Some Taiwanese friends wanted to commemorate the New Year by trying something different: Shenyang Restaurant in El Monte. Shenyang is the capital of Liaoning province, in the northeast corner of China. The sign on the outside of the restaurant says "SY" in English and "East North" in Chinese.
It's clean and brightly lit, typical SGV strip-mall ambiance. The menu is extensive, there are additional specials posted on the wall, in English with photos, plus a host of specials posted only in Chinese. Now, the problem with this is that the best thing we ate, the Shenyang-style pan-fried dumplings, were only posted in Chinese. They were plated in a rectangular "sheet" of about a dozen dumplings (each also rectangular), kind of like a sheet of ravioli. Really delicious! Pork- and onion-filled, bursting with juices, perfectly spiced, with a nice crunch on the bottom, but very tender skin everywhere else. I would have been perfectly happy to have only eaten these.
The order took place in Chinese, and as the dozen or so items came to the table, I checked them off on a take-out menu. But it was a party so I didn't really want to be distracted by taking too many notes.
We ordered "Wild Herb Vegetable" appetizer, which was similar to curly endive with a smoky bean sauce for a dip. The bitterness of the "herb" worked nicely as a contrast to the other dishes and it was nice to just take a few leaves when the dish landed in front of you, rather than have it as a first-course salad.
My brother's favorite dish was the misnamed "Northern Style Pancake." Somehow, I can't help but think there was a misunderstanding between my friends and the waitress because this was nothing like a pancake. It consisted of cold yam noodles that were the size of chow fun noodles, strips of pork, and julienned cucumber, all dressed in a spicy yellow mustard sauce. Interesting combination that worked pretty well.
We also had Jing Dong Meat Pie (round flat fried pastry stuffed with some innocuous ground meat---boring); Shredded Port with Vegetable (my Japanese SIL called it "mountain vegetable," it was kind of stemmy, dark green, and tangy tasting, maybe like a kind of fern); Double-cooked Pork Sliced (very crispy fried pork in sweet-sour sauce---like sweet and sour chicharones); Cumin Lamb (my second favorite dish, lots of cumin seeds, nicely cooked lamb, heavy on the onions, crushed red pepper, and strips of green chili---I tried eating the leftovers for dinner last night and it became too spicy); Fish Fillet with Snow Bean (the snow bean was chopped up snow peas, nicely crunchy with the tender fried fish---a good dish); Pickled Sour Napa with Quick Pork (large bowl of soup with giant slices of pork brisket---my SILs favorite since she loves sour stuff); stir fried "ga da" noodles (little square knife-cut noodles in a brown sauce---comfort food but not exceptional). A fried tofu dish and fried chicken for one of the kids.
If I were in the area, I'd make a detour to get these dumplings (I wrote down "Shenyang hue tao" as the phonetic interpretation of how to order them, but maybe someone else on the board can offer better info). The Shenyang specialty dishes are noted on the left side of each menu item; more than half of the dishes have this notation.
Overall, good food, very reasonably priced, nothing (except the dumplings) was spectacular, but it's always interesting to check out Chinese regional cuisine.
Shenyang (East North) Restaurant
4909 Santa Anita Avenue (at Lower Azusa)
El Monte 626-442-2322
Budweiser and Tsing Tao in cans (yeck---bring your own)
Gong Xi Fa Cai everyone!