Sunday, May 11

San Marino Seafood Market

During my last visit Vinh suggested going out for lunch at a local seafood joint. This time, he did the research and we ended up at the San Marino Seafood Market for lunch on a calm weekday afternoon. I was a little bit skeptical about such a land-locked location for seafood but it seems like inland seafood markets that double as restaurants are the new rage. I say new because I have encountered a spate of them recently, but I'm sure this particular restaurant is not the new kid on the block.

We were quickly seated and perused the menu. Our waitress was super nice and cheery as she informed us of the specials. I decided to go with the fish tacos since it was "Taco Tuesday." These particular ones were blackened battered bass with a cabbage and guacamole. Vinh ordered the salmon grilled with rice pilaf. He also got a cup of clam chowder.

He enjoys his clam chowder in this obviously posed picture.

When our waitress heard it was our first time there, she offered up samples of their chowders. They have a red and a white. Both samples for me and a red sample for Vinh because he ordered a full cup of the white. I was surprised when they came out because I was expecting a small plastic cup full. These were substantial samples, about 1/3 of a cup. We debated which we liked better, but they both had their merits. The red was broth based, with a bit of spiciness and a lot of flavor that Vinh preferred. The white was the more traditional cream-based that I happened to like better.

My fish tacos came out laden with goodness in the form of guacamole that is made by hand onsite. They were crunchy with the smoky creaminess from the combination of the batter and the guacamole. The only problem I had was that they were so filled that it was hard to eat. By the end I was eating my second taco with a knife and fork.

Vinh's meal started out the the chowders and progressed to a side salad with their signature sesame dressing. Apparently they also hand make all of their dressings. It was a classic Asian-style dressing that went well with the greens.

I think he liked his salmon. He pretty much finished it within ten to fifteen minutes of receiving it. The fish looked like it was cooked well without being too dry. I think the benefit of eating fish at a restaurant doubling as a market is that they don't try to add too much to the fish itself. They let the flavor of the fish be the main star because they know it's the freshest it can be.

I would definitely go back again because the quality fo the fish was excellent and the service was outstanding. It's a neighborhood place that's easy to miss while driving along the expanse of Huntington Drive. The next time you're in the area I highly recommend a stop at this landlocked seafood market.

San Marino Seafood Market

2150 Huntington Drive,
San Marino, CA 91108
(626) 943-8862

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Tuesday, April 15

Food bites: Almansor Court Sunday brunch and Lee Kam Kee

This past weekend I experienced two contradictions: a new oldie and an not-often visited standby. How so, you ask? Let's start with the new oldie first.

A new discovery: Almansor Court Sunday Brunch

The new oldie in question is the Sunday Brunch at the Almansor Court banquet center by the golf course. It's new to me, but as some fellow Alhambrans can tell you, it's been around for years and years. My family and I went there this past Sunday to celebrate my mom's birthday. Going there was like a step back in time, with mimosas and colored napkins and patrons dressed up in their Sunday best. This is what you see upon entering the foyer:

The buffet is spread out into a few different rooms, which is visually interesting but confusing for my parents, who couldn't find everything they wanted because of it. Choices range from traditional breakfast (custom omelettes, hash browns, bacon) to Mexican offerings (do-it-yourself tacos, enchiladas, and menudo) to seafood (oysters and king crab).

Extensive variation is obviously their strength here. Where else can you put a chicken crepe next to your unagi sushi that's already sitting next to a barbecue chicken wing? Evidence is here on my plate:

I do wish that the seating area wasn't quite so far from the food, and that the seafood was fresher. For the price, it's not that bad. I would say that the breakfast exceeded my expectations but that the rest of the food was just satisfactory.

Hong Kong-style Vietnamese: Lee Kam Kee

In this case, the not-often-visited standby is Lee Kam Kee, a Vietnamese restaurant located on the far west end of Valley Blvd. It's not your typical Vietnamese restaurant, with a nice interior and beautiful plateware. My mom informed me that the owner is from Hong Kong, and so the food is catered to a Hong Kong palate. A quick look around the restaurant confirmed this: almost all the patrons spoke Cantonese, and nearly all of the waiters too.

