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Formerly California Wok Opens on Westside With Authentic Chinese Goodies

Following up on a thread on some kind of changeover at California Wok on Wilshire Blvd. in West L.A., the new restaurant, whose English name is apparently Formerly California Wok (see front of menu), is open for business. The sign outside still says California Wok, but like the menu there are Chinese characters on top that say Happy Star Seafood. The menu contains all kinds of stuff unfamiliar to Westsiders, including salted fish chicken tofu hotpot, filet mignon french style, shredded potato with vinegar, crab meat fish maw soup, clam with wine in hot pot, and egg tofu with bamboo pith. Of course there's the usual egg foo yung and chop suey for the locals too. Formerly California Wok/Happy Star Seafood is at 12004 Wilshire Bl.

 
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  1. Wow. I drove past a couple days ago and was going to report it reopened as the old California Wok.

    When anyone has a menu, especially lunch combos, please post. Unfortunately or not, I do a lot of lunches alone.

    4 Replies
    1. re: nosh

      Well, they have 73 lunch specials. From sweet and sour pork to Hong Kong roast duck to salt and pepper shrimp in the shell. However, lunch specials are more geared to the Westside lunch crowd.

      1. re: Chandavkl

        still, you could eat there everyday week day for 14 weeks and not finish the menu.

        1. re: csh123

          Don't know if they changed it, but it certainly is cleaner, brighter and fluffier.

      2. This may be the beginning of a new naming trend for restaurants, much like the Artist Formerly Known As Prince.

        1. I think Moon House has both filet mignon and fish maw soup (as does The Palace iirc), and doesn't Jin JIang have a shredded potato app?

          14 Replies
          1. re: ipsedixit

            Mandarin Kitchen also has fish maw soup. But I think Formerly California Wok might have more authentic items than the other places. Lobster hot pot, xiaolongbao, oyster pancake, jellyfish, winter melon soup, XO sauce dishes, sea cucumber with black mushroom, lamb, snow pea leaves, ong choy, dried scallop fried rice are some of the other items on the menu.

            1. re: Chandavkl

              Surprisingly (or maybe not) Hop Woo offers many of those items, incl. other things like abalone and frog!

              1. re: ipsedixit

                Aren't those on their "secret" menu?

                1. re: Chandavkl

                  Didn't even know they had such a thing.

                  1. re: ipsedixit

                    Gadzooks - I didn't ever think I'd see the day when I knew something that ipse didn't already know!

                    http://www.hopwoo.com/s_menu.html

                    1. re: J.L.

                      I got to the bottom and I'm still not sure if that page is for April fool's or not.

                      1. re: J.L.

                        Wait, that's the Hop Woo in Chinatown.

                        I was referring to the Hop Woo on Olympic/Sepulveda. Y'know, the whole "stuff unfamiliar to Westsiders" bit ..

                        1. re: ipsedixit

                          In the past I asked management in the West LA location about it. Yeah, they do the secret menu upon request in West LA as well.

                        2. re: J.L.

                          what's up with the "and many more..." at the bottom?! ... Do they have monkey...?

                          1. re: Eater15

                            Monkey is only on the "Chinese secret menu"

                            Posted only on Weibo. http://food.sina.com/gb/

                    1. re: TheOffalo

                      OK I went there for takeout tonight at Formerly California Wok (FCW). I got some XLB, some potstickers, sea cucumber with mushrooms, pea shoots, and fried rice with dried scallops.

                      I will compare FCW with its local West LA Chinese competitors:

                      XLB: FCW's XLBs (pictured below) are a tad better than ROC Kitchen's. The skin is more toothsome (I suspect Northern mainlanders are in the kitchen), and the filling is more delicate. One demerit goes to the overenthusiastic use of peanut oil I detected in the XLB filling. (I hope this was a one-time thing).

                      sea cucumber: The win goes to Hop Woo, but barely so. The sea cucumber from FCW tasted a touch less flavorful in the braising. However, Hop Woo is far more "frugal" with the amount of sea cucumber in their servings.

                      potstickers: FCW has pretty damn good potstickers. Better than ROC Kitchen's. Again, a thicker skin (me likey), with excellent filling, and cooked just right.

                      pea shoots: Hop Woo still does a better version. But not much better that FCW's.

                      fried rice with dried scallops: A virtual tie with Hop Woo.

