Tuesday night in San Gabriel, me and Mrs. O and an old buddy from Palo Alto have decided to check out Chung King, after having read J. Gold's kinda gonzo review of the place. Snappy-looking spiky-haired hostess waves us to a booth, then shortly arrives bearing tea and menus. She asks if we'd like some beer or something as well, but we sorta got beered out the day before, so we stick with tea, and with the ice-water which also soon appears. We're curious about the several menu items that are described only in Chinese, but there's enough stuff we CAN read so we'll ask someone about all that another time.
Although we've been known to ingest offal on occasion, we're so new to this food we'll stick with the more mainstream stuff tonight, so we get the stir-fried eel with pickled pepper, the Gold-recommended roasted spareribs in prickly ash, the fried cabbage, and the "Chung King-flavored noodles" which to our guest's delight turn out to be dan dan noodles, his favorite. After the waitress has taken our order, the hostess appears again and tells us we may pick three extra dishes from the buffet up front. Mrs. O thinks that means three apiece, so she picks some that she wants, but that turns out to be for the whole table. It's OK, though, as the items loaded onto a plate are to everyone's liking: fried peanuts with tiny salt fish scattered amongst them, savory-spicy sliced cooked pig's ears, and nice chewy thin slabs of some sort of highly seasoned meat that could be donkey for all I know, but it's really good.
The eel is almost like eel jerky, with a nice bite and a lot of flavor, swimming in a pile of peppers, celery, scallions and garlic. The noodles are very much to our friend's satisfaction, and we love'em too. The roasted spareribs are the big hit with the other two, and are delightful morsels to eat, crisp like bacon around the edges and very meaty, but I think it's a little heavy on the five-spice. My own favorite is the cabbage, a lot like my own braised cabbage with bacon, but with much more complexity. Also very spicy!
All the food, in fact, is pretty spicy, though we agree early on that Mr. Gold was either being a wimp or was just dramatizing for the sake of the story, 'cause although we're sipping steadily at the tea and taking occasional big bites of rice to cool things down, the big story here is how delicious it all is.
Darn cheap, too. We had just enough to overeat to a satisfying degree, with no leftovers, and the tab (w/tax but before tip) was $36. Now what we need is to find someone who can tell us what all those Chinese-only dishes were! Volunteers?