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Charles Tsui

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About Charles Tsui

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    South Riding, VA

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  1. Since returning from our most recent trip to Hong Kong two weeks ago, we've been jonesing for some dim sum. Decided to try the weekend lunch at Q (we've been very happy with their dinner dishes). I tempered my expectations as Peter doesn't have a Cantonese cooking background, but I was very pleasantly surprised. Overall, I'd rate everything at least average quality by HK standards. By comparison, I've never felt that the dim sum offerings at Oriental East, China Garden, or Mark's Duck House would've made the cut beyond the local market. Stand outs: the sticky rice sesame balls (莲蓉芝麻球) were impossibly light and had an unexpected orange zest flavor. The egg tarts (蛋挞) were well-baked and not greasy; a little bit of leopard spotting hinted at the Macanese/pasteis de nata style that I love. The restaurant was only about half full on a Saturday. A bit of a surprise given the lines around the block at Oriental East back in the day. Yes, Peter Chang's prices are higher, but hardly prohibitive and you certainly get what you pay for. Menu ordering is also so much more civilized than chasing after carts (which have all but disappeared from HK, SF, NYC and Vancouver/Toronto dim sum restaurants).
  2. Thanks for the correction! I never made it to their original location--only started going when they opened in Wheaton.
  3. Just a short post that I've been meaning to write for some time. Don: go back. As soon as possible. My previous, 2014 meal at the old Elements location (a kitchen table tasting that they used to offer) was very inventive. I appreciated the creativity and the chefs' stories behind each dish. But, in terms of absolute deliciousness? Ehh... pretty good. Went back in May for a Grand Tasting and was totally blown away. Amazing flavors without losing any of the playfulness. We'd just come back from the Bay Area and agreed that the meal was every bit as enjoyable as Meadowood, Manresa, TFL, etc. Elements is world-class, but avoids feeling generic. It's very much Scott Anderson's and Mike Ryan's kitchen. From the chefs bringing out and explaining the dishes, to seeing their foraging adventures on Instagram, it feels genuine and personal. Really an under-appreciated East Coast gem.
  4. Tiger Fork has to be appreciated in-context. Is their BBQ, for example, better than what I've had at the best specialist shops in HK? No way. But I don't really expect a $1.50 char siu rice box joint to pop up on Blagden Alley anytime soon. As I wrote above, if this place opened in Vancouver, it wouldn't merit much attention. But it's in DC, and there's nothing else quite like it right now. I do appreciate authenticity and focus. But I also understand why dilution may be necessary to succeed in a given market. 10 years ago, you couldn't really get a proper bowl of ramen here. Then, Toki Underground opened with a pretty non-traditional take on the dish (which they were frank about). But it did open a lot of people's eyes to the idea of ramen that didn't come in a plastic bag, a menu focused on it, and a new price point for it. Now, we have a diverse selection of ramen-only shops, like Ren's and Daikaya, which could hold their own in Japan. But, unlike NYC, we don't have dedicated soba or udon restaurants, so there continues to be room for the market to evolve (mature).
  5. Don, there's no widely-accepted standard adjective. "Hong Kongese" is used infrequently, but somewhat consistently, by the local English language press. You'll often find (and I prefer) the more natural "Hong Kong style". "Cantonese" is often used to describe cuisine, but is inclusive of neighboring Guangdong province (romanized as "Canton") in mainland China. A dish like steamed whole fish with soy sauce and ginger could be fairly described as Cantonese. But something like deep fried French toast with peanut butter and condensed milk should be specifically associated with Hong Kong.
  6. As a Hong Kong native, I'm pleased to report that dinner at Tiger Fork was a satisfying taste of home for me. The combination of technique and ingredient quality accounts for much of the positive experience. Cantonese food in East Asia (and, for that matter, in Vancouver, Toronto, SF, and NYC) is represented across the full price spectrum. In the DC area, I feel that most Chinese cooking available to us is clustered around a relatively low price point. The Source comes to mind as an exception, but I've always found their interpretations to be too muted in flavor. In interviews, the team behind Tiger Fork talk about research trips to Hong Kong and the menu reads like a collection of their favorite finds. Nothing wrong with that. There's a focus on dai pai dong (street-side food stalls) classics, with some dim sum and HK BBQ thrown in. They really did their homework; I think the flavors and textures are pretty spot-on. Cheung Fun with Shrimp and Flowering Chives and the "Kowloon Buns" showed expert dough technique: chewy but not tough. The cauliflower part of the Chinese Cauliflower dish was unremarkable, but the star was copious stir fried flowering chives which were crisp and fragrant and just the right amount of oily. The BBQ Plate of pork belly, char siu (why do so many restaurants, including this one, spell it "char sui" on their menus?), and soya chicken showed textbook preparation, but was elevated by use of high quality cuts. Minor nit: the char siu marinade tastes exactly like the jar of Lee Kum Kee I have in my fridge right now. I'll give them the benefit of the doubt that they happened to have perfectly reverse-engineered it for their house-made version! We didn't try any of the (heavily hyped) baijiu cocktails, but the Hong Kong Milk Tea was good: properly strong and not too sweet. We wanted to try the Coconut Rice Cakes for dessert, but they were already sold out at 7pm. The HK Style Egg Tart is, according to the Washingtonian piece on the restaurant, out-sourced to Maria's of Rockville. It's not a great egg tart. (Tiger Fork: if you're reading this, please in-house the next version. I suggest studying the Portuguese egg tart from Fat Rice in Chicago.) Front of house was run perfectly--there were no signs that it was opening week. By the time we left, the bar and dining room were packed. This is a great addition to the local scene and I'm looking forward to trying more of the menu (especially the announced dim sum brunch expansion).
