Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Stumbling Across Madrid’s Unknown Chinatown in The Blink of An Eye



Though it is widely believed that there is no Chinatown in Madrid, it turns out I was fortuitously able to discover it in about 30 seconds.  Even the tour guide on our tour of Spain and Portugal, who is from Hong Kong and who did tell us a little about the Chinese living in Spain  was unaware of this Chinatown. 

By way of background, this month’s tour of Portugal and Spain has been one of the most Chinese food deprived trips I’ve been on.  Basically I saw one Chinese restaurant in Lisbon on the first day of the trip, which was coincidentally right next to the hotel, then didn’t see another Chinese restaurant anywhere for over a week.  The last two days of the trip were in Barcelona, where restaurants are quite commonplace, and where two of our three group meals were at Chinese restaurants, something which I had mixed feelings about.  While I like to eat at Chinese restaurants wherever I go, and found these two restaurant visits insightful, I really didn’t get a chance to sample Barcelona’s vaunted local food.

Also, typically on our other recent trips to Europe, South America, Dubai and India, many hotel breakfast buffets offer at least a small section of food for Chinese travelers.  However not one of the six hotels we stayed at during the trip had any.  Even the Barcelona hotel didn’t have a Chinese food section in its buffet, but they did make a different accommodation for a large Chinese tour group from Shanghai–a private VIP room with specially prepared dishes.  My sister-in-law was erroneously directed into this room as the waitress mistook her for one of the Shanghai group members, and as the first member of our group to make it down to breakfast, she didn’t realize the mistake.  But while the Novotel had a special menu for this Chinese group, including some kind of Chinese vegetable dish, and all in all she said the special meal wasn’t very good.  

So now my discovery.   We’re riding on Highway 42  from Toledo and approaching Madrid, perhaps twenty miles out of town.   We had ridden for miles of boring countryside so I had actually stopped looking out of the window.  But I looked up and peered out and saw what appeared to be a semi-industrial area, and noticed what looked like a Chinese shopping center, with one store with signage that said “Wenzhou”, and another one which was a Chinese bakery.  I also saw a highway billboard in Chinese.

When we got to our hotel in Madrid, I mentioned my sighting to our tour guide.    He previously had told us how that most of the Chinese in Spain were from the city of Wenzhou, famous for manufacturing knockoff designer goods.  (The only Wenzhou people in the US are found in New York, where a decade ago they controlled the fake DVD business that was booming at the time.)  Inasmuch as our guide leads this tour of Spain and Portugal probably 10 times a year for Cantonese and English speaking Chinese Americans and Canadians, I figured he had passed by this Chinese enclave many times, and would have additional information about it.  However, when I mentioned this “Chinatown” I saw, he said there was no Chinatown in Madrid and I probably just merely saw a Chinese restaurant named Wenzhou.

Not satisfied with his response, I did a Google search for “Wenzhou Madrid” which brought up Wenzhou Supermarket with two locations, one on the edge of downtown Madrid (in an area with a scattering of Chinese residents and businesses) and the other in the area which we had driven through, called Fuenlabrada.  It also pulled up a map of of Fuenlabrada which showed two other places called Wenzhou Market, and other businesses within the area with Wenzhou in their name.  Further armed with the name Fuenlabrada, I was able to get a full picture of this Chinatown.  Fuenlabrada is home to a large number of warehouses used to store various types of goods imported from China, usually representing lower priced merchandise.  There are hundreds of Chinese companies employing thousands of workers, here with Fuenlabrada being likely the largest Chinese commercial center in Europe.  The Chinese economic activity here is no secret, but little attention has been paid to the corollative development of a  Chinese residential community in the area, creating a new Chinatown for the Madrid area. 

While traditional Chinatowns in the United States and worldwide were largely founded by Cantonese migrants, decades ago, who knows how many other communities like Fuenlabrada Chinatown, of recent origin founded by Chinese mainlanders, there might be around the world?  And lucky for me we drove by Fuenlabrada  and I happened to look out of the bus window at the right time.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Sichuan Style Chinese Food Finally Coming to Los Angeles Chinatown

Perhaps the loudest message I've been sending the last couple of years is how Los Angeles Chinatown has been seemingly defying gravity by serving almost exclusively Cantonese style Chinese food, while every other Chinese community in the United States is home to numerous authentic non-Cantonese restaurants, particularly restaurants serving Sichuan style food. Not only that, but you can find authentic Sichuan style food in virtually every college town in the US.   So it was certainly strange to find no Sichuan style food in Los Angeles Chinatown, while you could find three or more places serving such fare in Iowa City, Iowa within short walking distance of the University of Iowa campus.

