Hong Kong Luk Yu Tea House - Old Time Vintage Dim Sum and Traditional Classic Cantonese dishes.
- Charles Yu Mar 26, 2013 02:34 AM
My wife and I were treated to lunch at the iconic Luk Yu Tea House for lunch by her long time girl friend, whose family happened to be part owner of this famous establishment!
As expected, service was out of the way attentive, which, for most other patrons, except regulars, are a rarity!! Apart from a few pre-arranged dishes, the dim sums, we ordered a la carte.
For Dim Sums we had:
- Har Gow
- Pig's liver Shui Mai
- Yellowing chives ' Harm Sui Gok '
- Chinese ham and minced Dace Fun Gor
- Osmanthus flavoured water chestnt jello pudding
- Red Bean Jello Roll
- Seasame coated chewy doughnut with chestnut filling.
For the pre-ordered dishes we had:
- 'West Lake' Minced Beef and Cilantro Chowder
- Luk Yu's house special Sweet and Sour Pork
- 'Head to tail' stirred fry Pigeon meat and giblets with sliced honey
roasted Chinese Yuan Nan Ham
- Stirred fry shredded sharksfin with egg white and crab meat.
As expected, the Dim Sums, unlike the current modern 'dainty' trend were 'rough with an edge'. However, the flavours were there. The pig's liver Shui Mai was a rarity in this ' health conscious' society. The Dace and ham Fun Gor was a first for me.
It has been years since I last tasted those authentic Classic Cantonese dishes. The pigeons were particularly good with great wok-hay flavour. The honey roasted ham added a nice touch and was very addictive! As expected, the rather bland tasting shredded sharks fin was more of a textural play.
All in all, an enjoyable lunch featuring dishes that are quickly disappearing before our eyes due to the vanishing of the chefs and their lost skills!
One last word, the gorgeous vintage ' Po Lay ' Chinese tea was ' Wow!!!! '
Charles, I love this place to bits. I was first there in the 1980s, when there were shiny brass spittoons under each table. When I was back there recently, the spittoons were gone, but we still got to sit in one of those traditional booths which I loved.
Luk Yu's dim sum harked back to another era, and I couldn't find many of the types of dim sum available here in other newer, Michelin-rated places.
The graceful dining room is quieter these days, but the elderly waitresses with dim sum serving trays slung across their shoulders still made the rounds (till 9.30am when they disappear and menus were distributed all round), hawking their wares in sing-song voices. A small rubber stamp hung on a red lanyard around each waitress' neck, like a little pendant (see photo below), which each waitress would use to stamp on the order cards on our tables to keep track of what we had.
I particularly liked the minced pork "shiu mai" dumplings topped with pig's liver which you also had. The liver imparted a robust, almost steely edge to the rich, sweet, impossibly delicious minced pork underneath.
There was another dish which I really liked - a variation on the "ham shui kok": glutinous rice flour dumplings encasing meat-and-chives filling, served crisp and hot, but which one dipped into a small bowl of savoury clear consomme before consuming. They were delicious!
The super-thick "cheung fun" rolls, filled with chopped BBQ pork, were another tasty retro option which I'd forgot even existed until Luk Yu magically brought back from the deepest recesses of my culinary memory, and set in front of me. I could almost imagine a young, chubby 沈殿霞 in her round bob hairdo and pointy cat's-eye-framed glasses enjoying this dish half a century ago :-D
These days, people make a beeline for flashy spots like Lung King Heen and Tin Lung Heen. I, on the other hand, preferred Luk Yu for nostalgia and some good, old-fashioned Cantonese cooking reminiscent of the food from our childhood days.
Lau - which city in the US does good Cantonese food, in your opinion?
I liked the Taiwanese/Fujianese-influenced cuisine in New York, Washington DC and Los Angeles (spent quite a bit of time in Rowland Heights and Hacienda Heights the last time where I was virtually surrounded by Taiwanese!).
I found passable Cantonese in San Francisco Bay Area (I used to work in Oakland) and also in Seattle - but the cooking in both cities were pretty rustic and unsophisticated. Don't think you can find very good quality dim sum there (my personal fave was Yank Sing in downtown SF, but only been there perhaps 15-20 times within a 5 year period).
