Thursday, July 30, 2009

Banh Mi at Sandwich Express in Reseda

Living in Van Nuys means I can’t get out to the San Gabriel Valley as often as I like (which is constantly.) That’s bad news when I’ve got a late night craving for 101 Beef Roll. But the good news is I don’t have to trek all the way to Mr. Baguette and Lee’s Sandwiches when I start jonesing for a good Banh Mi. Relief is just down the road at Sandwich Express in Reseda.

Heading West on Sherman Way past the airport on a Sunday night there’s little traffic by the time I hit Reseda. I find a spot on a side street easy enough and head over to Sandwich Express.

The outside is a little faded. The sign could do with another coat of paint. It doesn’t look like a place from great Vietnamese sandwiches from the outside. At first glance one might mistake it for an Italian sub place.

Sandwich Express Ext

Inside is crisp, clean operation though it could use more menu displays. They have an excellent Banh Mi menu on the wall and Slush menu behind the counter area. But there’s a whole counter of food options on the one side and I had no idea what they were offering.

Sandwich Express Int

I start things off with a Kiwi Slush with boba. It was bright green, sweet and tart, just like a fresh kiwi fruit. Kiwi makes a very good dessert or sweet drink.

Sandwich Express Slush

The Banh Mi is ready a few moments later. I order the special which apparently means a little bit of everything. The sandwich is stuffed with red cured pork, white pork loaf, rich pate, headcheese, mayo and even a few shrimp. The pickled vegetables are cut thicker than at Mr. Baguette or Lee’s and they include a few spears of cucumber. The meats were very porky. The cured pork was chewy and would have been tough it wasn’t sliced paper thin. The headcheese had a nice bit of cartilage in it. The pickled veggies provided a nice crunch and acid and the jalapenos gave it a bit of heat. As usual the sandwiches were a bargain, $2.95. With my drink it was a filling meal all for just over $5 total.

Sandwich Express Banh Mi

On my way out I noticed a small shrine by the door. I don’t know whether it is meant to welcome guests or bring in good luck. Sandwich Express deserves plenty of both.

Sandwich Express Shrine

Sandwich Express
18575 Sherman Way
Reseda, CA 91335
(818) 757-7698
Price Range: $2.95 for sandwiches.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Dumpling Hunt Part 6: Rice balls and Ginger Bean Milk at Yung Ho Tou Chiang

When I got to Yung Ho Tou Chiang they were already putting the chairs up and starting to mop the floors. I was afraid I was too late. The menu said open till 6 PM and it was just before 5. Time I thought for a quick early dinner. Turns out when they say close at 6 PM they mean the place is shut and the staff is on its way home by 6. Of course this way I avoided the lunch and breakfast rush.

Yung Ho Int

Yung Ho Tou Chiang is located on valley just before the New Ave. intersection. It’s in a strip mall with a fair sized parking lot. Arriving in the early evening there was plenty of spaces.

Yung Ho Ext

Inside the space was quite large and impressive for strip mall place. They showed me to a booth and gave me the menu.

The first thing that caught my eye was the prices. Most of the items under the Dim Sum were $2 or less. Some items went as low as 85 cents. The rest of the menu was also a bargain. Soups and Noodle or Rice dishes were between $4 and $6.50. Cold Dishes were ranged from $1.50 to $2.50. There were a few items scattered around that were $8, $9 and one was $15. But overall the menu was made for the budget conscious.

I stuck with the dim sum portion of the menu. I ordered a Sweet/Cold Ginger Bean Milk for $1.30. It was a glass of soy milk with a heavy taste of ginger. It was pretty refreshing on a hot day.

Yung Ho Ginger Bean Milk

Next came a Mushroom with Pork Bun for $1.00. It was a good sized steamed bao with a filling that was more pork than mushroom and had little dried shrimp as well. The filling was seasoned with soy and ginger. The bun was a little on the heavy side but there was a good ratio filling to bread.