Indeed, my most recent Menuism article from last month discussed the Cantonese wall of Los Angeles Chinatown and how perhaps Hispanic diners were helping to prop the wall up.  All along I've assumed that the Cantonese wall of Los Angeles Chinatown could crack at any time, and indeed in my Los Angeles Weekly article from early last year I may have prematurely declared that the time had arrived.  Yet into the spring of 2018, no Sichuan food was to be found in Los Angeles Chinatown.

While it took longer than I thought, Sichuan food is about to arrive in Los Angeles Chinatown with the opening of another branch of Sichuan Impression, joining Howlin' Ray's Nashville Hot Chicken, Chego, Lao Tao, Baohaus, and LASA, among other non-traditional tenants in Far East Plaza (originally called the Food Center when it opened in the late 1970s as Los Angeles' answer to Hong Kong's "Food Street.")    Seemingly, Los Angeles Chinatown is poised to join the 21st century as far as Chinese food choices are concerned.

But while I have been predicting this day for quite a while now, I'm not totally ready to concede that the  Cantonese wall of Los Angeles Chinatown is going the way of the Berlin Wall.  Yes, Sichuan Impression is one of the two big Los Angeles area dogs of the modern Sichuan cuisine movement in the US, along with Chengdu Taste.  But Sichuan Impression is opening up in Far East Plaza, which is ground zero for the culinary hipsterization of Los Angeles Chinatown.  Los Angeles Chinatown has become a magnet for trendy non-Chinese restaurants, as I previously wrote for Menuism, with other non-Chinese newcomers outside of those in the Far East Plaza complex, such as Little Jewel of New Orleans, David Chang's Majordomo, Burger Lords, and the already departed Pok Pok.

With its mainstream renown, I'm wondering whether Sichuan Impression's upcoming opening in LA Chinatown is more a reflection of hipsterdom rather than an organic demand for Sichuan style food.  Perhaps the recent downtown  high rise opening of Li Orient that I previously chronicled  is an indication of organic demand for Sichuan cooking in central Los Angeles, but we will have to wait and see.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Jumping Aboard The Titanic--Yang's Braised Chicken Rice

It was big news last year when Yang’s Braised Chicken Rice, a restaurant chain with 6,000 branches in China, announced they were opening their first United States branch in Tustin., with the opening being trumpeted in the Orange County Register and the local food press.  Well, I finally was able to make my way down there, and I feel fortunate that they were still in business so I could try the place, as I can’t imagine how they have been able to survive so long. The concept itself is quirky–a one item menu (braised chicken rice, if you didn’t guess) with the only choices being variations in spice level. I could see that working for something, say, like Savoy’s Hainan Chicken, and indeed there are successful one trick ponies such as BongChu chicken in Koreatown with its glass noodle, vegetable and braised chicken dish. . But if you're going to have a one item restaurant, that dish had better be awfully good.  Unfortunately the braised chicken at Yang's Braised Chicken Rice is both too salty and too oily.

On top of that  the presentation of the dish is laughingly ugly.  The dish doesn't look at all like this picture I took, where I had to rearrange the contents to make it look appetizing.



Rather, they fill the bowl with the braised chicken, then stuff a giant scoop of white rice on top, which kind of makes it look like you could only afford to eat a bowl of plain white rice, with a small amount of chicken on the side for flavoring.




So where other restaurants now make their dishes attractive with the express purpose of encouraging people to Instagram their meal, Yang’s does the exact opposite, as nobody in their right mind would want to photograph the presentation of their dish, except perhaps on a lark. 

Lastly is the cast of characters behind the counter. The lady behind the counter would easily pass for a homeless person.  And the “chef” in back isn’t Asian, either.   Clearly the concept of the people in the home office back in China is if all you serve is a single dish, formulaically prepared, you can hire anybody to man your operation.  But if your recipe isn't any good, this manner of staffing just makes the operation look that much more inept.  

