Cafe China, NYC

I ate at Cafe China twice this summer. My first visit was a solitary one but I managed to slurp down some passable, but not delicate or soup-y enough soup dumplings.

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I was disappointed that I’d wasted the space though, when presented with a luscious tea smoked duck with moist meat and perfect, shatteringly crisp skin.

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In an effort, to eat a somewhat balanced meal I ordered some bok choi which actually came out perfectly cooked – a crisp and garlicky compliment to the duck. The meal was a convincing argument for why this small Chinese restaurant earned a Michelin star.

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On a second visit, the soup dumplings were still lackluster, but the lamb dumplings in chili oil were so excellent that we asked for a second order. There were also some delicious dan dan noodles. But sadly, it was busy and I don’t think the kitchen was prepared to keep up. The duck had floppy skin which took the dish from star-worthy to disappointing. We ordered a whole fish that was nicely cooked and beautifully filleted – but served in a cloying sauce. And the waiter steered us away from the authentic ma la flavors of a chicken dish to a beef and bell pepper dish that could have come as take-out from any Chinese take-out joint in the city. I’d certainly come back, but I’d make sure to do it at a less busy hour in hopes that that crispy duck skin could be a part of my meal.

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Little Sister, Manhattan Beach, CA

Little Sister is so good that on a recent trip to Los Angles I had to visit the spot twice. The best dish has to be a whole lobster deep fried salt and pepper style.

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If you save part of the body they will take it back and turn it into an excellent, eggy fried rice that is served in a hot bowl and gets crunchy on the bottom (everybody knows my kryptonite is crispy rice).

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I don’t have any other photos because I was enjoying the excellent company – but a papaya salad with grilled shrimp, the shaky beef, the grilled pork spring rolls and the ma la pickles were also excellent. If I had one tiny bit of criticism it would be that some dishes could have packed a little more heat. But that won’t keep me away next time I’m by the beach (which is hopefully soon)!

Starry Kitchen, Los Angeles

Go to this place and eat chili crab with beer beignets. I shouldn’t need to say anything else, though actually the other food is fantastic and innovative too (I just can’t stop thinking about that crab meat in addictive fiery sauce). The quirky location inside a dive bar adds tons of character too. P.S. You have to call 24 hours in advance to get a crab.  The answering machine will tell you they aren’t open.  Don’t believe it. Leave a message or call from a mobile phone so they can text you back!

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