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Dongbei Cuisine @ Hai Master Kitchen in Laguna Hills

Melanie Wong | Jun 16, 201908:33 PM    

Last year an IG post from "chandavkl" David Chan for Dongbei specialties at Hai Master Kitchen caught my attention. My friends in this part of Orange County are always interested in any good Chinese food to be found south of Irvine so I made a note of it for a future visit.

Over MLK weekend in January I had a chance to check it out with a couple Bay Area chowhound alums. GPS had some trouble directing us to the correct strip mall. We managed to slide in a half-hour before the kitchen was due to close at 8pm and were the only ones in the restaurant.

I concentrated on ordering the Dongbei (northeast) style dishes. The menu has an illustrated page featuring these specialties that made this easier.

For starters, a roujiamo apiece, listed as Pork Bun on the menu, $3.99 each. Though these may look like golden brown English muffins that some restaurants, unfortunately, have used as a substitute, the bread component was denser than that. Deftly seasoned pulled and chopped pork meat filling had a nice balance of sweet and spice moistened with juicy gravy and brightened with cilantro.

Chive, egg and pork boiled dumplings (shui jiao), 10 for $8.99, had thinnish wheat wrappers and mild tasting almost fluffy filling. Delicious once dabbed with soy sauce and vinegar for added contrast and needed salt.

Noodles with minced pork sauce (zha jiang mian), $9.99, was attractively presented with precisely cut julienne of cucumber and bean sprouts lightly wilted enough to remove the raw taste. The brown bean paste-based sauce studded with scallions, bits of pork belly and ground pork was mixed in at the table. The noodles themselves were on the soft side and nothing special. All in all, a textbook Northern Chinese example of this classic.

Sweet Corn Kernels Pancake, $8.99, was the dish in chandavkl's post. An airy and crisp fritter-type batter's flecked with sweet corn, carrots and peas, and decorated with sweetened mayonnaise. The handful of times I've had this elsewhere, it has failed to grab me. This one was no different. It's a love it or hate it kind of thing, and none of us really liked it. The richness of the frying and the cloying mayonnaise also made it difficult to eat more than one piece. Since the crunch of the pancake does not hold up as a leftover, best to order for a bigger party.

When I ordered the Sour Vegetable with Pork Belly Soup, $7.99, our waitress tried to caution that my non-Chinese dining companions would not like it. And I couldn't quite understand her reasons. This was one of our best tastes on the table with the lilting tartness of the pickled vegetables offsetting the porcine richness. But it turned out to have not only some poached slices of fresh bacon cut but also chewy intestine. I suspect that the innards were what she was trying to warn us about.

Our universal favorite of the night was the Beef with Hot Peppers, $12.99. Served in a sizzling hot clay pot, this casserole bubbled with tender chunks of beef plate meat with chewy connective tissue and daikon radish with pickled hot red peppers. The menu description says "stir-fried beef with hot peppers" but this was actually braised and not that spicy. The fatty meat juices combined with the mild heat and refreshing sour from the peppers formed a natural gravy that was so typical of the rustic Dongbei cooking for wintry nights. While the unusually cold winter in SoCal this year is nothing like the long and snowy clime of Northeast China, we could still appreciate this soul-warming dish.

Our server was patient with us, tried to answer our questions about the dishes and did not rush us out. We would like to return to try more of the extensive menu.

Hai Master Kitchen is turning out well-prepared traditional Chinese food that's a rarity in this neighborhood at modest prices in a pleasant setting. There is indeed a master in the kitchen.

Hai Master Kitchen
24401 Ridge Rte Dr, Suite 8102
Laguna Hills, CA
949-457-9430

Hai Master Kitchen Order Online Laguna Hills, CA 92653 Chinese

www.haimasterkitchen.com
Hai Master Kitchen
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