Dongbei and Shanghainese at Bamboo Garden in Mountain View
In another thread about two new Chinese restaurants in Cupertino Village, ckshen and KK referred to Bamboo Garden in Mountain View. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/743042#6017501
William and I gave it a try last week. In the cold and rain, the idea of Northeast (Dongbei) food sounded so appealing. This is the third restaurant I’ve patronized at this address. At the first one some years ago, we had to endure a shouting matching between the husband and wife owners followed by a dramatic exit by the wife. When the next iteration, Shanghai Family Restaurant, appeared shortly after, we figured they got a divorce and sold out. Now enter Bamboo Garden, still flying the “Grand Opening” banner promoting Shanghai and “Mandarin” cuisine. We chatted with the friendly female proprietress (who speaks excellent English) and learned that she is from a small city not far from Beijing. We asked her to point us toward the Dongbei specialties on the menu.
First up, Pork with Mustard Tuber soup, $9.95 (small). I’d gravitated toward the lamb version, but the owner said the pork was better to her taste. The housemade pickled cabbage added a tangy lilt to temper the fatty richness of the thin shavings of pork belly poached in the light stock. With wide cellophane noodles, the soup was so satisfying on a chilly night. I’ll mention that the serving size was at least three quarts, more of a medium than a small size tureen. If you like pork and sauerkraut, this dish is for you.
Then from the section of (unmarked) Dongbei specialties: House special spareribs stew string bean (sic), $9.95. The owner admitted that she doesn’t like eggplant and steered us toward the green bean version of this dish. Another giant serving and not much to look at, but the aroma of star anise and other sweet spices that wafted up from the plate when it landed on the table was amazing. Yet while very aromatic, the seasoning was quite restrained and did not overwhelm the flavor of the tender pork. The spareribs were hacked into bite-size pieces with a good amount of fat on them still. The juices were slightly thickened by concentration and gelatin from stewing and not by starch. Soft boiled green beans suited my brother, and they soaked up a lot of the stewy flavor. Despite having a Dongbei sparerib stew at two other places, this is the first time I really “got it”. Maybe there’s a weather play here, but I liked this one very much.
House Special Spareribs Stew String Bean (sic) photo
From the Shanghai side of the menu, we had to try the xiao long bao, offered with a “crab paste” option here. The very soupy, extremely thin-skinned pork and crab xiao long bao, 6/$6.95, had thin but strong walls to contain the sloshing soup inside. The pork filling was a bit coarse and had just a few shreds of crab but the flavor was quite good. And, these each had more than a Chinese soup spoon full of juices inside.
Crab and Pork Xiao Long Bao (XLB) photos
We also tried the Shanghai style pan fried buns with pork AKA sheng jian bao, 6/$5.95. I’d asked the owner if these were very soupy and she described them as “juicy”. They were fried nicely with golden brown bottoms. But they do not squirt like the ones at Shanghai Flavor Shop and the flavor tends toward bland.
The complimentary dessert was coconut milk, tapioca and taro sweet soup, and very good. The tab was about $40 and we had a lot to take home.
My brother returned here soon after with a friend to have the crab XLB again. He also tried the Preserved Pork and Bamboo soup and says that it’s not as rich as he’s had at other Shanghainese restaurants. He also tried the House Special Knuckle (tipang) and enjoyed that.
The menu also includes a three dishes for $19.95 section (in Chinese) – anything interesting?
Prices are quite reasonable with generous portion size. Communication is easy. The hearty Dongbei dishes will be just the ticket for winter time. Bamboo Garden is worth checking out.
Shanghai Flavor Shop
888 Old San Francisco Rd, Sunnyvale, CA 94086
108 S Rengstorff Ave, Mountain View, CA 94040
I've been wanting to try this one out for quite some time, and in the past month, I've tried it twice. Overall, it's a solid entry particularly for the South Bay with some rather good signature dishes.
- XLB - A pretty good rendition. Skins are thin (but thick enough not to break so easily), and the filling is amply juicy. The meat itself isn't my favorite - a little coarse and the flavor is not as deep as I'd like but for the South Bay, this is one of the better ones I've found.
- SJB - Not a whole lot in the way of juice but nice crispy bottom and similar pork filling to the XLB.
- Smoked Duck - This is excellent on both visits - one of the best renditions of Smoked Duck I've had. Succulent, meaty, generously portioned and just the right amount of smoke flavor.
- Pork Ribs in Bamboo Case - The rice was a little undercooked, but the pork belly stew was quite good on the flavor and texture front.
- Fish Fillets in Wine Sauce - They went heavy on the white pepper, which some may not like, but I liked this one overall.
- Shanghai Stir-Fried Noodles - Fairly standard rendition. Not much to say.
