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Jul 18, 2009 11:44 PM

Excellent Cantonese at Asian Pearl Milbrae

We had a family gathering earlier tonight at San Bruno to wish one of ours a fond farewell (who was leaving for grad school).

The celebration took place at Asian Pearl Peninsula in San Bruno. I wasn't sure what to think at first, given the last time about 2 to 3 years ago of a very mediocre dinner at sister restaurant The Kitchen, but also given the fact that I haven't been out eating Cantonese wiht family, I didn't set high expectations.

Bottom line, super solid performance (given a few minor hiccups) and delivery, despite a fully packed house. Who said the economy was in trouble... you couldn't tell (even neighboring Chu Kong was fairly full after walking by).

My uncle brought in two different bottles of Malbec, cheap and really good stuff to accompany the dinner, and while I didn't take pictures or remember the vineyards they came from, they both were met with many smiles (even the floor manager/pit boss who had a sample). I'm not a wine guy, but even I dug this.

The house stewed soup in ceramic pot (very similar offering to what ABC Foster City has) tonight was "Ha Goo Tsoe" (the name of the herb, roughly translates to summer mushroom grass) with at the very least pork bone and perhaps red bean, thick delicious rich and appetizing broth. Supposedly $30 for a serving that fits 4, so I shudder to think what was the actual bill.

The crispy skin ham hock was a much superior preparation compared to the one tried at The Kitchen a few years ago. It tasted just like Hong Kong, although no presence of garlic like the version Anthony Bourdain had at Tung Po in North Point in "No Reservations". Crispy skin on the outside, non fattening, and tender lightly salted meat. Reminds me of a perfect German style Schweinhoxen (like at Schroeder's SF some years ago). A lemon wedge was available but nobody used it. They even included a giant bone in piece of meat, looked like a Chinese buffet style beef rib...

They had the "princess" yellow fur chicken (gwai fei gai). Not terribly meaty, but it was probably the 2nd best preparation next to Silver House San Mateo. Delicious yellow skin, and chewy meat (perhaps too chewy for little kids). The herbal and Chinese wine marination were a bit on the strong side, but a good solid effort. The ginger scallion sauce was decent too. (But still nothing compares to Jui Heung Yuen aka John's BBQ in Toronto/Richmond Hill for their version of the chicken)...

There was a dish that I didn't see on the takeout menu. Basically stir fried lotus root slices with thick snow pea pods, king (abalone) mushrooms, and regular mushrooms. One of the surprises of the evening. Never knew veggies could be done so well. The chef really did great here.

Salted Fish Pork Patty - a pretty decent rendition. On the menu this version is called Toishan style in Chinese. No idea what makes this version Toishan, but it went great with rice. Still not as good as Chef Wai's in San Mateo (RIP), but solid overall

OK who in the family went pork crazy tonight.... someone ordered the steamed pork patty with preserved veg (very mild taste) with eggplant. This was according to the Chinese name, a typical family style / home style dish. Not my bag but perhaps the more hardcore Cantonese folks can appreciate this.

The steamed tofu topped with roast pork and shrimp paste sauce was nothing to write home about, but I appreciated that it was something different and uncommon to most of us (ie something perhaps more specific regional Cantonese). Kudos to that.

Stir fried large pea sprouts with garlic (dai dau miew) - very very good.

Stir fried satay beef with gai lan - tasty, although the beef seemed a bit overly coated with cornstarch and satay sauce, affecting the gai lan as well.

and last but not least, the sleeper homerun of the evening, not on the regular menu but if you go to the right side of the fish tanks, overhead, is a picture and a sign advertising what appeared to be a revival of a very old school homey dish ($16.50) of basically a small whole fish over steamed (w/o salt fish) pork patty. Cantonese name "Ga Soe Jing Boon Been Yue" or "House Daughter In Law [or sister in law] steams half side fish". I didn't get a chance to try the fish, but the pork patty was absolutely perfect and fantastic (which goes to show you don't need chestnuts or salted fish to make this). If only I had my Nikon with me....all this glorious Canto food porn.

House bean soup, and even that was done nicely. Not watery, red beans that still stayed a bit firm (and not totally mushy), dried orange peel (chun pei), and best of all a good thick consistency.

Dim sum here must be pretty darn good I would assume.