With Sichuan Impression and O’Shine Taiwanese cafe each just a couple of doors down on either side, I’m not sure what Yang’s owners were thinking in opening up here.  I don't know if there was a breakdown in the formula once the home office people set up shop and went back to China, or if this is just a taste that's successful in China but doesn't play well over here, a mistake that you can't make if you're only serving one dish.  Or perhaps the dish would be better if the rice wasn't soggy--the restaurant wasn't busy so the rice probably sat too long, and if the rice is soggy you'll eat less, making the dish taste saltier. But in any event this is one of the biggest head shakers I've seen in the annals of Chinese restaurants in the Los Angeles area.,

Monday, April 16, 2018

The Taste of Sichuan Peppercorns Comes To Downtown Los Angeles

As I’ve noted before, Los Angeles Chinatown is the only Chinese community in the United States that lacks an authentic Sichuan dining option.  (For those who may point out Washington D.C. Chinatown has having a similar lack of Sichuan style food, I would point out that there are so few remaining Chinese living in the area that it doesn't qualify as a Chinese community.)  And with the proximity of Los Angeles Chinatown to the downtown core, there are not very many Chinese restaurants to be found in downtown Los Angeles itself.   Indeed, the only downtown restaurant serving authentic Chinese fare is Peking Tavern, the dumpling and Beijing style food specialist, though Triple 8 restaurant by L.A. Live does have some authentic items on its menu.  Consequently anybody looking for true Sichuan food in or near downtown Los Angeles has been out of luck.

All of this makes the recent opening of Li Orient, operated by the owners of Triple 8, midway up the US Bank Tower downtown ,rather significant.  (You may remember the US Bank Tower as originally being called the Library Tower, since air rights from the downtown Los Angeles public library were purchased to enable the addition of some of its floors.  President George W. Bush subsequently referred to the building as Liberty Tower in describing how Al Qaida had plotted an attack on the building shortly after 9/11, understandably not realizing that a skyscraper could be connected to a library.)

Li Orient is not a dedicated Sichuan style restaurant, but rather features various types of Americanized, as well as authentic regional Chinese foods.  Yes, it does have a Panda Express type takeout section for the locals, as well as orange chicken, egg drop soup, broccoli beef, walnut shrimp, garlic kale and kung pao chicken,.  But it does have a good selection of authentic Chinese dishes, too.  These include stir fried lobster balls with XO sauce, Hainan chicken, honey glazed char shiu, various types of dim sum, minced duck lettuce wraps, jellyfish, and Peking duck. 

Then there is the Chinese breakfast served from 7:30am to 10:30am, featuring jian bing (filled Chinese crepes), egg and cucumber pancakes, soymilk and Chinese crullers and varieties of congee.  But the big news is the handful of Sichuan style dishes including Szechwan spicy beef, Szechwan spicy fish, numbing cold chicken, Szechwan cold noodles and Szechwan spicy noodles. This is real Sichuan peppercorn action, not watered down stuff for downtown office workers.   Not surprisingly, most of the diners in the sit down portion of the restaurant appeared to be Chinese.  

Li Orient also has its fusion side, particularly with the rainbow array of seven different types of colored xiaolongbao, with each color having a different filling.  Yellow is for spicy chicken, red is for shrimp, green is for tofu/pork, white is for crab, orange is for chicken and cheese, black is for squid and brown is for truffle and chicken.

Li Orient is kind of pricey, though, with entrees starting at $18. The spicy fish dish below, as well as the spicy beef are $20 items, while the Zha Jiang Mein is $15, certainly well above the price point for the comparable items in the San Gabriel Valley.  And don't expect San Gabriel Valley quality food here, just as you don't expect to find that quality of food in Los Angeles Chinatown.  But it provides an alternative that has been missing from this part of town.



The premises are tastefully decorated with a spacious open feeling.



The bar era is the highlight of the interior.


Interestingly the restaurant is closed from 10:30am to 11:00am as they transition from breakfast to lunch.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Guandong Based Ooak Restaurant Opens First US Branch in Culver City

Barely two years ago I had written about the exciting new trend of Mainland China based restaurants setting up shop in the Los Angeles area.   However Mainland Chinese branch restaurant openings in the LA area have since become so commonplace that it's no longer newsworthy if that Chinese restaurant that just opened up in Rowland Heights happened to be headquartered in China.  However this wave of Mainland Chinese restaurant openings was confined to operators headquartered in places like Beijing or Chengdu, representing regional cuisines often referred to in the past as "Northern" Chinese cuisine.

With this background, the recent opening of Ooak Kitchen, a Guangdong based Cantonese vegetarian restaurant chain, with nearly 50 branches is rather noteworthy.  Guangdong is a hotbed of Cantonese dining, but with Cantonese cuisine on a relative decline here in the United States, we haven't seen any recent openings here in Los Angeles of Guandong based restaurant chains, though H L Peninsula did open up earlier this year in South San Francisco.   

