Monday, February 6, 2017

What New York Chinese Dining Has That Los Angeles Doesn't

While as a whole Chinese food in Los Angeles surpassed New York probably 20 years ago and continues to pull away, there are some things Chinese food wise in New York that don't exist in Los Angeles.  Here are four restaurants from my recent visit to New York that fall into this profile.

La Chine

La Chine in the Chinese-owned Waldorf-Astoria Hotel is the type of high end, authentic Chinese restaurant that exists in New York, along with places like Fung Tu, Cafe China and Hakkasan, but no longer can be found in LA after the demise of Hakkasan Beverly Hills (and perhaps Chi Lin). My guess is that Los Angeles is just not much of an expense account town like New York is. Yes, LA does have the entertainment industry, but that pales compared to New York which has Wall Street and the investment banks, and large numbers of corporate headquarters that LA doesn’t have.  We did pass on the $125 per person tasting menu, but got a good substitute with the restaurant week special. We had the Long Island fluke appetizer, which was OK, the wagyu beef tenderloin (the hit of the evening)   the crispy shrimp, which was quite tasty, the black cod, also OK.  For dessert there was the mango with pomelo tapioca soup (pictured below), which was excellent, and the coconut pudding square, which was meh.

On a side note, the high end authentic Chinese dining scene in Los Angeles is entirely different than New York as LA can only support a handful of inauthentic high end Chinese restaurants like WP24, Mr. Chow and Philippes.  So the $64 question is with Chinese culture being so food centric, and so much Chinese money circulating around Los Angeles, where do the rich people go to eat Chinese food?  At least up to this point, it's not in dedicated fine dining restaurants, but rather the same places where you and I eat.  Virtually all of the seafood palaces where we go for $3 dim sum, lunch specials, and regular dining, also serve uberexpensive, largely seafood based premium menus, probably topped by the $10,000 per table banquet menu at Grand Harbor in Temple City.

Modern Szechuan

Walking near my hotel on 45th St. in Midtown Manhattan I passed a restaurant called Modern Szechuan, which featured a $6.99 per pound buffet, and had all the earmarks of a restaurant catering to local office workers.  But what caught my eye was hand written signs touting things like Lanzhou hand pulled noodles and xiaolongbao—certainly not Midtown office worker fare.   Walking into the front part of the restaurant where most of the tables were located, I saw a couple of lo wai eating and a couple more carrying out buffet items.  The menu was largely Americanized Chinese food and all in all this place really didn't look too promising.  But there was a section of the menu with knife cut and hand pulled noodle soups which looked authentic, so I ordered the chicken hand pulled noodles and the Shanghai wonton.  After I placed my order with the manager she directed me to the back of the restaurant, past the buffet, to pay for my food and to wait for it to be brought out. What a shock. Most of the people eating adjacent to the buffet were old Chinese guys like the old time Chinese bachelors you see in Chinatown.  In Midtown?  And reaching the back part of the restaurant, there was a separate menu of authentic Chinese items posted on the wall (ironically, nothing Sichuan style), and the seating area in the back area was filled mostly with young Chinese families.  Who knew?  It was like a hole in the wall restaurant had been transplanted from Chinatown into the heart of Midtown Manhattan!

The chicken and the noodles were fantastic, as were the Shanghai wontons made of ground beef. We even ordered a second bowl of chicken noodle soup.  And you'd never see a restaurant like this in downtown Los Angeles.


As I have previously written, Flushing has become my favorite Chinatown because unlike the Chinatowns in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and even most of Manhattan, the sidewalks don't roll up after the dark and there is plenty of activity late into the night.  It wasn't that way when I first visited Flushing Main St. 20 years ago when the area was only partially Chinese, but it certainly has transformed since then.  I have been to Flushing numerous times, but mostly in the vicinity of Main Street and Roosevelt Ave. since I've typically stayed at the Sheraton hotel there and mostly traversed within walking distance of the hotel.

