Sunday, March 29, 2009

Face Cafe: Visit #2



CHANGE is happening. About a month ago, Face Cafe was a place that had just a handful of customers. Yelp reviews gave this place an overall score of only 2.5 stars. The manager wasn't present. Service was pretty good.

Now, it is a place that is full during the meal times, has many waiting customers, and the manager is out doing the waiting line. Times have changed.

And so...when we decided to pick Face Cafe for dinner, what did we meet at the entrance? A huge line of customers, of course. But too tired to continue driving to some other restaurant, we waited, looking at the employees cutting lemon slices at the bar area, watching that TV that only just makes our appetite go more hungry...

There were 10 parties of people ahead of us when we were waiting. That, for us, is a lot.

But after about 15 minutes or so, we got our seat. What amazed me the most was that the booster seats were already breaking down, with the material on the outside cracking and tearing. Only a month or two and this has happened? Wow...

The service though, is just getting better. Our many requests for lemon slices (after seeing the person during our wait cut SO much lemon and then just putting it into the fridge for later use, we wanted them!) were made. Once, our server accidentally forgot to put the extra lemon into our lemon iced tea, and he apologized very nicely, almost to the fact that he seemed like a first class or business class lead flight attendent on a very nice airline. He then asked if he should get the lemon slices for us and we politely refused as he was already so nice to us. It reminds me back when flight attendents were all very nice to me :) and what I am doing at my job at school.

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And lets go a step back and see the meal. This time, our choices were a bit dependent on what we saw on the screen. After all, we watched that video of food loop twice during our wait. And one of the foods we saw on the screen was a homemade fishball rice noodle soup, which also had a special fish broth. Was it that good?

Well, it wasn't that great. Although the rice noodles were cooked to a very nice stage (slightly chewy, like at Yunnan Garden), and the fishballs were very springy and flavorful with a mix of very flavorful ingredients, the broth was a bit light. I was expecting the fish broth to be more flavorful with more richness and more fish flavor. This was a bit light for our tastes. We could make a better fish broth at home.

And also, look at how little of the bowl was filled. Don't be stingy, Face Cafe! I hope better from you next time.

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Yet another item we saw on the mesmerizing and pixelated LCD TV (IMHO, you should make your video suitable for your 500 dollar or more TV) was beef stew. And so, we ordered the beef stew on rice, which was pretty good yet again. The very good point about this dish was the rice. It was not clumpy, and it tasted like freshly steamed rice.

However, the beef stew was not so great. The flavor of the sauce was a bit too much. There were way too many added ingredients to the sauce. Five spice powder, cloves, and more were VERY evident. The worse was the beef. It didn't feel at all like it was slow cooked. Instead, it was a bit tough. Now, how is that beef stew we know and love???


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On the TV, there was also a Portuguese chicken rice that looked delicious. And when it was presented to us, it also looked very nice. Yellowy, browned on top...it looked like delicious goodness. But, it wasn't.

It was BLAND!!! Someone apparently forgot to put the salt in. Before the salt was added (original state), pretty much all you would taste would be milk and a hint of coconut, and a very, very slight hint of curry. Very bland.

But, with the addition of salt, everything changed. It wasn't as creamy, and the curry and savory flavors finally came out. Still though, it was bland.

Everything else though was fine. There were many fried potatoes (like what you would see at Green Island), and also lots of meaty pieces of chicken. The rice, served alongside, was also very fresh and delicious :).

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And finally, a dish that we decided to order without looking at that very annoying TV that makes one just get even hungrier. This was the black bean clams, which we accidentally ordered, thinking that it would be the ultra yummy clam and rice noodle wok dish that we ordered last time.

But the accidental order proved to be pretty good! It was just as good as May Mei's version of black bean clams. What we only hoped for would be for more clams- there was a bit too little clams for us.

However, these clams were GIANT, meaty, and fresh! They were fantastic. And there was the usual onions and bell pepper too. Most amazing though, was the sauce, which had some fermented soy bean and black bean, as well as mini pieces of garlic which were bomb with rice. Yum.

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And, our last dish of the day was the big peatips with "supreme" soup, which was cooked very nicely. They were lightly crisp, and were nicely seasoned. The "soup" was great with rice, and the strips of smoked duck added some nice flavor to the dish.

My hypothesis for this place's future: even more people, crowded during the weekend, and still good food and good service. And hopefully, every bad item will be fixed. :)

Face Cafe
301 E. Valley Blvd.
Alhambra, CA 91801
Tel: 626-282-8899

Face Cafe on Urbanspoon

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Arcadia Garden Cafe: Breakfast!

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One of the better places to go out for breakfast/brunch in Arcadia is to go to Garden Cafe for their breakfast. It's a good deal as a early lunch, brunch, or just as a breakfast. And you don't just have Chinese choices here. You also have a wide variety of "western" dishes like pancakes, omelets, waffles, oatmeal, and more.

Many of the items are available as part of a "combo". We typically here order everything via combo. You typically will get 2 different food items plus a hot drink of tea, milk tea, or coffee. However, for cold drinks, there's an extra surcharge.

