Myung In Dumplings

mdumpling4344 Convoy St., yelp reviews

I’m a bit confused about Myung In Dumplings: it seems to be a Korean-Chinese place, by which I mean a Chinese place as it would appear in Korea. Mostly dumplings served in a kind of collegiate atmosphere, a few booths and a big window for to-go orders.

We had spicy shrimp-and-pork dumplings, veggie buns, and kimchi-and-pork steamed buns. In an attempt to really overdo it, we added chicken chow mein and also received a few plates of Korean cold veggies, banchan. Of all this, the only dish you might return for was the spicy dumplings, and to be honest, they were just OK. The rest was positively bland. The barley tea was sort of nice though.

Oh well, seek elsewhere Convoy-lovers: these are not the dumplings you’re looking for.

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Xi’an Kitchen

xian_chicken4690 Convoy St., yelp review

Xi’an – already standing out as the only “X” on the list – achieves instant immortality by being the only Asian restaurant on Convoy which doesn’t serve rice! That’s because 95% of the dishes on the menu come with noodles of one sort or another, and how many carbs do you really need? Xi’an also falls – pleasantly, if you ask me – into the same category as Jin’s Pot which was there before it: the category of the painfully authentic. The servers don’t really speak English, and all the exciting-looking dishes written up on the walls are in Chinese. And there’s a good deal of “strange meat”, which I define as any meat, particularly from something common-place like chicken, which has been cut up in such a way as to make it completely mystifying to Westerners.

xian_eggplantThe food rocks though. There’s a spicy chicken plate for two (probably more like four) which I think manages to shock all five taste buds at once. The hand-made noodles, featured in more than half the dishes, are thick and slippery and perfect. There’s an eggplant and green bean dish that rivals the best eggplant to be found on Convoy (which I’d still argue is at Spicy House, but feel free to try both). We tried braised pork (over noodles of course) and a scary red soup smelling strongly of Sichuan flower pepper with beautiful pork dumplings floating in it.

This place is great, no doubt about it. But I can’t help feeling that I didn’t really know what I was doing. I’m not sure how you’d go about ordering something like a “balanced” meal here – I think the green beans were the only green thing on the menu. Of course, I couldn’t read some of the menu so… who knows. Still, gather some adventurous souls and come check it out. And get the eggplant.

 

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Dumpling Inn

the new Dumpling Inn

the new Dumpling Inn

4625 Convoy St., yelp reviews

UPDATED! The Dumpling Inn (now with the post-fix: Shanghai Saloon) has moved one door down and two steps up on the hipster scale (there are funky rickshaws built into the decor!), but the quality has unfortunately suffered. You can still have a great meal here, but the Convoy wackiness factor is gone and the pros agree (by which I mean Jenne and Miko agree) that the xiao long bao – the soup dumplings – are no longer the pinnacle of Convoy cookery. On our return, we tried plates of cold veggies, dried tofu, and stewed eggs, then on to fish and chives, veggie, and soup dumplings, and we just kept shoveling with honey shrimp, handmade noodles, Chinese greens, seabass in black bean sauce, and spicy mapo tofu. All of it pretty good, but I think every one of these dishes is done better elsewhere on Convoy. From dust come our favorite restaurants, and to dust they return…

Good news is that, unlike the tiny old place, there’s not always a line out the front door. Though the parking has gotten worse because everyone loves the new Kula sushi place next door.

the old Dumpling Inn

the old Dumpling Inn

The Dumpling Inn is a funny little place, somewhat overshadowed by the giant Jasmine Restaurant across the parking lot.  There’s maybe eight small tables amid the unassuming decor, and because eight small tables is never enough, there is almost always a crowd of hungry patrons waiting outside under the awning.  These anxious people are waiting – not because the service is friendly (it’s mostly not) or the scene is hip or romantic (also not) – but because the food is good across the menu and fairly inexpensive.

