Yi He Garden Millbrae report
This place used to be Jumbo Seafood (Cantonese) restaurant, and from what I was told it started going uphill right before it went out of business, so it a sense went out at the top of their game. Too bad I never got a chance to try it out.
Came to Yi-He last weekend to try this place out despite Gary's description of the anatomically incorrect XLB, and because of that avoided ordering it altogether.
The floor manager on duty was very polite and also chatty with us. We learned that Yi He is Taiwanese owned, and she herself was too. Other waitstaff spoke Mandarin and Cantonese to satisfy a majority of the local Chinese clientele. Decor is mildly impressive, very clean, with rather comfortable chairs.
The restaurant's specials on the Chinese signage outside state a few of their proudest offerings, which include a braised eel dish, a sticky rice roll of some sort (not fan tuan), soy milk, yoh tieo (fried dough stick), and a few others.
Ordered these for dinner:
garlic stir fried ong choy - finely diced garlic with this hollow stem veg. Lightly crunchy stem with soft juicy leaves. Quite well done but not superb like Joy in Foster City (who do an even better job at stir frying A-chai and arguably ong choy too. (In Mandarin it is called Kung Xin Tsai or hollow center/stem veg).
kung fu mien - This was a long but flat noodle dish with minced pork and sauce, quite delicate and tasty, along the style of Taiwanese "gan mien" (dry noodle), which is technically not dry per se, but is hot noodles with sauce over it, with some meat and other ingredients. I'll dare say this prep is not for everyone, but if you've had "gan mien" in Taiwan and like that you may enjoy this. The noodles I did not ask if it were made in house but would gladly satisfy. Not as wide as fettucine, but were cooked well al dente and had great texture. As temping as it is to always try the tried and true "beef noodle" or other standard yawny dishes, it is always more fun to opt for something different.
Chicken soup - "yuen zhong ji tang" - this is a small mini personal sized pot of stewed (range?) chicken soup with a few other ingredients. The container is a tad bit bigger than what they use at dim sum restaurants for sharks fin dumpling. The broth is fantastic, and arguably comes close to the same range chicken soup/broth at Din Tai Fung in Arcadia (Southern Cal) which is a famous item (but not as famous as thier XLB). There were little to no traces of MSG in this, very flavorful and quite a surprise. $5 to $6 if I remember correctly.
Tung Por Mahn Rou - I guess you can say this is braised "tung por" style pork belly meat in clay pot. Most Shanghainese restaurants would have this. But this restaurant takes it a step further. While this dish is a whopping $14.50, Yi He market this as one dish, two ways of eating it. They include six piping hot steamed white doughy buns on the side (in bamboo steamer), similar to the kind served with Peking Duck but bigger and softer, alongside a tray of condiments that include cilantro, roasted diced peanuts, sauce, sour veg/pickle. The idea is that you take a nice slice of pork belly, add the ingredients and sandwich them into the curvy white buns and you eat that together. And now you have the classic Taiwanese snack, "Ger Bao" or "Gua Bao". While I did not have this in Taiwan, Yi He's version was very pleasing. This is not only mentioned on the restaurant entrance's window, but also on the regular menu under "specials". The pork belly had some bite in it, although the meat was soft. The buns couldn't readily absorb the meat juices so it became soggy a bit quickly, but that could also be a preference thing for some.
Service was excellent, which is almost an oxymoron in a Chinese, let alone a Northern Chinese style restaurant. A very helpful and thoughtful floor manager really added to the dining experience. We observed her to also be really good with toddlers/kids, and going the extra mile to bring some cutesy kids bowls and plastic spoons/forks so they could play with them.
I over heard the floor manager tell a customer that their specialty here is the "tang bao" which is somewhat synonymous with XLB. "tang bao" translates directly to soup dumplings, and some restaurants throw people off into thinking XLB = tang bao which is not always the case at Bay Area restaurants. Some places do XLB that have a small amount of "meat juice" and of the one or two places I had "tang bao", a ton of liquid pours out from the dumpling upon breaking the skin.
I'll have to try an order of that next time at Yi He to see.
This place has a lot of potential. When I received the check, I also got a $3 off coupon for the next brunch visit (only good towards the Northern style dim sum, aka soy milk yoh tieo and others). I'll be back for sure.