Yung Ho Mushroom Pork Bun

After that came the only real disappointment. I ordered the Beef Pan Cake for $2.75. It was a bit of a let down compared to the exquisite Beef Roll at 101 Noodle Express. The beef filling was tender, rich and had a strong anise flavor to it. But instead of spreading the filling out evenly over the pancake and wrapping it, they first folded the pancake on itself, put the filling in the center, coated the outside with sesame seed and fried it on both sides. The pancake was heavy and a little tough where it was folded in on itself.

Yung Ho Beef Pan Cake

After that however came a real treat, Rice Ball Soup with Mushroom and Pork for $3.50. It was a clear broth with four dumplings floating in it. It was topped with a generous helping of cilantro and crispy onion flakes. The dumplings resembled little matzo balls. They were made of glutinous rice flour and had a meat filling inside each one. The outside was sticky and slightly sweet. Like matzo balls, they expanded when they reached the stomach. The filling was the same pork and mushroom mix from the bao. The whole thing may be a little salty for some people’s taste but I found it excellent.

Yung Ho Rice Ball Soup

The whole meal came out to less than $10. This is a place to eat up and not break the wallet. The rice balls are superb and a great bargain at $3.50. Just try and get there early.

Yung Ho Tou Chiang
533 W. Valley Blvd.
San Gabriel, CA 91776
(626) 570-0860
Price Range: Dim Sum menu from $0.85 to $5.75

Monday, July 27, 2009

Dumpling Hunt Part 5: Fish dumplings and Pan Fried Heaven at Qing Dao Bread Food

The next stop on my Dumpling Hunt I owe to Chowhound Chandavkl who said that this place had the best sole dumplings in LA.

Qing Dao Bread Food is inside a strip mall on Garfield Avenue in Monterey Park. But don’t expect to find parking. The courtyard style mall is home to several busy eateries. Fortunately I found street parking within short walking distance. Qing Dao has a very modest storefront.

Qing Dao Ext

Inside it is even simpler, just a narrow strip of floor space running from the door to the back with the kitchen and bakery case dominating the rest of the shop. An electric fan was set up to provide air circulation but I didn’t find it stuffy or hot inside which was surprising. Nearly every one of the tables was occupied and the kitchen was bringing out tray after tray of steaming dumplings. You’d think this place would be a sweatbox in the middle of winter.

Qing Dao Int

Along the wall were large pictures of the food offered. I zeroed in on the boiled fish and leek dumplings and the pork and shrimp pan fried dumplings.

Qing Dao Int 2

First came the fish dumplings. They were 12 of them fresh out of the pot judging by the cloud of steam that hung over them. They came with a small saucer of sauce with at least two cloves of freshly crushed garlic. The dumpling skins were thick but soft and not too chewy. They had the right amount of filling so you got the right amount of fish to noodle. The filling was no delicate French style fish mousse. The filling was firm, hearty and speckled with green scallions and not overly fishy. Dipped in the garlic sauce and a little vinegar really added to them.

Qing Dao Fish Dumplings

Next came the pan fried dumplings. I order potstickers every time I go out for dim sum, so I was expecting the same here. The first thing I noticed was that these dumplings were much bigger. I got 8 with my order they were enough to easily feed 2 or 3 people. They were at least twice the size of the largest potstickers I’d ever ordered. They were puffed up white pillows on one side and golden brown and crispy on the other. I bit into the first one and seared the roof of my mouth (with only a glass of hot tea to drink!) Inside medley of ground pork and big pieces of whole shrimp. The wrappers were very thick. On the pan fried side where they were seared the dough was cooked through and slightly risen. It was bread, like a bao or a pancake. The tops were they had steamed were like a thick noodle or Western style boiled dumpling. It was a great mix of textures and the stuffing inside was savory and lip smacking good.

Qing Dao Pan Fried Dumplings

I tried a variety of dipping sauces. I mixed some of the chili oil with soy to create a tongue burning dip. That was a little too much. It got in the way of the great texture and flavor of the dumpling. I tried the vinegar which was better. Eventually I settled on a little bit of soy or nothing at all.