This time we were driven to a Malaysian restaurant called Satay on a part of Kissena Blvd. I had never been to.   However, this was not a Malaysian restaurant as you or I would think about it. It was Chinese Malaysian food, i.e., food of the ethnic Chinese who live in Malaysia.  The proprietors, staff, and customers all spoke Cantonese, and the menu was in English and Chinese.  The food was prepared similarly to Cantonese food, but the dishes were different.   We had a Malaysian Chinese new year’s salad, golden spare ribs with pineapple, okra with green beans and smelt, an odd duck dish, and shrimp in shell cooked like crispy crab.  The Chinese New Year salad, pictured below, included Chinese red envelopes--filled with sesame seeds to top the salad.  The ingredients in the salad were served unmixed, with the diners then using their chopsticks to mix the salad for good luck. What a fantastic meal!

Wah Fung #1 Fast Food

When visiting with the Fung Bros. at Congee Village last year before they moved back to the West Coast

they indicated to me that the one thing New York did better than Los Angeles was old fashioned Cantonese bbq roast meats.  In that regard, the grandaddy of them all in New York Chinatown would be Wah Fung #1 Fast Food on Chrystie St.  Before there was Howlin Ray's Nashville Hot Chicken and long lines in LA Chinatown, there was Wah Fung #1.  Not to say that the lines at Wah Fung are as long, or that the wait time is anything close.  But given the fact that Wah Fung #1 Fast Food is takeout only and it only takes a minute or so to fill an order, I'd guess the volume of business at Wah Fung #1 is higher.

Wah Fung has a simple menu.  You get your choice of chashu, roast chicken, roast duck, and/or roast pork on a layer of vegetables on top of a mound of white rice.  The standard price for a single item is $3.75, and the main (but not exclusive) target  audience is Chinese senior citizens.  I never ate there in over 30 trips to New York City, intimidated by the long lines.   But the Sunday morning line was manageable so I jumped in.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

The New Lucky Dragon Chinese Casino in Las Vegas

The Lucky Dragon, a dedicated casino aimed at Chinese gamblers, recently opened in Las Vegas.  Lucky Dragon isn’t on the strip, but rather about a block west on Sahara Blvd., closer to Main Street than the busiest parts of the Strip.  It’s a small, low rise casino.  I’m guessing that the hotel portion, which is in an adjacent building to the casino, is maybe 6 or 7 stories high.  The gaming area is about 20,000 square feet, roughly equivalent to the size of one floor of an office building.  There was not a lot of gambling activity on the floor, but there was this huge line to sign up to be a frequent gambler.

It's surprising to me that it's taken so long for somebody to actually open an Asian targeted casino in Las Vegas.  There was the proposed Gold Mountain casino back in the 1980s which actually filed an IPO, but which was subsequently canceled.  And 15 years ago there was the mythical Red Dragon casino in the first Rush Hour movie with Jackie Chan.  At the time I thought a real Chinese casino would soon follow, but that didn't happen until now.  Then there's the large facility on the Strip being built by the owners of the Genting casino in Malaysia, which is currently under construction and will open up in two years with what seems to be a pan-Asian theme.  I trust it'll be nicer than their casino in the Malaysian highlands which we found dull and boring.

Perhaps the most telltale sign as to the target audience for Lucky Dragon is the fact there are only Chinese food options.  Plus, to me it seemed the dining areas are as big as the gambling areas.   The largest eatery at Lucky Dragon is the cafeteria type Dragon’s Alley, with an adjacent dining area.  Food was so so, but pricing was quite reasonable ($7 for noodle soup, $2 for small bowls of steam tray noodles).   And there was a line waiting to get in by the time we finished our meal.

Upstairs there is a higher class restaurant called Pearl Ocean (where the extra small dim sum is $4.88 a plate and the prices go up from there), which was packed  full, with people waiting.  Given that the casino has been open only a short while, that was impressive.   A second, higher class upstairs restaurant called Phoenix only opens for dinner.  They also have a 24 hour cook to order snack bar called Bao Now which was fairly expensive, with most entrees in the double digit dollar price range.  

