Saturday, May 13, 2017

My Secret Past Life On The Chinese-American History Rubber Chicken Circuit

I have previously mentioned briefly my first bout as a speaker and writer some 40 years ago, not at all on the topic of Chinese food, but rather on aspects on Chinese American history and culture. This year's annual declaration of Asian Pacific American Heritage month reminded me of the first Asian Pacific American Heritage commemoration in Los Angeles Chinatown back in 1979, when it was designated merely as Asian Pacific American Heritage Week.   Initially, I wasn't sure at first if 1979 was the first commemoration--all I remember is being the keynote speaker at an early Asian Pacific American Heritage event.  But coincidentally I had recently rediscovered a binder containing flyers and handwritten notes relating to my early presentations on Chinese American topics.  In that binder I found the materials from that presentation, which indeed was the first year that Asian Pacific American Heritage was officially celebrated.  I'm not sure if event the was held at Golden Dragon or Tai Hong Restaurant in Chinatown.  An early announcement said Golden Dragon, but my recollection of the layout of the banquet room doesn't correspond to any currently existing restaurant in Chinatown that I could think of right now, and I'm reminded of Tai Hong.  In reality, much like the first NCAA basketball tournament back in 1939, being keynote speaker at that first Asian Pacific American Heritage event is probably a much bigger deal in hindsight than it actually was at that time.

That old binder was actually full of materials from a number of presentations I had given from the mid-1970s through the early-1980s, at which time I withdrew from writing and speaking on ethnic topics, though I did continue to speak on boring income tax topics through the late 1990s.  The binder included presentations that I have no current recollection of ever having participated in.  For example, back in 1982, I was master-of-ceremonies for the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California's commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Exclusion Act.  Really?  And I gave a presentation to the Historical Society of Southern California at the long defunct Hong Kong Jade Garden restaurant?  I have absolutely no recollection of that presentation or even the restaurant.  And during the 1981 Los Angeles Bicentennial Celebration, I was part of the city's Bicentennial Speakers Bureau and did some speaking on the Chinese in Los Angeles.  Perhaps that's how some of my presentations came about.

I spoke at the University of Southern California at a conference put on by the Los Angeles Unified School District for a program called Project Follow-Through to educate school district personnel on ethnic studies issues, covering Asian American issues with my co-speaker, Professor Harry Kitano from UCLA.  I spoke to the California Conference of Historical Societies at General Lee's Man Jen Low restaurant on Chinese American history.  I was interviewed by Beverly Ann Lee of KNX radio about the Chinese community in Los Angeles, as well as Truman Jacques and Patricia Stich on Channel 2 (I think it was still KNXT back then) for the "It Takes All Kinds" public service television show, back when the FCC mandated public service television shows.

Mind you, I was doing all this while working as a tax accountant for Kenneth Leventhal & Company, a certified public accounting firm that specialized in the real estate industry.  I was puzzled back then why someone like myself without any academic credentials was able to give all of these presentations and write the articles I produced in that period on the Chinese in Los Angeles, the Chinese exclusion laws, and postcards of American Chinatowns, that were noted in the above referenced blog posting.

However upon reflection decades later, the answer is more clear to me.  As I previously recounted, I attended the first ever Asian American studies class offered at UCLA back in 1969,  which was quaintly titled "Orientals in America."  My class term paper on the history of the Chinese in Los Angeles was the basis of a number of subsequently published (though not especially widely circulated) articles on that subject.  Meanwhile, while going on to attend law school at UCLA, I spent my spare time in the law library poring through court cases involving Chinese Americans, mostly deportation cases under the Chinese Exclusion Act, not with any academic intent, but merely because I found the topic so riveting.  In so doing, I was getting in on the ground floor of an area for which no academic infrastructure had yet developed, and for which there was a giant vacuum which initially could largely be filled by amateurs like myself.  

Indeed, look at the Chinese Historical Society of America, founded in 1962 by lay people from the San Francisco Chinese community.  CHSA developed two pioneering historians--Him Mark Lai, a mechanical engineer, and Philip Choy, an architect.  Similarly, the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California was founded in Los Angeles Chinatown in 1975, again by community members like Rev. Paul Louie and Stan Lau from the Department of Water and Power.   