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One of the "bases" for the Chinese portion of the combos is dried scallop porridge. With mini flecks of dry scallop which have been rehydrated, the flavor of the dried scallop is all over the place, but it isn't heavy- more of a light flavor. The rice is all broken down, and the porridge's texture is very smooth.

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There's also another "base" for the Chinese Combos. You can get porridge that has lots of toppings and mix ins, but then your second selection will be a bit more basic (such as rice noodle rolls, compared to beef chow fun or other noodle dishes you could get with the dry scallop porridge). This here is the preserved thousand year old egg with meat porridge. There was plenty of the diced thousand year old egg, and it was very flavorful. Plus, there was some green onion and fried wonton skin which is always nice.

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I chose the soy sauce chow mein to go along with the one thousand year old egg with meat porridge. There were plenty of noodles, and there was also plenty of green onion and bean sprouts, which added more flavor to the dish.
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Beef Chow Fun, shown above, is a choice one can make when getting the dry scallop porridge. Again, plenty of meat and flat rice noodles. It was okay, but a bit oily and not very flavorful...

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This is my favorite choice when getting the dry scallop porridge combo. Preserved vegetables with meat rice noodle :). Plenty of meat, thin scrambled egg, preserved vegetables, bean sprouts, and other vegetables. And the rice noodle always has a nice texture and isn't mushy.

All in all, it's a very good deal if you don't feel like eating out at a breakfast joint or having some dim sum. After all, a 5-7 dollar meal (depending on which type of combo you choose- there are many other types of combos other than the porridge with noodle combo) would be fit for the $40 dollars a day show which seems to be dead now! Or a 30 dollars a day show. :)

-See my other review written earlier to see some interior pictures, afternoon tea photos, and dinner photos.

Garden Cafe Arcadia
850 S Baldwin Ave
Arcadia, CA 91007
(626) 446-0688

Arcadia Garden Cafe on Urbanspoon

Friday, March 27, 2009

Egg Tart Comparison: Lord Stow's Bakery in Macau and 99 Ranch Market in California

Egg tarts are what some may think to only have one variation. But, if you think so, you are wrong. There are many, many variations of egg tarts. Today's variation? Portuguese Style egg tarts. One of them is from Macau, where Portuguese cuisine is all over the city. The other? A market in California, where Portuguese food isn't easily found all over the place. What will the result be?

Since there was a question of trying egg tarts in Macau from food blogger Pleasure Palate, let's start off with the egg tart from Macau. After all...it's probably more interesting to read.


The place we visited? Lord Stow's bakery, which our local friend (who also brought us to Tai Lei Loi Kei) brought us here to visit. Since we were also in Coloane, which is a island of Macau, this place would be a perfect place to stop by.

As we entered, we were a bit amazed that there was the rusty door that you see in the photo, as they proclaim to be the "creator of the egg tart" (and at the time, we didn't know any background info as we came to Macau without any travel planning...which some people also think this would not be realistic. Well...we had our special reasons why. So...if this is true or not (some say no), we weren't sure at the time. What they said is what we believed.). Wouldn't they have revamped their store? Well, it looks like these places like to stay as is- they don't mind to be ultra clean and pretty looking in their store, or to be all spruced up and perfect outside.


Inside, there were many interesting items for sale other than the egg tart, such as a "Mississippi Mud Pie". I never knew of such thing existed! And obviously, there were many other interesting items, but what really stood out in my mind after almost more than two thirds of a year from this visit was the mud pie.

And as I was taking the photo above, our friend gave us our egg tarts. When I received my egg tart, I was amazed that there was no tin that came with it. In addition, I was shocked at how warm it was. Never before had I got an egg tart that was this warm right after receiving the egg tart!


And as I was taking the photo, our friend gave us our egg tarts. When I received my egg tart, I was amazed that there was no tin that came with it. In addition, I was shocked at how warm it was. Never before had I got an egg tart that was this warm right after receiving the egg tart!


After I got after that warmness issue, I noticed the very yellow and very shiny and luminous custart on top, which was browned very nicely. To the side, I also noticed the very flaky and soft on the inside puff pastry.

And what do you do after taking photos? Eat of course! The warmess factor definitely something special (and although you can always rewarm a product, the product doesn't always come out as good as it was when it was fresh). The puff pastry was crisp on the outside, and had multitudinous layers of buttery goodness inside. The custard was sweet, eggy, ultra smooth, and piping hot. What more could you ask for? Really, really good. This beat all the egg tarts I've had before- dim sum doesn't even compare to this at all.

(Pricing unknown as I wasn't looking at the cashier's desk when our friend bought the egg tarts)
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Zooming on forward, we are now back in the United States in California, where we recently got a pack of Portuguese Egg Tarts from our local 99 Ranch Market, which currently is selling them for 3 dollars for a pack of 4. They come cold- you either reheat them at home or eat it as is.

Can this compare at all to Lord Stow's egg tart from Macau? Maybe. Or it might fail substantially.


A quick rewarming of the product makes the egg tart look way more delicious from before. The puff pastry looks crisp on the outside, and the egg custard is browned on top.

