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Gung Hey Fat Choy! I kicked off my Chinese New Year Festivities at Hong Kong Bakery & Bistro with a bevy of local bloggers. Daniel B. organized the dinner to try the set menu featuring two dishes he’d never tried before. Set Menu A was on our hit list.

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Seafood & Fish Maw Soup was up first. A nice light fishy soup with egg white bits, thickened with cornstarch. If you’re wondering what fish maw is, it’s the gas bladder that helps the fish go up and down in the water. It’s pretty flavorless. Overall, good light start to the meal.

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Next up was the fabulous salt and pepper PLATTER. My family usually gets salt and pepper shrimp, so this was a real treat. It featured (from bottom clockwise): tofu, squid, bait fish, ribs, and in the center… jellyfish. Oh man, I want this platter all of the time! It was great! Salt and pepper tofu makes tofu automatically delicious, even if you’re not a tofu fan. Salt and pepper squid is an automatic win (though these were  bit small so they got a teeny bit overcooked/chewy). Salt and pepper bait fish. This was delicious, and not something I see very often in Cantonese/Hong Kong cooking. IMO very under-utilized because these tasted fantastic – briny and simple. Just tell squemish people that they’re fish strips, nuggets, or more squid. They won’t be able to tell.
Salt and pepper ribs. Where have you been all my life? Man, if there was a star, this was it. Crispy exterior, savory interior. Yes. Total win.
Jellyfish is a CNY mainstay dish, and it was nice to try the s+p riff on it.

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Abalone course. Abalone slices over bok choy and shiitake mushrooms. Abalone is another popular Chinese New Year dish because it’s expensive and symbolizes prosperity. But overall it doesn’t have a lot of flavor going on by itself, so it picked up a lot of the shiitake flavor. I wasn’t crazy about the thick brown sauce over it, but I liked how tender they got the abalone. This stuff can be prepared differently, and I’m not a fan of the texture when it’s rubbery and not cooked as much. This provided a lot of give. You know it’s a traditional dish when it’s expensive and the best you can say is that it wasn’t tough.

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Lobster, my love! Gotta love double ginger scallion lobster. Coated in a light cornstarch startch ginger scallion sauce, this fried lobster is another mainstay, and I was surprised to hear that Daniel B. had never tried it before. I’ve failed him as a friend! This was a great preparation of the dish. The lobster was juicy and succulent, and chopped up to dig out easily. “Easily” is probably a relative term, as part of the fun of this dish is getting messy eating it!

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Crispy Chicken is another traditional dish. This was covered in a garlic sauce, but the garlic flavor was pretty mild overall. Mmm, adorned with garlic crispy bits, too. This is a great dish any time of the year. Juicy plump chicken, crisp skin, simple chicken flavors. It’s a real crowd pleaser.

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Ultra blurry pig feet dish. Another first for Daniel B. This preparation was a bit tougher than other versions I’ve had. I prefer softer versions, but overall the flavor was good. Rich and meaty without getting too funky. The pieces were chopped up into easy to grab bits to gnaw on. There’s a lot of gnawing in Hong Kong/Cantonese Chinese food culture. 20160209_203636

Dessert time! What a pretty fruit platter!

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Red bean and tapioca soup  for dessert part two to end it on a sweet note.

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Gung Hey Fat Choy! I spent Chinese New Year in Flushing with some of the family. Eating, obviously. Squid Salad from Cutting Board (37-20 Prince St, Flushing, NY 11354). This place wasn’t super packed despite the CNY weekend crowds, but service was sl-oooowwww and flighty. Salad was ok, except for the tip of the squid which was charred on their gas/propane grill. Bleh.

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Ok – main event! Dinner with my whole family! We wound up once again at Jin Cheng (142-38 Roosevelt Ave, Flushing, NY 11354), and no one knows why. When Yeh-Yeh was alive, we would go here because it was literally the closest restaurant to his condo. It’s good for lunch, but they can’t handle a crowd. All of us “kids” bemoaned this like the whiny little food brats we are “Ugh, why are we going back?! Yeh-Yeh’s not here! Why didn’t we make reservations somewhere else?!” to which my frazzled dad (and now patriarch) responded “I don’t know! We just somehow keep ending up back there! Hopefully next year we’ll go somewhere else.”. But we lucked out with a 6 pm (early) reservation, so dinner was surprisingly not terrible.