Obviously, the first question is why Culver City and not the San Gabriel Valley?  Not that a Westside beachhead was entirely unprecedented, with Meizhou Dongpo making their debut in Century City, though they may have had more mainstream designs when they opened.  Indeed the question of why Culver City become more obvious when looking at specific items on the menu.  For example their signature dish appears to be their vegan duck, something quite familiar to people who consume vegetarian duck/goose in the San Gabriel Valley, but certainly not to Culver City locals.



Or how about vegetarian shaking beef, carved marvelously out of a giant black mushroom imported from China? Shaking beef? For the Westside crowd wouldn’t broccoli beef be something more familiar?

Capture

Vegetarian sweet and sour chicken cutlets bear no resemblance to what most people know as sweet and sour chicken.  I saw a strong similarity to the house special fish dish at Seafood Palace.


After the dinner I sought out the manager and asked about the choice of location.  He felt that the Westside was  more appropriate on several counts.  For example the vegetarian shaking beef was carved out of a single gigantic mushroom, imported from China like many of his ingredients.  He implied that with the competitive pressures in the San Gabriel Valley he wouldn't be able to prepare his dishes the way he wanted, presumably because he couldn't charge enough.  He indicated that a second location had already opened up in Buena Park, with other branches planned soon for Santa Monica and  Malibu, which seemed to indicate there were more of their targeted diners (freespending vegetarians?) in these communities. 

It'll be interesting to see if Ooak is able to find traction, particularly on this side of town.


Wednesday, April 4, 2018

My Favorite Chinese Dishes Over The Years

While thinking about my favorite current Chinese dishes, my thoughts turned to my previous favorite Chinese dishes over the decades.  Besides finding this exercise to be an interesting one, it turned out to say a lot about how Chinese food in the United States has evolved over the years. as well as how my own tastes have changed . 

As I have mentioned in my articles, interviews and presentations, I did not eat much Chinese food as a little boy growing up in 1950s Los Angeles.  First of all, the Chinese food of the day, essentially dishes imported by rural Toishanese immigrants from southern China, wasn't particularly good.  Furthermore, the homestyle version of that food was even worse.  Even though my dad was American born, culinary wise my mom described him as a "China Jack" so she cooked nothing but Chinese dishes for him.   In my opinion this homestyle Toishanese food was gross--things like steamed eggs with ground pork, which my mom cooked and served in a large glass vessel, ox tail, pig feet in tomato sauce, bean thread in a horrid milky sauce, and preserved turnip strips with ground pork, the thought of which made me nauseous.  There was only one Chinese dish that I enjoyed eating--rice with soy sauce.  And even when we went to multicourse Chinese banquets at places like Lime House (in the old Spring Street Chinese district, before it merged into the rest of Chinatown), the only thing I ate was rice with soy sauce.  (The only dish that I consumed more than rice with soy sauce was spaghetti with soy sauce.)

My culinary horizons expanded just a little bit in the early 1960s when I started to spend my summer vacations at my grandfather's small grocery store on 24th St. near Ellendale Pl. just a bit north of the USC campus.  My grandfather was an excellent cook, learning his trade at the Beverly Hills Hotel in the 1920s at a time where that hotel was a resort destination for Easterners on the far outskirts of Los Angeles, and was staffed largely by Chinese laborers.  In the back quarters of the store, he would fry up these giant chow mein pancakes made from what we called "Chinese water noodles", the eggless fresh Chinese noodle of the day.  The fried noodle pancake was intended to be cut up  into squares and doused with sauce, but I was content to eat the whole thing, without any topping.

The late 1960s saw the first real modernization of Cantonese food in Los Angeles with the first Hong Kong influences appearing in our Chinese restaurants.  The first restaurant of this ilk to open up in the City Produce Market neighborhood where my dad worked was On Luck Restaurant, founded by George Cheng, whose family owned Hong Kong Noodle Co., the Los Angeles contender that claimed to have invented the fortune cookie. (Another purveyor in San Francisco claimed the same honor, and in a kangaroo mythical court in San Francisco, the San Franciscans were ruled the true inventors.) Meanwhile, I was developing a reaction to highly fried foods, so Mr. Cheng concocted friendlier versions of his dishes for me, tomato beef lo mein instead of chow mein, and duck juice "fried" rice, instead of fried rice actually fried in oil.   (Mr. Cheng also asked if I wanted to pen some fortune cookie fortunes for him, but I was a busy college student and declined the invitation.)