- Shanghai Rice Pot with Bacon and Vegetable - It's not the best rendition I've had, but they did a decent job getting the clay pot flavor and bacon flavor through.
- Sauteed Eels - This was the closest thing to a clunker - way too much sauce and "filler" (chives and bamboo). Shanghai Dumpling Shop in Millbrae does a much better rendition of this.
Overall, it's a good spot that I'll be returning to more. My only reservation is that while they do their signature dishes really well, the non-signature stuff (some which I didn't mention) can be mixed, and the selection isn't as varied as a fully focused Shanghainese restaurant.
Did the Sheng Jian Bao have a giant hump on the bottom centers to make room for the folding inward of the sealed dough? Other than that knot, I was very happy with these on a trip there a few months ago.
Every dish hit the mark that night, and noting that we had some non-Shanghainese dishes, having a solid line up has been a rare event for me at the Shanghainese places in the Bay Area. Some other dishes we tried:
Sweet and sour pork ribs : served cold from the display case. Great rendition in terms of sauce thickness and amount of meat on the bone. I prefer the smokiness of Little Shanghai's version, but overall, I think BG's is a better version.
Pickled mustard tuber with noodles : DC found this a bit funky tasting, but I like it.
Glutinous Rice with Pork in Bamboo dish : most patrons were eating this, so we got it too. The rice seemed to be overcooked in our version, but it was so saturated with flavor it wasn't a problem.
+1 on your description of the smoked duck. I tried to order another poultry appetizer, but the server said the smoked duck was a specialty.
To which it might be added that if it's the TEA-smoked duck (which is the one prominent on the menu) -- also very popular among me and my crowd, ordered there many times -- it has in our experience had so much stimulant infused from the tea that one friend regularly gets a buzz off of it, and others, including me, notice this too!
This might sound flippant but it's serious. And rings a bell in the back of my mind that you should be careful not to share any of this duck dish (not that you would anyway, it's so tasty) with pet dogs. Someone will (no doubt!) correct me if this is garbled, but I think the particular xanthine stimulant lethal to dogs, the reason they can't eat chocolate, is actually theophylline, the one dominant in tea leaves. Theophylline is prominently a heart stimulant. Dogs have some problem eliminating it, so it can build up to lethal levels, and the problem is famous with chocolate because it's the most edible xanthine source, but the xanthines (caffeine, theobromine, theophylline, etc) tend all to occur together in nature, as congeners.
The SJB didn't have any hump on the bottom. It was a pretty standard rendition - white bun, couple pleats at the top, crunchy flat bottom and OK filling. The best rendition I've had locally was at the now closed Sunny Shanghai in Burlingame where the bun was thinner, the meat a little bigger and some actual juice in there.
With pork/bamboo/rice dish, I think we may be commenting about the same thing. The rice had smaller-than ideal grains and was really hard to pull apart and chew, something I experienced recently when ordering plain glutinous rice at a Thai place.
Despite many visits to this place in the last couple of years trying much of the menu (it has become a regular favorite, and that of a gastronomic family I know with Chinese roots, who also make some of these dishes at home), once again I've neglected CH. Cross-ref to another thread citing this one:
What comes across most strongly is the value (had serious feasts for $10-20 per person), the many Shanghainese specialties (good call, Michelin Guide -- not online of course, since like most restaurants singled out for recommendation in all editions of the Guide, Bamboo Garden is not "starred"), and -- something the Michelin may not mention -- disproportionate offering of Chinese filled dumplings, for a non-dim-sum restaurant. Hearty distinct tennis-ball-sized Shanghai pork dumplings (browned on the bottom IIRC -- is that the shen zhen bao that bbulkow mentions? -- description fits), and some of the better XLB I've had, for example.
The family that helped me to understand this place says the dumpling selection dwindles over the day, making early lunch especially attractive. When I remarked on the XLB to a server (it is, of course, a family-run restaurant with small staff, all immigrant), he said XLB was the #1seller. When I looked online, some people knew Bamboo Garden ONLY for those unique dumplings, but the menu only starts there, and proceeds to varied, delightful, good-value dishes.
Another Must Try is "Fried dumplings filled with Chinese chives." Shaped like a small calzone rather than a typical Chinese "dumpling," this pastry is stuffed with fresh delicate green Chinese chives and transparent noodle bits. Slightly different in style from the killer version at Chef Zhao Bistro, a mile or so away and also near Central Expressway, but both have been excellent in multiple visits each. The thought of someone visiting either restaurant without trying this delicacy is unsettling.
Dropped in again, second visit. Nicely near work.
