfed it down in record time.  In the same shopping center was another new find, Chili Rush.  Needing more food for later in the afternoon until my evening flight home, I searched for nonspicy, nonmessy dishes and came up with the national dish of Taiwan, stinky tofu.  Interestingly the restaurant's menu didn’t say Chili Rush, but rather Magic Chili Garden instead.  As a Google search later revealed, the ownership entity is Magic Chili Garden, but they operate under the name Chili Rush.  And strangely, the receipt for my food had neither name, but rather said Henry’s Private Kitchen. Last stop was Nan Zhou Hand Drawn Noodle House for some extra thick hand made noodles in peanut and garlic sauce.  

I have to say that most all of the Chinese food  these two days I ate was extremely good, generally comparable to the San Gabriel Valley.   It just reinforces my conclusion from my prior trips to Phoenix that pound for pound, authentic Chinese food in Phoenix is better than that in New York.  Not to say that there aren't more and better Chinese restaurants in New York than Phoenix.  But the average authentic Chinese restaurant in Phoenix is better than the average authentic Chinese restaurant in New York City as it is closer in quality to what we get in Los Angeles.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Chinese Restaurant 7,000--Dim Sum Inn in Salinas

So I've been seriously searching for Chinese restaurants to eat at for 40 years now, simultaneously with my starting to travel the United States, and also developing an interest in the newfangled authentic Chinese food that began to appear in the United States.  At a fairly steady pace for 40 years, I've managed to hit the 7,000 restaurant mark.  In logging in my restaurant visits, I consider each round hundred milestone to be special, and what makes a Chinese restaurant more special than not being easily able to go to a return visit?  As a result, each "hundred" restaurant has been located some distance away from my Los Angeles home.

Of course keeping this convention requires quite a bit of advance planning.  It's not that my restaurant count hits, say, 6,499, and I can hop on a plane and fly someplace for number 6,500 (which for those keeping score was the oddly named Fei Tenc in Manhattan Chinatown).   No, instead I look at my upcoming planned trips and then change the pace of my new restaurant visits accordingly, either rapidly accelerating or decelerating my current additions as needed.  And in some cases, accelerating my pre-travel restaurant visits may not be good enough as I've also needed a large count at my destination to hit the magic hundred.  Fortunately, multi-day trips to dining centers such as San Francisco and New York can provide two dozen new restaurants for a trip, where eating as many as four meals a day, each at a different restaurant, can increase the count.

Now hitting 7,000 proved tricky because that magic mark was on track to be reached this summer, but we did not schedule a summer vacation this year for various reasons.  Every one of the first six "thousand" milestones was at an east coast restaurant.  1,000 was at Bo Bo China in Niagara Falls NY, 2,000 was at Eat First in Washington DC, 3,000 was at House Fortune in Gaithersburg MD, 4,000 was at Sun Dou Dumpling House in Manhattan, 5,000 was at Miu Kee in Falls Church VA and 6,000 was at Zheng's Family in Manhattan.  However with no east coast trips planned until 2017, I had to settle for the Monterey, CA area, where we were going to attend a wedding.  The problem with Monterey, however, is that I had already eaten at all of the Chinese restaurants in Monterey.  Not that I'm a frequent visitor there, but Monterey is one of those cities where the turnover of Chinese restaurants is negligible.  The same restaurants that were there 20 years ago are there today.  So I needed to focus my attention on Salinas, which was somewhat conveniently located on our drive home back from Monterey.

I consulted my master national list of Chinese restaurants that I would like to eat at if I ever visited a particular city.  There are hundreds of restaurants on this list, most of which I'll never get to since the chances that I'll return to, say, Little Rock, AR are remote.   The list did have a couple of entries for Salinas but they may have been outdated.  In checking the Yelp reviews for these restaurants, I stumbled across a stunning suggested Chinese restaurant in Salinas, Dim Sum Inn.  Dim sum in Salinas?  While Salinas may have had a Chinese community that included a physical Chinatown in the early to mid 20th century, certainly not enough of it remained today to justify anything remotely authentic.  Yet, late last year, Dim Sum Inn opened up in north Salinas.