                      They have live holding tanks - I must go back for some live fish, etc. on my next visit.

                      Thanks, Chandavkl!!!

                       
                       
                      1. re: J.L.

                        Fried rice w dried scallops and the pea shoots. Two dishes we like at hop woo too. Their potstickers stink tho. Sounds promising.

                        1. re: J.L.

                          Agree with jessejames, sounds promising, but unlike you, I do like thinner skins on XLB and guotie.

                  2. How funny, I was about to report (like nosh) that it was the same place but just w/ an updated sign.

                    I virtually live across the street from this place. Will have to give the XLB, potstickers, and fried rice + shredded scallops a try. Having decent XLB w/i walking distance (!) would be HUGE.

                    1. Is this the joint on the same side of the street as a McD's Jr and almost across the street from the Fatburger/Ross complex ?

                      3 Replies
                        1. re: kevin

                          Basically across the street from Ralphs/Cafe Literati...

                          1. re: kevin

                            Yes, same side. (For those over 40 who are looking for a reference point, it used to be Four Rivers chinese restaurant.)

                            1. re: TheOffalo

                              Well, it's Westside pricing. Entrees generally between $10 and $15. Noodle dishes roughly $10 plus or minus. Lunch specials are $7 and $8. XLB are 8 for $7.

                            2. Tried it this afternoon for lunch. Not bad. Hot and sour soup was fine. Fish filets + black bean sauce was very tasty, as per the potstickers (although I wouldn't have minded them being crispier). XLB were a mess. Soggy, dough, tasteless. Would skip. Fried rice w/ dried scallop was a bit odd in the sense that it looked like the fried rice my parents would try to make at home (ostensibly no sauce [so the rice was still white] and there were some pleasantly burned areas).

                              The dumplings, XLB, and guo-tieh are in the "appetizer" section. I've never thought of those dishes as apps....

                              ROC (which is the only other westside Chinese place I've tried) tastes better, sort of, although I just bring myself to eat there, for some reason. Definitely not a destination, but, for those of us in the area, a nice taste of what (some of us) grew up w/....

                              36 Replies
                              1. re: ilysla

                                Dried scallop fried rice is made without soy sauce. I presume this is a Hong Kong creation.

                                1. re: Chandavkl

                                  Ahhh.... That explains it. Does dried scallop fried rice have *some* sort of sauce, though? I don't recall the versions I've had b/f being so... white.

                                  I think the head waitress was speaking Cantonese, but I'm not sure (I don't speak it myself but can sometimes "recognize" it).

                                  1. re: Chandavkl

                                    Is it done w crab most places in the rice and dried scallop sprinkled on top? Any cool twists on it. Great dish.

                                    1. re: Chandavkl

                                      Right.

                                      The conpoy is the savory-salt component that soy sauce would typically provide in the typical fried rice.

                                      Lovely dish when done right, esp. with egg whites and some scallops. It's what we can literally call a white-out.

                                      1. re: ipsedixit

                                        Is ordering that the best way to get "whited?"

                                        1. re: Tripeler

                                          See that's the thing. My vague recollection of the few times I've had dried scallop fried rice is that it was a "tan-out," not a white out. In looking at photos of the dish on Google, though, I don't see anything that fits what I recall it looking like (although the photos *do* look exactly like the one I had at California Wok). ::shrug::

                                          Good to hear that the ROC XLB are better. For me, it wasn't that any were broken; it's that the skin wasn't very good (too doughy and thick, IIRC).

