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Alright, I’m starting to feel ridiculous about being in Taiwan and blogging incessantly about a Taiwanese restaurant in New York, but I’ve been waiting for this place to open for so long, I have to see this thing through to the end.

Eater.com is reporting that Xiao Ye’s status is “Certified Open” (emphasis theirs).  I’m not sure who certifies these things, but the people at NY Mag got it totally wrong a couple months ago when they proclaimed Xiao Ye had “Recently Opened!” (punctuation theirs) when the Blue Elm, the space’s previous tenants, were still open for business.

So if it’s true and the day has finally come and Xiao Ye is indeed open, by all means, go and enjoy and let me know how it is.  I’ll be sure to check it out as soon as I’m back in the city.

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Yesterday, Eddie Huang’s brother Emery sent me a message assuring me that Xiao Ye, their Taiwanese street food restaurant and follow up to the wildly popular Baohaus would open soon. It was nice to get a personal message assuaging my fears that it would never open and that it was all just a cruel joke. (Okay, I never really feared that, but I was certainly growing impatient.)

But if you’re a former New York Times reporter and author of a New York Times bestselling book about Chinese food, you get more than a blog comment, you get invited to taste the food. Jennifer 8. Lee posted some pics from the investor’s dinner she was invited to at Xiao Ye and here they are to feast your eyes on.

Taiwanese cucumbers and pot stickers:

photo: Jennifer 8. Lee

Fried (and I’m assuming/hoping to god NOT stinky) tofu with chili sauce:

Photo: Jennifer 8. Lee

I’m jealous. Nevermind that I’m actually IN Taiwan right now eating Taiwanese food. I still want to be part of the party.  I’ll be back in NYC at the end of August and hoping Xiao Ye will be ready and waiting.

I tried to see if I could somehow replicate SriPraPhai’s crispy Chinese watercress salad (Joyce wrote about it last year). How was I going to recreate the “carnival of colors, textures, and tastes”? Haha.

First I made the sauce. I figured it was mostly fish sauce so I started by dumping in about a cup. Then I added some jaggery, lime juice, fresh bird’s eye chilis, chopped red onion, and bruised mint. It wasn’t sweet enough so I shaved in a little more jaggery.

After I washed the watercress i set it up on some paper towels by a box fan to dry it off (so it wouldn’t splatter the oil all over my beautiful face when I dropped it in hot oil). I used tempura batter and fried it in vegetable oil. Later on I realized the batter was too think. I should have been shaking off more of that batter before frying. =-(

I served the salad with the sauce at the bottom… and I put it on a plate that was too small to be able to mix the salad with the sauce (just like at SriPraPhai!) Oh… just realized I forgot the bed of iceberg lettuce. *sigh*

In early June, I wrote about the months of anticipation and mystery surrounding the opening of Xiao Ye, Eddie Huang of Baohaus‘ follow up restaurant serving a greater variety of Taiwanese street food. NY Mag incorrectly reported that it had already opened, several different sources were saying they had tasted the food, Eater.com even unveiled a menu, but there was no concrete information about an actual opening date.

My friends and I actually went to the location one Friday night hoping that it had secretly opened. Alas, it had not. Today, I received this message:

Hey Joyce,

I’m part of the Baohaus/Xiao Ye team, and I promise you, TWese food in the LES is on the way! We were actually just at Yelp’s Country Club event last night with our Kim Jong’s ILL noodles.

Eddie’s cranking hard in the kitchen and we’re hammering out the last of the paperwork. If all goes well, we’ll be in there soon!

Thanks for the concern though, and I promise it’ll be worth the wait!

~Emery

Well, thanks, Emery.  I certainly hope so.

I’m currently in Taipei for the summer and because my Chinese is only so-so, I get incredibly nervous doing normal activities. In English, I’m an extrovert of the most obnoxious sort, but in Chinese, I’m painfully shy and awkward. So one of my greatest triumphs in recent memory was ordering breakfast at a stand near my apartment all by myself.

I live in a pretty tony neighborhood in Taipei and a lot of residents in my high-rise apartment building are American or European expats who work at the 101 building nearby, which is also a huge tourist attraction, so the menus at most restaurants around here are written in both Chinese and English or have pictures to point at. It’s generally pretty easy to get around even if, like me, you’re completely illiterate. But the breakfast stand, one of many in Taipei, a street food mecca, is for locals, so I knew I’d have to use my broken Chinese if I wanted my scallion pancake with egg.

