Great Cantonese in Palo Alto or Menlo Park?
One hesitates to respond because it is difficult to gauge what is really meant by “great, fantastic or amazing”. Be that as it may, limiting oneself to eating within Palo Alto, one can find enjoyable Cantonese Chinese food at the R & B restaurant and the Hong Kong restaurants. Both are small, low to moderately priced “hole in the wall” type restaurants wherein you can see large Chinese family groups here frequently gathering for dinner in the evenings. Both are on El Camino Real in Palo Alto – H. K. being just north of San Antonio Road and R & B being north of California Avenue.
It helps a lot if you speak or can read the written language since the best items are generally not listed on the menus. Daily board specials may or may not be written in Chinese only. Waiters may or may not be able to communicate effectively to you in English to as what is best and chef’s specials.
Below are sample pictures of some dishes at R & B:
1. Steamed sole in ginger onion sauce
2. Beef filet with XO sauce
3. Kung Pao Chicken
4. Sugar snap peas in spicy XO sauce
5. Lo-Han Vegetables
6. Braised beef stew in clay pot
7. Seafood pan fried noodles
8. Salt fish chicken fried rice
R & B does a credible job for what it is. They do well with steamed salt fish over pork patty, pork belly with preserved vegetable clay pot, red wine ox tail clay pot and lotus house soup. A lot of the Chinese favorites are so only through acquired taste. There may be reservations, i, e., R & B’s XO sauce dishes are on the mild side and would be better if a little tad more intense and spicy. The salt fish chicken fried rice seemed disappointingly flat.
Hong Kong restaurant (sorry, no pictures) does well with their rose wine soya chicken, steamed salt fish and chicken over silken tofu and lotus leaf in a bamboo steamer, and crunchy, deep fried, eggplant. A half Peking duck can be available upon request if you do not want a whole one (not specified on menu).
Nearby further south of Palo Alto in the city of Mountain View on Castro Avenue is the Kirin Restaurant, which is a long time Cantonese restaurant. It has inexpensive daily lunch time specials that are very good – deep fried sole, salt and pepper boneless pork chop, crispy skin Cantonese fried chicken, tangy garlic eggplant clay pot, etc. A menu written only in Chinese has many tasty items for dinner (clay pots, wok tossed items, iron plate sizzling platters, live seafood, etc.).
There are larger, more upscale Chinese restaurants in nearby cities of Sunnyvale, Cupertino, Milpitas, San Mateo, Millbrae, Daly City, S.F. and in Oakland that are perhaps more truly approaches “greater, amazing and fantastic”. The Koi Palace restaurant in Daly City, is regarded by many as one of the finest restaurants on the entire West Coast.
As for won ton, there is won ton and there is won ton, prepared many different ways. Kirin has a wor won ton (comet wrapped – body filled with pork and a tail) soup topped with shrimp, cuttle fish, scallop, barbecue pork and chicken. Inside the Ranch 99 Asian food market in Mountain View (On Grant Road off El Camino Real) in the deli area, has an excellent won ton (golf ball wrapped, filled with two whole shrimps) soup with thin won ton noodles or rice noodles. Toppings include beef stew (outstanding), roast duck or barbecue pork The won ton is considered as amazing here because the quality is so unexpected here, which is not in a restaurant! There is also yee foo won ton - fried won ton immersed in thicken chicken or duck broth garnished with dice chicken or diced roast duck respectively. These other won ton versions most likely can be found only in S. F. or Oakland.
A friend of mine who is from that region of China gave me a recommendation for Hong Kong Saigon Seafood Harbor in Sunnvale, CA a few weeks ago. I've been a few times already, and it's the best Cantonese-style Chinese food I've had in quite some time. The quality of the ingredients and subtlety of flavors in the dishes takes the cuisine to a whole new level for me. Best I've had since Canton Cooks in metro Atlanta, GA (albeit admittedly I haven't explored the options up in SF proper or over in the East Bay).
I also respect the professionalism of the servers and management at Hong Kong Seafood. They seem to run a classy operation.
