Friday, December 29, 2017

Dim Sum Shop Opens Up In West Covina

Besides falling behind San Francisco when it comes to high end dim sum, Los Angeles also trails San Francisco and New York insofar as channels for dim sum sources are involved.  In Los Angeles, you're pretty much limited to medium to large size dim sum palaces.  You can dine in for dimsum at a place like Sea Harbour in Rosemead, or find one of the other sit down dim sum restaurants which has a take out annex such as Longo Seafood in Rosemead or CBS Seafood in Chinatown to get your dim sum to go.

In contrast in San Francisco there are a large number of small dim sum purveyors which stock behind the counter dim sum, which you can order for takeout or eat on premises at tables provided for your convenience.  Yeah, there are a couple of those here in LA, but most locals probably can't identify one of these offhand.  There's also the New York model where a sit down Cantonese restaurant will have behind-the-counter dim sum which you can order for takeout, but you really can't sit down and eat it there.

All of which makes this month's opening of Sheng Hui Dim Sum in West Covina, a seemingly small, innocuous eatery, potentially more significant than one might imagine upon first glance.  It's a model different from anything else mentioned above, a small sit-down dim sum restaurant.   You sit at the table and order from the menu. There's no wait staff, just the cook in back and his wife up front. Certain items are sitting pre-made behind the counter in the familiar metal trays and brought to your table.  Likewise other items are resting in a heated case.  On the other hand, some items are cooked to order and brought to your table.   Most items are $2.88 and the selection is relatively small, comparable to the small Bay Area take-out/sit down eateries.  Dim sum at Sheng Hui compares extremely favorably to the best of the cart places in the San Gabriel Valley.  Their pineapple taro  (below) and pineapple egg yolk dim sum are a revelation.  They apparently also at times stock some fanciful paste filled steamed buns (e.g., rabbit, piggie, panda), but they weren't available when we went there.

Sheng Hui Dim Sum is at 2889 E. Valley Blvd., in a part of West Covina wedged between Rowland Heights and Walnut.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Is Longo Seafood Waking Los Angeles From Its Dim Sum Slumber?

As indicated in my summer LA Weekly piece on the recently opened Xiang Yuan Gourmet in Temple City, the Los Angeles area has not welcomed a new dim sum contender to challenge the existing stalwarts in nearly a decade.   While Los Angeles continues to generally widen the lead over the rest of the United States in purveying the best Chinese food in the country, the Los Angeles area dominance in dim sum which was so wide a decade ago has completely evaporated. The San Francisco Bay area is now the US king of dim sum with its powerhouse lineup including Dragon Beaux, Koi Palace, Hong Kong Lounge #1, the unrelated Hong Kong Lounge #2, and Lai Hong Lounge.  In the words of Chinese restaurant industry maven Robert Lu (known as the irrepressible "ipsedixit" for nearly two decades on Los Angeles area food message boards), Los Angeles area dim sum "has largely stagnated in terms of innovation."  In contrast, the Bay Area has stepped up with new and better varieties of dim sum to catch, and now pass Los Angeles in the past three years or so.  Shades of much of the 20th Century, when Angelinos used to travel up to San Francisco to get a better brand of Chinese food, and it's deja vu again insofar as dim sum is concerned.

However, the worm may be starting to turn, first with Xiang Yuan Gourmet, but especially now with the opening a few weeks ago of Longo Seafood in Rosemead at 7540 E. Garvey Ave.   Game changing dim sum at this street location would be wholly unexpected.  Not that there's anything wrong with this location per se, given that it has hosted at least 10 different dim sum eateries in a three decade period.  It's just that over this period, it has been home to so many undistinguished dim sum restaurants that finding high quality dim sum in this building would be nearly unimaginable.  With the exception of Donald Lam's Seafood City, the first dim sum restaurant to occupy this spot and which reigned here in the mid-1980s, dim sum at this location had been known more for value pricing and not gourmet quality. 