The main attraction here is the dumplings – pot stickers, xiao long bao (steamed dumplings with hot soup inside), and all the other dumplings I associate with dim sum.  They are good and hot and freshly made – more than you can say for 95% of the dumpling appetizers available out there in the Asian-American restaurant universe.  But – maybe it’s my over-spiced, over-stimulated palate – I still find what I’ve tried so far a little bland.  We got the standard pan-fried pork pot stickers and soup dumplings and something called “fried silver strand buns” (amazing pieces of fluffy white bread with a slightly greasy fried exterior), but next time I want to branch out and try the beef curry or the fish and chives dumplings.

We also delved into the regular dishes and that turned out to be a complete success.  Seabass with black bean sauce (excellent – I still like Szechuan Chef’s better – but excellent), salt and pepper chicken (tangy without being syrupy), and the ever-wonderful sauteed Chinese greens.  I could live off this dish, I really could: a little ginger, a little garlic, a little sesame oil, a mess of greens, me, bliss.   Most dishes are available in a lunch portion, $8-10, or a dinner portion $11-13.

The long and short: I’ve eaten here before and I’ll eat here again.  When bringing newbies, warn them about the wait and the lack of ambiance.  If that makes them squeal with excitement, they’re my kind of peeps.  And so are you.

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Kula Revolving Sushi

kula14609 Convoy St. – yelp reviews

The name does NOT, in fact, say it all. We’ve tried out a number of alternate names that seem more appropriate: the Sushi-Matic, the SuXi in the Machine, or my favorite, the Sushi-Tron 5000. It’s more than a chain restaurant, combining as it does the essential functions of a vending machine, an 80s video arcade, and the Tokyo airport’s conveyor belt system. AND – here’s the real shocker – the sushi’s pretty darn good.

Kula Revolving Sushi is a medium-sized sushi chain – new to Convoy in the last six months as of this writing. Medium-sized is too small apparently – I’ve never seen the place without a hungry crowd loitering out front.

The concept is fun automation.

kula2The food comes steadily along by your booth on a conveyor belt (each plate on the belt is $2.25), but there’s also a touch screen from which you can order special items delivered on another second-level personal conveyor belt. This personal conveyor belt moves dangerously hilariously fast. The touch screen occasionally comes alive to play some kind of franchised anime about ninjas destroying plates of sushi or something. As you finish your plates, you put them in a little hopper: every fifteenth plate earns your booth a Hello Kitty prize, suitable for keychaining, which comes rolling dramatically down from above like the ball in Times Square. If you are eating with an eleven-year-old (we were), you WILL NOT stop eating except at a multiple of fifteen.

What comes along the belts? Most of the standard sushi items are there – tuna, sweet eel, tempura softshell crab, tamago omelette. We were especially pleased by the variety of fresh salmon to be had: in tangy ponzu sauce (good), crispy fried skin (excellent), seared with mayonnaise (excellent!), with umami oil (excellent!!). I loved a little bowl of Japanese pickles and corn. There’s also some cool dessert items like teeny doughnuts with ice cream, mochi in a kind of nut flour, and NY cheesecake. Of course, there were many items on the specials screen that we didn’t try – for four bucks you can get a little personal bowl of ramen with a top on so it doesn’t spill when it comes zipping out at Mach 10.

Even the waitlist is automated. (This expression of giddy anticipation didn't leave Jenne's face all night)

Even the wait list is automated. (This expression of giddy anticipation didn’t leave Jenne’s face all night)

The Recon hasn’t been active for some time – for a week or so we had eaten at every Asian restaurant on Convoy. Seven months later, there’s a half dozen new ones to try, and some oldies but goodies that have folded (RIP Pangaea). I would absolutely hate it if all my favorite restaurants turned into automated monsters like Kula, but it was a treat to return to Convoy and find something wildly new. Also, and as always, a treat to share a table with our comrades-in-arms from the Convoy Conquest (check out their review here).

It’s good to be home.

