Soup Dumpling Tour of 2012

When Westword (local indie newspaper) does its “Best of” list, of course I go and look at the food suggestions. This year, the award for best Soup Dumplings went to a new place, so of course I had to go check it out. My friend Erin is always up for soup dumplings, and was especially up for two different kinds in one day, so off we went.

Now, if you haven’t been lucky enough to live somewhere with a large enough population that they have specialized enough Asian restaurants to have soup dumplings, I am so sorry. You need to try them sometime….They are not like the dumplings I grew up with – these are like a wonton wrapper wrapped around a meaty filling. Soup dumplings are even more special in that they also have broth in with the meaty filling. These are obviously tricky to make and tricky to cook and deliver to the table so the broth stays in the dumpling and is nice and hot.

Of course we started out with a misadventure, because we went to the wrong place first. Erin had pointed out that one place opened at 10 and the other at 11, and I didn’t pay attention to which was which, and went to the wrong one first. Oh well, we had plenty of time. So we found our way across town to Tao Tao Noodle Bar in Aurora for their soup dumplings of “xiao long bao” as they are called. They do not have their menu on their website, and I forgot to take a picture of it. (more pictures and another review from Westword here)

We had the Dan Dan noodles as an appetizer – they were excellent, with their topping of chopped peanuts and some bok choy, mmmmm. Very spicy.

It was a good thing the Dan Dan noodles were excellent because the soup dumplings were kind of disappointing. They didn’t seem to have much broth in them to start with, and then didn’t have the structural integrity to keep what they did have when you picked them up with chopsticks.

The bottoms of them stuck to that paper liner, some of them held together but some of them left their bottom behind. Even the ground pork filling didn’t fully stick together. They were tasty, but they were not ideal xiao long bao.

We had no problem finishing them, though. I definitely want to go back and sample many of their other menu items, I wish they weren’t so far away.

We got to talking about Art-O-Mat (more on that tomorrow), and stops we were planning on making on the way to the next place (more on that tomorrow) and made our way to our “in-between” stops with minor difficulties in getting lost and cursing the map.

We made our way to Lao Wang Noodle House which was Westword’s Best Soup Dumpling for 2011. According to Erin and me, it is still the best. I had been here before, but by myself. Having another person along allows you to order more and try more different things! :  ) (Denver Post story from 2009)  – they don’t have a website at all!

The place was packed. I think it only probably seats about 24 people, and the tables were all full, and there was a party of 5 in front of us. Pretty soon a big party cleared out, and the party of 5 took their table, and the elderly proprietor found Erin and I two chairs for the empty table near the door. It is just an older gentleman and his wife, running the place on their own, so they do their best to get you seated and set up with utensils, water, etc., but you might have to wait a bit while they bring out another order of soup dumplings to the table next to you. Dumplings seem to be the order of the day there, from the soup dumplings to the pan fried dumplings, which we did not have, but saw several other tables enjoying.

We were hungry again after our adventures en route and decided to start with the wontons in spicy peanut sauce, these were also good. Next time I want to try the beef soup and the szechuan cabbage (AND the soup dumplings of course….)The sauce wasn’t very peanutty, except that it had ground peanuts in it, but no peanut butter. And nicely spicy.

Mmmmm, chili oil.

And then it was time for the soup dumplings. Lao Wang also has more of an assortment of condiments on the table for you to mix up your own dipping sauce. Chili paste, sesame oil, white vinegar, and soy sauce. I, of course, threw in a little of everything.

Smaller, but more of them. Also, they did not stick to this paper. The structural integrity remained just fine on ALL of these.

Mmmmm, now that I have everyone hungry, and I am hungry myself, I will tell you that tomorrow there will be MORE! FOOD! PICTURES! How surprising! I hope you enjoyed the soup dumpling tour of 2012. If we find some more soup dumplings in the Denver area, we will be glad to make the sacrifice and try them for the good of mankind.

