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Mission 261 (San Gabriel CA)
||261 South Mission drive,|
San Gabriel, CA
Reviewed by: Jacqueline M. Newman
Summer Volume: 2004 Issue: 11(2) page: 24 and 25
MISSION 261 at 261 Siuth Mission drive is a main reason for our western trip. Jonathan Gold, on the web, called it "the most ambitious Chinese restaurant ever to open" in the United States; so we had to check it out. Huge it was, but you would only know that if you read their occupancy card. It is very posh, gorgeous outside and in, the building remodeled had once been the San Gabriel City Hall (about a hundred years ago). Inside there is one huge banquet hall, but nicer are the many smaller eating areas and rooms scattered about. This place seems different from most Chinese restaurants, and that was a goal of the owners and architects. It is quiet, has spotless bathrooms, and an ultra fancy menu with prices to match. It also has caring management and what we hoped would be a better wait staff.
This Mission mansion exudes quiet luxury. We think many go there for that and to see and be seen. You do not need to indulge in its $1,200 banquet for ten, or as Gold says, even eat for a third of that loot. Of course, you will not have their sucking pig which is a house speciality. A few other classy items will also elude you. But should you go for other foods, some luxury from dim sum to dinner, to dining at a banquet; why not?
On week-ends the menu says dim sum begins at nine in the morning. On the Saturday we went, we ambled in nearer eleven and they were hardly ready for us. That boggles the mind because we did have a reservation. We needed to because we were a party of thirteen. The dim sum menu is as gorgeous as the surroundings, almost every item photographed on a lovely plate, except the congees, pancakes, and rice and noodle dishes. Only a few of them are previewed there for you.
There are no easy-to-find dim sum prices. Just a S, M, L, or K in parentheses, prices are elsewhere; and that seems typical in many Los Angeles suburban Chinese restaurants. If our ordering was typical, after a tea charge of a buck a bloke, eating here sets you back about fifteen dollars each, with tax, not tip. That gets everyone at the table two to three dishes each, to share or hoard.
Dinner cost twice that, and more. There is a banquet with tax and tip for three times that price. Its ten items include a whole Barbecued Chicken, and a Steamed Fresh Live Sea Fish, three items most places serve for dim sum, and five other dishes, one of which is a dessert. Their eight-eighty-eight-dollar banquet menu and food maybe the way to go if you are rich and famous. Those folk can splurge on hundred-dollar-plus meals; and several were spotted eating there.
Dinner dishes show more care than some of the dim sum, but many do not have more taste; one even needed salt. The Barbecued Duckling at dim sum was gorgeous and glossy, the taste less lovely, though not bad, assume it was similar at dinner. We spent seven dollars for it early in the day. The XO Congee with Lean Pork and Preserved Egg and the Sliced Fish Congee we have with it is very good. The XO Spare Ribs, as they appear on the bill, were a waiter-offering not listed on the menu. They are a bargain at half the duck price, and we did have a hard time locating or tasting the XO sauce.
We usually avoid commenting on price, but in this review we do so because so may things are so pricey; they are also uneven in quality and taste. As an example, the jelly fish served at dim sum was more jellyfish cheek, a thicker and less expensive kind. At dinner, a dish of jelly fish at the next table seemed made from a better quality ingredient. Eating alone at that meal, we did not order it. The squid, early the day before, was truly great. It even has a reasonable price.
Overall, food at this sprawling adobe complex can best be summed up as it was by a fellow diner emigrate from New Jersey. This young fellow called the food ordinary, the service mediocre, the Pu Er tea we ordered just OK as it was maybe two years old, and disgraceful that we needed to request more hot water almost every ten minutes as there were only two teapots on the table. He also called the price outrageous. His dad recommended we try NBC and was surprised that we were unaware of that place which he called ‘a golden oldie.’ We had been told about it by a Chinese publisher a year earlier. They had also recommended Amrose Restaurant in San Gabriel. Our brain must have been on hold or we secretly wanted cause to come west again soon. Anyway, we headed to NBC the very next morning.