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Yu’s Garden

yusgarden4646 Convoy St., yelp reviews

Yu’s Garden is a smallish Taiwanese place, new to the neighborhood.  The food is cheap, and the menu is more pan-Chinese than Taiwanese – though recognizable regional dishes like beef noodle soup do appear.  The spread of cold dishes under glass that can be ordered to start the meal was particularly large and varied here – see picture.  I don’t know if it’s new vs. old or Szechuan vs. Cantonese or cheap vs. fancy, but all of the more recent Szechuan places on Convoy have these display windows full of starters and none of the older Cantonese-style places have them.

I definitely dig being able to order a few things and have them on the table immediately – at Yu’s Garden it’s 3 cold dishes for $7.  The pea pod leaves we had here were good, the sweet eggplant and the chicken, delicious.  But the mains we got were not inspiring.  The fish and black bean sauce – my personal indicator species for the health of any Chinese restaurant’s ecosystem – lacked profundity or heat.   The twice-cooked pork was maybe a little cloying.  The mapo tofu – instead of being a seething red grotto of evil goodness – was bland, monosyllabic.  Did we get gaijin-ed?  The waitress gave me a quizzical look when I ordered it, so maybe so.

And here’s one to file under “wacky Convoy”: the full page drinks menu – boasting 20 or 30 fun teas and sodas – was a complete hoax.  They only had one cold tea at Yu’s Garden – milk tea with boba – which turned out to be perfectly tasty, so go figure.

But please don’t let this lukewarm review dissuade you if you’re rarin’ to go: I’m told by reliable sources that there’s good food to be had here.  It just didn’t really materialize on our visit.

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Jasmine Seafood Restaurant

jasmine_gaochoyben4609 Convoy St., yelp reviews

The Jasmine is San Diego’s largest Chinese restaurant, serving old-school Cantonese dishes at night and dim sum every day for lunch.  Despite its warehouse size, the chaotic dim sum experience actually overflows the restaurant every Saturday and Sunday, which is not actually a bad thing: more people means more variety and more freshness.

Now, dear reader, let me caution you that it is patently ridiculous for me to write an objective review of the Jasmine.  I got married here fifteen years ago, I’ve brought countless out-of-town guests here for dinner, and I’m here frantically signaling to my favorite dim sum carts nearly every Saturday.  The Jasmine was by no means my first dim sum (I was born next door to a small beloved dim sum storefront in Toronto – long live the Yung Sing Pastry Shop!), but there are items on the menu here that my wife, son, and I have imprinted on.  We’re like little ducklings following around the turnip cake, the hom sui gok, the wonderfully squishy cheong fun.  The cart ladies have watched my son grow up and helped teach him how to use chopsticks.

These things I can objectively say.  The food at the Jasmine is good, especially the dim sum, which comes to your table hot and fresh more often than at any other restaurant in town, probably because nobody else can compete on sheer volume.  At peak hour, it can be anarchic: embrace it, people!  If you demand smiling service and non-oily low-cal options, go to Applebee’s for f-sakes.  But I can pass on some tips to help navigate the mayhem.

On a weekday, come at 12:30pm for optimum variety and freshness.  On week-ends, you want to time it so you get there before the line starts forming, but late enough that the kitchen is fully up and functioning: 11:15am on Saturday, 11am on Sunday.  There are roughly four tiers of employees walking the floor.  The cart ladies stick to their carts; you can flag them over or try to make eye contact with your favorites, but don’t ask them to bring you something not on their carts – it won’t work out.  The clean-up guys in white shirts can bring you water, forks, more tea, drinks, and will clear your table, but they also are not the ones to ask for specific items, they’ll probably just get confused.  The young girls in silk dresses just seat people or take checks – don’t pester them either.  If there’s something special you’re not seeing on the carts, then you want one of the men and women in the tux jackets; they’re more like regular waiters who will negotiate the kitchen for you in search of that shrimpy eggplant or potsticker you’re missing.  And the turnip and taro cake cart – bless it’s delicious little patties! – doesn’t move very much, so you can go to it or ask a be-tux-ed waiter to do so on your behalf.  And get the plum dip to go with.

