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Jan 5, 2013 12:04 AM

Had dinner at ABC Bakery and Cafe, San Mateo

We had dinner at ABC Bakery and Cafe tonight. When we walked in, the board of specials greeted us -- entirely in Chinese.
the waiter said, "Two?" we said yes and he led us to a booth (nice decor) and plopped the menus down and walked away without saying anything, smiling or even looking at us.
It was a long time before someone came to take our order -- and it was someone else, and we had to practically hang out of the booth to get their attention. No, it was not busy -- about a third of the tables were occupied.
The menu didn't explain much. So we ordered cautiously.
The curried chicken with rice came first. It was very good, though I would have preferred more vegetables.
The fried calamari appetizer came several minutes later. It was tender and hot, but seemed to have no seasoning in the batter, and the tartar sauce with it was okay but rather mayonnaise-y.
Last, we got roasted duck lo mein. the noodles were luke warm, the duck refrigerator cold, the greens too big to eat without a knife. The bowl of broth that accompanied it was very hot -- enough to warm the noodles for quite a while.
The waiter refilled our tea once, but that was fine.
All in all, we weren't impressed.
And there was no sign of any bakery goods in the place at all. No dessert was offered to us, nor in the menu. Apparently, you can order cakes two days in advance. We saw that on the outside of the window as we were leaving. We went somewhere else for dessert.

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  1. I've been here twice and found the food to be pretty mediocre. Certainly doesn't compare to a place like Garden Cafe in San Gabriel.

    Are there are great HK cafes on the Peninsula or South Bay?

    5 Replies
    1. re: mliew

      Cha chaan teng is not really my thing. But I'm wondering how Broadway Bistro is these days?

      1. re: mliew

        Cafe Salina used to be a very solid, if definitive choice, but that was years ago. Recent visits have confirmed what others have said, that it's past its prime, and the food and amount of clientele (even on a Saturday night) generally on a decline.

        As for ABC Cafe, granted that I haven't been there in a while, when I did try it a few times, the food was decisively mediocre after surveying from all different parts of the menu.

        1. re: Jon914

          I think Cafe Saline has been climbing up on quality again. It's hard for it to compete with all these Cantonese restaurants in Millbrae on weekend nights though.

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              Oh house-made wontons and dumplings, my go-to options for a low-carb meal. Cantonese sticky rice. Even their XLB is quite nice. Baked fried rice with pork chops and fish with tomato sauce, BUT one time my friend and I were there at 9:30 PM (remember they open past midnight), and all the baked dishes weren't available because they had already turned off the oven. How lame!

      2. The service is not very attentive, but I always like going there for HK style milk tea. I suppose I might like other places too, if I knew many.

        I would say Cooking Papa has similar food and service, although the food is a bit better. I've not been to the Foster City location, though.

        5 Replies
        1. re: eethan

          The food at Cooking Papa is much different than ABC Cafe. Perhaps you are thinking of ABC Seafood which is a cantonese seafood restaurant which is similar to Cooking Papa. But Hong Kong Cafe food is a whole different style.

          CP does have good food though, one of my favorites on the Peninsula.

          1. re: mliew

            You are right that Cooking Papa serves seafood, but my feel for it was that it's mostly cafe food---wonton soup, ho fun, curry rice, and other 'casual' fare---no? I would say there is more variety at Cooking Papa, but it seemed basically like a cha chaan teng to me (or at least what I think of as one).

            I have never been to ABC Seafood, but I had the impression it was a 'higher class' type of restaurant, i.e., the kind of place you have a banquet.

            Am I characterising these strangely? (I'll be happy to be disabused of misapprehensions!)

            1. re: eethan

              I would characterize Cooking Papa as a casual cantonese BBQ/Seafood place (similar to the Sam Woo chain in Southern CA). They do serve those dishes you mentioned as well as milk tea, but it's not a Cha Chaan Teng in the sense that they don't serve any western style fusion dishes.

              You're right about ABC Seafood. It's a typical upscale banquet Cantonese seafood place similar to Koi Palace, HK Flower Lounge, Mayflower, etc.

              1. re: eethan

                Although this is a bit of a generalization, Cantonese joints in the Bay Area tend to fall into 3-4 broad categories.

                1) Dim Sum / Banquet Halls. The "nice" places you go for dim sum at lunch and for a nice, seafood dinner.

                Examples: Koi, ABC, Mayflower, Asian Pearl, Joy Luck Palace, Zen Peninsula, Dynasty, Saigon, Champagne Seafood etc.

                2) Casual Noodle/Rice/Congee/BBQ Shops. In Cantonese, literally called "jook fan mien". These are usually casual joints opened by the formal places that serve wonton noodles, rice plates, congee and BBQ in simple settings, but there are standalone operations too.

                Examples: Koi Palace Express, Cooking Papa, Fat Wong's Kitchen, Joy Luck Place, Mr. Fong's Kitchen.

                3) Western-Style Chinese. Called "gong sik sai chan" - these tend to blend aspects of (2) together with Western-Style Chinese food, like Borscht, Baked Porkchop Rice, Curry with Rice, Shrimp Toast.

                Examples: Cafe Salina, Broadway Bistro, ABC Cafe, Venus Cafe, Cousin Cafe.

                4) Arguably, I'd say there's a fourth common category - casual, Cantonese places that do a little bit of everything and serve family-style meals at moderate prices in modest settings. Commonly, they offer inexpensive set family meals or "3 dishes for $20".

                Examples: Silver House, Yummy World, Hong Kong Restaurant, tons of places in Fremont/Newark/Milpitas.

                1. re: Jon914

                  I wouldn't put Cooking Papa in the category of noodle/rice/congee/BBQ, even though they serve those dishes. They have many traditional Cantonese dishes that clearly come out of the hands of experienced classically-trained chefs, and one can spend a fortune there if one wishes. It's one of the top Cantonese restaurants in the Bay Area, in my opinion.