Contessa frozen “On the Stove” meals – Product Review

For the last month or so, Grocery Outlet has been carrying three of Contessa’s frozen “On the Stove” meals ($4), out of the 20 or so that Contessa makes: Orange Beef, Crispy Pork with Tangerine Sauce and Crispy Chicken with General Tsao Sauce.  I’ve finally tried them all and while I really like the Orange Beef, the other two are not nearly as good.

These meals consist of a package with four different components: a bag of  white rice, a small bag of meat, another bag of sauce, and frozen vegetables .   To prepare, you stir fry the meat  for 5 minutes or so, add the veggies for another 3-4 minutes and then the sauce for 30 seconds.  You microwave the rice for 3 minutes, put it all altogether and you are done.  Note that there is too much rice for the amount of meat/vegetables/sauce included – I ended up discarding about 1/3 of it.

One package is supposed to have two and a half 1-cup servings.  Now, if you are a child or on your deathbed maybe 1 cup of food (mostly rice) may satisfy your hunger.  Personally, I’d say it serves one adult – maybe you could share it with a younger child, but not more.

Now, as for the food itself.  The meats were generally good, tasty and tender, and they brown nicely.  The rice is as what you could expect from something that comes from a bag.  The sauces were generally good; I particularly liked the orange sauce that came with the beef, it was dark and intense and not overly sweet.  The General Tsao sauce was a bit too spicy for me, but it was still pretty good.

Where the problems come are with the vegetables.  The orange beef came with onions, leeks and red peppers and these were all very nice, they kept their flavor and went well with the sauce.  The tangerine pork, OTOH, came with onions, water chestnuts, carrots and scallions and these were less than tasty.  I actually disliked the bell peppers, carrots and water chestnuts that came with the chicken, they had such an “off” taste that I couldn’t make myself eat them.

In all, I’d say that the orange beef is restaurant quality (well, Chinese restaurant quality) and I would definitely buy it again (and have).  I wouldn’t say the same about the other two meals.  If GO offered other flavors, I would probably try them as well.

I hadn’t been able to figure out how much these meals sell in regular supermarkets – perhaps they don’t have much distribution yet -, but I definitely wouldn’t pay more than $4.

 


Island Wok Steamed Pork Buns – product review

Today I found a package of Island Wok brand steamed pork buns at Grocery Outlet and decided to give them a try. I LOVE pork buns, and while these were a bit expensive ($4 for 6 3.5 oz pork buns, about the same price you can get freshly made ones at your local Chinese restaurant), I liked the convenience of having them in my freezer. They also seem to be made with natural ingredients.  Unfortunately they weren’t very good.

My main complain is the filling. I like my pork buns at least a little bit sweet and these ones are not. Probably the most notable flavor is that of the soy sauce. Mika thought that there was too much bread for the amount of filling, but I don’t think they’re more unbalanced than most pork buns. In all they weren’t bad, and they microwave very easily (1 minute each), but given their price I think I may just stick with the ones from New Hong Kong.

Island Wok is a brand of Harvest Food Products, a Hayward based Asian frozen food company.  One of the things I do like about GO is that they give small producers a chance.  While I didn’t love these pork buns, I will try other Island Wok/Harvest Food products.

 


Oriental Tea House – San Leandro – Updated Reviews

Update 12/11

As you can see by the updates below, it’s been our custom for many years to go to to the Oriental Tea House for dinner on Christmas day.  This year it was just Mike and I, my sister and the kids having left earlier in the afternoon.  The food was good, as usual; the service just as frantic.  I had the crispy chicken, which I usually like here and it was good.  First they gave me the crispy duck, and as the two look alike I took a couple of bites.  It was so fatty that it was almost inedible.  Fortunately they realized their mistake and brought the chicken.  Mike had the kun pao chicken which he didn’t feel tasted like that, but I thought it was good. We got there around 5:30 PM and we were able to get a table for 2, but I don’t know if there were any larger tables available.  By 6 PM the placed was packed.

One thing to note, the Oriental Tea House’s menu is pretty prosaic, filled with the typical dishes at Chinese-American restaurants. However, on Christmas, at least, the restaurant is packed with Chinese and Chinese Americans. The people managing the restaurant as well as the waitresses are also Chinese (some have a very rudimentary understanding of English). This suggests to me that the OTH may also have one of those Chinese-only “secret” menus that many Chinese restaurants have (the idea is that they include dishes that Americans would not be interested in eating).

Update 12/10

Another year, another Chrismas, another dinner at the Oriental Tea House. This Christmas day we got there around 5 PM, and the place was completely empty. It started filling up around 6 PM, but there were still a couple of large tables empty by the time we left (6:20 PM or so) – so next year we won’t go as early. As we did go when the place was empty, service was more relaxed. The food has increased a bit in price, but it’s still very affordable. We got 6 dishes plus fried wontons for 5 adults and 4 children and we ate everything! I was happy with all the dishes (beef chow mein, Mongolian beef, chicken with two mushrooms, kun pao chicken, sweet & sour pork, veggie platter) my favorite was probably the kun pao chicken, the Mongolian beef was a close second. In all, another good meal.

Update 12/09.

As usual we went to the Oriental Tea House, in San Leandro, for Xmas dinner; this time with my sister Kathy and my brother and his family. Once again, service was hurried – the Oriental Tea House is very popular on Xmas day – but efficient. Food came on time (except for the sweet & sour pork which was delayed) and it was generally good (and cheap). Mike was happy with his beef with snow peas, as was my sister-in-law with her broccoli beef. My brother David ordered the beef curry, not on the menu, and his dish was pretty good, though very mild. I’m not sure if that was because the waitress misunderstood that he wanted his dish spicy (the English language skills of the workforce at Oriental Tea House are very limited), or because they just have a different understanding of spicy than we do. In any case, it was mild.