For quite a few years now, Asian American studies has been a scholarly discipline like any other subject area taught on a university campus.  With all of the intellectual academic expertise that has built up over the years, there's no way that an amateur non-academic could have the impact or exposure today that I was able to experience way back then.   It was a unique opportunity for a layman to be there at the start of what turned into something so great.  I will always treasure the experience, and obviously it's a major part of the observations I make about Chinese food today.

Monday, May 1, 2017

A College Town's Chinese Restaurant Menu Is a History of Chinese Food in America

As I have mentioned numerous times, the presence of over 300,000 Mainland Chinese university students in the United States has altered the face of Chinese dining in the United States, bringing authentic Chinese food to cities and towns where such a find would have been unimaginable even just a decade ago.  As a big fan of both college sports and US geography, and having visited all 50 states, I have used my familiarity with both to track down authentic restaurants in many college towns.

Recently I was watching the replay of an ESPN college football telecast from a couple of years ago, when they did a promo for their College Game Day telecast.  It was a slow period early in the season, so ESPN decided to do their show from a small (athletically speaking) campus, James Madison University in Harrisonburg, VA.  While I had heard of that school, I was surprised that I had never heard of the town in which it was located.  Looking it up, I saw that it was in rural Virginia, a two hour drive away from both Washington DC and Richmond, explaining why it had never come to my attention.  Obviously I decided to check whether James Madison was a school that had enough Chinese students to warrant authentic Chinese food, and indeed it is, with A Taste of China Restaurant providing anything a homesick Mainland Chinese student would want to eat.

The menu at A Taste of China is absolutely fascinating.  As I have written before, these college town Chinese restaurants serve a mixed audience--students from China, students not from China, and local residents.  The result is an interest mashup of old time Americanized Chinese dishes and cutting edge items from the Chinese interior.  However I don't think this has been any more starkly demonstrated than by the menu at A Taste of China.  For example, look at the "soup" section of their menu.
Talk about going from the ridiculous to the sublime!  From the most primitive Toishanese American classic egg drop soup to the slightly more sophisticated wonton soup to the post 1960s immigration reform "northern" Chinese Americanized classic hot and sour soup, to the post immigration reform advanced Cantonese Westlake beef soup, to today's Sichuan boiled fish soup and pork rib pot.  It's like 150 years of Chinese dining in America capsulized in 8 lines.

Likewise, the hot appetizer section of the menu was also like a diorama of Chinese food in America.
Once again, the menu started with the crudest old time Americanized Chinese appetizer, the egg roll, followed by the slightly more modern crab rangoon, before transitioning to more modern, Mainland Chinese diner oriented appetizer items.

Typically we think of Chinese restaurants in the US as falling into distinct categories--old time Americanized Chinese, more modern Americanized Chinese, and modern authentic current Chinese regional cuisine.  But at A Taste Of China in Harrisonburg, and undoubtedly others in different college towns, they can be all rolled up into one.



Saturday, April 8, 2017

At Teto Sweets In Monterey Park It's The Non-Sweets That Are The Eye Opener

Thanks to Uncle Tetsu in the Westfield Santa Anita Mall, Japanese cheesecake has hit the local radar like a hurricane, resulting in the most ridiculous lineup queue in that part of town since Din Tai Fung (whose flagship location is just around the corner).   Fortunately somebody else stood in line so I could get my taste of Uncle Tetsu's cheesecake, which I would describe as good, but not great.

Naturally the success of Uncle Tetsu has encouraged others to follow suit, and perhaps best known is Teto Sweets, 610 E. Garvey Ave., Monterey Park, which has become a satisfactory replacement for those unwilling to battle the lines at Uncle Tetsu.  Teto Sweets opened a few months ago, and is located in a nondescript structure on the corner of Garvey and Rural Dr. which I missed completely when I first drove there, and had to drive around a very long block to finally make it there.   I would also say that the name of the eatery is misleading, as it implies that it is primarily a dessert shop where the cheesecake is the only real dessert item on the menu.  Teto Sweets' Japanese cheesecake is like that at Uncle Tetsu,  good, not great.   However in fact while the cheesecake is good, but not great, great certainly does exist on the rest of the Teto Sweet menu.

