Good afternoon! This is the (delayed) second diary entry for a trip we just finished taking through the San Gabriel Valley with some friends. You can find the map here, which has some photos and may also have comments as the trip goes on, tied to each location we visit, and organized according to date. I’m also posting rawer pictures (just from my phone) on my Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/perigee/.
On Saturday we did some shopping and some exploring. Some things were kind of disappointing, but other things were not, so all in all it was a good day. We ate, mostly, at widely recommended places, some of which we’d been to before. And Jen and I had some regrets. Read on!
I also want to make a note here on service and overall experience expectations for Chinese restaurants (even fancy ones, but certainly almost always for small, less fancy ones): You go for the food. You don’t go for the ambiance. There may be interesting, luxe, wealthy decor, but getting high touch concierge, white glove service is not a normal expectation for these restaurants as a rule. Dinging a restaurant in the SGV on Yelp for not having servers to treat you well is so white it’s almost translucent. Go for the food. In small dining spots, you may get the chance to socialize with a friendly cook, or owner, or server. But you have to be humble, gracious, and undemanding. These people are busy and their main goal is to get your order and then get you the food. They may be abrupt, disinterested, and rude. Also I know it’s super hard to keep this in your head, but if you’re white, you’re the minority. And your kind are known for being demanding and high maintenance and rude. So be grateful and humble and enjoy your food. But don’t make a big thing about service ethics. Or you deserve to be white. What are you? An animal? 🙂
You should also know/be literate in the idea that you can articulate what you want/need. Many times during this trip we were able to ask (in English) that our dim sum dishes get cut in half (so there’d be enough to go around with 3 dumplings and 6 eating taster-type people). It’s okay to make snipping gestures with your fingers. Be polite, ask instead of demand, and thank your servers loudly. Tip well. Be a good guest. There’s a good guest. WHAT A GOOD GUEST!
Also a note on teas: We started out with both Pu-Erh and chrysanthemum, but have settled on Pu-Erh. It goes well with most dim sum. My father always ordered Oolong (black dragon) but our group’s inspirational leader prefers Pu-Erh, so that’s what we’re going with. The fermented smoky flavors help round out the richness of the dim sum.
Longo Seafood Restaurant (鴻德品位)
7540 Garvey Ave, Rosemead, CA 91770
Both Jonathan Gold and David Chan like this place (or at least find them notable and interesting). We did too. There were dim sum varieties and types we have rarely seen before. But note that it’s pretty expensive. Some plates are around the $20 watermark, so go as a luxury, not a mainstay (unless you don’t have to worry about it for some reason).
Their chandelier is the featured image for the post because it’s visually interesting. But it should be noted also that the main wall is dominated by a frickin’ huge TV screen, which I was seated sort of sideways to and I mostly ignored. But given the World Cup, a lot of the crowd there when we were eating were watching, and there were sort of room-dominating cheers in parts for particularly notable goals and plays. When not showing the World Cup, there were Chinese equivalents of QVC on the telly. So my guess is it’s always on.
To the menu:
- Black Truffle Siu Mai (S2) – It sounded interesting on the menu, but delivered, it was a little more complex/rich because of the truffles, but not really that worth it. For what it’s worth, the black truffle bits were like the tobiko or other roe you sometimes get crowning a siu mai dumpling.
- Bean Curd Roll Oyster Sauce (3) – Like all bean curd rolls it was some kind of nuclear temperature hot when delivered to us. Something like the scorching pizza conundrum, there’s something about this dish that retains heat. Aside from that, it didn’t strike me as special or notable. It is a solid, standby dish, though, that usually doesn’t have shrimp, though I’m pretty sure I remember this one did.
- Barbecue Supreme Rice Roll (S4) – This had some crunchy rice bits in it that elevated it from workaday Fun noodles to something special. We were talking about this even into Sunday, and comparing it favorably to other rolls we had later. Very tasty. It’s the top dish in this photo.
- Veggie Rice Rolls (48) – The veggie rice rolls (bottom dish in photo above) were also very tasty. Lots of delicious tiny mushrooms.
- Mushroom Buns (10) – Very mildly sweet, cream filled. Jen and I both liked them, but they were served in the middle of our eating, and I know a lot of Westerners like their sweets at the end of a meal. Chinese are not so concerned about that food ordering. Also note the mushroomy appearance of the top of the bun. We think made by coating the uncooked bun with cocoa or coffee powder or some other dark, less flavored powder, and letting it crack as the bun expands from cooking.
- Longo Shrimp Dumpling (13) – BIG pieces of shrimp. Nicely seasoned. Good standard har gao. Yum.
