San Diego’s DaoFu takes home-made to another level

I am always excited when I find a little mom and pop spot regardless of where I am. On a recent trip to San Diego, a friend, who had been to DaoFu previously, brought me here because he thought I would love the food.  He wasn’t wrong. The sign alone intrigued and piqued my curiosity: “Home-made tofu and soy milk.”

The restaurant is small and the cozy nature of it really appealed, not to mention the smiling face of the lady who seated us. I found out later that Maggie is the owner/chef’s wife.

Naturally, on a first visit, I always order way too much food because I want to try everything, but before we even ordered, a complimentary salad arrives with some home made tofu alongside. The beet and raspberry salad dressing — also made in-house — was delightfully tart with a hint of sweetness. The tofu was absolutely incredible. Not only was it texturally pleasing, but it possessed the robust flavors of soy beans that I know and love.

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This is why we wanted to encompass more tofu into our meal. The Lily Flower with Asparagus and Oyster Mushrooms ($12.98) was selected because I love lily flower. It was just a bonus that a wedge of fried tofu was present on the plate. All plates arrive with your choice of white, brown or half/half rice. We opted for brown throughout.

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When asked what spice level you want, don’t go crazy like I did. I told Maggie 10. She put me in my place when she told me 5 was sufficient. We negotiated a 5 for the first dish and later, I went up one level to 6. Seeing I am able to eat habanero-level heat, and a 6 was hot enough, I would like to warn others before they try to order on the Orange County heat level I am accustomed to. Trust Maggie when she tells you it’s hot enough!

We started with some Chicken Salad Rolls ($8.28), a take on the Vietnamese rice paper rolls stuffed with lettuce, mints, cilantro, bean sprouts and rice noodles. They are cut in half and sits on a plate of house sauce similar to the dressing on the salad, but just a hint sweeter.

chicken rolls

Both my friend and I love chicken wings so an order of Garlic Chicken Wings ($8.36) was on the agenda, but first, I had Maggie confirm it wasn’t a sweet sauce the wings were doused in. She assured me it wasn’t. These fried chicken wings are coated with a savory garlic sauce which are perfect on their own, or accompanied with a bowl of steamed rice. So good!

chicken wings

Maggie recommended the next dish, Stuffed Tofu, Eggplant and Peppers ($12.11), what we refer to as ‘yong dao fu’. The tofu, eggplant and peppers are stuffed with fish paste and lightly pan fried before they are topped with a piquant spicy sauce. Typically, fish paste tends to be hard and with a fish ball-like texture. Here, it is soft and complements the vegetables perfectly, especially the tofu.
stuffed vegs
Wild Steamed Red Snapper Rice Pot ($13.88) was positively our favorite. Brown rice is topped with steamed snapper fillets with a sauce seasoned with ginger, garlic, wine, scallion and cilantro. The delicate fish is not inundated with sauce so you’re able to taste it on its own, or, with the sauce-seasoned rice. The shiitake mushroom slices enhanced the flavors providing us with various tastes with each mouthful. We couldn’t stop eating this!
fish rice pot
When we were done, Maggie brought complimentary ice cream (all guests receive this) to us and continued chatting to me in Cantonese. This is when I found out that her husband Eric started making tofu with no experience whatsoever, perfecting it through the years. She is delighted that her customers love their food and especially, the tofu. She explained that the tofu is organic and Eric insists on creating everything from scratch right down to making the noodles they serve. I was bummed I didn’t know about this sooner, but will definitely return and order noodles on my next visit.
There are a ton of vegetarian dishes available which appeal to non-vegetarians as well so there is something for everyone. I wish we had something similar in Orange County, but the closest thing we have is Dao Son, a shop selling home-made tofu in Westminster. There is no Chinese chef in OC making his own tofu and noodles that I know of. Do you?

DaoFu
3332 Adams Avenue
San Diego, CA 92116
Tel: 619-281-6888

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Tavern on 2 tantalizes my tastebuds

If the name Frank De Loach has never crossed your ears before, you’re definitely missing out. This is an unconventional chef who thinks outside of the box, one who is not afraid to play with flavors and bring together ingredients some may not be familiar with. In short, not everyone get his food.  But for those who do, the experience is a sensational one. Chef Frank’s flavor profiles are pretty much on par with mine about 99% of the time. I know he will use enough salt and acid for my palate and that is always something to be happy about.

