Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Enter The Dim Sum Contender (Illustrated Version of My L.A. Weekly Article)


The past decade or so has produced a sea change in Chinese dining in Los Angeles, as well as the rest of the United States.  Decades of Cantonese dining dominance have nearly evaporated as regional cuisines representing the entire breadth of Chinese cooking has come to the United States in great numbers, reflecting the migration of Mainland Chinese residents and money to our shores.  Indeed, in recent years, new Cantonese restaurant openings in the San Gabriel Valley have dwindled to roughly 10 percent of total new Chinese restaurants opening in the SGV.

However, while Cantonese food may be down, it is not out in our local Chinese community.  The toughest ticket continues to be the most popular dim sum palaces on Saturday and Sunday afternoon, and the greatest wish among Chinese diners is that despite the high quality of our local dim sum purveyors, some new dim sum player, equal to or better than the existing dim sum leaders, will open their doors.  In this regard, the past few years have been a disappointment in that we have had the same leaders of the dim sum pack for several years.   As it has for the past 15 years, Sea Harbour in Rosemead is on the top of most people’s dim sum list, followed variously by Lunasia and King Hua in Alhambra, Happy Harbor in Rowland Heights and Elite in Monterey Park, all of which date back 2008 or earlier.  The only newcomer in the top tier of local dim sum is Arcadia’s China Red, which opened in 2013, and it sits at the bottom of this top tier.

Not that new operators haven’t tried to crack the top group.  In 2014, Shi Hai opened up in Alhambra with the express purpose of becoming the top dog, dim sum wise, in the San Gabriel Valley.  However that endeavor gave up unsuccessfully last year when Shi Hai rebranded as World Seafood, with a new, lower price point menu.  Other dim sum palaces have opened in the same time period, such as Shanghai #1 Seafood Village in San Gabriel, Grand Harbor in Temple City and Pleasure Ocean in Hacienda Heights, but while certainly purveying good dim sum, they do not match up to our historic leaders.

However, a newly opened restaurant in Temple City may prove to be the new contender that everyone has been hoping for.  Xiang Yuan Gourmet opened up last month (9556 Las Tunas) and is already showing great promise. 


First of all, it serves its dim sum from a menu, as does every other restaurant listed in this article.  While romantics may gush about dim sum carts representing the true dim sum experience (although there was no such thing as a dim sum cart in Los Angeles until introduced by Miriwa Restaurant in Chinatown in 1976), the best dim sum comes from a menu since it arrives fresh and cooked to other.  Secondly, Xian Yuan Gourmet shows a creativity and imagination in some of their dim sum creations that is consistent with that found at the top tier dim sum restaurants noted above.  While it is important that a dim sum restaurant gets it har gow, bbq pork buns, beef cheung fun rice noodle rolls, siu mai, and other favorites right, it is the unusual dish that sets the top tier dim sum restaurants apart.

Here is Xiang Yuan Gourmet’s crispy bamboo shoot paste ball.



This is their mushroom filled mushroom bun (complete with partial stem at the bottom)





Deep fried shrimp rolls



Egg and seaweed rolls







Other interesting dim sum items include sauteed chicken feet with chili and ginger, crispy seafood cheung fun, spare rib cheung fun, pork blood jelly with chives, and baked almond cream bun.


One unique thing about Xiang Yuan Gourmet is their dinner menu.  Every other dim sum restaurant in this article serves Hong Kong style seafood at dinnertime, with the except of Shanghai #1 Seafood Village.  However Xiang Yuan Gourmet’s dinner fare is a mixture of Hong Kong style seafood and “Traditional Hunan Cuisine.”  Which merely shows the direction of Chinese food in the San Gabriel Valley these days.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Where’s The Chinese Food in Brazil and Argentina?



Having just returned from a 10 day tour of Brazil and Argentina this is my obligatory summary of the Chinese food portion of my trip.   And let me say at the beginning that this is going to be a very short write-up, because I only saw three sit down Chinese restaurants during the entirety of the tour of Brazil and Argentina, and I ate at all three of them.  And the only other Chinese food I saw were the two branches of Magic Dragon, a Chifa (Peruvian Chinese) chain located in the food court of two large shopping malls in Buenos Aires. 

