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On Menus: In California

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Chinese Food in the USA

Winter Volume: 2003 Issue: 10(4) page(s): 22 and 38

Southern California has more than its share of sought after Chinese eateries. Some are known for their dim sum, others for their dinners, and still others for their banquet meals. Very few do a great job on all three of these, but only if they have three different sets of chefs, each a master at a specific one of them.

For a fine Chinese meal and very good dim sum, also a place for very special occasions, many flock to one royal eatery called EMPRESS HARBOR SEAFOOD RESTAURANT at 111 N. Atlantic Boulevard #350; Monterey Park CA; phone: (626) 300-8833. This royal restaurant is not new, but it certainly is nifty. It needs to be to garner a large clientele because there are three sophisticated places atop the escalator in the Atlantic Place Shopping Center where it is located. They have a newer sister place, called SEA EMPRESS SEAFOOD RESTAURANT in the Pacific Square Center at 1636 West Redondo Beach Boulevard; Gardena, CA.

The first one, a long time favorite, services residents of the first Asian-majority city on the mainland of the USA, namely Monterey Park. It and all the Chinese eateries in this city feed other Asian and non-Asian folk from there and from nearby cities and towns. Actually, this particular one attracts mostly a Chinese clientele along with a smattering of Japanese and others, enough that their menu is tri-lingual (English, Chinese, and Japanese). There are staff who speak all three, and others who know enough other Asian languages to make everyone feel at home in their Atlantic or the Pacific shopping centers.

In both, they boast and hang well-deserved awards and newspaper clippings. Either pleases well-known folk and others not yet known, no matter their ethnicity. We try to make a stop at the first one on every trip to the Los Angeles area, and have yet to get to Gardena. But others report it well worth the visit.

While we do not come for the Fried Boneless Quail any more as these days they are too dry, we always delight in the Braised Sea Cucumber with Shrimp Eggs and the Clay Pot of Goose Webs with Fish Maw. On a recent visit, we try one of their lowest priced main courses, the Rock Cod in Crab Meat Sauce; it brings smiles and satisfaction. So do the Pork Chops a la Peking. They are as good as we remembered as are the Pork Chops with Garlic and Chili; both enjoyed last time.

We can still taste this Hong Kong Cantonese-style restaurant’s Sizzling Scallops and Prawns in Black Bean Sauce. That claypot delight equals their Sizzling Filet of Beef in Black Pepper Sauce. Friends tell us they always order the Buddhist Style Vegetarian Stew with Bamboo Pith Topping. In the veggies category, we often indulge in their delicious Black Mushroom with Tender Greens dish, and we find it hard to resist ordering their hand-pulled E-Fu Noodles.

Dim Sum items have recently been reduced in both price and number of offerings. Some of those remaining need mentioning. Among the forty or so available on week-days, we love the Mixed Ox Stew, the Bird’s Nest Dumpling in Soup, the Special Shrimp Har Gow, and their Shark’s Fin Dumplings. On week-ends, the selection increases, for those lucky enough to get their early and indulge in them. This special seafood eatery has many good main dish choices swimming and available. They are always prepared well and always worth stopping by to enjoy.

In a small strip mall a lot farther south, set back from the highway is a quiet, comfortable, and affordable Chinese restaurant whose name is the same as China’s famous beer, Qingdao, but spelled an older way. In one of the Palm's and there is Springs, Desert, or what was once called Palm Village, at the end of World War II it had only six houses along Highway 111 and one on them belonged to Edgar Bergen and his beloved Charlie McCarthy. There was no restaurant, Chinese or otherwise, but not this area has grown and Palm Desert has more than seventy-three thousand residents, as of last year, and a Chnese one we enjoyed.

TSING TAO CHINESE RESTAURANT at 74-040 Highway 111, Suite E; Palm Desert CA; phone: (7600 779-9593 is its twelve-year-old eatery. Their Seafood Delight in Hot Pot is a winner even when the outside temperature sits at more that a hundred degrees. A melange of scallops, lobster, shrimp, and vegetables in a bubbly light sauce, we pronounce it absolutely wonderful! The Sizzling Beef and Scallops and the Steamed Sea Bass Fish are items we adore, as well.

The Abalone with Vegetables is pricey, it rings in at $45.95. There are two other not quite as expensive items, the Shark’s Fin Soup, and the Peking Duck. The rest of the menu’s main course dishes are less than ten dollars a piece. One, simply called String Beans, is so yummy that the kids at our table ask for seconds; and at its price, it is hard to say no.

They also devour the Szechuan Pork and claim the sauce ‘just delightful’ and say it is redolent of vinegar, lemon juice, soy sauce, and a touch of brown bean sauce. They need to fight off the adults who fall in love with it, too. The kids whoof the Chicken Lo Mein down so quickly that no adult has a taste. But we beat them to the Broccoli Chicken and the Moo Goo Gai Pan, and are glad we do.

If you travel on Highway 111, the above-mentioned dishes along with many others are what this eatery calls their ‘Innovative Chinese Cuisine.’ They are well worth stopping in for. A reservation can be in order on week-ends. And yes, they do serve Tsing Tao beer and other beverages, too.

Our reporters plan to suggest other fine eateries in this state. If you have a special spot that deserves attention, do let us know, and soon. There have been many requests that we turn our attention to the west coast and specifically to California and we plan to do so in the upcoming year. Help direct our eating out there.

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