Cantonese food in the US:
the answer is you're not going to find "great" cantonese food in the US, but you can find "decent" cantonese food with some "good" dishes mixed in if you know where you're going and what to order.
you have to go in with the expectation that:
a) you will not find HK level food and
b) "rustic and unsophisticated" is probably the one way to term it as in general cantonese food in the US is definitely stuck in the past. You won't find that sort of depth / complexity that you find in cantonese food in HK, so ordering something that takes more skill like a double boiled soup or something like that you're setting yourself up for disappointment. You are much better off getting simple dishes like 脆皮炸雞 or 北京排骨; those types of dishes you can find good renditions of here. To give you an example of the types of dishes i would order here look at this post: https://www.lauhound.com/2012/03/impe...
None of these dishes are hard to make, but they do a pretty decent job on all of them, so if you stick to stuff like this you'll be good.
- generally: I'd go with LA and maybe SF although to be fair i have much less experience eating in SF than i do in LA.
- LA: You can get pretty decent dim sum at Sea Harbour or Elite and you can also get a pretty decent dinner at both restaurants. I also think that you are well advised to pay up for higher quality seafood as I find the standard seafood is just so so quality, but paying more you definitely get a significant bump up in quality. I think both would be considered alright in HK, but not standout by any means.
- SF: People like Koi Palace alot, I give Koi Palace credit for being a little more adventurous and trying to bring some more creative dim sum to the US like HK and I think some of their dim sum is pretty good although definitely has some duds on the menu. However, I think the quality of dim sum overall is better at Sea Harbour.
- NY: realistically if you're coming from Asia there isn't any reason to eat chinese food in NY. Maybe for some sichuan food or there is a hunan restaurant i enjoy alot
- NY: has so so taiwanese food
- LA: has much better taiwanese food. I think LA has the best taiwanese food I've had outside of Taiwan actually.
NY fujian food:
NY does have lots of fuzhou fujian food, but the immigrants are very poor so its mainly xiao chi low quality kind of stuff, I haven't been wow'd by any of it. i have been meaning to explore the more sit down seafood type places since fuzhou is known for seafood, but i need someone who can read chinese better than me bc i can probably only read maybe 40-50% of the menu (menus are completely in chinese and sometimes in simplified which i can't read as well) and i hate having to ask the what half the dishes are. although to be honest my expectations aren't very high, they just don't have the income to support great seafood
you know it's funny bc when i was a kid i took some of this stuff for granted bc dad's parents were both amazing cooks. my grandmother was a fabulous super old school "make everything from scratch the proper way" type of cantonese cook and my grandfather worked in a bakery during the day and as a chef at night, so he could cook really well too. I ate great home style cantonese food every saturday until some time in high school when i would go visit them weekly. A few trips ago in HK, i had the pleasure of eating at my friend's family's house and it brought back all these memories of what cantonese food should taste like, sometimes i forget bc its been so long since i've had some of these dishes cooked right. They were actually shocked I'd had every one of the dishes before many times b/c its stuff you don't find in restaurants. So the real answer of where to find good cantonese food in the US is in someone's house (my grandmother's siu mai were better than even the best ones at the great dim sum restaurants in HK).
absolutely home cooked food is always the awesome. i rarely ever get it anymore b/c all cooking skills in my family went away after my grandparents passed away not sure what happened to my dad's generation when it comes to cooking skills haha.
The closest i get is one of my grandfather's friends still owns a restaurant in orange county, CA (i'm from newport) that mainly serves americanized chinese food, but he will make me real home style stuff if i ask him to. A few years ago i told someone on chowhound this and they actually went out and got him to make food for them
actually if you happen to be in NY there is one dish that I think if you happen to be homesick is easy to get and worth eating...congee. NY happens to make great congee, i don't find it much different than what you get in HK. I eat it like once a week actually.
no im not unduly hard on NY b/c i live there. I would love to be able to say XYZ cantonese restaurant in NY is a real standout and worth you going to even if you eat in HK alot (trust me that would make me really happy).
Anyhow, i try to judge things in absolutes and while I like IP and it is almost certainly the best in NY (in my opinion), in an absolute sense it is a fairly good restaurant that makes certain dishes pretty well, but it is not a "great" cantonese restaurant. If you are used to eating in HK you're not going to be wow'd at IP.
also, the other restaurants i mention have generally have better seafood than IP. IP's high points are that its consistent and it makes some reasonably simple dishes correctly that most of NY cantonese restaurants can't seem to get right. I think the quality of their seafood is decent, but not great. I've eaten there many times and my reviews highlights what i think are the best dishes at IP, but there are certainly duds i've left out (any of their clam dishes, salt and pepper squid etc etc).
klyeoh, if you ever visit SF Bay Area again, there are a few gems, and the sum of which could easily outperform Southern California... it's often been a heated topic of debate that some think SoCal has better Cantonese food in general than SF, which I do not think is true. It's really no use explaining this on the LA or SF boards, because many don't understand or want to believe :-).
