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Chung King, San Gabriel - revisited

mcmal Jul 19, 2009 04:03 PM

I just recently got back into town and after a bit of hesitation (I live in China and wasn't looking to eat Chinese food quite so soon) decided to go back to an old favorite, Chung King. In the past I found Chung King to be pretty much the best Sichuan in the area after Oriental Pearl closed, so I was hoping the quality hadn't gone downhill. I'm sorry to say that my meal was less than exceptional.

First thing I noticed when I walked in on a Saturday night was that more than half the patrons were white. I thought to myself, bad sign. My friend and I weren't that hungry, but we wanted a good mala kick, so we decided to order a couple of basics, the water boiled beef, and la zi ji (spicy fried chicken), as well as the dan dan mian. The noodles were a complete bore. I mean, they tasted right more or less, but they were completely unispired. Okay, fine, I'd never ordered them at CK before so I got over it. I was looking forward to the other two dishes, which had always been solid. Wow, what a letdown. The chicken was nothing like it used to be, well, that's not true, it was something like it used to be, a variation of its former self, and not a good one, like an aged Elvis or Michael Jackson impersonator. But honestly, it wasn't terrible, just not great. The shui zhu beef was ok, more or less, but just like the dan dan mian it was uninspired.

What has happened??!! Am I the only one who thinks this place has faded? Was this a bad night or has popularity ruined the joint? Should I go back and order all my old favorites or should I move on and be happy with my memories?

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  1. s
    sel Jul 19, 2009 10:53 PM

    Am I being too much of an optimist - maybe the chef was on vacation or..........?
    The SGV needs some new and better quality Sichuan restaurants. The best that I've had lately is at home using F. Dunlop's book.

    2 Replies
    1. re: sel
      s
      sel Jul 19, 2009 10:55 PM

      Link:

      -----
      Chung King Restaurant
      1000 S San Gabriel Blvd, San Gabriel, CA 91776

      1. re: sel
        a
        allyoucanet Jul 20, 2009 09:23 AM

        I heard this place was great so I drove all the way out there for some good HOT Chinese food. Very disappointing! The food was bland. Are ethnic restaurants "dumbing down" their food for white people? If so, that's a BIG mistake.

    2. Will Owen Jul 20, 2009 12:38 PM

      It's my understanding that the original chef has gone off to San Diego or somewhere. Last time we were there our own favorite dish, the prickly-ash fried spare ribs, was no longer on the menu, and the bloom was definitely off the rose all around. Too bad - another favorite gone to Helena Hanbaskett.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Will Owen
        p
        Pinkfoodie10 Jul 20, 2009 05:47 PM

        My last visit to Chung King was also disappointing. The dishes don't taste the same and are not as spicy as they used to be.
        --
        http://pinkfoodie.blogspot.com

      2. n
        Newkie Jul 22, 2009 11:40 AM

        Which location did you go to? I believe the owners sold the original location and moved to a new one a few years ago. The people who bought the original location kept the name and most of the menu so it can be very confusing.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Newkie
          mcmal Jul 22, 2009 03:56 PM

          As the title of the post says, San Gabriel. That is where they moved to. I have eaten at this location many times in the past, and I used to eat at the original location when they were still there.

          1. re: mcmal
            n
            Newkie Aug 26, 2009 05:48 PM

            Oops! Good catch.

        2. echoparkdirt Jul 22, 2009 06:32 PM

          This is one of the most critical questions of the moment. I'm dead serious. I too have noted some slippage. Food is rather erratic, the kung pao is super sweet at times. Worried that my favorite Chinese place is going downhill. Has anyone been to the San Diego place the chef has decamped to? Is it "Ba Ren"?

          I still love Chung King in SG but worry about it! I went to Chung King in MP this weekend, it was quite mediocre IMHO

          6 Replies
          1. re: echoparkdirt
            Will Owen Jul 28, 2009 04:51 PM

            I think this is our signal to drop their phone # from Speed-Dial and move on... tears optional.

            1. re: Will Owen
              c
              carter Jul 28, 2009 08:28 PM

              I had a recent meal at the MP location, and while it was good enough, and I have always loved every occupant at the San Gabriel Blvd. location, I think I now prefer the China Islamic on Garvey on the very westerly edge of Rosemead/Monterey Park border. May go this week, in fact. The lamb dish is sensational, the onion pies very good, and who knew watercress could be so good, and all for less than $27 for Two!

              1. re: carter
                ipsedixit Jul 28, 2009 10:45 PM

                How is China Islamic comparable to Chung King in terms of regional Chinese cuisines?

                One is Northern Beijing; the other Sichuan.

                Both are unique in their own right, but to say one is a substitute for the other is rather odd.

                Sort of like saying it's no big deal that Pizza Hut is going out of business because I can always go to Burger King ...