The casino is catering to tourists from China, and Hainan Airlines just started flying from Beijing to Las Vegas in part to take tourists to Lucky Dragon.  However I’m not sure if that strategy will work since Lucky Dragon is so small and off the beaten path.  You can't easily walk from Lucky Dragon to the main part of the Strip (we found out the hard way), and perhaps like the moribund SLS Casino at the north end of the Strip, they're counting on the north end to perk up with the 2019 opening of Genting's Resorts World.  Whether they can hold out until then is something to be determined.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

36 Hours in The Bay Area

Though the ostensible reason for flying up to San Francisco was for a football game, this was really an eating trip. Landing a little after 9am Saturday, first stop was iCafe on Waverly Place in Chinatown for the poor man’s giant crispy top bbq pork bun for only $1.35.  This compares to the admittedly better but much smaller versions which you can get at some of the dim sum houses for $5 for an order of three.  I then headed to one of the two full service Chinese restaurants that had opened in Chinatown since my last visit, Hanlin Tea Restaurant.  I had their boneless fried chicken, kind of a cross between a chicken nugget and a chicken strip, with a very crunchy batter.  It was similar to something I remember eating a long time ago, and my best guess is that it resembled cracker meal. 

While it stopped raining before I landed, it started to rain lightly when I got in the car to drive to Berkeley around 12:30pm.   I would get lunch first at the Pacific East Mall in Richmond, where I knew there was at least one restaurant I hadn’t tried, Sichuan Fusion.    It rained fairly hard part of the way to Richmond, so I decided on a leisurely lunch in the mall and wait for the rain to break.  I had the tofu with crab and egg yolk, which I had only previously eaten as a dish with gravy.  This was actually a soup dish, and the large tureen contained about six bowls worth, which I struggled to finish.  When I finished lunch I left the mall to find the sun shining. However as soon as I started on the short drive from Richmond to Berkeley the skies darkened and it started to rain again.  Fortunately, by the time I got to Berkeley the rain stopped and once again the skies lightened.  For some reason I stopped by 85 Degrees on Shattuck to have something to eat later in the afternoon.  With so many branches of 85 Degrees in Los Angeles,  I don't know why I went there instead of something local.  I guess old habits are tough to break.

Driving back from Berkeley to the city after the game was pretty much bumper to bumper the whole way and took well over an hour.  Actually I didn't mind because in recent years my night vision has deteriorated and I was apprehensive about driving at night so far away from home.  But with traffic creeping along there was no problem  After the long drive back to Chinatown, I headed to Chong Qing Xiao Mein.   I had the Guilin rice noodle soup with stew meat and peanuts, and it was very good. 

The main reason I went up north was to try Hong Kong Lounge II, to compare its crispy bbq pork with Hong Kong Lounge 1, Lai Hong Lounge and Dragon Beaux.  While Chinese food in Los Angeles is clearly better than San Francisco, the crispy bbq pork bun, made famous by Tim Ho Wan in Hong Kong, isn't available in Los Angeles except at Golden Valley in City of Industry.   Hong Kong Lounge II, Hong Kong Lounge I, and Lai Hong Lounge, were all once commonly owned, and consequently have very similar crispy pork buns.  However, the ownership of all three have since been separated.  Hong Kong II is the smallest of the three, and if it was the best of the bunch as some observers have indicated, I was worried that I might have trouble getting into the restaurant, particularly since I’ve seen the problem you have (i.e., an hour’s wait) if you miss the first seating at Lai Hong Lounge in Chinatown.  So with a 9:30am opening time, I was dismayed that I couldn’t get out and over there until 9:15am.  However I was surprised to see when I drove by that there were only a handful of people waiting in line.

Needless to say I went wild at Hong Kong Lounge 2, spending $50 on two orders of crispy pork buns, plus also their famous coffee pork ribs, fish cheung fun, pea leaf and chicken dumplings and chicken potstickers.  My verdict?  Dragon Beaux, part of the Koi Palace group, still had the best crispy bun, followed by Hong Kong 1, Lai Hong Lounge, and then Hong Kong 2.  The Hong Kong 2 crispy bun wasn’t as crisp and was a little too sweet for my taste.  The coffee ribs were very good and very interesting, but since I’m not partial to the taste of coffee I wouldn’t order it again.  The pea leaf dumpling was ordinary and the fish cheung fun was OK.  The chicken potsticker was very good, one of the best I’ve eaten, but for $7 for five small potstickers, the value is lacking.  But I’m so happy to have tried all of these places.  The big surprise about Hong Kong 2 was that there was not the huge crowds I had imagined.  It didn’t fill for perhaps 20 minutes after opening, and even when I left around 10:30am, an hour after opening, there were only a handful of people waiting to get in.  (In contrast, when I walked by Lai Hong Lounge in Chinatown a couple of hours later, there was a mob waiting to get in.)  Not sure what the reason is.  Perhaps it’s too pricey, or perhaps it’s a little further east of where the Chinese live in the Richmond district.