Such a paucity of Chinese restaurants was a real surprise, as on past trips all over world, just looking outside the tour bus window or walking around our hotel would lead to numerous Chinese restaurant sightings.  But not on this trip.  When we arrived in Rio de Janeiro at our hotel on Copacabana Beach, I asked the tour guide whether there were any Chinese restaurants in the vicinity.  She said there weren’t.  However during a stroll across from Copacabana Beach, I did spot Restaurant Chinese Palace about four blocks from our hotel, and I returned one night for a late snack of dumplings which were better than I would have expected, though certainly nothing exceptional on an absolute basis.  I subsequently spoke to other tour group members who ate at Chinese Palace who indicated the food was passable for someone longing for Chinese food, but there was a clear problem with the availability of ingredients.  For example, the chow mein dish was made with dry ramen noodles.  And that was it for Brazil.

Similarly, no Chinese restaurants were seen during our bus tour of Buenos Aires or walking the area near the Panamericano Hotel on the incredibly wide 9th of July Ave.  However, returning to the hotel one afternoon, I grabbed a street map which included an advertisement for Bao Kitchen Taiwanese Bistro.  Taiwanese food in Buenos Aires?  Who would have thought that?    And it was less than a mile away from the hotel, so I walked on over there.  Sure enough, Bao Kitchen served Taiwanese items including pork gua bao, chicken gua bao, curry bao, beef noodle soup, three cups chicken along with other items.  The curry bao, with a panko crust was different and extremely good., while the gua bao were OK  The lady running the place proclaimed that Bao Kitchen was the best Chinese restaurant in South America.  She also indicated that Buenos Aires had a small Chinatown that was about 3 blocks long, around 20 minutes north of town, but that all the Chinese restaurants there were terrible.  I later read that the small Chinese community in Buenos Aires was dominated by Taiwanese, which would explain the existence of a Taiwanese restaurant downtown.  However, all of the other customers while I was at Bao Kitchen were non-Chinese, presumably ordering off of the Argentinianized part of the menu.


The last Chinese restaurant of my trip was Lung Hung, a Chifa restaurant across the street from the giant Abasto shopping mall, which we found after deciding to see what things looked like outside the mall.  I suspect it's no coincidence that three of the four Chinese eateries I encountered in Buenos Aires were Peruvian, as that's the only concentration of Chinese in South America that I'm familiar with.  The menu at Lung Hung was puzzling, as even though Mrs. Chandavkl is conversationally fluent in Spanish from her days teaching Central American students in East Hollywood, she wasn't familiar with the words describing most of the dishes.  So we decided to play this one safe, settling for the Chaufa chicken (chicken fried rice) and my requested “pollo con fideo” dish.  The rice was pretty good (of course, it’s hard to mess up fried rice) while the chow mein was so so, as it was not made with the thin noodles that I have had at Chifa restaurants in Florida.   None of the staff was Chinese, and maybe only one of the customers was Chinese.  Perhaps the most memorable part of the visit was live music, a guy playing "El Condor Pasa" on his recorder.





Monday, July 10, 2017

Italian Food Magazine Thinks David Chang Is Me (Not The Other Way Around)


few years ago I was interviewed by the Italian food magazine, Fine Dining Lovers, about my thousands of Chinese restaurant visits.   It is actually a very strange article in that while the writer interviewed me in English, she wrote the article in Italian.  Then the finished article was translated back into English, leading to some very strange wording.  (You might say something was lost in the double translation.)  However, what upset me when I first saw the finished article was that they got my name wrong, calling me David Chang, the name of the renown New York chef and restauranteur. I immediately pointed this out to them, and they dutifully made the change on their website, making me happy.

However, what I didn't realize is that at the same time they changed "David Chang" to "David Chan" in the article about me, they also had an existing page compiling all the articles they had written about David Chang, the celebrity chef, and they added my interview to that page.  So they also dutifully changed the heading on that page from "David Chang" to "David Chan."  This mixup isn't terribly important since it only matters if you're looking for stories about David Chang on the Fine Dining Lovers website.  But it is funny that all their articles about the famous David Chang are catalogued under the name of the little known David Chan, which is the opposite of how things like that usually occur.

