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REVIEW w/ pics: Dinner at China Islamic

pleasurepalate Feb 1, 2009 06:13 PM

A few months back, I came upon this online article on the Cooking Light website simply entitled "The Four Schools of Chinese Cooking" and as the title suggests, it talked about 4 different types of Chinese cooking based on schools or more likely "regions": East, West, South and North. Given the fact that I'm lucky enough to live in the San Gabriel Valley where the breadth of Chinese cooking is unparalleled, I thought I'd start a new dining series for Pleasure Palate where we would dine at restaurants representing each school. Our next visit focused on the Northern School.

Taken directly from the article, "The Northern School is the most eclectic, incorporating the refined cooking of palace kitchens and Shandong province (where classic Chinese cuisine originated), as well as Mongolian and Muslim dishes. acclaimed for its spicy dishes, includes Sichuan, Hunan, and Yunnan provinces." Look below for more info.

What the North is known for: Noodles, Steamed Breads, and Pancakes are served instead of rice.

Styles of Cooking: Stir-Frying, Pan-Frying, Braising, and Barbecuing

Common Seasonings: Garlic, Chives, Leeks, Star Anise, and Sweet Bean Sauces.
Representative Dishes: Moo Shu Pork With Mandarin Pancakes.

To represent the Northern school, I chose China Islamic in Rosemead and I tried to choose dishes, with the help of the staff, to best showcase what the Northern School was all about. For our meal there, we shared 12 dishes.

Starting our meal was the Dabing, which is a thick sesame and green onion pancake. I've only had the thinner versions of this pancake before, so I was interested in tasting the difference. The Dabing is definitely quite filling on its own. When you cut into and see the cross-section, it looks like a pancake within a pancake.

After taking a few bites, it didn't do much for me. I found it too dough-y and preferred the thinner pancakes that we ordered later in the meal. Of the remaining items, I have to say that everything was pretty good, but some were more memorable than others.

The first dishes to arrive were the Lamb with Green Onions and the Beef with Pickled Cabbage. I enjoyed how the grassiness of the green onions complimented the stronger flavors imparted by the lamb, which by the way, was tender to the bite.

When it came to the Beef with Pickled Cabbage, I was one of the few at my table or maybe, I was the only one at my table who loved this dish. Compared to some of the other items which were bolder in taste, this dish was pretty mild. What drew me to this dish was my Filipino palate which favors foods that have a sour/vinegary tang to them. I liked the combo of the cabbage, which was almost like sauerkraut and the meatiness of the beef. I would definitely order this dish again.

Although some kind of green bean dish is seen on most Chinese restaurant menus, regardless of the region that the restaurant represents, I have to say that their Dried Shrimp and Green Bean dish is better than most. The addition of the dried shrimp gave a nice hit of saltiness and overall, the little bit of heat coming from the sauce that the beans and shrimp were sauteed in was very appealing to my taste buds.

Like the green beans, noodle dishes are also standard Chinese dishes, but the Three Flavor Chow Mein that we ordered was exceptional in that the noodles were hand cut and had a nice slightly chewy texture that really did it for me.

The two dishes that wowed me the most arrived last. One was the oxtail in brown sauce. All I have to say is "Mama Mia!" and I'm not even Italian and I'm not even dining at an Italian restaurant, but that brown sauce was so good, I could have dived into it. It was thick and had a smoky, slightly sweet heat taste to it. I can't say enough good things about it. The added bonus was that they didn't skimp on the oxtail, which I found to be meaty and also quite tender.

Finally, there was the Lamb in a Warm Pot dish. The broth was just so goooood. Notice the extra "o"s in the word gooood. There was so much flavor in that soup plus it was rich and hearty. I loved the addition of fresh cilantro. It's a dish that's perfect cold weather comfort food. The lamb was also tender and in general, the running theme is that this restaurant really knows how to prepare their meat dishes. There wasn't anything I had where the meat wasn't cooked just right.

