Sunday, May 3, 2015

Upscale Chinese Dining in the East San Gabriel Valley

As Clarissa Wei recently highlighted a lot of the new developments in Chinese dining are concentrated in the eastern portion of the San Gabriel Valley, as opposed to the more established west San Gabriel Valley communities such as Monterey Park,  Alhambra, and San Gabriel.  For those looking for microtrends in this advancement of Chinese dining, I've noticed in the Rowland Heights-Industry-Hacienda Heights area a disproportionate number of recent openings of more upscale Chinese restaurants.

When I say upscale, I mean both in terms of restaurant decor and design, as well as a higher price point that what we're used to seeing. Immediately coming to mind are Zheng's Fusion, Southern Gourmet, Lobster Bay and Taste Guizhou, and I'm sure there are quite a few others. I guess with a newer and less pricey real estate stock, it's easier to spend a few extra dollars on the decor than in the denser west San Gabriel Valley and its older real estate inventory. And in these new restaurants, many, if not most of the dinner entrees  run in the $20 and more category.  Hardly pricey by typical foodie standards in the Los Angeles area, but quite a departure from the value pricing that most Chinese diners in the San Gabriel Valley have typically been looking for.

It's not like there's any overall loss of interest in reasonably priced Chinese food in the west San Gabriel Valley.  Indeed, one now finds the best and more expensive west San Gabriel Valley Chinese restaurants like Sea Harbour, King Hua, Shi Hai and Elite only half  full on Saturday nights, while restaurants like Mama's Lu Dumpling House (hardly anything on the menu over $10) and 5 Star Seafood (entrees nudge over $10, but you get an allegedly 3 pound lobster for $5.97 with a minimum $30 purchase) packed to the gills with long waits during the same Saturday night timeframe.  So value certainly is still king in the west San Gabriel Valley.

It's clear that these new upscale east San Gabriel Valley eateries are being driven by the nouveau riche Chinese mainlanders descending on the San Gabriel Valley.   One observer commented that these nouveau riche seen in restaurants in and around Rowland Heights are very conspicuous, particularly the women, by their obviously expensive designer clothing and accessories which are just as obviously mismatched.   But why in the eastern area?   Super rich Chinese mainlanders have typically been identified with the communities of Arcadia and San Marino, and not especially with Hacienda Heights and points east.  Yet the new upscale restaurants don't seem to have made their mark around Arcadia and San Marino, except perhaps the spacious and pricey Spring Bamboo Seafood which took over space formerly occupied by a large piano store.   And yes, there is Hai Di Lao in the Santa Anita Mall, but that IS a shopping mall.  Perhaps the east San Gabriel Valley has its own share of rich mainlanders who are still operating under the radar, or maybe that's just where it's easier to build out a large and upscale restaurant venue.  But at the moment it's a bit of a puzzle.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Almonds Almonds Everywhere But Not A Drop To Drink

Since my first car trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco over 50 years ago, I've made the trek dozens and dozens of times.  The first trip was up old Highway 101, which was the old style US highway that ran through the middle of city after city, mostly near the downtown areas.  That made the trip 10 hours long or more, such on that first trip we actually stayed overnight the first day, in Salinas at the Sandstone Motel.  Since Interstate 5 was completed in the 1980s, that has been our primary route up north, but though the route has changed, one thing has stayed the same--driving past miles and miles of farmland, often wondering what crop was growing there.  (One of my friends came up with the practical comment that a law should be passed requiring farmers to label their crops for the benefit of passing motorists.)

However after a recent trip to San Francisco and back on Interstate 5, I came to the realization that in one respect everything has suddenly changed.  There really is no wondering what's growing alongside the highway, now, as it's now mostly almond trees.  Actually almond trees have been around at least a few years, and at one time I did wonder what kind of tree it was.  Pistachio? Peach? Apricot?  Then the only time we ever drove up north in late February, we witnessed all the trees in full bloom.  Doing a quick internet search disclosed that the almond trees were in bloom, and we were fortunate enough to see them during the very short period each that the blossoms were out.

But while blooming almond trees were a marvelous sight, as everybody seems to know now, all those almonds along the highway have a nefarious side.  Almond trees are water hogs compared to other crops, and as such they are proliferating as our water supply, both runoff and ground water, is greatly diminishing.  In the old days we used to see (well, I'm guessing because the farmers didn't label their fields) growing corn, lettuce, tomatoes, grapes and citrus trees, among crops along the highway.  While there are still some other crops growing, it's more and more almonds all the time.

The problem is that what we think of as normal rainfall for California for the past century and a half, dating back to the beginning of California's agriculture industry, may have been an aberrant rainy period, and today's drought could be the old normal coming back, at least in the opinion of some climatologists.  If this is true, there just isn't going to be enough water around for everyone.  For those who drive the Interstate 5 corridor, you've doubtless seen for many years the political billboards put up by farm organizations talking about how water for farms means jobs and food production.  I used to feel sorry for the farmers as I passed those signs on the highway.  After all, they are growing a majority of the produce consumed by the United States.  But with almond trees, these products aren't being grown to meet an existing demand.  Rather, the almond growers have created their own demand that didn't exist before, to the point that almonds account by themselves for 10 percent of all water consumption in California (or if you believe  the almond growers, 9 percent).   It's not that the water shortage has suddenly snuck up on us from behind.  So those growers who rapidly expanded their almond production knowing about potential water issues are in no position to ask for sympathy.