But with the arrival of Longo Seafood, everything has changed.  In hindsight, there were small clues that something was happening here.  Where replacement restaurants at this location previously took just days or maybe a few weeks to open up, this location was closed for the better part of a year while renovations were in progress.  And it wasn't that the remodel was dragging along slowly, as there was clearly continuously activity.   This all made sense when the restaurant opened earlier this fall, revealing a sleek, total and upscale upgrade to the location, highlighted by its gigantic chandelier and similarly gigantic TV screen.  Longo Seafood is definitely one of the nicest Chinese restaurant dining rooms in the San Gabriel Valley.

Of course good decor is nice, but everybody's interested in the food, and the crowds have been enthusiastic, sometimes filling the restaurant by 11 am even on weekdays.  No surprise given the existence of dim sum items not ordinarily seen in Los Angeles, such as lobster rolls at eight pieces for $19.99, black truffle shumai (below) at six pieces for $15.99, and foie gras shrimp dumplings also at six pieces for $15.99.

Steamed rice rolls are not the rectangular cheung fun typically seen at dimsum, but as seen below are elongated rice noodle twists served on regular plates with varieties such as wagyu beef, vegetable and truffles, shredded duck, and using red rice rolls, spareribs.   With their extensive dim sum menu it'll take several visits to get a complete reading on Longo Seafood, but certainly it's so far, so good.

Why Chip Kelly Is A Better Fit for UCLA than USC

For the past few years, UCLA and USC football fans have fantasized about being able to hire Chip Kelly to be their school's football coach.  Between his prickly personality and his brush with the NCAA, however, Kelly becoming coach of either school was clearly a pipe dream.   UCLA was particularly a farfetched destination given that UCLA never had the financial resources like powerhouse schools in Texas and the South, and hiring Kelly would first entail firing Jim Mora and paying off his $12 million buyout clause, which presumably was beyond the school's athletic budget, not to mention a big paycheck for Kelly which would be seemingly be even further beyond the budget.  Yet, UCLA was able to come up with the money to pull the trigger on both.

So how and why did all this become a reality?   With the proper context it now all makes sense.  In the past few years UCLA has upgraded its athletic facilities tremendously, from the Pauley Pavilion remodel, to the new Wasserman football facility and the Ostin basketball facility, which added up to hundreds of millions of dollars.  These were financed through a combination of fundraising, the lucrative Pac 12 media contract, and the record athletic wear sponsorship deal with UnderArmour.    In the context of all the capital expenditures, the extra millions needed to upgrade the coaching situation seem relatively insignificant.   It turns out Coach Mora would have been fired even if UCLA had beaten USC, as the school needed a different kind of football coach to lead the football program to level needed to match the new facilities.  And it wouldn't be surprising to learn if UnderArmour added to the pot, as they were in dire need of establishing a flagship university for their brand.

So why is Chip Kelly not a good fit for USC, but an acceptable fit for UCLA?  Two reasons.  First of all is the NCAA issue.  Chip Kelly was under an NCAA show cause order due to the fact that Oregon made illegal payments to a Texas scouting service.  There was no evidence that Kelly knew of the payments, but as head of the football program he bore ultimate responsibility, and jumping to the NFL probably closed the book on that violation.  Personally I can't believe that Kelly did not have actual knowledge of those payments.  With this in mind, there's no way that USC could have hired Kelly to replace Steve Sarkisian.  Given their NCAA problems in both football in basketball, USC could not afford to hire a coach with any hint of a problem, so Kelly would be a nonstarter.  Furthermore, Kelly is all football and is not the kind of coach to shmooze the alumni and be friends with all of the wealthy donors.  USC is certainly not the kind of place for that kind of coach.

So how is UCLA the better fit?  Well, it's athletic director Dan Guerrero is a highly respected member of the NCAA infrastructure and is known for doing everything above board.  Rick Neuheisel came to UCLA as football coach with a reputation of sometime pushing the envelope with the NCAA, and in his four years as coach there was nary a problem.  Guerrero will keep Kelly under control if there is a need to do so.  Secondly, UCLA does not have the cadre of alumni donors that need to be stroked like USC and many other schools have.  Indeed, there is just Casey Wasserman and probably a couple of others.  So Chip Kelly can spend his time on football, rather than donor relations.