I then headed back to Chinatown where I did a last sweep around just to make sure there weren’t any new restaurants I had missed.  I then drove out to the Sunset district, on the way passing Hong Kong Lounge 2 again and still seeing only a small group of people waiting to get in.  My target was a place called i Wonton, but when I got there I couldn’t find it.  Checking my Blackberry I saw it was closed.  At first my plan B was to stop for a regular baked bbq pork bun at a nearby places called Donut House, which supposedly had one of the best versions around.  It was good, but the truth is there are a lot of good places for that item in San Francisco.  At that point it occurred to me that I was near San Francisco State University and I vaguely recalled that an authentic Sichuan restaurant had opened up in a shopping center near campus, part of the trend I’ve written about how the current crop of Mainland Chinese students have spawned new Chinese restaurants near campuses all over the country.  I had assumed the restaurant was in the Stonestown shopping center, but when I got there I saw it was too upscale (Macy’s etc.) to be the right place.  Though I didn’t remember the name of the restaurant I Googled the right details to pull it up and found that it was a half a mile away  on a side street in a residential area near the SFSU campus.   I ordered the pepper salt fish at Fang Yuen which was pretty good and made for a nice dinner at the airport.

All in all this was a very enjoyable trip. My room at the Royal Pacific was only $96, parking included, but an extra $15 in taxes, compared to as much as $240 when staying there during prime convention time.  So this was the perfect weekend to come up to San Francisco, especially with a beautiful sunny Sunday after the rainy Saturday.  

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Technology Leaving Us Old Diners In The Dust

Heaven knows it's tough enough ordering at an authentic Chinese restaurant if you don't speak Chinese. Throw in a technological hurdle and it's a gauntlet. I'm not talking about putting in your order on an iPad. I've kind of gotten the hang of that. But walking into Dasheng  BBQ in Monterey Park, I notice no menus. I asked the guy behind the counter for a menu, he says they don't have one. He then pointed to a poster on the wall and said you need this. "What that?" I asked. He then whipped out his smart phone and pointed to one of the apps. As it turns out their menu is only accessed somehow via the Chinese language WeChat app, with the menu only being in Chinese, though I had no idea of the mechanics since I didn't have We Chat on my phone.  

Coincidentally the Los Angeles Times recently ran an article by reporter David Pierson about how vendors of home made dumplings and other foodstuffs were selling their wares on WeChat    Pierson actually contacted me while writing this article as he was searching for someone  (even someone anonymous) who had purchased home made food items on WeChat to see if I knew anybody.  I couldn't help him except to give him the name of another person who might know.  But if you read his article you can see he did indeed manage to interview an end user.

The article quickly led to a thread on the Food Talk Central message board from people curious about how they could use WeChat to partake of these home made Chinese goodies.  Going to the WeChat application provides no apparent entry into this part of the foodie world.  There is nothing to indicate the existence of an equivalent to Facebook's Marketplace.  But where questions about the local food scene are normally quickly and easily resolved on this and other local food message boards, there has been no definitive answer posted.  

This silence actually isn't surprising.  When you read Pierson's article, strangely, depending on the particular food product involved, these WeChat sales may or may not be illegal.  It depends upon whether the food contains any meat or not, meat making it illegal.  Consequently, sellers certainly want to keep a low profile, while consumers don't want to put their food source at risk.  This is reminiscent of more than a decade ago when we used to buy frozen dumplings from a house in Monterey Park, from a "dealer" that we had heard of by word of mouth.   That operation was mentioned in a thread on the then vibrant Chowhound Los Angeles message board, but then the thread soon mysteriously disappeared.  Interestingly, that household operation subsequently became Mama Lu's Dumpling House.

