Tuesday, January 3, 2012

三訪 知味館 Yum's Bistro (part trois) Fremont, CA (USA) - what do turtles, snakes, and lamb have in common?

Get ready for another exclusive magic show

Wa! Dai Lo, back so soon?

Why yes, why not? :-)  After all, it is not like there are a lot of good solid traditional and old style authentic, non Americanized Cantonese places around. And plus this is not Hong Kong where you have a gazillion selections of really top notch food establishments...you take what you can get, but you don't want to settle for less. And with that in mind, it is not difficult to find Cantonese customers in here, some who travel across the bay, upwards of 45 minutes, just to have some of the best food in town.

We don't have Tak Lung or Luk Yu (both spectacular restaurants that preserve classical Cantonese cuisine) in the USA. But I will gladly settle for Yum's Bistro.

Let's get a few things in order first....this restaurant is quite small. It can hold maybe 4 to 5 medium sized to large tables (maybe 3 to 4 tables of ten maximum) and then roughly a handful of 5 tables that seat at most four per, and a few that seat only two. There is a small seafood tank with mostly crabs, a few lobsters, and perhaps a fish or two....and the kitchen is perhaps even smaller in scale, no more than 2 to 4 burners on the stove, one assistant in the kitchen, and the master chef Boson Yum 任旋 does the rest.

Such a small output, yet some of the best food in town comes out from his kitchen. How does he do that?

With that said, you could be looking at a minimum of two hours for dinner, and you need to set your expectations accordingly. If you want speed and efficiency, there are a few HK cafes 茶餐廳 within 20 minutes drive that will satisfy your food booty call. Good things come to those who wait patiently!

And bring at least 4 people or more, this is the only downside and rule to being able to sample as many dishes as possible. Much like a game of mahjong, 三缺一 or "three players, missing one", but here it's the reality is at least one more player is required. In addition to being able to sample more delicious food, sharing the taste and delight of good food (with family and friends) is an imperative experience.

Yes Master Yum in short is perhaps the local God of Stir Fry 鑊氣廚神 and a serious expert with seafood and classical receipes. In addition to various gigs as executive chef across a number of famous local high end seafood restaurants (as well as chef gigs in Chinese restaurants in Japan and Indonesia), his earliest humble beginnings include a chef gig at a place called 小欖公 in Hong Kong (not sure if it was an association or club) possibly during the late 1970s, and it was a place specializing in 鄉土菜 (rustic/village style cuisine). Bold, up to date, yet classical traditional? It's all there.

Menu? We don't need no stinkin' menu! But they recently revised it. And it is prettier and a lot more western friendly now. At least read it first :-)

How about the white board? Slightly new additions for November, including the seasonal old style lamb brisket claypot 古法羊腩煲, perfect for winter time.
The chef's recommended specials page on the menu, no pre-order required. This is for people who are new to the restaurant and are not afraid to be a little more adventurous.

The "soy sauce king" lobster is another not to be missed item. Chef Yum kicks so much ass with his wok! Hmmm Pan fried oysters with Hairy Melon...doesn't sound very appetizing, but this should be good considering oyster omlette/pancakes that are not Taiwanese are hard to find around here.

Hmmm typhoon shelter style fried intestines? I thought typhoon shelter was based on seafood themed items? Here you also see Deep Fried salted egg yolk pumpkin (kabocha) slices, another dish Hakka Restaurant in San Francisco made famous (chef Li and chef Yum used to work together at 南海魚村 in SF!). Sour plum pork knuckle pot is another tasty dish.

Deep fried baby squab (even though Chinese characters say roasted) 紅燒乳鴿 is excellent here, where chef Yum pretty much recreates that 1980s Hong Kong flavor (Shatin to be exact), nobody in SF Bay Area does squab better than Yum's.

Still can't decide? Or don't want to be bothered with choices and just eat? Have a group of at least 4 ready to mahjong the food away? Then the various banquet set menus will handle your worries. Reservations and pre-ordering in advance required of course.

YAWN, you didn't come here to read this standard stuff did you? Certainly not the chef's top A+ game.

I'm sure you didn't come here to read my review of their Yangzhou Fried Rice (which I'm sure is great with lots of wok hay), or that their XO sauce seafood ho fun noodles is spectacular, or that the sweet and sour pork will send you home oinking like the proverbial slob. But I will say that his vegetarian thick noodles 羅漢齋撈粗麵 is excellent, even better than Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club's version in the 1980s.

For those who want a taste of the VIP stuff in subsequent visits, but don't know enough Cantonese or Hong Kong food knowledge, can find new thrills with the updated menu, which will enable and empower you further!

Find this page of the menu:

Here's a modest start, some classic soups and dishes for pre-order so you can feel like you're eating at a private kitchen!

This page was previously an inkjet printout only in Chinese....now translated in English with clear prices and part of the menu. I'm confident these are all really good (particularly duck gizzard with watercress and dried scallop chicken soup). Now if this is your first time pre-ordering dishes, I suggest you start here. One soup, one specialty bird (chicken or duck).Yum's crispy skin sticky rice stuffed chicken 脆皮糯米雞 was covered previously here, but if you have not eaten it yet, it is an excellent introduction to classic retro-Cantonese. Allow at least 2 days or more in advance so the chef can prepare the feast for you. While Yum's version should not be compared to Luk Yu Tea House in Hong Kong, you will likely not find a better version elsewhere in California.