  7. What sad news. I have very fond memories of a dinner at Central in 2012 with one of Michel's son's friends. Halfway through the meal, Michel arrived with his wife and brother and they sat down for their own dinner at the table next to ours. We ate and drank until we were ready to pass out and Chef comped our meal. A most gracious and generous host.
  8. Enjoyed a really fun and delicious progressive sushi tasting with Chef Yu today. Since he knew that I would likely be sharing the pictures here, he wanted to be clear that this was an off-menu omakase that may not be possible to repeat (based on availability of fish, how busy he is behind the counter). But it was absolutely representative of the quality and passion that I've consistently experienced at Takumi (this was my third visit). Whitefish tasting (L-R): bronzini, medai, hamachi belly Tuna tasting (L-R): regular maguro, chu-turo, o-toro, seared Salmon (and friend) tasting (L-R): artic char, salmon w/ Old Bay, salmon with crème fraí®che and ikura, seared salmon belly Mackerel tasting (L-R): marinated saba, smoked saba, aji Shellfish tasting (L-R): aoyagi (muscle), aoyagi, seared scallop with lemon & sea salt Not pictured, a smoked ankimo salad appetizer and a terrific (not house-made) lychee sorbet
  9. Yes, I think this is currently the best sushi in NoVA (and rivals the best spots in the DC area). I asked Chef Yu to serve me omakase and he presented the following: Branzino with lime zest Tuna with black truffle Hokkaido hotate Seared scallop with lemon and salt Salmon with Old Bay Hamachi with uni Aoyagi Seared salmon belly Uni Smoked ankimo (disclosure: comped by Chef) Ikura With 2 pieces per order, plus a Brussels sprout salad and miso soup to start with, I was properly stuffed by the end of this lunch. While much of the menu will look familiar to Kaz regulars, there's a hard-to-pinpoint generosity of flavor that made me prefer Takumi's versions to the originals. I think the fish-to-rice ratio might be more to my liking. Service was great, and I enjoyed practicing my rusty Cantonese with Chef Yu (he's from Guangzhou). I do worry about his ability to keep a diverse selection of seafood on the menu. Chef mentioned that it's been a challenge to meet the suppliers' minimum order quantities for some ingredients. Will customers order the more adventurous stuff that helps to make Takumi stand out amongst other small, neighborhood Japanese restaurants? Aoyagi (orange clam) House-smoked ankimo (monkfish liver)
  10. Rose's deserves all of the praise and recognition that it's received over the past year. FoH is as great as the kitchen. Not that they need my loyalty, but they've earned it.
  11. Speaking of obnoxious folks... We had a 7:45 reservation at the kitchen counter (we'd also sat there last NYE and loved it). After a long wait upstairs, the staff told us that our seats were being occupied by a couple who had long since finished their meal and paid, but weren't moving. At 8:30, they offered us a regular table and we took it (my wife was about ready to kill someone). The manager comped one of our dinners and everyone was genuinely apologetic. As usual, we loved the food and the service. I'm just astounded that guests, being fully aware of the packed reservations book, would be so inconsiderate as to camp out in prime seats.
  12. What an absolutely wonderful last dinner to remember CityZen by. I don't think it's just sentimentality that made this, by quite a margin, my favorite of the 6 or 7 meals that I've had here over the years. To be honest, all of those previous experiences had been missing something for me. The cooking has always been flawlessly precise--I've never had a single course that was not perfectly cooked or seasoned. But there haven't been as many truly memorable dishes as I'd expected. I was mostly left thinking, "great technique", "subtle balance", but not necessarily, "really delicious". My great fondness for the restaurant had been formed more by an appreciation of the impeccable service and a respect for the focus of the cooks than lust for the food. But last night, for their last dinner service, EZ and his team were cooking with heart and soul. Not to say that they didn't before, but it was the first time that everything came together for me and I had course after course that put a smile on my face. The precision that I'd come to expect was still there, but also a generosity and boldness that made many of the dishes unforgettable. My only regret is that I was so outrageously full shortly after the halfway point that I couldn't finish a lot of what was put in front of me. In all fairness, in addition to the 6 courses on the printed menu, I received 3 canapés, a pre-dessert, an extra fish course as a gift from the kitchen, an extra dessert, and *a second extra fish course*, that I believe to have been a mistake (I had chosen the white truffle supplement instead). Two of those extra courses were some of my favorites from the evening (the seared cod and the first dessert), so I'm definitely not complaining! While I'd come to take the service at CityZen for granted, I can't fail to mention how well I was taken care of. I was a little conscious of being a solo diner while the couples on either side conversed, but I got to fully focus on the enjoyment of the experience. Everyone who served me was utterly professional, yet warm and personable. Several of the FOH staff whom I talked to still didn't have new jobs lined up. They're among the best in the city and I really hope that they all end at deserving restaurants (and, maybe, at Chef's new place next year). Photos below. For reference, I had the regular tasting and substituted the matsutake mushroom tart from the veg tasting for the lobster cassoulet. Thank you, Chef Ziebold and team! It's been a great 10 years and I'm very much looking forward to the next chapter.
  13. Looking forward to hearing about what I'm sure will be an incredible dinner tonight. Also excited for my solo dining experience--I have no doubt that they'll take good care of me. So pleased that I will be able to enjoy one last meal at a restaurant that's hosted quite a few of my special celebrations over the years.
  14. Thank you, everyone! I didn't have any takers to join me, but I was able to switch the reservation to one. JoshNE, hope to run into you guys; have a great dinner!
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