Both orders cost $6.95 each. Given the amount of food it was a bargain. Both orders could have easily have been split among friends.

With apologies to Chandavkl, I enjoyed the fish dumplings but the pan fried ones were what really grabbed my attention.

Qing Dao Bread Food
301 N Garfield Ave
Ste G
Monterey Park, CA 91754
(626) 312-6978
Price Range: $6.95 per dumpling order

Friday, July 24, 2009

Fat Fish After 8

K-Town has so many spots for drinks and food it’s going to take me a while to get through them all.

Late night I find Fat Fish, a very trendy sushi bar offering a sweet deal. $2 sushi from 8 PM till close. I saunter inside to check it out.

Fat Fish Ext

It’s near deserted. The place closes in 15 minutes but there’s still plenty of sushi rolling out on the conveyor belt.

Fat Fish Int

I have a soft spot for conveyor belt sushi. Purists will argue it goes against the very idea of sushi, that great sushi can only be hand made to order, that it shouldn’t left sitting around on a buffet line or a conveyor belt. For the most part I agree. I’ve been to Todai and had the all you can eat buffet and no it is not the ideal way to serve sushi. But things are a little different at Fat Fish. The sushi IS being made fresh and put on the conveyor. Some items may have taken a few more spins than others but the freshness is better than a buffet line which may be changed every hour or so at best. And I like the idea of a sushi place closing out with a bargain binge. Rather than putting fish back into the deep freeze for next day’s service, they’re unloading as much of it as they can. Sort of like a good fish market offering deals towards the end of the day.

Fat Fish Int 2

Well that’s my theory. How did it turn out? I was pleasantly surprised for the most part. I kept it simple and grabbed three dishes off the line.

The first was Yellowtail Nigiri Sushi. Anytime you can grab two pieces of yellowtail for $2 it’s a good night. A quick dip in soy and I popped them into my mouth. The rice was room temperature but still soft. The fish had a little richness to it. It wasn’t perfect, melt in your mouth buttery like you can get at top sushi places, but for the cost better than I expected.

Fat Fish Yellowtail

The next I grabbed a tartare of salmon and tuna with a spicy mango salsa. It was colorful and definitely the star of the evening. It was just the right amount of spice and didn’t overwhelm the fish. The salmon was nicely fatty. The only drawback was the mango dice of the salsa. A little hard to eat with chopsticks, I ended up shoveling them off my plate and into my mouth.

Fat Fish Tartare

I was disappointed in my squid sushi. It looked great on the plate topped with bright red fish roe, but it was tough and chewy. I confess it was no worse than the squid sushi at Kabuki but it was definitely no better.

Fat Fish Squid

Overall I couldn’t complain. For $6 I got six pieces of sushi that would normally cost me $16. It’s street parking but I was able to find a spot nearby (me the city’s worst parallel parker.) Fat Fish closes at 11 PM so it can’t really be called a late night spot. But if you’re between karaoke clubs near 6th Street and feel like popping in for a quick sushi fix, Fat Fish is a good choice.

Fat Fish
3300 W 6th St
Los Angeles, CA 90020
(213) 384-1304
Price Range: $2 Sushi from 8PM to Close (except for Uni and Salmon Roe which are usual price and made to order. As they should be!)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Thai Gulch Part 3: Tasty Little Plates at Bua Siam

My first few months in LA I spent most of my time driving up and down Sherman Way. That’s how I first became familiar with Thai Gulch. One of the first restaurants I tried and the one that became my favorite is the very definition of Hole-In-The-Wall, Bua Siam.

You really have to look hard. Bua Siam is easy to miss. It’s in the same strip mall as the impossible-to-miss Cha Chaa. If you look down Cha Chaa’s yellow exterior to the corner and then look a little left, you’ll see it. From the outside it looks no bigger than a postage stamp.

