Quarry Bay Restaurants

Eastern Promises 13: People I Will Remember

easternpromises

Being what people call a “foodie,” I feel as if dining should be all about the food for me. Indeed, my philosophy about eating has long butted up against that of traveling companions as I get dead set on finding the absolute best, most authentic place to eat when in reality we are starving and just need to find somewhere to refuel. I’ve also spent time with people more interested in the atmosphere – is there a view? is bright and airy? – than the food itself.

I’m not here to say that any one of these approaches is right (in fact, I’m still highly resistant to the last view above). But I have begun to realize there’s more to a dining experience than the food. I came to this conclusion as I was moving out of my first apartment in Hong Kong. In particular, I noticed that despite my desire to try the best food that area (Quarry Bay) had to offer, I was doing a lot of repeat dining. And it wasn’t because I thought the restaurants I had found were the absolute best in the area, but because I really liked the people running those restaurants and wanted to support them.

So here they are, the people I’ll remember in Quarry Bay.

Mr. Chris at Yo Bago (80 Pan Hoi Street, Quarry Bay, Hong Kong; call him at 2561 7700)

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Mr. Chris grew up in Canada but moved back to his family’s home of Hong Kong a few years ago. Pulled in many directions professionally, entrepreneurship eventually called the strongest. And missing Canada, he decided to open up a bagel shop steeped in Canadiana. Allow me to draw your attention to:

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Mr. Chris told me it was rough going at first. Quarry Bay is a tough nut to crack with a tremendous number of restaurants packed into a small area and a clientele that disappears when work lets out and the office buildings nearby begin to clear out. Things were touch and go for Yo Bago until the office drones slowly began to gave this little Canadian bagel shop serving Tim Horton’s coffee a shot. And when they did, Mr. Chris won them over with his product and congeniality.

Indeed, Mr. Chris had learned my name by my second visit to his shop. I often stopped by before ten to take advantage of the breakfast special, which includes a bagel sandwich and coffee for about $3 Canadian. A hard deal to beat. But living abroad can be lonely and sometimes I just wanted to come in and chat with Mr. Chris about business, news, and reminisce about our respective times in Canada.

Rina at Q-Bay Burger (Shop 5D2, ground floor Dragon View House, 6-16 Hoi Tai Street, Quarry Bay, Hong Kong; call her at 2568 7196)

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Unlike Mr. Chris, Rina isn’t the outright owner of Q-Bay Burger. But she did develop the concept and manages the place. She also does pretty much everything else including cooking, serving and cleaning up.

Q-Bay dropped into my radar during one of my nocturnal nourishment-seeking walks. As I mentioned above, lots of Quarry Bay shuts down in the evening, as early as seven, so finding dinner could be a chore. Fortunately, Q-Bay stays open until about ten, making it a key part of my rotation.

Rina and her operation impressed me because of the quality and quantity of their output in the tiniest space that you could expect to hold a first-class burger joint. Her and “Auntie” operate out of a slim piece of real estate flanked by an electric griddle, a bit of counter space, and a fridge. This is not a job for the claustrophobic.

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Still, she serves fresh grassfed New Zealand beef along with fresh and sometimes elevated ingredients, like a truffle mayo. One night they didn’t have any sweet potato fries ready, so Auntie pulled one out of the fridge and sliced it up in front of my eyes. The inside of the fries weren’t completely cooked, but it was still a great experience.

Bandy Cheng at Kam Heung Vegetarian (hop D10 & D11, 18 Hoi Tai Street, Quarry Bay, Hong Kong; call her at 2880 0173)

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(Bandy didn’t want me to take a photo of her)

Bandy corralled me one day as I was walking by her vegetarian restaurant. It operates as both a cookery where you pick out your food and then a dining room next door with a few tables and an area where you can serve yourself all-you-can-eat soup and rice to go with the meals. I wasn’t particularly interested in vegetarian food, but I was taken by this restaurant’s charms. If you walk by in the morning you can see them cooking the food, the staff is sincere, and it’s a pretty good deal for about $5 for a sizable amount of food and unlimited rice and soup.

So there you have it.  As much as these restaurants defined my time in Quarry Bay, the people behind them left a deeper impression.  I still think about them often.

Tim Ho Wan

Eastern Promises 12: World Class Dim Sum at Tim Ho Wan with Various Parties

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Tim Ho Wan, @ 9-11 Fuk Wing Street, Sham Shui Po, Hong Kong; call them at 2788 1226

Tim Ho Wan Ext

Outside of the canteen my Chinese family took me to every morning, Tim Ho Wan is the restaurant I returned to the most in Hong Kong. Generally, I try to not repeat myself too much when it comes to food, but Tim Ho Wan is worth the exception. Tim Ho Wan’s renown comes from allegedly being the lowest priced Michelin-starred restaurant in the world. There are multiple locations around town, but my first roommate – a legitimate foodie – told me the Michelin-starred chef actually worked out of the Sham Shui Po outpost.

