Sunday, December 30, 2018

A Cantonese Blast From The Past

One of the slightly incorrect facts in the South China Morning Post magazine cover story about me was the statement that I was determined never to visit the same Chinese restaurant twice.  Obviously this was an incorrect statement since I couldn't otherwise have a favorite Chinese restaurant (or more than one favorite).  What I did say was that I started my listing of Chinese restaurants I ate at so that I would not inadvertently go to the same Chinese restaurant, not that I would never go to the same place twice.

Besides returning to favorite restaurants, repeat visits may be triggered in other situations.  For example we just had a family reunion of my aunts and uncles and cousins, all American born Chinese born in the 1920's and later, at Golden Pheasant in Torrance.  I had eaten in that restaurant in 1982, back when the restaurant was owned by Michelle Kwan's family.  I can't say I remember anything about eating there except while not up to the food in the burgeoning San Gabriel Valley it was fairly decent at that time.  I never went back since a lot more and better Chinese restaurants started opening up in the Lomita and Torrance area in subsequent years.  

Since by now, Golden Pheasant had also fallen into my rule about not eating in Chinese restaurants that have been open more than 20 years, I was not especially looking forward to the culinary portion of the reunion. Indeed I was expecting mostly Americanized fare with a sprinkling of borderline authentic old Cantonese food.  And I was expecting a moribund, half occupied facility.  But to my surprise the restaurant was full with people waiting to get in, virtually all Asians.  Once the meal began I saw what the attraction was.  Golden Pheasant serves authentic 1980s Cantonese food that you don't see much anymore, at least not if you're used to eating in the San Gabriel Valley.  

The first dish was the old 1980s favorite, walnut shrimp with mayonnaise.  

Next was chicken in curry sauce.

The highlight for me was the fish with sour and spicy sauce (erroneously described on the menu as fish in sour and spicy white sauce).

Other dishes included beef chow fun, Peking duck, Westlake beef soup, vegetable chow mein, spicy string beans and mixed vegetables, while the house dessert of tapioca in coconut milk was many times better than the traditional red bean soup you get at most San Gabriel Valley Cantonese restaurants.  While I would rate the meal only as passable, I could see where old line traditionalists would find Golden Pheasant quite attractive.  One last point is that when our gathering finally broke up before 3pm the restaurant was still packed.  Except that most of the patrons were now non-Asians, with a large representation of Hispanic diners.  (And a brief conversation turned up the fact that one of the diners had driven up from Mission Viejo based on what she had heard about the restaurant.)

Sunday, December 9, 2018

For Those Who Will Never Get To Walnut--A Visit To XLB Dumpling Bar

As I have quoted Chinese restaurant maven Robert Lu on a number of occasions, those of you who complain how you have to drive all the way to San Gabriel to get the best Chinese will fondly look back at those days because the locus of Chinese food in the Los Angeles is moving much further to the east.  (His statement was not a prediction--it was a statement of fact, as he has inside information.)   

With the opening of XLB Dumpling Bar in Walnut I think maybe that perhaps the future is now.  XLB Dumpling Bar is a fast casual restaurant (order at the counter, then take your food to communal tables) that opened a few weeks ago and is still in soft opening with a limited menu.  However one thing is already perfectly clear--the restaurant size is much too small for the business they're generating, with every seat taken before noontime on a Sunday and a long line of customers waiting to order.  And this is in Walnut (look that up on your map if you don't where that is), not particularly close to any freeway.

Signature dish is the xiaolongbao and the version here is excellent.  Probably wouldn't win a blind taste test against Din Tai Fung, but it is totally juicy.

This is the Dan Dan noodles in a spicy peanut sauce.

Pork and shrimp dumplings with bean sprouts and cabbage on the side.

Braised chicken noodles was a nonspicy contrast to the Dan Dan noodles.

The big disappointment was the fact that they were out of their cheeseburger bao.  Even though we arrived 20 minutes after opening, all 38 orders had been sold.  They felt sorry for us when I told them we had driven 35 miles just to try their restaurant, so they comped us a small appetizer and three soy drinks. (We didn’t try any of their prepared drinks but the staff highly recommended their Grapefruit Galaxy.)   Interestingly from this internet photo, the cheeseburger bao looks surprisingly ordinary from the outside.

XLB Dumpling Bar was a total madhouse with every seat taken and people streaming in and out.  Service was slow, probably taking 10 to 15 minutes for each order to be prepared, compounding what looks like an undersized restaurant.  But they're clearly onto something here.  As I have written in the past, Chinese food continues to evolve with new and better dishes arising all the time, and generally is introduced by new entrants to the market.   Those who follow the opening of new Chinese restaurants know that most of the new entrants these days are in what has been called the East San Gabriel Valley (Rowland Heights, Industry, Hacienda Heights, though I don't know if these communities are actually part of the San Gabriel Valley).  And now things are moving even further away to places like Walnut, Diamond Bar and Chino Hills, so even people who live in the West San Gabriel Valley are having to start driving out for Chinese food.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Dinner At J Zhou in Tustin

Since mother and daughter share the same birthday that required a double special birthday dinner at J Zhou in Tustin, just over the border from Irvine.  J Zhou is a spinoff from Happy Harbor in Rowland Heights, which itself has lineage connecting it to the former Sea Harbour branch in Rowland Heights. We had been there a few times for dim sum, but never had dinner there.  Food is excellent, but you wouldn't know it based on "star" ratings, since it gets knocked down quite a bit for cost (my rough guess is 60 percent higher than comparable San Gabriel Valley food) and service (though our was fine).

We had a nice version, both visual and taste wise, of egg tofu with mushrooms 

Something new, different, and definitely delicious was bacon and shrimp.

Haven't seen this dish in a while--steamed eggplant with bean paste.    


Snow pea leaves and bean curd skin make a nice vegetarian combo.

Clearly the star of the show was the steamed coral trout from Australia.  At $150 for this two pounder, it better had been.  For that price I imagine this fella had a first class seat on the flight from Australia to Los Angeles.

Not pictured were the fantastic fried rice with dried scallops and egg white and the house special chicken which was not very good.