So, it was new years. Although I had eaten some Chinese food at Hu's, including the chashour wontons, I felt I wanted something more newyearsy - so decided to catch dinner in Monterey Park before going to LACMA for the von Stroheim retrospective.
Finally went to MaLan. It's on Garfield in the same complex as the former Hua's garden, the present YunGui restaurant. MaLan is a local franchise of a Beijing based noodle chain. Kinda like Sbarros. The comparison ends there.
MaLan Lamian (pulled noodles) is more like a pizza parlor than a trad Chinese restaurant. You walk in and there is no decor or ambience to speak of. The menu is very limited. But it's pretty great. There is a display of the eight or so kinds of noodles you can get. Thinnest is like an angel hair, the twice that thickness (xi), then the one I look- double the last (er xi), then there is a thicken noodle, a triangular long noodle whose Chinese name implies buckwheat flour (I was assured there was no buckewheat in it, it's just the name of that kind of noodle), then the wide flat tagliatelle-looking noodles, which come in three widths and thicknesses.
You have a choice of about 6 broths for your noodles. There are also three kinds of dried noodles including the (thanks, finally) a non-Korean style zhajiang sauce noodle. OK, the Korean one is fine, but it's nice to have the option. They all come in small and large sizes (large size suitable for sharing).
They had a special of Uyghur style spicy chicken with flat noodles. The friend with whom I ate is a big fan of Central Asia, having worked on the Nomad show years back at the Museum of Natural History, the Tuva project etc. So she ordered that. I ordered the beef noodles, erxi thickness (third thinnest). I didn't know how long this was going to take, so we ordered four cold dishes - salted peanuts with tiny crispy anchovies, a not-very salty seaweed salad, the spicy marinated cucumbers, and the five-spiced beef (wuxiang niurou).
Getting ready to eat, we chat, have some tea, and then the show started. As in the pizza parlor analogy, a guy comes with dough and starts pounding and punching it, making holes in it. Collects it up, rolls it by hand and punches again. Then the noodle making starts and he tosses it and slams it onto the wooden board. This is where the image of the pizza parlor came. He works and twists and slams for about 4 or 5 minutes and then he's done - light applause from the about 12 of us in the place. So back to the food.
In less than five minutes, the food arrives. The chicken is spicy, we had asked them to tone it down (dining companion doesn't handle heat that well) but it was still plenty hot. The idea of completely dry noodles is strange at MaLan so they bring a big ol' bowl of broth to accompany the Uyghur chicken with the flat noodles, which were good, chewy, resistant to the teeth (that's the right texture for these) and rough enough to absorb the sauce. There were whole cloves of garlic in the dish that had been sauteed - a brown crust on them. As for my noodles, I was transported, much more than my companion. These were fantastic, fresh, for you Italophiles al dente with a few slices of beef, fewer of cooked daikon and a wonderfully pleasant not over-herbed broth.
If you love Cantonese food, dimsum, steamed rice, and the more delicate the better, this place is not for you. This is northern food, hearty, wheaten and the flavors, while not as strong as say Sichuan cuisine, are pretty direct. I'm definitely going back. We finished (i.e. I finished) the beef noodle with soup, ate about 1/2 the uyghur style Chicken with broad noodles, and took away most of the cold dishes. It was about $30 inclucing tax and a generous new year tip. And enough food for four. Easily.
Now for the Giang-nan. No dessert at MaLanLaMian. And that morning mr. Chu had been on Evan Kleiman's good food show, touting Tangyuan, or Yuanxiao, the glutinous dumplings filled with sweet paste and served in a sweet water (not really even a soup). He had recommended JinJiang and King's Palace in San Gabriel. I'm sure MeiLong Village and Merrylin and J.Z. also do a decent job (this is a huaiyang dish). But I'd read here that Giang-nan had opened by Best Szechwan which is right on Garfield ACROSS THE STREET from where we were. So in about 4 seconds we were there.
Now, there's been one review so far centering on the catfish dish. We were pretty full and only wanted the tangyuan (the only sweet one they had was with black sesame filling) but studied the menu pretty carefully and there are some great dishes there. We saw some minced pork with egg, some beautiful soup, a kind of pork that I can't translate and I don't have the menu here although I brought it home with me - it was no. 40 on the takeout menu. I have to go back when I'm hungrier. The service was excellent - our waitress starting speaking CHinese with one of the others and there was no way she was from this restaurant's region. So we asked where she came from and turns out Zhengzhou, Henan. Asked where one could get food from Henan here - she told us you really couldn't. Asked about Tung Lai Shun or CHina Islamic which tout themselves as having food from Henan - Oh no, she said, that was Qingzhencai, Muslim food. The non-Muslims eat differently in Henan, although the Muslim food is appreciated. So it goes.
Specifics - the tangyuan were fine. My friend loved them, very delicate; she wasn't as taken by MaLan as I was. The broth was really just very lightly sweetened hot water. They brought us 2 orders although I only thought we'd ordered one, each containing 4 yuanxiao. And then they brought oranges with the bill, which was only $3.75 - I thought they might have been nice so we left $7, about an 80% tip.
A note on the catfish - I can understand why the previous poster might not have liked it. The special in Chinese is Garlic Jujube(chinese date) special fish. I find that combination of strong garlic and garlic paste and sweet hongzao dates combined with the likely Huaiyang prediliction for dark soy and rock sugar and some oil to be something I'm not used to, esp. the sweet, garlic combo. There are many lighter dishes on the menu and all in all- they looked good (even the "vegetarian goose" in the cooler). The place was packed on Saturday night and not just with Huaiyang people, quite a few from the North there as well ( all the syllables ending in strong r sounds wafting from a few of the tables). So am going back.
For Tangyuan/yuanxiao, you might try Chu's rec's or meilong village but call and see if they're offering it.
301 N GARFIELD AVE B&C
entrance on sidestreet off of Garfield
Giang Nan isn't on the lapublichealth site yet. It's in the mall on the east side of the street across from 301 garfield. (I think it's something like 230 N garfield).
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