I have since installed the We Chat app on my phone, though I'm still not sure what the drill is.  It probably has something to do with the QR Scan feature in WeChat.  Coincidentally, I just received an email with a Chinese language solicitation regarding Burberry products. The email had a QR Code embedded in it. On a hunch, I opened up WeChat's scan function, then put the QR Code image in the view box. and snapped it. That created a message link with the name and picture of a person who I presumed to be the seller, with the direction to first send a friend request to that person. Once you are friends then you can communicate with the person.  In conjuction with an article I found that incidentally noted that WeChat was a pioneer in a nascent business to customer direct messaging marketing approach, I'm thinking the answer lies is getting the vendor and the customer to identify and message each other on a one to one basis.  I'm guessing scanning the QR code is the facilitator in bringing the parties together, as opposed to something more organized like Facebook's Marketplace.  So I'm guessing when you go to Dasheng BBQ they give you a QR Code that you scan into WeChat which sends you their menu on your phone.  Or something like that.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Two Days in Phoenix

I've had a very strange relationship with the city of Phoenix (or as the stewardess on a recent flight I took from LAX to Phoenix repeatedly pronounced it, Fennix.)  It's only 400 miles from my home in Los Angeles, meaning a short one hour flight or an eight hour drive.  Yet after first visiting Phoenix in 1966 while still in college, my next trip there wasn't until 2004.  And since then I've been there 10 times, so I'm now fairly familiar with their Chinese food scene as reflected in my Menuism article on Chinese food there.  

Recently, a newly opened (well actually, new ownership of an old restaurant) called House of Egg Roll (sic) in suburban Chandler has made such a splash that it made one publication’s list of the top 50 Chinese restaurants in the U.S.  My guess is that the current owner purchased the predecessor Americanized Chinese restaurant and didn’t bother changing the English language name, since it’s irrelevant to Chinese speaking clientele.  So as soon as I picked up my rental car at Sky Harbor Airport on Sunday morning, I made a bee line to Chandler.   House of Egg Roll is now a Shaanxi style restaurant  and their pita bread lamb soup was the best I’ve had.  It was better than Shaanxi Gourmet in Rosemead in the San Gabriel Valley,  the best of several Shaanxi style restaurants in the SGV, which is saying a lot.  Before heading to the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale at Gainey Ranch, I also picked up a nice order of pork bing from Chengdu Delight to eat in my hotel room.  Just as good as in Los Angeles.

Shortly after I arrived in Scottsdale, I received a message from my friend and former co-worker Dave Isaac.  Somehow, Dave had parlayed his CPA practice with a secondary career as a radio talk show host.  Indeed, Dave once had me on his radio show to talk about Chinese food and our working days together..  Since my hotel was in Scottsdale and Dave lives in Peoria, we couldn't meet in the Chandler/Mesa area where most of the good Chinese restaurants in the Phoenix area are located. Fortunately, while I was in Chandler I was able to pick up Chinese newspapers with restaurant advertisers and I found some new restaurants that I hadn't tried, and luckily there was one new advertiser in north Phoenix,  Ann’s Asian Bistro, in the city of Surprise, some 30 miles west of the Hyatt Regency in Scottsdale.  I had driven through Surprise once, eight years ago when I last drove from LA to Phoenix, and considered Surprise to be at the edge of nowhere.  It was even west of Sun City, America’s first retirement community which I actually remember opening up around 1960.  Nowadays the western part of Phoenix flows seamlessly into Sun City, and now Surprise, so it met Dave the next night for dinner.  Ann’s is one of the few new Cantonese restaurants in Phoenix, as with most Chinese communities in the US, the bulk of the new Chinese restaurants are non-Cantonese.  At Ann's we ordered the beef chow fun, garlic string beans, and salted fish tofu casserole, all of which were reasonably good, particularly the salted fish casserole.  And we practically had the entire restaurant to ourselves as there was only one other diner there the whole evening.

After my meeting ended late Tuesday morning, I headed down to Mesa to try some other new restaurants that I saw in the Chinese newspaper.   First stop was B J Noodles, where I was expecting to have some dumplings or perhaps noodle soup.  But then I saw something on the menu described as “grains fish”.  I asked what that was, but the waitress was unable to explain it.  Since it wasn’t marked spicy I decided to try it.  That was a good choice because it was an absolutely delicious dish of sliced fish in a white sauce with sauteed sliced cucumbers and wood ear fungus.   I wolfed it down in record time.  In the same shopping center was another new find, Chili Rush.  Needing more food for later in the afternoon until my evening flight home, I searched for nonspicy, nonmessy dishes and came up with the national dish of Taiwan, stinky tofu.  Interestingly the restaurant's menu didn’t say Chili Rush, but rather Magic Chili Garden instead.  As a Google search later revealed, the ownership entity is Magic Chili Garden, but they operate under the name Chili Rush.  And strangely, the receipt for my food had neither name, but rather said Henry’s Private Kitchen. Last stop was Nan Zhou Hand Drawn Noodle House for some extra thick hand made noodles in peanut and garlic sauce.  