Bua Siam Ext

The interior, well, at first I thought it was the same size as my apartment. That might be too generous. It is a very small space with just a few tables they got from Ikea down the street in Burbank. But it never felt cramped, at least not to me. The dining area is always spotless. There’s a decorative fountain in the corner that’s constantly running (giving the space good Fung Shui I believe.)

Bua Siam Int

When I first came to Bua Siam it was for exotic dishes from all over Thailand. They used to serve a wild boar curry that I ordered every time. The menu has since changed and wild boar no linger makes an appearance. However the reason I’ve continued to come back to Bua Siam is their small plates. They have several of their dishes available in tapas sized platters at prices ranging from $4 to $2.99. A filling lunch can be had for under $10. They offer bay leaf stew, rice cakes with shrimp sauce, and an excellent version of the Thai “jerky”, beef or pork deep fried and served with a spicy sauce.

Last Sunday I make a stop at Bua Siam and go for two small plates that I haven’t had before. Both had very long English names and my apologies if I don’t get them exactly right. The first was called Soup with Broad Rice Noodles, Fish Ball, Squid and Red Sauce. What came was a bright red soup with broad flat noodles and a treasure trove of goodies. Floating in the broth was a huge piece of white fungus. In addition to the fish balls and squid there were deep fried puffs of tofu and slices of fish cake. The red broth was mildly spicy, sweet and acidic. The rice noodles were perfectly soft and great to slurp up.

Bua Siam Broad Rice Noodle Soup with fish ball squid and red sauce

Next came Thai Spaghetti with Pork Spare Ribs and Tomato Sauce. Again the description did not disappoint. The dish was thin rice noodles with a spicy tomato based sauce. It was topped with bits of ground pork and small nuggets of stewed sparerib. The ribs were falling off the bone tender. You just had to pop them in your mouth and suck off the meat. The sauce and noodles had a little spice. There were pieces of whole dried chili on top should you want a real kick with your lunch.

Bua Siam Thai Spaghetti with pork spare ribs and tomato sauce

Bua Siam never seems crowded yet is never empty for long. Soon after I sat down, nearly all the places were filled. It’s a little gem in Thai Gulch. One I hope will last for years to come.

Bua Siam
12924 Sherman Way
North Hollywood, CA 91605
(818) 765-8395
Price Range: Small Plates $2.99 to $4.00, Entrees mostly under $10

Bua Siam on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Sichuan Sundae: Hot, Numbing, Sweet and Chocolatey

Every now and then I get a hankering to just experiment in the kitchen. The results were not what I anticipated though.

This all started when I saw a Travel Channel program on Las Vegas and they featured a bartender who had invented a number of out there cocktails like the Carrot Cake Martini. I decided to give it a try with one of my favorite flavor combinations, the hot numbing combination of Sichuan.

I researched Sichuan Cocktails on line and found there were a few of them being offered. But they were concentrating on different flavor profiles like the lychee. A few did have the Sichuan peppercorns sprinkled in but these cocktails didn’t contain any heat for the peppercorns to counteract. I set out to create a drink that combined the red hot chili flavor with the floral taste and numbing sensation of Sichuan peppercorns.

I started by making a simple syrup, equal parts sugar and water brought to a boil.

Cocktail 4

To that I added my crushed chili flakes and Sichuan peppercorns.

Cocktail 5

I brought them to heat then let the mixture steep.

Cocktail 7

The resulting syrup was spicy hot and sweet, but alas very little of the Sichuan peppercorn came through. This may have more to do with the quality of my peppercorns. I’ve found their flavor and strength can vary wildly depending on where you buy them. The best ones I’ve found so far come from Pacific Natural Spices and can be purchased at Light My Fire. Really good Sichuan peppercorns can numb out the mouth with just a few grains. The ones I had in my pantry weren’t nearly as potent. I tried a cocktail but the results were disappointing. Truly no better than a pepper infused vodka with a little syrup and soda.

