Bang for your Burger Buck – Uncle John’s DTLA

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Because Burgers and Rice are as American as apple pie.

There is something about the Asian American Sensibility that sits so perfectly well with Bang for your Burger Buck. Their reputation for hard work and business savvy came after a long road paved by manual labor and unjust exclusion from mainstream society. Being a child of immigrants from a Third world country, I would occasionally get the “remember where you came from” speech and as a result, some lessons from the old country prevail. Lucky for you, value is one of them, and that pretty much sums up Uncle John’s to a T.

A standard visit to Uncle John’s is incomplete without trying the Spicy Fried Pork Chops and Eggs. Chinese food for breakfast? No Brainer. Add eggs? That pretty much sums up the culinary trend of the last 10 years. Just remember to get fried rice on the side. Avoid the tubers, as they just are not up to snuff. Besides you really are missing the point: rice is the starch of choice for the Asian continent, and when in Rome . . . .

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Chinese New Year Chinatown ~ Photos by Jorge Gonzalez

Chun Qiu Dao

The next time you are in Chinatown for the Chinese New Year Make sure you stay into the night.  That is when all the colorful and interesting things happen.  Not only will you find great food but some very interesting characters.  Don’t forget to stop by the Art district along Chung King Road.  Below are some of the shots for Chinese new year 2013.

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Xinjiang Skewers and More ~ 818 JN Kitchen ~ San Gabriel Valley


818 JN Kitchen ~ 818 E. Valley Blvd.  San Gabriel, CA 91776 ~ (626) 307-5128

In northwest China, there is a region known as Xinjiang and although lamb is rarely eaten in other parts of China, Xinjiang is known for its barbecue lamb or mutton. In fact, the Mongolian tribes who inhabited these areas were the ones who introduced lamb to the rest of China. Due to its geographical location, the food of north western China has been influenced by both Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine, which can be seen in the use of cumin in their cooking.

One of the most popular ways to prepare and eat the lamb or mutton is cut them in chunks, do a dry cumin/chili pepper spice rub on them, pierce with wooden skewers and then grill on a coal-fired barbecue. Considering how compact these skewers are, they have become a popular street-food staple in Beijing and now can be found in the city of San Gabriel.

Open for more than a year, 818 JN Kitchen is tiny. Their dining room can probably only fit 14 to 16 people at one time and part of the kitchen where all the grilling happens is the size of a phone booth. What it lacks in size, 818 makes up for in a variety of tasty skewers and other foods that will definitely not break the bank. In fact, most of the menu items were priced at $6.99 or lower with skewers that range from $1.20 to $5.00 a piece. This is recession dining at its best. After my group settled down and checked the menu, we placed our skewer orders and decided to share some other dishes as well.


The first to arrive was the Special Home Guoba Soup. It was the least popular dish of the table. The soup seemed more like a gravy than broth and no one knew what to make of the torn pieces of what seemed like crepes that filled the bowl. I was pretty ambivalent about it myself. I didn’t dislike it, but I was fine with just having a small sampling before moving on to the next dish.


A plate of Oil Pancakes soon arrived. Another thing that Northern Chinese cuisine is known for is their breads, which is why this made it to our table. Unfortunately, I would have been fine without it. It was very dense and dry. Perhaps, this oil pancake wasn’t meant to be eaten alone, but torn in pieces and dipped in a stew or hot pot? Whatever the case may be, the oil pancakes were disappointing.


The next two dishes turned everything around. First, there was the Beef Pancake, which was a Pac-Man looking sandwich and one definitely worth chasing and devouring. Basically, you had something like a roast beef with cilantro and green onions between a toasted sesame bread. One is a snack, but two or three of them could be dinner. What are sliders again?


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CROM ~ Mountain Bar ~ Chinatown

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CROM Live @ Mountain Bar ~ Chinatown

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Walking a Delicious Road to Pa Pa Walk ~ SGV

Has it ever happened to you that while you’re reading through a restaurant review that sometimes one dish will stand out to the point that the only reason you want to visit that restaurant is just to try that one dish? That’s exactly what happened to me while reading Kevin Cheung’s blog, 50 Meals, about his visit to Pa Pa Walk, a restaurant that specializes in Taiwanese street food. Click here to read that review.