A good example of the latter type of confusion comes from my non-existent listing in the Internet Movie Data Base.  Yes, the IMDB did pick up my appearance in the movie documentary, The Search For General Tso.  However, they added it to a listing for another David Chan, who gained some level of notoriety for being in the cast of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie.   Contrast this to the other internet movie websites like The Numbers and the now defunct New York Times movie database, which gave me a separate listing for being in the General Tso Movie.  And I presume the real David Chan actor is wondering what the heck General Tso is.

Fortunately other websites containing my compilations don't confuse me with anyone else.

My Menuism Chinese Restaurant Articles

My L.A. Weekly Articles

WaCowLA Taiwanese Chinese Language Tag Page

(And thanks to PorkyBelly on the Food Talk Central message board for the ironic back reference.)

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

My Embassy Kitchen LA Weekly Review With Full Pictorial Coverage

My LA Weekly review of Embassy Kitchen did not contain the pictures of the dishes I highlighted.  To fill that void, here's the original version of that article, fully illustrated.

Crowning a restaurant as the “best” Chinese or any other category of restaurant is a tricky thing, given the subjectivity of such a determination and the varying tastes among diners.  While this is certainly the case in trying to anoint a best Chinese restaurant in Los Angeles, most discussions of the topic tends to involve the same group of contenders, like Sea Harbour in Rosemead, Chengdu Taste, Lunasia, King Hua and Szechuan Impression in Alhambra, Newport Seafood and Mian in San Gabriel, and Din Tai Fung in various mall locations.  (Or if you’re Yelp, then it’s Americanized restaurants like Sea Dragon, Yang Chow and Wah’s Golden Hen. [Link to my L.A. Weekly Yelp article.])  However, the best of the bunch may well be Embassy Kitchen in San Gabriel, located directly in front of Embassy Billiards pool hall on San Gabriel Blvd., and from whence it derives its name.

Besides the improbability of Embassy Kitchen being one of the best Chinese restaurants in Los Angeles despite its status as the Chinese equivalent of bowling alley dining, equally surprising is the fact that Embassy Kitchen is still under-the-radar despite having been around for 20 years, making it senior to all the other top non-Yelp contenders except Newport Seafood, which opened in San Gabriel a year earlier in 1996.  Embassy Kitchen started as a small adjunct restaurant to the billiard parlor around 1997, even using the Embassy Billiards moniker.  It then moved to the large restaurant space in front of the billiard parlor around 1999.   

Like other top Chinese restaurant contenders Sea Harbour, Lunasia and King Hua, as well as most all of the other banquet sized Chinese restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley, Embassy Kitchen serves Hong Kong style cuisine.  But aside from that, Embassy Kitchen diverges from these other Hong Kong style restaurants in many ways.  There are no tanks in the dining room full of live seafood, nor is the dining room huge, loud or boisterous.  There is not a gaudy menu with so many choices that the menu could be made into a movie, and they gladly take reservations.

But what distinguishes Embassy Kitchen from the pack is the food selection.  Yes, you will find Cantonese favorites like rock cod in corn sauce, walnut shrimp, fish maw crab meat soup, e-fu noodles, and steamed chicken with ginger and scallions, all superbly prepared.  But what you also find at Embassy Kitchen are two extremes not typically seen at most Hong Kong style restaurants in Los Angeles—complex dishes that require day in advance ordering and wonderful homestyle dishes.  To some extent most of these dishes are obscured on the Embassy Kitchen menu as they are only found on paper inserts on the inside cover of the permanent menu.  On the other hand, that might not make much of a difference, since non-Chinese faces are indeed rare at this restaurant.  There is no nefarious intent in keeping these dishes in a Chinese language supplement, as the owners indicate that they just weren’t sure how to accurately describe these dishes in English.

Perhaps the best exemplar of the complex advance order dishes is the boneless chicken stuffed with shrimp paste.  The chicken skin is light and crispy, the chicken is tender, and the shrimp paste provides a savory contrast.



