Archive | July, 2011

Spicy Beef Tendon & Dumplings.

23 Jul

It’s not a figurative speech when they called Kingdom of Dumplings a hole-in-the-wall joint. Hidden far away in Park Side, without the sign and the line of people waiting in the from, it could easily been mistaken for some sort of elevated basement. Despite being tightly packed into the square room, the patrons waited patiently to be served, as the late afternoon shined through the front windows.

Here we are, the Kingdom of Dumplings! The space was tight and slightly too warm, the walls appeared to be a tad greased, but the servers were all smiles and kindness. We are here for the dumplings, and some Northern Chinese eats that cannot be found on the East side of San Francisco – where the Cantonese and Hunan cuisine dominated.

I was most excited to have found spicy beef tendon on the menu, even more when it appeared before my eyes. Beef tendons cooked in soy sauce, rock sugar and anise seed, chilled then thinly sliced. It is then mixed with chili oil, garlic, pepper, chopped cilantro and sesame oil.

The tendons see-through when picked up. It was cold and refreshing at first, the texture gelatinous but on the chewy side. Chopped up cilantro brought a nice aroma that erased any unwanted fattiness. Then – as we sat and ate, before we knew it, the stealthy numbing spice hit us. Like wild fire it spread through our mouth, making us sweat yet unable to stop going for more.

It was really a ‘thank goodness’ moment when the dumplings arrived. For we could then divert our attention from the tasty, killer beef tendons, and move on to something else. Sitting in the mess of our tiny plastic-covered table, 12 cute little boiled dumplings sat and stared. “Eat us instead!” they said. The heat was making me slightly delirious.

You could really taste the hand-knead dough. Thicker than the store-bought, machine-made ones, the dumpling skin was thicker and a chewier, the perfect kind that holds the stuffing together. Inside, ground pork and cabbage made a great pair – juicy, sweet, with a nice crunch from the green veggie. A light dip in black vinegar and some ginger slices gave a rounded taste.

Yumm’s the word! Next up, our taste buds travelled to Shenghai for some soup dumplings. Also known as tiao long bao, the dough is traditionally slightly softer, thinner and more translucent compared to ones use on the dumplings. Though it seems that Kingdom of Dumplings just used the same hand-knead dough.

These dumplings were steamed instead of boiled. Enveloped within is a pork filling, prepared with solid pork aspics that melted into the tasty broth when heated. Because of the hot soup that could burst at the bite, it was recommended that we open up the dumplings a bit to let it cool before eating.


Umami was its profile. The broth was on the greasier side, but tasty nonetheless. It provided a whole different experience next to the spicy tendon and the boiled dumplings – which were felt like a hugely satisfying, working man’s meal. The soup dumpling, despite its thicker skin, felt delicate and gentle. To my tummy that was happy, that went for a long sigh and said: What. A. Day.

1713 Taraval Street | San Francisco, CA 94116 | 415.566.6143

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Sea Cucumber Guts.

9 Jul

It was a super exciting day to be dining at Kappou Gomi, a Japanese restaurant in Outer Ricmond that I’ve been dying to try for about 2  years (but somehow never made to). This was not the average sushi joint, as the sign in the window indicated. No sushi, no combination dinner.

Kappou Gomi is a family operated joint serving authentic Japanese dishes that can be found in households and similar family restaurants in Japan. Upon arrival, seated at the bar, we were offered this 8-page menu detailing various proteins available as well as ways the ingredients can come prepared.

kitty waited patiently as we look through the encyclopedia of a menu.

Naturally, the first thing I noticed was an item on Today’s Special: konowata, also known as salted sea cucumber guts. Sea cucumber is a marine animal that is often found on sea floors. It is referred as the sea rat in Japanese, looking a little like a headless version of Jaba the Hut. In Chinese cuisine, it is often braised in rich ham and scallop based broth, one of my favorite banquet dishes. That said, their guts was not something I was familiar with, I just hoped it would go well with sake.

braised sea cucumber. source: http://www.lifeofguangzhou.com/

The waitress came with our order of sea cucumber guts, served on a beautiful silver plate, hidden in a small wooden cage.

Lifting the cage, we found a small shot glass of a brown substance topped with a quail egg. (at this point we were switched from the bar to a dining table, because one of the dishes we ordered was too big to be served at the bar.)

The brown, almost cloudy substance was what I had ordered. To prepare this dish, sea cucumber guts were taken out of the animal, mixed with salt and malted rice, then fermented for about a month. A common animal-gut based execution called shiokara. I mixed the egg thoroughly, hoping for the best.

When I picked up the guts with my chopsticks, it was quite slippery to hold. The whole thing looked a little slimy, and tasted exactly that. The flavor was very intense: salty but with this familiar taste of the ocean that can be found in marinated pollock roe (mentaiko). It was overpowering at first, but really grew on me as I tasted it. Not only did the salted guts went well with my sake, it simply made me want to drink more!

I mixed the last bit with some sake and just shot it. Actually quite delicious, almost comparable to oyster-vodka shooters.

Our other dishes went tres bon with sake as well. There was this lemon juice marinated mackerel mixed with chrysanthemum, dressed in light wasabi, on top of pickled root vegetables (daikon, mini radish, lotus root). The fish was firm and zesty, clean in flavor with a tiny rush to the nose from the wasabi. The root vegetables sweet and refreshing.

Then there was the onsen tamago, hot-spring egg. Boiled to perfection at exactly 159 degrees, the egg was served in a clean dashi, along with salmon roes, fish cake, shiso leaves, cherries, and a piece of Japanese isinglass on top.

While the cherries were a bit odd (were they just looking to add something?), the egg was terrific. Just look at it! The yoke was cooked so beautifully, so soft so smooth so sweet. It put all the eggs I’ve had before to shame, its magnificence and simplicity made me teary.

Of course, we ended with that dish that was too big to be served at the bar: ishikari, a miso-salmon hot pot. Sushi-grade salmon cooked medium in a boiling, rich miso both, along with some veggies and tofu. A fisherman’s food originated in Hokkaido.

It was like a mother’s loving touch to our stomach, its warmth pleased us. Not a bad ending after some sake drinking. It made me think of the Japanese business men who would visit the roadside ramen stands after a few rounds of beer and sake and pickled small plates at local izakayas, looking to have something hot and satisfying before heading back home. Happiness, this was what it tasted like.

Kappou Gomi, I shall be back. Soon enough.

Kappou Gomi | 5524 Geary Blvd | San Francisco, CA 94121 | 415.221.5353