Sam’s Anchor Cafe. Photo by albedo20 / Flickr

The generally accepted story of brunch originates in England in 1895 with a man named Guy Berginer and his essay “Brunch: A Plea.” Beringer argued for brunch as a method of recovery on Sunday for those who indulged heavily on Saturday night.

In the US, brunch began in the 1930s in Chicago. Intercontinental trains would pass through Chicago in the late morning and early afternoon, when riders would disembark for a meal. Over time, it expanded across the country and grew to be a major part of the culture in metropolitan areas like New York.

Once a simple, light meal, brunch has grown more controversial, as some see large, luxurious feasts on weekends as an expression of privilege while many struggle to get by.

This is certainly the case in San Francisco. With dozens of brunch options across the city, you’ll find just about anything you could want, whether it’s traditional breakfast fare, bottomless mimosas, Mexican brunch, or indulgent buffets. More interestingly, many of these brunches have taken on the character, history, and culture of the city. With so many options available it can be hard to know where to go, but a few restaurateurs have made brunch their own to provide unique experiences that shouldn’t be missed. (more…)

Posted by on June 19th, 2017

Photo by sputnik / Flickr

In my previous articles about Chinese dining in Los Angeles, I have only incidentally mentioned the Orange County community of Irvine. However, this omission should not be interpreted as minimizing Irvine’s importance on the Chinese food scene, as indeed Irvine ranks second in the Los Angeles metropolitan area behind only the San Gabriel Valley as the preferred source of authentic Chinese food. Rather, I haven’t said much about Irvine because of its geographic distance, some 40 miles from both Los Angeles Chinatown and the San Gabriel Valley, and 55 miles from the Westside of Los Angeles. As such, Irvine’s Chinese food options are seldom appreciated by diners from these other areas. (more…)

Posted by on May 15th, 2017

Once upon a time, the term celebrity conjured up visions of movie stars and superstar athletes, but somewhere along the line, the term deteriorated into something much less exclusive. Nowadays, there are celebrity chefs, celebrity doctors, celebrity hair stylists, celebrity houseguests, and celebrity pets. A guy I know has been described as a celebrity real estate developer. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were celebrity plumbers and celebrity gardeners. But the term really reached an extreme when I was labeled a “celebrity diner.”

I’m not the first person to gain attention for restaurant dining. Morgan Spurlock ate every meal at McDonald’s for a month and made a movie about it, and the discredited Jared Fogel became famous for his Subway sandwich weight loss diet. Before I came along, a man went on a campaign to eat at all 415 Chinese restaurants in San Francisco. So how did I earn my “celebrity diner” status?

Clearly, it was a matter of being in the right place at the right time — the right time coinciding with an expansion of public interest in celebrities of all types. Five years ago, I made the acquaintance of food writer Clarissa Wei. I mentioned in passing that I had eaten at over 6,000 Chinese restaurants. Immediately, she jumped on the topic and asked whether anybody had ever written me up. My response was “Why would anybody do that?” In a week’s time, we met for an interview and she wrote an article that was published in L.A. Weekly.

Even after the article was reprinted in the Huffington Post, I didn’t give it much thought. The Huffington Post runs a good number of food-related articles, and I assumed mine would only interest a small group of foodies. However, food columns in the San Francisco Chronicle and New York Times linked to the Huffington article, which was then picked up by websites like Eater and The Daily Meal. I even received a message from the Smithsonian about its Chinese restaurant exhibit and did an interview with National Public Radio. Gee, my 15 seconds of fame had actually come!

Things really got weird when a few days later, I received a message from my cousin Regina that said my story was featured on People.com. Indeed, it was the lead current news item for three hours, until it was bumped by a piece about Britney Spears. I really couldn’t comprehend why People decided to feature the story, not to mention labeling it with a “Celebrity” heading. Things turned immediately from weird to crazy, as the People article went viral. It was picked up by celebrity, news, and food websites all over the world. Interview requests poured in. The Asia Society invited me to write an article on the Top 10 Chinese restaurants in the US, which itself blew up the internet due to some negative comments I made about the quality of Chinese food in New York. Then came an invitation to visit Springfield, Missouri, responding to the part of the People profile when I mentioned my desire to try Springfield-style cashew chicken. The city whisked me there for a weekend of sampling different versions of that signature Chinese American dish. I even received a key to the neighboring city of Branson from Mayor Raeanne Presley, a distant relative of Elvis himself. Then best of all, I got the opportunity to write for Menuism on a variety of Chinese restaurant topics.