However a few days later I had a hankering for some chocolate ice cream. I remembered the Aztecs used to mixed chocolate and chili, the chili being a relative of the vanilla plant. I decided to turn my cocktail experiment into a dessert experiment. I poured the syrup over the ice cream and sprinkled on some fresh Sichuan peppercorns for good measure.

Sichuan Sundae

Much better. The chili and chocolate are a strange combination that really works. The bitterness of the chocolate and the heat of the chili match each other beautifully in a taste reminiscent of mole. The milk in the ice cream kept the heat at bay. There was even a pleasant numbing after taste from the Sichuan Peppercorns at the end. The only problem was the syrup ran down the sides and collected in a fiery pool. The solution was easy. Take one brownie or piece of chocolate pound cake and have it act as a base to soak up any stray syrup. I tried it the next night and it was wonderful.

So the recipe for those of you brave enough to try is quite simple.

Sichuan Sundae

  • 1 Cup Sugar
  • 1 Cup Water
  • 2 Tablespoons Red Chili Flakes
  • 1-2 scoops Your favorite Chocolate Ice Cream per serving
  • 1-2 Brownies or Slice of Chocolate Pound Cake per serving
  • Sichuan Peppercorns for topping (depending on the strength of the peppercorns you may need 5-10 peppercorns or a whole teaspoon)

1. Make the Syrup – Combine the 1 cup of water and 1 cup sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Once the sugar is completely dissolved and a boil is reached, add the 2 Tablespoons Red Chili Flakes. Take the syrup off the heat and let it cool and steep. Once completely cool, strain the chili flakes and keep for later use.

2. Assemble the Sundae – Lay the brownie or cake slices on the bottom of the serving dish. Scoop the chocolate ice cream onto the brownie. Drizzle the chili syrup over the ice cream. Top with the Sichuan Peppercorns.

Here’s the result

Sichuan Sundae 2

© Michael J Lee July 22, 2009

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Great Banh Mi in Rosemead

In this economy, everyone is looking to cut back on expenses especially on eating out. But if you want to save money but not give up quality, check out Valley Blvd. Starting at Alhambra and heading east, you’ll find some of the finest bargain meals to be had in the entire city. One of the best combinations of quality and price is the Banh Mi, or Vietnamese sandwich. The boulevard is lined with Vietnamese offering all kinds of delicacies. There are dozens of bakeries and sandwich shops serving Banh Mi. But there’s a stretch of Valley in Rosemead where two of the most well known purveyors of this Vietnamese classic are just a few blocks apart from each other; Lee’s Sandwiches and Mr. Baguette.

I start at Lee’s Sandwiches. It’s not a Mom and Pop operation as evidenced by the slickly constructed exterior. It has its own parking lot and a drive through so getting in and out is a snap. From the outside you’d think it was a KFC or Boston Market. Lee’s isn’t that huge but it is a multi state franchise with over 30 locations.

Lees Sandwiches Ext

Inside it looks just like any other major chain fast food joint. But look closer at the menu and you’ll find durian ice cream, red bean smoothies, and mini pork pate chaud. It’s the American Fast Food model applied to Southeast Asian food.

Lees Sandwiches Int

For my Banh Mi I order the Cured Pork and Pork Roll. It’s a hearty 10 inch sandwich cut into two pieces. The meats are sliced deli thin. The cured pork is red almost like Chinese char sui and has a slight ham flavor. The almost white pork roll reminds me a little bit of good bologna sausage but made with pork. The sandwich is topped with pickled carrot and daikon, the sliced jalapeno that gives it a kick and the cilantro tops it all off. It costs just $2.75. It has the national chain sandwich places beat by a mile in both cost and taste. What’s there to brag about in a $5 foot long?

Lees Sandwiches Bahn Mi

While Lee’s Sandwiches may be a superior fast food chain my next stop, Mr. Baguette, was in a whole different league. I gladly call it fine dining off paper plates and plastic trays. Mr. Baguette has only three locations but you should find the one closest to you and make it a regular stop. The one in Rosemead is off a fairly quiet street so if the parking lot is crowded you can find street parking easy enough.