                                          Really did like the fish w/ black bean sauce (at California Wok) and would again just for that. Would also be willing to try the shrimp + leek dumplings.

                                          1. re: ilysla

                                            I found the egg tofu with bamboo pith to be as good as in the SGV.

                                            1. re: Chandavkl

                                              I don't think I've ever had this dish. Something new for new to try. =)

                                    2. re: ilysla

                                      Service was fine but I found the hot and sour soup disappointing--had to add some chili paste to get a bit of kick. Completely agree as to the XLB, especially vis-a-vis the ones at ROC. The entree (shrimp) was fine but, on the whole, much prefer Moon House over on Santa Monica near Sepulveda.

                                      1. re: New Trial

                                        The hot and sour soup was decently spicy today (not sure if you were also there today).

                                        Yeah, the ROC XLB are light yrs beyond the ones here, and I don't even think the ROC ones are all that good. ::sigh::

                                        1. re: ilysla

                                          I think the ROC ones have gotten better than when they first opened. And more consistent.

                                          1. re: TheOffalo

                                            So, now it's consistently mediocre?

                                            1. re: ipsedixit

                                              Lol I knew someone would make this comment. I specifically said they've improved (yes, yes, "from awful to mediocre?") before saying they've become more consistent...

                                            2. re: TheOffalo

                                              Why do I get the distinct impression that if the xlb were made by someplace like Shanghai Dumpling House or J&J, but they came in an "ROC" marked container they would be excoriated by the SGV Mafia?

                                                1. re: ipsedixit

                                                  West side xlb knee jerk reaction?

                                                  1. re: Servorg

                                                    What I meant was that most of the commentary about ROC's XLB are from people who reside on the Westside. Your supposed SGV Mafia ain't trekking across town to ROC for XLB, or any XLB. I know for myself - a resident east of the 710 fwy - if I cross La Cienega for anything Asian it's either n/naka, sushi or ramen.

                                                    In other words, I don't really know of a strong current of commentary about ROC's XLB from those sporting the 626.

                                                    1. re: ipsedixit

                                                      Note that this guy from the 310 has made more recent excursions to the 626 for XLB from J&J, SDH, DTF. Whether ROC is good or not will always be qualified with "for the Westside" but I'd guess it's actually better than mediocre now even for the 626 (I haven't had worse in the 626 but then I'm not trying to find a worse XLB when I'm in the 626).

                                                      Just on build quality alone, the last four steamer baskets I've had at ROC has not had one broken XLB, while the same could not be said at all of the SGV shops I've had XLB at recently.

                                                      1. re: ipsedixit

                                                        It seems like the "default" setting for the SGVM, when it comes to "west of the 405" side of town for xlb, is sneering disdain with a soup├žon of contempt, derision and scorn thrown in for flavor.

                                                        And I get this very strong feeling that if some xlb were to be made by one of the SGV darlings, but presented in an ROC labeled container, that the SGVM would "rip 'em" a new one for being flavorless or consistently mediocre or some other adjective of your choice that connotes ridicule.

                                                        1. re: Servorg

                                                          Well, that counterbalances some Westsiders who trumpet nearly every attempt at local Chinese as something special or unique, when the cold, hard fact is that they would be mediocre to below average in the SGV. Then there are those having the temerity to reply to articles about the SGV with: "That writer clearly didn't do their homework, there's got to be someplace decent on the Westside for Chinese without driving to the SGV." smh

                                                          I can't speak for others, but presented your scenario, I'd probably say: "Wow, these are surprisingly good for ROC" or even more likely: "No wonder, these are from Shanghai Dumpling House or J&J" :)

                                                          1. re: JThur01

                                                            The only thing I would ever disparage about the SGV is the traffic getting there. And traffic bitch fests are pretty universal, whether you live on the west side, the east side, the north side, or the south side - at least as far as I can tell.

