San Gabriel Report: TUNG LAI SHUN (what the hell happened?) and... BEARD PAPA!
Was in San Gabriel Square tonight for the first time since returning home from 6 month tasting tour of Asia. From recs on this board, my Lovely Tasting Assistant (LTA) and I decided to try and recapture the magic of our trip by trying the stinky tofu at Ay Chung, recommended by some hounds on this board. (Brief report-- the stinky tofu wasn't very good, like toasted marshmallows which deflated into nothing when you bit into to it) However the house special soup, a viscous Taiwanese concoction of skinny little noodled and chunks of fishy, meaty tofu was actually quite good (and I think their beef noodle soup must be the cheapest in LA at $3.00 per bowl).
Also, there is a new place up there on the top level called "Fantasy Eatery" which was busting out the door with people. It looked like Cantonese or Hong Kongese food... anyone been? Any good?
However one bowl of soup and an order of chou doufu wasn't enough to satiate the lustful hunger of my LTA and I, so we proceeded to Tung Lai Shun for some lamb with leeks and scallion bread.
As we crossed the bridge, something was off. The exterior sign was a bit strange; it was different from how I remembered it. There was a menu posted on the outside wall. In addition, there was no sign of the exterior "Muslim Restaurant" decals that used to be on the windows facing the parking lot. As we drew closer my LTA (who is Taiwanese) noticed the following:
"Hey, Yadang Lewopo," (my Chinese name), "the English says Tung Lai Shun but the Chinese now says TAIWANESE HOT DISHES."
We check out the menu. Sure enough, we see all kinds of Taiwanese specialties, including (inexplicably) the thick sesame scallion bread on several peoples' tables, which is by no means Taiwanese food. (By the way, when we were in Beijing we learned that "Tung Lai Shun" is a famous and often copied Islamic restaurant, so serving Taiwanese food at a restaurant whose name has ripped off a famous Islamic joint makes very little sense.) The interior has also been gussied up-- all the fairy lights in the ceiling are gone, and the grubby bar with the giant jar of pickled garlic is nowhere to be seen. Instead they now serve alcohol from behind that bar. And the interior has been all bamboo-ified, to an intense degree.
We were, needless to say, quite disappointed. We couldn't bring ourselves to eat there and instead went for a walk down the street to our old standby, Mei Long Village.
Upon crossing into the quiet, sequestered minimall, which for a Saturday night was quite empty except for a gaggle of people hanging around outside the Lollicup shop, we were shocked to find a new Beard Papa outlet with only two people inside! How could we resist... we bought one, thrilled to not have to navigate though the tragically hip fashionistas and clueless tourists found at the Hollywood & Highland branch. The puff was fantastic, the pastry so light and after a lovely crispness, barely there on your tongue-- and the custard was rich, infinitely smooth, eggy sweetness. Heaven in a puff. I think I may have heard someone order a pumpkin filled puff, but I may have been hallucinating from the custardy bliss.
So, please tell, does anyone know what happened to Tung Lai Shun? Has the food suffered?
The rest of the story is that the owners of the old Tung Lai Shung reopened as Ma's Islamic in Anaheim. However, because a large portion of their clientele down there consists of non-Chinese Islamics, the food has apparently been dumbed down to non-Chinese tastes.
Also, here's a recent short thread on Fantasy Eatery.