Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Chinese Restaurants Open In New San Gabriel Valley Hotels

When I first heard that a number of large chain hotels would be opening up in the San Gabriel Valley, I was anticipating some interesting additions to the local Chinese dining stock.  After all, when the San Gabriel Hilton opened up a dozen years ago, the adjacent new shopping center filled up with numerous stripes of Chinese restaurants, the hotel restaurant hosted a weekend buffet that I still sometimes dream about today, and their banquet kitchen became one of the top Chinese banquet venues in the Los Angeles area.  However, with the opening of the first two of these next generation hotels, the San Gabriel Sheraton and the Hilton Garden Inn turned Holiday Inn in El Monte, it appears that the impact on the local Chinese restaurant scene will be modest.  Where I had envisioned multiple Chinese eateries in each of these new hotels, so far it's just one Chinese restaurant in each hotel.

I didn't even realize that Tasty Dining had opened in the Holiday Inn in El Monte last fall, probably because I had no idea that the hotel had changed brands from Hilton to Holiday Inn even before the hotel opened, and I was still searching for information on the new Hilton Garden Inn in El Monte, which didn't exist.   Tasty Dining is certainly an interesting choice for the Holiday Inn's only restaurant, as it's a relatively small operation whose existing location is in one of Valley Blvd.'s many shopping malls, and who is best known for being the LA area's first Wuhan style food specialist.  Indeed, they are certainly proud of the honor, as their business card proclaims this to be the "Tasty Dining Flagship Store in El Monte" (Indeed as a native Angelino who historically associated El Monte with the El Monte Legion Stadium, and Latino rock, I never dreamt I'd see the words "El Monte" and "Flagship" used together.)

The Holiday Inn Tasty Dining menu is quite similar to that of its original location, with one concession to its location in a branded hotel being one small section on the menu of non-Chinese dishes.  While this hotel was obviously built for Chinese clientele, the Holiday Inn and other international branded hotel will surely attract some percentage of non-Chinese guests, and hotels always have to accommodate the dining needs of all its guests.  Indeed, if you look at the El Monte Holiday Inn website, there's no indication that their intended audience is Chinese guests, so in that regard I'm surprised there aren't more Western food options on the Tasty Dining menu.  One interesting thing about Tasty Dining is that in addition to the main dining room, there is an adjoining annex which also serves as the breakfast buffet area for hotel guests.  The breakfast buffet is a common amenity at Holiday Inns all over the country.  This annex also becomes an overflow dining area for Tasty Dining during their hours of lunch and dinner service.   Interestingly the breakfast buffet hours are included in the Yelp listing and the hotel's listing of Tasty Dining's hours of operation, even though Holiday Inn breakfast buffets typically are continental breakfast, and I did spy yogurt cups in the refrigerator.

Next to open earlier this year was the San Gabriel Sheraton, and once again the Chinese dining runs one deep.  The Sheraton houses just two restaurants, the first to open being a steak house called EST.Prime Steakhouse.  This is a safe choice for both Chinese and non-Chinese hotel guests alike.  The second restaurant is Ba Shu Feng, the first US branch of a noted Sichuan restaurant chain from China.  The restaurant's expansive dining room is richly appointed, and makes one wonder whether this will be the first non-Cantonese Chinese banquet facility in Los Angeles.  An interesting sidelight to the Sheraton is its widespread use of robots to perform various tasks.  For example, when I checked the hotel directory kiosk to find exactly where Ba Shu Feng was located, the directory display asked me whether I wanted it to take me there.  Which I did.  (The display in the picture below says "Great.  Please follow me.")

In hindsight the limited Chinese dining options within the first two new internationally branded hotel chains to open up in the San Gabriel Valley makes sense.  These new chain hotels were specifically targeted at tourists traveling from Mainland China, many of whom are keenly aware of the Chinese dining options existing in the San Gabriel Valley.  While any large hotel has to have in-house dining facilities to serve guests who might want to take a random meal on premises, there are hundreds of authentic Chinese restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley and there's no sense adding significantly to that large of a collection.

Tax Reform is Fine But Revenue Scoring is Bogus

Having been involved in tax policy analysis for over 30 of my 45 years in the tax business, I have no quarrel with the basic outlines of the recently enacted tax reform package.  While the press and the public seem to feel otherwise, the fact is that the press, propelled by statements made by politicians for public consumption, is incapable of accurately conveying tax policy issues to the public.  For example, both politicians and political observers continually call for a “simple and fair” tax law.  However, anyone who has any familiarity at all with the tax law knows that “simple” and “fair” are incompatibly conflicting goals.  A simple tax law by definition cannot be fair.  A fair tax law cannot be simple, since simplicity equates to one size fitting all. and the world is much too complicated for that.  (It is possible, however, to have a tax law that is complicated and unfair.)   But fair and simple is what the public and press want to hear.  And when it goes more complicated issues of tax policy, the press and the public consistently get it totally wrong. 
Turning to the recently enacted tax reform bill, the press and the public point to the cut in the top corporate tax rate from 35% to 21%, and characterize this as a giveaway to business.  However, the US taxing system does not exist in a vacuum, but is part of an international system, and with a rate of 35% and taxing a US corporation’s income whether it was earned in the US or abroad (something which very few countries in the world do), the US taxing system was an outlier.   (That's why inversions were invented as a form of self-help.)  Indeed, foreign governments around the world were miffed at the United States for being  totally out of step with the rest of the world in their taxing system.  Even the Democratic party recognized the US outlier status, as President Obama’s annual  budget proposals consistently called for a cut in the corporate tax rate, albeit to 28%, as opposed to the 21% that was ultimately adopted. Still, the Obama 28% proposal (which was viewed as an "opening bid" to Congressional Republicans) was a 20% reduction in the tax rate and was widely acknowledged by Congressional Democrats as being necessary to get the United States in step with the rest of the world.  However now, though well aware of the need for corporate tax reform like that included in last year's bill, Democratic politicians pile on against the enacted tax reform corporate tax cut because that's what their constituents want to hear.
What I do take issue with is the fact that the tax reform bill created a $1.4 trillion budget hole, something which might be needed if we were coming out of a recession, but not when we were 10 years into an economic recovery.   The tax reform discussion over recent years involves two separate elements–lowering the top tax rate such that corporations operating at the margin would be incentivized to invest in the United States, while reducing credits and deductions to pay for the rate reduction.  That Congress chose to create such a large budget gap is regrettable. A 21 percent corporate tax rate itself is not inordinately low in today's international tax system, but the Republicans did not have the courage to broaden the tax base further by eliminating more deductions and credits.

