Cold, rainy. Perfect night for ramen in Portland’s Boke Bowl.
Staring off with their seasonal bun, squash, is a delightfully savory and sweet combination of several different cabbages and squashes with punpkin wrapped up in a rice bun with a rice vinegar sauce.
But the main event with all its porky goodness is the draw. House-made al dente noodles fill a large bowl of a thin but umami-rich (beef?) broth with pulled pork. Top it off with some braised pork belly and bok choy, and you have a delicious savory soup for a cool night, even if it isn’t a traditional rich fatty ramen.
Modern French bistro decor and soft jazz. Lots of white brick with dark wood and simple framed black and white photos. This is clearly not Chinese! We found ourselves in Nha Trang, a Vietnamese restaurant that’s becoming popular in Hong Kong. Perusing through the English menu found all our usual American Vietnamese delights like Pho and Banh Mi, plus some more Chinified dishes.
I started with my favorite Vietnamese iced coffee, but double-shot to wake me up. Also shown, a sweet drink with orange candied orange peel and candied pineapple which was too sweet and could really have benefitted from the tartness of fresh pineapple.
My wife went with a noodle soup, with a broth a little richer than typical pho. Filled with tender slices of pork, beef, fish cake, and all the usual proteins. The noodles had perfect texture and the broth savory and slightly sweet and spicy – simultaneously rich and light. I was scared by the mention of fish paste in the broth, but I found it amazing!
For myself I selected the pork chop banh mi. They warned me it would take an extra 15 minutes, which surprised me. How long does it take to assemble a sandwich? It didn’t actually take that long, probably because they grabbed pork that had already been cooked – it was clearly not “sizzling” as the menu described. Still good, with a great crispy crust baguette and crispy pork. Too much mayo though kinda killed it all leaving it a bit bland.
So how does Hong Kong Vietnamese compare to the American stuff? While I’ve had much better banh mi sandwiches stateside, I don’t think I’ve ever had pho that could top the rich stuff found here. I guess proximity does help somewhat.
Ok, I know it’s not real Chicago Italian-American food, but it’s a regional chain I’ve heard about. Noodles & Company makes all things noodlish, from Asian to Italian styles, and represents something you just don’t find in LA, hot hearty convenient food for a cold day.
I’m a sucker for good Mac and cheese, and very picky about it. So I knew it was a gamble to try their Wisconsin Mac & Cheese with meatballs. If you like the blue box, you’ll probably like this. The noodles are very hot and al dente, but the cheese sauce tastes powdered. The pile of factory shredded cheese on top didn’t melt and didn’t add much to the dish. The meatballs had great texture and a lot of rich flavor with a nice oven toasted crust, but were very salty. But within a few minutes the whole dish had congealed into a lumpy gross mess.
Pearl fared much better with the Bankok Curry. Pulled pork on rice noodles tossed with fresh herbs and vegetables in a nice light spicy gingery sauce. Certainly not Thai, and not a curry either, but quite delicious. Add a delicious dash of Siracha and you’re all set!
I made it through TSA security with only 20 minutes until boarding. Normally this would mean a sad sandwich packaged the previous night for $15. Luckily I’m at SFO and for a small airport the food options look surprisingly good. I pass up the packaged sandwiches, gourmet picnic foods, as well as the specialty pizza and hot sandwiches, choosing instead the sushi and noodle counter, Wakaba. Mesmerized by videos of Mt. Fuji, I quickly get a bowl of beef udon and a cold bottle of Sapporo while keeping track of my flight out of the corner of my eye. (Since when does TSA allow glass inside the security point?)
The broth is light, slightly sweet and very hot. The noodles and seaweed are nicely al dente. The beef is flavorful, but over cooked and not as tender as it should be. And after a long day of meetings, the Sapporo really hits the spot. Alas, I have to rush, and don’t get to finish the broth or last few sips of beer.
Does it hold up to a great noodle house? No. But it’s 40 feet from my gate. Besides, what’s being served inside your airport?
So I promised the details on this fantastic banquet we had on our second day. One of the most famous restaurants in Hong Kong is Yung Kee in Central. Renowned for its roast goose recipe, the restaurant now owns the entire 14 floor building that it is located in. It’s even been awarded a star from the Michelin Guide. We had a private room on the more luxurious 4th floor to celebrate the 75th birthday of my wife’s uncle.