Tried the spare rib green bean soup as per rec. It was good, solid, although not mind blowing in any way. Would have been fresher in-store, perhaps. The meat in the spare ribs was very flavorful and well cut, as KK said, a very nice balance between meat and fat.
Got the "dried tofu and shrip", which ended up being like noodle soup but with the noodles made of tofu, and not enough broth in the take out container. Two shrimps. Nice delicate taste down near the bottom, but my bowl was 99% tofu and thus less interesting.
Shen Zhen Bao, now that's good eating. GF said it was too doughy, but that's how SZB are. Filling was very fatty and flavorful.
Go for the dumplings!
Probably my favorite place in the area for a good hearty meal.
1) XLB - covered at length here. but the skin, the soup and the filling hit very high ratings for me.
2) croaker in wine sauce - this is a small dish of 6" fried croaker covered in a wine based sauce that is slightly sweet and salty. delicious.
3) tea smoked duck - one of my favorite renditions of this dish. fat nicely rendered. skin crispy in some places and the meat still tender
4) preserved pork and bamboo soup - this comes in a giant tureen and is chockfull of pork, bamboo and tofu skin in a milky pork bone broth. great for a cold winter night.
5) shanghai vegetable fried rice - a very simple dish of white rice stirfried with ham hock and some type of leafy green. subtle but very aromatic
6) bamboo glutinous rice - the opposite of 5. sticky rice chock full of fatty pork. very rich but also delicious.
Seems this thread wasn't recently active, and (to answer Q. posed in Chef Zhao thread) no one has mentioned Bamboo Garden's recommendation in the 2013 SF Bay Area Michelin Guide released in the Fall. (Regular users of those Guides tend to a different perception of what they're about, compared to people who see just press and online chatter, which always dwells on a few restaurants getting top honors. But the rest of the Guide still lists only a small, recommended minority of the region's restaurants -- in SF editions, the sort of restaurants often praised on CH too. I've often wondered just where the Guide starts its own research... :-)
Anyway! It took a while to follow up on Melanie's 2011 tip here on current occupant of this much-turned-over restaurant space, but I've been there several times with groups the past year with great results at moderate prices.. Quoth Michelin: "Go-to place for real deal Shanghainese cuisine ... [menu also includes both] Americanized fare and some Mandarin options, but stay with their traditional items." Sound advice, independently learned by eating there.
For interested folk like bbulkow who're unsure what to order (and upthread are tips, or you can do as I did and ask friends who know Shangainese cooking) you could always start with dishes the aforementioned Guide singled out. Fresh fish fillets in rice wine sauce with wood-ear mushrooms [#42 in my menu copy dated August], Shanghai greens with goji berries [#73], house special smoked duck [#30], house special glutinous rice (mentioned upthread) with pork and pork belly in Bamboo [#33] -- a novel table presentation and a stick-to-your-ribs hearty dish. These specialties all run $10-$12, all have been very fine. There's a wide range of Chinese filled dumplings too, including the unusual, big Shanghai pan-fried pork buns [#168]. That should be enough suggestions to fill up any newcomer. And I recall employees working pretty diligently to answer questions and suggest other dishes on request.
We found this a consistent, VERY moderately priced real Chinese kitchen locally, great counterpoint to Chef Zhao's vividly authentic and very different Sichuanese cuisine a mile or "south," both restaurants near the same main road (Central Expressway).
The quality of the Xiao Long Bao at the bamboo Garden was a pleasant surprise the first time we were there. Today, it consistently stood out such that it had us believing that it rivaled if not surpassed that at the Shanghai Dumpling Shop in Millbrae and even that at the Koi Palace! The skin is very thin but it yet it is not prone to tear easily, there is lots of hot, delicious broth within, and lastly, the filling is also quite tasty. It seemed to score favorably on the total criteria upon which one judges XLB. I also can’t help but wondered but the skin on the dumplings we experienced appeared thinner than that gleemed from Melanie Wong’s photo in her earlier posting.
The Lion’s Head Meatballs, a generous serving, consist of five good size meatballs. There was a nice sauce, Shanghai bok choy and Shitake mushroom caps.
We also had a House Special #33 Glutinous Rice with Pork in Bamboo dish. It was a most aesthetically pleasing and tasty presentation – tangy, braised belly pork (Kau
Yuk liked), golden needle lilies and glutinous rice filled in a large bamboo piece.