But on top of this they doctored the budget numbers, which is inexcusable. In particular I am appalled by the enactment of amended Sec. 461(j) for excess business losses of non-corporate taxpayers, which disallows nonpassive losses of a taxpayer (passive losses are alreaded restricted) in excess of $500,000.  It’s not the provision itself that irritates me, but rather it’s the revenue scoring of this provision as a $150 billion revenue raiser, to get the total revenue loss of the tax reform bill under the Budget Reconciliation limit.  This $150 billion amount was likely intended to offset the $410 billion revenue loss attributable to the 20% passthrough deduction intended to put passthrough business owners on a somewhat equal footing with C corporations garnering the new 21% tax rate.  It’s also equal to the total amount raised by the BEAT anti-base erosion minimum tax being imposed on multinational corporations.  The problem is that Sec. 461(j) only provides for a year-of-loss disallowance.  The next year it goes into the taxpayer’s NOL where it can be used (at least up to 80%) starting the very next year.  How Sec. 461(j) raises $150 billion under these circumstances is a mystery to anybody who thinks about this.  I’d say that $1.5 billion is a more realistic figure than $150 billion, and that by itself the miscalculation of the Sec. 461(j) revenue effects puts the tax reform bill out of compliance with the Budget Reconciliation rules.
Revenue forecasts for proposed tax legislation is probably largely voodoo in any event.  But the forecast for Sec. 461(j) makes you wonder who the witch doctor was. 

Friday, March 2, 2018

Does Dragon Beaux Serve The Best Dim Sum In The United States?

Despite my gutsy comment in the San Francisco Chronicle that San Francisco Chinese food is five years behind that in Los Angeles, I really enjoy going to the Bay Area to eat at their Chinese restaurants.  Indeed the unattributed statement made in the same article that Bay Area dim sum was better than Los Angeles was a thought I had passed on to the article's author, Clarissa Wei.  In tandem, the Bay Area's top dim sum restaurants of Dragon Beaux, Koi Palace, Hong Kong Lounge, Hong Kong Lounge 2 and Lai Hong Lounge top L.A.'s best of Longo Seafood, Sea Harbour, Lunasia, King Hua, Elite, Happy Harbour and China Red, though you can't go wrong at any of these dim sum emporiums.  However, in this week's Bay Area trip I wanted to return to Dragon Beaux to see if this was possibly the best of the bunch.

The thought that Dragon Beaux might be the best dim sum restaurant in the country entered my mind when I had their version of the Tim Ho Wan style baked bbq pork bun.  While not as good as the original Tim Ho Wan version, it's better than what the New York branch of Tim Ho Wan serves, and better than the few versions of the dish available in the Los Angeles area.

The first new dish we had was a baked purple yam bun.  Perhaps I was extra intrigued by this item since it looked like chocolate, but I haven't been able to eat chocolate in 50 years due to allergies.  While this probably looks better than it tastes, I thought it was very good, quite interesting and not too sweet.

The pork belly with crispy skin was another winner.  The skin was a little bit short of what we had in Alameda at Pacific Lighthouse, but the skin there was part of an appetizer plate and did not have pork belly meat attached.

Another interesting and delicious bun was the baked curry chicken charcoal bun.  Both visually and culinarily interesting with a kick beyond the curry.

The only loser was this salmon salad pastry.  Pastry was dry, as was the salmon filling.  I'm really shocked that there was something this bad on the menu.

Something that seems to have disappeared off of dim sum menus in the past decade or two is beef siu mai--perhaps chicken siu mai has become the alternative siu mai of choice these days.  This spinach skin beef siu mai was excellent.

Another highly visual offering is the squid ink dumpling, filled with peanuts and spicy pork.  Once again it looks better than it tastes, but again not to say it wasn't good.

One last must try at Dragon Beaux is the red rice fish cheung fun.  They may have been the first restaurant to serve this item, but it has certainly spread elsewheres in the past couple of years.

Dragon Beaux is leading the pack for innovative dim sum in the US these days and most of their offerings are winner.  They also have premium items such as abalone with flat noodles which sound very intriguing.  Dragon Beaux is clearly among the best, if not the very best dim sum in America at the moment.