First of all, there are two kinds of scallion pancakes here in Taipei. Many of you might be familiar with the thicker, denser kind found in many Chinese restaurants in America. I’ve never been crazy about the leaden, oily things, but I am completely in love with their flaky, pliant cousin, the zua bing.   Zua means “to grab” and bing is, I guess, best translated as “pancake.”  The zua bing is appropriately named because making it involves pulling it as it cooks on the griddle to create the flaky layers.  For those of you familiar with Malaysian cuisine, it’s somewhat similar in texture to roti canai.

So yesterday, determined to accomplish the simple task of ordering breakfast, I marched up to the stand and waited in line.  Two people walked ahead of me and I realized I was standing behind a man who had already ordered.  The woman operating the griddle asked me what I wanted and I told her a zua bing with egg.  She asked me if I wanted soy milk (a typical breakfast drink in Taiwan) and I said yes, and that I’d like it cold (a lot of people drink it hot.)  She told me how much it was, I gave her the money, she gave me my food and that was it.

There was no misunderstanding on anyone’s part, I didn’t have to give her a quizzical look because I had no idea what she was saying, she didn’t struggle to understand my accented Chinese, she didn’t try to respond to me in English.  It was a simple and efficient exchange and I got exactly what I intended to get.  Yay!

Today breakfast, tomorrow, the world!

The stand is operated by two women. The elder is in charge of the grill.

A father and son eating breakfast at the stand

A scallion pancake with egg and a tall glass of soy milk costs $1.50

I may have become the sort of person I used to make fun of. Don’t laugh, but I think I had a profoundly life-changing experience at Om Shah Tea House. The day before I left San Francisco, I was walking to Best Buy to get an external hard drive when I passed it. (Was ever there a more mundane task during which a life-changing experience occurred?)

The curtains were completely drawn. It was hard not to be suspicious. It looked like the store equivalent of those unmarked vans with no windows that people always tell you some molester is going to throw you into the back of.

But I had already made the decision to be more flexible and open to what life offered and thought why not?  I had nowhere in particular to be that afternoon, so I took a deep breath and opened the door.

I was pleasantly surprised.  It was a lovely space and I was immediately greeted by the woman at the tea bar in the most welcoming way.  Halo (that was her name) explained it was $5 for all the tea I could drink.  I sat down and she kept refilling my cup with different teas (a pu-ehr, one related to mate called guayusa and one made from lotus flowers.)

We got to talking and I told her about how I just happened to walk by and decided to come in because I was resolved to stop controlling the outcome of my life and to accept and embrace the unknown. She told me that often, people would open the door out of curiosity and be too afraid to actually come in.

Over more and more cups of tea, she told me about her life adventures and we talked about how she created what she called “vision boards.”  She believed that she had manifested basically exactly what she was looking for in life by visualizing and thinking positively.  We talked about how difficult it is sometimes to just trust what life has in store and how easy it is to just default into doubt and insecurity.

For weeks, I had already started to understand that I was terrified of being a failure and ending up alone.  I never thought of myself as a fearful person but I realized that I had been living my life out of fear of these two things and was beginning to wonder why I didn’t believe I could have it all.  I was feeling myself well up with emotion.  Somehow, during the course of our conversation, I had reached a more complete understanding of what I was doing to sabotage my own life and my relationships.

So, filled with a radiant optimism about life and enough tea to burst my bladder, I walked out of Om Shah Tea House a different person: not the girl who, as a child would read all the endings in Choose Your Own Adventure books to select the best outcome or who, perversely, opened flower buds because she was too impatient to wait for them to blossom, but someone who was confident and excited about what is yet to come.

Om Shah Tea
233 14th St
(between Natoma St & Minna St)
San Francisco, CA 94103
(888) 747-8327

San Francisco: B Star

Last night, I had dinner with my college boyfriend’s parents. On the heels of a recent break up, it might seem a little odd to have dinner with the parents of a different ex-boyfriend or maybe having dinner with any ex-boyfriend’s parents for that matter, but I’ve known them for years (I still can’t address them by their first names) and they’re such incredibly warm, generous, funny, interesting people and we always have a great time together.

Mrs. K picked me up in the afternoon and took me to Telegraph Hill, a neighborhood famous for its flock of wild parrots, which descended from escaped or released pets. We had a really lovely walk and talked about what we had been up to, about my fears and hopes for the future. We didn’t see any parrots, but I had such a nice time looking for them that I didn’t really mind.