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  1. KK, is this a sister resto to the Asian Pearl in Newark CA? The dim sum there is fine - pretty much the same quality and price as most places.

    6 Replies
    1. re: Claudette

      Yes sister restaurant to the Asian Pearl Fremont and Richmond.

      There is a rumor that the conglomerate Culinary Wonderland that supposedly owns all the Asian Pearls and The Kitchen's, has broken up the restaurants and ownership, and if that is true, I don't know who owns what parts. Management will likely deny this as they don't want outsiders to know.

      Anyone been to the Richmond Asian Pearl recently? My uncle said he had some of the best sea urchins (uni) in his life, served off the shell, around $16 per, but he didn't know if they were from Santa Barbara or elsewhere.

      1. re: K K

        Asian Pearl Millbrae is currently my fav for dim sum on the Peninsula. (Love their cabbage/shrimp rolls and their simmering pots of offal.) However, my parents have recently reported that Asian Pearl Richmond was better-largely, I think, because it has more intriguing offerings. Quite crowded so one has to get there early, and I haven't been able to make the 9:30 am Sunday pilgrimage across the bridge to verify.

        1. re: sfbing

          I browsed the dim sum check-off menu the other night. The fact that there's a bitter melon with duck cheung fun amongst several other interesting named dim sum dishes (in Chinese that is which escape me now as I don't have the piece of paper with me in hand), make this place seem hardcore enough.

          I believe it that the Richmond AP might seem a bit more exciting, but like you this is not really a roadtrip I can take easily.

          Also spotted at the fish tanks in AP Peninsula were these giant red/pink fish, dubbed "Hung Lung" or Red Dragon in Cantonese. The waiter remarked to my uncle that these could be cut and sold as half, but still averaging 3 to 4 lbs at $21 to $23 /lb.

          I do appreciate the fact that AP tries to offer a variety of not very common but otherwise deemed traditional or supposedly authentic regional Cantonese dishes, at least recognized by Chinese name on the menu (e.g. Zhongsan style ribs, Toishan style salted fish patty, Guanghai or Canton Sea style this or that, some dishes that appeared to be Shun Tak style, and the crispy skin ham hock was dubbed Macau style)

          1. re: K K

            My curiosity got the better of me and I hauled myself there this morning. The layout of the room is kind of funny. The tables are packed together in the middle and the carts circle the periphery with the dim sum ladies calling out their wares. Clearly, a table on the outside is best. Although staff did filter through the room asking people if they wanted anything in particular.

            Siumai were good, ha gow were mediocre (huge balls of shrimp that shredded their wrapper). Bonus points for pig stomach as a cold app, but way way too much garlic. The star this time were the custard filled buns, which were bursting with a dangerously hot runny custard with a subtle flavor of salted duck yolks.

            I also enjoyed the large snails in the spicy satay broth. Another interesting dish was a small casserole of spareribs and rice noodle rolls (cheung fun). An unusual combination, but a big hit at the table.

            It was fun, and the selection was different than AP Peninsula, but the cooking was not so much better that I would ditch AP Peninsula for the bridge trip.

        2. re: K K


          Today at Asian Pearl Millbrae, they stated that they are no longer related to The Kitchen. The menus they hand out do not list The Kitchen any more.

          Tried The Kitchen Millbrae for dinner and the quality has dropped significantly. Smells like a chef has left. Place was still packed though.

          1. re: Foodnut8

            Thanks for the confirmation. The rumors were true after all...

      2. Thanks for the report. Can't wait to check it out . FYI -- the name of the chinese herb is xia ku cao 夏枯草, the middle character means death not mushroom (though it is a homophone). This kind of herb dies in the summer time and comes back later, thus the name death in summer grass.

        1 Reply
        1. re: kuri

          Ahhh I should have looked that up myself, thanks for doing that.

          For those who can read Chinese or understand Cantonese, around the 4 to 5 pm mark on KTVU 26 (Comcast Cable 8), former diva/singer who is now a very successful TV personality (and lost a ton of weight), Maria Cordero hosts a Cantonese cooking show, called Maria's Kitchen, focusing on homey and healthy cooking. She even has a Chinese herbalist/specialist on the show to comment on any medical knowledge relating to the receipes. The summer death grass was recently used in one of the dishes in last Saturday's broadcast.

        2. link

          Peninsula Asian Pearl
          1671 El Camino Real, Millbrae, CA 94030