There was a bit of a buzz when Liang's Kitchen first opened during the fall of last year. Not so much for us though, since a couple of years back we had a most horrendous meal and service at Liang's in Irvine...so bad that I wouldn't do a post on it. So even if I'd be willing to visit Liang's here in San Diego, the Missus will not.
Actually, the Chinese name of the restaurant, translated as something like "Mama Liang's home style military dependant village kitchen, is perhaps a more apt description of what Liang's serves. Now before you go off and think this will be something reminiscent of mess line slop, stop for a moment. When the KMT retreated to Taiwan, housing had to be built for those fleeing. Settlements were funded by the military and built with the intent of being temporary housing. It was believed that people would only have to live in these villages for a short time until the ROC defeated the Communists and folks would move back to their homeland. This of course, never happened. Over time these villages comprised of people from all over China developed social networks and a sense of community. A nice article on these villages can be found here, I particularly enjoyed the story of "Ho" from Shandong:
"After Ho retired from the military, he opened a breakfast store in the village selling traditional Shandong dishes like steamed buns, fried dough sticks and salty soybean milk which became quite popular among villagers and even nearby Taiwanese residents."
Liang's claims to serve the diasporic cuisine of those villages, using the sentimental value to draw folks in.
Since Liang's first opened, I've visited five times with mixed results. In the beginning, the prices seemed to change, always in the "up" direction...perhaps three times on items like the Niu Rou Mian and Niu Rou Chuan. Once I was served by a young lady wearing flip-flop like sandals and grey sweat pants. I will say that my last two visits have been the best, as the prices and service have finally evened out a bit. Not quite sure about the food yet....
The first two times I had the Niu Rou Mian (Beef Noodle Soup), I was less than pleased.
On the first visit, the broth had been flavored by what the Missus calls "the wave method", as in the soup tasted like someone had waved a beef bone over it to flavor it. The beef was fairly tender, but dry and cold in the center. I selected the regular noodles, which were prepared nicely. On the second visit, the broth was better, but too sweet, the beef was still pretty dry, and the "Lapian Handmade Noodles" tough and gummy. The broth also seemed low with regards to anise flavor as well.
However, on my last visit, I ordered the Beef Tendon version and was rewarded with a decent bowl.
Even though the broth still didn't have enough anise or beef flavor for me, it was hot, not too sweet, not overly salty, and most of all, not bland. The beef tendon was very nice, soft and almost buttery. The pieces of beef were still the same, too dry and stringy for me. Ditto for the handmade noodles, too gummy and over-worked.
Still, I felt pretty happy about the whole situation, until FOY (Friend of Yoso) the "Zompus" asked me, "since when is one out of three good, other than in baseball." I'm hoping that I improve on that slow start during future visits.
On one of my visits, I had the Niu Rou Chuan - the Beef Roll, which was then something like $6.50, but the last time I looked at the menu was up to $7.25.
The sesame bread was too dry as was the beef. I did enjoy the addition of what I believe is Ji Cai, pickled mustard greens, which adds a nice palate cleansing salty-sour component to this, but overall, I didn't care much for it.
When I mentioned this to another FOY "Liver", I was instructed to order the Pork version instead. Which is what I did on another visit with my good friend Candice.
The fat and the flavor of the pork added to the dish.
During our visit we tried a couple of other items.
The Special Red Pork Cutlet($5.25) had a nice light-crunchy texture.
Mild sweetness, though not much else that stood out.
The stuffed squid ($6.99) served cold.
Would have been a real winner if they removed the quills from the squid before they stuffed them. Biting into the squid, then being stabbed by the plastic like quills makes for a rather unpleasant experience.
The Stewed Pigs Feet ($6), in my opinion could have been stewed much longer and needed a flavor injection.
It was like eating hard rubber......
And that's kind of how it's gone for my meals at Liang's. I'd try something like the Salty Pork Stuffed Chili ($5 when I tried it, now $5.50).
Which was indeed salty, but in a good way. You'll also play a bit of chili-roulette with this one as some of the peppers were hot, but other not. The roasting of the peppers also adds a bit of sweetness.
But this was very dry, tasted salty, but also a bit "refrigerator-rancid"......I tried to explain to the yong lady working, but she either didn't, or pretended not to understand. I opted to cut my losses and retreat.
If you like variety, you'll get it here. Is the NRM the best in San Diego? In a town of blind men, is the one-eyed man king? Ditto the Beef Roll..... They also say "nothing ventured, nothing gained", here's hoping that your ratio of gains to ventures is a good one. For balance please read Kirbie's posts and Gastro-bits post on Liang's.