Fish Jook (Live Tilapia Two-ways) @ Chu Kong in Millbrae
Well, it’s taken five years, but I’ve finally had a chance to check out the fish rice porridge (jook) at Chu Kong Seafood in Millbrae. It’s fantastic, so I hope you don’t delay as long as I had. Here are the original recs.
A live tilapia is netted from the tank in the back and the thin filets are poached in the ecru colored jook and garnished with thin shreds of fresh ginger and scallions. My mom and I were both surprised to learn that tilapia is used, as the taste was so delicate and not earthy at all. The porridge itself is creamy in texture, nicely seasoned, and just the right thickness for me. It’s a huge serving and can certainly feed more than two people. But that’s a good thing, to be combined with the second half of the preparation comes out a little later. The head, bones, and tail portion are laid out on top of squares of silky soft tofu and steamed with a light black bean sauce and cooked oil (sook yau). You’ll want to reserve some of the jook to have with the tasty bits and stir some of those juices in for a new taste experience. I was glad that we were the only customers in the place at lunch time and I could suck on those bones with abandon. There’s not much on them, but the seasonings soaked into the two proteins are so delicious. The fish jook isn’t on the printed menu so you have to ask for it, and it costs $20.
My mom ordered the barbecued pork soup noodles, $6.25, and this was good too. The thin egg noodles were just a tad too soft, but very tasty. The caramel colored stock was a deeper and richer style that spoke of roasted meats and bones. The small choi sum had been cut into quarters and given a turn in the wok, an extra touch that releases more flavor and opens them up to soak in the soup. The barbecued pork was natural in color, not dyed red, so it might be housemade.
We were the only customers sitting in the restaurant, and there was only one take-out order during our time at Chu Kong. The place is spotless, not new, but freshly scrubbed and spic-n-span.
My mother sat facing the window, and at one point she said, “This is like being in Chinatown, everyone walking by is Chinese”. I imagine that those were customers headed to neighboring Asian Pearl. I felt a little smug that we’d had a superlative lunch for a lower tariff here. Mom was very happy with the value here, and nearly a quart of the fish jook went home with me for another meal.
1661 El Camino Real, Millbrae, CA 94030
The fish is cut into very thin filets, like how soong yue would be handled. The tank is very clean and these are live tilapia (and active from what I could see), so maybe that makes a difference. When the second dish with the steamed bones came out, my mom muttered, "I wonder how much this is going to cost?" I had a sigh of relief when I saw the tab.
Chu Kong is quite small, around five 4-tops and three larger tables, just one room. I've often wondered about it living in the shadow of Asian Pearl and before that HK Flower Lounge. It's very clean, no film of oil or smudges on the large mirrors and the bathroom is well-scrubbed, one of the cleanest I've seen even though not new.
That's a good price for fish congee (especially using the fish two ways).
Former Mr Fong's Foster City and ABC Seafood, and Joy Luck Place San Mateo have charged $7 to $8 for fish congee, on a good day very fresh tasting (with JLP's being the best and more consistent). I bet with 3 orders worth, it may not necessarily be the whole fish worth either combined.
Went for dinner here on Saturday nite, based on this recommendation. Had a 1-hour delay in between SFO pickups, so we thought it would be a good time to get chowish in Millbrae. Sadly, the dinner menu did not offer jook or BBQ noodle soup, and they seemed slammed so we didn't want to order off-menu. We had a nice meal of hot & sour soup (it was not noticeably hot or sour, but it was very fresh tasting), pot stickers (thinly wrapped, firm filling), seafood clay pot (very tasty whitefish & calamari) and minced meat & eggplant.
Based on the meal, I will go back during lunch to try the forementioned jook & noodles.
FYI, another place in the area, TMM Desserts, at 350 Adrian Road, looked replaced by a Mexican restaurant (which also looked closed).