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Sam Woo Restaurant Seafood & BBQ Express

September 3, 2015

Earlier this year, during a day off of work, my dad had an outpatient medical procedure scheduled so my mom asked me if I would come down to Orange County and go with them to the hospital just to help take care of my dad in case anything popped up.  My mom hates hospitals and anything to do with doctors, so I agreed.  My mom also helped entice me by saying that if my dad felt up to it, she’d take me out to lunch after the procedure was done.  Ok, I think my mom knows that the easiest way to get me to agree to anything is to entice me with the promise of food, especially good food.  I just can’t resist.  So, after the procedure was done, my dad was feeling fine and we all decided to go out for lunch.  Our first choice was to go to a Japanese restaurant in Irvine we’d been to many times and we all enjoyed.  Unfortunately, since it was a holiday, the restaurant was packed for lunch, more than any normal Monday would have been, so that was out of the question as no one felt like waiting an hour for a table.  After driving around the neighborhood for a bit, my mom asked me if I wanted to try this other Chinese restaurant that she and my dad had been to together and thought was pretty good.  By this time, I was just hungry and eager to eat, so I agreed.

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Sam Woo Restaurant Seafood & BBQ Express is a place that my dad had heard of from his co-workers before as they sometimes would come here for a good, fast, and inexpensive lunch.  Located in a strip mall in Irvine, when we pulled up there were a few people waiting around for tables, but we were told the wait wasn’t that long, so we decided to give it a go.  The restaurant actually has 2 separate parts, one is a more fine dining section that was the seafood restaurant.  The other part was part BBQ express, cafeteria-style take out food and the other half of this section was a sit down restaurant where the Chinese BBQ being served in the express section of the store could be enjoyed along with other quick Chinese favorites.  Seeing the Chinese BBQ express, take-out section reminded me of my childhood and getting quick, cheap, and good Chinese BBQ take-out at places in Westminster or Chinatown in LA.  The thought of roasted duck, and BBQ pork, and roasted pork and roasted chicken had my mouth watering.

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The dish I really wanted was BBQ pork over rice.  I grew up eating bbq pork and have always loved the flavor.  With this dish, you get a ton of sliced bbq pork served over white steamed rice and some of the soy sauce used to cook the pork.  The pork is tender and slightly sweet and perfectly cooked.  My parents and I agreed that this was probably the best bbq pork we’ve had in a while made with really good quality meat.  This is the kind of dish that I could have easily eaten two of, especially considering how hungry I was this day.  I was seriously considering going back to the take out window to order a pound of this bbq pork to go because it was so good.  I would have been happy if this was our only dish of the day, but this is a Chinese restaurant and everything is about eating family style, so we had a couple of more dishes coming up.

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Next up was a dish of stir fried beef and vegetables, including carrots, mushrooms and bok choy with gravy all topped over a bed of crispy noodles.  My parents and I all loved this dish.  We weren’t quite sure what we wanted to order, but we had seen this dish over at someone else’s table, and we decided to order the same thing.  The crispy noodles is what makes this dish so wonderful.  The difference in texture between the softened stir-fried vegetables and the gravy combined with the crunch of the noodles is fantastic.  The stir-fried vegetables and meat were terrific and very tasty.  The mix of vegetables, which included carrots, bok toy and mushrooms was a great mix.  The gravy sauce is a little bit thicker and really brings the whole dish together, a little be sweet, a little bit salty and a whole lot of savory.  It’s amazing how quickly a bowl of noodles will fill you up.

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The main reason my parents wanted to dine at Sam Woo was for the Peking duck.  My dad, like my husband, is a huge lover of Peking duck and it’s hard to find a restaurant that can do it right.  During lunch, Sam Woo offers a half Peking duck special, which was perfect for just the three of us.  When I later snapped a photo of the Peking duck and sent it to my husband who was at work, he was so jealous that we had gone out to Peking duck without him.  The Peking duck is served sliced into bite-sized pieces with its traditional condiments of steamed buns, green onions, and hoisin sauce.  The Peking duck itself is roasted whole and prepared so that the skin is ultra crispy.  For me, the fatty skin is the best part of the Peking duck.  The idea is that you’re supposed to take a slice or two of the sliced Peking duck and stuff it inside a steamed bun, add the green onion, and then add the hoisin sauce.  Then you enjoy the whole thing as a Peking duck sandwich.  The sweet and tender duck meat, with the crispy and fatty duck skin, combined with the tang of the green onion and the sweetness of the hoisin sauce and the amazing steamed bun really makes the whole thing come together as one terrific duck sandwich.  My dad loved this, and I was surprised that I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would as I’m not the world’s biggest duck fan.  A few months after my parents and I went to Sam Woo on this first trip, we actually went back with my husband so that he could get his fill of Peking duck, and he loved it!

Though my parents had been to Sam Woo before, I wasn’t quite convinced that I would enjoy it as much as they had.  But at the point we decided to go to Sam Woo for lunch, I was starving and any kind of food would do.  However, by the end of lunch, I was pleasantly surprised.  The bbq pork was my favorite dish, and some of the best bbq pork I’ve had in a long time.  A dish that completely reminded me of my childhood.  The dishes that we ordered were classic Chinese food dishes that all reminded of the great Chinese restaurants my parents would take me to when I was a kid.  When we brought my husband back to Sam Woo a few months later, I was surprised, as was he, that he enjoyed it as much as he did.  For good, old-school Chinese food, Sam Woo is a good, local option.

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