Crown Cafe Reborn-Hunan Style Restaurant
I had lunch today at the Hunan Style Restaurant, 903 W. Valley Blvd, Alahambra--Atlantic offramp to Alhambra, turn right on Valley Blvd. and it is on the north side of the street in the first block, parking in the rear. This is a large and comfortable restaurant. The owner, who wss the owner of the Crown Cafe was glad to see me and asked how I found the new place. I told him I saw a post on it on Chowhound. Anyway, I ordered my favorite, the spicy chicken with bell peppers and onions and I also ordered a Cumin Beef dish. It was all perfect! If you liked Crown Cafe, you will love this place, so give it a try.
Sorry; we went to Hunan's Restaurant last Saturday for lunch and left very disappointed.
My co-hound and I used to go to Crown Cafe a lot, and one of the things we always loved about that place was how all the dishes had a little toastiness to them, as though the ingredients had been slightly scorched by being cooked very quickly in a very very hot wok. If you know what I'm talking about you'll understand why this is something good, not bad (it's not that the food is burned or anything). It's one of those things that you have to go to a restaurant for, because the range in your kitchen doesn't pump out enough BTUs.
Of the four dishes we had at Hunan's on Saturday, two were things we'd had repeatedly at Crown Cafe, and one of those was a dish I got almost every time I went. They were very very different this time. Like a completely different restaurant with a completely different chef working off completely different recipes. None of that toasty flavor. The vegetables were slightly overcooked and limp. Dishes that formerly had been pretty dry were now sitting in a puddle of stock. Of the two new things we tried, one was passable and the other was ... well, we didn't fight over the leftovers this time.
And it was sloooooow. Maybe a quarter of the tables were filled (this was around noon), yet we must have waited 30-40 minutes for the last dish to hit the table (and it wasn't a traditionally time-consuming preparation like their crispy-bean fish, either). Contrast this to the Crown Cafe experience, which was always surprisingly zippy ("wow! the dishes are here already?!"), even when the place was packed and people were lined up out the door.
My theory is that the stove in this new place doesn't fire up as hot as the one in the old San Gabriel Blvd. location did. That would account for the longer preparation time, the way the dishes came out more like sautees than like stir-fries, and the missing scorch factor.
Another gripe: big plasma screen TV with cartoons on it. Yeah, I know it's there to placate the staff's children on a Saturday morning, but I can't stand restaurants with televisions. No matter where we sit, one of us is going to be distracted by moving colored lights. In a bar, it's okay. In a big sit-down place with pretensions to classiness (well, at least in contrast to the former location), it's just grotesque. Can someone who's been there at dinner time post here as to whether or not they turn the TV off then?
The coup de gras was the sliced oranges they brought with the bill. Two slices were very visibly dry, yellow and mealy inside. Sure, it's not a big deal, but if the last piece of food I see in your restaurant is a slice of rotten fruit, how am I supposed to feel?
Oh, and they charge for rice. Is that a first for SGV Chinese restaurants? I've never seen that before. (Thai places, yes, all the time. But in a Chinese place it's tantamount to an Italian joint charging me for the basket of bread.)
We were pretty much in agreement that we're not going to go back again, at least not while there are other places in the vicinity yet to be tried. Based on what everyone else is saying here, though, maybe we just went on a day when the regular kitchen staff was on vacation or something. Perhaps we'll try again in a month or so.
We went back again at dinnertime on Sunday and had several of the same dishes. They came out exactly the same as in my September visit: limp, too wet, no toastiness.
And now they have TWO plasma screen TVs, one each on opposite walls. There is literally nowhere you can sit in the restaurant and not have to watch Chinese television commercials. If the food were good, and I were planning to go back, I would buy one of those devices that shuts off TVs by remote control. But it's not, so I won't, so the TVs will be someone else's problem, I guess.
I was the original poster. I have been back several times since then and I must confess that it is not as good as Crown Cafe. ladelfa's critique of the food is correct. The first time I went, when it had just opened, it was closer to Crown Cafe's cooking, but things have slipped since then. I still think it is good, relatively speaking, but not as good. The problem is finding another similar place that is hot/spicy and of better quality. Chung King also leaves something to be desired in my opinion.