Foster City Chowdown Report: Cooking Papa Stuffed Boneless Chicken 3.
Seven Hounds gathered to try the Dish of the month.
I will only list the items we had and will reserved my opinion after the others have posted.
1. XLB's Shanghai Soup Dumplings
2. Clear Broth Beef Brisket
3. Made to order rice noodles stuffed with white fish
4. Chef Special Maggi Sauce Duck Lower Jaw
5. Peking Duck two ways. Skin served with buns and the meat stir fry in lettuce cups
6. Stuffed Boneless Chicken with sticky rice
7 Steamed Eggs with clams
8 Fried Sweet Egg Donuts
9 Roast Pork Belly
After you all see the pictures and the others have comment I will add my two cents.
I'd been to this venue when Mr. Fong's, missed the interim incarnations, and was pleased to return here to try Cooking Papa for my first time. Arriving at noon, I took note that there were several open tables in the main area. I'd been wanting to check it out with my elderly mother, but reports of lines had kept me away. I'm glad to see that it might be appropriate for her if I get here early.
We had the furthest table, tucked up against the end wall, next to the window and under the video screen. I had the prime seat at the table for looking at the lagoon and watching the kitchen videos. However, the food had my prime attention even though I took special notice of the kitchen making joong and xlb.
I concur with the overall assessment, liking CP's food as much as Yum's in Fremont and SF's Hakka Restaurant. In pre-meal planning with my co-host, ChowFun, we opted not to pre-order any of the other special dishes besides the stuffed chicken because in my mind this spot is known for noodles, jook, etc., and I was wary that it could execute such a broad range so well. Next time, no worries!
This was my first encounter with duck lower jaw, or rather the lower beak with the attached tongue. What's edible on a duck jaw? Well, there's a thin layer of velvety skin over the bony mass and it soaks up the salty-umaminess of Maggi as well as the meatier parts. I loved the sticky gelatinous, salty mess. But after some of the other highly salted dishes to follow, I did start to wonder about my BP reading.
The cheong fun, I'd picked the one with fish slices and cilantro, were as soft and dreamy as promised. This is a lunch time, must-order, for sure.
XLB were acceptable, and one of the few worthy examples at a Canto place. Tender thin wrappers, and soft uncompacted pork filling, but lacking enough richness of flavor. Yet, I'd probably order them again as part of a larger meal here.
Roast pork belly was rather flat, served with straight up hoisin sauce on the side.
Nice job on Peking duck. Buns on the thickish side, and I did start to get hoisin overload once the sauteed meat seasoned with the sauce came out (post skin). We did note that the hoisin was blended with other elements to pair with each duck course.
Steamed eggs with clams were unattractively loose. A more delicate composition than at R&G Lounge, slightly deeper color and more eggy tasting, making me wonder if CP adds extra yolks for richness. While not much to look at, I can't fault the silky texture or taste.
Clear beef brisket had a ruddy appearance and the start of a "smoke ring", different than most. The open-knit grain, slight chew, and fattiness are marks of the point end of the brisket, offering more lusciousness. The clear stock was overly salty.
Adored the chicken stuffed with sticky rice. What great skin, and I marveled at the rice. Reading KK's caution that the rice is on the wet side, I don't think that this particular example suffered from that. Lovely, pearl-like individual grains of firm, chewy glutinous rice barely clinging to each other blended with more seasoning elements than most versions. Not unlike a fine risotto in texture. The filling had very tiny pieces of dried shrimp, some were just rehydrated while others were fried to a deep-brown crunchy --- loved 'em!
Our excellent waiter had advised to order the sai yuen egg puffs when were ready for them, so I believe they were fried to order. Over-fried and too greasy.
With double orders on XLB, brisket, rice noodle rolls, and egg puffs, I really didn't expect our party of 7 to finish all the food. But at meal's end, only a few slices of the roast pork remained. Sign of a great lunch.
re: Melanie Wong
The pleasant ambience I noted earlier is actually an important clue to why this place is a bit unique in our area. Melanie commented as we walked out that this was the only open kitchen she could think of in a Chinese place.
On the mainland, HK, Taiwan, Singapore, most better restaurants are modern and many are quite interesting and open architecturally. Din tai fung and several other of the great XLB++ places (that KK recommended) in Taipei have very open kitchens where you can watch the dumpling fabrication and steaming. Interesting views are also common.
With the rare exception of the Grand Hotel in Taipei and maybe still the palace cuisine restaurant in Bei Hai Park, pagoda architecture is not the fashion in the modern restaurant scene. Of course, there are numerous holes in the wall, market stalls, etc., etc., many with incredible offerings, but higher end, high quality Chinese meals are served in a clean and modern environment in Asia these days.
In the US, it seems to be almost a requirement for Chinese restaurants to have pagoda style, or other 19th century design styles, or be just plain and boring with food pictures on the wall, etc. Thai restaurants in the US also follow this approach with heavy embroidered decorations of stuffed elephants or whatever., which you never see in Thailand, where the top restaurants are modern and sleek..