We go there for the canh chua, a sour soup filled with catfish or shrimp, pineapple, tomato, bean sprouts, and some spongy-looking green stalk. It's slightly sweeter here than at other, more heavily Vietnamese places, but is still good. This time we also had a shrimp and pork papaya salad with nuoc mam and some lemongrass pork chops.

My mom thought that the nuoc mam needed to be a bit more sour as did the soup. I find that's a theme here, to tone down the loud notes of Vietnamese cooking to appeal to the Chinese clientele. Most people who eat at Vietnamese restaurants (myself included) don't really care if the plates match or if the ambiance is any good, which are two key things here. It's not a bad thing to know its clientele, and that's probably why I don't fault it as much as I would another restaurant serving Vietnamese food.

Almansor Court Sunday Brunch
700 S. Almansor St.
Alhambra, CA 91801
(626) 570-4600
10am-2pm every Sunday

Lee Kam Kee
2505 W. Valley Blvd.
Alhambra, CA 91803
11am-9:45pm, closed Tuesdays

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Wednesday, April 9

The Green Zone

While looking for bento supplies in the area, I came across a sustainability-oriented website that had listings of various restaurants that matched their mission. One of the restaurants on that list is the Green Zone, which advertised itself as having "entrees using locally-raised, farm fresh ingredients." I was intrigued because this restaurant in located smack-dab in the middle of the eating landscape that is the SGV, a place not well-known for that kind of organic, pro-local attitude.

I double checked with a browse through other SGV blogs and a quick perusal of yelp and chowhound. It seemed to be very favorable and generally the sentiment was "I can't believe it's located on Valley!" I convinced my sister to tag along yesterday and soon we were there. It's located in Valley Plaza next to many other restaurants.

The inside is modern but not cold, with wood accents and a green theme. Almost everyone else inside spoke Mandarin. Our waiter was nice, and I'm pretty sure he is the co-owner of the restaurant. The menu is sort of a pan-Asian, not-quite-fusion affair.

We decided to each order a dish and share the wild-caught sea bass over spinach salad. She got the seafood pasta with linguine. There's a choice of sea bass, salmon, or shrimp scampi, but our waiter offered to do a mix of the three. I decided to get that SGV standby: Hainan chicken over rice. I also ordered an organic ginger ale and my sister ordered a pomegranate-apple juice.

The salad came out after about a 10-minute wait. I liked the balsamic vinaigrette on the spinach, but the sea bass was a little bit too cooked for my liking. My Hainan chicken came out soon after. The presentation was beautiful, and everything tasted really, really good. I liked that they poached the dark meat so that it was not dry at all, and I didn't have to deal with picking the meat off the bones. The rice was very flavorful, and all the sauce accompaniments worked well with the chicken and rice.

After a bit of a wait the pasta came out and we both thought the portion was huge. There was quite a bit of seafood and the sauce was very liquidy. The pasta itself had a nice bite to it, and all of the seafood was cooked perfectly and tasted fresh. However, my sister felt it wasn't their strong point and said she would come back but not order the pasta again.

With everything we ordered the price came out to more than we would normally spend for lunch (this is the SGV after all), but I am sure it would have cost way more had it been in west LA or Pasadena. I look forward to returning. In fact, I think I will go back next week and try some of the other things on the menu, like the salmon triangles with tri-colored salt, or the organic wonton soup. I recommend the Hainan chicken and may even like it better than what they serve at Hainan chicken standard Savoy down the street.

The Green Zone
534 E Valley Blvd.
San Gabriel, CA 91776

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Saturday, April 5

Current food sampling: Bollini's Pizzeria Napolitana and the Boiling Crab

Here's part two of my mental food blog clean out:

Italian in the SGV: Bollini's Pizzeria Napolitana

Blogger Lyndsay mentioned she'd heard blog rumblings about a good Italian place in Monterey Park and that it seemed legit. Me? I was skeptical. She sent me the link to this post by Wandering Chopsticks, and a looksie at the pictures there an
d a quick look at the menu had me convinced that I had to try it. I convinced my sister it was the perfect place for her casual birthday lunch (evil aren't I) and so we went there yesterday. Owner Chris is out, so no pasta, but we did order salad and pizza. A sign inside said no photography (boo for this blog) but I managed to shoot one of the outside and of the cal bianco pizza once we got home.