I must admit that after the initial excitement of learning about dim sum in Salinas, the excitement wore off as I figured they were reheating dim sum peddled by Sysco or one of the other food supply companies. However, when I got there on Sunday morning after the wedding festivities in Carmel Valley had ended, I  discovered that this was indeed a real find.   For one thing, this wasn't Sysco stuff, but in-house made dim sum. How did I know? Well, for one, they had several dim sum varieties that I had seldom, if ever seen. Chicken shen jen bao, which I only encountered at Imperial Seafood in Concord and Old Sichuan in Manhattan Chinatown. Chicken cheung fun, which I've only remember eating at Century Plaza on the edge of Oakland Chinatown. Chicken siu mai, also a rarely seen item and last seen at King Valley Seafood in Pinole, CA. Chicken taro dumpling and onion bun, which I have never seen anywhere. And these oversized, oddly colored baked bbq pork buns, unlike anything I've ever seen before. Also it took a good 20 minutes for these items to come out of the kitchen. Not to say this was the best dim sum I've eaten, but given that I wouldn't expect to find any of this stuff within a 75 mile radius this was a real treat. The one downside is that everything is $5.50 an order, which is more expensive than the fanciest dim sum in Los Angeles. 

 Of course, the question is why is there dim sum in Salinas.  I asked the guy behind the counter if there were many Chinese residents in Salinas and he said there weren't. He did indicate there were Chinese scattered around the Monterey area so I presume that's their core audience for the dim sum menu. When I was in the restaurant, clientele was primarily non-Asian, ordering off the Americanized Chinese menu (the dim sum menu is separate), with just a few Chinese diners.  But whatever the reason, thank you Dim Sum Inn for being there.



Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Best Chinese Restaurant In Los Angeles You Probably Never Heard Of

People have always been on the lookout for those hole-in-the-wall, under the radar dining gems.  But these kinds of restaurants seldom exist these days with every millennial being a foodie, and food discoveries instantaneously disseminated on social media, Yelp reviews and message boards.  Having said that, one of the best Cantonese restaurants (and probably the one with the most different array of dishes) in Los Angeles is one that most people haven't heard of, Embassy Kitchen in San Gabriel.

Everybody knows the top tier Hong Kong style restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley--Sea Harbour, King Hua, Elite and Lunasia top most lists, with China Red, Happy Harbor, Grand Harbor and Shi Hai mentioned in the next tier.  Embassy Kitchen is different because it is not a giant seafood palace with conspicuous tanks of live seafood.  Indeed, it was probably an afterthought when it opened up in 1999 as Embassy Billiard, reflecting the fact that it was in front of, and adjunct to the pool hall of the same name.  And seventeen years later, while "insiders" know about the gems served here, it's still under the radar.

It's hard to describe what makes Embassy Kitchen so good, aside from the fact that the food tastes good and there are many seldom seen Hong Kong style dishes served here.  And the different dishes here are hard to categorize, as they range from homestyle to the upscale, some of which need to be ordered a day or two in advance.  But perhaps what obscures the food here is the fact that there is an extensive Chinese language only menu supplement, not translated into English as the owner admits because he doesn't know how to correctly describe the dishes.  These dishes are listed on the inside front and back covers of the menu, and I think the best thing to do is just to list them here.

Inside front cover:
Tilapia rolls with picked vegetables and whole bone carcass
Boneless chicken stuffed with shrimp paste
Boneless chicken stuffed with sticky rice
Pan fried tilapia
Pumpkin with burdock
Spare ribs in vinegar
Bitter million crab meat omelet
Mustard green with chicken and sausage
Spare rib hot pot
 Celery with pork and peppers
Pan fried chicken/sausage/chestnut patty
Vegetable goji berry soup
Clear rice noodles with cabbage, egg and dried scallop
Pork and Japanese yam in X.O. sauce
Beef with string beans in Maggi sauce
Steamed eggplant with dry scallop and ground pork
Fatty beef with mixed mushrooms in Korean bbq sauce
French style tenderloin

