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Restaurants & Bars 4

Before the walk report: Chowing down at Louie’s California Chinese Cuisine

Bryan Loofbourrow | May 11, 200304:33 PM

I don’t seem to get along very well with fusion food. When I lived in Seattle, everyone (especially visitors) raved about Wild Ginger. I found it weak. In the Bay Area, everyone (especially visitors) raves about Slanted Door. I found very good atmosphere, topnotch service, and food that was very well presented, very well executed, and not excessively fusionized, but no more enjoyable than a good ethnic place 1/3 of the price would have been. Even in Hong Kong, my personal food mecca, I was underwhelmed by what I could tell was a topnotch fusion place (The Chinese Restaurant at the Hilton).

So a name like “Louie’s California Chinese Cuisine” is not exactly calculated to get me excited.

Well, I was wrong about that. It turns out that the chef is classically trained, and our delightful lunch showed not the slightest hint of fusion-ness. Pacing was perfect, and I got down notes on every dish:

Har gow (translucent rice-dough dumplings stuffed with shrimp). Very nicely done. Lively shrimp flavor, excellent fresh shrimp texture, dumpling texture very good, if lacking just that last extra tiny bit of ethereal delicacy. EXCELLENT

Fried bean curd skin roll. Flat packets, greasy, crisp, containing small shrimp and cooked cilantro, very flavorful. Really lovable. EXCELLENT

Fried whole soft-shell crab. Very good crunchy breading, with a perfect meaty texture inside. Texturally perfect, but didn’t grab me as much as the best versions of this that I’ve had in the past – the crab’s meat lacked the sweetness of the best versions, and the slight astringency you always get with softshell was therefore a bit too dominant. Seemed to improve with time, or maybe I just got used to the flavor profile. GOOD PLUS

Siu Mai (open-topped, cylindrical dumplings with very thin skin). Chewy and meaty, as though very much on the pork side of the pork-and-shrimp equation. I missed the bounciness that the shrimp is supposed to provide. Very good flavor, if atypically meaty, that lingered in the mouth nicely. VERY GOOD MINUS

Xiao Long Bao (Shanghai soup dumplings). The dumpling skin was a little heavy and coarse compared to the melt-in-the-mouth delicacy of the best versions of these I’ve had, but the inside was a perfect burst of soup and savory, barely sweet, meat-and-ginger flavors. VERY GOOD PLUS

Gai Lan, cut on an angle, stir-fried with garlic. Excellent, crunchy, with lots of garlic flavor nicely balanced between raw-garlic and seared-garlic. EXCELLENT MINUS

E-Fu noodles. Wow. Soy flavors, but not too much. Soft noodles, but not too soft, still a bit chewy. Lots of mushroom and softened scallion flavors, just enough soy and fresh-sweet-stewed quality. Wow. EXCELLENT PLUS.

Dried Scallop Fried rice. A striking plate of yellow rice with brown threads of dried scallop on top, and an arrangement of thin-sliced cucumbers at one end that made the whole thing look sort of like a big round pineapple. The flavor was startling – at first, it seemed floral, but then someone pointed out a sharp ginger bite at the finish, and everything came into focus – it was just the ginger bite interacting with the sweet-seafood quality of the dried scallop. A new flavor mélange for me, intriguing and delicious. EXCELLENT

Chicken stuffed with glutinous rice (boneless, special advance-order dish). Great chickeny flavor in the crisp skin, really nice dried shrimp and light chicken flavor in the dense, luxurious rice. Comes with a mild mushroom sauce that rescues the rice part from almost-blandness, but the skin needed no assistance. Really nice. EXCELLENT.

Thousand-layer cake. Okay, there were only 7 layers, a yellow cake layer alternating with a custardy layer in these tall rectangles of steamed cake. Very egg-yolky, perhaps with an assist from some almond or vanilla. Densely textured for a cake, but that made it fun to chew, not too heavy. Yummy. EXCELLENT MINUS

What a meal. And our day wasn’t over – the Yimster Chinatown walk was to follow. But I’ll let others tell about that.

-- Bryan


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