I settled into a new normalcy of writing historically-tinged Chinese restaurant articles for Menuism and doing occasional interviews, including the Chinese restaurant documentary film The Search for General Tso. Little did I realize I’d be in for a second 15 seconds of fame the following spring, thanks to Los Angeles Times reporter Frank Shyong. Frank had not seen the initial round of publicity about me, but in searching for Chinese restaurants to take his visiting parents, he kept running across my name in online restaurant message boards. At some point, he started digging and found my earlier interviews and Menuism articles, and was fascinated that my search for Chinese food was in part a related quest for Chinese-American identity. Several interview sessions eventually led to a front-page article in the Times about this dual quest.

Surprisingly, the 2013 Times article created an even bigger ripple effect than the previous year’s People profile. The reaction from Times readers was so great that an online chat session was set up for the next morning, and lasted three times as long as Frank had planned. Meanwhile, ABC News phoned for an interview which turned into the lead headline on both its website as well as Yahoo! News. Good Morning America called to say it was sending a film crew to my office, though that it was eventually scuttled when GMA and the management of my office building couldn’t agree on insurance arrangements. Somebody even posted a professional quality 90-second video on the Times story on YouTube. Meanwhile, hundreds of people from all over the US tracked down my Twitter account and asked me about the best Chinese restaurant in their hometowns. And even more incredibly, newspapers in Canada and Ohio wrote articles based on my responses to those Twitter questions.

A third 15 seconds of fame came with the theatrical release of the Search For General Tso. It premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York in 2014, then had a limited general release in 2015, followed by much broader availability on cable and streaming video. The documentary cracked the top 100 streaming videos and garnered my listing in a number of motion picture databases (described as an actor playing myself). To this day, I still run into people who didn’t know I was in the movie and who tell me how stunned they were when they saw me on screen.

Back in the old days, when celebrities were real celebrities, a common description used for them was “star of stage, screen, radio, and television.” Well, I’ve never done live theater, but I have given auditorium and theater presentations on my dining adventures. I was in the General Tso movie, and have even received feelers from an independent filmmaker to be the subject of a documentary short, though that fell through. I’ve certainly had my share of radio and television appearances. So maybe “Celebrity Diner” isn’t so far-fetched after all.

Posted by on April 24th, 2017

The growth of craft beer over the past decade or more is partly due to the popularity of IPA. The demand for fruity and citrus-forward IPAs has led to experimentation and innovation, including the addition of fruit to IPAs. It seems logical: if the hops in IPA smell like oranges, pineapple, or grapefruit, why not try using the real thing? When Ballast Point Brewing first released its Grapefruit Sculpin IPA, craft beer drinkers loved it. Today, dozens, if not hundreds of breweries make a fruit-based IPA, and the results are delicious.

Here’s a list of nine IPAs, each made with a different fruit, that are well worth trying. (more…)

Posted by on April 3rd, 2017

Photo by spec.B / Flickr

When people think of Oregon wine tasting, they generally think of the beautiful rolling hills of Willamette Valley, or the vibrant urban winery scene in Portland. But if you take the time to expand your horizons, there are many equally beautiful and worthwhile places to visit around the state.

Eugene, Oregon’s second-largest city, is a wonderful place to visit. Drive just two hours south of Portland, and you’ll experience Eugene’s great hotels, excellent restaurants, and a rich combination of both urban and off-the-beaten-path wineries in the hills surrounding the town.

When you’re ready to check out this politically active, football-obsessed, up-and-coming foodie city, here are some suggestions for your trip. (more…)

Posted by on March 27th, 2017

As a whole, Los Angeles’s Chinese food scene surpassed New York’s over 20 years ago and continues to pull away. However, you’ll find some things Chinese food-wise in New York that simply don’t exist in Los Angeles, including these four restaurants.