Then there’s the tilapia rolls with whole carcass, one of the most unique and visual dishes you will find at a Los Angeles area Chinese restaurant, though from a taste point of view the re-stuffed fish (where the bones are removed and the fish is filled back up with fish and ground pork) might be a better choice.

One of the special items that does not necessarily need an advance order is the eight treasures stuffed duck.


Other signature dishes include the chicken stuffed with sticky rice (a traditional Cantonese dish still popular in the San Francisco area, but difficult to find in Los Angeles), and the fried rice with whole Dungeness crab or lobster.  Note that all of these dishes are large and run in the $50 range, and hence are more suited to large parties.  Indeed Embassy Kitchen has a larger quotient of large size tables compared to most other Chinese restaurants in Los Angeles.

At the other end of the spectrum are the many uncommon homestyle dishes on Embassy Kitchen’s menu.  However, be aware that these dishes are not inexpensive, as there are few items on the Embassy Kitchen menu that are under $15 and many are $20 or more.  But these dishes are generally well worth the price, particularly when considering the subtleties and complexities in the flavor of the dishes here.  At most popular Chinese restaurants, experienced diners can discern visually and by taste the main ingredients of a dish.  Yes, this dish contains dried orange peel, or five spice, or bean paste or fish sauce.  But at Embassy Kitchen this is not necessarily the case.  For example, our party was stumped by the steamed egg with tofu and seafood topping, so we had to ask them what was in it.  They replied “shrimp roe.”  Such ingredients also explain the higher price point.


Many other down-to-earth, and seldom seen at restaurant dishes are also real winners.   Steamed eggplant with dried scallop and ground pork may sound fairly pedestrian, but it is one of the best dishes on the menu, with it seemingly being a mystery how the ground pork can be cooked in such a light and fluffy manner.  

Similarly outstanding but unlikely dishes include clear rice noodles with cabbage, egg and dried scallops; stir-fried beef with flour crisp; French style beef stew (which comes with noodles at lunch time but not at dinner); and imitation shark’s fin with egg whites.   


Many people say that Embassy Kitchen is as close to actually eating in Hong Kong as you can get in Los Angeles.  However, more than any Chinese restaurant in Los Angeles, Embassy Kitchen’s quality is driven by its owner-chef, Chef Yu, which probably explains in part its lack of widespread acclaim, with the stellar reviews of his cooking being offset by pedestrian reviews by diners who happen to eat there when he isn’t in the kitchen.  But in the long run, for those who dine at Embassy Kitchen on a recurring basis, this is a restaurant, the closest thing to artisan Chinese cooking that you will find in Los Angeles, that deserves to be considered among the best Chinese restaurants in the area.



Monday, June 19, 2017

Chinese Bakery Riots Return to Los Angeles

Everybody knows how much Chinese people like their food, and nowhere is this any more true in the United States than in Los Angeles.   While there really weren't Chinese bakery riots in Los Angeles, we did come close with the opening and then spread of the Taiwanese 85°C Bakery and Cafe chain as it rolled out throughout the Los Angeles area.  When they had their sole store in Irvine, CA, it would not be unusual to spend an hour waiting in line to get inside the bakery and make your purchases, and as the first branches opened up, opening day waits were two hours, and one could imagine some people became testy while waiting in line.  However, there are many branches of 85°C in the Los Angeles area these days, so the days of Chinese bakery conflict in Los Angeles seemed to be a thing in the past.

Until this weekend, at Atlantic Times Square in Monterey Park.  Atlantic Times Square was conceived of nearly a decade ago as an attempt to bring a mainstream block long shopping center housing national brands to Monterey Park, the original "Chinese Beverly Hills" marketed overseas in the 1980s.  As things have turned out in the past couple years in the retail industry in general, and shopping malls in particular, that attempt was equivalent to trying to jump onto the Titanic before it set sail.  Fortunately, the attempt to attract mainstream tenants pretty much failed, except for Johnny Rocket's (since closed), the AMC theaters, and perhaps a couple of other places.  This left Atlantic Times Square to the Asian business community, which in the end turns out to be the best thing that could happen to that center