                1. re: ipsedixit
                  c
                  carter Jul 29, 2009 11:31 AM

                  It's just that having just returned from china, one can have all different kinds of tastes within the greater Chinese tastebud, much like you can within America, as an example. While my Taiwanese-born nephew's wife likes her chung king dinner, she now thinks her experiences at Islamic have taken over her tastebuds. I go through phases where my likes vary as well, and I am sure you do too.

            2. re: echoparkdirt
              Mr Taster Aug 1, 2009 10:59 AM

              I went to Ba Ren in San Diego recently with friends and it was indeed spectacular, as was the Chung King of days gone by. I too am very sad to hear of Chung King's demise... what is left of the great Sichuan restaurants?

              Mr Taster

              1. re: echoparkdirt
                mcmal Aug 12, 2009 04:46 PM

                OK. Since my original post, I've gone back twice. I've come to the conclusion that while not as great as it once was it's still got some good things. On the downside I've learned not to get the water boiled beef (sad thing for a Sichuan place); the gong bao chicken is sweeter than it used to be, and overall not as good, the yu xiang eggplant is also too sweet; the lazi ji is almost another dish now -not as good; and the noodles are to be avoided at all costs. The beef in small pot dishes are still quite special, as is the the steamed fish in chili sauce, which I thought was fantastic. These had the right ma-la kick and I was quite pleased. All in all it's still pretty decent Sichuan place, but definitely has declined. In the old days this restaurant could have held its own in Taipei and even Chengdu and Qongqing, now only a few things are that good.

                I don't go to the one in MP that took over the original's space there(went once-bad experience), so I won't comment on it.

              2. a
                aventinus Aug 1, 2009 09:54 AM

                I go to the Chung King on Garfield, not the one on San Gabriel. The food is always good. The clientele are almost always Chinese. Near Chung King is another good Sichuan restaurant, Yun Chuan, which also has 95%+ Chinese clientele. There's nothing wrong with these restaurants; the food tastes like that in Sichuan Province.

                10 Replies
                1. re: aventinus
                  Das Ubergeek Aug 1, 2009 10:23 AM

                  I just ate at Yunnan Garden in Hacienda Heights (related to Yunchuan Garden) and it was very good. You do need to tell them the magic words if you're not Chinese: wo bu pa la (I'm not afraid of spicy).

                  Sadly, though, none of these places measure up to Szechwan Gourmet in New York.

                  1. re: Das Ubergeek
                    a
                    aventinus Aug 1, 2009 07:32 PM

                    I ate there today. Didn't utter the magic words. My ma-la dish was still reasonably spicy, but a bit underpowered by Sichuan standards. (At Yun Chuan Garden, dishes tend to be overpoweringly spicy, in a way I enjoy, without my saying anything.) The food and overall dining experience at Yunnan Garden were good. SGV Sichuan isn't the best I've ever had (and never tried Sichuan in NYC), but it's still delicious and a great value IMO.

                    I should order some of their Yunnan dishes. I actually didn't like the food in Yunnan Province very much, and I love Sichuan food, so I'll have to risk disappointment.

                    1. re: aventinus
                      j
                      Jerome Aug 13, 2009 04:56 PM

                      at yungui - they only have a few yunnan dishes - cross-bridge noodles (which are popping up allo over the place) and the steam-pot chicken (qiguo ji). and a few others i guess. mostly, the menu is sichuan.
                      I also like the chung king on garfield. and the service couldn't be nicer.

                      fwiw - china islamic, i believe the owners are muslims from Henan, not beijing or hebei. Also, htaey now have paomo lamb soup, but they break the bread up into the soup int he back, and I prefer to breakitup myself.
                      Them's the breaks.

                      1. re: aventinus
                        a_and_w Aug 27, 2009 10:58 AM

                        Can anyone compare these places with Z&Y in SF, which also serves Sichuan and Yunnnan cuisine?

                        1. re: a_and_w
                          s
                          sel Aug 27, 2009 11:11 AM

                          I explore all of the Sichuan restaurants in the SGV and while I have not yet been to Z&Y I have had better dishes at China Village in Albany a few weeks back and much better at Trend in Mountain View just a few days ago.

                          1. re: sel
                            a_and_w Aug 27, 2009 11:15 AM

                            Sadness...

                            Can you list the SGV sichuan places you do like? I'm particularly interested in some nice Chong Qing chicken. Is Chung King's the best?

                            1. re: a_and_w
                              s
                              sel Aug 27, 2009 11:40 AM

                              Chung King in San Gabriel, and before their move from Monterey Park usually had great Chong Qing Chicken but I haven't had it in quite a while. I make F. Dunlop's version at home, quick, easy and very good! Generally Chung King has been good in the past but the last time I went in by myself I had Dan Dan Mien for a quick lunch and it was just ok. Water-Boiled Fish/Beef was ok on another visit but both dishes have been better at Hong Yei in recent months. Yun Gui Garden (or what ever the current incarnation is called) has always been pretty good for it's Sichuan dishes, cold appetizers, Ma Po Doufu and........it's been too long but this place is worth a try! With the closings of Oriental Pearl, Lucky Dragon, Sichuan Best, Sichuan Express and others the current options are pretty limited. It's hard to say where to go because with the frequent movements of chefs a place that is great today may be mediocre tomorrow! Still planning on trying Ba Ren in San Diego where I read here that the original chef from Chung King ended up.