It would have been great had I been able to attend last Monday's introductory press conference with Chip Kelly.  I received an invitation to attend just two hours before the event began, apparently a reward for being a 30 year season ticket holder.  It probably wouldn't have been worth taking four hours off on a workday to attend a 30 minute press conference with just a select number of fans in attendance.  But it would have been fun.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

A Week of Dining in San Diego and New York

Last month's trip from LA to San Diego to New York produced a number of dining highlights.  Actually San Diego was mostly onsite hotel meals, with only one restaurant visit.  Del Mar Rendezvous, is a Chinese restaurant I would never had heard of except for the fact that Clarissa Wei had included it in the handful of California Chinese restaurants in her article on the 50 best Chinese restaurants in the US that she had written for CNN.   In reading Yelp their signature dish seemed to be the marinated duck breast, so we ordered that plus the Singapore mei fun.  Because the duck required preparation time, the mei fun came out first and was clearly the worst version of that dish we ever ate, moist and bland.   The $26 duck on a bed of string beans came out later, and it was OK, but certainly no better than the roast duck you could get in Chinatown or the San Gabriel Valley for much less.  Strangely the tweet I posted saying that this was the worse mei fun I had ever eaten was retweeted by a San Diego magazine and another San Diego tweeter with a large social media presence–between them the two tweeters had 10,000 followers.  I wonder whether they realized that my tweet was so negative.  I also wonder why Del Mar Rendezvous made CNN's national Top 50.

We took an afternoon flight out of San Diego for New York, and by the time we got our luggage and rode the taxi into town it was 11 pm, so I was still debating whether to eat.  However since the Halal Guys were just a block away from the Sheraton we headed there and luckily the line was short.  The chicken rice was as good as ever. 

For me, the highlight of the trip was the next morning at Tim Ho Wan in East Village.  Tim Ho Wan invented the crispy baked bbq pork bun, and the bun helped their Hong Kong location become the first restaurant in the $10pp category to garner a Michelin star.  When they first opened in New York about a year ago, the waiting time was as much as 3 to 4 hours, so I decided to get there early, at 10:30 am.  I was relieved to find that it was only half full when I arrived there.  I presume that by now that novelty has worn out, plus the fact that aside from the crispy bbq pork bun, the word has gotten out that the rest of the stuff on the menu isn’t particularly good.  I had two orders of the crispy buns which while not as good as the Hong Kong branch, or even versions of the same item in the Bay Area, were still good enough to make me happy.

Next most notable meal was dinner at Hakkasan.   The NY Hakkasan menu was largely different from the San Francisco branch, and we had the lamb wrap (similar to the now ubiquitous Shandong beef rolls), seabass with Chinese honey (the best dish of the night), and the curry seafood hotpot with fried bread, plus a bowl of chicken soup.  In addition, because they misplaced our order for a while, they comped us their special passionfruit dessert, which was a dab of passionfruit sorbet, a small chocolate square with passionfruit in the center, and a small passionfruit gel.  The $15 retail price for the dessert made for a $150 dinner in total, which while quite good, really wasn’t worth that hefty of a price. 

A nice side trip was a subway ride to Columbia University to check out the Chinese food trucks I had written about.  The ride was short from Midtown, and it took a few minutes more to figure out that the trucks were parked near the main gate.  There were a half dozen trucks parked, four Chinese though the others were also Asian.  I  spotted the Uncle Luoyang trick and had the tofu skin salad which was quite good, eating it while looking out over the main courtyard.  

Another nice trip was going out to Flushing where  we went to New Mulan Seafood restaurant as it was the only major dim sum location in Flushing I had never been to.  The bad news was that it was full up with people waiting for dim sum, but the offsetting news was they had a separate dining room that did not serve dim sum, which was largely empty and was good enough for me.  It was actually one of the nicest dining rooms I’ve seen in a Cantonese restaurant in a Chinese community.  The regular menu had a high price point, but they also had a nice menu of $10 lunch specials.  The best dish was the throwback Cantonese fillet steak, almost never seen in California before where everybody serves the better tasting French cut filet mignon instead.  Another sign of how New York Chinese food badly trails the west coast.  

