CoCo’s Cafe

Green Onion Pie 蔥油餅

My husband and I went to CoCo’s Cafe about a month ago, and again a few days ago.  I decided to combine pictures from both trips into one entry.

Anyway, I used to go to CoCo’s all the time back in college.  I always went to the Guadalupe location, but this time I took my husband to the one up north (near what used to be the Hong Kong Supermarket).  I wasn’t expecting much since most Chinese food here has been disappointing since coming back from Taiwan.  My husband was pleasantly surprised though.  The first time we went, we ordered the Green Onion Pie, Rice Ball, and Fried Chicken with Rice.  I suggested we get only the half order of Green Onion Pie.  As you can see in the picture above, the half order is still a lot of food.

Rice Ball 肉圓

The Rice Ball looked really good, but it didn’t taste as good when we finally got around to eating it.  I honestly think it’s because we didn’t eat it when it was still steaming hot.  We were too busy filling up on the Green Onion Pie and Fried Chicken with Rice.  Now, we know better.  The fried chicken dish was just all right, so I think we’ll skip that in the future.

The more recent time that we went, we were really looking forward to trying the Fried Squid appetizer.  We couldn’t find it on the menu, so I asked the cashier about it.  He told me that and the Eel Steak with Rice are no longer served.  How disappointing!

We were pretty hungry by then and ended up ordering more than we should have: Sa Cha Beef Lo Mein, Bamboo Leaves Sticky Rice, Fried Tofu, Spiced Kelp, and a Taro Milk Tea with Tapioca Pearls.

Sa Cha Beef Lo Mein 沙茶牛肉炒麵

The lo mein was a bit bland, so we added the sauce that came with the sticky rice.  It tasted much better after that.  Maybe I had my expectations raised after the first visit to CoCo’s, but I left a little disappointed.  The sticky rice was good, but nothing like what my grandma used to make.  Of course I’m biased because nothing will ever taste as good as Grandma’s cooking.

As for the fried tofu, I’m not a big fan of it to begin with.  I don’t get what’s so great about it.  Maybe it’s the dipping sauce that comes with it, or the crunchy exterior.  I don’t know.  My husband liked it though.

Spiced Kelp 海帶

The Spiced Kelp was decent.  It’s kind of hard to mess this up, though.  I don’t eat this for the taste, but more out of vanity.  I heard that eating lots of kelp will make your hair darker, and I’ve recently found a few white hairs.  I know it’s silly to think a side order of kelp will fix that, but hey…I’m desperate.

As for the Taro Milk Tea, it was decent for what I’ve had in America, but nothing compared to the stuff in Taiwan.  In Taiwan, you have the option of lots of ice/sugar, some ice/sugar, little ice/sugar, no ice/sugar.  Maybe I should’ve asked, but I didn’t think to.  The drink was too sweet in my opinion.  Plus, CoCo’s uses taro powder as opposed to real taro (most places use the powder, so I wasn’t surprised).  Again, the pearls were all right.

I realize I’m making this place sound mediocre.  It really wasn’t that bad, but I guess I just had higher hopes.  The service has been great both times, and it’s the closest thing to authentic Taiwanese food that I can find.  I would go back.

I leave you with some silly Chinglish.  I thought it was pretty cool that these drink tops now have cautionary labels.  I wonder if they have these because more non-Taiwanese people are jumping on the tapioca pearl bandwagon.  I feel like Taiwanese kids innately know how to consume tapioca pearls without choking on them.  So, to everyone who thinks tapioca pearls are a novel thing, please remember to chew thoroughly and not let children under 5 have any!

Caution: Not Safe for Children Under 5

On an unrelated note, CoCo’s only accepts credit cards with a minimum charge of $5.  If you only plan on getting a drink or appetizer, then remember to bring cash!

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ChenZ

A group of us went to ChenZ the other night to celebrate a friend’s birthday.  I wasn’t sure what to expect since the restaurant opened only about a month ago, and there were mixed reviews on Yelp.

The moment we stepped foot inside, I was surprised.  It did not look like the “typical” Chinese restaurant.  The decor was modern, the lighting was dim, and things looked slightly upscale.

For a moment I panicked and thought I was in for a PF Chang’s experience.  Nothing against PF Chang’s, but I was just planning for authentic Chinese food at ChenZ.

After glancing at the menu, I was a little more reassured.  I noticed that the noodles and dumpling skins were made in-house.  AWESOME.  I feel like nowadays, most places just use frozen crap.

Another plus was that the menu was varied without being overwhelming.  My husband commented that one thing that often puts people off from going to Chinese restaurants is the complicated menu.  It can be frustrating trying to decide on what to eat.

Anyway, we had no problem making our selection.  There were 8 of us, so we ordered a ton of food to share.

Duck Noodles and Beef Noodle Soup

I didn’t get to try the beef noodle soup.  It was on the other side of the table most of the night, and I was too full by the time it made its way over to me.  The duck noodles were all right.  They were covered in hoisin sauce.

Lamb Noodles and Spinach Pork Fried Dumplings

I thought the lamb noodles were really good.  I think the noodles were made of buckwheat.  The texture and taste of the lamb was spot on…not too gamy, perfectly juicy, not overly flavored (which often happens with lamb).  The dumplings were nice and crispy on the outside.

Dumplings and Ja Jang Mein

Honestly, these dumplings were forgettable.  They weren’t bad, but they weren’t AMAZING.  I also found it a little odd that one order consisted of 20 dumplings, and they wouldn’t let us do a half order.  The ja jang mein (炸醬麵) was pretty good.  It didn’t taste like what I’m used to (a little strong on the peanut sauce), but it was still good.

Chili Oil Wontons

I can’t remember the exact name of this dish, but it’s basically wontons in chili oil sauce.  It wasn’t that spicy, which was perfectly fine with me since I have a low threshold for spiciness.

Pork Sesame Bun Wrap

These sesame seed bun thingies (燒餅…I’m not sure how to say this in English) had pork inside.  It almost reminded me of 胡椒餅 (Pepper pie? Pepper bun? Again, I’m not sure how this is translated into English).  The meat had a nice ginger kick to it, but it was a bit dry.  I really liked the outer part, though.

Green Onion Crepe

I’ve often heard this dish called “green onion pie”, “green onion pancake”, “scallion pancake”, scallion pie”, etc.  It’s called 蔥油餅 in Chinese.  I think you can figure out what’s in it.  It’s basically dough fried flat like a pancake with bits of scallion in it.  ChenZ made it really crispy and flaky.  It was great alone, but I think it would’ve been phenomenal if they also gave soy sauce with bits of garlic chopped in it for dipping.  That’s how it’s normally eaten.

Hot Pot Menu

So, this is what sets ChenZ apart from other Chinese restaurants in Austin…hot pot! ChenZ currently holds the title of the only restaurant in Austin to serve this.  If you’ve never had hot pot, you basically get to cook your food at your table.  Some people have trouble understanding this concept.  “Wait wait wait, you want me to pay to cook my own food??” It sounds silly, but I’m still a fan of it.  You get a huge pot of broth, and then you choose which veggies, meat, and other things to cook in it.  When the food is done cooking, you can dip it in different sauces.  You can also choose different flavors of broth.

Unfortunately, we were too full to order hot pot.  I’ll have to go back another time just to try this.

The bill came out to $87 (including tax, excluding tip).  For all the food we ordered, I thought it was a steal.