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Ginger scallion lobster. A little rubbery and overcooked in places, but not too bad.

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Platters of food. The big bowl on the left had steamed/boiled chicken, shrimp, abalone, and some veggies. Whole steamed flounder, some sickly sweet crispy pork dish, “crispy” skin chicken (not very crispy), beef, and walnut shrimp were also on the menu. Nothing really stood out as great, but we were all happy nothing was as bad as it has been in years past.

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Snacks from Tous Les Jours on the way out. Croque Msr, and some baos.

So it was awesome seeing family, but I needed another “good” lunar new year dinner. So once I came back up, I gathered a few friends to join me at Ala Shanghai for Chinese New Year part 2.

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Some freebie fava beans as an app when we first sat down. It was bustling when we went on a week night. We even had to wait! I like it when local small restaurants a busy like that.

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Scallion pancakes!

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Har gow like whaaat?

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Salt & pepper squid. I was never super crazy about Ala Shanghai’s salt & pepper batter before (it was a poofier type of batter), but it’s now a thinner batter that I think is just a bit crispier. Mmm.

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Spicy beef, too!

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Vegetarian pork chops, though I think they taste more like vegetarian fish. Either way, can’t go wrong with battering and frying layers of tofu skin. So good!

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From the specials menu: Rice cakes with jalapeno and scallop. Holy moly, they were not messing around with the jalapeno! So good, but so spicy! This was the dish I saw on the lunar new year specials list and thought “I MUST HAVE THIS.” It didn’t disappoint. Chewy rice cakes, scallops, and spicy jalapenos – very good combination.

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Tofu noodles, edamame, and salted veggie also a must.

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Broccoli with black and white fungus – this was the dish that caught Albany John’s eye from the specials menu, and it was also a hit. Ala Shanghai gets their woodear so tender. All of this covered with a light, clear sauce. I wish this would go on their regular menu – it was so good! Very fresh, with a lot of texture.

Happy New Year! I wish you lots of prosperity!

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Went to Amherst for an early Thanksgving with the in laws. So much delicious food. Papa Amherst got this as a freebie turkey, and brined it into this delicious beauty. That man can make anything taste awesome.
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Looks like I was so excited for dinner, I forgot to take pics of the rest of dinner. But so good.
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And dessert! Blueberry pie, pecan pie, and white chocolate pie with quince drizzle.
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Papa Amherst makes such good pie crust. Crispy, flaky. So good.
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I brought a white chocolate tart with a bit of quince and rosewater jam. The white chocolate didn’t quite set up at room temp (too much cream), but the metered dose of quince + rose jam cut the richness a bit.
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Papa Amherst’s mom used to make quite the spread during the holidays, and it’s a trait he’s picked up. He also made pecan pie (!). So good!
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New fireplace
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And pensive pup photos.
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Queen of the blankets. All of them.
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We checked out Oriental Flavor in Amherst, the new Sichuan/Canto restaurant downtown. The name is super generic, but they’re legit Chinese food in Amherst.
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They had BEEF TENDON on the menu! $8 or $9 for a plate of spicy Sichuan-style beef tendon served cold and chewy. It would have been a bit much for one person to eat, so it’s a nice app to split for a group.
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They also had har gow and xiao long bao on the menu. I was skeptical, since it’s a pretty small restaurant (give or take a about a dozen tables) and it wasn’t super busy, but I asked and they said they made them both fresh daily. The har gow were very good! Pliant and supple-soft rice noodle exterior, and a fresh shrimp interior.
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The prices are a bit on the high side, but hey, it’s cheaper than a road trip to Flushing if you live in Western Mass. Soy bean wrapped pork is in the background. This was too sweet and I suggest skipping it if you’ve had it before. Turnip cakes were good and worth ordering – nice crispness to them. Siu mai in the front.
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Go for the har gow, skip the XLB. In some ways, the per-prepared ones may have been a better way to go than putting forth the effort of making these themselves. They seemed to be made with wonton skin type wrappers, which meant they all cracked and lost all soup, kind of defeating the purpose of ordering soup dumplings.XLB are the popular kids in dim sum now, so I get why they’re on the menu. The meat inside was a dense meatball, and a bit on the sweet/bland side. Though to be fair, they are taking on two very difficult dim sum dishes to make from different regions of China. Har Gow = Cantonese/Hong Kong style. Xiao Long Bao soup dumplings = Shanghai. I’d be more surprised if they did both very well. They could also probably scratch this from their menu, since they’re more disappointing if you’ve ever had a true soup dumpling.
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Seasonal veggies were also very nice. I wound up eating most of the garlic ^_^

