Recently I became friends with an Amateur Gourmet reader named Peggy who works in T.V. out here in L.A. and who comes from a Taiwanese family. Over the course of our first lunch at Pizzeria Mozza, she casually mentioned that her family frequents the San Gabriel Valley (home of some of America’s best and most authentic Chinese restaurants) and that she’d be happy to show me around there the next time we met up. “We can even go to a Chinese supermarket!” she added and that was like the moment when you pull the handle of a slot machine and all the bells and alarms go off and coins start pouring out. As you all know, I love visiting unfamiliar supermarkets.
My shame was very great indeed. Din Tai Fung, the world famous emporium of soup dumplings, had opened up at the Americana Mall literally ten minutes from where we live in Atwater Village. I’d seen the sign go up when I was Christmas shopping, and–a few weeks later–I saw life through the windows. But any time I’d plead, “Soup dumplings? Din Tai Fung?” to Craig, there’d be some reason we couldn’t go. I was getting restless. I had to try it. So, right before Sundance, when Craig was still picking out his premiere outfit, I agreed to help him find a pair of shoes at the Americana if he’d agree to eat lunch with me at Din Tai Fung. A deal was struck. Soup dumplings would be mine.
This is the place. I’ve been in L.A. for two years, stalking my way around the San Gabriel valley, slurping noodles at Tasty Noodle House and tearing into salted egg yolk pastries at Sea Harbour. Secretly, I was looking for a place that would put our favorite New York Chinese restaurant, Grand Sichuan, to shame. The only thing that was in the same ballpark was Chung King where I went with Zach Brooks last year. It was ok, but it didn’t blow me out of the water. I’d pretty much let go of the idea of supplanting Grand Sichuan since most of my San Gabriel experiences were Cantonese. Then, last week, I met up with Ganda and Zach for lunch at a place that Kat Odell recommended during my podcast: Chengdu Taste. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Last we left our hero Chinese food explorer, he became so bewitched by Tasty Noodle House in the San Gabriel Valley he went not once, but twice. To refresh your memory, the San Gabriel Valley is home to some of the best Chinese food in the United States. Yours truly made a pledge to thoroughly explore this region and stopped abruptly after falling in love with noodles and dumplings, like a failed Odysseus lured away by Sirens. Luckily, New York snatched me away and now that I’m back, I’ve retaken my pledge, striking things up again last week with Zach Brooks of Midtown Lunch who joined me for a meal at Chung King.
Speaking of Chinese food (what is this, a stand-up act?) the other night we had the unique opportunity to dine with Craig’s cousin Dave, a senior at Georgetown, and several of the friends he met while studying abroad in Beijing last year at our favorite New York City Chinese restaurant, Grand Sichuan in the East Village.
Three factors made dining there with Dave and his friends special: (1) they all speak Mandarin Chinese; (2) having lived in China, they turned us on to a new dish; and (3) they could tell us if the food we love at Grand Sichuan tastes like the food tastes in China.