                                                            1. re: Servorg

                                                              I, for one, never complain about LA traffic. I consider it perfect heel-and-toe practice time.

                                                              And really, LA traffic gets a bad rap I think. Ever been in Midtown Manhattan any time, say, between the hours of daylight? Or trying to get into the District from Reston between 7 and 9 am? Or driving to Seattle from Tacoma anytime you have a flight to catch? Or getting to Oakland from SF? Those are traffic nightmares.

                                                              1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                Manhattan has good options for dining by walking in many, many neighborhoods (all neighborhoods probably). Reston traffic is bad, briefly, in one specific area, unlike L.A. which is spread out with bad traffic in every quadrant, and that lasts longer and longer and longer, with no good options in how you get from point A to point B. I mean, come on, you stop your train short of your International airport and make people get off and take a cab the last mile? Oakland to SF I take BART.

                                                                1. re: Servorg

                                                                  The SGV is eminently walkable. I do it all the time! Perhaps, not walkable to the level of Sawtelle, but it's good. I can empathize with Westsiders, but only to a degree. If I lived on the Westside, I'd probably be pretty unwilling to want to get out and drive more on weekends, but if you truly want the "real deal" you have to. Since I drive over an hour to get there, it's why I write "but only to a degree." :) If a drive of less than that isn't worth possibly the best Chinese cuisine in the U.S., that's your choice. And don't get me started on what at times seems to be insularity ("I don't even go east of the 110"). Even if someplace opened with "decent" Chinese on the Westside, one would still be missing all the great variety of Chinese regional cuisines found at say one single intersection in the SGV.

                                                                  I'm also old enough to remember when BART ended at Daly City and folks had to ride buses to SFO ;) So, yeah...

                                                                2. re: ipsedixit

                                                                  "heel-and-toe" I knew you were one of us.

                                                                  #fk2014v2ffs

                                                                  1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                    REAL LA traffic is easy to manage as you can take side streets to get past congestion/accidents. It's the times where you're stuck behind the 'wall' of cars all texting.

                                                                    I'll take LA traffic anyday over San Diego anyday. I usually encounter 2-3 'California Cut's' in San diego a DAY whereas I encounter maybe 1-2 a month in LA. As Ips said, LA gets a bad rap for traffic.

                                                                    Oh and forget about SF to Oakland, one time during rush hour, I was heading south to the golden gate bridge, a Fire Truck behind me took about 20 minutes to get from my rearview mirror to out of my view in front. I feel sorry for whoever that Fire truck was trying to get to.

                                                                    1. re: polldeldiablo

                                                                      Totally with you, polldeldiablo.

                                                                      LA really doesn't have traffic. It just has lots of cars. Which is ok.

                                                                      Especially if you love your car, and enjoy driving. Which I do.

                                                              2. re: Servorg

                                                                I grew up in the SGV but didn't particularly like it there, and I live on the Westside, so I don't consider myself part of the mafia (if such a thing even exists).

                                                                The ROC XLB really actually aren't that good (again, on my one visit). There's not much of a comparison, actually. Sometimes inferior really is inferior. And the ones at FCW are genuinely terrible.

                                                                Any "ridicule" I've read was more about pricing than about quality.

                                                  2. re: New Trial

                                                    While I didn't make specific mention in my recent essay, I do wonder about the XLB that have been popping up in Chinese restaurants on the Westside and the San Fernando Valley of late, and whether it comes from someplace like Sysco.

                                                    1. re: Chandavkl

                                                      Or maybe Mama's Lu is selling their reject ones to Westside restaurants?

                                                      1. re: ipsedixit

                                                        I did mention Dean Sin World (as well as China Boy in DC) in the article as supposed purveyors of items.

                                                        1. re: Chandavkl

                                                          Have you been to China Boy recently?

                                                          Heard that they might get evicted because of gentrification, er, I mean redevelopment in Chinatown. But I think things got worked out. Good for them. And us.