When you meet Chef Frank, you won’t be surprised that his gastropub-style cuisine is deliciously comforting, however, it is his Asian-inspired dishes that blows my mind. My first experience with Chef Frank’s Asian-style food creations was at Early Bird in Fullerton. His love for Asian flavors, plus the myriad of tastes he picked up during his travels to southeast Asia invigorated him to design — and they are often works of art — incredible pairings of flavors he was moved by.

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Chef Frank is now at Tavern on 2 in Long Beach, where most of the customers order the burgers. We had one as well — Tavern Burger ($14). The pattie is a perfect medium rare. Each bite provided me with a hint of sweetness from the caramelized onions, richness from the St Andre brie and freshness from the arugula. The savory ketchup did a great job by adding some salty tart finish. The burger is good. Damn good. It is not surprising that about 70% of the restaurant had one on the table — there are four beef burgers, one ahi and one veggie on the menu.

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Another favorite is Chef Frank’s version of Short Rib Poutine ($14). Yes, there are those who are sticklers for authentic poutine, and then, there are those who haven’t a clue what real poutine is. I kind of fall in between. I’ll love it if it tastes good. The version here has braised short rib which would probably amass a complete furor from some. Ask for it with only gravy and Wisconsin cheese curds if you feel your purist side emerging — I eat it without much short rib and prefer only gravy and curds with my fries. It is definitely very tasty.

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Don’t grimace at this next dish, Sticky Pigtails ($9), if you like ribs, you’ll most probably like this. The minute I bite into it, a wave of nostalgia comes over me. The sauce tastes exactly like my mother’s sweet and sour ribs except she uses Chinese dark vinegar. Here, it is a blend of hoisin and oyster sauces with lime and a few other things thrown in. Sticky they definitely are, and mouthpuckering as well, but it’s all good.

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However, what I am here for are for the dishes the rest of the clientele may not be ordering at a “tavern”. The blackboard features seasonal dishes such as Summer Peaches ($11), where lusciously sweet peaches are tossed with cubes of smoked mozzarella, radicchio, baby kale, Thai basil, white balsamic, and sprinkled with cocoa crumbs. At first, I’m like “what the hell is this….” but once you eat it with each of the ingredients on the plate — I highly suggest dipping your mozzarella into it — you will get a burst of the cocoa on your palate and go “oh! wow!”

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Hamachi Crudo ($12) is another blackboard special and is so simple and refreshing. Interspersed between slices of strawberries, jicama sticks, cilantro and shards of lime zest, the fish possesses hints of the jalapeno vin it is marinated in. Subtle and not overpowering, the hamachi is left to shine. Naturally, I wanted just a little more citrus, but that’s just me.

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If I am dining alone, the Seared Ahi Tuna ($16) salad would make for a perfect dish for one. If you’re there with others, you can share it — unless you’re with me, then I would hog the entire bowl. Chunks of seared ahi tuna is tossed in a Vietnamese dressing along with soba noodles, Thai basil, cilantro, radish, cucumber, red onions, cabbage and scallions. This is one of those items I am not able to stop eating. The perfect pairings of salty and tart is simply outstanding.

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I suggest you eat this meal from light to heavy, although, the salads and fish dishes make for the perfect palate cleanser in between the heavier options. I just prefer to not cloud my mouth with the richer foods before I eat salad and fish. I hope you will visit Tavern on 2 and check out what Chef Frank is doing. I always know I’m going to be highly satisfied whenever I leave a meal that he has prepared.

Tavern on 2
5110 E 2nd Street
Long Beach, CA 90803
Tel: 562-856-4000

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Buddha’s Belly is nostalgia in my mouth

We visited Buddha’s Belly a few weekends ago, a restaurant I remember seeing time after time again when my BFF used to lived in Santa Monica. The restaurant is only a block away from the water and I remember always seeing it packed with people whenever we drove by.

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As we drove by it on this particular afternoon, there was again a crowd in there. After finding parking, we strolled in to find a restaurant decorated in my favorite colors — orange and green — and a table by the floor-to-ceiling window, a perfect spot for people watching.

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We began with some beverages, including Thai Iced Tea something my son has gotten quite addicted to of late.