So if the Japanese cheesecake at Teto Sweets is not the star of the show, what is?  Well that distinction belongs to the Golden Fried Bao which look as good as it tastes.


Think of your favorite Gua Bao from Baohaus or Taiwanese restaurant in the San Gabriel, but take the mantou bun and deep fry it to a golden brown.  That's the Golden Fried Bao at Teto Sweets.  The Golden Fried Bao comes in three flavors, Peking duck, chicken salsa and, naturally, pork belly.  The deep fried buns have a milky consistency, with just a hint of sweetness.  All three varieties are outstanding.

Also on the menu at Teto Sweets are Teto pancakes, sandwiches with a crunchy pancake wrapper with fillings like the abovementioned duck, chicken and pork belly choices, as well as others like spam and kalbi.  Other innovative dishes on the menu include mapo tofu fries and beef bone sticks. Also the obligatory selection of coffee and tea drinks.

So to turn around the well known restaurant slogan, when it comes to Teto Sweets, it's "come for the cheesecake but stay for the rest of the menu."

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Not Just Food Trucks--More Chinese Food Options For USC Students

While my previous L.A. Weekly article on Chinese food for Mainland students at USC focused on the Chinese food trucks parked near the international student housing at Jefferson and McClintock, there are a few other alternatives for the Mainlanders.  Most obviously, the students can get in their cars and drive to the San Gabriel Valley, which is less than 15 miles away, though this is not advisable during rush hours.  Indeed, prior to the recent Chinese restaurant openings on the Westside catering to UCLA students that this was a common option for Mainland UCLA students, so this is just a continuing option for USC students.  However, a couple of other alternatives were also mentioned on the Food Talk Central message board.

The most interesting option mentioned was the frequent use of delivery services like To Go 626, to have food ferried from the San Gabriel Valley to campus.  Dozens of top Chinese restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley, such as Chengdu Taste, Szechuan Impression, SinBaLa, Xi'An Tasty, Class 302, Gui Lin Noodle, Din Tai Fung, Shaanxi Gourmet, 101 Noodle Express, Savoy, and Beijing Pie House, have aligned themselves with delivery services like this.  And while the delivery services derive most of their business from local San Gabriel Valley residents, they'll deliver almost anywhere if you pay them the approximately $1 a mile delivery charge.  So for a rich Mainlander on the USC campus, a $15 service charge to get food delivered from your favorite San Gabriel Valley restaurant is quite insignificant.

You might think it's being presumptuous in assuming it's just rich Mainlanders at USC taking advantage of this delivery option, particularly since several students can go in together with a group order and make the delivery charge per head quite modest.  However apparently the San Gabriel Valley Chinese food delivery businesses also do a thriving business delivering food to Mainland students at UC Irvine.  And for a delivery charge of $45, clearly those deliveries are concentrated in the rich Mainlander crowd.  Now why would a rich UC Irvine student pay $45 to have authentic Chinese food delivered from someplace like Alhambra when Irvine itself has dozens of authentic Chinese restaurants, all within convenient driving distance in your Maserati or Lamborghini from your campus digs?  The answer lies in the fact that Irvine's Chinese restaurants skew toward their Cantonese and Taiwanese residents, meaning Cantonese, Taiwanese and Shanghainese style food. Irvine has only a small (though growing) number of Sichuan and other Mainland type Chinese restaurants (though strangely including a Uyghur restaurant), so if you really want the food of your home province and have money to burn, delivery from the San Gabriel Valley is an attractive option.

Another USC Chinese Mainlander food source, quite interestingly, is Lao Sze Chuan restaurant in Glendale.  Lao Sze Chuan is a Chinese restaurant chain originally out of Chicago which developed national ambitions.  The fact that the driving force behind the enterprise is now in prison for tax evasion has not stopped the national expansion plans which has seen branches open in the Palms Casino in Las Vegas, Phoenix, and here in Glendale.  With the lack of Sichuan food in Los Angeles Chinatown, Lao Sze Chuan is the closest source of this authentic cuisine  so its attraction to USC students makes some sense.  On the other hand it would seem that it's not that much closer distance wise to USC than the San Gabriel Valley, so you'd think that going to Chengdu Taste or Szechuan Impression might be worth driving an extra couple of miles.  Of course the other neighboring amenities of Glendale, such as the Galleria, Americana and movie theaters could also be a factor in drawing USC Mainlanders here.

