Tuesday, February 21, 2012

四訪 知味館 - Yum's Bistro - Fremont, CA (USA) - I Just Can't Get Enough...I Just Can't Get Enough

"When I'm in here baby, I go outta my head....I Just Can't Get Enough....I Just Can't Get Enough."

It feels like I'm running out of material, which in some cases is true. But one thing I extremely enjoy about Yum's Bistro 知味館 in Fremont, is that there is always a surprise in virtually every visit, big or small. Sometimes you have to make that surprise happen yourself, and take the reins of a wild horse, and see what path you venture down with it.

It pains me sometimes to read the food adventures of many of my favorite Hong Kong based bloggers (I love you guys, your writeups, and pictures to bits) but as an expat living on the other side of the globe, that good stuff, particularly classical style Cantonese food, is so far out of reach.  Sometimes I couldn't be half arsed to settle for pricey pretentious crap at an overated high end seafood restaurant. Other times, there are just not enough people to partake. But more importantly, quality and traditional original taste are generally missing, let alone not authentic.

But the chef owner here, man.... this guy that I've come to refer to him personally as 旋哥, who was a retired chef before he decided to get back in the kitchen to run his own restaurant, not only delivers in quality at a very affordable price, but he also knows the traditional flavors of Hong Kong, and is probably the best chef of his genre in the entire SF Bay Area.

It is also no secret that he has already amassed a loyal cult following from expats who know how to navigate the waters in the Bistro, but yet you will rarely find detailed writeups, blogs, or reviews of some of his best dishes.

On a cold winter night in December 2011, a few of us came in. Pre-ordered a few dishes, and we just let the evening run its course.

Chef owner gave us this free on the house, roasted squab 乳鴿

The skin was softer this time round, tasted less greasy, more marinated. No salt pepper dip, but overall very satisfying. I even ate the entire head which I normally don't do...and it was actually quite juicy!

Yes, we should not even compare this with Shatin, let alone most places in Hong Kong, but this is already miles better than anything else.

This is what happens when you let the chef be creative - HK style won ton claypot chicken soup

This is a typical Shanghainese claypot soup that you could easily find in many non Cantonese Chinese restaurants in Hong Kong. Typically a whole mature chicken is stewed in a claypot for hours (with pork won tons, maybe napa cabbage and Jinghua ham). Chef Yum basically took this dish and gave it a more Cantonese approach....using fresh wontons he made himself (excellent pork to shrimp ratio), mature chicken, and the American Jinghua ham substitute, smoked Virginia ham, and napa cabbage. While not tasting the same, it was pure natural deliciousness. You could virtually taste all the ingredients, and was extremely comforting on a cold night. 

Even crazier is that this is the absolute best won ton I've had in town. Beautiful bite sized, form fitting, and additional skin slack. American comfort soup is chicken noodle soup. But Cantonese comfort soup that is chicken based, would be something like this.

I could use 30 more of these things

I unfortunately did not get a chance to find out what kind of fish was used for this steamed fish dish, but it looked way better than it tasted. Some parts were a bit chewier and dryer than others. Sad to see one inconsistent dish. Unfortunately it is not easy to get interesting exotic fish most of the time, unlike Hong Kong where there are hundreds if not thousands of varieties, if you include boney ocean wild fish, and ones swimming off the South China sea. What Cantonese Chinese restaurants in SF Bay Area refer to as "mouse grouper" (humpback grouper) 老鼠斑 is not equivalent to the rare prized humpback grouper in HK. Sigh.

This is not on the menu - 糯米

Again I have to thank all my favorite Hong Kong bloggers. You guys eat like Roman emperors. Some of your eating adventures (particularly around crab) remind me of something I've craved for years, but haven't had a chance to eat again locally, as my lack of faith in many seafood restaurants make me worry that they cannot execute a traditional receipe like this. And what better than 糯米蟹 (crab steamed with glutinous rice), which is another perfect dish for the winter, on top of Chef Yum's expertise with crab and lobster dishes. Nothing beats quality seasonal local dungeoness crab being used in this traditional receipe. One can only have so many spicy crabs, typhoon shelter crabs, salt pepper crabs, or even salted egg yolk crabs.

Easily the best dish of the whole evening. Simple yet it felt luxurious. There's nothing sexier than crab juices and essence dripping down into the perfectly made glutinous stir fried rice (that is rich with flavor and ingredients). 

Never have I seen so much care and attention in a glutinous rice prep with steamed crab! Chef Yum went entirely old school on this one. 米 (dried shrimp, and BIG long ones too) and 魚乾 which are similar to dried anchovies, really brought out the flavor. Every glutinous rice grain was moist and more importantly 上色. Ridiculously good...

Chef Yum told us, "there's one more dish to come!". It was a surprise. Well not really, because he knows we like it.  Beef brisket curry claypot 咖哩牛腩煲. It tastes way better than it looks. Less coconut milk presence, and chef uses a blend of Indian and Indonesian curry and spices to create this. The addition of potatoes is vital to the outcome, and are not to be missed. Already full with glutinous rice from the previous dish, getting additional bowls of white rice was compulsory, especially when the sauce was not to be wasted. The second highlight of the contents was not the soft tender brisket, but the beef tendons.

And just when we thought the surprise was over, the complementary house dessert closed out the symphonic performance.


I don't know too much about Cantonese stewed dessert soups, but using BURDOCK/GOBO 牛蒡 in one is new to me!

Naturally sweet and a delicious combination. After having so many taro sago or red bean dessert soups, this was a breath of fresh air. 牛蒡 (burdock), 紅棗 (dried red dates), 雪耳 (snow ear funghi), 枸杞 (wolfberry). A simple game of classical genius!

Until next time...

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