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Black Orchid Sour ($11) is a bourbon-based cocktail with violet liqueur, blackberries, lemon juice and egg whites. I wasn’t sure I’d like it because I’m generally not a fan of bourbon, but it was DELICIOUS! The bourbon wasn’t overpowering and the flavors were fruity and pleasing.

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We wanted the Tuna Volcano but then found out we could get a Curry Chicken Volcano/Tuna Volcano ($10) combo. Sushi rice is formed and then fried to create a crispy bottom for either a curry chicken or an ahi tuna topping. Both were very tasty with a great textural contrast in every bite.

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I absolutely adored Duck Tacos ($11.75) which reminded me of the Peking duck pancakes I used to eat in Hong Kong. Topped with green onion, hoisin sauce and served on corn tortillas instead of the traditional flour pancakes, they were equally delicious and I craved more hoisin sauce on mine. If you’re longing for Peking duck, come and get some of these instead.

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Korean Tofu Crunch ($7) is a light appetizer sitting over gochujang, a Korean chili paste with garlic, soy, sesame oil, scallion and seaweed. My son devoured it! This dish consisted of everything he loves: tofu and anything Korean!

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I’ve never been a huge fan of pad Thai because I’ve never had it anywhere outside of Thailand worthy of the real thing. The Pad Thai ($11) here is outstanding. The consistency is spot on and not the least bit greasy. Shrimp, chicken breast, tofu, onion, egg, bean sprouts, nira chive, cilantro and peanut are tossed with rice noodles and coated with that incredible char all Asian street food is known for known as “wok hei”.

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We love Thai food and Tom Yom Koon Ramen ($11) sounded interesting. The red chili broth infused with lemongrass and kaffir lime was swimming with shrimp, tomato, straw mushrooms and cilantro. A side dish of coconut milk was served alongside for you to add to your liking. We all agreed the broth was wonderfully aromatic and even took the remainder home.

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I was intrigued by Ginger Fried Rice ($11) and thought it was going to be like the one my mom makes, but it was nothing like it. Sweet red ginger is the main ingredient and they weren’t skimpy with the sirloin steak or shrimp tossed in. Egg, shiitake, mushroom, red onion, red bell pepper and sesame seeds complete this dish perfect as an entree or a shared item for the table.

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Living in Hawaii, miso black cod was a weekly staple so I wanted to try the Baked Alaskan Black Cod ($19). A beautifully presented bento box with jasmine rice, broccoli and a cucumber salad, the fish was deliciously addicting and I was trying to savor every morsel slowly.

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Every dish I had invoked some sort of ratatouille moment for me. It brought back childhood memories and fuzzy feelings I was happy to surround myself with. To take it one step further, we ended the meal with Coconut Tapioca Pudding ($7), one of my favorite Asian desserts. The dollop of red bean just made it even better!

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If you’re ever in Santa Monica and wanting some southeast Asian food, stop by this place! They even have a happy hour menu in the afternoon for snacks and delicious cocktails!

Buddha’s Belly
205 Broadway
Santa Monica, CA 90401
Tel: 310-458-2500

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my week in NYC: carb overload in Chinatown

What trip to NYC would be complete without a visit to the legendary Joe’s Shanghai for their famous xiao long bao? I’ve been to Joe’s before, some 14 years ago and even back then, the XLBs were seriously decadent, especially outside of Asia.

Even though they have several locations now, I wanted to go back to the one I visited more than a decade ago on Pell Street. On this particular trip, we were joined by Michael Muñoz, a local NY blogger The Gay Gourmet, to indulge in XLBs and more.

Our goal was to get in, get out with a belly full of XLBs and then move on to something else. Our party of four ordered three baskets of XLBs — two crab and one pork. I saw Duck Webs with Celery ($5.95) on the menu and ordered that as well.

The cold appetizer arrived first and I had expected a mustard dressing with it but it was kind of bland. The Shanghainese version I’m accustomed to is tossed with a pungent hot mustard so I was disappointed it wasn’t the one from my childhood.

Nevertheless, the XLBs($4.95/8pcs) arrived shortly after — pork first — and they were larger than the usual ones we get here in OC, and definitely a lot larger than the ones from Din Tai Fung. However, the minute I bit into one, I realized that these were the authentic ones, the original ones, the ones with that richly, greasy, sinfully thick soup that us Shanghainese know as the “correct ones”.