We really enjoyed our lunch yesterday at Yi-He Garden, having gone there because of posts on Chowhound. We had the order of ten XLB and we found them to be some of the best we've had, though we're no experts, because of the chewy, thick wrapper and good amount of soup. Also had the beef noodle soup that I now see KK wasn't too crazy about and I have to say that it was just okay. But I think my Japanese husband ordered it because one of the ads on the front window said something about udon. :-) The noodle wasn't too bad and I'm usually disappointed in Chinese noodle soup because I guess I just don't know what to order. We also had sauteed squash with mushrooms, which had a light pleasant flavor and went well with steamed rice. We will definitely go back. The server was very friendly and helpful and made suggestions for our next visit (some kind of pork bun which sounds like the elusive Japanese butaman we are always looking for here, for example). We also received a dim sum discount coupon.
I don't recall Yi He offering baozi or anything similar to butaman, which by the way I'm linking an old post you made on the matter:
The closest I can think of would be the $14.50 Tung Por Mahn Rou (which btw Mahn has nothing to do with mahntoh, mandou, mantou) served with the soft steamed doughy white lippy looking bun for sandwiching the braised pork belly with cilantro, crushed peanuts, and other goodness, which you have to make on your own since the sauces/condiments and buns are on the side.
A brief side note, last few times I've been to Hana, they stopped offering or very very rarely make the butaman or Yokohama Chinatown style cha shu bao.
Either way a good baozi is very very very hard to find. Something so simple, yet so out of reach (all versions I've sampled are crude, salty, and skanky). :-(
re: K K
Nope I haven't. Given the less than stellar 2nd dinner visit, I doubt we'll be coming here for brunch soon despite the $3 off coupon for it. I believe they have soy milk, but shao bing is a huge question mark (of course one phone call will clarify that).
Didn't a few hounds say Chef Woo in San Jose does good soy milk, yoh tieo, and perhaps sao bing?
I agree, finding a place that does all three well is like pulling teeth.
DOH....I just noticed this post made it into digest.
I need to rewrite everything. Yes this place has some potential but apparently not a lot after a 2nd visit.
I stand corrected on a few things. This restaurant claims to specialize in tang bao, aka XLB to some of you. While pepatty reported a rumor of the HC dumpling house chef coming over to Yi-He, I think that might not be true and they got the dishwasher instead (definitely not Donald Dump-ling's Apprentice).
The si gua tang bao, which is identical in name and preparation to the version at HC dumpling house, was completely and sadly void of any soup. The si gua was still just barely crunchy, and the inside was super dry, unlike HC dumpling Cupertino's version that oozed with juice and soup (and probably lots of MSG). For what they claim is their signature offering, this was a huge disappointment. Granted I did not try the crab tang bao, but this severe lack of attention and care of prep by the chef really makes them lose their credibility, even though they also started advertising in Bay Spo to attract Japanese customers.
They also have beef noodle (soup), which they say is a limited offering. Tried this and it was definitely a let down. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't stellar either. They didn't use criss cross cuts of flank meat (with tendon strips) like at A&J or ASJ, and stuck with beef brisket cuts like most Cantonese and Northern Chinese places. It was a good portion at $7 ish but really not worth the hype.
Not everything are hits here, just a heads up. But if you stick with the first review items, you should be ok. Fairly easy to find parking, comfortable surroundings, and first rate customer sevice experience do make this place a bit better compared to others.
The $3 coupon is only given if you spend $30 or more during dinner, and this is probably a limited promotion.
re: K K
I went there for lunch with a friend who swore by the Xiao Long Tang Bao at HC Dumpling at Cupertino. Imagine my surprise when he said that the XLTB at Yi He wasn't too bad; HC Dumpling was still a slight notch better in his opinion. I am no big connoisseur of XLTB - but the skin is thin enough and there was enough soup.
We also ordered Tung Por Mahn Rou - the meat could be more tender but I think it depends on the cut and the amount of fat.... I was happy though cos it brought back my memories of "Gua Bao" (soft white buns). The meat was perfect with a bowl of white rice too....
Would I go back.? Yes, I would give it a try, just because there aren't too many decent Taiwanese restaurants in the Peninsula, saved perhaps Joy at Foster City.