Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Small Plates at Chop Suey Cafe

I really wanted to like Chop Suey Cafe in Little Tokyo.

With beautiful neon signage outside and cherry wood enclosures with 1930s-vintage wooden chairs inside, you're brought back to days gone by.

With its detailed restoration, Chop Suey Cafe is truly a gift back to the community - a community that once made the former Far East Cafe the main cultural center pre-World War II.

With rumors of Chop Suey Cafe being a favorite haunt of author, Raymond Chandler, one wonders what ideas he may have come up with for his novels while dining there.

There's a lot to like about Chop Suey Cafe. Unfortunately, I can't say that about their food.

Dining with two friends on a Monday night, only the small plates menu was available so we ordered 6 different dishes. We started off with the shitake potstickers which consisted of a wrapper that was too chewy and a filling that was really dry.

Unfortunately, what came next was worse - curry beef wontons that were over-fried with beef filling that had no flavor, let alone the curry flavor we were expecting.

The "Thai" Scotch eggs which were deep fried eggs with tamarind sauce was an improvement. There was a nice tang to the tamarind sauce, but the egg yolks were a little too dry.

Next came the grilled black cod with miso. One bite was enough for me. It was just too fishy.

The Jakarta hot wings had a nice spike of spicy flavor to the chicken skin but the crisp factor was missing plus the same running theme existed in that the dark meat which should be moist was again dry.

Finally, the light at the end of the tunnel was the "Green Lotus Cake" which is basically a round stack of crab, salmon, tomatoes and avocado. The presentation was very pretty plus the dish offered some much needed moisture to the meal.

It's been awhile since I've been so disappointed in a restaurant and even though I really am thankful that the current owners put so much time, money and effort in bringing this restaurant back to life, the food has to count for something, too. Unfortunately, I won't be making a return visit anytime soon.

To see pics, go to:

Chop Suey Cafe

347 East 1st
Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 617-9990

Dinner at Phong Dinh - CLOSED

I've been hearing about Phong Ding off and on for years now, primarily for the "famous baked catfish", but also due to their extensive menu featuring more unusual meats. When I posted a dinner outing to check Phong Ding out, I jokingly mentioned that while I don't necessarily want to eat the entire zoo, I'm open to trying some new things.

Upon being seated and given the menu, we were overwhelmed with all the choices. There
were various dishes that featured everything from boar to kangaroo, from ostrich to quail, from snake to frog legs and so much more. It was amazing that we were even able to settle on the 10 dishes we finally ended up ordering.

Of course, I had already called and pre-ordered the baked catfish and wow, what a feast that was. We could have easily just had the catfish for dinner without anything else. First, came out all the fixin's which included all sorts of veggies as well as vermicelli noodles and the wrapper. Soon after, the catfish arrived in all its glory and in what seemed like moments, was stripped clean.

The fish was delicate, moist and tender and I really enjoyed the group's interactive eating. There's just something about eating with your fingers and hands that seems so liberating.

We were all getting kind of full with the catfish, but there were still 9 dishes to go. Of the other 9 dishes, two really stood out for me.

First, there was the charbroiled goat spare ribs glazed with spicy bean curd marinade. I've never had goat spare ribs before and my thought that the ribs probably wouldn't have much meat to it, but surprisingly, the ribs weren't as lean as I thought they would be.

The marinade for this dish was amazing. There was a little bit of heat, but it was a sweet heat. It also had a subtle smoky flavor to it that made it even more appealing. Other than the catfish, this was one of my favorite dishes.

Second, there were the quail eggs wrapped in shrimp paste and battered with crispy sweet rice flakes and served with ginger plum sauce. Once you get over the surprise of seeing green eggs appear before you, this is a really tasty dish.

Quail eggs to me, generally have a gamier taste to them than regular chicken eggs, but the combo of the strongly flavored shrimp paste and sweet rice really cut a lot of that gamey flavor out and just left an egg with really interesting flavor profile.

Another dish that I liked included the kangaroo sauteed with black and pepper and prepared flambe style with wine. This was my first time having kangaroo and it reminded me of goat or lamb just because it had a strong taste to it. I would have preferred less wine but overall, I thought the meat was tender and cooked well.

Overall, we didn't stray too much into the real exotic meats, except maybe for the Kangaroo, but still this was an enjoyable meal and I know that if I ever want to host more of a "Fear Factor" kind of dinner, Phong Ding is the place to go.

To see pics, go to:

Phong Dinh

2643 N. San Gabriel Boulevard
Rosemead, CA 91770
Mon Land Hot Pot City

Having enjoyed Shabu-Shabu in the past, I was really looking forward to checking out the Chinese hot pot version and for my first experience, I visited Mon Land Hot Pot City in San Gabriel with "Bon Vivant" and other members of our dining group.

Upon being seated, we were asked for our soup preference: mil
d, hot or both. We opted for both and what came out was this silver yin and yan bowl with one half having what they referred to as the "red" soup and the other half having the milder soup.