Inside back cover:
Baked crab in clay pot
Melon with fresh bean curd skin
 Ground pork/bok choy/dried bean curd skin soup
Pork neck with celery
Spare rib with preserved mustard greens and dried shrimp soup
3 ingredients chicken with chestnuts
Japanese style sea bass
Sea bass with tofu with shrimp paste
Sea bass mustard green soup
 Steamed eggs with tofu and mixed seafood
Abalone mushroom with spinach
 Garlic spare ribs
Chinese sausage with napa
Stuffed chicken wings
Sea bass with mushroom and tofu
Steamed tilapia with sliced pork and lemon
Lamb with two mushrooms

 English menu highlights:
Crab fried rice
Imitation shark fin with egg white
House special chicken
Stuffed duck
French style beef stew
Fried pork leg
Boneless stuffed tilipia




Reviving Windows XP Mode and Recovering My Two Years Lost Address List

When I upgraded computers several years ago from Windows XP to Windows 7, I found to my horror that a number of my computer programs would no longer run on the Windows 7 upgrade.  Fortunately the nice people at Alice Computer in San Marino told me that if I upgraded to the professional version of Windows 7 for something under $100, part of the package was a Windows XP emulator mode, which made me a happy camper.

But then a couple of years ago things started to fall apart.  I was still using a DOS based address list, and one day it became inoperable.  Then a year ago all of the icons on my Windows XP virtual computer screen went similarly inoperable, only making a clanging sound when I clicked on the icon. Given that the Windows XP virtual mode itself wasn't widely well known, attempts to look for a fix were fruitless.  But my XP mode start menu was still operating, so running programs off of that was a satisfactory workaround.

But then the other shoe dropped the other day, when I tried running the Windows XP virtual computer, and while it launched, everything was dead as a doornail.  I decided to take one last search on the internet, and found a discussion which seemed to say that a single file deletion could get Windows XP up and running again.  Breathlessly I looked for the file as directed and found it and deleted it.  Then running the Windows XP virtual machine, while having to clear a dialog box which indicated not everything was perfect, it ran beautifully--my Key Mailer DOS program was running again as was my Microsoft Access.  So if it happens again, here is the magic file:  Windows XP Mode.vsv in the folder C:\users\\appdata\microsoft\Windows Virtual PC\Virtual Machines.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

A Week In San Francisco (Sort of)

Going to San Francisco for a week sounds like the blueprint for a wonderful time.  But when our Monday through Friday trip entailed driving from Los Angeles to San Francisco on Monday, spending three full days in a seminar on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and driving back to Los Angeles on Friday it sounds a lot less enticing.  But despite the lack of sightseeing, the opportunity to try out some restaurants did make the trip very enjoyable.

Driving up Interstate 5 and then I-580, we stopped for dinner in Dublin.  Originally I thought about going to the Mayflower Restaurant which was supposed to be pretty good, but which was a chain that I had eaten at in a number of Bay Area locations,  So we headed instead to Golden Sand Harbor on Amador Valley Blvd.  The waitress there was a little pushy and she directed us away from the dishes we asked about initially, ending up with seabass with garlic and rib eye with mushrooms, along with seafood soup. Seabass was quite good, rib eye and soup were so so.  Pricey at $63 before tip. Exchanging messages with my son back home who had recently eaten at Mayflower in Dublin, he indicated that Mayflower was likewise pricey with food also far below San Gabriel Valley quality.

My seminar was conveniently located on Market Street and just a couple of blocks from our San Francisco office so I shuttled between the locations all week.  On Tuesday morning I walked across the street to make a dinner reservation at Hakkasan.  On my way there I spotted the sign that seemed to say "Nepalese food" on this trailer sitting in front of one of the Market St. office buildings.  It turned out to be Bini’s Kitchen where I ordered a batch of turkey momo with spicy tomato cilantro sauce.  (See below.)  Wow!  I'd be a regular if I worked in downtown SF.   After class let out at 6pm and it was across the street to Hakkasan.  This was my first dinner at Hakkasan after trying the lunchtime dim sum at their Manhattan and now-defunct Beverly Hills locations.  There were lots of interesting items on the menu, and we ended up with the fried silver cod, the home made tofu with soybeans and dried scallops, and the Sanpei chicken. Everything was so perfectly prepared and tasty.

