Eddie Huang is a visionary that I have come to respect, even without having a single bite of his food. Along with delicious Taiwanese dishes, the use of sarcastic and wacky dish names have captivated the New York City food scene. With his new restaurant Xiao Ye (Midnight Snack in Chinese) opening, I knew I had to do my duty and support my Taiwanese brother by eating at his original restaurant Baohaus. The hipster vibe may feel a little weird at first, but you start to feel a sense of place when you look around and see recognizable items around the restaurant. Cases of Apple Sidra and Hey Song Sarsaparilla help soothe that lingering perplexed state of having white people cook your Taiwanese street food. Why settle with only one bao? When you can sample all three!!Baohaus specializes in Taiwanese Gua Bao. All of the buns are topped with Crushed Peanuts, Cilantro, Haus Relish, and Taiwanese Red Sugar. These bad boys are only about the size of your fist, but packed with flavor.I know it’s a tough job, but somebody has to go and try all these baos. I guess I’ll volunteer to dive on this grenade and wash it down with some Hey Song. I started off with what was supposed to be the best of the batch, The King Jaffe Joffer Bao made with a Wagyu Skirt Steak. For about a $3 difference than the original, I didn’t believe it was worth it. Maybe for those of you who love lean meat, but when I think of Gua Bao, I think of the most unctuous and fatty pork belly that just melts like butter when you bite through. Heed my advice guys, and just get 2 of the pork belly ones. Next up was the Haus Bao with Hanger Steak, their signature bao. I have to say though, it was my least favorite out of the three. It had the same flaw as the previously mentioned, and didn’t even have that Wagyu quality. tsk tsk.Finally! My favorite bao of the group, and the cheapest by the way. At $4, it’s the same price as the Hirata Buns at Ippudo. The Chairman Bao is stuffed with slow braised Berkshire Pork Belly. This is what a Gua Bao is all about. Full of flavor and spices, with that soft porky juicy belly. The additions of the peanuts, cilantro, relish and sugar are all there for a reason to provide different textural and flavor profiles.
Even though this guy is absolutely delicious, I can’t see myself heading to Baohaus just to get another bite, when there’s better offerings next door at Xi’an with their Stewed Pork Burger and Ippudo with their Hirata Buns. Hey, I can even get a delicious bowl of ramen at Ippudo, what else can I really get at Baohaus? Oh that’s right, just buns. That’s why I’m eagerly awaiting the opening of Xiao Ye, but until then I’ll hold off on these tiny pieces of Taiwanese culture and stick with my $2 Chinatown Burgers.
Why can’t they have delicious Taiwanese food in New York City? Just thinking about Chinese New Year makes me crave Chinese food (but not the Chinese food in NY Chinatown). I want something different, something back from home, something like JJ Cafe.
I came to the new JJ Cafe in Rowland Heights with my family and friend and discovered that they do more than bread. I opted to order a variety of small dishes to share with my party, so that we can try what JJ has to offer. First we started off with a bowl of Noodles topped with Slow Braised Pork (It’s so hard to translate these dishes from Chinese to English, but I’ll try my best). The pork used is definitely on the fatty side, but that’s the best no? I still prefer to have it over rice.Being the fatty I am, guess what I decided to do. That’s right! Order it with rice also! For less than $3 it’s amazing. I believe I wolfed it down in a couple of seconds. Speaking of seconds, yes please!Next up was an order of Sliced Bean Curd. We ordered this because my parents are vegetarian and can’t indulge in the porky goodness, too bad. It was pretty bland and flavorless, the one at Q Noodle is head and shoulders better. Who can eat Taiwanese food without Scallion Pancakes? I know I can’t. The one at JJ however was pretty average. It tasted and had the texture similar to the one at Supreme Dragon, you get the idea. Great scallion pancakes are just around the corner at Earthen. Now to make it more justifiable to eat more fatty Pork, they serve it with a side of greens. Oh my goodness, this plate is heavenly. Tip for future parents, if you want your children to eat their vegetables, douse it with chunks of Braised Pork and watch that plate disappear. A couple of days prior to coming to JJ Cafe for lunch, I had gone here with my family for a quick breakfast. I ordered the Gua Bao and it was simply divine. However, coming back for lunch this time, it seemed as if they just covered it in plastic wrap and threw it in the microwave, a definite no no in my books. So I’m going to be optimistic and describe the better one. The dish is simply a bun with a large heaping piece of braised five flower pork wrapped in the middle. Topped with cilantro, pickled relish, and crushed peanut and sugar create a myriad of flavors and texture that come together to create a sweet symphony of perfection with every bite. Finally, my brother had ordered a bento-like lunch box highlighted by the Braised Pork over Rice, Taiwanese Sausage, and Egg and Tomato. If only I could have that lunch box everyday..
JJ Cafe Scores:
Food: 7.5/10 – There’s better places to grab Taiwanese food, but JJ Cafe is a safe representation.
Restaurant Environment: 4/10 – Placing the bakery with the cafe only makes it seem like a food court.
Service: 6/10 – The Chinese philosophy is to get you in and out, I don’t really like to be rushed.
Value: 8/10 – I could eat that cheap bowl of Braised Pork over Rice everyday.
Fact: Taiwanese food is the best form of Chinese food around.
Whenever I’m back home, you can be sure to be find me across from 99 Ranch Market at Q Noodle House in Rowland Heights. Ordering is a cinch and very Taiwanese, simply just indicate what you want on a menu slip and away you go. Actually, I take that back, since the whole slip is in Chinese, it’s very easy when you have either know Chinese or have it memorized.Usually, I order a ton of small appetizers, and today was no different. For a couple of cents, we started off with what I would call “braised egg” covered in garlic soy paste and green onions. (It’s hard trying to translate these Chinese dishes into English)Next came a dish of Sliced Bean Curd in the same Garlic Soy Paste topped with green onions. To me, these cold dishes are considered a Taiwanese staple.Yay! More appetizers! A simple Fried Tofu Cubes served with the same Garlic Soy Paste is an inviting temperature change from the cold dishes.The final appetizer is definitely something very Taiwanese. Fried Chicken, Popcorn Chicken, you can call it whatever you want. But anything fried and chicken is guaranteed to be a winner. I prefer to dip it in the, you guessed it, Garlic Soy Paste.My friend and I weren’t really sure what to call this dish in English. Silly Noodles? Sucker Noodles? Dumb ass Noodles? Anyways, “Sah Gwah” Noodles is named because an individual would have to be idiotic to order and pay for something so simple. I say who cares! As long as it’s delicious. My favorite noodles of all time! A very simple Dry Pork Noodles with Bean Sprout and Green Onions. Mix the entire thing together and add a couple squirts of Sriracha, and you’ll find yourself in culinary bliss. Forget El Bulli and Per Se, I can have a bowl of these noodles every day (OK, maybe I cant forget about them, because it would be sacrilegious). But it just shows how even the most simple and mundane dishes can be the best.
I do not feel right giving Q Noodle a grade. There’s too much nostalgia attached to the restaurant and dishes for me not to be biased.