Sunday, February 01, 2009

"The Four Schools of Chinese Cooking" - Dinner at China Islamic

A few months back, I came upon this online article on the Cooking Light website simply entitled "The Four Schools of Chinese Cooking" and as the title suggests, it talked about 4 different types of Chinese cooking based on schools or more likely "regions": East, West, South and North. Given the fact that I'm lucky enough to live in the San Gabriel Valley where the breadth of Chinese cooking is unparalleled, I thought I'd start a new dining series for Pleasure Palate where we would dine at restaurants representing each school. Our next visit focused on the Northern School.

Taken directly from the article, "The Northern School is the most eclectic, incorporating the refined cooking of palace kitchens and Shandong province (where classic Chinese cuisine originated), as well as Mongolian and Muslim dishes. acclaimed for its spicy dishes, includes Sichuan, Hunan, and Yunnan provinces." Look below for more info.

What the North is known for: Noodles, Steamed Breads, and Pancakes are served instead of rice.

Styles of Cooking: Stir-Frying, Pan-Frying, Braising, and Barbecuing

Common Seasonings: Garlic, Chives, Leeks, Star Anise, and Sweet Bean Sauces.

Representative Dishes: Moo Shu Pork With Mandarin Pancakes.

To represent the Northern school, I chose China Islamic in Rosemead and I tried to choose dishes, with the help of the staff, to best showcase what the Northern School was all about. For our meal there, we shared 12 dishes.

Starting our meal was the Dabing, which is a thick sesame and green onion pancake. I've only had the thinner versions of this pancake before, so I was interested in tasting the difference. The Dabing is definitely quite filling on its own. When you cut into and see the cross-section, it looks like a pancake within a pancake.

After taking a few bites, it didn't do much for me. I found it too dough-y and preferred the thinner pancakes that we ordered later in the meal. Of the remaining items, I have to say that everything was pretty good, but some were more memorable than others.

The first dishes to arrive were the Lamb with Green Onions and the Beef with Pickled Cabbage. I enjoyed how the grassiness of the green onions complimented the stronger flavors imparted by the lamb, which by the way, was tender to the bite.

When it came to the Beef with Pickled Cabbage, I was one of the few at my table or maybe, I was the only one at my table who loved this dish. Compared to some of the other items which were bolder in taste, this dish was pretty mild. What drew me to this dish was my Filipino palate which favors foods that have a sour/vinegary tang to them. I liked the combo of the cabbage, which was almost like sauerkraut and the meatiness of the beef. I would definitely order this dish again.

Although some kind of green bean dish is seen on most Chinese restaurant menus, regardless of the region that the restaurant represents, I have to say that their Dried Shrimp and Green Bean dish is better than most. The addition of the dried shrimp gave a nice hit of saltiness and overall, the little bit of heat coming from the sauce that the beans and shrimp were sauteed in was very appealing to my taste buds.

Like the green beans, noodle dishes are also standard Chinese dishes, but the Three Flavor Chow Mein that we ordered was exceptional in that the noodles were hand cut and had a nice slightly chewy texture that really did it for me.

The two dishes that wowed me the most arrived last. One was the oxtail in brown sauce. All I have to say is "Mama Mia!" and I'm not even Italian and I'm not even dining at an Italian restaurant, but that brown sauce was so good, I could have dived into it. It was thick and had a smoky, slightly sweet heat taste to it. I can't say enough good things about it. The added bonus was that they didn't skimp on the oxtail, which I found to be meaty and also quite tender.

Finally, there was the Lamb in a Warm Pot dish. The broth was just so goooood. Notice the extra "o"s in the word gooood. There was so much flavor in that soup plus it was rich and hearty. I loved the addition of fresh cilantro. It's a dish that's perfect cold weather comfort food. The lamb was also tender and in general, the running theme is that this restaurant really knows how to prepare their meat dishes. There wasn't anything I had where the meat wasn't cooked just right.

Overall, I really enjoyed my meal at China Islamic and I can see why it's gotten consistent raves from bloggers, food critics and regular dining folk alike since it's opened. My second visit there happened a month or so later and this time we ordered different dishes and the meal was still just as good as the first time. China Islamic is definitely a must visit for anyone who enjoys Chinese dining and even more so, if you're interested in checking the Northern Style of Chinese Cooking that China Islamic represents so well.

To see pics, go to:

China Islamic
7727 Garvey Ave
Rosemead, CA 91770
(626) 288-4246

China Islamic Restaurant on Urbanspoon


WeezerMonkey said...

Yummy! I like that place!

Passionate Eater said...

Back when I used to live in LA, I went to a similar place, and loved the hearty, meatiness of the dishes. I think that dabing goes well with soupy dishes, or dishes heavy on the gravy, whereas thin onion pancakes can be eaten alone. Dabing is good to sop up deliciousness.

Ben said...

It looks like a nice place with great dishes. Yummy!

Eileen said...

This is my dad's ALL TIME favorite restaurant. We go there all the time and pretty much order the same dishes every time. The dishes we order are just the same as the ones you order! My dad thought those are the best dishes from China Islamic. Looking at your pictures really made me hungry. haha.

pleasurepalate said...

WM & Eileen: Isn't it great living close to or in SGV where we can get some awesome Chinese dining?

Ben: It definitely is a great restaurant. Everyone I've recommended it too have become repeat customers.

Passionate Eater: You're right. The dabing is definitely appropriate for dipping. It would have been perfect with the oxtail and brown sauce. I'll have to remember that for next time. :-D

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Abby,

Great review. :) I used to go all the time, but it's been a while. My SGV Hounds now drag me out to newer places. The Da Bing my take some getting used to, but when it's made properly, it's fantastic (in lieu of rice). :)

Aaron said...

Ah, I've been searching for a Chinese Islamic restaurant in LA. They do some great stuff with lamb, especially the pickled mustard greens and clay pot. I'll check it out next time I make the trek to SGV. Thanks for the heads up Abby

pleasurepalate said...

EK: Do you have any recs for other Northern Chinese and/or Chinese Islamic restaurants in SGV?

Aaron: Hope you enjoy the food as much as I did. :)

Pratik said...

dishes in the images look yummy... my mouth is watering now

pleasurepalate said...

Pratik: Thanks for stopping by. I'm glad you enjoyed the photos. :)