                                                          1. re: ipsedixit

                                                            Tough maintaining a Chinatown when there are hardly any Chinese residents in the area. Does make a nice intercity bus stop though.

                                                        1. re: scoopG

                                                          There are frozen XLB at Ranch 99 that are rather respectable.

                                                          I've seen frozen ones at Hong Kong SuperMarket in Manhattan Chinatown. I was tempted, but opted for Pocky sticks, red bean mochi and white rabbit candies. Ever try those scoopG? The XLB, not my fascination with sugar.

                                                          1. re: ipsedixit

                                                            No, have never bought the frozen XLB but have been served them at a Sichuan place in Minneapolis - am pretty sure they were from Sysco.

                                                  3. i walked in there today to get a menu.kinda depressing inside.only one diner there.i will probably go there monday for lunch to try the 10.95 lobster

                                                    5 Replies
                                                    1. re: yogacat

                                                      I'd had lunch here once or twice when it was still known as California Wok. It was a pretty mediocre experience.

                                                      I'm happy to report that the restaurant formerly known as California Wok is considerably better (at least based on the one meal I just had -- "spicy salt pork chop")

                                                      Posting the new menu as well. Hope this place works out.

                                                        1. re: banjoboy

                                                          anybody know how to make this a LOT bigger on a mac?

                                                      1. was able to sample this...mixed report

                                                        the potstickers while better than hop woo still pretty bad -- ironically the best ive found in west la area area at genhis cohen.

                                                        the soup dumplings were sad, deflated and stuck to the tin.

                                                        now the good:

                                                        pea shoots in garlic sauce ... a bit greasy but quite good.

                                                        egg tofu with bamboo pith and dried scallop, bok choy....quite nice. never had this dish before and did it on your rec -- we liked it a lot. mild flavor and nice vehicle for the dried scallop

                                                        lobster hong kong style...this is the "dry" deep fried prep with deep fried garlic, jalapenos and szezuan dried peppers...quite nice and a nice detour from the "wet" lobster preps we usually get.

                                                        free mango pudding dessert.

                                                        nice to see our waiter from hop woo at this new location too.

                                                        large menu and lots of good options so next time will be more hits and less misses.

                                                        1. I tried California Wok for lunch today. Since it is just me, I like a protein with an assortment of veggies, and I like spicy. When the server said the chicken with garlic szechwan sauce had only chunks of bell pepper and onion, she suggested the shrimp with mixed vegetables substituting a spicy sauce.

                                                          Hot'n'sour soup was ok. Better with some soy and hot chili oil. Why are so many places afraid of the sour element from some sort of vinegar?

                                                          Entree had a fairly generous portion of larger than normal shrimp, a bit butterflied. Four gig quarters of baby bok choy (I'll ask for it chopped next time), big florets of broccoli, a few snow peas, water chestnuts, a couple slices of mushrooms, a bit of carrot, some bean sprouts. Pretty good. Cup of steamed white rice suffered from some hard bits (stuck on bottom rather than undercooked).

                                                          Place looks a bit brighter inside since I've been there ages ago. Sat in a booth up front and sank too much into the cushions.

                                                          Lunch was $7.95 + tax + tip = over $10. On first impression I prefer Moon House, but I can try the new California Wok again to see of any other dishes click.

                                                          15 Replies
                                                          1. re: nosh

                                                            @jessejames and nosh

                                                            Methinks you two must be related to the "SGV Mafia" mentioned up above ...

                                                            1. re: ipsedixit

                                                              No excoriation but the xlb were sad deflated stuck to bottom and generally popped. So I just had 3. Is there some better place you know of than genghis Cohen for juicy meaty and big potstickers Hollywood or west? I don't think the mafia likes genghis Cohen.

                                                            2. re: nosh

                                                              One caution I would make is that the lunch specials appear weighted towards the Westside crowd and I wouldn't be surprised if some of them were clunkers by Chowhound standards. That's a common issue at Chinese restaurants that serve dual clientele.