Bite into the egg tart though, and it isn't as great as it looks. The puff pastry is crisp, but not really crisp, and the puff pastry feels a bit dry in some areas. The egg custard though, is very weird. It could easily separate from the puff pastry by itself, and it wasn't particularly eggy or sweet either. It was a bit blobby too, and not as smooth compared to Lord Stow's egg tarts.

And there you have it. A comparison of two seeming similar egg tarts.

Still interested in seeing more different egg tarts? View my Tripadvisor review on Tai Cheong Bakery's egg tarts in Hong Kong.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Sesame Grill- Early Bird Specials!


Ads can help in many different ways to an advertiser. And well, it lured us back again to Sesame Grill, a place which we mainly eat for lunch because of their lunch specials. We typically don't eat here at night (lunch is a way better deal because of the special), but there was something new that was up for offer, and we went for the very occasional dinner here again.


At night, the feeling of the place is well, very different. More mood lighting is on, and the ambiance is darker. White cloths are added to the tables, and so are tea candles which are placed in a glass cup. A cloth napkin is also folded nicely on your plate at night.

But what really brought us here for dinner?


The Early Bird Special! It's actually a pretty good deal for the price, and depending on which choices you pick, it can be a very good deal, even when you compare it to the Lunch Specials.

We picked choices 1, 2, and 3 along with 3 different appetizers. But, what always comes free with any meal is some freshly made, hot bread, which also comes with some packets of California Dairies butter.


The bread today was a bit different- if you haven't had it before, it is extremely warm and somehow it has some wineish flavor to it. Today's bread was exceedingly soft and easy to rip which is different to the usual bread as usually, the texture inside is a bit firmer. They probably added something. I liked it, as the outside crust was lightly crispy on the bottom, and the inside was very soft and lightly chewy. Mmm...I could eat 2 of those please!


But, wait for a little while. Appetizers are coming full steam ahead. What arrived first was the Seasonal mixed greens, which has a mix of many different types of greens. It is then tossed in a balsamic vinegrette. And since the waiters know us very well (we've been a repeat customer for at least 6 years now...), they gave us a bottle of balsamic vinegar along with the salad.


My appetizer, the fried vegetable rolls, came next. If you notice the name of this place, this place has a bit of fusion in it. This is one of those dishes. Mustard and sweet and sour sauce are on the side there, plated very artistically (unlike what we have seen before).

On the bottom of the vegetable rolls is a bit of the seasonal mixed greens, and on top is the main attraction- the fried vegetable rolls, which is just like a Chinese egg roll minus the meat.The outside is crispy and thin, while the inside has a good amount of filling with no weird ingredients.

Bell peppers by the way, are also sprinkled on top of the egg rolls, and are diced into diminuitive cubes. Somehow, all of these ingredients and sauces go very well along with the vegetable rolls. I wouldn't have thought of this being a successful combo in the past (that was 5 years ago), but it turned out to be actually successful.


Soup of the day was Milestrone soup. Intrestingly, it had tubes of pasta all over, but to me I think they should have been left out as they were a bit too big for the bowl and very hard to eat without cutting. Otherwise though, the soup was good- very beefy and tomatoey. There was also some chickpea, carrots, tomato, onions, and celery in the soup itself.


We did have to wait a little for some reason for our main courses. But when they came, they came all together. Maybe they didn't want to give it to us one by one! Anyway, the dish that is shown on top is the Fish of the Day. There was a choice between sandabs and salmon, and I chose salmon. The dish overall was actually the same as the lunch portion, but the filet of salmon was bigger. A reduction of balsamic vinegar was added to the dish, and it helped with the fishiness of the salmon.

The salmon was very crispy on the outside and had a very tender and juicy inside. However, it was a bit fishy compared to past visits of eating salmon at Sesame Grill.

A bed of mashed potatoes, which are smashed and not fully mashed, was added to the bottom. To the side were petite veggies which were cooked lightly and had a good snap to them. On top of the salmon was some fried shreds of sweet potato.


This right here is the Black Angus New York Steak, which was excellent. The steak itself was grilled and was slightly charred on the outside, and the inside was very juicy and cooked to a medium well like we requested to. To the side were some more vegetables and another scoop of the mashed potato.

The sauce though, was really delicious! There was actually a different sauce for each type of meat. This sauce for the New York steak had a lot of beefy flavors with a touch of wine, and it was slightly smoky too.


This was the Black Angus Filet Mingon Medallions. There were 4 medallions in total, and with the medallions were some more mini veggies, mashed potatoes, steak sauce, and 2 potato crisps for garnish.

Again, this was another great dish- the meat was tender and juicy, and the sauce went well with it. We even asked for extra sauce which then came in a small metal bowl. This sauce, compared to the filet mingon, was less beefy, and more creamy. You could also taste the wine a bit more in this. It fit well with the mashed potatoes also, but pairing the sauce with the steak is a better use of the sauce.

Overall, yet another great experience again- good, friendly service, and great food.

You can also read my other previous experiences on Tripadvisor (click here to view). There are also photos from my lunch and dinner visits in the past.

Sesame Grill
308 E Huntington Dr
Arcadia, CA 91006-3746
Tel: (626) 821-0880

Sesame Grill on Urbanspoon