Macau Style Crispy Skin Ham Hock @ The Kitchen, Millbrae
Last week three of us had dinner at The Kitchen in Millbrae. This was my first time back since shortly after it opened, when it had impressed me with the strong execution and contemporary style of cooking. The walls were adorned with poster size photos of various specials, many of them featuring goose intestines. Mom scanned the elaborate menus, then said in a voice dripping with irony, “They forgot to give us the cheap menu.” Yes, prices are higher here than most of our recent meals, but the portion size is larger too. The servings turned out to be more suitable for a party of six or more to share.
Best of the dishes was the Macau style crispy skin ham hock, $13, served off the bone and sliced into two-bite size pieces. This was served with a pink-hued, tart dipping sauce that was an excellent foil for the porcine richness. William was very enthusiastic about this one saying, “The succulence and smoky flavor of ham hock meat, crunchy skin, this offers everything we like pork.” He’s a crispy pata aficionado, and this might make him switch loyalties. He is still talking about this dish.
Also good was the braised seafood over tofu, $13, with abundant sweet shrimp, chunks of scallop, bits of grass mushrooms, gai lan coins, and conpoy in a delicate seafood sauce. I liked the generous amount of conpoy (dried scallop), but William commented that it might be too strong a flavor for some.
Braised seafood and tofu in steamer basket
Mustard greens in supreme broth, $13, were bright green, carefully groomed, and top quality and garnished with a julienne of Virginia ham. However, the hearts were a little undercooked, with an almost raw crunch for some pieces and not pulling out all the potential flavor. I would have preferred the supreme broth unthickened, but it was delicious nonetheless and I didn’t lose a drop.
Very disappointing was the steamed surf clam with garlic, $7. Besides being less than fresh, it was overcooked and chewy. The minced garlic on top was far too powerful, perhaps to cover up the state of the raw material. Also, it lost all its juices before getting to the table.
Steamed surf clam with garlic
The complimentary tong sui was a lightly sweetened papaya and snow ear fungus hot soup. We’re not red bean fans, so this was a welcome change.
Papaya and snow ear fungus dessert soup
With steamed rice, our tab was $61 including tax and tip.
279 El Camino Real, Millbrae, CA 94030
Asian Pearl in Richmond's Pacific East Mall, a sister restaurant to The Kitchen, also has this ham hock dish. I don't know if it's the photograph, but the dish I had at Asian Pearl had a deeper pink color from the cure.
I found it to be a bit salty but the vinegar dipping sauce helped.
My brother looked at my photo and said it seemed a little light to him. So, I suspect that they're probably the same. I'd consider it more of an appetizer, although it's not in that section of the menu, but we wolfed down enough each to get some salt build-up too. The dipping sauce or some of the lemon is essential.
But more importantly, did it earn the PorkButt seal of approval?
3288 Pierce St, Richmond, CA 94804
re: Melanie Wong
I thought it was delicious. There was a patch of skin that wasn't crisped and was very chewy but that's a minor fault. It does take some restraint not to pick up the bone to gnaw off the last bits.
Apparently this dish is considered a classic but this was the first I'd heard of it. One of my dining companions left Hong Kong over 40 years ago and never had the chance to try it. She was understandably excited to see it on the menu and really enjoyed it
re: Melanie Wong
Turns out my brother went to Asian Pearl in Fremont last week. He reports that the ham hock is on the menu for $12, a buck less than in Millbrae. He said that the meat was not quite as smooth on this version, but maybe that's just a small individual variation. Still craveable. Also, the place was surprisingly busy on Tuesday night with action at the bar.
Fremont Asian Pearl
43635 Boscell Rd, Fremont, CA 94538