This past weekend  Sunmerry, a small Chinese bakery chain, like 85°C originating out or Irvine, opened up a store in Monterey Park, offering Grand Opening specials.  According to eyewitness reports, it was a near riot.  One account said "I was in a crowded, angry line for an hour and a half!! And that's not because there was a bunch of people in front of me. I was 4th in line for the most part. There was just no products coming out...Some older ladies were even starting to argue about their place in line...The only organizational part I appreciated was when the new batch came out. They realized that an angry mob would have started if they placed the items on the shelves, so they took each tray and offered a piece to each person down the line to make it fair. I was glad because I really didn't want to end up arrested for assault over bread." 

Another report said "Waited for over 45 minutes in the hot sun! At last got to the entrance then waited another 15 minutes before the manager let a crowd of customers including myself to go get the bread. However, there just isn't enough bread for the batch of customers that they allowed in, By the time it's my turn, there are basically nothing! I asked the manager to let me wait until next round of bread to come out, he said "No, you have to go back outside all the way to the last in line again"  WTF?? I waited over an hour for you to tell me to go back out to the hot sun waiting in line again when you didn't bring out enough for the customers??  F*** this!"

And then there was "I got a tray and went straight to chocolate croissants and I was surrounded by crazy people."  Nothing like specials to bring out the crazy in Chinese shoppers!





Friday, June 9, 2017

My Week of Dining in San Francisco (Or Who Abducted Martin Yan?)

One of our family traditions since the kids were little has been a June visit to San Francisco.   Even though Los Angeles Chinese food is a bit better than what they have in the Bay Area, I still look forward to trying the newest Chinese restaurants around San Francisco and revisiting our favorites. This year's June trip was particularly anticipated because it would be our first visits to the recently opened China Live and Mister Jiu's, both in San Francisco Chinatown.  But I can't help but lead off with my chronicle of June's trip with the disaster that was our dinner at Martin Yan's M Y China Restaurant in Westfield San Francisco.

Don't get me wrong.  Since it opened four years ago, M Y China has been one of our favorite Chinese restaurants anywhere, so much so that in our many visits here we pretty much exhausted their menu items.  Some of their items have been superior, such as the Peking duck, the crab, the xiaolongbao, and the roast chicken.  And while not every dish was high quality, we never had a bad one. Consequently we were looking forward to this meal, our last dinner of the trip.  All of which made the poor meal we had especially disappointing.  Granted, since we wanted to continue to work our way through the menu we ordered a couple of items we had never considered before, the Chairman Mao crunchy spicy chicken and the venison chow fun.  Crunchy is one thing, but Chairman Mao was more like a jawbreaker, hard and dry.  The venison chow fun was one of the worst chow fun dishes we ever had, having no flavor with zero wok hei.  Being charitable perhaps we could say since we never considered these dishes before, we shouldn't have ordered them this time.  But then there was the roast chicken, one of the few dishes we've ordered multiple times in the past.  This time, the chicken skin was like paper and the chicken was as dry as sawdust.   Don't know what happened this time. We asked the server if there had been a change in the kitchen, but she said there hadn't been.  But in any event, a restaurant of this quality and price level should consistently operate at a high level, and there was no excuse for this meal.

Meanwhile, the good news is that dining may be back in San Francisco Chinatown.  Things have been so discouraging in Chinatown in recent years such that we almost never eat dinner in San Francisco Chinatown anymore, just breakfast and lunch.  But things are on the upswing with the opening of China Live and Mister Jiu's.  China Live occupies the space that was once home to banquet restaurants Ocean City (whose owners still live in infamy for stiffing their employees by folding their tent and carting everything out of the restaurant sometime one night between midnight and 6 am) and Gold Mountain, but which has been empty for years.  China Live is a multi-million dollar project, intended to be the Chinese equivalent of Eataly in Manhattan, the large Italian market and restaurant complex.  Only the first floor of China Live is currently open, and its opening several weeks ago was so late compared to its original schedule that many people had assumed it would never open.   We had the Peking duck sesame pouches, the wok fried filet mignon, the crab egg rolls and (pictured below) the Marco Polo noodles.  The food was expensive and honestly not particularly good.   The contiguous but separate open kitchens for Peking duck, dumplings, and wok cooked items are an interesting feature.  And the restaurant was bustling both the night we ate there, a couple of nights later when we checked out the market area, and at lunchtime on our last day there, which is a very encouraging sign and which would be a shot in the arm for San Francisco Chinatown.