According to Kevin, the words “Pa Pa” means “all over town” in Taiwanese. Taking that further, “Pa Pa Walk” means to “get out around town.” Given the definition of the restaurant’s name, it seems fitting that they serve food that you might normally order from a stall or cart on the streets of Taiwan, which means that food portions are more similar to tapas.

So what dish caught my interest? On the menu, it’s referred to simply as “Cream Soup in Fried Toast”, but when placed in front of you, it’s reminiscent of clam chowder bread bowls. Kevin further translated that the name in Chinese sounds just like “coffin cover”. Fellow blogger, Wandering Chopsticks, also was so entranced by Kevin’s post that she paid a visit herself to try this dish and with further research learned that this soup/bread dish is referred to as coffin bread in Taiwan. In her words, “[it] hails from Tainan, the oldest city in Taiwan and the capital from 1663 to 1885. It was so named because of its coffin-like appearance.” In my own research, I came upon the Primitive Culture blog, where the blogger wrote briefly about his experience with “coffin bread” in Taiwan with a brief mention from his dining companion about a possible American naval connection to this dish.


Basically, “coffin bread” is what first got me in the door of Pa Pa Walk, but what brought me back for a second visit was how good the food was in general. For my first visit, a friend and I shared 6 savory dishes, including the “coffin bread” and 1 dessert. The first three items that hit our table included the smoked duck, the bbq pork fried rice and the grilled Taiwanese sausage. The fried rice was good, if nothing special. I enjoyed both the duck with its crispy skin and the slight sweetness of the sausages, which when eaten with a piece of raw garlic, had a great savory component to them.
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“Xia Long Bao Crawl” ~ San Gabriel Valley

As you’re reading the title of this blog entry, you may be wondering exactly what is an “xia long bao” or XLB for short. While no expert, this is what I came up with in my initial research about this tasty dumpling treat.

To start, xiao long bao (literally “little basket bun”; also known as a soup dumpling) is a type of baozi (filled bun or bread-like item) from the Southern provinces of China, including Shanghai and Wuxi. Xia Long Baos are traditionally steamed in bamboo baskets, hence the name.

It can be filled with hot soup and meat and/or vegetarian fillings, as well as other possibilities. The fillings are wrapped in something like a jiaozi wrapper that turns almost translucent after being steamed. Also referred to as Shanghai steamed buns or juicy dumplings, they can be recognized by their unique design, as the filled wrapper is gathered up into fine folds at the top, prior to steaming.

One way to eat your XLB generally involves pouring Chinese black vinegar into the small saucer which contains ginger that usually arrives with your order. Gently dip the dumpling into the vinegar and than deposit onto a Chinese soup spoon. Take a bite out of the skin and sip the soup out. Then you can drizzle some vinegar on top along with the ginger and then enjoy the rest of the dumpling. Of course, there are may be other ways to eat XLBs, but in the end, just find the way that works best for you, keeping in mind that the soup coming out of the dumpling may be quite hot.

Those of you familiar with the San Gabriel Valley know that we are blessed with some of the best and authentic Chinese dining outside of China itself. What’s even more exciting is that there is quite a of variety of regional Chinese cooking styles reflected in the restaurants in the area, which is why I actually had to narrow my choices down to just 4 for the “Xia Long Bao” crawl that I set up for my dining group. Of the 4, I’ve already visited three on separate occasions, but this time I wanted to have more of a “side by side” comparison. The crawl started in a shopping plaza in the city of San Gabriel because there were literally three Shanghai restaurants right next to each other that served XLBs.

Our first stop was Mei Long Village where our group of 8 sat down and ordered an order each of their Crab and Pork XLBs and their Pork XLBs. When asked if we wanted anything else, I simply said No and believe me, we got some very puzzled looks from the wait staff during our short time there. Those puzzled looks basically followed us into the next two restaurants as well.