2010 Thanksgiving San Francisco Trip Report Part 4

Links to all of the trip reports from this trip:

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

Sunday: I was up at 7:00, why oh why oh why. But then I decided to use the time to write up this trip journal, so that was OK. We will have fun looking back and reading this.  Cinnamon rolls for breakfast (family tradition). Nick started out the day by getting the left turn blinker fixed.  Then after much debate about which direction we should start our circular tour in, we were off to the Embarcadero, Pier 39, and Fisherman’s Wharf.  When we got a few miles down the road, I discovered I didn’t have my  Bruce the Shark finger puppet, even though I had talked about him and carried on about how I was bringing him and how he wanted to see the Pier. Nick was not willing to turn around and go home and get Bruce, go figure. I thought I must have dropped him when I went into our room to get my chapstick or something. If I dropped him in the living room, the cats were going to have something to amuse themselves with all day.

Parked at about Pier 5, so we then walked backwards along our planned loop to the Ferry Building which has little shops, mostly food or food related.

I got a Macaron (because we don’t seem to have any little bakeries that make those in Denver) and then came to Nirvana – Boccalone! I have seen this place on some Food Network show, just can’t remember which one. Anyway, they have a paper cone that they fill with “Tasty Salted Pig Parts” and it is fairly amazing.

I quickly grabbed one and we all shared the bits of meat, nothing big, just a good appetizer for the day.

I can’t believe that this place is the only location and we just stumbled across it. Was verrry tempted by their T-shirts. Bought some local olive oil as a “souvenir” – I like souvenirs that are either edible and then they are gone so you don’t have to dust later, or wearable. Was sorely tempted by another t-shirt at another meat shop that said “Praise the Lard” and had a picture of a pig.

Then we wandered down the Embarcadero, past all of the piers, most of the piers still have boats of some sort stopping at them, not as much for shipping things as in the past, but there are a few that have warehouses still, and of course various tourist boats that will take you out to the Golden Gate bridge and/or Alcatraz. We didn’t manage to have time for that. We hit Pier 23, both the pier and the restaurant of that name that Guy Fieri has visited, April and Nick say this is a big biker bar in the summer. Decided I wanted to save my lunch calories for crab, etc., later on down the Pier. Then to Pier 39 (there are a lot of piers, but they are not really that far apart, so the walk isn’t that bad.)

We started encountering street performers at this point: guys who do paintings with spray paint, and various shields and scrapers – the first one we saw was not using any sort of breathing filtration, I can’t imagine that is very good for you, with all the fumes. Various musicians, including on of the worst ones I have ever heard – he was singing in one “non-key” and playing guitar in a different “non-key”, he also had a harmonica holder, I kind of wanted to hear him fire up the harmonica and hear how he didn’t play that in any sort of normal fashion. Then there is a guy called Bushman, who essentially has two handfulls of bushy twigs taht are pretty tall, he crouches next to something so he looks like a bush, and then he jumps up and scares you. He got April pretty good because she was walking next to that side of the sidewalk. Does he expect to get tips for that???? Odd. And then guys who were being statues, all spray painted gold or silver. We did not take advantage of the opportunity to purchase churros from a vendor, they looked good though.

Then Pier 39 is where the sea lions hang out, and where there are a bunch of tourist shops. And – MINI-Donuts! Well, you don’t get to eat mini-donuts every day, so we had to have some of those. Mmmmmmmmm. Greasy burning hot goodness. It is sad, some of these shops make the stuff like corn dogs and even funnel cakes in advance, so they sit around and get non-crispy. That is the POINT of this stuff, people. Anyway, the mini donuts were nice and fresh.

And then we sat and watched the sea lions for a while. They weren’t very active but it was relaxing to watch them lollygag in the sun and relax, so we could relax for a bit. Walking on the pavement is harder than walking on beaches. The highlight of the sea lion watching was when a little kid swiped my soda. I turned around to look for it, and his mom saw him about the same time I did. “Reuben, that’s not yours!” That was rather amusing. He didn’t into it, although just about, I am sure diet is not his preference anyway. There were not that many sea lions, April and Nick say in the summer there are many more, and they were being quiet. There was a little boy there making sea lion noises at them, but he wasn’t being really loud about it. Ken knew that I could do REALLY LOUD sea lion noises, but I wasn'[t willing to do it unless people would give me tips like the street performers. Plus I thought the wildlife preservation guy who was running around there might give me a lecture for bothering the sea lions.

