By Emma Krasov. Photography by Yuri Krasov.
As a well-established cuisine, endemic to our diverse and talent-rich Bay Area, Chinese food culture in and around San Francisco leaves us nothing to wish for. With abundance of Asian restaurants, from modest mom-and-pop cafes to chic upscale establishments, any gastronomical curiosity is satisfied, and any craving is met many times over.
iChina Restaurant, Santa Clara
iChina, which means “love China” is a suitable name for this gorgeously decorated restaurant where every detail of the interior is an eye candy, and every morsel of food is a marvel. Located in a huge 265,000 sq ft Westfield Valley Fair shopping mall in San Jose/Santa Clara, this place stands out among the many distinct eateries along Stevens Creek Boulevard.
Multi-level iChina boasts JiuBa cocktail lounge on the first floor, where you can get an assortment of creative cocktails and small plates, and a high-ceiling dining room on the second floor, allegedly inspired by China’s ancient imperial palaces, where a sit-down dinner indeed feels like a royal treat.
There are also four private dining spaces, each furnished in a different, but equally grandiose style, and a museum-like tea tasting area for a daily afternoon tea ceremony available by advance reservation.
iChina’s Executive Chef Eddie Lam recently introduced his new a la carte menu, and debuted several new dishes prepared with locally sourced organic produce from his farming partners as well as high quality sustainable meats, and seafood from international purveyors. His menu reflects all eight regional cuisines of China with an emphasis on Cantonese, Sichuan, and Shandong specialties.
“My goal at iChina is to take guests on a journey to discover Chinese flavors as they’ve never tasted before,” says Chef Lam. “By restructuring the menu offerings and introducing our new dishes, we hope people feel inspired to try new cuisines and explore different cultures through our food.”
Start your imperial feast with some colorful and perfectly balanced cocktails from JiuBa’s full bar, like Emperor’s Cup (pisco, ube, Amaro Montenegro), Lost in Shanghai (pandan infused whiskey, Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, Cappelletti Amaro, Amontillado), or Lucky Jade (Milagro tequila, Lillet Blanc, aloe liqueur, kaffir lime, matcha whip).
On Small Plates menu don’t miss Golden Maine Lobster Soup (lobster tail, kabocha squash, spiced puffed brown rice) poured into your plate tableside, or the delicate Typhoon Jumbo Soft Shell Crab (egg floss, panko, garlic, scallions, chili, wok-smoked Chinese salt).
Listed under Staples, Roast Duck Fried Rice (shredded roast duck, sliced duck breast, green beans, farm eggs, scallions, baby iceberg lettuce) will most likely become your instant favorite, but wait, there’s more!
The Mains menu features absolutely amazing meaty masterpieces, like 48-Hour Hong Siu Braised Pork Belly (soy braised heritage pork belly, bok choy, pickled red onions) and Char Siu Pork Jowl (Cantonese style bbq, grilled sweet and sour plums, pea shoots).
And even if you feel thoroughly satiated and satisfied, don’t skip a fantastically artful dessert of iChina Koi Pond (jasmine tea blancmange, chilled melon soup, muscovado gummies, mango and guava, gelée, lychee-chia kanten, yuzu tuile) that looks like a culinary approximation of Claude Monet’s painting with lotus leaves and frolicking gold fish in a pond’s turquoise water suggested by the artisanal glazed ceramic plate.
iChina Restaurant is located at Westfield Valley Fair, 2855 Stevens Creek Blvd. Suite 1891 in Santa Clara, CA. For more information visit https://www.ichinarestaurant.com/.
Highland Noodles Restaurant, Milpitas
In a bustling enclave of Asian businesses and restaurants in Milpitas, a Silicon Valley town located at the southern tip of the San Francisco Bay, Highland Noodles Restaurant holds its own with all hand-pulled noodles made in house. If you’re a fan of light, silky, easy to enjoy traditional Chinese noodles, this is a place for you!
Specialty noodles, sliced noodles, fried noodles, and all other imaginable kinds come in thin, thick, flat, round, wide, and narrow shapes; hot and cold, spicy and mild—more than three dozen traditional and modern dishes with various meats, seafood, veggies, and sauces to please any taste.
The recently renovated dining room is spacious, full of light, decorated with contemporary furnishings and colors, and has plenty of space between the tables of various sizes, plus several cozy booths, separated from each other by clear Plexiglas walls.
