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Mission 261 Report...what's the big deal?

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Mission 261 Report...what's the big deal?

Kishari | Mar 8, 2004 06:19 PM

Went to visit this oft-discussed place last night and will have to concur with other 'hounds that it's just...okay. S. Irene Vribila's rave review was for dim sum, where she obviously didn't have to experience the spotty service.

I went with six other 'hounds, all of us hungry for good Cantonese food and a fun overall experience. What we got was inconsistent (a generous adjective) service, lots of good-natured confusion, but pretty good food once it arrived.

The restaurant itself is in a cute little historic part of San Gabriel, where they recreated the historic Spanish mission era. So this very large Chinese restaurant is in a building with lodgepoles and an adobe/Southwestern style. It's a bit of an odd combination, but charming. Be sure to look for the adorable little tiles of the mission drawn by kids that are built into the sidewalks. There's an outdoor patio for the smokers, and a mostly Cantonese-speaking clientele.

The service: sketchy. Our server was very sweet, and very eager to please, but there were definite language issues. (I speak only 10 words of Cantonese, and most of them are food dishes that my mother makes...useless in this situation.) A few of their seafood specialties weren't available and she had great difficulty giving us alternatives.

The food: servicable, not great. After trying to order two or three menu items that were unavailable, we settled on Peking duck (good skin, not much flavor in the meat), crispy shrimp (good, but a little soggy for something with crispy in the name), barbecued pork/cha siu (excellent), shredded steamed pork with lotus root (bland and colorless), curried rice noodles Singapore style (okay, limp, a little overcooked), steamed "grouppe" fish (excellent) and Chinese broccoli (which went AWOL). They all showed up in dribs and drabs. A dish here, five minutes later another, and then all the rest twenty minutes later. (A funny side note on the fish, I joked that the name was a bad Chinese translation of "grouper", but the maitre'd told us it was red rock cod. Great. But on the final receipt it said grouper. Ha!)

A dish that the server suggested but that we turned down, magically appeared anyway -- stir-fried pork with garlic. We decided to go with the flow. It was excellent, but annoying because we didn't order it. Adding to the confusion were another waiter and the maitre'd trying to bring two other dishes to our table that we didn't order. It took a while to make them understand that we didn't order them because they kept trying to speak rapid-fire Cantonese to me. Erk.

Note: if you're a fan of fancy Hong Kong-style garnishes, they are here in quantity and specatacular! On one of our dishes, we had a bird elaborately carved out of dyed daikon radishes, about 6 inches long and 4 inches wide. Pink, green, eyes, wings, feathers, everything carved in loving detail. Personally, I would rather have had them spend all that time working out a better ordering system, but what can you do but give in and revel in the authentic Chinese Fire Drill atmosphere? (I'm Chinese-American and have been to China and seen it for myself...this is a cultural truth!) The place is huge, and services Chinese weddings, but they still seem to be pretty disorganized. The AWOL Chinese broccoli managed to show up on our receipt, so it took some more wrangling to fix that.

The food itself was good, but not good enough to make the special trip. Dim sum might be a better choice since all you have to do is point, unless you speak fluent (and I mean fluent) Cantonese. Your service may not be any better, but you will at least know what food you're getting ahead of time.

For a much better food experience in the SGV, I still prefer 888 Seafood in Rosemead.

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