Walked back around the tourist shops, purchasing a Golden Gate bridge magnet, and an accordian magnet for my mom, and finding a place that was going out of busines, and getting a half price sweatshirt. Then we headed for the Fisherman’s Wharf area.

One of the big things is the Boudin Bakery (now, Boudin is a spicy Cajun sausage with rice, and I didn’t see any of that around, so that was disappointing) but they are famous for their sourdough and sourdough bread bowls. They have a big window where you can watch their bakers, and sometimes they are making the bread loaves into animal shapes, well they weren’t doing that while we were there, they were makingh jalapeno cheddar bread, that looked pretty darn good to me, I may have to try to make some of that. We went through the quick bakery line and April had a grilled cheese sandwich, Nick had  a bread bowl with clam chowder, Kenny had a sourdough pepperoni pizza, and I had clam chowder in the bread bowl. The bread bowl was great but that clam chowder had about half a clam in it, if that. April and I looked around the store a little bit before we all ventured outside to the super scary public bathrooms. They were not nearly as bad as the one at Golden Gate park.

Next: Museum Mechanique- this is a collection of old-time arcade machines, some of them REALLY old – the man who collects them had been doing it for a long time. There are several have little vignettes of things like hangings and guillitines, many music boxes of various types, and some actual games – Nick did the boxing game, where you have to give the punching bag your hardest punch. He was trying for the longest time to figure out how to get the punching bag to come down on it after you put the money in, when April pointed out the “Start” button is up above your head, and he pushed it, and pretty much got hit in the face by the punching bag coming down, so that machine CAN fight back. We spent some time wandering around looking at all of the old gadgets, and then crammed all 4 of us into one of the photo booths for a picture strip, which turned out greatly entertaining, of course.

Before we left the Fisherman’s Wharf area, I wanted to have crab and Nick wanted to have crab, so we found what we thought would be the best place, that Nick had scoped out earlier.

They have crabs there ready to go, steamed already, and  when you order one, they re-heat it by plunging it in and out of the boiling water bath, and they make all the cracks for you, so you don’t have to deal with crab crackers, and the meat is easy to get to.

April and I wait for the crab.

Look at the cute crab!

Look at the delicious crab!

See the aftermath!

We all shared it, figuring that was a good way to do it without getting too full of crab. Kenny even tried a couple of little pieces, declaring that it was “Ok.” Of course you end up with crab under your fingernails, and then you think about all of those machines you touched at the Museum Mechanique, and how you are now eating with your hands…….but it was delicious nonetheless. Need to remember the packet of hand sanitizer wipes next time. There were plenty of little shops all along here but I had my magnet and my sweatshirt so I was quite happy with those as souvenirs.

The shark was, unfortunately, not for sale. This is one of my favorite pictures of me EVER.

So then we trekked up the hill to Ghiriradelli chocolate factory. They have quite a complex there – but apparently no factory tours yet. In one of their shops they are usually handing out samples of their chocolate squares – April and I got ones that were Peppermint Bark on top, chocolate on the bottom, those were good. Then to the Soda Fountain- we decided to share again so we could have ice cream but not totally fill up (not that we weren’t still moderately full from lunch and then from crab….) so we had a Cable Car Sundae, which had chocolate ice cream, Rocky Road ice cream, and chocolate chip ice cream, marshmallow sauce, hot fudge sauce, caramel sauce, and whipped cream, oh my was that good.

Then back down the hill to the line for the cable car. We had to ride on the cable car if we were in San Francisco. The line was HUGE, and there was a street musician standing there “entertaining” all of us while we waited. He had an electric guitar, speaker, and microphone all set up. He was not really greeted by much more than apathy from the crowd. Perhaps because he had some serious pitch issues and also pretty much sang every song at the same tempo, which was basically too fast. I was trying to make some money on my own by seeing how much $$ April, Nick or Ken would give me if I caught one of the many pigeons that were wandering around, but they weren’t going for it. I told them that would be real performance art….We were near a swimming club, and there were people out in the ocean swimming, which is just insane, because it was COLD – April and Nick say it never does get super hot here in the summer, so it isn’t really a beachy place.  But then again it doesn’t get super cold in the winter, which is a good thing, because there are all these incredibly steep hills, and there is no way you could drive on them with snow.