                              -----
                              Chung King Restaurant
                              1000 S San Gabriel Blvd, San Gabriel, CA 91776

                              Hong Yei Restaurant
                              288 S San Gabriel Blvd, San Gabriel, CA 91776

                              Yun Gui Garden
                              301 N Garfield Ave Ste D, Monterey Park, CA 91754

                              1. re: sel
                                a_and_w Aug 27, 2009 11:47 AM

                                Thanks, sel!

                                1. re: a_and_w
                                  s
                                  sel Aug 27, 2009 11:53 AM

                                  You're welcome and if you find ANY Sichuan restaurants that really rock your world please report back!

                                2. re: sel
                                  s
                                  SeaCook Aug 27, 2009 01:55 PM

                                  Lucky Dragon closed?!!!! Say it isn't so! waaaah!

                    2. Will Owen Aug 27, 2009 07:00 PM

                      FWIW, J. Gold's Fundamental 99 list is just out, and he kept Chung King on it but dropped Pann's. His call, but I think he dropped more than a restaurant.

                      10 Replies
                      1. re: Will Owen
                        c
                        carter Aug 27, 2009 10:18 PM

                        Yes, and he also dropped Angeli and Angelini Osteria and Father's Office and Pie N Burger, etc.
                        JG has just lost it in my book - strictly out for the PR people these days, as in, I already have my Pulitzer, so I can do what I want.

                        1. re: carter
                          Will Owen Aug 28, 2009 10:29 AM

                          I'm not yet ready to accuse him of just phoning it in, but I have to wonder if he's been as diligent about keeping up with his old favorites as he could be. Our last visit to Chung King was not a totally bad experience, in that the food was all edible and in some cases delicious. But the amazement we'd always felt, the shock of experiencing once again a kind of brilliant edge to what you're eating, that was utterly missing. It was like opening your treasured copy of Alice In Wonderland and finding that all the Tenniel illustrations had been replaced with the Disney versions. I cannot imagine how JG could miss that.

                          1. re: Will Owen
                            Mr Taster Aug 28, 2009 11:00 AM

                            This should probably go to the food media board.

                            I've felt a similar disenchantment with J Gold over these most recent years. Counter Intelligence is why I fell in love with him... not just for his writing style, but because of the restaurants he chooses to review. Though I still enjoy his writing style, his choice of restaurants has been encroaching in on SIV territory, and I really don't like it at all.

                            The good news is that Thi Nguyen's contributions to "The Find" in the LA Times has been filling the void that J Gold is leaving.

                            Mr Taster

                            1. re: Mr Taster
                              ipsedixit Aug 28, 2009 11:06 AM

                              I've never found Chung King to be all that great, and have always felt that it was more a creation of the JGold hype than anything else.

                              Maybe there has been a change in the kitchen, or maybe not and perhaps the Chowhound community's palates have just matured to the point where "really really spicy and numbing food" just isn't all that revelatory.

                              1. re: ipsedixit
                                raytamsgv Aug 28, 2009 04:30 PM

                                I concur. The food was a bit too oily for me, and the flavors were not very impressive.

                                1. re: ipsedixit
                                  j
                                  Jerome Aug 28, 2009 05:04 PM

                                  the chung king on garfield south of garvey in monterey park is still quie good (imho) the water boiled dishes are fine.

                                  1. re: Jerome
                                    s
                                    sel Aug 28, 2009 09:55 PM

                                    I haven't been since the orig. people moved to San Gabriel but if you say it's good than I'm there soon!

                                    1. re: Jerome
                                      c
                                      carter Aug 29, 2009 10:15 AM

                                      Agree, Jerome, as I ate there about 3 weeks ago, and the food was quite good. Pig intestines with chiles, chiles, chiles, was exceptionally flavorful, yet what a different taste. The complimentary dishes we had were equally good. It is one of my go-to SGV chinese restaurants.
                                      Realllly enjoy China Islamic for a different kind of Chinese as well.

                                    2. re: ipsedixit
                                      e
                                      exilekiss Aug 31, 2009 02:59 PM

                                      Hi ipsedixit,

                                      I forgot if I asked you, but are there any good Sichuan restaurants you'd recommend in L.A./O.C.? I agree with Will and Mr Taster that the last 2 times I went to Chung King (San Gabriel) it was... ~Ok, but nothing amazing.

                                      1. re: exilekiss
                                        ipsedixit Aug 31, 2009 03:16 PM

                                        I haven't been for about 6 months or so, but Shufeng Garden in Rowland Heights has always been a good standby for Sichuan.

                                        Shufeng Garden
                                        18459 Colima Rd
                                        Rowland Heights

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