Pickings were slim at Wednesday’s seminar breakfast so I was hungry by 10am and coincidentally the Nepalese restaurant opened at 10 am, so I went across the street to get another order of the turkey momo. Wednesday’s dinner was another highlight, as we met my nephew for dinner at our favorite, Cooking Papa in Foster City.   We had an excellent dinner of two types of fish broth noodle soup (egg noodles  in one order, thick round rice noodle in the other), duck cheung fun, egg tofu, lotus leaf sticky rice,  white ong choy and pepper beef chow mein.

Thursday was my one lunch exploration day, since the late morning session turned out to be not useful  It was an eight block walk to Let’s Jam CafĂ© in the tenderloin, one of the few Mongolian restaurants in the US.  The huushur (beef dumpling) was huge.  Kind of like a hamburger patty in a pita bread, sliced in half.  Five of these dumplings for $10 was a good deal and kept me full the whole day.  For a change I thought it would be a good idea to have Italian food near the hotel. for dinner  We wanted to eat at Capps Corner, where we ate a few times.  We liked it because the meals are reasonable and came with soup and salad included.  However, when we got there the storefront was empty with a For Rent sign.  As it turns out, after 40 years the restaurant got in a dispute with the landlord and shut down.  As a result we ended up at North Beach Restaurant at Stockton and Columbus, another Italian restaurant that had been there for decades, with a jolly, throwback maitre’d.   We had the spaghetti in vodka sauce and the linguine with clams.  Both were pretty good.

Friday we picked up various types of dim sum for the trip back.  Highlights were a poor man’s version of the crispy top bbq pork bun for $1.25 from iCafe Chinatown and the sticky rice from Good Mong Kok, not wrapped in lotus leaf, but rather a wonton type of skin.  And perhaps the most interesting sight on the drive back to Los Angeles was the innovative strategy to deal with the drought and the cutback in irrigation in the San Joaquin Valley--a nopal (large edible cactus) farm.





Fighting Wool Eating Moths

You can imagine how upset I was when I opened up the closed suit bag holding my Oleg Cassini suit and found that moths had eaten a couple of holes in the pants.  Figuring it still would be cheaper to reweave the holes, rather than buying a new suit, I shelled out something like $15 to have each hole filled.  But a couple of years later, the moths struck back and there were new holes.  Since my original reweaver had gone out of business, I found a new one.  I lamented to my new launderer/tailor about battling moths and wondered why they chose to eat up my best suit which was in a suit bag, but not touch my other suits which were not.

His response was very interesting, one that I hadn't heard before, but which I have since confirmed to be accurate.  For clothing to be susceptible to being eaten by moths, it has to be 100 percent wool.  If the material is a wool blend, the moths don't care about it.  That's why the moths concentrated on my good suits.  Interestingly, subsequently I purchased a very heavy winter overcoat in the Bronx, paying only $75 for this item which had most of its tags removed.  I was puzzled when the moths attacked this item, though it was so thick that it was still usable despite a little damage.  Turns out that unbeknownst to me, until I took it to the cleaners, this was a pure wool overcoat.

Even after learning the distinction between wool garments and wool blends,  I wondered why encasing the suit in a nice suit bag didn't protect it from the moths, while my cheaper everyday suits that I never bagged survived.  He explained that the danger was not from moths flying around your closet.  Rather the danger was from moth eggs that are deposited on the wool garment.  So if your wool suit already has moth eggs on them, sealing it in a bag provides no protection.

Furthermore, he added two important points.  Moth eggs are everywhere, so leaving my wool suit outside insures that it would attract some eggs. But if you actually go out and wear the suit, as opposed to leaving it hanging stationary in the closet, somehow the broader airing prevents the moth eggs from hatching.    So it was the act of bagging it that ensured my suit would provide a meal for hungry moths.

The last piece of useful information is that dry cleaning a suit will kill the moth eggs, so if you bag the suit as soon as it is cleaned, you can safely store it away.  Another launderer I spoke with indicated that this will protect the suit for at least a year.  So for seasonally worn wool clothing, annual cleaning and bagging will let you outsmart those pesky moths.