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On Menus in Los Angeles

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Chinese Food in the USA

Summer Volume: 2007 Issue: 14(2) page(s): 25 and 31

Some say that two major cities and their environs, Los Angeles and San Francisco, vie for the title of top Chinese food city outside of Asia. Others declare it a toss up. With each visit to California, we change our vote because they surely vie for a tie. Good places in them get better, new great spots appear, older ones improve, and still others disappear, as they should.

On a recent visit to Los Angeles, the previous issue of this magazine reported on two places, one a winner, the other a sister of a great place that turned out to be an unexpected disappointment. They were among the many eateries we dined at in Monterey Park, San Gabriel, Rosemead, Arcadia, El Monte, and surrounding communities. Quite a few are worthy of attention, but where to begin?

A look at half of the very good ones could fill all forty pages in this or any issue. That would short change those living or visiting elsewhere, those wanting to know the background of many Chinese foods, others wanting to know about great books about Chinese food, and other things this magazine deals with. Therefore, we select two other fine places that tickled our collective palates. Using not-to-creative verbiage, we might call this expounding about a pair of California restaurants. To do so, we suggest you see them individually for illustrative material. They are below:

888 SEAFOOD RESTAURANT at 8450 Valley Boulevard, Rosemead; phone (626) 573-1888 has dim sum carts on patrol and management supervising them and everything else. One captain saw us writing and heard us discussing their food. Almost immediately, general manager Mr. Lee was at our table asking if everything was as it should be. Noting professional interests, he took our chef-companion and this editor into the kitchen to see how they do things. It was an impressive unannounced visit to the 'back of the house' facility. We found it huge, spotless, well-organized, and filled with people pleased to be making good food. They did appreciate our interest.

Known for their Hong-Kong and Chiu Chow style dim sum and delicious desserts, this not-new but surely nifty eatery seats nearly eight hundred; and it seems to please almost every one of them. At that day's dim sum delight, and another day at dinner, we did see this busy restaurant at work. We saw folks at two tables for ten devouring separate banquet dinners. It is during the week, and we are told by a Los Angeles restaurant reviewer that on week-ends we need to plan to wait for a table for more than half an hour. It was a week-day and we did not have that experience.

A bowl of their Shark's Fin Soup is tasty and classic. So is the dim sum shark's fin soup dumpling in superior stock. It even comes in its own small crock. The dough in this, and all other dumplings is tender and tasty. The dumpling itself is chock-full of sea food, vegetables, and a goodly amount of shark's fin needles. It is not on a circulating cart that day, though we are told sometimes it is. Nonetheless, it is one of our favorite foods there, and we are glad to delight in consuming it.

Mr. Lee tells us that 888 has been making good food for thirteen plus years. He also expounds on his exceptionally well-trained staff, a staff he personally oversees. Another source of pride is that 888 is on many folk's 'must go often' list. He also boasts it is often reported as one of Los Angeles 'Top 10 Best.' Rosemead is east of the towns of Monterey Park and San Gabriel in The Valley and we are glad we finally had time to drive in that direction.

We now see why this football field-size elegant eatery is popular. The waiters are nicely-vested and helpful, the food they bring out prepared with care. A simple congee, for example, the one made with 'thousand-year-eggs' buried for about one hundred days, is wonderful and creamy. The home-made soft tofu is silken and super. It is wonderfully warm in its large English- and Chinese-labeled rice-cooker container. These and other dishes make dim sum meals loaded with good beginnings, great middle's. and excellent endings. Kids of all ages love the lovely-looking orange gelatin in actual orange skins. These visuals are views on 888's attention to food looking fine and tasting fantastic.

The regular menu has a healthy assortment of Chiu-chow dishes, a page with oodles of shark's fin features, and other pages with typical, usual, and unusual Hong Kong-style Cantonese sea food, meat, poultry, and vegetable dishes. Our group tries quite a few and are pleased with every one of them. The three soups we taste are terrific. The casserole with eggplant fired-over and filled with caramelized flavors is a winner, and another casserole with fish is simply phenomenal. Here, taro dishes are soft and savory, and every dish we order arrives wanting to be devoured.

Mr. Lee tells us that Henry Wong is the owner and he partners with family. Mr. Lee himself has been there close to thirteen years and he seriously trains staff, and it shows. His job is a big one as 888 employs about one hundred and thirty folk. He, Lee, has lots of varied training himself. His restaurant experience includes stints in Hanoi and Los Angeles.

Our super dinner and the delicious dim sum savored here allow experiencing fine foods made by chefs from China, Hong Kong, and Vietnam. Yes, 888 is a lucky number for the Chinese; this one is a winning place for its customers. It is an eatery in Los Angeles that reinforces a need to return. It is a restaurant that John Kirch touts in Wonton Lust (reviewed in this magazine's Volume 5 as Kirch's: My Search for the World's Best Chinese Restaurant.

CAPITAL SEAFOOD CHINESE RESTAURANT at 755 W. Garvey Avenue in Monterey CA 91754, phone: (626) 282-3318 is popular at lunch and dinner, and for weddings and other banquet events. The bowl of shark's fin soup on the menu cover shows this is an upscale place. This past October it was the banquet destination for the Top 100 Chinese Restaurant Awards Dinner.

Owned by folks who also own the Capital Garden Grove in Rowland Heights, Capital Las Vegas in Nevada, Kim Tar in Monterey Park, and other restaurants in this Capital Group┬ĘCeven a Vietnamese one in Vegas, the owners and their chefs have lots of know-how in the restaurant business. The place exudes expertise from their six restaurants. Were they not enough, we learn there is a seventh on the horizon, location and name not revealed.

The banquet menu of the awards evening, shown with the restaurant reviews, is wonderful. Several dishes, even by winning chef standards, will be remembered by all. We still visualize and taste the Deep-Fried and Stir-Fried Geoduck with Green. Wonder if consumers know this huge-long-necked clam can live to be one hundred and fifty years old? Also wonder how old the fins are in the Braised Shark Fin Soup? They are so tender and thin, they have to be only a handful of years young. The crabmeat in its soup is fat and fancy.

The Stuffed Roasted Duck 'Teo-Chow-Style' was so outstanding, nay, it is the most phenomenal dish of the evening. Most of the talented and tough audience know it is prepared four different ways. But the folks at our table do not have a clue. No matter, everyone knows it is super, sumptuous, and very, very special.

This restaurant, almost hidden in an L-shaped corner strip mall, is in a very popular location, virtually in the bend, and surrounded by a great newspaper/book store. it is a few doors from a fantastic Ranch 99 supermarket, across the street both ways are two of the best Chinese bookstores we know of. One is called SUP Bookstore, the other, Evergreen Books. At this Capital eatery, one can eat great dishes then cross the street to seek recipes that illuminate their contents providing direction for trying them at home.

This particular Capital Seafood opened near the end of 2005. Not really new but quite nifty, when more than three years old, it will be eligible to apply to join the Top 100 crowd, and it should. Eric Souka and his front of and back of the house staff are comfortable with their service and culinary talents. They have no trouble feeding the Top 100 chefs in attendance. One person there says "of course not because their 'Pearl,' 'Diamond,' and 'Sweetheart' wedding banquet menus one sees they are super and gets a clue they do great things."

That evening, close to forty tables are occupied by more than fifty Top 100 US chefs, each with their entourages. Also in attendance are the S-B-S staff (the award givers), press, politicians, and other guests. A great meal is had by all. Many of the attendees say they plan to return, as does this editor. They should, to have yet another capital experience.

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