When perusing a long, neatly categorized menu via a QR code on your table, don’t miss the original Lanzhou Hand Pull Beef Noodle soup. The broth for it is described as “boiled for at least 15 hours and featuring more than 18 spices. It utilizes bones from cow, yak, chicken, and includes a variety of dry seasonings, like Chinese medicinal herbs which give the soup an extra savory and unique taste.”
Another delicious and hearty dish, Pork Belly Topping Soup Noodles, is actually served with the soup on a side, in a separate bowl, since you’re encouraged to taste it first in its “dry” form, and decide which you like more—with or without the broth.
A new summer dish, Lingpi Cold Noodles, also made fresh in house, is rather fitting for our Northern California soaring temperatures in September. The dish comes with two new sauces, based on sesame and wasabi, derived from the award-winning Head Chef Baoge’s secret recipes.
“Cold noodles have always been a staple of our menu,” says Chef Baoge. “We’re thrilled to bring new refreshing Liangpi cold noodles and delicious new sauce flavors to our menu. What sets us apart is that our noodles are completely handmade. Every bowl of noodles we prepare is hand-crafted starting from scratch with our dough using traditional techniques. We twist, stretch, knead, and fold the dough into strands multiple times to achieve the perfect length and chewy consistency our customers love and desire. The time and care we put into our product speak for themselves when the complex flavor hits your taste buds.”
Not only noodles are worth trying in Highland Noodles, though. Crispy Sweet & Sour Pork has a bright-orange tangy sauce all over thin and chewy morsels, while Fried Pork in Scoop, a distinct dish from northeastern China, made of the pickled pork tenderloin wrapped in flour and dipped fried, is definite winner of non-noodle dishes.
There’s also an interesting Street Foods menu that features Fermented Rice in Milk among other tempting options.
Highland Noodles is located at 1720 N. Milpitas Blvd. in Milpitas, CA. For more information visit https://www.highlandnoodles.com/.
ZERO& Hayes Valley, San Francisco
Don’t be discouraged if you find yourself at the end of a line to the tiny ZERO& shop on a busy Hayes Street in San Francisco’s Western Addition district. The line moves very fast, since inside the store everyone quickly places their orders on a touchscreen, while many regulars order in advance on their own devices, and stop by just to pick up their fresh drinks and luscious desserts.
The entire ZERO& chain is a fast-moving new business that took Bay Area by storm, now with multiple locations in San Francisco, at Stanford Shopping Center, and at Stoneridge Shopping Center in Pleasanton, plus a mobile tea truck at Livermore Outlets.
Toby Sun, the founder and CEO of ZERO&, started the brand at the height of the pandemic-induced self-isolation, when takeout stores became the only accessible way of “eating out.” According to him, more ZERO& shops are coming up in other places, so even more Bay Area neighborhoods will be provided with the healthy and delicious handcrafted beverages and snacks.
On the brand’s takeout menu are fruit teas, specialty milk teas, boba teas, and an assortment of pastries from a San-Francisco Hanabi patisserie, like savory croissants, a highly popular Korean garlic bread, and an artful array of melt-in-your-mouth chiffon mousse cakes.
ZERO&’s drinks, produced with real fruit and completely devoid of added colors, thickeners, and preservatives, became instant crowd pleasers in our health-conscious neck of the woods also for the reason of their extreme freshness and deliciousness.
Coconut ZERO, which opens the drinks menu, is made of one whole coconut from Thailand. Soft coconut flesh is blended with the juice, and served in a coconut shell—or, you can get it in a to-go cup, with a cleaned out shell so you could replicate the original serving at home.
A naturally sweet Coco Mango contains two whole mangoes, coconut milk and grapefruit pulp, which makes it a well-balanced and thoroughly refreshing drink with tropical aroma and silky texture.
Of expressly creamy drinks, Crème Brûlée Muddy Milk is a definite forerunner, blended with fresh milk from a local farm, and brown sugar—with a characteristic torched-caramelized crème brûlée top. House made brown sugar boba can be added to this or any other of your favorite drinks, and you’ll get a wide-mouth bamboo fiber straw for easy “fishing” of these fun tapioca droplets. (Just remember to chew on boba—they are not supposed to be swallowed whole).
Lychee Blossom is another favorite nectar-like drink, decorated with fragrant rose petals, and positively dreamy.
No matter which drink you choose, don’t leave the store without whimsical Hanabi pastries. Some of the highly recommended ones would be Matcha Jasmin Mini Box and Passion Chocolate Mini Box cakes that taste just like heaven.
ZERO& Hayes Valley is located at 437 Hayes St. in San Francisco, CA. For more information visit https://www.zeroand.com/.