Tim Ho Wan spread

My first experience at Tim Ho Wan was rather early in my journey. I met Mel and her friends from Calgary down Kowloon side back when the weather was still incredibly hot and Hong Kong was still quite new to me. Right off the bat it was clear that this was no ordinary dim sum shop. All the classics were present, but executed with a degree of skill and elegance that you really see don’t outside of super expensive joints. I was most impressed by the rice noodle rolls, which were extraordinarily delicate, verging on fragile. They specialize in char siu bao and indeed, it was done to the nines with a slightly sweet exterior that quickly gave way to rich barbeque pork.

My second experience was at the North Point location and it really wasn’t as good. I got most of the same dishes but everything was a little clumsier. For example, the wrappers on the har gao were thicker. I suppose this highlights the importance of a good chef.

Finally, Mikey and I went to Tim Ho Wan before our trip to Vietnam (detailed in Chin to Chin). This was a return to the Sham Shui Po location and a good idea it was. Once again, everything was excellent. With a more adventurous eater, I got to try Tim Ho Wan’s special pork liver rice rolls. It’s clear why these are a specialty with velvety pork liver lifting up a dish that is fine with shrimp, but spectacular with pork liver.

Tim Ho Wan har gao

Overall, I struggled to think of something wrong with this place. I suppose there are some dishes that are a bit pedestrian, like the har gao and the fried half moon pork dumplings. But at the end of the day, this is excellent dim sum at about $10 a head. It’s hard to beat.

Amoo’s House of Kabob (McLean)

Amoo’s House of Kabob @ 6271 Old Dominion Drive in Maclean Virginia, call them @ (703) 448-8500. [DR Link]

Amoo’s House of Kabob embodies the notion of family. For one, it’s a true family-run enterprise with several generations working towards a common goal, driven largely by the sheer will of their brother and son. It is also an incredibly family-friendly restaurant with an approachable staff and setting.

So with only a couple of days in DC, I decided to take my dad here for his 84th birthday. Based on everything I had read, it seemed like exactly the kind of restaurant he would love – honest, but elevated cuisine, and a staff that would go the extra-mile to make him feel like a VIP. I’ve been wrong about 90% of the things I’ve done over the past year, but this wasn’t one of them. Amoo’s was the perfect restaurant this night.

Amoo's Zereshk

It’s not hard to understand why Amoo’s has racked up such impressive scores on the various social dining websites. Throughout the meal, Chef Seb and his staff made us feel completely at home. Of course, in addition to the stellar service, a great deal of thought is put into the menu. I’ve never had Persian cuisine beyond the standard kabobs, but after one meal here I was left wondering what the heck was wrong with me. And I was also wondering why the heck Chef Seb doesn’t write a cookbook because there are not many people out there doing what he is doing, and people should know about it.

Amoo's Stuffed Squash

On this night we had a stuffed acorn squash filled with gheymeh bademjan (beef, yellow split pea and eggplant stew; $18), zereshk polo with lamb ($18), and a lamb chimichurra dish ($30). There were several bright spots and not a dark one. I focused on the zereshk and it was fantastic. The lamb, impossibly tender, was deftly flavored with saffron. And I have never seen such detail paid to rice, which depending on the bite, was light, sweet and sour with just the right amount of oil. The stuffed squash was similarly complex, with the sweetness of the squash playing well the earthy split peas.

I’m greatly looking forward to returning and trying some of the combination platters to see how Amoo’s does the standards.

A lot of nice things have been said about the restaurant, Chef Seb and his staff. I wouldn’t quibble with a single one.

Chin to Chin Recap

Toronto Phodown Presents, Eastern Promises Presents: Chin to Chin
“I Have Always Felt Reinforced and Stimulated by the Temperate Climate”

Chin to Chin chronicles my explorations of Vietnam and Hong Kong with Mikey (from @ZeroWritingCredits). This is the eleventh and final part of the story.

I Have Always Felt Reinforced and Stimulated by the Temperate Climate

The above is a quote from a quote from David Landes’ The Wealth and Poverty of Nations. It always stuck with me – maybe because of the diction. Probably not for the meaning. I never really gave the latter a whole lot of thought.