The rest of the food in New York was good to average.  It was interesting going to the original Eataly in Chelsea after having visited the Chicago Eataly twice.  The pappardelle with black truffle cream was excellent, but the lasagna wasn't, as the noodles were much too thin.  Chinatown dinners at Canton Lounge and Shanghai Heping were ordinary, as was breakfast at Hoy Wong.   However, the fish jian bing at Yinwahmen, the first I’ve ever seen, was very interesting, basically like a McDonald’s filet of fish but spicy with pickled vegetables.   And Kam Hing Coffee Shop turned out to be a real gem, the only restaurant on Baxter St., a street I passed dozens of times but never bothered to check out since their signature item being sponge cake wasn't that much of an attraction to me.  Kam Hing has one of the shortest menus I’ve ever seen in a Chinese restaurant.  But in addition to the sponge cake, they have fish balls, and rice noodle logs, and they do a booming business both with sit downs and take outs.  

Last mention goes to the Lexington Ave. street fair, one of the rotating street fair locations put on by a company called Mardi Gras Productions, which ran over a dozen blocks.   Several food vendors sold arapas, a Colombian cornmeal patty made with mozzarella cheese.   Very interesting and I thought also very good.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

How Sausage and Laws Are Made--Behind Today's LA Weekly Review of Noodle(s) Time(s)

In the course of writing dozens of Chinese restaurant related articles, most of the articles are written over an extended period of time, from a few weeks to several months, though the actual total elapsed writing time is not that great.  But once in a while the timing for inception to publication is rapid, sometimes breathtakingly so.  A good example of this is my article in today's LA Weekly on Noodles Time restaurant.  I had no idea Noodles Time even existed until 2 pm on Tuesday, and it was a fluke that I found it.  While I often drive through Chinatown, I seldom actually stop because parking is so problematic, particularly on weekdays.  Occasionally I need to visit Cathay Bank, but typically go to Monterey Park or Alhambra where there's convenient parking.  But  on Tuesday I decided go to the Chinatown branch which does have parking, albeit with an inconveniently located parking entrance.  Anyway, road construction sent me off track and right by Alpine Plaza where I noticed the strange sign saying "Vegan."  So after visiting the bank I decided to stroll down the block where I found this restaurant with its unusual menu and setting.

After leaving the restaurant I decided that it was interesting enough to share, but certainly there wasn't enough for any extended kind of writeup.  I was just going to do a paragraph on the food message board about how Noodles Time had been open for a year in Chinatown and hadn't been noticed by myself or anybody else, and how remarkably different it was.   However, when I started writing on Tuesday evening it got a little bit too long for a message board post, so I decided to do a post on this blog.  But the post didn't read very well so I put it aside.

The next morning I decided to update the post to make it flow a lot better.  At this point, remembering the admonition of LA Weekly food editor Katherine Spiers as to why I hadn't submitted a prior Chandavkl blog post item to be run as an LA Weekly article, I started to think about what would be needed to make it suitable for outside publication.  Since what I had written was way short lengthwise of what would be needed, I did some additional background research about Alpine Plaza.  That's when I found out about plans to build a Blossom Plaza like project on the current site of Alpine Plaza.  Initially this was a bad thing, because it contradicted the tone of my article about how the area around Alpine Plaza had yet to be affected by the boom in Chinatown.  Furthermore, it seemed to make the story less interesting and less likely to be published since it raised the possibility that the restaurant's existence might be transitory.  However, I managed to rework the article with the new information, and into something that not only was coherent, but much better than what I had originally written.  So I sent the article in to LA Weekly on Wednesday afternoon, and it published on Thursday morning, less than 48 hours after I first became aware of the restaurant.

And that's how sausage and laws are sometimes made.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

An Afternoon In Iowa City

On my recent visit to Chicago, I took a side trip to visit Des Moines and Omaha, two of a relatively short list of large American cities that I have never visited.  Indeed, my list of target cities that I have not visited is now down to three locales--Pittsburgh, Charlotte and Kansas City.  Also, when I was a kid my mom once received a package with crumpled newspapers used as packing material, and one such newspaper was the front page of the Des Moines Register which I saved for many years.  It would be fitting if I could one day visit Des Moines and purchase my own copy of the Register..

