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Restaurants & Bars 8

dinners at Giang-nan and Happy family (long)

Jerome | Jun 27, 200506:17 PM

So last Thursday, went with a group of four to Giang-nan (De Yue Lou) on Garfield in Monterey Park. Everyone was a committed omnivore, so it was going to be a fun night.
Giang-nan specializes in food Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces near Shanghai, and in Huai-yang snacks acdg to the sign which really means just xlb. It's kind of a misnomer to call it shanghai food - east china is even better; this stuff is to Shanghai food as regional food of the Ile-de-France is to parisian cuisine. Shanghai, like Hong Kong, has always been more fusion-y and open to western ingredients (dairy, mayonnaise, XO brandy, etc).
Anyway, 3 cold dishes to start - shredded pressed tofu, light dressing with some sesame oil and sugar; "vegetarian duck," a wonderful mass of shredded mushrooms and other veg. wrapped in a tofu skin (doufupi) that resembles poultry skin in texture and color; jade celery (feicui xijin)- lightly blanched and strung celery with a light sugar/salt/sesame coating. All delicious.
We ended ordering in three bouts. First bout was a stir-fried dish (chinese name had something like clear and stirfried in the name) with long shreds, a bit thicker than julienne, of asparagus, young bamboo shoots, some other veg's and pork. Unlike Cantonese stirfried (chao) dishes, this had no cornstarch slurry and was, relatively dry which is more to my taste. The various vegetables remained distinct and each kept its own texture. Colorful and tasty.
Next, the eel with leeks - long shreds of eel meet with julienned leeks in a thick sweet brown sauce, like you get from hongshao cooking, aged soy sauce (laoyou) sugar, salt and someother things. It's very rich, also delicious and a good contrast to the pork dish. We decided to skip rice (we thought we'd get some later) and had the steamed yin-si juan, silver thread rolls which are a dough that's rolled thin and then scrolled into a roll which is then steamed and cut - it came with a slightly sweet dipping sauce, somewhere between a sweet mayo and a creme anglaise. tasty though (two orders of the rolls).

Then we got an order of xiaolongbao - eight pieces, nice pieces. I don't like excessively thin (i guess the use of excessively already lets you know) skinned xiaolong bao since, if they adhere to the leaf upon which they've steamed - they burst. And the abominations I've seen at dimsum houses are shockingly thick skinned. Giang-nan gets it right. everyone got a small dipping dish without our having to ask, loaded with ginger, the zhenjiang black vinegar was on the table. And they're very very good.

At this point, we decide we want a few more dishes. So we order the xiaolongbao again, but this time with crab mixed in, and the songren-yumi, "pine nut, 'fish rice'" which I think was minced fish with pine nuts on the English menu. The xlb were great, of course. The fish was delicious but a little problematic. The classic way the fish is made is that the flesh is torn off the fish and "rolled" into little grains the size of rice, which are then (cornstarched or not) flash fried until white, and then added at the last minute into a stir fry of small diced vegetables (carrots, etc) and pan-toasted pine nuts. The fish here was torn into larger and longer pieces, let's say one dime wide and two dimes long at the largest. And they were stir fried and served still clear. Again, the stir-fries here will be drier, or less sauced or gloopy depending on your pov than at a Yuecai (canton/honkkong) place. But we liked it a great deal.
Stuck around for dessert. They brought oranges. And then we ordered one order of the large tangyuan - largish balls of sweet glutinous rice stuffed with sweet black sesame paste, served hot in boiling water, and one order of the small tangyuan, smaller balls of same, but served in a "sweet soup" flavored with guihuajiu (osmanthus flower scented grape wine) and topped with ground nuts (my guess was peanuts and pistachios) and strips of sweetend egg shreds (egg is beaten then spread quickly on a hot wok to make a type of crepe which is the removed and shredded into strips).

Total cost incl. tax and nice tip, $60. (that's 15 a person). A larger group and we woulld have ordered the "knuckle" (aka pork pump elsewhere in town) but you have to have at least 6 or eight otherwise it's overwhelming.


The next night I met up with other folks - one was a vegetarian, the other only ate poultry and finfish as well as plantlife. So, back out to Monterey Park for happy family. I made sure to ask the vegetarian if she be a vegetarian because of moral or health grounds, or if she be simply a picky eater. Because there would be no meat, but the beef would taste pretty close to beef. The other person who didn't eat red meat said that he liked it but had given it up years ago for health reasons, and the veg said she'd love to try the place. Off we went.

First, the three cold dish plate (as opposed to giang nan where we ordered three separate plates) - vegetarian jellyfish salad, goose, and duck. The goose was great, chewy like real goose and a nice strong flavor, the duck wasn't like the jiangsu vegetarian duck, more of an effort to capture the texture and taste of duck (close enough) and the jelly fish salad was the first thing to go. It was done like a shandong jellyfish, a bit garlic flavored although the restaurant uses no garlic or onion (leeks maybe). the others at the table hadn't had (nor are likely to have) shandong jellyfish so the accuracy was lost on them.

Next, my fave soup these days, the lily flower soup with enoki mushrooms. I love it, not a great hit with them. too bad. I think it may have been too crunchy for one of the party.

Then, fried chicken drumsticks (ok everything is veg. let's move on) which were delicious and had little dowels for handles like the bone. They came with a pretty good, light, sweet-sour sauce on the side. Shrimp done in a clear-cooked style atop a huge mound of cooked pea shoots (Doumiao). The vegetarian ate most of the pea shoots but couldn't get past the fact that the glistening shrimp looked slimy to her so she passed.
Then tie-ban (iron plate) beef with mushrooms and peppers, sizzling at the table, nice and hot. slightly spicy, good contrast to the other food. After this, out came the crispy battered oyster mushrooms. They loved this, I wasn't crazy about it. The flavor of the mushroom was lost to me under the light breading and the taste of the frying. But again, the others loved the crispy texture and the little bit of mushroom flavor that was left.
Then out came the asparagus, baby corn and Bai-he, sliced lily (narcissus) bulb - it's white, the slice it so it looks a bit like small pieces of a white bell pepper (if such a think existed) and it's great tasting. the colors, the glistening white, deep green and pale yellow, of the three main ingredients livened up the table. And I ate too much of it. It's always nice to share - but hey, I left them most of the oyster mushrooms so it all comes out in the wash.

Three ordered steamed rice, I had the rice porridge to go with the meal, it has small green beans in it, and with things as strong as the sizzling beef makes a great accompaniment.

Everything, inc. tax and tip about $70 for the four of us.

(oranges included).


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