When the crab XLBs ($6.95/8pcs) arrived, there was utter silence at our table. Everyone was focusing on how mindblowingly good these were — moreso than the pork ones — and every one of us taking great care not to break the pouch for fear of losing a drop of the precious liquid.

After eating six dumplings each, we were pretty stuffed, not because of the quantity, but because of the sheer richness of these morsels. A few sips of tea later, we walked towards A-Wah, a hole-in-the-wall known for their award-winning claypot rice, something I’m always craving for.

A-Wah is unassuming and easy to miss. We squeeze through the narrow walkway into the small room and were quickly given menus. We ordered the Chicken and Mushroom ($6.95) clay pot rice, enough for the four of us, or enough for two (who have not already eaten) to share.

We also ordered some stir fried vegetables. Preserved Tofu with Water Spinach ($10.95) was delicious, and we were craving vegetables after days of gorging.

Pea Shoots in Broth ($14.95) was also tasty, but damn expensive. I couldn’t believe how much they charged for a dish of vegetables we pay half the price for here in California.

I was so pleased with the claypot rice. The crispy rice on the bottom was ample and oh so good. It is always mind-boggling that restaurants in OC aren’t able to make this dish correctly. I was in heaven enjoying the burnt rice.

After the two restaurants, I was kicking myself because I was so full I wasn’t able to eat anything else the rest of the afternoon. I wish I could have one of those claypot rices right now.

Joe’s Shanghai
9 Pell Street
New York, NY 10013
Tel: 212-233-8888

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A-Wah Restaurant
5 Catherine Street
New York, NY 10038
Tel: 212-925-8308

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a marriage of Chinese & Indian at Tangy Tomato

About 13 years ago, I was visiting some friends in Toronto and they took me to this Chinese-Indian restaurant and I fell in love with the cuisine, but since then, I’ve not had this food, so when my friend informed me that there was a Chindian restaurant in Artesia, I was psyched to visit.

While Tangy Tomato is not predominantly Chindian cuisine — in fact, there are more Indian offerings than “Chinese Indian” on the menu, but both are offered via a buffet at lunch time as well as a la carte.  — start with a Lassi ($2.50-$4), and there are three, or Mango Tango ($4) to sip on while perusing the menu.my friends and I opted to go a la carte instead of buffet.

We started with some appetizers. Punjabi Somosa ($4.50) are stuffed with potato and peas and should be shared. They are filling, but pretty good with the mint sauce in the condiment container they will bring to the table. The mint sauce here is different to the others. It is not bright green and doesn’t have yogurt mixed in. It is refreshing and light and so easy to eat.

I am new to Bombay Frankie ($7) and found them rather interesting. Traditionally, they are more like wraps, but here, they look like egg rolls and are filled with paneer (cheese) and vegetables. This is a vegetarian item and surprisingly good — I’m not usually a fan of paneer. A dipping sauce of chilis infused in vinegar is served alongside and adds a zing by cutting the heaviness of the fried item. In fact, the sauce is also good with the samosas.

One of my favorite items was the Murg Malai Kebab ($13), chunks of white meat, grilled and topped with this delicious sauce. I can’t tell you what’s in the sauce, but my son ate the leftovers and demanded more so I know it’s REALLY good.

I’m a huge fan of okra and so Bhindi Aloo Mirch Masala ($10) was right up my alley. I would’ve liked no potatoes (not a fan of them) and all okra, but the name of the dish is bhindi (okra) aloo (potatoes) and not just bhindi — *sigh* — I can eat this all day. The okra was slightly shriveled so all the flavors were sucked into them, simply divine.

If you’re a fan of chili fries, try the Szechuan Fries served on a sizzling platter. I can’t remember what they are called on the menu, Chili Garlic Potatoes ($11), I think, but these are tossed in a slightly spicy Sichuan sauce. I brought the leftovers home and my son devoured them.

Next came Spicy Gobi Manchurian ($11) which is a Chindian dish of fried cauliflower tossed in a sweet sauce — I didn’t detect much heat. I don’t like sweetness in my savory food so this obviously wasn’t my favorite, but everyone else liked it a lot.