I have to say that most all of the Chinese food  these two days I ate was extremely good, generally comparable to the San Gabriel Valley.   It just reinforces my conclusion from my prior trips to Phoenix that pound for pound, authentic Chinese food in Phoenix is better than that in New York.  Not to say that there aren't more and better Chinese restaurants in New York than Phoenix.  But the average authentic Chinese restaurant in Phoenix is better than the average authentic Chinese restaurant in New York City as it is closer in quality to what we get in Los Angeles.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Chinese Restaurant 7,000--Dim Sum Inn in Salinas

So I've been seriously searching for Chinese restaurants to eat at for 40 years now, simultaneously with my starting to travel the United States, and also developing an interest in the newfangled authentic Chinese food that began to appear in the United States.  At a fairly steady pace for 40 years, I've managed to hit the 7,000 restaurant mark.  In logging in my restaurant visits, I consider each round hundred milestone to be special, and what makes a Chinese restaurant more special than not being easily able to go to a return visit?  As a result, each "hundred" restaurant has been located some distance away from my Los Angeles home.

Of course keeping this convention requires quite a bit of advance planning.  It's not that my restaurant count hits, say, 6,499, and I can hop on a plane and fly someplace for number 6,500 (which for those keeping score was the oddly named Fei Tenc in Manhattan Chinatown).   No, instead I look at my upcoming planned trips and then change the pace of my new restaurant visits accordingly, either rapidly accelerating or decelerating my current additions as needed.  And in some cases, accelerating my pre-travel restaurant visits may not be good enough as I've also needed a large count at my destination to hit the magic hundred.  Fortunately, multi-day trips to dining centers such as San Francisco and New York can provide two dozen new restaurants for a trip, where eating as many as four meals a day, each at a different restaurant, can increase the count.

Now hitting 7,000 proved tricky because that magic mark was on track to be reached this summer, but we did not schedule a summer vacation this year for various reasons.  Every one of the first six "thousand" milestones was at an east coast restaurant.  1,000 was at Bo Bo China in Niagara Falls NY, 2,000 was at Eat First in Washington DC, 3,000 was at House Fortune in Gaithersburg MD, 4,000 was at Sun Dou Dumpling House in Manhattan, 5,000 was at Miu Kee in Falls Church VA and 6,000 was at Zheng's Family in Manhattan.  However with no east coast trips planned until 2017, I had to settle for the Monterey, CA area, where we were going to attend a wedding.  The problem with Monterey, however, is that I had already eaten at all of the Chinese restaurants in Monterey.  Not that I'm a frequent visitor there, but Monterey is one of those cities where the turnover of Chinese restaurants is negligible.  The same restaurants that were there 20 years ago are there today.  So I needed to focus my attention on Salinas, which was somewhat conveniently located on our drive home back from Monterey.

I consulted my master national list of Chinese restaurants that I would like to eat at if I ever visited a particular city.  There are hundreds of restaurants on this list, most of which I'll never get to since the chances that I'll return to, say, Little Rock, AR are remote.   The list did have a couple of entries for Salinas but they may have been outdated.  In checking the Yelp reviews for these restaurants, I stumbled across a stunning suggested Chinese restaurant in Salinas, Dim Sum Inn.  Dim sum in Salinas?  While Salinas may have had a Chinese community that included a physical Chinatown in the early to mid 20th century, certainly not enough of it remained today to justify anything remotely authentic.  Yet, late last year, Dim Sum Inn opened up in north Salinas.