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After that, the ladies split off and went shopping for horrific christmas gifts crafts.

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As opposed to the slutty earrings I’ve been wearing all these years. Just kidding, I hardly ever wear earrings, and even then it’s mostly stainless steel industrial/unbreakable stuff.
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They also had sweet straw/hay sculptures.
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I don’t really consider myself much of a cake decorator. R has some amazing cake decorating skills. Me? Well, I used to suck hard at baking cakes, but now, with practice, I am getting better with that feat. I’m still not a very fast, or precise cake decorator, but with practice, my limited skills are improving. I read NPR’s article, “Struggle for Smarts? How Eastern and Western Cultures Tackle Learning” and that really struck a chord for me lately. When I was a kid, my Dad would reiterate practicing over, and over, and over, and… but the rest of my influences were primarily western, promoting this idea of practicing a little bit, but of innate ability. The western influence won out, but the older I get, the more I see that practice will improve performance over time, regardless of ability. You may never be perfect at something, but if you keep trying, you may improve every so subtly over time (Though, Dad, just between us, going to have the coordination to excel at any sort to team sports). Sometimes you fail (miserably) despite following all the rules. Sometimes you don’t follow the rules and things turn out okay. Sometimes you don’t follow the traditional path society sets in front of you.
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I’ve never had much luck at white cakes, but of all things, the recipe on the back of the King Arthur pastry flour box worked wonders! It was so moist, and the crumb was quite tender. It was almost pudding-like. I sliced the two cake rounds in half, and spread them with some guava paste I watered down into a workable jam-like consistency, and a whole lot of buttercream.
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Much like I have a strong love for Hello Kitty, my friend has a strong love for anything Disney. So a few Mickeyrons were on the menu, as were a few regular macarons.
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Filled Mickeyrons with guava buttercream. These cracked a bit where the ears me the body in a few of the mickeyrons, but not all of them.
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Fin! I made the cakes a week or so ahead of time, wrapped them whole (not sliced) in saran wrap, and then stuck them in freezer bags (and in the freezer) until the night before I needed them. It made the whole process a lot easier for me, and less overwhelming than making and decorating a cake in 1-2 days. I had a cake carrier at one point, but lost it. So far I’ve had decent luck with putting the cake on a normal dinner plate, and then driving very carefully.

 

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Happy Birthday, D! D entered the very end of her twenties, and I wanted to bake her a cake. She’s not doing gluten lately and loves chocolate, so I thought hey, gluten-free chocolate cake made with coconut flour! This is an ultra-decadent and delicious cake. This was an especially special birthday to me, as D also shared it with my belated kitty, who turned 10 (everyone fed her as many treats as she wanted).
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She went out for a wine tasting and nibbles before cake time. Albany John and I had plans earlier in the evening, so we met at our place for cakey good times. I used this nut-free recipe for the cake.