Koi Palace (Daly City) - it's probably the best dim sum in town but the waits are insane unless you go very early. It's the only restaurant that keeps up with the times, or the rumor is that they send their chefs abroad to train. They also cater to a lot of Mainland Chinese so you will see a few regional Chinese dishes as well that seem out of place. They also try to focus on what's popular in HK that originated in Guangdong, e.g. 中山橄角蒸陳村粉 (marinated olives pork spareribs steamed Chan Village fun) which is a classical preparation. In HK, 陳村粉 is used to soak up the huatieo Chinese liquor and chicken lard sauce steamed flower crab at The Chairman (Central). Big spenders can splurge on live seafood in the tanks, although it's not on the level of HK (whatever they can get). Most expensive item now is Alaskan King Crab (10 pound minimum, US$42/pound) or maybe their Australian lobster which is pretty heavy too. You can go to koipalace.com and click on the Daly City location to look at the menu, banquet menu, specialty dishes etc.
Yum's Bistro (Fremont) - we recommended FourSeasons to go there on the SF board when he was visiting and he actually went there as a friend invited him and his family there for dinner, plus it was close to where he was staying. The chef actually worked at a restaurant in HK specializing in village cuisine called 小欖公 in the 1970s, then worked at one of hotels in Hong Kong, then did some Chinese restaurant gigs in Indonesia and Japan, then in the 80s/1990s was executive chef of HK Flower Lounge, Fook Yuen (now closed), South China Seafood Village, ABC (Foster City), then at some point retired, then a few years ago got bored at home and opened his own restaurant. If you talk about a chef with the most experience, he is it. Knowledgeable in preparing dried seafood, crab, lobster, and really good stir frying technique. He can with advanced order and notice do some of the classical private kitchen type dishes (winter melon soup, stir fried glutinous rice where he starts with raw grains, glutinous rice stuffed crispy skin non battered chicken, traditional style snake soup, and more). Other than that, some of the simpler stuff are pretty decent too.
Hakka Restaurant - Hakka Cantonese restaurants are very easy to find in HK and abroad, but incredibly rare for Northern California. Sure there's Ton Kiang...but I don't think there's anything interesting that they put out, and they are more popular with the House Of Nan King crowd if you know what I mean. Salt baked chicken (truly baked, not saltwater steamed), pan fried stuffed tofu, basil stir fried clams, salted egg yolk lobster or crab, and lots more. The food is very affordable and really hits the spot.
There's Taishan Cafe, which I have not been to...but it's probably one of the better Toishanese restaurants in town, if you are into that style of rustic cuisine.
Cooking Papa (Foster City) - they recently scored a Michelin Bib Gourmand and listing in the book. Noodles, rice plates, congee one stop shop restaurant. If you compare it to Toronto, Vancouver or Hong Kong, it's no contest of course...but for the SF Bay Area it's a very high standard that 85% of the menu they have been able to pull off. It's the only wonton noodle broth in town that has a rich dried tilefish flavor. A few other CHers have been there before and liked it a lot (e.g. Parigi who is based in France). mycookingpapa.com if you want to visit their website. The Santa Clara flagship branch is apparently not as great.
Ming Kee (SF) - top notch soy sauce chicken, and the only place in town that also does a decent roast goose. The roasties deli butcher is originally from Hong Kong. Most roasties delis, like the famous Cheung Hing, are run by Toishanese whose marinades for BBQ tend to be more salty and less complex.
There are a few more but I'll stop here. Tomorrow night I'm going to go check out a local cheap bistro like place...that came highly recommended by a former executive chef (who cooked for former HK Governor Tung Keen Wah several times whenever he visited SF)...too bad that chef is no longer working in a restaurant in SF, but his cooking is top notch in my opinion.
re: K K
"more popular with the House Of Nan King crowd if you know what I mean" haha
klyeoh - ill defer to K K as he's got way more bay area experience than I and he is one of the more knowledgeable people on the boards about Cantonese food
K K - wow you guys have a roast goose place? i didnt think it was available in the US
Thanks Charles for this update! Glad to hear one of my favorite places in Central is still going strong.