Mr Baguette Ext

From its name you know Mr. Baguette prides itself on one thing in particular. They offer their house made baguettes with everything from clam chowder to sandwiches to just plain.

Mr Baguette Int

They also offer the traditional Vietnamese meats, also house made. It’s a tempting display. But I’ve already had a cold Banh Mi, I decide to go for something warmer and order the grilled pork sandwich.

Mr Baguette Meats

I get a foot long baguette filled with grilled pork for $3.75 (I didn’t have a tape measure but it sure looked like a foot.) The pickled vegetables and sliced jalapenos came separately in a plastic baggie.

Mr Baguette Bahn Mi

It was I was feeling pretty full from Lee’s and I considered eating only half and taking the rest home with me. That plan changed as soon as I bit into it. One taste and I knew I was going to finish the whole thing right there. The first thing that got me was the crunch of the crust. It crackled beautifully every time it met my teeth. But it wasn’t too hard. There was the “broken glass” effect you sometimes get with really hard (or stale) crust. After the crunch it was tender inside. It held the meat and vegetables inside but wasn’t too tough or chewy, perfect sandwich bread. This may be the first time I ate a sandwich and was so thoroughly taken with the bread, but it was almost like a magic trick. You wondered how they could do it. Not the filling was any slouch. The pork was juicy with salty glaze and a little grilled smokiness, the pickled vegetables provided the tang, and the jalapenos gave it just the right amount of punch. My only regret was that I only had room for one sandwich. I have to go back and try all the others. I can’t imagine shelling out $5 any more for a sandwich served in what amounts to an oversized hot dog roll.

Great food for under $5? It is there to be had if you’re on the right street.

Lee’s Sandwiches (Rosemead)
8779 E. Valley Blvd.
Rosemead CA 91770
(626) 291-2688
Price Range: Between $2.75 and $2.95 for most sandwiches

Mr. Baguette (Rosemead)
8702 E Valley Blvd.
Rosemead CA 91770
(626) 288-9166
Price Range: Between $3.75 and $5.50 for most sandwiches

Mr. Baguette on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 20, 2009

Beef Roll and Soup at 101 Noodle Express

It’s easy to drive right by 101 Noodle Express in Alhambra if you don’t speak Chinese. At the strip mall where it’s at, the Chinese is prominently featured on the main sign. The words “101 Noodle Express” are in smaller print and off to the side. Even standing right in front of the restaurant itself you can miss its small compact English name. Best to look for the strip mall with the bowling alley in the center (though that place appears to be closed for business.)

101 Noodle Ext

Once you’re in find a table quick. This place really fills up at lunch time. I was lucky to grab the last available and sit down. The interior is a slick version of a neighborhood joint. There are framed glossy posters of signature dishes and an HD display of the lamb soup.

101 Noodle Int

But one dish in particular 101 Noodle Express is known for, the Beef Roll (Niu Ruo Juan Bing.) The dish is simple but the execution perfect. A thin flour pancake, beautifully toasted with golden brown spots all over its surface, is slathered with a hoisin-like sauce, sliced beef that’s been cooked fork tender and plenty of cilantro. The whole thing is then rolled into a tube like a burrito or sandwich wrap. You get two mammoth rolls for one order costing $6.75. Each one is cut into three pieces the size of a McDonald’s cheeseburger. But the golden arches doesn’t have anything that can compete with the Beef Roll in terms of flavor. The pancake is nicely crispy. The meat is falling apart tender. It had bits of tendon and connective tissue cooked soft giving the beef even more richness and flavor. The hoisin sauce was sweet with a slight tang like good BBQ sauce but with a little pungency from the fermented beans, it went perfectly with the cilantro.