Koi Palace Restaurant
365 Gellert Blvd, Daly City, CA 94015
Shanghai Dumpling Shop
455 Broadway, Millbrae, CA 94030
3 dishes for $19.95 translation
Brocoli beef, Kung Pao Chicken, Shrimp and Tofu claypot
Seafood tofu pot, Sugar & Vinegar spareribs, Grilled spareribs w/scallions
Garlic spareribs, Ants Climbing Trees (bean thread vermicelli with veg and pork), 4 seasons beans w/beef
shrimp with egg (omlette), kabocha/pumpkin tofu, stir fried eggplant w/sauce
beef brisket and tofu pot, eggplant and spareribs pot, black woodear funghi stir fried w/egg
Shanghai stir fry plate (?), vegetarian fried rice, vegetarian fried noodle
Preserved veg (shir tsai) pork shred fried rice, combo fried noodle, combo fried rice
Mongolian beef, curry chicken, yu xiang/"fish sauce" pork strips
yu xiang eggplant, 4 seasons beans, roast pork w/bamboo
mapo tofu, yellow chive dried tofu strips with pork, stewed tofu
lions head meatballs, salt and pepper fish filet, salt pepper shrimp
black bean sauce shrimp, walnut shrimp, kung pao chicken
walnut chicken, sacha beef, vegetarian stir fry
black bean sauce fish filet, salted fish with chicken tofu pot, napa cabbage with dried shrimp
preserved veg (shir tsai) edamame and....tofu ribbon strip?, ji mao veg, choy sum w/mushrooms
bitter melon stir fry, sweet sour chicken, sweet sour fish
lemon chicken, General Tso's chicken, orange chicken
twice cooked pork, garlic brocoli, hot sour soup
sesame chicken, chicken and corn soup, kung pao (3 things)
spicy water boiled fish, spicy water boiled beef, combo won ton soup
I see very little NE, some Shanghainese, some Cantonese, and some seemingly Chinese American in the specials.
Good to know. Fantastic value though, as the menu states you get two bowls/orders of white rice or a scallion pancake. Order two sets of the $19.95 menu and they will throw in a yen du xian Shanghainese claypot soup with pork belly, bamboo shoots, tofu ribbons + assorted goodness.
re: K K
Well Melanie's picture of the takeout menu doesn't specify the 3 entree $19.95 offer as takeout only, but I'll take rotiprata's word for it. But if you get two sets (that's 6 entrees and spending $40) the choice of soup they throw in, in addition, is either the yen du xian or duck soup (your choice).
re: K K
I agree. There does not appear to be much Dongbei going on here. Dongbei or Manchurian cuisine is marked by hearty meals centered on meat, fresh and pickled vegetables. The use of pickled vegetables in soup is common. Grains like wheat, millet and sorghum are popular and their cuisine reflects influences from Manchuria, Mongolia, Korea, Russia and Japan. Often millet is added to the rice. It is also known for strong flavors, lots and lots of dumplings and a large variety of cold dishes. Raw fish might be served to start the meal. Garlic seems to be used but not too much ginger.
re: K K
I stopped in here for dinner last week to get some dumpling soup and xlb/crab xlb to go.
The xlbs were great, though my roommate found them to be a bit saltier than the xlb we used to have at hc dumpling house, and I found the skin a little thicker than I'm used to.
The dumpling soup was good, but needed more seasoning; I ended up adding in salt, pepper to it when I got home, which really helped the flavor of the soup.
Credit card only over $20. They do pretty brisk takeout; while I was waiting for my order (10 minutes), two others came in to order and pick up.
I guess I missed Shanghai Sichuan Restaurant at this address. My first visit to this shopping mall was an earlier tenant. Here's your old post.
I should add that found the soup a little undersalted, my brother did not. Adding a dash of salt and some white pepper really popped out a lot more flavor.
re: Melanie Wong
We tried the place yesterday. We asked for recommendations and the first item recommended was the regular XLB, the second one recommended was the same soup Melanie got. ordered a string beans with meat as the third dish. I liked the XLB, though the juice was a bit fatty (hence the flavor!). the first bowl of soup i felt was undersalted, the second bowl, after i have had the relatively strong flavored meat dish, was fine. The string bean was a bit bland, though the meat, though a bit tough, was flavored well.
They seem to be doing better business during dinner time than the former tenant. it sounds like the waitress is from the northeast, perhaps the chef also?
If you had the same waitress as we did, she's the owner and from the Northeast. Don't know about the chef, next 'hound who eats there needs to ask. But I suspect that with the skill in preparing the Shanghainese dishes, probably from Shanghai, and that might account for the more refined touch in cooking the Dongbei dishes. That's all speculation on my part.
I'd say the menu has more Shanghainese dishes carried over from the previous occupant than Dongbei or Beijing. No clue where the chef is from. When the owner asked me why I was interested in Dongbei food, I mentioned the other restaurants I'd tried in Cupertino, Milpitas and Mountain View. She just nodded that she was familiar with those places and didn't take the opportunity to say that her chef came from any of those. Please let us know if you find out.