Chocolate Coconut Flour Cake Recipe

2 C coconut flour
1 C unsweetened cocoa powder
2 t baking soda
0.5 t baking powder
2 sticks of butter (1 C) at room temp
1 3/4 C sugar
1 t vanilla extract
1 3/4 C milk (or milk sub, I used buttermilk. Drop your baking soda to 1.5 t if you’re using regular milk)
1/4 C melted coconut oil
9 eggs

And here’s how I make every recipe so it’s only one dish that gets dirty:

Cream together butter and sugar. Add the eggs (one at a time) and vanilla extract. Then add in the milk. Scoop in the coconut flour, cocoa, baking soda, and baking powder. Mix the dry stuff on the top a bit to combine, then mix it all in with the wet ingredients on the bottom. Then add in the melted coconut oil. Stir until well combined. The coconut flour will absorb the liquid while you’re mixing and seem like it’s drying out.

Bake in two 8 or 9 inch buttered cake pans at 350F until a toothpick comes out clean. About 30+ minutes.

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Here’s what your batter looks like when it’s ready to be moved into the cake pans. Kind of looks like frosting, or maybe playdoh.

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You’ll have to pat the batter into the pan. Coconut flour batters are vastly different than their wheat flour brethren.

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Seriously. It doesn’t fall or anything. You just plop it in…
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And smooth it out.

This made a little more than two 9-inch cake pans for me (my pans were shallow, though) so I baked the remaining batter in a little pan. It was good out of the oven. Kind of like a cakey brownie texture.

So, after we bake it, we let them cool. You can cut them in half if you want and make a 4 layer cake, but I’m not that delicate and didn’t want to mess this up for the birthday girl.

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I made a whipped chocolate ganache frosting and frosted the cake the night before. You can see the holes in the cake where I put skewers to then wrap in plastic wrap. Or as Albany John called it “I thought you were creating a protective force field to keep me out of it,”.

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I wasn’t super jazzed with my frosting skills or how the ganache came out (it was more like buttercream).
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Then I slathered the frosted cake in more liquid chocolate ganache.

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More chocolate ganache fixes everything, right?

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Well, come cake time, we had a cozy little set up going (this is as close to decorating as I’ll ever get).
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Happy Birthday, to an awesome friend.

 

 

Last weekend I drove down to Flushing to celebrate Chinese New Year with my family. It was our first year celebrating without Yeh-Yeh, our family’s patriarch. That didn’t really hit me until shortly before my drive down, but for me simply having these traditions with family keeps us together and that is what is important.

The drive down was a breeze (when I drive to Flushing from Albany I go: 90E > Taconic > 84E > 684S > 678SHutchinson River Pkwy> Whitestone Bridge. It’s about 15 minutes more than taking 87S down, but it saves on the tolls up until the Whitestone Bridge ($7.50) and breaks up the drive into smaller chunks so I don’t get bored. It also probably seems more complicated to hop off of the Taconic onto 84E, but it’s a much smoother drive with better drivers than taking the Taconic down all the way (you avoid where the road narrows, and all of the crappy drivers on it).
I got in shortly after 5, and figured I’d have to drive a while for parking, but found free street parking within 30 minutes! Woo hoo! I didn’t have to move the entire time I was there. I don’t know about you, but when I head down to NYC, I like to park and just leave my car until I’m ready to head back home.

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For dinner we went to Jin Cheng Restaurant, which I protested because last year we had a pretty craptacular experience at the kid’s table, and I thought we went there more for its close proximity to Yeh-Yeh’s condo than the quality of the food. I’ve since discovered they are better at lunch, or when they’re not busy, so they’re not a total lost cause, but I had prepped myself for a less-than-awesome Chinese New Year dinner because Chinese New Year Weekend in Flushing = every Chinese Restaurant is gonna be mobbed.

I was pleasantly surprised with how GOOD dinner was. Maybe it’s because we were a smaller group and not two big tables. (Maybe Yeh-Yeh was in the kitchen yelling at the chefs for me 😉 ) It was my dad, his best gal, my uncle, Albany John, and me.

