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REVIEW w/pics: Heating it Up at Henyang Chili King

pleasurepalate | Nov 28, 200905:08 PM

One major perk of living in the San Gabriel Valley is the availability of Chinese restaurants representing various regional Chinese cooking. I've eaten my way through Shanghainese, Sczechwan, Cantonese, Yunnan foods and more. For one particular outing, I took my dining group to Henyang Chili King to check out Hunan Cuisine. My last experience with Hunan food was at Hunan Seafood Restaurant in Rosemead, which definitely had its hits and misses, so I was looking forward to what this other restaurant would bring to the table. Literally!

I first found out about Henyang Chili King from a Jonathan Gold article, so I based our menu around the dishes he highlighted. Since then, I also came upon a blog posting by Sinsoul and wished that I was able to incorporate some of his mentions as well, but that'll just have to be for a return visit. Anyway, to start our meal, we were served a complementary appetizer of boiled peanuts and pickled veggies. It was nice to start off with something with more neutral flavors, especially since Hunan cuisine is known for its bold flavors.

My group shared a total of 11 dishes that evening, but considering that there's over 170 dishes to choose from on the menu, we only had a small fraction of what was offered. The first plate to land on our table was the cauliflower cooked in “pork oil” and crunchy lardons, which are basically cubed pork. Cauliflower is a bland vegetable on its own, but in this dish, it absorbed a lot of porky goodness from the oil and was simply irresistible.

Following the Cauliflower came the Cumin Lamb. The meat was tender and the flavors of the cumin, the garlic and the cilantro came together and danced on your taste buds. Arriving with the Cumin Lamb was the Bangly with Chicken dish. Bangly refers to chestnuts. This particular item had a brown sauce that had a hint of sweetness to it and went perfectly with the slight, starchy sweetness of the chestnuts. Also, if you have one or two people who can't handle spicy food, this is a good option to order for them.

Unfortunately, the Shredded Squid with Bamboo Shoots was disappointing. First, the dish name was off since the squid wasn't actually shredded and were more akin to chopped tentacles that seemed more octopus than squid-like. Also, those tentacles were very, very chewy. I don't mind mind a chewy texture, but that was just too much. Another thing to note was that while the bamboo shoots did make an experience, I think celery really was more present than the latter and in the end, the flavors were just really bland.

Flavor wasn't a problem with the Spicy Whole Fish that we had ordered. In fact, the sauce that was poured over the fish did have a fiery kick to it, which was balanced with a little sweetness and tasted quite nicely poured over some of my steamed rice. The only issue I had was the fish itself. It was really bony and was more bone than actual meat. Interestingly enough, this was the same problem I experienced at the last Hunan meal I had at Hunan Seafood Restaurant.

The Dried Cucumber tossed with shredded fresh shiso was solid and I appreciated the fact that cucumber itself weren't overcooked and still had a slight crunchy texture. Both the Hot and Spicy Tofu and House Special Spicy Over Spicy dishes supplied a nice hit of heat to our palates, but I do have a question to those of you who have been to Henyang Chili King before. Do any of you actually know what type of meat was used in the House Special Spicy over Spicy dish? Although we ordered and enjoyed eating it, we weren't quite sure what we were eating at time. We tried asking our waitress, but her English was limited and she couldn't tell us. Ground pork and cubed pork was my best guess.

I was one of the few of my dining partners who enjoyed the Bitter Melon sauteed with Chinese sausage, but that can be attributed to my growing up eating this particular vegetable. However, I should mention that I would have liked the bitter melon to be a bit more bitter than it actually was, but if it was, that may have been an issue with the rest of the group.

The Sauteed Preserved Meat dish was okay. Not a fav, but not bad either. My only issue was that the preserved meat, which was pork, was a little too salty for me personally, but eating it with rice helped cut down that saltiness a bit.

Our final dish of the night was Stewed Wild Pumpkin. Although this dish was called Wild Pumpkin, I think it's actually more of a butternut squash. I liked the sweetness of the squash, but the entire dish was over cooked to the point of mushiness. Mushy is just not that appealing.

Overall, I enjoyed my meal at Henyang Chili King and for me, it's a much better Hunan restaurant option than the last one I went to. I would definitely make a return visit and considering that there are over 150 items still left on the menu to try, at least, I know there'll always be variety with every meal.

Henyang Chili King
138 E. Garvey Avenue, #C
Monterey Park, CA 91755
(626) 573-9258

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