Not sure what kind of meat or sauce is in something?  Get over yourself!  Just eat it.  90% of the time, it’s shrimp and pork with a wrapper of some rice product.  All kosher, of course.  And if you don’t trust your eyeballs, I’m happy to list the family favorites:

Top of the list is the herb-y pan-fried potsticker pictured above, it’s called something like gao choy bein.  The cheong fun – shrimp wrapped in rice noodles – is a classic.  Also, the har gow, eggplant with shrimp, hom sui gok (a deep-fried porky item that looks like a football), baked bao with BBQ pork, turnip cakes, wonton soup, sticky rice in lotus leaf, egg custard bun, and egg tart are all excellent.

And while I’m ranting: if you come to my town and then go on about how this or that is way better in LA or San Francisco, you can kiss my grits.  True, I’ve had tastier or more clever versions here or there of one or two items from the dim sum menu, but nobody does it, across the board, significantly better than the Jasmine.  On the West Coast.

Hong Kong, I can’t speak for.

Dinner here at the Jasmine has gotten a bit expensive over the years, and to be honest I think there are now more exciting options elsewhere on Convoy.  But the food is still great.  More favorites are: sauteed pea pod leaves, fish in black bean sauce, house special pepper steak, peking duck, chicken and eggplant in clay pot, and the infamous sweet honey walnut shrimp, which I think is way over the top but my son loves it.

What else to say?  It’s been a long happy affair with the Jasmine, and I’m still dewy-eyed with puppy love.  See you next Saturday, ma cherie.

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Katzra Sushi Bar

katzra4233 Convoy St., yelp reviews

Katzra is a cozy little sushi bar with a pleasant girls-night-out atmosphere and a million novelty rolls on the menu.  I’m told it’s been here for twenty years or more, which means at some point in the distant past it probably sold plain old sushi and not the bedazzling arrangements that now crowd its walls.  Somewhere on the net, there’s probably a fun fact-filled history of sushi in the States – I’ve heard that the “roll” as a food delivery system was invented in Los Angeles (along with bibimbap and smog – the light with the dark); all I know is that wacky rolls like “red dragon”, “gold rush” and “sea world” (all on the Katzra menu) now predominate in sushi bars on the West Coast.  In San Diego, sly Mexican fusions are common, incorporating pico de gallo, fried tilapia, and lots of lime.

But the roll in America began with the humble California roll, and that’s where I like to begin as well.  It’s easy to turn up the nose at this obvious example of gaijin-ization, but the simple avocado-and-fake-crab concoction can still provide a calm palate-cleansing moment to even a jaded foodie like myself.  When done right.  To me, the California roll is like an indicator species – the temperature, taste, and texture of the rice, the pliability of the seaweed tell you a lot about whether the sushi place is any good.

As is probably apparent from my snarky attitude towards all those ridiculous rolls, I was ready to dislike Katzra.  But I found it’s California roll passed all my tests: not cold, slightly sweet, with ripe avocado and bits of blackened sesame.  And I think I lucked out with the other things I ordered: choosing to order from the “Chef’s Special Sashimi Bites” section is a good move.  I got something called “Tangy Seared Salmon Sashimi” – the high point of which was not the salmon – which was just OK – but the asparagus breaded in some kind of nutty flour and sitting in a sauce like a cilantro-y green goddess dressing.  So tasty!  I also tried the “stuffed tomato”, which, disdaining all actual tomato, instead consisted of a spicy scallop concoction wrapped in large slices of ruby-red fresh tuna.  Kind of hard to eat, but yum!

As I’ve mentioned before, if you’re after traditional sushi – the real thing – go to Sushi Dokoro Shirahama across the street.  But Katzra is not a bad date night choice, not at all.  I’d happily return.

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