After our walk, we picked up Mr. K and we drove down to Clement Street in the Inner Richmond. B Star was opened after the success of its sister restaurant, Burma Superstar, which lives up its boastful name with the legendary two hour waits at its three locations (one just down the street, one in Oakland and one in Alameda). B Star’s concept is more pan-Asian fusion, but the owners brought the most popular items from Burma Superstar to its little sister down Clement.

One of the wildly popular dishes on the menus at both restaurants is the tea leaf salad, which Mrs. K assured me was a must. The salad, a modern take on traditional Burmese la phet thote, is composed of fermented tea leaves, fried garlic, peanuts, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, tomatoes, jalepenos, pickled ginger and romaine lettuce. It is mixed at the table with freshly squeezed lemon juice.

I can see why this dish is so popular around these parts.  It’s very fresh and flavorful and nutritious.  I was a little wary of the tea leaves (I feared they would be bitter or strange), but the fermentation process makes them surprisingly mild and they add something special to what is otherwise just… well, a salad.

For those of you who think you can make this at home (I certainly did), the restaurant is quick to assert on the menu at Burma Superstar that “Yes, we really do go to Burma to get the tea for this salad, and it’s worth the trip.”  Others foolhardy enough to try this at home took to Chowhound.com desperately seeking fermented tea leaves in the Bay Area to no avail.

One person recounted asking a Burmese restaurant about their supplier and was told a Burmese sailor brings large quantities for them whenever he comes through town.  Others trying to be helpful suggested he go to a Burmese monastery and ask the monks. No wonder people wait in line for hours to eat this stuff.  Getting a hold of the key ingredient involves something like the opening scenes of Batman Begins.

For our main course, we decided to share three dishes.  The first was miso cod on garlic noodles, which was very good, though I didn’t really taste the miso and found the fish a little overseasoned.  Putting aside one line cook’s heavy hand with the salt shaker, it was probably my favorite dish.

We also shared the braised pork belly and white beans, which was rather nice.  My mother made a lot of braised meat dishes when I was growing up, so it was especially nostalgic and satisfying to my palate.  In this post-David Chang world we’re living in, pork belly is something of a cliche on menus, but people love it for a reason.  It tastes really good.  Fatty, salty things usually do.

The least exciting, though still very edible, dish was the spicy shrimp and eggplant tomato curry.  It wasn’t bad by any means.  In fact, like everything else, it was pretty tasty.  It just suffered from being forgettable.  It was the food equivalent of a nice guy who’s a friend of a friend and you always seem to have pleasant, enjoyable conversations whenever you run into him at parties but you can’t for the life of you remember his name.

Overall, the food was quite good and well-priced.  My only real complaint about the restaurant is the service.  Everyone was friendly enough, but they had obviously been trained to hurry people along so they could turn over the tables as expeditiously as possible.  It’s definitely not the sort of place you go on a date to look longingly into each other’s eyes and talk for hours over a bottle of wine.  It’s noisy and packed mostly with families and people eat quickly.

I get it,  but we were about halfway through our meal when a waiter came up to us and asked, “So are you ready for boxes yet?”  I wasn’t even sure what he meant at first.  And then when I realized he was trying to get us to pack up our food and go, I was shocked.

He and his co-workers came by a few more times to try and collect our plates before we were finished.  Annoyingly, when I actually wanted someone to come by to refill my water, they were nowhere to be found.  When I finally got the waiter’s attention and asked him for more water, he joked, “Oh, sorry.  We’re all out.” I might have thought it were funny if I didn’t think he had spent the previous 20 minutes passive aggressively trying to get rid of us.

Despite all this, we stayed for dessert and had black rice pudding with coconut ice cream that had just the right amount of saltiness to add a nice counterpoint to the sweetness.  I think black rice is beautiful and love its nutty flavor and wholesome texture.  It somehow feels nutritious even when it’s drowned in everything bad for you.

Before we finished, a waitress put the bill on the table and said, “Whenever you’re ready.”  I’ve begun to despise that phrase because it’s a lie.  If you really meant “whenever you’re ready,” you wouldn’t slap it down on the table before I even asked for it.  The seemingly polite phrase is belied by the rude action accompanying it.

It’s a lot like when people say, “No offense, but…” and then follow it with something offensive.  The “no offense” doesn’t make the comment inoffensive. You’re still saying something offensive.  So no offense, B Star, but your service sucks.