So we (eventually) rode the cable car up the steep hills and past Lombard street again, and hopped off in Chinatown. I was hoping to find a glow in the dark Buddha to go along with my glow in the dark Lady of Guadalupe but apparently glow in the dark Buddhas are not an item that is in big demand. Will have to search the internets. Wandered around the many mysterious food shops, which were doing quite a good business in various produce and fresh fish, etc. Walked back down Broadway and we had made a big circle for the day and were back to our car.

Headed back to Nick and April’s and sprawled on the couches while we debated going out for Chinese or eating Thanksgiving leftovers. I decided I was in the mood for Chinese food since we were just in Chinatown, so we did that (Kirin’s, in Berkeley) – had the most amazing jasmine tea I have ever had, and excellent wonton soup- usually wonton is in a clear broth, and this was in a really rich beefy broth, it was incredible. Then they promptly brought our orders, but totally NOT what I had ordered, so after I dug in, I was like – hmmm, this does not seem to be soup, it does have noodles, but no scallops, oysters or shrimp….so that was switched and then I had a huge bowl of soup in about 5 minutes – of course, waaaay too huge for me to finish at that point, but all the seafood was tasty and the scallops were incredible.  Ken had broccoli beef, Nick had red pepper chicken which was very tasty, and April had Cashew mushroom chicken.  It was all good but I would most recommend the wonton soup.

Then we came home and played progressive rummy – this does take a while to get all of the rounds in, so it was kind of like playing drunk by the later hands….I was getting a little loopy and tired. And April pretty much whipped us all soundly in that, I ended up with the high score (I think this is two games in a row where that has happened now) and I was ready for bed after that.

We all spent a significant amount of time looking for Bruce the shark, everywhere the cats hide their toys, under the bed, in the refrigerator, in the garbage, on the lawn, etc., but he has not been found. I am hoping he comes to light when we pack.

What would really be handy for visitors would be a website “Clean Public Bathrooms of San Francisco.” (tasty meat cones)

San Francisco Thanksgiving 2010 Trip Report Part 3

Links to all of the trip reports from this trip:

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

Saturday: As I got up and staggered around the house, I could see that this was not going to be a clear sunny day…clouds and rain. The boys had a small project to take care of before we left the house, replacing the headlight and blinker bulb in Nick’s car. Ken had sounded just like his dad the day before, “You know, you need to get that replaced.” So they tried, but there is still a problem with the bulb for the blinker, so that one is still not fixed. We discussed our options for indoor activities. I had no idea that San Jose wasn’t really that far away and that is where the Winchester Mystery House is located. This is another location in my book that I have wanted to visit for a looooong time. April thought it sounded cool and the boys were willing if not thrilled.

We didn’t really have firm plans for lunch, and it occurred to me on the way down to San Jose that WE ARE IN CALIFORNIA, WE CAN GO TO IN AND OUT BURGER! I had never been before but it is kind of one of those things that you have to do at least once. So with the help of Nick’s iPhone, we figured out where one was and that was where we ate. Of course, I had my burger Animal Style and my fries Animal Style and everyone else just had normal food, but it was pretty good. Next time I would get more beef patties because the meat kind of gets lost in the bun/tomato/lettuce ratio. Then we had to find a gas station and fill up the car with the overprices San Francisco gas – $3.19. Yow. (This was written in 2010 when I had not yet paid $3.50 and up for gas in Colorado.)