However, the highlight of the side trip was clearly Iowa City.  Many of my Chinese dining articles have made reference to the proliferation of authentic Chinese restaurants in college towns across the country, which have arisen to meet the demands of the hundreds of thousands of Mainland Chinese college students now in the country.  While I have observed exemplars of campus adjacent Chinese dining in the past, I had not visited a true college town affected by the surge of Mainland Chinese students in the past decade.  I was especially intrigued by a lengthy CNN article  that focused on the University of Iowa in Iowa City with its student body of thousands of Chinese students.  So seeing Iowa City was on the way to Des Moines and Omaha was a bonus that overshadowed the original purpose of the trip.

I had done my homework and determined that the best Chinese food in Iowa City was at a restaurant called Food Republic, so I made a bee line there.  Unfortunately as I drove by, I saw the windows papered over with a “temporarily closed” sign.  Fortunately I remember passing a restaurant on the same street with a “Hotpot” sign, so I turned around and went to Uncle Sun instead.  I was surprised when I saw Uncle Sun’s menu because I had assumed they would have an Americanized section for the locals and non-Chinese, and a Sichuan section for the Mainland Chinese students who are largely from that area.  While there was a separate Sichuan section in back, labeled ‘Hometown Dishes”, the front part of the menu was also quite authentic, too.  At first we ordered the chicken dumplings, the fish with preserved cabbage, and the Chinese broccoli.  But when we ordered the broccoli, the waitress warned us that this was a white vegetable, which made no sense to us.  We told her we wanted the green broccoli, and she said OK.  However, when the dish came out, it was American broccoli.  Starving for vegetables, we kept the dish and it turned out to be quite good, along with the other stuff.  Still puzzled by the Chinese broccoli, I pulled up a picture of it on my Blackberry and showed it to them. They said they didn’t have that dish.  So what was their “Chinese broccoli”?  Napa?  The fish dish turned out to be a soup dish, which I had a few times in California, and was so good that I threw rice into the leftover broth to use it up.  Anyway, we were so impressed we ordered more American broccoli to take for dinner  plus fish with wood ear fungus, as this seemed to be a safer bet than looking for food when we arrived at the day's final destination of Des Moines.

We then crossed over from downtown Iowa City across Clinton St. to the University of Iowa campus, which for some reason seemed reminiscent of Cal Berkeley.  The campus was huge and we only saw a small part of it.  But I was very happy to visit the campus since I had been to all of the other original Big 10 campuses.  (Note that there's a curve ball to the statement.  I have never been to Michigan State--but that school was added to the Big 10 only after the University of Chicago dropped out, and is not one of the original Big 10.  I have been to the Chicago campus.)  Crossing back later into downtown, we passed another restaurant called Dumpling Darling, which I had assumed to be a typical Chinese dumpling restaurant.  However while there was a mix of Chinese and white customers, and served Pan-Asian dumplings, it was manned by a couple of white guys.  I decided to add to my dinner cache with an order of bison momo and steamed chicken artichoke bao.  We then stopped by Encore Life, a Chinese boba shop, for a mixed fruit drink.

Downtown Iowa City was very illuminating for me, having written about campus town Chinese food, to see how it manifests itself today, but seeing the Mainland China version for the first time.  As one of the workers at Uncle Sun, a theater arts major from Yunnan put it, there’s no “Chinatown” there, but rather the Chinese businesses were spread throughout downtown.  I guess I had expected a greater physical concentration of Chinese eating and drinking places based on the CNN story which talked about Iowa City having three times as many boba shops as Starbucks.  While a true statement, that was slightly misleading because there were 3 boba shops and 1 Starbucks in Iowa City when that was written, now 4 boba shops and 2 Starbucks, so it’s not like there’s boba on every corner.   And I suspect this is what the Mainland Chinese student presence is like in other college towns--subtle, but also unmistakable.