Starting off the dinner was the infamous dish, 1000 year egg. Some consider it a delicacy, but apparently it’s a fairly common dish and is frequently used in congee. It had a jelly-like consistency, tasted somewhat like a pickle, and had the most amazing colors to it. My photo doesn’t do the iridescence justice. Apparently it’s made by wrapping a duck egg in clay, soaked with various salts and acids for up to several months. The longer, the better.
Following the egg was a treo of appetizers representing Health, Wealth, and Happiness. First, “money purses”, small pouches of minced pork, wrapped up in a layer of rice dough and boiled. The end result looks surprisingly like a tiny purse or bag that people used to wear on their belts.
The second of the treo was fried sea cucumber stomachs. I had never had sea cucumber before, and was quite surprised. The dish was light and crispy, with a slight ocean taste, but mostly it was like eating french fries.
The third of the set was a traditional dish that apparently is very rare today. Stacked up like coins were pork-fat medallions, duck pate, and water chestnut, slathered in an egg-yolk sauce. It was incredibly delicious, even though I generally dislike patte.
The next dish of the meal is the one the restaurant is famous for. The Roast Goose was prepared in a similar style to Peking Duck. Yes, it was as delicious as it looks.
Following the roast goose was a common delicacy for Chinese banquets, shark fin soup. This was the second time I had shark-fin soup, but a very different preparation from anything I had expected. It came to the table a very vibrant orange, and had a creamy consistency, although I doubt any dairy products were used. Surprisingly, there was no fishy taste to it at all, in fact if I didn’t know better, I would have sworn it was a cheese soup.
The next dish was also seafood, so I wasn’t thrilled when it arrived. Individual stuffed crab claws were then breaded and fried, making for very attractive dishes. Perfect portion size, and the tip of the claw exposed, made these very appealing and memorable. I was pleasantly surprised with the flavor and enjoyed the light chili sauce garnishing each claw when served.
Following the crab claws was the most visually impressive dish of the evening. A huge platter came to the table, arranging several different varieties of eggplant in a light sauce.
The purple chinese eggplant arranged vertically was stuffed with crab meat, and on top was sea cucumber. The photos are deceptive, each of those vertical towers was at least 3 inches tall.
My wife was very jealous, as she’s allergic to eggplant.
Even when portioned out into individual servings, the dish was very beautiful. I have to commend the servers at their plating skills. The techniques over the course of the evening as they split up the large dishes were very antithetical to what I’ve come to expect from Chinese cuisine.
After the eggplant came one final seafood dish, lobster noodles. The noodles were cooked in a lobster broth and were clearly the focus of the dish, even though there was lobster piled on top. Again, the photos are deceptive, as the full dish brought to the table was easily 30 inches across, a veritable mountain of lobster.
Wrapping up the main dishes were a huge plate of noodles (clearly the inspiration for chow mein) and fried rice. These are typical ends to a chinese banquet, allowing people to fill up with the over abundance of food. Considering how stuffed we already were at this point, it was mostly gratuitous, but I tried some anyways. Naturally they were delicious.
That brings us to desert. Since it was a birthday, there was a cake covered in strawberries, and of course, since it was a chinese banquet, we also had the ubiquitous red bean soup and fresh fruit platter.
And finally, the icing on the cake, ( there were mini peaches in the cake decoration), we had Longevity Peaches. However, these aren’t actually fruit; they’re steamed rice buns with a lotus paste and duck egg center. Shaped and colored to resemble peaches, these are a traditional birthday dish. There is a Chinese legend about a monkey who travels to a far-off garden to eat peaches that grant eternal life. Because of this, the peach is a symbol of longevity in Chinese culture, and peaches made from gold are often gifted for long-lived anniversaries or birthdays.
Each of these “baby buts”, as my wife likes to call them, was about the size of my fist, and I have large fists.
That’s it for this banquet. Only the second day of our trip to Hong Kong, and already we’ve shot over 100 pictures just of food. Next time, some local snack and everyday dishes.