One last point raised on the message board was the assertion that a lot of USC Mainland Chinese students don't actually set foot on campus, but are rather whooping it up somewhere in the San Gabriel Valley and hence don't need a campus source of Chinese food.  Rather, these students purchase their degrees by having surrogates attend classes and take their tests, which makes some sense given the extreme wealth of some of these students.  It might sound fanciful to think that this happens on more than just an isolated basis.  However, it may well be true, as a scandal recently broke out at the University of Iowa, reported in detail in a Reuters special report, involving an organized ring that was involved in exactly these activities by dozens of Mainland students.


Thursday, March 23, 2017

Tiny Rowland Heights Storefront Little Highness Bao Opens Up In Beverly Hills

In this post-Trump election world, things have reached a point that almost nothing surprises me.  But I have to tell you that to me, the opening of a branch of Little Highness Bao on Wilshire Blvd. in Beverly Hills pushes the envelope more than anything that seems to be happening in Washington DC.


Little Highness Bao is certainly not one of the big culinary names in the San Gabriel Valley.  It opened a small storefront last summer in a shopping center on the corner of Colima Road and Fullerton Road in Rowland Heights, where it purveys a very specialized category of buns, essentially steamed mantou buns filled with things like green bean with pork, chicken gravy with pork and onion, cabbage with vermicelli and dried shrimp (with another variety substituting mushroom for the vermicelli), rib with vegetables, and beef steamed buns.  Indeed it's the only restaurant I've been to that has this kind of specialty.  They also sell dumplings and other related types of fare.  Little Highness does appear to be in an expansion mode as they just opened a fishpot restaurant next to the original Rowland Heights store.  But it's not like they've created any kind of buzz out in Rowland Heights.  So certainly I was totally unprepared when my son Eric sent me a message that one of his foodie scouts had driven by, and even snapped a picture of the new Little Highness Bao location in Beverly Hills

Fortunately I was scheduled to work in Century City the next day, so it was only a slight detour to check out the Beverly Hills location of Little Highness Bao.   And there on Wilshire Blvd. between Roxbury and Bedford, directly across from Saks Fifth Avenue (and kitty corner from Neiman Marcus) was Little Highness Bao.  However when I walked in I momentarily thought I was in the wrong store because it only seemed to be a boba and tea shop, despite the giant mantou bun picture on the front window.  There were no food menus, either permanent, paper, or posted on the wall.  The clerk explained that the only menu was in marker on a side glass partition.


The menu is very sparse.  As you might be able to see, the menu includes beef noodle soup, wonton soup, pork dumplings, beef steamed dim sum (whatever that is), beef rolls, plus their signature pork and beef steamed mantou buns, as well as pork and beef xiaolongbao.  So to their credit they haven't filled their menu with Americanized items, but rather taken the friendliest items from the San Gabriel Valley.  Looking at the other tables in the restaurant, the xiaolongbao, not surprisingly, appears to be the most popular item with the local crowd.  When I was in the restaurant, all the other diners were non-Asian.  I did see a group of Mainlanders,who were apparently walking down the street, stop to take a peek, but then continued on.  I suspect they were unimpressed by the Beverly Hills hipster look of the restaurant, as well as the non-Asian servers and customers.  However, the food tastes like the Rowland Heights branch, the prices are not outrageous (XLB is $10.99, most everything else is under $9) and the cook with the baseball cap sure looked like a Mainlander to me.

Street address is 9667 Wilshire Blvd.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Where's The Mainland Chinese Food Near The USC Campus?

As I have written both for Menuism and LA Weekly, one of the most significant trends in Chinese dining in the United States in the past decade is the appearance of authentic Chinese food nearby college campuses all over the country to serve the culinary needs of the 300,000 students from Mainland China studying at our universities.   The current generation of international Chinese students is different from past generations due to their wealth, as well as the high likelihood of returning to China when their American university days are over.  As a result authentic non-Cantonese Chinese restaurants have popped up everywhere there's a university with any concentration of students from China. Even where two years ago there was a paucity of authentic Chinese options near UCLA, as my LA Weekly article described, suddenly there are a plethora of choices there.   But even though the University of Southern California has the second largest enrollment of students from China among American universities, numbering around 5,000, restaurants serving authentic Chinese food for these Mainlanders near campus appeared to be nearly non-existent.