101 Noodle Beef Roll

For those wanting more of a spicier kick to their meal, there is the usual chili oil at your table side but also something else, a green “salsa” made of cilantro and finely diced green chili. It packs a real punch. I tried some of it on the Beef Roll and it gave it a nice burn but honestly I loved the sweet rich flavor of the roll on its own.

101 Noodle Salsa

The Beef Roll is more than enough for one person, but I went a little overboard and also ordered the Dalu Noodle. It arrived in a huge bowl. In appearance the soup resembled the Hot and Sour soup my family makes, a thickened broth with egg “rags” floating throughout. But there was no vinegar or white pepper in this soup. Instead there was a pile of noodles, cabbage, and tender pork. It was seasoned with ginger and had wood ear tree fungus in it. It was simple, hearty and filling. It would be a great soup to have in the middle of winter.

101 Noodle Soup

The soup cost $5.99. With the Beef Roll, my lunch could have fed 6 people (a Chinese soup-and-sandwich meal) for under $14.

When you’re on Valley Blvd. in Alhambra keep your eyes peeled for 101. It would be a shame to drive right by this one.

101 Noodle Express
1408 E Valley Blvd
Alhambra, CA 91801
(626) 300-8654
Price Range: Between $4.99 and $7.50 for most dishes.

101 Noodle Express on Urbanspoon

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Apologies While I Move Stuff Around

My apologies to loyal readers. As you can see I've changed templates and well it's like moving into a new house. A lot of unpacking and cleaning to do and a few things get lost. Take for example my bloglist.

Sorry Diva. Sorry LA Foodie. All my widgets got tossed. I will restore connections ASAP.

I will also be getting back with more reviews starting tomorrow.

Thanks all for reading!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Addictive Hot Numbing Food at Chung King

There are places you just go to again and again. There are places that just call to you. Chung King has that hold over me.

This wasn't the first place where I encountered the real flavor of Sichuan, but it's the one that I've kept coming back to for about 3 years now.

Chung King lies just South of Garvey Ave on Garfield with ample parking in back. You walk into a very humble looking establishment. With the glass covered refrigeration unit in the front it could almost be mistaken for an ice cream parlor. But inside that unit isn't ice cream It's your first big introduction to Sichuan cooking. In Sichuan they begin a meal with cold appetizers. This is a shock to anyone who's used to egg rolls or even dim sum before the meal. The cold dishes at Chung King are some of the best and a selection of 3 can be had for under $6. There are thin slices of pig's ear, roasted peanuts with tiny salted fish, marinated vegetables, but the real stars are the meats slathered in hot numbing sauce. Sichuan is famous for the sichuan peppercorn which doesn't produce heat. Instead it provides a numbing effect on the mouth and tongue. When mixed with fiery hot sauce and red pepper, the effect is amazing. You can feel the burn build in your mouth, but just as it seems steam will come rushing out your ears the sichuan peppercorns take effect and numb out the mouth. It's an addictive sensation of pain and pleasure. The cold hot numbing dishes at Chung King include tripe, pork, chicken, and thin slices of dried jerky like meat.

Next, the entrees. I always order one of the "boiled in hot sauce" dishes when I'm there. These are also known as "water boiled" dishes (they have a sick sense of humor in Sichuan.) At Chung King you can get a variety of meats including Pacific snapper along with wilted lettuce and water celery. It comes to you swimming in a bright red chili sauce. It looks like instant death if you try to eat it. But not to fear it's sprinkled with sichuan peppercorns (and red chili flakes) so you get the hot numbing effect with every bite.

A little less friendly to the stomach are the pickled pepper dishes. These comes with a generous helping pickled and dried peppers with no sichuan peppercorns to soften the blow. These do a number on the taste buds. I usually order the stir fried eels with pickled peppers. These aren't the sweet unagi you're used to in sushi bars. These are small strips of fish. They have a briney flavor that goes well with the burn of the chilies.