Now turn to the back page of the menu for the true private kitchen style food (pre-order + reservation required, again, allow a few days) that can be a lot harder to find elsewhere (and if you do, likely lesser quality and way more expensive).

Master Yum essentially took a set of dishes he felt best represented the private kitchen experience, compiled them into an easy ordering format on the menu (many put together based on dishes he made for his regular customers), and is now making them a whole lot easier for others who are ready to take dinners to the next level, and thus eat like royalty without having to fly back to Hong Kong. There is no pretentiousness or snobbery here, just solid good food, at an affordable price. Just bear in mind that pacing can be slow, so budget 2 to 2.5 hours for dinner at the very least. Take the time to enjoy, because good things come to those who wait.

We've seen some of these dishes before here, like 賽螃蟹 (crab meat with egg white) that Koi Palace in Daly City also has (but probably way more expensive).

I really didn't know what to expect this cold winter night, since a close relative had already pre-ordered the entire menu. And he let the chef decide. Cantonese omakase?

Unfortunately some of the handwriting to me was not quite legible, so we'll do the best we can!
A few items were changed last minute, such as the black pepper spicy crab, and the stir fried glutinous rice

Leave it to the Master chef to come up with something so out of the box like this!

The first dish is basically the roasted (re: deep fried) squab meat wrapped with spring roll and deep fried. There also also pieces of the wings and the thighs (as well as the head). This is a slight variation of his "paper wrapped" squab (紙包鴿) but instead of that approach he's using spring rolls (乳鴿春卷). His house made XO sauce was offered that we used for dipping, which was the perfect companion. An excellent starter to a taste of the private kitchen style dining.

House made XO sauce 自家製 XO醬. This man should sell jars of them!!

 Next up, special snake soup (Tai Shi Snake Broth With Fish Maw 花膠太史蛇羹)

 Crunchy bits and condiments for the snake broth

Who would have thought that there would be delicious snake soup in California USA?!

Relax folks, there is nothing scary about snake soup. It tastes more like....chicken! Well not really, it is closer to the smoothness and texture of eel. There is quite a bit of material in here, although let's not compare this with Hong Kong. The snake is not fresh meat, but frozen from Texas (rattlesnake variety), but prepared with a very high level of care. Mushrooms, fish maw, snake, chicken slivers, and a very strong dried citrus peel 陳皮 presence that gave the soup its needed boost. As it was quite cold outside, a few sips of this soup really warmed us up very quickly. This is an excellent example of replicating an old world receipe, using new world ingredients (well frozen snake isn't exactly at the top of the list....but it worked!) .

For those interested Tai Shi Snake Broth With Fish Maw 花膠太史蛇羹, is now offered as nightly seasonal item. It works out to be a little over US$9 per person....cheaper per person if you get a larger sized portion that will feed 6 or more people. I dare anyone to find me a restaurant in California (or USA for that matter) that is doing something like this. Koi Palace? Forget about it.

 Collard green with geoduck (蘭度如意炒象拔蚌)

This is actually a variation of the private kitchen menu item (collard green with lobster). Except it's not collard green, but gai lan 芥蘭 / Chinese brocoli, and geoduck 象拔蚌 is used in place of lobster. Crunchy veg, light crispy clam with real good flavor, and woodear 木耳, combined with the skills of the stir fry god, and this dish was just screaming of pure enjoyment.

The stir fry god spread his powerful heat everywhere, sealing in flavor. So tasty.

雀肉多士拼煙肉象拔蚌 (squab toast and bacon wrapped geoduck)

Whoa! More fried goodies! The chef was actually not done with the previous squab course, and decided to play some more. The five pieces near the center are fried white bread toast with minced squab meat (like a paste), emulating Cantonese style shrimp toast 蝦多士. The deep fried goodies at the end, I believe were made with the ribbons and other portions of the geoduck clam that were not used in the previous dish, wrapped with bacon and deep fried. Crazy delicious! There you have it...creativity of using everything. And I wasn't done with hand clapping yet!

The next dish kind of stopped my hand from clapping, but only because it was too weird for me....but it was actually quite good if you don't think about it.

(old style stewed Wattle necked soft shelled turtle claypot with large pea sprouts)

Totally unexpected. I've had turtle before in Hong Kong but was scarred as a kid. However I must say Yum's preparation was true to form. The stewed sauces had a lot of depth and flavor, and the fatty gelatinous parts were wonderful....almost like a great pork belly, or pig feet (skin part).

This is the best part of the turtle, very gelatinous.

Master Yum took it a step further, and did a side plain stir fry of large pea sprouts 大豆苗. The idea was to use these leafy greens to dip into the sauces, then consume with rice. Absolutely delightful (just don't think about the ol' turtle there).

The finishing starch: dried scallops salted fish egg white fried rice

The usual classic for dessert, egg white and almond soup 杏汁蛋白露

Oh yes... what do turtles, lamb, and snakes have in common? They are great winter food items!

Thank you again Master Yum, t'was a fantastic feast of epic proportions.

Yum's Bistro 知味館
4906 Paseo Padre Pkwy
(between Capulet Rd & Deep Creek Rd)
Fremont, CA 94555
Tel: (510)-745-8866

1 comment:

  1. excellent post. i've got to try that meal sometime.