Overall, I really enjoyed my meal at China Islamic and I can see why it's gotten consistent raves from bloggers, food critics and regular dining folk alike since it's opened. My second visit there happened a month or so later and this time we ordered different dishes and the meal was still just as good as the first time. China Islamic is definitely a must visit for anyone who enjoys Chinese dining and even more so, if you're interested in checking the Northern Style of Chinese Cooking that China Islamic represents so well.

To see pics, go to:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/la_addict/sets/72157613063801490/

China Islamic
7727 Garvey Ave
Rosemead, CA 91770
(626) 288-4246
http://www.chinaislamic.com/

Thanks,
Abby
http://pleasurepalate.blogspot.com/

  1. ipsedixit Feb 1, 2009 08:21 PM

    Have to disagree, the "da-bing" is the best part of the meal ... and may be the only reason to go to China Islamic.

    1. Das Ubergeek Feb 2, 2009 12:59 AM

      Nice report. Leaving aside my objection to Sichuan being labelled as northern food, it sounds like you hit many representative dishes. I like the da bing but I like the thinner kind at Mas Islamic Chinese better. It can get overwhelming but the idea normally would be to eat a lot of bread with some food to liven it up (like a bowl of rice with some food on it in Southern Chinese cooking).

      Glad you enjoyed it. I like China Islamic but the place is a bit rundown -- try Mas next time you come to OC.

      8 Replies
      1. re: Das Ubergeek
        Dommy Feb 2, 2009 10:01 AM

        Really... does Ma's hit China Islamic's level?

        --Dommy!

        1. re: Dommy
          pleasurepalate Feb 2, 2009 12:04 PM

          I'm definitely curious about Mas Islamic Chinese, too. Is it really worth the drive from LA?

          1. re: pleasurepalate
            Das Ubergeek Feb 2, 2009 12:46 PM

            Well, those are two different questions.

            Yes, I think Mas' is at the same level as China Islamic, though the service gets in the weeds too easily (if they are very busy it can take a while to eat). I think the bread is better at Mas, and some of the dishes like five-spiced beef with leeks and lamb with preserved cabbage is better at Mas. I think the lamb hotpot is better at China Islamic, but the dough-cut noodles are better at Mas.

            Is it worth the drive? I can't answer that. If you live very near China Islamic, probably not. If you live, say, where it's probably the same driving time to either, I would pick Mas over China Islamic.

            Certainly, though, if you're in OC you should try it. Jamillah Garden is another place but I like Mas better.

            1. re: Das Ubergeek
              j
              Jerome Feb 2, 2009 05:19 PM

              Hey das U...
              I like China Islamic fine. Last time I went there, I saw that they just added PaoMo Yangrou - thinnish unleavened bread cakes torn up and served in lamb soup with meat. In Xi'an you get the bread yourself and break it down into duompling sized pieces that are then soaked in the lamb soup. Here, they do it for you, in the kitchen, and it stews a bit longer.

              I think the original post is a bit wrong. In any case, Sichuan would be the cheif of the west ern foods. The four? no, just silly. I'd always been told that there were six - Canton, fujian (which is compeltely different and both are southern), Shandong for northern, sichuan for western, huaiyang (mixing jiangsu and zhejiang foods) for eastern, and yunnan for itself - with a wide variety of game, mushrooms and other delicacies as well as minority influences.

              Beijing doesn't rate as one of the great cuisines - people go to shandong or other places for high-level food. nor does hunan, which is interesting, sour, superoily and hot but not considered on the same level, nor real shanghai food (as opposed to the stuff from nearby)). cHINA Islamic is eclectic, more andmore cantonese dishes creeping onto the meny, the original kitchen was a henan kitchen - fine but not one of the biggies.
              Still it's great to have yangrou paomo back after the one place that served it out in Rowland Heights,Tong Sheng Xiang, closed down.

              1. re: Jerome
                ipsedixit Feb 2, 2009 08:12 PM

                Yeah, Islamic cuisine wouldn't really be considered "northern".

