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Macau Street Restaurant (Monterey Park CA)
||429 W. Garvey Avenue,|
Monterey Park, CA 91754
Reviewed by: Jacqueline M. Newman
Spring Volume: 2007 Issue: 14(1) page: 14 and 36
Macau Street Restaurant is a newer place we recently heard about. We found it well worth visiting for lunch or dinner, or both. The food served has Chinese-Portuguese-influences from its home turf, the island of Macau, which is near Hong Kong. Eating at this place did not require a ride on a hydrofoil as we once did, to taste the foods of Macao.
This eatery is just a few blocks from the Number 10 Freeway, and about fifteen to twenty-five minutes from downtown Los Angeles. The owners claim it is the only restaurant featuring Chinese-Portuguese cuisine. In our knowledge base, we concur that it probably is the only one in the entire United States.
The six-sided, bi-lingual, unusually long menu has pictures of foods for those unfamiliar with this cuisine. The front of it shows the remains of a grand cathedral built by Jesuits who fled to this island in the 16th century. That edifice is called Ruinas de San Paolo. On our first visit to Macao some twenty-six years ago, we saw it and the fort and do recall many enjoyable moments including those at the Posada (guest house) we stayed at. Then, the island was home to gambling occurring in many run-down casino emporia. We ignored them all after peering into several, and instead enjoyed top-flight food at other Posadas and at several Macanese-Chinese restaurants. We found most of them more Portuguese than Chinese, but with minor mixes of both.
Food, at this Macao Street in California, is just the opposite. Here, there are lots of Chinese-influenced casseroles, hot pots, a few nostalgic dishes, a healthy selection of sweet desserts, and oodles of dishes in-between. Rare is one with lots of influence from the Portuguese sea-faring folk who founded and settled this neighboring island. For example, there is no salt-cod nor saffron at this Macau Street eatery. What we found and devoured was subtle Portuguese-Macanese food to delight in. The String Bean with Minced Meat and Pickled Olive, the Fish Clay Pot, a Boiled Shrimp in Spicy Soup, and others brought to mind foods we fondly remember enjoying back then.
The mostly Macanese-Chinese menu items include many wine-pot casseroles and hot pot dishes to drool over. They come with chicken, frog, fish, and other protein foods, and all are worthy of their heritage. The six Macau BBQ starters were great, too. They include lamb, chicken heart, chicken knee, pig intestine, squid, and escargot (yes, their menu did use this French term, and no one seemed to know why). Each of these starters come on three skewers slathered with sweet sauce and a few sprinkled sesame seeds. Every one of these trios sit on a rectangular plate. Every one we tasted was yummy.
The complete menu has nearly two hundred offerings including those clay-pot/casseroles and other tabletop items. One, on a table-top addition to the menu that is sitting on our table is Sauteed Kilk Country Style. It is not to be missed. Everyone at our table, including the fussy eaters and those with hang-ups had seconds and thirds. Known to many as 'fried milk' we think they were put off by the name but after a tiny taste managed to dig in. They were turned on by texture and taste. Studded within are small shrimp, slivers of asparagus, and Yunnan-type-ham tidbits. The universal response was 'this is an ethereal dish.'
Everyone also loved the House Special Crab even though there was but one cracking device for four to share on our first trip, seven on the second visit. Waiting for a turn may have elevated salivary glands as it did destroy some patience. Requesting another was always greeted with 'certainly' but a second one certainly never made it to our table.
Beef Stew in Soup, a clay pot listing, arrives boiling, spitting, and loaded with ground black pepper, pieces of fresh radish, Chinese celery, and preserved vegetables. Those familiar with this type of casserole are in heaven, others are put off by the huge amount of its Piper nigrum. We are in the camp of those who believe it could not be better and do not bristle by all the bits of black within.
The many vegetable selections are delightful, including the Broccoli in Oyster Sauce. Some are surprised that it comes with a side of the sauce, none cooked within. Jelly Fish with Ginger and Green Onions, Spinach with Bean Curd Sheet, an order of Eggplant with Diced Chicken and Salted Fish, and the Steamed Silverfish with Preserved Meat all show how the foods of the two cuisines do marry in subtle ways.
White Nut and Mashed Taro, Mango with Coconut and Milk, Peanut and Coconut Mochi, and other sweets show Portuguese dessert influences mixed with Japanese touches. Why? Because Japanese immigrants built the Jesuit cathedral whose facade graces the menu and this page. Chinese influences are found in all cooking techniques such as in the Hasma with Lotus Seeds and Red Dates, the White Fungi with Papaya and Almonds, and the Steamed Egg with Milk desserts.
This terrific two-room eatery gets thumbs up from everyone joining us on our two visits. All agree, the place is affordable, the food delicious, and a place with a kitchen loaded with talent. They also agree that they want this Macau Street moved to a street in their neighborhood.