Why post 2046...well, because it is our 2046th post, really..... I always want to do an anniversary thing, but I seem to always be away during May. I thought about doing post 2000, but then totally forgot. Perhaps waiting until 2500 might be a good idea, but who knows if I'll still be around? So, I went with post 2050, which just got me here....2046 whoooo-peeee!!??!!
And it's quite appropriate to do Chung King. This little Sichuan restaurant in Monterey Park, along with El Rocoto and Tung Lai Shun really fueled my interest in food way back in '98.....yep, almost fifteen years ago. I recall the first whiff of the floral, yet pungent whiff of Sichuan Peppercorn fueled air...the first "buzz" I got after eating a peppercorn dish then drinking water. To this day, I recommend folks do this after the first time they've had a dish with Sichuan Peppercorn. We used to visit sometimes several times a week, and at least once or twice a month even after moving to San Diego. Until we found, (not "discovered", who discovers a restaurant, the new world maybe, but a restaurant?) Ba Ren. Isn't it kind of appropriate that the Chef at Ba Ren, was one of the original chef's at Chung King and a certified master chef at that. Since Ba Ren closed down, something nagged at me....no it's not gas. I kept wondering how Chung King, now a little empire of several restaurants and god knows how many chefs later was doing. Which is what found us back at the what once was our favorite little restaurant in the world.
The interior looks a lot nicer since the last time we visited in 2003......
The place was totally desolate for our entire meal...at lunch time, on a Saturday. The young man who served us was a far cry from the borderline surly women who used to wait on us, being very friendly.
The menu had changed over the years, but what we wanted to start out with hadn't. Some liang cai 凉菜- cold dishes. With one of my all time favorites, Fu Qi Fei Pian - the Husband and Wife meat slices...I was really looking forward to this......
Which was a big let down....the flavor was truly lacking, no mild black vinegar flavor, no buzz form Sichuan Peppercorns, and worst of all, the tendon wasn't prepared nor cut correctly, being very thick, it was like eating plastic. The peanuts were on the dry and stale side, like they had been sitting around for a while. The long beans were decent. I'm used to a very briney flavor, though this edged toward the "very very" salty end of things.
Of course I had to order another of my favorite dishes, Kou Shui Ji 重庆口水鸡 - the mouthwatering (saliva) chicken.
This was the first place I'd ever had this.......and though this looked right, it was literally just a mere shadow of what I recalled, falling short on spice, Sichuan Peppercorn, black vinegar, sesame paste, and sweetness. Kind of sad actually.....
But not as sad as the Rice Crust with Three Delicacies ($9.99). You can just tell by looking at the dish what's wrong.
The sauce was very thin, I remember it being full of "chicken-ny" flavor, this was bland and insipid. The rice crust was strange to being soft and pliable it wasn't firm enough and we ended up with porridge.
Things turned around when the Pig's Intestines with Hot Pepper ($9.99) arrived.
The texture was excellent, crisp at first, giving away to a slightly chewy interior, the intestines were swiney and lovely to eat. This was the first dish to really make me think, "this is ChongQing style Sichuan", with bold and unapologetic flavors. Still short on Sichuan Peppercorns, it was still well seasoned.
The crowning jewel of the meal was something we'd never had before, Sliced Fish Filet with Cumin ($10.99). Man this was good.
I usually don't care for dishes where cumin is used with restraint, but in this case it worked in balance with the floral-pungent flavor of the Sichuan Peppercorns. The heat level was nice as it got the endorphins flowing and I started to get that euphoric feeling and there was a mild sweet flavor as well. The batter was egg based, but not too thick and eggy, making this a nice crisp dish. We even finished up the leeks and all the vegetables. Finally, in the end, this dish came through.
The Missus felt really bad as we drove home since I'd been looking forward to this for a while. I explained to Her that I just had to find out if it was still the same, it wasn't, but what is?
Back in 1979, one of my favorite artists, Paul McCartney and his band Wings came out with an album called Back to the Egg. Trying to get back to his roots with a more edgy rock and roll sound, what McCartney created, at least to me was an unfocused mess;
"When will you see me, my salamander?
Now don't try to tell me,
Oh no, don't answer, oh no....."
Really...... my salamander? No wonder Wings folded up its wings soon after....yes, I actually owned the album.... on vinyl Just goes to show, you can try to go back and get what you had, but sometimes the magic is gone.
It was nice to see that Chung King was still in business after all these years. The meal ended up well, but we feel that the restaurant really hasn't aged well.
Chung King Restaurant
206 South Garvey Ave
Monterey Park, CA 91754
Postscipt: I actually think Goodnight Tonight should have been on this album, it was quite catchy:
And not nearly as cheesy as Coming Up.