My graduation from law school in 1973 and entering the workforce triggered my fried rice period, which may sound almost silly now, but back then was a critical element propelling my lifelong quest to eat at Chinese restaurants.   Having been largely confined to California until then, I had a desire to explore the United States and started a series of fly and drive vacations.  Meanwhile, I developed a keen interest in Chinese American communities when taking pioneering ethnic studies classes at UCLA.  And I wanted to spend time exploring and not waste time looking for three square meals on these trips.  So rolling all these objectives together I found that taking most of my meals at Chinese restaurants, topped by a gigantic dinner, was a way to fill my daily food quotient for an economical price and interact with Chinese communities around the country.  In most of the places I visited, however, authentic Chinese food was unheard of, so I ended up eating lots of fried rice and chow mein, such that for a while I became a connoisseur of fried rice.  (The one exception to inauthentic Chinese food on the road--Kim's Restaurant in Clarksdale, Mississippi, which introduced me to Hong Kong style chow mein in the mid-1970s.)

The real modern era in Chinese food in the United States started in the mid to late 1970s with the explosion of Hong Kong style Cantonese cuisine, and particularly in the early 1980s with the opening of Chinese seafood restaurants and dim sum palaces. with a wide variety of new dishes we now take for granted from chow mein made with thin Hong Kong egg noodles, to new varieties of dim sum like cheung fun (rice noodle rolls) and baked bbq pork buns.  The quintessential seafood/dim sum restaurant of this era was ABC Seafood, which opened in LA Chinatown in 1984 at the former Lime House site.  But interestingly their signature dish was neither seafood nor dim sum.  Rather it was a heavenly version of lemon chicken with an incredible combination of perfectly cooked lightly battered chicken cut into strips with a lemon sauce having the right combination of tang and sweetness.  For 15 years until the cook retired, I and everyone else that we knew made frequent regular pilgrimages for ABC's magical lemon chicken.

When the owner/cook of ABC Seafood moved on, I needed a new favorite Chinese dish which turned out to be Shanghai style rice cakes.  While Chinese food in the US started evolving after the late 1960s immigration reform, the new food was still predominantly Cantonese, with a healthy dose of Taiwanese influence thrown in.  It wasn't until the late 1980s that other regional Chinese cuisines appeared in Los Angeles, largely starting with Shanghai style food, and expanding my world beyond Cantonese food.  And the great thing about rice cakes was that you could cook a version at home that was just as good as what the restaurants served.

Rice cakes were then replaced as my favorite Chinese dish by fish dumplings, which I first encountered about 15 years ago at Dumpling 10053 Restaurant in El Monte.  The 21st century is definitely dominated by non-Cantonese regional Chinese food and while there were random Chinese dumpling restaurant openings in the Los Angeles area going back to the late 1980s, the early 21st century marks the start of their proliferation.  Interestingly, for many years, fish dumplings were unheard of everywhere in the United States outside of Los Angeles.  As recently as 5 years ago, I was being interviewed in New York by South China Morning Post correspondent Jeff Chu.  He asked me what my favorite Chinese dish was and when I responded fish dumplings, I was met by a puzzled look.  He had never heard of fish dumplings because they didn't exist in New York at that time.  It wasn't until just two or three years ago, that fish dumplings showed up in New York.

But for the past five years my favorite Chinese dish has been the crispy baked bbq pork bun, generally made with both a crispy round top and a crispy flat bottom.  I first encountered a variation of this item at Sea Harbour Restaurant in Rosemead, with what they called their French style baked BBQ pork bun which was absolutely fantastic.  (And I don't know why they subsequently took it off their menu, only reinstating it quite recently.)  Four years ago in Hong Kong we went to Tim Ho Wan, the restaurant that invented the dish, where I had their transcendental version of that item.  And ever since, even knowing that nobody in the United States can equal Tim Ho Wan Hong Kong,'s version I have been on a quest for this item.  My favorite version over here is Dragon Beaux in San Francisco, followed by Bay Area restaurants Hong Kong Lounge, Hong Kong Lounge 2 and Lai Hong Lounge.  (Unfortunately Koi Palace was out when I went there.)  Honorable mention to Pacific Lighthouse in Alameda.  Decent versions at Tim Ho Wan in Manhattan, Lunasia in Alhambra, China Red in Arcadia and surprisingly, for $1.25 for a giant one, at iCafe on Waverly Place in San Francisco Chinatown.   Golden Valley in Rowland Heights was OK before they closed down.  Bao by the Beverly Center was bad and it wasn't even crispy, even though they offer "crispy" and regular baked bbq pork buns. 