- Chiu Chow Fun Gor (14) – I didn’t eat this one (because I avoid peanuts due to heartburn-like allergy) but Jen did. Notably, she thinks it had shrimp in it (we’d ordered some typically pork-only dishes for one of our diners who avoid shrimp), but Jen thought it was nice.
- Baked Barbecue Pork Bun (32) – Neither Jen nor I think we tried this one. It looked good from the pictures! The baked bbq pork buns are on the left in the picture below.
- Oatmeal Snow Cap Bun (54) – On the right in the picture above, Jen and I separately couldn’t figure this one out and wondered if we were missing some sort of cue or aesthetic. The filling seemed to be sweetened steel cut oatmeal, the bao dough was sweetened, the topping was a whiter version of the pineapple bun crinkly/flaky top crust. Everything was done technically well but maybe it was about sweetness and texture? Maybe someone can explain this one to me.
- Sesame Balls (39) – I like sesame balls in general, and all filling in general but for me, I have a special place in my heart for lotus seed paste in both sesame balls and sweet bao. I’m not sure why, but I think there’s a dark tasting note there that I also love in black cherries, longan, and black currants. Anyway, these were done with lotus seed paste, which is a yellow color, and the deep fry was cooked just right in clean oil. Very tasty. As good a lotus seed paste sesame ball as I’ve ever had. Very good!
- Preserved Egg with Shredded Pork Congee (50) – A solid congee, with a good creaminess for a longer-cooked congee. Preserved egg proportion was kind of low for a super premium dim sum place, but still tasty in the right ways.
- Salt and Pepper Squid (104) – One of our party knows this as cuttlefish (some folks do differentiate between squid and cuttlefish by behavior – cuttlefish often mate for life and have other characteristics whereby people who are discerning about it won’t eat them if they can help it). Anyway, squid or cuttlefish, it was cooked properly with hot, clean oil, and the salt/pepper flavors were very good and well balanced.
San Gabriel Superstore
1635 S San Gabriel Blvd, San Gabriel, CA 91776
We visited this place, a pretty comprehensive supermarket for Chinese cuisine and cooking supplies, with a small mall of smaller leasing stores in front of the main grocery part, last year, and obtained some good stuff, so we revisited this year. I think we got some double-black soy, some exotic vinegar (“brewing”), pickled preserved vegetable (for dan dan noodles), red boat fish sauce (great price – but watch out for bottle sold after the “best before” date – but seriously, it’s fish sauce. It’s already gone bad, how’s it gonna go worse?), and some starch for wet wrapping noodles (unsure how Jen plans to use this).
Some of us also visited the various trinkets stores in the front part of the store, to explore and buy things. I only explored. But there looked to be a good boba place just inside the superstore, and also an intriguing premium dried products store.
Hui Tou Xiang Noodles House
704 W Las Tunas Dr, San Gabriel, CA 91776
This was a favorite of ours last year, so we made sure to visit it again. As before, a great amuse bouche of Hui Tou style kimchi (which we bought, Monday, to take home with us) – more about that below. Also the Hui Tou dumplings, which have various fillings, and are rectangular. They also do other things. High quality and tasty. We got seating almost right away due to fortunate circumstances. A table of 6 is BIG for this tiny eatery. But it’s so so worth it, and worth the wait if there is any.
- Kimchi amuse bouche – So the kimchi made here at Hui Tou Xiang is not like Korean kimchi. I’m not sure if it’s “authentic” for Fujianese cuisine (which is what the Chowhound geeks place Hui Tou Xiang’s menu and cuisine into). Anyway, this type of kimchi is not like Korean. As far as we can guess (and this is unverified), it tastes like it was vinegar pickled first, then coated and marinated in chiles. Some of us think it’s fresh chiles, some of us think it’s rehydrated fresh chiles. Anyway, it’s absolutely delicious. We bought a tub each for 3 of our party to take home and savor later.
- Marinated tofu skin – Other restaurants sometimes call this “goose”, but it’s a delicious savory marinade on thick tofu skin, rolled/folded into nice chunks. Good stuff!
- Spicy Mixed Noodles – Served all separate in the bowl, mix before serving, it was a good time with some spicy kick.
- Hui Tou (Pork) – The Hui Tou dumplings are the reason to go to Hui Tou Xiang. Our party vastly preferred the pork over the beef this time. The pork grind was finer and the seasoning perfect. Just the right amount of juice and quite delicious. Highly recommended.
- Cucumber Salad – Cut up cucumber served with a little vinegar and not as much garlic as other places on our tour. Very tasty, though, and a vital veg component to a lot of starch and protein.