We got the arugula salad with bacon, corn, baby tomatoes, mushrooms, goat cheese, and a red wine vinaigrette. The arugula was perfectly peppery and matched well with the other elements providing salty, sweet, or creamy notes. A cal bianco pizza (parmesan sauce, smoked chicken, garlic, basil) and salsiccia 3 pizza(mozzarella, tomato sauce, three-pe
pper sausage, red and green peppers, italian peppers, goat cheese, basil) were shared.

The pizza was super thin! All in all delicious, and the people were super nice. Merits a return visit for the pasta when Chris returns.

Another blogger recommendation: The Boiling Crab

While looking for crab places (don't ask me why) I came across Jonathan Gold's snippet about The Boiling Crab in Alhambra, almost literally down the freaking street from my house. I heard more while perusing food blogs and decided I needed to try Cajun-style
crawfish as presented by Asian people. I convinced friend Vinh (pictured with such an enthusiastic look on his face and a crawfish bib) to try it out with me.

Inside is packed with stuff on the walls, televisions, fishing nets, and Mardi Gras beads. Not exactly your usual SGV restaurant. The clientele was mostly young and R&B blasted from the speakers. The menu is simple, with a choose-your-seafood then what type of seasoning, and various add-ons like corn on the cob and fries.

We were originally going to do one pound of crawfish and one pound of dunge
ness crab, but the latter was too expensive for our tastes so we switched it to shrimp. We added two corn on the cobs and some cajun fries, all with the "whole sha-bang" seasoning which means all the seasoning options thrown together. About 15 minutes later a clear bag showed up on our table with everything we ordered except the fries. Opened, it looked like this:

The seasoning was good and very garlicky and paired well with both the crawfish and the shrimp. We both liked the shrimp better because the payoff was better after all that peeling. the corn on the cob managed to be spicy and buttery at the same time. The fries were nice and crispy, but were the last to get eaten. This is what my side of the table looked like afterward:

$28 for all of the above plus a refillable soda with tip for the both of us for lunch didn't seem like a bad deal at all. As Jonathan Gold says, "I can hardly wait to return."

Bollini's Pizzeria Napolitana
2315 S. Garfield Ave.
Monterey Park, CA 91754

The Boiling Crab
742 W Valley Blvd
Alhambra, CA 91803

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Brief return to the SGV: old and new favorites

I'm back in the SGV for a brief vacation and I thought I'd do a sampling of what I've eaten so far. Upon perusing my blog pictures folder, I also came across some restaurants from previous trips that I had yet to add to this blog. So, I'm going to lump them into two long "here I am again" posts to save room in my brain and because I'm too lazy to think of more post titles.

Up first, an oldie but goodie: Garden Cafe

This is my standby for cafe food when I'm at home. We usually stop by for late night drinks of the non-alcoholic variety and some greasy late-night food. About a month ago I stopped by with my boyfriend to take advantage of the late night eating option that doesn't seem to exist where we live. This particular night it was totally dead in there, which makes me thing Garden has fallen out of favor with the local late night crowd in favor of newer establishments like the Sunday Bistro.

I ordered the Hainan Chicken with rice, and he ordered pork chops with mushroom sauce. My dish came out with better presentation than I expected, and it was delicious, too. The soup was flavorful and the sauces were a perfect foil to the moist chicken., right on par with Savoy's famous Hainan chicken. The pork chops were greasy but big portioned, and somehow Garden's mashed potatoes were better than I remembered.

I hope that they don't close down due to the new, flashier cafes because it's still one of my favorites after all these years.

Another restaurant memory: Chabuya Ramen

In the same visit we went to the Sawtelle neighborhood for a visit with the BF's sister. After perusing blogs per usual I settled on Chabuya ramen. I was looking forward to their "Asian Bun Sandwich" and some ramen. I ended up getting a mini pork sandwich and a mini shrimp rice bowl. The sandwich came on a peking duck-type sandwich roll alongside a small salad. The rice bowl was not so mini with its huge mound of rice. I thought the flavor was good, but that with the amount of rice the rice bowl became bland.

My boyfriend got the special dipping ramen (tsuke-men) that came with two dipping sauces. He liked, but thought it was a lot of work since the noodles kept sticking together. His sister got the classic ramen with miso and said the portion was just enough that she felt satisfied without being too stuffed to ice skate, which we were doing later on.