What's My Sign? Here It Is: "Road Closed"

A couple of years ago I wrote this piece about L.A city government stupidity dealing with traffic issues caused by people looking for the Hollywood sign and the Griffith Observatory in and around my Los Feliz Oaks neighborhood, which is adjacent to, but does not provide access to these attractions.   More recently the Los Angeles Times described the inability of the city to implement safety improvements in our neighborhood even though residents raised the funds for the improvements themselves.  Or, as I titled my original piece, "If The Government Only Had A Brain."

My previous piece dealt with the western access to our neighborhood along Franklin Ave. and Bronson Ave., but we had more egregious city government stupidity on our eastern flank along the Fern Dell Dr. entrance.  Fern Dell Dr. is one of two access roads to the Griffith Observatory, and indirectly, the Greek Theater.  The other access to both is Vermont Ave.  Fern Dell Dr. is also the western border to Griffith Park.  Griffith Park closes daily at sunset.  The Observatory does not.  But in order to enforce the closure of the main park, at nightfall Fern Dell is blocked at Red Oak Dr., just north of Los Feliz Blvd.  However there was nothing to alert travelers along Los Feliz Blvd. who want access the observatory that Fern Dell Dr. is blocked ahead, so every night legions of unsuspecting drivers hit the road block and are forced to either make a U-turn and head back to Los Feliz Blvd. or turn left onto Red Oak Dr. into our neighborhood, where they wander like lost ants through our residential streets, perhaps never to be heard from again.

This has been going on for quite a while, and we had actually gotten used to it, though how difficult would it be to inform drivers turning onto Fern Dell Dr. that they are taking the road to nowhere?  Then one evening there were encouraging signs.  There were two traffic control officers in the area, one on Los Feliz Blvd. and one on Fern Dell Dr.  At last!  The officers were going to inform drivers that unless they were headed into the Los Feliz Oaks, they should not turn onto Fern Dell Dr. because it was blocked ahead!  Well, not really.  The officers were actually throwing gasoline onto the fire because they were directing traffic to make it EASIER for cars to turn from Los Feliz Blvd. onto Fern Dell Dr. and running into the dead end.

All this led me to contact the 4th District Los Angeles City Council office in an email I entitled "Traffic Control Insanity."  While I had no illusions that this would improve anything, at least it made me feel better.  But a funny thing happened.   After a few weeks I was contacted by a sympathetic city bureaucrat who suggested I contact my homeowners association to sponsor a request to the city.  I demurred, indicating that I didn't want to get involved with a long, drawn out process.  But she responded that she would contact the homeowners association, which she did.  The homeowners quickly agreed and guess what?   They put up a sign on Los Feliz Blvd. and Fern Dell Dr. that alternately flashed "Road Closed At 6 pm" and "No Observatory Access."   Hooray!  You can fight city hall!  And the government does have a brain.

Unfortunately my euphoria only lasted a few weeks.  For some reason, while the signs were still there, they were turned off.  And then the signs were carted away.  Perhaps they thought the signs had done their job, though obviously even before the signs went up, it was a new bunch of drivers lured into the trap of driving into the road closure every day.   So it's not like having the sign up there for a few weeks would permanently stop cars from trying to access the Observatory on a closed road.

Then suddenly the signs came back!  You think that would make me happy, but it doesn't, and for one simple reason.  The signs were not replaced at the corner of Los Feliz Blvd. and Fern Dell Dr. where cars could see the warning before they turned onto Fern Dell Dr., and avoid the roadblock.  No, the new signs have been placed just a few feet in front of the roadblock.  Which means that by the time you see the signs, it's too late to avoid the road closure.  And you'll have to make a U-turn, or wander around our neighborhood like lost ants, perhaps never to be heard from again.

Alas, if the government only had a brain.

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.  In 1976 I was interviewed by Beverly Ann Lee of KNX radio about the Chinese community in Los Angeles, my determination of the date when that interview occurred by the fact that an online guide shows that 1976 was the only year she worked at KNX radio.  Unfortunately, I had only remembered this interview with the her, a Chinese American reporter originally from Jamaica, after I had thrown away my cassette tape accumulation, which probably included a recording of that interview.  I was then interviewed by 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, on an episode featuring several different minority groups in Los Angeles, back when the FCC mandated public service television shows.  And I do have the VHS videotape of that appearance somewhere.

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."