I must admit that after the initial excitement of learning about dim sum in Salinas, the excitement wore off as I figured they were reheating dim sum peddled by Sysco or one of the other food supply companies. However, when I got there on Sunday morning after the wedding festivities in Carmel Valley had ended, I  discovered that this was indeed a real find.   For one thing, this wasn't Sysco stuff, but in-house made dim sum. How did I know? Well, for one, they had several dim sum varieties that I had seldom, if ever seen. Chicken shen jen bao, which I only encountered at Imperial Seafood in Concord and Old Sichuan in Manhattan Chinatown. Chicken cheung fun, which I've only remember eating at Century Plaza on the edge of Oakland Chinatown. Chicken siu mai, also a rarely seen item and last seen at King Valley Seafood in Pinole, CA. Chicken taro dumpling and onion bun, which I have never seen anywhere. And these oversized, oddly colored baked bbq pork buns, unlike anything I've ever seen before. Also it took a good 20 minutes for these items to come out of the kitchen. Not to say this was the best dim sum I've eaten, but given that I wouldn't expect to find any of this stuff within a 75 mile radius this was a real treat. The one downside is that everything is $5.50 an order, which is more expensive than the fanciest dim sum in Los Angeles. 

 Of course, the question is why is there dim sum in Salinas.  I asked the guy behind the counter if there were many Chinese residents in Salinas and he said there weren't. He did indicate there were Chinese scattered around the Monterey area so I presume that's their core audience for the dim sum menu. When I was in the restaurant, clientele was primarily non-Asian, ordering off the Americanized Chinese menu (the dim sum menu is separate), with just a few Chinese diners.  But whatever the reason, thank you Dim Sum Inn for being there.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Best Chinese Restaurant In Los Angeles You Probably Never Heard Of

People have always been on the lookout for those hole-in-the-wall, under the radar dining gems.  But these kinds of restaurants seldom exist these days with every millennial being a foodie, and food discoveries instantaneously disseminated on social media, Yelp reviews and message boards.  Having said that, one of the best Cantonese restaurants (and probably the one with the most different array of dishes) in Los Angeles is one that most people haven't heard of, Embassy Kitchen in San Gabriel.

Everybody knows the top tier Hong Kong style restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley--Sea Harbour, King Hua, Elite and Lunasia top most lists, with China Red, Happy Harbor, Grand Harbor and Shi Hai mentioned in the next tier.  Embassy Kitchen is different because it is not a giant seafood palace with conspicuous tanks of live seafood.  Indeed, it was probably an afterthought when it opened up in 1999 as Embassy Billiard, reflecting the fact that it was in front of, and adjunct to the pool hall of the same name.  And seventeen years later, while "insiders" know about the gems served here, it's still under the radar.

It's hard to describe what makes Embassy Kitchen so good, aside from the fact that the food tastes good and there are many seldom seen Hong Kong style dishes served here.  And the different dishes here are hard to categorize, as they range from homestyle to the upscale, some of which need to be ordered a day or two in advance.  But perhaps what obscures the food here is the fact that there is an extensive Chinese language only menu supplement, not translated into English as the owner admits because he doesn't know how to correctly describe the dishes.  These dishes are listed on the inside front and back covers of the menu, and I think the best thing to do is just to list them here.

Inside front cover:
Tilapia rolls with picked vegetables and whole bone carcass
Boneless chicken stuffed with shrimp paste
Boneless chicken stuffed with sticky rice
Pan fried tilapia
Pumpkin with burdock
Spare ribs in vinegar
Bitter million crab meat omelet
Mustard green with chicken and sausage
Spare rib hot pot
 Celery with pork and peppers
Pan fried chicken/sausage/chestnut patty
Vegetable goji berry soup
Clear rice noodles with cabbage, egg and dried scallop
Pork and Japanese yam in X.O. sauce
Beef with string beans in Maggi sauce
Steamed eggplant with dry scallop and ground pork
Fatty beef with mixed mushrooms in Korean bbq sauce
French style tenderloin

Inside back cover:
Baked crab in clay pot
Melon with fresh bean curd skin
 Ground pork/bok choy/dried bean curd skin soup
Pork neck with celery
Spare rib with preserved mustard greens and dried shrimp soup
3 ingredients chicken with chestnuts
Japanese style sea bass
Sea bass with tofu with shrimp paste
Sea bass mustard green soup
 Steamed eggs with tofu and mixed seafood
Abalone mushroom with spinach
 Garlic spare ribs
Chinese sausage with napa
Stuffed chicken wings
Sea bass with mushroom and tofu
Steamed tilapia with sliced pork and lemon
Lamb with two mushrooms

 English menu highlights:
Crab fried rice
Imitation shark fin with egg white
House special chicken
Stuffed duck
French style beef stew
Fried pork leg
Boneless stuffed tilipia