                1. re: ipsedixit
                  j
                  Jerome Feb 2, 2009 10:43 PM

                  in and of itself... no. it's like calling something kosher cuisine. There are Hui specialties in cities in Fujian province - Quanzhou, Zhangzhou. There are hui areas in hebei province, even. Beijing muslims (not uyghurs, but hui "chinese" muslims) are famous for the yogurt and for butter cookies. As well, the best rinsed lamb hotpots (shuai yang rou) were at muslim restaurants, which were also known for their jiaozi. And there are muslims - hui in Yunnan as well.
                  ANd then there's the less Sinified muslim groups like the Uyghur turks, the kyrgyz, the kazakhs (now mostly muslim), uzbeks, etc. Their food (northwest if you like) is basically central asian.

                  So there it is. There isn't just one Muslim cuisine in china. And China Islamic originally was Henan style dishes prepared in a a halal manner.

                  Does anyone know if the Hui have special dishes for breaking fast on Ramadan, for Id ul-Fitr, for Ashurah?

                  Just curious... (Maybe better on not about food or some other board but i have no idea where...)

                  1. re: Jerome
                    pleasurepalate Feb 2, 2009 11:26 PM

                    Jerome, if you ever decide to write a book on Chinese Regional Cooking, I'd definitely buy it. :) I just liked the idea of introducing my dining group to something different and what I liked about the whole Four Schools of Chinese Cooking article, right or not, was that it gave me a way to show that there's more to Chinese food than Dim Sum or dishes like orange chicken and chow mein. In that sense, I did accomplish what I set out to do and I'm happy with that.

                    You mentioned 6 styles of Chinese Cooking. Do you have a recommendation for restaurants that represent each style because that would be a great dining series that I could set up for my group this year. :)

                    1. re: pleasurepalate
                      j
                      Jerome Feb 3, 2009 12:37 AM

                      Tough here.
                      For my purposes -
                      south - any good hong kong/cantonese place will do, for cantonese. MPV i like - esp the aquariums around the restaurant. 888 seafood is good and has a few chaozhou dishes as well.

                      There are probably some new Fujian places open. New York east broadway has a bunch. You can get a good idea at Foo Chow - ask the server whcih dishes are really from Fuzhou - if you order in advance, (three or four days) you can get Buddha Jumps over the wall, Fo Tiao Qiang for about 350, feeds ten people.

                      HUAIyang - I like Giang-nan. Others ehre like JZ, meilong village, lake spring garden, etc.

                      Sichuan - I like Chongqing/chungking on Garfield. Shufeng in rowland heights, etc.

                      Northern - it's hard to find. Many snack dishes at 101 noodle express, at A&J, Lu Din Ji has duck and some imperial food. But carp, and shandong style sea cucumber, and peach flower rice like at fengzeyuan, very hard to find. Qingdao bread food has panfired dumplings. (lujiao). also some places have shuaiyangrou/rinsed mutton/ mongol hot pot - with shungiku/tonghao/crown chrysanthemum leaves.
                      (really shandong food) MaLan's noodles - hand pulled to order, comes close.
                      for an idea of what we're discussing check out the reviews for fengzeyuan in beijing here
                      http://www.chineseye.com/path-ye-biz_...

                      Yunnan - we have only Yungui on garvey. They have the crossing bridge noodles (similar to Pho) and the steam pot chicken (qiguo ji) but they also have many sichuan dishes.

                      minor cuisines...
                      For hunan try hengyang chiliking. There are places with hainan chicken. ohters have korean-chinese dishes, some tibetan places, and a place on valley has very authentic uyghur skewers.

      2. Vaya Con Carne Feb 2, 2009 06:03 AM

        Thanks for the report! I'm a big fan of CI and usually end up ordering the same three things - lamb with green onions, beef with green beans, and curry chicken - but I really need to branch out next time. I agree with you, they really know how to do their meats just right - everything is always tender and perfect.

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