The highlight of the trip was our dinner at Mister Jiu's. I had made a reservation for dinner at Mr. Jiu in Chinatown a full month in advance, as the restaurant is very popular.  It’s the creation of a well known Bay Area chef named Brandon Jew, who took three years preparing the space that used to house Four Seas Restaurant upstairs on Grant Ave., but redesigning the space so that the entrance to the restaurant is on ground level at the back on Waverly Place, which sits up the hill from Grant Ave. The restaurant opened a year ago, and initially they were doing five course banquet menus for almost $100 per person.  However that concept wasn’t well received and they went a la carte late last year.  One theme of the restaurant is local sourcing, so in line with this we had the Dutch Crunch baked bbq pork bun, (below) patterned after San Francisco's unique Dutch Crunch bread.  It was fairly good, although not nearly as good as the various crispy bbq pork buns at Bay Area Chinese restaurants such as Dragon Beaux, Hong Kong Lounge 1 and 2, Koi Palace and Lai Hong Lounge. At $13 for three small bao, it also was about twice as expensive.  The crab and caviar cheung fun was excellent, and was definitely worth the $17 charge for the two rice rolls.  The McFarlane Springs salt baked trout from Central California was excellent, having the look, taste and texture of salmon, which made it worth the $48 tab.   Indeed it was a bargain compared to the $60 you'd pay for a live whole fish at a Chinese seafood restaurant.  Truly a meal that any foodie would enjoy.



Other trip highlights included the tomato cilantro Tibetan bison momo at Bini's Kitchen on Market Street in the Financial District, the variety of rice noodle rolls and other excellent Hong Kong style dishes at Cooking Papa in Foster City,  the crunchy pork buns, fish cheung fun and coffee ribs at Lai Hong Lounge in Chinatown, the hotpot (below) at Little Sheep at their Union Square location, the pizza-like bacon and tomato bun at Fancy Wheat Field on Stockton St., and even the $1.25 crispy baked bbq pork buns at iCafe Chinatown on Waverly Pl.  But in the background, my memory of this trip is still haunted by the images of Martin Yan in a little room somewhere being held against his will.


Sunday, June 4, 2017

What's In A Name (Card)?

Since I have been churning out an increasing number of articles relating to Chinese restaurants in the United States for Menuism, and occasionally L.A. Weekly, I've been contemplating printing up business cards identifying myself as some kind of food related writer, and listing the websites where my writings can be found.    But even though this thought came to me some time ago, I hadn't acted on it, and for one particular reason.  That is the fact that I couldn't come up with a description that adequately described what I wrote about.  I have been described in a number of ways in the five years that I have been writing about Chinese food, but technically, none of them are correct.  I'm not a Chinese food expert or maven , just a guy who's eaten at a lot of Chinese restaurants.  I'm not a Chinese food blogger, since in my writings, the food itself is peripheral, indeed often highly peripheral to what I'm writing about.   Foodie is way off the mark since I never photographed my food until my Twitter followers complained about the lack of pictures accompanying Tweets describing my meals, and I still delete those photos from my camera and picture collections as soon as they're uploaded to Twitter and Instagram. "Celebrity diner" and "iconic eater" are probably more descriptive, much are much too pretentious.  And while my personal favorite was the time I was called the "Batman of Chinese Dining," I never did figure out what that meant.

However a recent Chandavkl blog post about my past life from the mid-1970s to early 1980s speaking and writing about elements of the history of the Chinese in the United States has provided the answer.  As I and others have previously written, my interest in Chinese food was merely an extension of my interest in the overall Chinese experience in the United States, and my current writings are just as much a reflection on the historical experience of Chinese Americans, as it is about the food that I am ostensibly report about.  So ladies and gentlemen, this is what my new business card looks like.






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.