                                                              1. re: Chandavkl

                                                                Is there a 'secret' chinese menu that you know usually has slightly cheaper prices with dishes that aren't as americanized(mapo tofu, salted fish and chicken fried rice as opposed to general blahblah and bef w/broccoli)?

                                                                And yes I spelled it bef on purpose as that's the most common misspelling I've seen in chinese restaurants.

                                                                1. re: polldeldiablo

                                                                  No, the regular menu is peppered with all the good stuff. It's just the lunch menu that seems more skewed to the former patrons of California Wok.

                                                                    1. re: polldeldiablo

                                                                      The menu is so secret they don't even tell Chandavkl.

                                                                      1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                        A reason there is none to tell the Jedi Master...The force is strong with that one.

                                                                        1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                          Two menus there are: one for Chowhound masters, one for wannabe-Chowhound apprentices.

                                                                          1. re: raytamsgv

                                                                            Went back last week. Had the pea shoots, again tasty. The beef short ribs in xo sauce had what some wine people call fecal overtones. Menu there is hit and shit.

                                                                            1. re: jessejames

                                                                              Is fecal overtones a good thing ???????????

                                                                2. re: nosh

                                                                  I'm looking forward to going deeper into the menu as well. Unfortunately, I tried to order the lamb dish (the one on the chef's special menu) and they said it wasn't available.

                                                                  But the salt-and-pepper shrimp was very good, especially by the standards of the west side.

                                                                3. The kidlet requested "dumplings" so we thought we'd try a new place and stopped by for a very early lunch. Unfortunately we were the only patrons when we arrived and left.

                                                                  Most important factor is that they have parking (!) although half the slots I believe seemed taken by the restaurant staff since no one else was in the restaurant. All the parking behind the restaurant seem to be for other establishments. But this is pretty key for the Westside. For the Palace a bit further east on Wilshire you have to valet which is a pain. Moon House and Hop Woo and Mandarin Kitchen you have to share with a small lot with other businesses so parking is bad.

                                                                  They have a lot of booths. Not ideal setup for large parties. The restaurant is very clean and tidy. The DPH sign is a B. Not sure whether that is seen as a "badge of honor" on the Westside as it is in the SGV.

                                                                  We got potstickers and Cantonese style soup dumplings / XLB - the kinds that come in aluminum cups that are in Cantonese dim sum places and not like ROC or DTF. Our son devoured the XLB - or at least the skins since that is all he really likes anyway. There was an unusual nutmeggy taste to the soup dumpling fillings. Potstickers were ok - lightly fried. We wouldn't have gotten either of these except for the request.

                                                                  Got braised tofu and mushroom lunch special - we thought it was good. Also got the char siu chow mein (regular menu) - a bit smaller than portion sizes in other Chinese restaurants for the price likely due to Westside pricing - and a bit salty. Complementary hot and sour soups and regular tea (no queries as to which type, so doubt they carry a variety).

                                                                  We'd go back and would like to try more traditional foods on the main menu (different than the lunch menu), but worried it might not last long if they don't start getting business.

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: thranduil

                                                                    >> There was an unusual nutmeggy taste to the soup dumpling fillings. <<

                                                                    It would seem their excessive use of peanut oil still hasn't been tweaked...

                                                                  2. i went there yesterday for lobster for the 3rd time.
                                                                    owner came up to my table-told me not to come back
                                                                    they are no longer serving steamed lobster for 10.95

                                                                    3 Replies
                                                                    1. re: yogacat

                                                                      really ??????

                                                                      what ???????

                                                                      told you not to come back because you keep ordering the lobster ?????????????

                                                                      which joint was this ??????

                                                                      1. re: yogacat

                                                                        That is incredibly rude of the owner to do that to you.

                                                                        1. re: yogacat

                                                                          (to everyone): how was the food?? It seems some new restaurants have "introductory deals" which they don't extend.