Soon both sets of XLBs arrive. By the way, as you’re looking at my photos, you may notice that I add black vinegar to my Chinese Spoon before adding the XLB. My personal preference is to sip the soup along with the vinegar. Anyway, back to the soup dumplings. First, I want to comment on the dumpling wrapper, which while not as thin as the ones at the famed Din Tai Fung or as thick as the ones at J&J, which we’ll be visiting later on, it still retained some delicate characteristics. It was a happy medium. As for the soup inside, it had a good amount, but while the pork filling was seasoned well, the crab/pork filling actually was literally a little hard and the crab flavors were not shining through, but for the most part, the soup dumplings at Mei Long Village were a good start for our crawl.


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Macau Street ~ Monterey Park

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Macau Street ~ 429 W. Garvey St. Monterey Park, CA 91754 ~ (626) 288-3568

The night before Ali “Wrath of” Khan and I hit Macau Street for one of the most epic cheap meals of my life, I ate at Golden City, a Chinese restaurant in downtown. At the time, it was pretty goddamn good, but by the time I left Monterey Park’s Macau, it had been reduced to mere shite in my burning eyes.

For anyone who doesn’t know Monterey Park, it’s spit-roasted by Alhambra on top, Montebello on the ass, and is more Chinese than Gin Ling Way, Grant Ave. and Hester St. combined. But it’s not shitty plastic ninja swords, tin dragons, and paper fans, it’s a nice suburban neighborhood of clean streets where families enter a Bank of America busting Mandarin characters on its sign and there stand legions of dynamite Chinese eateries like a Sino-Pico Blvd.

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Macau, on the other hand, is one peninsula and two islands off of Southern China, ruled by the Portugese until 1999. I have a friend who is a major player from Vegas, familiar with just about every shade of sketchballl on the planet, who spent some time working in Macau’s gaming industry and said it was the sleaziest place he’d ever witnessed ( the Girls Gone Wild dude being the sleaziest person he’s ever met). It is literally overrun with pirates, hustlers, pimps, Triads, sheists, shylocks, and hired-muscle vying for pieces, according to him. China’s various parts have many different styles of cuisine and though Macau Street is light on Portugese influence, it still has unique dishes cooked in a one-of-a-kind way.

On to the feast! “King” Khan and I are big fellas with voracious appetites, no less when properly gassed-up on a drive from some Thai Town safehouse. The restaurant wasn’t too crowded on a Sunday, with a couple of families chilling in this clean, spacious, tasteful spot. We ordered up about four big dishes in our starved state, more food than a person should ever need, which all came in at about $20 each. The first dish to hit table was calamari.

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Empress Pavilion ~ Chinatown

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Empress Pavilion ~ Bamboo Plaza ~ 988 N. Hill St. @ Bernard St.

Los Angeles, CA 90012

On the second floor of a mini-mall at the crown of Chinatown, classic, authentic Cantonese cooking is done solidly at Empress Pavilion, and for decades long it has served as a popular banquet-hall for award-winning dim sum and seasonal specials. It’s easy to say the food at Empress is perfect, every bite confirms the suspicion that nothing is done too wildly, but with just the right amount of respect, skill and taste.

Empress boasts a gi-normous menu of Chinese eats. Cantonese style eats hail from Guangdong Province in South-East China where Hong Kong is located. Cantonese is the style we most commonly think of when we eat Chinese, where the food is pretty mild and “any animal whose back faces the sun can be eaten,” as they say.

Steamed Dungeness on Garlic Noodles
Empress was empty when we stormed through, leaving an echo in the giant chamber of round, white-draped tables. Strong hot tea was poured, its herbal essences strong to the point of overppowering as the pot came closer to empty.

Spring rolls ($5 for 4) arrived with very thin, crisp skin giving way to a juicy intermingling of supple chicken and and firm, savory mushrooms. Soon, our dishes were dropped off one by one. First, a “spicy” shredded pork, dark from a sauce swimming in chilis and shallots, was divine, though not spicy. The juicy pork is cut into thin strands or coils almost, with sweet flavor…(Continued Below…)
Mushroom/Chicken Spring RollsKung-Pao Chicken, Shrimps Scallops and Chicken in garlic chili & Spicy Shredded Pork

Empress DoorsEmpress OrnamentEmpress to goPrepared DungenessEmpress BanquetDungeness on flat noodlesEntrance EmpressEmpress Menu

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