We all agreed it was good, but not the best ramen we'd ever had.

Garden Cafe
228 W. Valley Boulevard
Alhambra, CA 91801
(626) 289-1833

2002 Sawtelle Blvd
Los Angeles, CA

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Friday, January 4

Blogger adventures: Cozy Cafe

This winter break while back in the SGV Lyndsay and I decided to have lunch, and little did we know what an adventure it would be! After much discussion and perusal of SGV food blogs for over an hour, we decided to hit up Luscious Dumplings, helped by the fact that it is conveniently located near a Phoenix food boutique where I wanted to get pecan tarts.

Unfortunately for us, Luscious is one of the few asian eateries that is actually closed on Christmas eve. I mean, come on! That's one of the good things about living in the SGV...almost everything is open on any given holiday. Our faces were sad, but I was cheered by scoring some pecan tartlets for $3.50 (6 to be exact) at Phoenix. The smell wafting from nearby Vietnam House was very enticing, but since I had professed an urge for Taiwanese food, we reluctantly passed. Lyndsay remembered going to a Taiwanese place in Arcadia with Lillian named Sin Bala, so we decided to find it and eat there.

Driving east on Duarte, we congratulated ourselves on finding it in an asian strip mall...until we saw that it too was closed! Just our luck. By now so hungry we were almost desperate, we looked around that strip mall for something to eat. May mei restaurant almost made it, until we saw Cozy Cafe and its Taiwanese bento boxes! This was the perfect amalgam of my two cravings: Taiwanese food and bento.

Huge menu on the wall

We sat beside this couple in the extremely small restaurant (seating 25 max) and waited for service. Looking at the menu on the wall, I ordered the short ribs bento and Lyndsay ordered the unagi bento. Each bento came with rice, a vegetable, some pickled vegetables, and some meat sauce with a hardboiled egg, all for $6.50! We waited, waited, and waited for our food. The couple next to us waited, ate, and paid their bill before Lyndsay got her unagi! The woman's dan dan noodles smelled and looked extremely good, and I contemplated wishing I had ordered that instead.

Short ribs bento

Although the service was lacking and semi-difficult because of language barriers and the extreme wait time, the food was excellent. Each part of the bento worked well together, and each was delicious on its own. My only dislike was the chewiness of the short ribs, but I blame that more on my own folly for choosing it than their cooking of it. Lyndsay's unagi was very good, but the portion size was small.

Since the bento do not have to be piping hot, I think it would be good for a take out lunch for an exciting day trip where the access to food is questionable. They also had three refridgerators full of available side dishes and Taiwanese specialties. Also, ordering ahead would probably alleviate some of the wait, which was the our main problem with our experience at Cozy cafe. Now if I could figure out how to order in Taiwanese...I'd be eating there every time I visit the SGV.

A huge variety of take out

Cozy Cafe
651 W Duarte Rd. Ste. B
Arcadia, CA 91007
(626) 294-2981

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Tuesday, October 16

Emperor Taste Seafood Restaurant

I pretty much grew up with dim sum. Even before preschool my heart favored certain dim sum dishes and I consumed unhealthy amounts of tea.

For the sake of this review, I will try my best to phonetically translate the dishes--I know only how to speak it in Cantonese.

When Emperor Taste Seafood Restaurant had its grand opening, it disappointed and subsequently warded off many people. Fast forward to now: The dim sum is great. The service? So attentive that my plates were changed several times in one hour. In addition, its prices are competitively low: barely under two dollars per dim sum dish.

One factor I use to judge the skill of a dim sum maker is the wrapper of the har gow. The har gow presented to me had all great qualities. It was not made the day before--you can tell this by the smell of the shrimp and the way the wrapper breaks when you bite into the dumpling. The wrapper was translucent and thin--in addition, when I bit into it, the wrapper did not fall apart in my mouth in chunks. The shrimp was definitely fresh and had no strange smell.

Another factor I use to judge a restaurant serving dim sum is the quality of their gee hung (basically congealed pork blood cut into squares). This is used to judge the overall quality of the restaurant as it is one of the hardest dishes to make well. Again, like the shrimp in the har gow, smell is key. This gee hung tasted well and its consistency was rightly firm. The only smell coming from it was the smell of cooked gee hung and nothing else. Had it smelled like anything else--be it putrid, or flowery, or especially if there is an overwhelming, powerful smell--I would have raised my eyebrow.