Both soups had an abundance of herbs, roots, peppers, gingers and green onions that were used for the broth flavoring. Both soups were great for different reasons. The "red" soup had the spicy factor and a lot of flavor. It could have been a bit hotter, but compared to the use of just plain water for shabu shabu, it was a much welcomed change. The milder soup was richer, had a surprising curry flavor to it and also had some unexpected heat.

The food we dipped in our soup ranged from lamb and pork to tofu, shrimp balls, daikon radishes and these really cool noodle bundles. The noodles were wrapped up in a nice little package. I was expecting them to fall apart after cooking but they stayed amazingly intact and I really enjoyed how the soup got caught in all its nooks and crannies.

We had 5 different sides with our soup, but what stood out for me
was the lamb pancake and the lamb dumplings. The lamb pancake was golden brown and crispy and the meat inside was moist and I liked how the green onions added additional flavor. The lamb dumplings were amazing. You take one bite and get this delicious rush of broth into your mouth. Now those were juicy dumplings.

Overall, my first Chinese hot pot was a smashing success. We came out of Mon Land, feeling all warm inside from the delicious meal. I would definitely make a return trip and am looking forward to checking out Little Sheep next year to see how it compares.

To see pics, go to:


Mon Land Hot Pot City

251 W. Bencamp Street

San Gabriel, CA 91776
(626) 289-4889

Ebisu Japanese Tavern

Last November, after having gone on the LA Conservancy Little Tokyo Walking Tour, a few of us decided to check out Ebisu Japanese Tavern for lunch. It's an interesting space with what looks like a boat in the middle of the restaurant where people can sit around.

As for the food, I have to say that I wasn't very inspired by the lunch menu in front of me. For some reason, nothing looked that interesting. Of
course, I was also fighting a bad cold at the time so that could have contributed to my lack of interest in food, but I went ahead and ordered anyway.

I ended up getting a combo plate which included a salad to start followed by deep fried creamed corn croquettes and shrimp "egg rolls." The shrimp egg rolls were wrapped in a wrapper that was different than what I'm used to and of course, I'm completely blanking on that what was.

I liked the salad. The dressing had a creamy citrusy flavor that I enjoyed tremendously. As for the croquettes
and the shrimp egg rolls, there was really nothing special about them and are something I'd never order again, if I ever returned to Ebisu.

Those seated closest to me ordered sukiyaki, Japanese peppers with some kind of fish flakes and soba noodles. The peppers got raves, but the sukiyaki and the soba noodles apparently were nothing to write home about.

Overall, with all the other choices in Little Tokyo, I don't plan on returning to Ebisu anytime soon. There was just nothing there that appealed to me that much.

To see pics, go to:

Ebisu Japanese Tavern
356 E. Second Street
Los Angeles, CA

Dinner at Penang Malaysian Cuisine

With the imminent closing of Kuala Lumpur, I started looking for other Malaysian restaurant options and came upon Penang, which is in the Hong Kong Plaza in West Covina. Since it was only my Mom and I for dinner, we only ordered 6 dishes to share: an appetizer, 4 main dishes and a dessert.

It was a very interesting meal such that I either really liked a particular dish a lot or I didn't.

Likes: 1) Iced Barley Tea - I liked this drink a lot. It was very refreshing and I liked having the barley to chew on. Usually the only time I find barley in soup, so this drink was really interesting.

2) BBQ Roasted Pork Lo Mee Soup (Special egg noodles with BBQ roasted pork and vegetables in a chicken broth)

**This was a great soup. The noodles were firm. The pork meat was delicious and the chicken broth was just perfect. Definitely a great soup for winter weather.

3) Lady Finger Belacan (Sauteed okra with spicy Malaysian shrimp paste sauce)

**Normally, I'm not much of an okra fan because I find the insides too gooey, but that gooey factor was missing in this dish.
The okra was fried well, firm and still had a"bite" to it and I loved the pungency of the shrimp paste that the okra was cooked in.

4) Mango Pudding and Ice Cream - I enjoyed both the pudding and the ice cream and especially since both had significant chunks of mango.


1) Roti Canai (Malaysian crispy Indian-style pancake served with curry chicken as a dipping sauce)
- While the menu description says crispy, this roti was actually bready and chewy and all in all, not that great.

2) Mango Chicken - Sauce was just too overwhelmingly sweet for my taste.

3) Volcano Spareribs (Spareribs that were cooked with some kind of sweet honey bbq glaze??)

** The meat was tender, but the sauce was just too sweet, similar to the Mango Chicken, so a couple was morethan enough for me to consume. It was just an instance where the dish looked much tastier than it was.

I'd say that I had an almost 50% success rate when it came to choosing the right things. :) If those 4 items I had ended up liking a lot were just okay, I probably wouldn't make a return trip, but I enjoyed them so much that I'm interested in sampling other Penang dishes. With the menu being quite extensive, the odds are hopefully in my favor that I'd choose wiser the second time around and would just make sure to steer clear from "sweeter" dishes.

To see pics, go to:


Penang Malaysian Cuisine (in Hong Kong Plaza)
987 S Glendora Ave
West Covina, CA 91790
(626) 338-6138