Hua Garden in Monterey Park - (long)Some Yunnan spec's, mostly Szechwan dishes
Went to Hua Garden for Lunch on Friday. 301D N. Garfield in Monterey Park. Chinese name is Yunnan GuoQiao Yuan (pinyin), Yunnan province "Crossing the Bridge" Garden.
Talked to some of the folks there. The wait staff is from all over China, our waitress was from Tianjin and a woman who seemed like a proprietress or such was from Emei Shan in Szechwan. As for the menu:
Although they bill themselves as having Yunnan/Dian cuisine, most of the dishes are from Szechwan (does it look funny to write Sichuan?). The few Yunnanese dishes were excellent.
The #1 dish on the menu is "Crossing the Bridge" Noodles. This is a famous dish with a lore about a wife bringing her scholar husband food to a pavilion on an island in a lake. The broth was boiling hot and kept so by a thin layer of oil (or fat) on top. When the wife reached the bridge, she would throw the noodles into the pot and they would be cooked by the time she reached the study. The dish is known all over China as a spec. of Yunnan (cert. it was known in Beijing and supposedly was a favorite of both the Kangxi and the Qianlong emperors). In any case they serve it here. It comes with a choice of noodles, or the specialty, mi xian or rice threads which have a slightly thicker consistency than rice noodles and taste like thin wheat noodles to me (one can also get regular and thick rice noodles I believe). The broth was subtle but great, and at the table, they throw in thin sliced meat, soy skin(fu zhu) and vegetables and the noodles. It is all cooked quickly and with no lamp or heat like with a hot pot. I found it delicious.
There was also a dish I'd had in China but not here called Steampot chicken (qiguo ji) with a broth. This is made in a special earthenware pot that has a thin cone rising up in the center that is hollow. The pot is placed in a steamer and the steam not only heats the pot but enters the pot through the cone in the base. The meat, vegetables and flavorings produce a flavorful and very clear broth. And there was a dish with minced pork and preserved vegetable ( it wasn't szechwan zhaicai, or a mustard green, but some kind of Yunnanese pickle). Salty, spicy quite good.
The szechwan dishes were all excellent. There is a bar with cold dishes that aren't on the menu but that you can order by pointing at- cucumbers, peanuts, etc. The szechwan dumplings - chao shou, were good but I've had better. But the boiled beef/fish dishes were quite good and the sauce was very hot.
Someone on the board had posted that they missed Chengdu snacks. This place also has some real (zhengzong) Szechwan dishes like the Szechwan fire pot - ma la huoguo, in individual servings.
I'd say go to try the Yunnan dishes, but stay for the Szechwan food (they have the soups, yuxiang pork and eggplant, dry cooked "gan shao" dishes).
The one intriguing Yunnan dish on the menu was niu gan bai, beef dry white. Have no idea, nor did my chinese friend who went with me. Also, the menu doesn't divide the dishes between Yunnan and Szechwan fare, you have to ask the wait staff (similar to most of those old "Mandarin" restaurants, that didn't differentiate between Shandong, Huaiyang and Szechwan dishes). Worth a try.
Oh, and btw, deerfield garden on Atlantic and Garvey has lots of Beijing dishes, including instant-boiled lamb/mutton (shuan yang rou). Great when the weather gets colder.
I visited Hua Garden last night with some friends. We had a small number of dishes--all were excellent. The Yunnan style steamed chicken in clay pot (qi4 guo1 ji1, number one on the menu's second page) was nuggets of chopped drumsticks in a dark broth redolent with Chinese medicinal herbs and lychees, the gizzard with green onion and ginger (xiao3 chao3 ji1 za2, number thirty-two on the menu) a spicy and chewy delight of chicken innards with lots of dried red chilis, the green pepper with potato (qing1 jiao1 yang2 yu4 si1, number fifty-one on the menu) somewhat understated. Etc. From among the cold appetizers, sliced pig ears in chili oil and sliced chicken innards (ji1 zhen1? I have yet to check this word and the restaurant's manager was unsure how to write it) with xiang1 cai4 both excellent. Total fare for four people: $28 before tip.
What a coincidence. I stopped by here for dinner last night, not knowing that there was a write-up on it. Would have been great to read before going in. As it was, I went with my Chinese parents who told me the same story, even though we didn't order that dish. I got the 3-flavor Noodle Soup---the 3 flavors being vegetable (wood ear and carrots), meat (white chicken), and seafood (sea cucumber), in a clear broth. Wonderful dish, left my lips smacking! My mom had the plain Noodles in Chicken Soup, which was the same broth as mine but garnished simply with dou mieu. She liked it as well. We also had several of the cold plates and liked the roasted peanuts, pig(?) intestines in hot chili sauce, and spicy sliced beef. These tasted great when added into my clear broth. There were two green veggie dishes that were good though overly salted--the chopped Chinese long green beans and the seaweed-type julienned vegetable.
Don't try the spicy leafy dish that looks like spinach. UGH. Tasted just like polluted salt water.
Some of the other noodles were also a miss. Try to avoid their spicy noodles (we had the stewed pork and beef tendon ones). The chefs evidently just put a big spoonful of chili oil into the soup, so that the entire top layer of teh bowl is orange. Despite the story, this makes the dish very nasty and unappetizing.
I thank the writer for referring us to a Yunnan-style restaurant: I have not had any good "over-the-bridge" noodles since I was in Kunming: even the few Yunnan places in Shanghai were second rate. As for good Sichuan places, there is excellent cold noodle,a great braised spicy fish, and pig intestine in a fiery chile sauce in a place that is on Valley in San Gabriel, just east of Del Mar. It's the first major shopping center on the right after Del Mar. I think the shopping center may even be called "Valley-something." The place is in the southwest corner of the shopping center. There's a decent Shanghai place next door (not great, but reasonably well executed Shanghai dishes: scallion pancake, a nice dish with fresh soybeans and dou-fu (tofu) in the shapes of bow ties stir fried with a fermented vegetable, etc., etc. Go to the Sichuan place, though, first. The cold noodle is really first rate: thin, chewy texture, with a light sesame oil (none of that thick, peanut-buttery glop you get in lao wai places), and a nice staff.
It sounds like the Sichuanese place recommended may be "Jia Wei Chuan Cai," known by the English name Best Szechuan. A modest but excellent place I've visited twice and other reliable friends have independently discovered and praised. Noodles are certainly excellent and the service particularly nice.
534 E. Valley Boulevard (just west of San Gabriel Blvd.)