- Hui Tou (Beef) – Good but not as good as pork. The grind was a little hamburgery, and the seasoning not as fine or careful seeming as for the pork.
- Soup Dumplings (Xiao Long Bao) – Jonathan Gold apparently thought this place was a good Xiao Long Bao place before realizing their signature dish and the reason to go there was the Hui Tou dumplings. The Xiao Long Bao were good here. But come for the Pork Hui Tou.
Tasty Noodle House
827 W Las Tunas Dr, San Gabriel, CA 91776
We went to Tasty Noodle House for more Sheng Jian Bao and to try for a good scallion pancake.
Overall it was kind of disappointing, and not what we expected.
- Green Onion Pancake (#22) (Scallion pancake) – Oddly thin, and not much green onion. Tasted, oddly, of dill. Almost like a flour tortilla with sparse green onions, fried in oil. It was sort of charming on its own, but not a great scallion pancake, if that’s what it’s meant to be (they should be thicker, a little more chewy).
- Shanghai Grilled Pork Bun (#24) (Sheng Jian Bao) – We liked the wrapper – it was nice and fluffy. I don’t remember the filling being particularly juicy or compelling, but the wrapper was nice.
819 W Las Tunas Dr, San Gabriel, CA 91776
Only I got anything at the LaBobatory, and what I got was a boba-less featured menu ube-based milkshake, called the Purple DREAm. It was quite good, but no one else got anything. I think that though my traveling companions are completely in it for the Sichuanese and other regional Chinese foods, they are not really into the Cafe Life, which, to be honest, I am also too old for, but I find it fascinating all the same.
Seafood Palace (新避風塘)
684 W Garvey Ave, Monterey Park, CA 91754
For dinner, we headed back to an old favorite from last year, hoping for some magic.
As a side note, making a reservation here was kind of silly. At first they didn’t want to take our reservation (for 6), insisting that they only did reservations for parties of 8 or more. But when I mentioned my last name, “Gin”, they perked up. There may be a local celebrity by the name of Gin? As far as I know my extended family, “Gin”, is a big part of the Chinese diaspora but in general not a hugely successful family. But who knows?
We were generally satisfied, but it wasn’t quite as good as last year – we felt that the veg and noodle dishes didn’t have as much wok hei (a liveliness generally borne of good technique and super high cooking temperatures).
- The amuse bouche is peanuts with preserved vegetables. I didn’t try the peanuts (they can give me a heartburn) but I liked the preserved vegetables.
- House Special Crab (3 pounds) (#35) – Fried with a light batter and shell on with a spicy seasoning. Just as delicious as last year, I think.
- Stir-fried Seasonal Pea Vegetable (#118) – I tried a little of this and even though it did have the dark, bright, jade green color tone that usually helps indicate wok hei, it was a little flat. It was kind of flatly seasoned too, but it had loads of garlic.
- House Special Chiu Chow Style Chow Mein (#128) – Another dish somewhat lacking in wok hei, but still seasoned okay. It was mild and reassuring and filling.
- Clams with Black Bean Sauce (#54) – The clams were quite delicious, seasoned well, and quite delicious. one of the standout dishes for the meal.
- Crispy Salted Pig Foot (#94) – Another stand-out dish , the bone it was served with was covered in fried-crisp pork fat, meat and collagen. My fellow diners kept daring me to chew on it directly (so they could take amusing pictures) but I did eventually take it apart with my fingers. Well worth it. Very tasty indeed!
- Braised Duck Chiu Chow Style (#37) – Not our favorite dish of the meal but I found it well seasoned, mild, comforting, and I enjoyed the texture differences between the tofu skin and the duck. There were duck feet and neck pieces in the dish, too.
- Sweetened green bean dessert soup – Gratis, sweetened, and rich.
The Freezin Point
111 N Atlantic Blvd #244, Monterey Park, CA 91754
Another Cafe Life stop that Jen and I felt we could have tour guided better. As it was, this place was kind of disappointing for a Thai rolled ice cream parlor. It was my feeling that the mixes were a bit thin, and our other party members’ feelings that the parlor probably churned the no-egg ice cream mixes to a disappointing result for a “normal” scoop of ice cream. That said, the one party member who leaned into the rolled ice cream and customized a chocolate and nut flavor rolled ice cream seemed to enjoy it. I liked my pandan based featured rolled ice cream flavor, as did Jen, hers, but I felt the mix was a little less rich than I’ve had from Freezing Point Creamery in Oakland Chinatown before.
And that was the end of Saturday. Thanks for sticking with me!