We started off with Beef and gai lan. Great wok hei on the beef, and super tender.
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Honey-walnut-mayo prawns with broccoli on the left. Plump and fat shrimp, no complaints there. Fresh crispy skin chicken at the top, and the same beef on the right (after initial decimation)

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Lobster Cantonese-style with ginger and scallions. We got two big lobsters. So perfectly cooked. I would say this is one of my favorite ways to eat lobster. This way, or just steamed.
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Whole steamed flounder. Mmm. It looks big, but it’s easy to eat a lot of. So light and good.

Albany John and I went for a little walk after dinner to digest. Naturally we wound up at Tous Les Jours, a French-Asian bakery.

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Like most Asian bakeries, there’s a bunch of goodies laid out for you to pick yourself, plus refrigerated things behind the counter.

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I wanted to keep walking, so we had a late-night (for Flushing, i.e. 9 PM) picnic on a bench near the police station (I know romance).

I usually love the stuff Tous Les Jours makes, but man this was mixed bag. The vanilla milkshake was really unpleasant – lots of large chunks of ice, and cheap vanilla ice cream. Bleh. And $4.50 to boot.
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Here was the statue we noshed at, right in between the hubbub of traffic.
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Macarons: skip. Red velvet on the left and Oreo on the right. Red velvet had no notable red velvet flavor, and used a pasty vanilla buttercream as the filling. The black “Oreo” macaron also bore no flavor of its namesake, and was equally pasty. Disappointing. I should have avoided from the start because while these were not cracked, they had some cracked macarons on display, and if they took pride in their macarons, the cracked ones would never be up for sale.
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Albany John got a cream cheese pastry. These are epically delicious in an it’s-so-bad-for-you kind of way. I’m pretty sure I could hear one of his arteries start to clog. They don’t skimp on the cream cheese.

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I had a backup pastry which was tasty – a soft and fluffy bun filled with sweet potato filling and covered in almond flour/meal. Yum. Stick with the baked goods you can pick yourself and you’ll be good.
The next day we kicked off the day eating (of course).

Joe’s Shanghai to start for breakfast. We got there right when they opened at 11 AM and had no wait.

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Bready, soft scallion pancakes.
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Big steamer full of 8 Pork & Crab Xiao Long Bao (soup dumplings). If you go to Joe’s Shanghai, you absolutely must get xiao long bao. The tongs are kind of unnecessary, and the teeth on them can pierce the skin of the dumpling, and there goes all of your soupy goodness. Their skins were good (but Ala Shanghai’s are thinner!), but the broth is where these dumplings shine. Each soup dumpling contains a glorious broth. Each dumpling is a treat, and if I think just a bit, I can relive those flavors for just a moment. The broth is thick and rich, with hearty flavors from both the pork and crab, but neither standing out over the other and instead combining to make this magical soup that you can’t get enough of.
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Shanghai style rice cakes, with some veggies and meat. Nice softness and wok hei.

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Two big bowls of soup. I think their soups are a bit on the bland side, at least after eating the xiao long bao. Beef chuck on the left, pork and veggies on the right. Noodles are okay, but they need a little salt or something. I think the soups at Taiwan Noodle are better though (deeper broth flavors and better noodles).

Then Albany John and my uncle split off to do their own thing, and Dad and his gal and I were off to have more adventures. I was SUPER excited because I was planning on going to Sunrise Kitchen & Hardware Supplies (4205 Main St, Flushing, NY). This place is awesome for all of your Asian kitchen gadget needs.

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Sadly for me, they took the week off for Chinese New Year. No cheap and awesome kitchen supplies. Next time. Sigh.
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Saw some lions on the street.
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Went to Rose House for an English-style tea break. Overall, I’d say it’s a nice place if you want to get away from the loudness and crowds in a pretty atmosphere and comfy seats, but that’s about it. All of the teas seemed to taste the same, and they were on the expensive side – $9.00+ per small pot.

Service was weird. A server initially told us there was a 2 hr sitting limit because it was the weekend (which was fine and totally reasonable), but then after being there for a total of 40 minutes the same server took away our tea warmers and started checking the pots. There were no crowds waiting for a table, either.