Now it's not like there's never been somewhat authentic Chinese food near the USC campus.  Some 30 years ago there was Campus Chinese Restaurant on Vermont Ave. that made a terrific pepper chow mein, but it fell to the 1992 Los Angeles riots.  More recently there was Bamboo Express in the University Village mall which served authentic Western Chinese food alongside its Panda Express type items,  but which closed down when that shopping center fell to the wrecking ball.  Interestingly, the owners then opened up Qin West restaurant in Chinatown and then another branch on Westwood Blvd., bringing the first authentic "Mainland" Chinese food to both Chinatown and the Westside.  Then there was the Shan'xi Food Truck that haunted the USC campus that did so well it morphed into the sit down House of Bao restaurant, the second authentic Mainland style Chinese restaurant in Los Angeles Chinatown.  However that restaurant folded after just a few months, and I don't know if the truck operation ever came back.  Likewise I presume the Bamboo Wheel Shanghai style truck went out of business when the associated Bamboo Creek Restaurant in Monterey Park closed down.

I had heard hints that there were various Chinese food trucks currently parked around the USC campus.  However, driving by Jefferson near McClintock by international student housing, I only spotted one Chinese food truck, Tasty Wok and three taco trucks, including trucks named Tacos Guadalajara and Fluffy Tacos.  I also drove by the various small shopping centers on Figueroa St., but only saw the places that have been there for many years.   Well, the popcorn chicken at A Cup of Joy on Figueroa would have to do for authentic Chinese food, I guess, plus the on campus Asian food court at Fertitta Hall for the non-international students.

Still that answer didn't set well with me, so I turned to the good people at the Food Talk Central message board to ask where USC's Mainland Chinese students went to satisfy their Chinese food needs.  And they came through as I hoped.  The answer is a two part one.  Initially most of the responses indicated that a lot of the Mainland Chinese students at USC live away from campus, in luxury downtown LA apartments, or perhaps in San Gabriel Valley mansions.  That would explain the lack of authentic Chinese restaurant options that are otherwise common in campus communities from Champaign IL (which has at least 10 authentic Chinese restaurants for the large contingent of overseas Chinese students), Manhattan KS, Athens (Winterville) GA, Fayetteville, AR and probably hundreds of other university towns across America.

But even if a lot of the Mainland Chinese students left campus at night, they had to eat somewhere during the day.  And certainly not all of them lived away from campus.  Since today's Mainland Chinese students are much less inclined to widen their culinary horizons than prior generations of foreign students from Hong Kong and Taiwan, where did they get their Mainland food fix?  The real answer to the question of where USC's Mainland Chinese students go to get their Chinese food was eventually provided on the Food Talk Central message board by the indubitable food writer Dommy Gonzalez (also known as Dommy!) who lives in the USC area and who explained that what looked like taco trucks parked around Jefferson and McClintock were actually Chinese food trucks that didn't bother to change their names.

So going back on foot to Jefferson and McClintock confirmed that it's all true. All four trucks served Chinese food. The truck that said Tacos Guadelajara when I drove by on the street, said J. C. Foods on the street side and was festooned with Chinese lettering, as were all the trucks.  Fluffy Tacos didn't bother giving itself another name and I don't know if G & G Express Foods renamed itself from something else or not.


Each truck had a "menu" in the form of probably 40 to 50 pictures of their dishes that they served, almost exclusively Mainland style dishes, plastered on the side of the truck.  Prices were reasonable, with most dishes under $10, some including combos with rice and soup.  I was surprised to see an apparent nod to healthier ingredients here in California, as I ordered ground chicken wonton soup from one truck (can't recall seeing that anywhere) and a popcorn chicken roll (similar to the ubiquitous Shandong beef roll) at another.  But most of all, it was great to learn that even at USC there are authentic Chinese food options for the Mainland Chinese students at these and other Chinese food trucks in the area.

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.





Satay

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.