The Chinese fine dining establishment: La Chine

Situated in the Chinese-owned Waldorf-Astoria, La Chine is the type of high-end authentic Chinese restaurant on offer in New York, along with Fung Tu, Cafe China, and Hakkasan. After the demise of Hakkasan Beverly Hills (and perhaps Chi Lin), there are no longer such posh Chinese dining options in LA. Perhaps Los Angeles is just not as much of an expense account town. Sure, it does boast the entertainment industry, but still pales in comparison to New York, with Wall Street, the investment banks, and all the corporate headquarters. (more…)

Posted by on March 20th, 2017

Photo by Garrett Ziegler / Flickr

Five years ago I opened up a hornet’s nest when I wrote my Top 10 listing of Chinese restaurants in the United States. The list included 10 California restaurants and none from New York, because even though New York once had the best Chinese food in the US, it now lagged badly behind Los Angeles and San Francisco. Despite howls of protests from outraged New Yorkers, the ranking of New York Chinese food is no longer arguable. Even New York Times columnist Mark Bittman stated rather matter of factly that, “for Chinese food, there’s no place in the United States like Southern California,” and in particular, the San Gabriel Valley.

More recently, I made a comment which on the surface might be viewed as an even greater insult to New York Chinese food. I said, “pound for pound, authentic Chinese food in Phoenix is better than that in New York.” I did not intend it to be a derogatory comment about New York Chinese food, and I didn’t mean to say that there wasn’t a lot of good Chinese food in New York. Rather, it was a reflection of the current state of Chinese food, where excellent Chinese food can be found in a lot more places than just a few years ago. (more…)

Posted by on February 13th, 2017

Planning a trip to Oregon? Wondering where to eat? Looking for a restaurant in your area that features Oregon wine? You’re in luck!

One of the most highly anticipated lists of the year was released in January by the Oregon Wine Board. The 2017 Oregon Wine A-List Awards recognizes restaurants across the world that enthusiastically support Oregon wine and show an appreciation for the diverse regions and varietals of Oregon. This year’s list includes over 90 restaurants in Oregon and the rest of America. It is wonderful to see so much support for Oregon wine around the country!

Here’s a secret: When I’m looking for Oregon wine to feature at my Cellar 503 wine club, I pop into these restaurants to uncover what hot new finds the local chefs and sommeliers have discovered. Check out a few of my faves: (more…)

Posted by on February 6th, 2017

Photo by charlene mcbride / Flickr

Photo by charlene mcbride / Flickr

In this ongoing series covering American cities with a historic center city Chinatown, there have been two distinct models. In most cities, the best and most authentic Chinese food migrated out of the historic Chinatown into either suburban Chinese communities or to secondary areas away from the downtown core. However, exceptions such as Philadelphia and Chicago illustrate the second model, where the historic Chinatown still reigns supreme, with a few secondary locales to find authentic Chinese food.

In the case of present-day Boston, however, neither model seems to fit. Ten or fifteen years ago, Boston’s historic Chinatown was still dominant, and indeed at that time, I commented that Chicago and Boston were the main exceptions to the suburbanization of Chinese food in America. Today, Boston Chinatown still dominates as a cultural and commercial center (though its borders are threatened by development and gentrification). While Chinatown has not been entirely eclipsed for dining, there is now significantly good Chinese food to be found outside its boundaries. (more…)

Posted by on January 17th, 2017

Photo by star5112 / Flickr

Photo by star5112 / Flickr

For any city with a historic 19th century Chinatown, the original locus of Chinese dining was obviously Chinatown. However, as my series has chronicled, the best Chinese dining in most of these cities has shifted to various suburban communities. In the case of Los Angeles, the shift has been especially complex. Like an army marching onward to the next hill, there has been a continuous eastward migration of Chinese residents, followed by a like movement of Chinese restaurants. The key to this push eastward is a strong preference of Los Angeles-area Chinese Americans for new housing developments, as capsulized by longtime resident Gordon Chow, who said, “You have to go east to find newer and cheaper homes.”

(more…)

Posted by on December 12th, 2016

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