I never quite appreciated this difference until I thought about Melanie’s comment about the open kitchen at Cooking Papa. The whole spirit of the place, starting with its name, is modern, new affluent Asian and that, extending to the food, is why it stands out a cut above.
I wasn't at this dinner, but I've had quite a number of the ordered items before.
The XLB were on par with Koi Palace's, maybe a slight notch below, though most recently KP's rendition had much dryer skins from steaming, CP's broth/juices slightly milder in flavor. For a non dim sum Cantonese seafood restaurant, CP's rendition is quite solid...at least they put forth the effort in, that pleases most Cantonese palettes.
Clear broth brisket is more about the texture, not supposed to be melt in your mouth, but not overly chewy. It is hard to get the consistency of the meat and turnip juices perfect, and I've had a few preps where it was a tad bit salty, but otherwise it's great. The sad thing is that when you ordered the "chu hau" regular stewed version in a rice plate, they basically take the clear broth version and put some cornstarch thickened dark sauce over it, and is not even the chu hau sauce.
Maggi Duck jaw has been a popular appetizer/snack for the last year or two, even Tai Wu in Daly City offered this before CP did. Never had it at Tai Wu or CP though.
Glutinous rice stuffed chicken is quite nicely done, though I found the rice to be a bit too moist. They provide a lot of gravy on the side, so you can customize how much you want over your portion.
Curious if steamed egg with clams is better at R&G, and I'm guessing yes, as I never had a bad plate there.
Fried egg puffs....it's luck of the draw here. Best to ask them to fry one to order, or you might end up getting one that's been sitting for a while and reheated. Supposedly Koi Palace's version is vastly superior. When this doesn't come out piping hot and fried to order, the texture and flavor quickly degrades.
One excellent item here is their Dai Pai Dong style lobster (dubbed "Food Stall Lobster" on the menu). Runs about $16 ish a pound or whatever their seasonal price is. The lobster is stir fried, lots of wok hay, and is served with a signature minced pork "puff" with spices and what appears to be basil. It looks like typhoon shelter, but is not. This can be pre-ordered if you have a larger party and need bigger sized lobsters, or if they have lobsters in the tank, you can order it on the spot. This is also on one of their pre-set banquet menus. Definitely worth getting.
The private kitchen menu has a fried stuffed tofu balls (pei pa tofu) dish, which is a pre-order item at $30. This is something where most of the costs go into the labor (as the ingredients are cheap), where for about $8 you can get an excellent vegetarian version of this at Ming's Diner in SF.
Cooking Papa continues to be a very solid performer, despite its inconsistencies. And for a place that specializes mostly in casual eats, rice plates, noodles, congee etc, their efforts and execution in the slightly higher end fare is very noteworthy indeed.
re: K K
OK let me make a shortlist of the best Cantonese restaurants we have, in no particular order (YES I do know some are better than the others):
Millbrae's list (Asian Pearl, Gourmet Village, Hong Kong Flower Lounge, The Kitchen)
South Sea Village
Joy Luck Palace
Am I missing any?
Judging from the dishes we had at lunch this past Monday, Cooking Papa could be the No. 1 on the list. It's that good, or should I say excellent. Were the dishes perfect? Of course not:
I suggested the egg custard dish with clams. It was too watery. Someone suggested that the clams must have leaked some of their juices to the eggs. But just by eating the eggs alone, I couldn't taste any of the clams. Not sure if the clams weren't good enough, or they didn't put enough of them in the dish.
The XLB certainly had enough of the broth to pass the mark of what I call decent.
The clear broth beef brisket was one of the very few renditions that reminded me of a good version from Hong Kong. The right texture was very hard to describe; maybe K K did a better job above. The broth, unfortunately, had too heavy a hand in it in terms of sodium. But a great job nonetheless.
The stuffed chicken was excellent, though I still don't understand why someone would combine the two dishes of a Cantonese fried chicken and sticky rice. It wasn't like I could taste the rich umami from the chicken skin/fat seeping into the rice.
The Peking Duck was also excellent. There was little fat and no meat under the crispy skin. This could easily beat any Peking Duck in the area, including Great China's version. Not sure why this would appear in a Cantonese restaurant though. I guess we are in the US. :-/
I'm very impressed by Cooking Papa, after so-so recent (and expensive!) dinners at The Kitchen and Zen Peninsula. Thanks for organizing this lunch!
re: K K
As one of the my fellow diner say Cooking Papa is a solid in most of there dishes and truer words could not have been said.
No standouts but all the dishes were done well with expect for two dishes. The pork belly had been sitting for a while not over night but not fresh from the ovens (it has to cool a little otherwise they could not cut it in the manner it was served) and the egg donuts were a little over cooked.
The Stuffed Boneless Chicken was a cut above the others the group had tried. The sticky rice in the chicken was cooked raw in a wok and not in a rice cooker. Which made the rice not stick together and give it better texture and flavor. I did notice the raw cooked sticky rice was a dish one could order by itself which why they had on hand to stuff the chicken. I have had the one at Ming Diner in the past and this one is better but Ming in cheaper.