The Winchester house was built by Sarah Winchester, who was the widow of one of the Winchesters who made all the guns. After her infant daughter and husband died, she went to a psychic who said to appease all the ghosts of all the people that had been killed by Winchester guns, she needed to build a house that would never be finished. She had a fortune of 20 million dollars, and she went to town. In 1884 she purchased an 8 room farmhouse 3 miles west of San Jose and for the next 38 years, the building never stopped, with carpenters working 24 hours a day. The mansion eventually grew to 160 rooms. Now, if this were a mansion that a rock star were building today, it would cover city blocks, but this place is really relatively small. The rooms are not giant. The whole house covers about six acres.  Now, from the book I read, I thought this was kind of an isolated place, but it is right in the middle of San Jose, with streets and a movie theatre right next door. They still have preserved a large part of the grounds, but not miles and miles. They were pretty busy, people getting away from the rain maybe, and out of town T-giving guests? We bought our tour tickets, decided to go for the basic tour plus the “behind the scenes” tour, and then perused the gift shop until it was time for the tour.  Let me tell you, their tour guides are a little more rehearsed than we used to be working at Rushmore Cave during the summer. I think they have a script that they pretty much stick to. They do not emphasize the ghostly spiritual angle much. But it is quite a tour around switchback staircases, narrow halls, windows in the floor, elegant bedrooms, some of the earliest elevators, stairways that end at the ceiling, doors that open onto a large drop, etc. The tour groups aren’t too large so you kind of stay together and you can hear the guide well. THEN we went on the behind the scenes tour. Our tour guide for that part was studying for a future career in used car commercial announcing. She really needed to work on appearing to have a natural style at least. It was interesting to traipse around the grounds, tho, and see the grapefruit tree and yew tree that are original plantings, and then go into some of the more unfinished rooms and into the basement (hard hat required, Ken bonked his tall head a couple of times on the pipes) so we were glad we did that. And then we were about toured out.  We had to get our traditional souvenir of a magnet, and of course the book.
Got in the car, the rain had settled down, and drove back north toward Richmond/Berkeley.

Next stop: IKEA!!!! We are getting one in Denver next fall but I wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity to get an idea what they might be like. Ken’s idea was that we were just going to make a “quick visit” there but from my reading about IKEAs, I was pretty sure that was not even possible. Those stores are just huge and take a long time to wander through. I restrained myself to only buying finger puppets (there was a shark one in the assortment, I HAD to). If there was one of these close to us, I would go just for the food and the toys, never mind everything else. Plus, they had a large bin of wind up kitchen timers, and you know what I had to do with them. I hope the people shopping the rest of the night enjoyed them going off randomly.
Dinner tonight: Spengers Seafood Grotto. They have well-known cioppino, and that was one of my foods I wanted to eat in SF. I had the cioppino, april had mac and cheese with andouille sausage and shrimp, Nick had the stuffed salmon, and Kenny had the fish and chips. Little oddities:  the crab fork I originally received had one of the tines bent at almost a 45 degree angle. We were pretty sure that was NOT the way it was supposed to be. Then April got her mac and cheese, and it had chicken chunks instead of Andouille, we told the waitress about that but never got an explanation. She was still happy with it. They were busy, probably had run out. I had creme brulee for dessert, and Nick and April had the pumpkin pie. Kenny tried the creme brulee, and decided that hey, creme brulee is pretty good. Well, there goes me having that dessert all to myself. On the other hand, he might let me get a torch now, to make my own. “Under close supervision” he says. Hmmm, just because of a few minor oven fires and that one burned up toaster oven, he is hyper cautious. Excellent dinner all around, but I did decide that I prefer squid in my cioppino over crawfish.

Then we came home and I talked everyone into playing Trivial Pursuit and a Christmas/Birthday gift to me. They were more willing when I said it could be all of them against me.  Nick and April have the 20th anniversary edition, I think those questions are on average a little difficult, because they center on the 20 years of 1991-2001 that the game has been in existence, so there aren’t a lot of history questions. I of course had to go get my shark finger puppet to join in the game. His name is Bruce, he was a big help. Then everyone else had to have a finger puppet. At one point Nick had one on each finger, so that greatly added to the amusement of the game. Nick is really good at coming up with the correct answer and then talking himself out of that answer and going with his second impression so that helped. We got down to the last question for each of us, and they kept giving me sports questions, and I kept giving them the literature category, and of course they got the question about George magazine, which we had already had a question on previously in a different category, so they won, but still it was great fun. And the finger puppets enjoyed it.  And then we all fell into bed as it was  11:30 or so.

Sorry, no pictures from today, here is another one of Rodeo Beach.