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But having both lived in Hong Kong during the tail end of the summer, and experiencing several different climates as Mikey and I traveled from Hanoi’s downright chilly winter to sweaty, steamy Saigon, I think I finally got that quote’s full meaning. For those not familiar with Landes’ thesis, he uses a variety of cultural and anthropological measures to explain Western exceptionalism. My friend and erstwhile colleague Azim gave it to me, describing it as a companion piece to Guns, Germs and Steel which takes a more biological position. The quote is from one colonialist’s experience in the tropics, in particular how sapping he found the hot weather.

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I’ve always been more of a summer guy, and it gets damned hot in DC in the Summer. I’ve also been to China in the Summer and experienced some steamy weather there. But I don’t think I ever noticed just how draining continued exposure to hot and humid weather can be before living in Hong Kong. Maybe people get used to it. I never did.

It’s also a good organizational mechanism for this recap, where Mikey and I started with boundless energy in Hanoi and eventually found ourselves taking long, long air-con breaks in HCMC.

I never really described it in earnest, but the trip started in Hong Kong, where Mikey and I luxuriated for about a day and half. Most of the ground has been covered elsewhere in the blog as we dined mostly on dim sum and cha chaan teng.

From there we spent a few days in Hanoi, where we tried desperately to make the most of every moment. It’s where I have the fondest memories and a place I would truly like to return. The old town is a very walkable area, a place where it’s easy to get lost but not entirely unpleasant when that occurs. It’s also where I had the most memorable pho experience of my life. Ha Long bay was breathtaking at times, but it’s hard to not wish we had been there in the summer, when chilly moments in the boat would likely be replaced with splashing in the sea.

From the North, we took a train down to De Nang. Mikey would probably want a redo on this one (he got sick on the train), but I loved it. Rushing through narrow passages in cities and innumerable rice paddies, the train trip made me feel more connected to the people and places of Vietnam than any other mode of travel.

I think we’d both count our first night in De Nang as the most memorable, mainly for the adorable little girl who brought us beer she bought at a local convenience store. We’d also both count touristy De Nang as a low point, both for narrowly making it out of there and for the lack of authentic food.

Finally, Saigon was as fast-paced, gritty and sweaty as we imagined. Still it was home to one of the best phos of my life, and for that I will always have fond memories.

As with any good trip, it wasn’t just the places we saw and foods we ate, but the people we met. Jonnie was an excellent tour guide in Ha Long Bay and I still think about him frequently. There was something his story about going to university, finishing early and his very strong pride in his work that makes him a memorable character. I’ll also never forget him breaking into song several times during the tour. Mr. Henry and Mr. David, two other travelers in Ha Long Bay also made a strong impression both for their long history of traveling and strong sense of camaraderie.

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Annie, the (male) owner of the Pink Tulip, was also quite a character. We had read quite a bit about him as he replies to EVERY Trip Advisor review. This actually attracted us a great deal to the hotel as it was clear he cared a great deal about his business. It was also hard not to chuckle at the testy back-and-forths between him and guests with very innocuous complaints. A theme was guests’ discomfort with pushy massage salesmen working out of the hotel. Annie was adamant that the two businesses were separate but just shared space in the lobby. But in our experience this was a tenuous distinction as the night worker at the hotel also worked at the massage parlor during the day. Oh well.

Finally, there was Mr. Tong at the Royal Palace Hotel in Hanoi. While a smidge pushier than the staffers at the Pink Tulip, Mr. Tong was incredibly helpful and seemingly quite concerned that we left with a good impression of Hanoi.

Despite being exhausted by the end of the trip, Chin to Chin in Vietnam proved a transformative experience and one I hope to repeat one day.

Happy New Year from your Friends at Toronto Phodown

Eastern Promises

It’s truly been one hell of a year here at Toronto Phodown.

I suppose I’ve always been a glutton for progress, and 2013 certainly improved dramatically as it went along. The progress can be seen in the 100 Dates of Summer series (which will soon wrap up – I promise!), which began after a long, trying Winter and evinces both a culinary and metaphysical transformation.

It can be seen in Eastern Promises, where for the first time in my life I lived outside of North America in a country where English was not the dominant language. I still have very nostalgic and emotionally evocative memories about long MTR rides home after a big exam in Central Hong Kong, many beers, and a bowl of spicy soup with new friends in Wan Chai. Times when every worry I had about work, school, and Toronto couldn’t farther from my mind.

And it can be seen in Chin to Chin, where my brother and I cut a swath through Vietnam, and where I consumed the best pho I’ve ever had. 2013 was a year of many firsts, many high highs and low lows, a time when I figured a lot of stuff out, and of the 32 I’ve seen, one of the most memorable.

To 2014.