I'm back in Hong Kong, just at the exhilarating phase where the jet lag has worn off and the meat of the trip lies before me. Literally.
I've already had some great meals. My initial ambitions to explore the worlds of clay pot rice and snake soup have run headlong into the fact that it's not the right season for those (though I think I saw some clay pot rice on an outdoor table in the Temple St area). Not a problem in Hong Kong, though. Lots of alternatives:
Yung Kee (32-40 Wellington St, Central), of course. Roast goose and barbecued pork, juicy and fatty and savory and fully up to my expectations, whatever others may say about the goose. I might admit that the goose flesh is a tad less flavorful than some years back, but it's still really good, and the skin and the fat, which is what it's really all about, still send me into rapture. The barbecued pork should not be missed in a mad rush for the goose. Stir-fried pea vines in garlic, tender even late in the season, still representing for me a kind of perfection in vegetable cookery. Yang chow fried rice, sure it's ubiquitous, but they do a nice job with it. It's fluffy and not greasy, the egg is cooked just right, the shrimp are big, and the barbecued pork has flavor, unlike some.
Yunyan Szechuan Restaurant (4/F Miramar shipping center, 132 Nathan Road, TST). I think I've come here at least twice on every Hong Kong trip. It's my favorite Sichuan, though I plan to try Yellow Door and one other that's been mentioned here. Taking a suggestion from another hound's post, I ordered the ma po tofu, which was intense and lip-tingling and dark and rich and silky and terrific, but the dish that really got to me was a braised yellow eel in a very dark spicy sauce (not the best menu planning on my part, two dishes with dark sauces, oh well). Eel is sort of unctuous, so the interesting question is what you do with that. The Japanese brush a sweet thick sauce on it to emphasize and complement the unctuousness. This dish went the other way. There were mung bean sprouts, the big, more bitter version of bean sprouts, and freshly chopped raw garlic, very very finely chopped and very sharp and bitter. In any other context, these influences would have been unpleasant, but as an offset to the rich, spicy sauce and the almost cloying texture and flavor and mouthfeel of eel, it was stunning culinary art. Stuff like that is why I keep coming back to Yunyan. I also had a couple of glasses of some sort of red herbal drink, "Zi Bel Tian Kwai Juice." I don't know what it was, but it was sweet and refreshing and complex, sort of like Hawaiian punch for adults, minus the artificial taste of Hawaiian punch. Nice thing to have on hand to cool the burn.
Mak An Kee Noodle (77 Wellington St, Central). One of the perfect soup noodle places. Any attempt to decide whether I like this place more or less than Wing Wah (89 Hennessey, Wan Chai) would be merely an excuse to eat lots of noodles at both places. First a bowl of noodles with wontons and beef tendon (love what the tendon does to turn the broth glossy and rich); then one with just noodles and wontons, for purity and simplicity. Firm, firm, lively noodles, little wontons with perfectly fresh bouncy shrimp, tasty broth as background, noodle heaven. People tell me I have to try the place up the road and across the street a bit, the one with the large wontons, but I'll have to force myself, because I know this delightful place is waiting so close by.
Lin Heung Tea House (160-164 Wellington, Central). This is one of those places I'd not likely have discovered on my own; perhaps even ducked into and ducked out again, confused about the protocol. It's an extremely Chinese place, and a fascinating one, bustling and noisy, serious and fun at the same time, which is fitting for a foodquest. At busy times, you wait for a seat at one of the tables by finding someone who looks nearly done, and standing behind their chair until they vacate. You're given your own large gaiwan (lidded bowl) of tea, and they come around with giant kettles of water to refill whenever you show you're ready by leaving the lid off. I (OK, my Cantonese-speaking friend) ordered pu-erh (bo lay in Cantonese), and it was really good tea, in whole leaves, and apparently aged, not "cooked." The dim sum was in a homey style (barbecued pork rice is a specialty; duck in soup is another) and really fantastic if you like the style, as I do, very much. Besides being delicious, it was ridiculously cheap, and a very interesting experience. I'm told they open very early, so I may try to hit this place for breakfast at some point, and I have noted it down as a candidate for when I wake up, jetlagged and starving, at dawn on my first day in Hong Kong, on a future trip.
Loong Yuen (basement of Holiday Inn Golden Mile, 50 Nathan Road, TST). This has been a favorite in the past, and I hope it will be again, but I think I picked the wrong thing – a set dinner for 1 which seemed a bit too conventional, but which I agreed to in a moment of hungry weakness, dazzled by the prospect of getting 8 courses as a solo diner. There was one superb dish, a corn and scallop soup. The stir-fried tender beef was excellent, and the mango pudding was very good, if a bit underflavored, perhaps due to high gelatin content. But the lobster did not sing, the broccoli and mushroom was well-executed but too conventional to be interesting, and no other courses have remained in my memory. Next time I'm ordering from the regular menu. I've had some amazing food here, and I'm definitely not ready to give up on the place.
That's most of my meals so far. Now, a few questions:
1) Someone recommended a noodle place that specializes in beef tripe noodles. 15A Austin St in TST. I love tripe, so I went there. I found a 15 (a residential building), and a travel agent to the left, and a clearly higher-numbered address to the right. So where's the noodle place? There's a tripe-shaped hole in my appetite.
2) Walking along Lockhart in between Causeway Bay and Wan Chai, on the side of the street toward the water, I spotted a ground-floor Sichuan restaurant (the only Chinese character I can remember consistently is the one for Sichuan, that's how I knew) with dark brown wood and reds and not a word of English to be seen anywhere. The address is somewhere around 393 Lockhart. Anyone know anything about this place?
3) Is that under bridge spicy crab place any good? http://www.underspicycrab.com. Why are there two of them, a few doors away from eachother? Does it matter which you go to?