I ordered the roast duck, having liked the roast chicken in the past, which was a mistake. The duck was nicely cooked and very flavorful – but it had the obligatory thick layer of fat and my chopstick skills are not advanced enough to allow me to get to the meat between the fat and the bone. I had a fork, but without a knife it was an impossible endeavor. Next time I’ll stick with the less fatty chicken, which is also very good.

Finally, Kathy had the sweet & sour pork, which she liked but Mike and I thought was quite unappetizing – with fat pieces of pork and a slimy sauce. To each its own.

In all, it was a good meal and we’ll definitely be going there again next Xmas.

December 2008

We celebrate Christmas Eve rather than Christmas itself, so in the past we’ve found ourselves at a loss as to what to do for dinner on the 25th. After a huge Xmas Eve dinner, and a kitchen full of dirty dishes, the least I want to do is cook again. So some years ago we started a tradition of going out to the Oriental Tea House, in San Leandro, for Xmas dinner. The Oriental Tea House has pretty good American-style Chinese food (though given the large number of Chinese that eat there, I suspect they may have a second menu as well), it’s cheap (most dishes are around $7), and most importantly, it’s actually open on Xmas.

This year was no exception. We probably got there around 6 PM or so – I recommend you go early as the place gets packed by 7 (on Xmas, at least). Service was rushed but attentive, and the food was up to standard.

I liked the roasted chicken quite a bit. The skin was impossibly crispy, and the meat was nice and moist. It’s rather bland by itself, but add some of the accompanying seasoned salt, and it’s delicious. The beef with oyster sauce was pretty good as well – nothing extraordinary but competently executed. I liked the thick-noodle chicken chow mein, it was flavorful and devoid of too many bean sprouts (I’m not a fan). I wasn’t thrilled about the doughy sweet & sour pork, however, but then again, I wasn’t in the mood for anything sweet. I thought the pieces of pork were too chewy and the sauce too sweet.
In all, it was a good Xmas Eve experience, and I look forward to going there again for our next Xmas dinner.

March 2007

Last night we went to the Oriental Tea House with a bunch of our friends (for memory’s sake, they were Donovan & Parker with Luther and baby Will, Regina and Boris, and Eddie and Arthur with Laurel, Bailey and Dee). We ordered a bunch of dishes: fried calamari, friend wontons, chicken chow mein, vegetable chow mein, lemon chicken, kun pao chicken, half a roasted chicken, beef with some sort of green beans and a couple of shrimp dishes. I was amazed at how good everything was. It was great to be able to savor so much variety – and to be with so many friends – but the actual food was all very good. And the bill was terribly cheap at $86 – which fed an army of 8 adults and 6 children.

We were all able to fit at one, very crowded, table – larger parties or those with more adults, would have to split in two.

We are now planning on getting together for dim sum some Sunday morning. If any of my friends are reading this, and want to come along, just e-mail me.

March 2005

Today we made it to the Oriental Tea House for dim
sum. We liked it much better than East Village, though we didn’t get to taste the
baked pork buns as they were out of it by the time we got there around 1 PM. The steamed pork buns were excellent, however,
the bread was moist, the pork succulent and not too sweet. I got an additional order to go. The fried chicken was also
very good, crispy and moist and wonderfully spiced. We also found a winner in the paper wrapped chicken – moist and
delicious – and on the shrimp dumplings. We were less fond of the sesame balls and the deep fried meat balls, I’d never had
those before and the thick pastry wrapping had a strange consistency that I did’t find appealing. Egg custards were OK,
but not sweet enough for my taste. Lunch, including 3 canned sodas, came to $24 before tip. It’s pretty crowded on
Sundays, but I’m sure we’ll be going again.

Oriental Tea House
604 MacArthur Blvd.
San Leandro
510.562.2828

Original Review

San Leandro Restaurant Reviews


A guest review of Panda Express

Today I took my daughter to lunch at her favorite chain restaurant, Panda Express (783 A Street, one of *three* locations in Hayward). It was much better than I expected. For $5.50 you get your choice of fried rice or a simple chow mein, and any two of about a dozen entrees.

All the meat is tender and seems to be of decent quality.

I didn’t try the fried rice, but the chow mein has “wok hei” – the smoky aftertaste of a properly made stir-fry. The orange chicken (my daughter’s favorite) was tangy and not over-sweet; the crust was not mushy at all. The sweet and sour pork is – well, inoffensive.

I had broccoli beef and black pepper chicken. The broccoli was cut a little too large to be convenient to eat. It would have been more manageable either cut smaller or cooked a little longer. Mind you, it was delicious. The pepper chicken was aromatic with black pepper, but not hot, and strewn with slivers of onion and green pepper.

Very little of the food is prefab; we were able to see a huge glass-fronted refrigerator filled with trays of raw vegetables.

I don’t know that it’s a particularly child-friendly place: most of the chairs and tables are tall, like bar stools, which would be risky for small children. (My daughter’s an adult, so that wasn’t an issue for us.)

There are banners hung from the ceiling proclaiming “Gourmet Chinese Food.” I wouldn’t go that far, but Panda Express presses most of the Chinese-American-cooking joy buttons.

Michaele Maurer