Finally there's another dish to try, the fired chicken with chilies. This is a good "dare" dish because it's cubes of deep fried chicken tossed in a wok with oil, sichuan peppercorns and a ton of whole chili peppers. It comes to your table with as many chilies as pieces of chicken. But don't let the wait staff fool you, you're only supposed to eat the chicken pieces, which have absorbed the oil. Of course if you're insane and want to eat the chilies as well that's up to you.

Chung King
206 S Garfield Ave
Monterey Park, CA 91754
(626) 280-7430
Price range: under 6$ for the appetizers, entrees no more than $15, cash only

Friday, July 17, 2009

Spicy and Sour Rice Noodles at Dandan’s Guilin

I returned to Focus Plaza and Dandan’s Guilin Rice Noodles this time for dinner.

Dandan Guilin Ext

Focus Plaza was just as sprawling as I remembered it. I tried to grab a spot in the two level underground lot to get my aging car out of the sun. No luck. In the summer months those are the first spots to fill up. I did manage to find some shade though beneath a tree.

The first time I came I was on a dumpling hunt. This time I was free to sample their entire menu. There’s very little English at Dandan’s. The menu has English translation but the order form is all in Chinese with numbers so be careful what you point to. The waitress spoke very little English but it didn’t get in the way of my ordering.

Like all Sichuan and other Western Chinese restaurants they offer a selection of cold appetizers. You can get a combination of any three for $3.99. I decided to go spicy and protein heavy. I ordered Super Spicy Beef, Super Spicy Pig’s Ear, and Super Spicy Shredded Tofu.

Dandan 3 Items

All three items arrived piled onto one plate. All three dishes glistened with red chili oil. There were red pepper flakes and stems of cilantro. The taste was numbing hot, that mixture of red chili and Sichuan peppercorn that I find completely addictive. The red chili burns at the same time the Sichuan peppercorns numb the mouth and tongue. It’s a taste sensation unlike any other. The beef was dried to almost jerky consistency and sliced paper thin. The pig’s ears were also sliced thin, chewy and gelatinous with strip of cartilage running down the middle that has a bit of a crunch. It might not be for everyone but Chinese food is all about a variety of flavors and textures. The shredded bean curd was something new to me. The bean curd was compressed until nearly the consistency of hard cheese then sliced thing and cut into strips like short noodles. To see it on the plate, it looked like a cold pasta salad. The tofu shreds held their texture until you bit into them then they melted inside the mouth.

The next dish was a bowel of their rice noodles. I chose the Guilin Spicy & Sour Beef Rice Noodle.

Dandan Hot and Sour Beef Soup

It was a large bowl of rice noodles, wilted lettuce and sliced cooked beef topped with pickled vegetables, toasted peanuts and a healthy dose of red chili flakes. You pour the broth over the noodles and start eating. The rice noodles are thicker than the one you find in Vietnamese Pho. If Pho noodles are vermicelli then these would be more like Thick Spaghetti. They made the soup very hearty and filling. The heat was intense with no Sichuan peppercorns to provide relief. The sour component came from the pickles, mustard greens and green beans. They had a strong vinegar taste that spread through the soup. This was a filling meal and at $5.99.

I also ordered something from the Guilin Country-Side Style Dishes. I got the Guilin Special Preserved Duck. I’ve had the Hunan version of preserved duck before. This was nothing like the Hunan preparation. The Hunan duck is like Prosciutto. What arrived at my table looked like, well, duck.

Dandan Preserved Duck

It was topped with peanuts and had nice flavored jus all around it. It didn’t taste preserved at all. No excess saltiness. The meat showed no signs of drying or pickling. It appeared to be just a well seasoned stewed duck (maybe that was the point.)

I’m glad I returned to Dandan’s Guilin Rice Noodles. It’s authentic, rustic, and very affordable. My entire meal of 3 appetizers and two main dishes came out to $20.28.

Dandan's Guilin Rice Noodles
140 W Valley Blvd
Ste 203
San Gabriel, CA 91778
(626) 307-1989