Someone mentioned Dumpling 10053, which had two things going for it: an odd name and fish dumplings. That's all it took to get me there this afternoon for lunch.
Here's what I had: Pickled Cabbage, Bean Curd Sheets with Salted Vegetable, Pork Fried Dumplings, Sole Fish with Leeks Boiled Dumplings, and Home Made Sweet Plum Juice.
The pickled cabbage was interesting and pretty good. It was not wilted like kim chee. It was a chunk of fresh cabbage lightly pickled with two or three kinds of peppercorns and some bits of red bell pepper. The real action wasn't the cabbage as such, so much as the interaction between the peppercorns and the pickling brine. It cleaned the palate anyway.
The bean curd sheets with salted vegetables were more interesting. I hadn't been familiar with bean curd sheets. They're like very thin pasta sheets, maybe an inch square. The vegetables were of several different kinds, all green, all hard for me to identify, salted just enough to be interesting but not enough to be aggressively salty. The bean-curd sheets mixed in with the vegetables gave the dish a nice pasta-ish chewiness along with its vegetabliness.
The pork fried dumplings were something of a disappointment. They were lightly fried, which was good, but the filling was scant and the wrapping was thin. They were good for the light oily scald that they administered to the tongue, but they weren't even on the same fried dumpling Richter scale as the fried dumplings at Yang Chow.
Boiled fish dumplings are an acquired taste, not because they are weird and extreme, but to the contrary because they are very subtle. You can put a boiled fish dumpling in your mouth and have it swallowed and gone before you know it. It's like it liquifies before you can wake up and start to taste it. The key is to slow the process and find the delicate fish flavor. I'll admit that I scarfed most of my dumplings before I got myself properly slowed down. I was then able to determine that these particular fish dumplings were pretty good but maybe not quite to the standard of Dumpling House in Temple City.
One thing that was unusually interesting at Dumpling 10053 was the chili sauce. Lots of Chinese places have a jar of oil with crushed chilis in it on your table. Here, though, the jar was much larger than usual and the chilis seemed like they comprised a couple of different types, the way you might mix negro and colorado chilis in making salsa. The effect was not so much a chili flame-thrower, but a darker sort of taste.
I'm afraid I didn't like the plum juice at all. It may simply be too foreign a flavor for me. All Chinese plum juice has a (to my taste) peculiar edge to it that I liken to tobacco leaves, but the plum juice at Dumpling 10053 was especially harsh in this regard. For all I know, people who come from the Dumpling 10053 owners' district in China think that this is the best plum juice in the world. I have no idea.
The restaurant itself is very pleasant, either new or newly remodeled (their business card says "since 1979" so I'm guessing the latter), with a very comfortable, open vibe. The people are pleasant if reserved and speak a little English. The location is a little unusual. It's at 10053 Valley Blvd #2 in El Monte (phone (626) 350-0188), on the same Valley Blvd as many of the other Chinese places listed here but a few miles further east in what's more of a Mexican area than Chinese (and more industrial than residential). There's a mildly interesting Mexican-oriented shopping district another half-mile east, running parallel to Valley Blvd just to the south of it.
So, bottom line, I had a pretty good meal at Dumpling 10053 -- not first-rank, but it was altogether positive enough that I'm happy to give it another try if I hear more sympathetic evaluations from others.
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