The rest of the dim sum was just as good as the har gow and gee hung. Nothing was lacking--a good example was the cheung fun. The noodle itself was smooth and its filling was fresh.

Despite all these attractive qualities of this restaurant, there is a low number of customers. I attribute the bad grand opening as the culprit. Because of the amount of customers there is no waiting in line--but! the dishes are not steaming hot.

I recommend this place for high quality dim sum. Not only do you bypass long lines found at other dim sum restaurants, but you also get the superb dim sum at a great price.

Emperor Taste Seafood Restaurant
1039 E. Valley Blvd., #B201
San Gabriel, CA 91776
(626) 280-6668
Mon - Sun 9:00AM to 3:00PM, 5:00PM to 10:00PM

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Monday, August 13


One of my favorite restaurants in the bay area is Banana Leaf, in Milpitas. Its Malaysian cuisine is second to none, and the wait is always busy and the food always good. However, I am not able to get there as often as I like, and this saddens me. I was heartened to learn from blogger Lyndsay that there was an oft-praised Malaysian restaurant in the SGV, called Penang. She sent me the article in LA Weekly about it, and suggested I make the trek out to West Covina.

What caught my eye in the article is that it mentions the quality of the roti canai at Penang. Roti canai is a treat from the gods and should not be missed if possible. Immediately I made it my mission to eat at Penang the next time I got down to southern California. The opportunity came when I decided to treat all of my cousins to dinner for a particular cousin's birthday. Various significant others came along, bringing our party number to 11.

Finding the place was a bit difficult, as it is located in a corner of an ethnic strip mall that is chock full of places to eat. Inside, the decor was a bit tropical, and gave me the weird feeling that I had been there before. Which, of course, I hadn't. We were seated promptly since I had made a reservation, and after a bit of wrangling with my cousins we were finally able to order some drinks. They unanimously decided I would order everything, and left the food decisions to me and my boyfriend.

First I ordered some appetizers: three of the roti canai, the curry puffs, and a beef and chicken satay. The curry puffs came out first and we split the four huge pieces among ourselves. They look plain from the outside, and are stuffed with hearty curried goodness on the inside. It was a good start to our huge meal.

When the roti came out, I warned everyone that they were only good when piping hot, and wouldn't taste as good within a minute of sitting on the plate. They heeded my suggestion and the light, buttery layers were snatched up and dipped into the waiting chicken curry. The combination, as I mentioned before, was heavenly.

Suddenly, the food started coming. I say suddenly, but it took a bit of work on my part to attract the attention of the waiter to order my entree choices as we were eating the appetizers. Not everything came out at the same time, but this was expected and no one seemed to mind. I ended up ordering a couple of Malaysian classics like beef rendang and char kway teow, thrown in with coconut fried rice and sizzling shrimp, and two sambal vegetable dishes.

Everyone laughed as I hurriedly tried to take pictures of everything, but they were much too hungry to really wait. The beef rendang was tender and flavorful, and went well with the rice. I have to recommend the asparagus sambal, but not the samal petai (pictured next to the roti canai above). The green peas in the petai had an uncooked taste to them that my untrained tastebuds weren't prepared to like.

The sizzling shrimp was a hit, but everyone concluded it was a lot of work to get the shrimp out of the shells. One of my cousins decided to save himself the trouble and ate the shell, too. The char kway teow was spicy and reminded me a lot of beef chow fun, while the coconut fried rice was pleasing but uneventful.

At the end we decided to forego dessert because we were too stuffed, but the waiter brought out a small block of jello/pudding like dessert. The flavor was simultaneously salty and sweet, which I didn't really like. However, it did find favor with some of my cousins. Next time I would try one of their desserts off the menu.

It was unanimously decided that Penang was a good place to eat, and that we were all stuffed to the gills. I would return again for the roti alone! It was that good. I must, however, throw in a compliment to Banana Leaf, who still makes the best roti canai I have ever tasted.

971 South Glendora Avenue
West Covina, CA 91790
(626) 338-6138

Sunday-Thursday: 11:00am-10:00pm
Friday-Saturday: 11:00am-10:30pm

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