Besides okra, eggplant is another item I can eat all day long. Therefore, it wasn’t surprising that I ordered Hot Garlic Eggplant ($11), which is pretty much similar to the ones you get at Chinese restaurants. I liked this a lot.

Chicken Tikka Masala ($14), or butter chicken is good here — not one of my favorite items — chicken is tender and flavor spot on. It seems like this is a dish loved by all, but me. There are tons of other dishes I’d much rather eat, such as the next one.

Housboat Fish Curry ($14) is essentially Goan Fish Curry and I absolutely adore this dish when done right. I had it at Tamarind not long ago and frankly, it was tasteless. When I put the first spoonful of this curry into my mouth, I knew I had found the right one.

The aromas of curry leaves permeated throughout the sauce and the fish was moist and tender. This is not a spicy curry, in fact, there isn’t any heat to it at all, but the layers of flavors creates a complexity which is essential to a good Goan Fish Curry. Just writing this up right now is making me salivate and wanting some over piping hot basmati rice.

Besides rice, you can opt for Laccha Parantha ($2.50), a flaky bread or, the quintessential Garlic Naan ($2.50) to accompany your meal with.

Those of you who have never tried Chindian food, Tangy Tomato has generously donated a $25 gift certificate for you to go try it. Leave me a comment as to why you would like to try Chindian food with your FULL name by Sunday May 6th for a chance to win. Winner will be announced on Monday, May 7th.

Tangy Tomato
18728 Pioneer Blvd
Artesia, CA 90701
Tel: 562-924-2719

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Starfish won me over with soup … and more

I’ve never been a fan of Asian fusion, but something happened this year. I found myself surprised by some non-traditional Asian cuisine and even liking some of the westernized food on offer. Starfish Laguna is one of those places.

I recently visited again and was drawn to the Hot and Sour Soup ($5), filled with organic pressed tofu,bamboo, shiitake mushroom and finished off with egg drop. I added a spoonful of sambal oelek for more heat, but it was a stellar bowl of hot and sour! — lunch specials come with soup and egg roll.

I was enticed by the description of the Singapore Bamboo Roll ($7) — soy seasoned bamboo, carrot, jicama, cilatro, thai basil served with a roasted peanut hoisin dipping sauce. I was so happy that it tasted exactly as I’d expected it to! The rolls are so refreshing with crunchy vegetables stuffed inside. I can eat two orders of these on my own — easily!

Another item I enjoyed were the Korean Galbi Tacos ($9), served three to an order. The barbequed sesame soy seasoned natural angus beef was flavorful and the spicy gochujang aioli added a nice kick to them. Pickled daikon soothed out the flavors by adding some crunchy tartness.

I love eggplant and insisted on ordering Japanese Eggplant ($10) slow braised with house made sambal, Sichuan peppercorns and bell peppers. I was disappointed. Not only was there no hint of the Sichuan peppercorns’ numbing effects, but the dish was surprisingly bland. We all agreed this was our least favorite item.

Garlic Noodle ($10), priced the same at the one at AnQi was a much larger portion dotted with wild mushrooms, vine ripened tomato and bean sprouts and was so much more flavorful. I will take this over AnQi’s “famous” garlic noodles any day even though the noodles here are much thinner and not as garlicky.

One of my favorite dishes was Beef and Coke Farms Broccoli di Ciccio ($12) a sauteed item with garlic, rice wine and soy. I can eat this with a bowl of steaming hot rice and call it a day.

We ended with Thai Fried Rice ($12), a quite tasty combination of wild gulf shrimp, Chinese sausage, edamame, egg and cabbage. Not your traditional fried rice by any means, but will appeal to both kids and adults alike!

Yes it’s not traditional or authentic Asian fare, but if it’s tasty I’ll eat it AND enjoy it. Just like PF Chang’s, Starfish Laguna has definitely caught my attention with their twist on food I grew up eating. I will be back again for those Bamboo Rolls, hot and sour soup and the beef with broccoli!

I have a $50 giftcard to giveaway to one lucky reader. Tell me what your favorite Chinese dish is and make sure you include your FULL name & email address. “Like” Starfish Laguna and diary of a Mad Hungry Woman‘s Facebook pages, leave a 2nd comment to let us know and you will be entered for a 2nd chance to win.

Starfish Laguna
30832 Pacific Coast Hwy
Laguna Beach, CA 92651
Tel: 949-715-9200

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