While it’s always a pleasure to share a meal with fellow ‘hounds it was especially nice to only have to drive a mile from home for yesterday’s Chowdown. I’ve been to Cooking Papa about 10 times and lately have been ordering from the same set of dishes I like. Yesterday’s meal introduced me to some new favorites that I will be enjoying on future visits.
My favorite new taste was the very flavorful duck jaw. The rice noodle rolls with fish were very good though I still prefer the ones with shredded duck. Next time I’ll try Thomas’ recommendation of the chicken with bitter melon version.
I’ve always enjoyed the half order of CP’s Peking Duck which has tender meat along with the crispy skin. By ordering a full duck we were able to able get both the skin served with mantou, scallions and sauce and a separate meat mixture with lettuce cups. I enjoyed it this way even more than my usual straight order. My one reservation is the mantou are pretty boring.
The xiao long bao were competently done. If I were hit with a sudden desperate craving for XLB I probably wouldn’t drive to Millbrae to get the slightly more flavorful version at Shanghai Dumpling Shop when a reasonable version is so close to me. My second time with Cooking Papa’s pork belly was similar to the first--not as good as I’ve had elsewhere. The clams were quite good.
I put my comments on the chicken stuffed with sticky rice in the Dish of the Month thread--
My one disappointment was the egg puffs. There were darker and oilier than ones I’ve had here previously, and not as fluffy and light on the inside. The best ones I’ve had at CP were sublime.
All in all, a very good meal with good company at a good price. With the pricey stuffed chicken dish our bill was $27.xx per person (including a15% group gratuity) which we happily rounded up to $30 each thanks to the excellent service.
Very pleasant lunch, great company, and lots to eat at what has come to be one of my family's most favored Chinese restaurants in the Bay area.
No single dish (except possibly the specially ordered chicken) stood out as revelatory or extraordinary, yet taken together the over all quality was consistently at a high and competent level. The meal reaffirmed my view from 2 previous visits that this is a very solid place, as Vincent described it, and very reliable. Watch out for big waits on weekends.
The ambience stands out above almost all other Chinese restaurants in the area (there is a dim sum place in Emeryville (?) with great views, but less charm). And the service was excellent (as on previous visits), though like essentially all Chinese places, they appear incapable of understanding the concept of pacing. Entries arrived as soon as they are prepared and there is no one in the kitchen coordinating a properly spaced meal.
I had never had the Stuffed Boneless Chicken with Sticky Rice, so I was lucky to be introduced to this dish when it was so well prepared. The skin was crispy, the rice excellent, and a nice sauce was served on the side. I almost imagined getting this in Italy as it has many similarities to Italian cooking with the rice being risotto like. Excellent.
The XLBs are decent, the broth inside was not as intensely flavored as I have seen in the absolute best versions.
The broth with the brisket and the turnips was very nice.
The rice noodles are always excellent and sometimes quite unusual here. This time we had a fish slices version. I have had them with bitter melon and chicken on an earlier visit.
The duck tongues, as they are described in English on the menu, really is described as lower jaw in Chinese. This dish was a first for me, and I enjoyed it.
The Peking Duck 2 ways was first class as it has been previously.
The steamed egg and clams was very nice. Some thought it should have been a bit less liquid, but I found it to be just fine. A very elegant dish.
The Roast Pork Belly was competent, but it was juicier on a previous visit. Luck of the draw?
I am not too picky about the Fried Sweet Egg Donuts. These were darker and crisper than sometimes, but still a fun way to end a meal.
It is entertaining to watch the videos on screens around the restaurant. They show the kitchen preparing various complex dishes, including XLBs. So, you can go home and try to copy them ... ;-}
re: Thomas Nash
Why would you expect Chinese serving pace to be the same as in Western restaurants. I am not sure of the reason why, but at a banquet, the soup and an appetizer platter might come out first and then a full-fledged barrage of food. You have to have your priorities and glom onto the dishes you like best. Dude, that's just the way it is.
Speaking of photos... http://www.jeffersonscher.com/photos/...
Somehow seven of us finished 10 dishes (counting whole Peking Duck two ways as two dishes). That's certainly a sign that the kitchen did a good job today.
The sticky rice-stuffed chicken was very good, from the beautiful exterior to the flavor and texture of the filling. I liked how the extra-crunchy dried shrimp in the rice mirrored the crispiness of the skin. Way, way better than our recent outing to Zen Pen.
Cooking Papa's xiao long bao were very juicy with delicate wrappers and tasty broth, but I like a heap of ginger threads in my vinegar and I saw but a single one. The flavor of the duck jaw (a monthly special) was great, but digging out all of the edible parts made for messy fingers. The rice noodle roll was remarkably tender, and the skin side of the roast pork belly was nicely crisp. The brisket was flavorful and tender, if a touch salty. The egg puffs were airy and tasted fresh, but unfortunately had retained too much oil.
The restaurant seems like a very good choice for a group lunch. Our table by the window had a nice view across the canal (?) -- where cookie cutter homes stood drying in the mid-day sun. While not architecturally exciting, it beats the view from any other banquet table I've seen. I'll be back.