Tim Ho Wan - Hong Kong







Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Chinese Restaurants Open In New San Gabriel Valley Hotels

When I first heard that a number of large chain hotels would be opening up in the San Gabriel Valley, I was anticipating some interesting additions to the local Chinese dining stock.  After all, when the San Gabriel Hilton opened up a dozen years ago, the adjacent new shopping center filled up with numerous stripes of Chinese restaurants, the hotel restaurant hosted a weekend buffet that I still sometimes dream about today, and their banquet kitchen became one of the top Chinese banquet venues in the Los Angeles area.  However, with the opening of the first two of these next generation hotels, the San Gabriel Sheraton and the Hilton Garden Inn turned Holiday Inn in El Monte, it appears that the impact on the local Chinese restaurant scene will be modest.  Where I had envisioned multiple Chinese eateries in each of these new hotels, so far it's just one Chinese restaurant in each hotel.

I didn't even realize that Tasty Dining had opened in the Holiday Inn in El Monte last fall, probably because I had no idea that the hotel had changed brands from Hilton to Holiday Inn even before the hotel opened, and I was still searching for information on the new Hilton Garden Inn in El Monte, which didn't exist.   Tasty Dining is certainly an interesting choice for the Holiday Inn's only restaurant, as it's a relatively small operation whose existing location is in one of Valley Blvd.'s many shopping malls, and who is best known for being the LA area's first Wuhan style food specialist.  Indeed, they are certainly proud of the honor, as their business card proclaims this to be the "Tasty Dining Flagship Store in El Monte" (Indeed as a native Angelino who historically associated El Monte with the El Monte Legion Stadium, and Latino rock, I never dreamt I'd see the words "El Monte" and "Flagship" used together.)


The Holiday Inn Tasty Dining menu is quite similar to that of its original location, with one concession to its location in a branded hotel being one small section on the menu of non-Chinese dishes.  While this hotel was obviously built for Chinese clientele, the Holiday Inn and other international branded hotel will surely attract some percentage of non-Chinese guests, and hotels always have to accommodate the dining needs of all its guests.  Indeed, if you look at the El Monte Holiday Inn website, there's no indication that their intended audience is Chinese guests, so in that regard I'm surprised there aren't more Western food options on the Tasty Dining menu.  One interesting thing about Tasty Dining is that in addition to the main dining room, there is an adjoining annex which also serves as the breakfast buffet area for hotel guests.  The breakfast buffet is a common amenity at Holiday Inns all over the country.  This annex also becomes an overflow dining area for Tasty Dining during their hours of lunch and dinner service.   Interestingly the breakfast buffet hours are included in the Yelp listing and the hotel's listing of Tasty Dining's hours of operation, even though Holiday Inn breakfast buffets typically are continental breakfast, and I did spy yogurt cups in the refrigerator.

Next to open earlier this year was the San Gabriel Sheraton, and once again the Chinese dining runs one deep.  The Sheraton houses just two restaurants, the first to open being a steak house called EST.Prime Steakhouse.  This is a safe choice for both Chinese and non-Chinese hotel guests alike.  The second restaurant is Ba Shu Feng, the first US branch of a noted Sichuan restaurant chain from China.  The restaurant's expansive dining room is richly appointed, and makes one wonder whether this will be the first non-Cantonese Chinese banquet facility in Los Angeles.  An interesting sidelight to the Sheraton is its widespread use of robots to perform various tasks.  For example, when I checked the hotel directory kiosk to find exactly where Ba Shu Feng was located, the directory display asked me whether I wanted it to take me there.  Which I did.  (The display in the picture below says "Great.  Please follow me.")


In hindsight the limited Chinese dining options within the first two new internationally branded hotel chains to open up in the San Gabriel Valley makes sense.  These new chain hotels were specifically targeted at tourists traveling from Mainland China, many of whom are keenly aware of the Chinese dining options existing in the San Gabriel Valley.  While any large hotel has to have in-house dining facilities to serve guests who might want to take a random meal on premises, there are hundreds of authentic Chinese restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley and there's no sense adding significantly to that large of a collection.