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Their butter cookies were decent, and despite finding a hair in the rose hips jam after I spooned some on a cookie it was freaking DELICIOUS.

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I broke off to explore on my own and found Pho Hoang on Kissena Blvd.

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There are tables, but order here at the counter for to-go orders. It also shares space with a Chinese butcher further near the front of the store. It’s not the cleanest looking space, but $4.00 for a banh mi was calling my name.
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Hello gorgeous. A nice baguette tucked into a parchment sleeve.

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SO GOOD! Look at that bread. It’s deliciously perfect little baguettes with a crisp exterior that gives way to a soft, squishy interior. Great for banh mi and stuffing with julienned veggies, pate, meat, and cliantro. Yum, yum, yum.
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$4.00 for all of this, versus $6.50 (to start) for a small banh mi at Pho Yum in Albany that doesn’t even use the right bread.

I wound up going to a friend’s that night.

The next morning we went to Jade Restaurant for dim sum with one of my aunts and some cousins.

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More lions!

The wait wasn’t too bad, but my aunt saw a friend of hers who was a manager, and we got whisked off to a side room that I’ve never seen before (that was opened up to handle the Chinese New Year crowds). That was awesome – less loudness and craziness, all of the carted dim sum goodies.
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Food, food everywhere. So good.

We hung out for a bit, but soon it was time to hit the road.

But not before hitting up Pho Hoang one last time since Albany John was back.
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And there was a DRAGON group that came in!
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I got a regular banh mi ($4.00) & a duck banh mi ($6.00).
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They withstood the drive up pretty well – the bread stayed crisp and the interiors didn’t get soggy.
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Duck on the left, regular banh mi on the right.

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We both thought the regular/standard banh mi was better than the duck banh mi. Better flavor overall. The duck was good, but man, the veggies and meat are just SO good!

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Chinese New Year 2014, The Year of the Horse, has been one festive year so far! I began celebrations with friends at Ala Shanghai. After seeing their specials for Chinese New Year, I couldn’t wait to get in!
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Xiao long bao (soup dumplings) were a must to start with. And these were perfect!
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The skins were so thin you could see through them!! See how it bulges a bit on the left? It’s because the skin is so thin! So much soupy goodness. Yum, yum, yum.

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Wine soaked cold duck appetizer.
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Scallion pancakes, always a treat.
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Wontons in a spicy peanut sauce. Good balance on the peanut/sweet/spicy.
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And now for the mains! Double Happiness special entree ($19.88) in the front – salt and pepper fish fillets and squid. LOVED this! The salt and pepper coating was perfect – crispy (not fluffy or beer-batter-y) and not the least bit greasy or oily.

Pork with fava beans in the back. Yum, yum, yum. Big fat fava beans with tender slices of pork.
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Squid and fish heaven!
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Hands down my favorite dish of the night was the Golden Duo ($23.88), which was soft shell crab & whole shrimp coated in a salted preserved egg batter and fried. Ala Shanghai has a soft shell crab-only version of dish on their normal menu, so thankfully this goodness is available year-round.

If you’ve never had an egg-yolk coated dish, you must try it. It’s so rich, salty, and good! The egg yolks are preserved in salt, then mashed up to be part of a batter coating. It adds a whole new dimension of flavor to a dish.
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Also had to add some veggies to the meal. Yum. Chinese broccoli is my favorite – nice and crunchy stalks and tender greens.
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Rice cake with pork and capsella as our starchy/rice/noodle dish (always gotta have one at a big meal). What’s not to love about chewy rice cakes?
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Crispy beef coated in a sweet-ish sauce. The beef still stays crispy! I thought I ordered this spicy, but it came out plain/non-spicy. Good, but I think I like the kick of heat to even out the sweetness.
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And (free) dessert because of Chinese New Year! What a pretty plate of fruit. Great way to end the meal.

There were 6 of us, and we wound up at about $20 per person before tip for all that food. There’s still time to grab a few friends together and try some awesome specials to ring in the Year of the Horse. Gung hey fat choy!