Thanks to all of you for your helpful recommendations. I will direct them to my good friend on whose behalf I posted this question (she didn't yet have an account). In Boston, I'm a big fan of the Taiwan Cafe should any of you come to visit.
A quick reply to Melanie Wong that I have enjoyed the pleasure of contributing to the Boston board on numerous occasions.
A list of some of the East Coast Chinese restaurants you consider "amazing" would also be helpful, in order to gauge your tastes. It appears that you're from the New England area. I lived in Rhode Island for many years and found a handful of passable Chinese restaurants in that general vicinity. Maybe one or two that were actually pretty good. But I don't know if there were any that I would describe as "amazing".
Generally speaking, you're going to want to venture further up the Peninsula to find the bulk of the really good Chinese restaurants in the Bay Area.
Why are you looking for a Cantonese restaurant? This area doesn't specialize in that. Around here, the awesome Chinese is Sichuan and Shanghai - and the restaurants are Mountain View and south, and redwood city and north.
I think Tai Pan in downtown palo alto might be the best Cantonese in PA + MP.
But you really should try Jade Palace
in which she claims JP does OK with Cantonese.
Read through Melanie Wong's postings. She covers much of the Chinese places here abouts.
The places in downtown PA are on the mediocre side, in general. Places like Jing Jing and China Delight, although I had a good, strange pepper chicken dish there once.
My short list:
Crouching Dragon in Redwood City
There's a sichuan place in the Target shopping mall I forget the name of.
Shanghai East and Little Shanghai in San Mateo
I have a soft spot for Chef Liu in MV, and Fu Lam Moon, although I won't claim them great. Some people really like Cafe Yulong.
That's an important question. There's very little on the East Coast of what folks out here would consider "good" Cantonese. Su Hong in Menlo Park might come closest to the Americanized, stuck in the past style. Not for me, but it's very popular with those who consider that "Chinese" food.
What do you consider fantastic wonton soup? The Hong Kong style platonic idea of whole shrimp wrapped in tender yet not mushy wrappers and in a simiple orange-y toned stock from shrimp shells, dried fish and free-range chickens? This would have just a little bit of yellow chives as a topping. If not, please specify.
Jade Palace makes a credible Shanghai style wonton soup, which is a whole 'nuther beast.
re: Melanie Wong
Let me also say, debo, welcome to california. I notice from your activity on the boston board that you have asked many questions, and never, ever responded. (I was hoping to find which chinese restaurants in the boston area you thought were awesome - I never knew any, but it's been a few years.) I hope you find chow hound in the bay area more welcoming, and respond to this (and other) posts.
Unless Tai Pan has changed drastically since Michael Bauer's 3-star review quite a while back, I won't go back for their food. It could be the Bay Area's most elegant (and expensive) Chinese restaurant though.
For Palo Alto, I actually really like certain dishes at Peking Duck (not exactly Cantonese) and love R&B (relatively inexpensive for high-quality down-to-earth Cantonese dishes) across from Peking Duck. And I think Fu Lam Mum in downtown Mountain View is great too (discounted menu after 9 PM), though it's not of Millbrae-quality.
Before R&B opened and the new Fu Lam Mum opened, the only true Cantonese restaurant in the Palo Alto area was Hong Kong Restaurant. Dishes were OK but it was constantly packed because it was the only option for the less common Cantonese dishes.
re: Melanie Wong
You know, Melanie, the reason I don't post much here is that dreadful feeling I have to meticulously reply to you (and KK too) here in Chowhound, as I don't have much time posting other than cooking for myself and friends (and dining out and tasting wine of couse). =)
At R&B, try the duck with jelly fish appetizer, live seafood (at amazing prices just a tad above retail, e.g. live striped bass at $130), yellow feather chicken, and their various *bland* porridges (bland presumably because they don't use MSG and so it's an acquired taste).
The owner Mr. Chan there is the chef as well. And they allow me to bring any beers and wine w/o corkage.
Also, if you head for Fu Lam Mum in downtown Mountain View, just talk to the owner Ben there and tell him your preferences in dishes. He's very good in recommending (e.g., Americanized dishes, authentic Cantonese dishes, fancy live seafood fishes).