Again Ed (from Yuma) is blogging about his road trip in June 2014. Who knows what Kirk and Cathy will be blogging about next.
On our trip to Paso Robles in June, 2014, Tina and I could see old friends, go wine tasting, and eat in some of the fine restaurants in Paso – but we also could stop in the San Gabriel Valley on the way up to Paso and on the way back.
On our return trip, Tina found a good deal on a room in the Hilton Hotel on W. Valley Blvd. in San Gabriel:
The hotel could not have been more convenient, smack dab in the center of the San Gabriel Valley and across street from San Gabriel Square, better known as the "Great Mall of China." The room was well furnished, the basement parking garage easily accessible, and the staff friendly and helpful. When checking in, we told the clerk, Adolfo, that we were staying there to be close to all the Chinese restaurants. "Yes," he said, "very authentic. The first time I went into one, I ordered orange chicken, and they all laughed at me."
That Thursday afternoon, we were tired from driving and needed to stretch our legs and what better way than walk around and look at restaurants and menus. It didn't take long for us to be overwhelmed by the choices and overheated by the bright sunshine. On our way back to the hotel, however, we decided to explore the little restaurants in Hilton Plaza, the small two-story stripmall just to the west of the hotel itself. Some things looked interesting, so we decided to dine close to the room that evening.
Amazingly simple, but simply amazing. Irregular chunks of freshly cut cucumber lightly sprinkled with salt and mixed with garlic bits and a touch of sesame oil. Not much sauce, really, but fresh and delicious, clean and refreshing – a perfect antidote for our four hour car ride.
Also served at the same time were the xiao long bao, Juicy Pork Dumplings ($6.95). We have had enough experience with boiling hot XLB exploding in our mouths that we ate half of the Beef Rolls Pie before we attempted even a single dumpling. But when we did, we were completely blown away.
One at a time, we would take our chopsticks, grab the little morsels by their topknots, carefully lift them off the paper, add a drop of black vinegar, lay them on the tongue, close the mouth, and chew. The juicy soup flooded the palate and the mildly seasoned pork ball was tender and tasty. Worthy of the mmm-yoso dance.
We were amazed by the dumpling wrappers. They were thin and elastic without being tough or chewy. When we raised the dumplings out of the steamer their bottoms sagged downward but never tore and never leaked. Just perfect Shanghai dumplings.
For most of you, I'm sure this dish looks plain and pretty boring. However, the freshness of the tendercrisp young vegetables and the wok skills of the chef made this very inviting. In fact, we ate every piece of baby bok choy as well as everything else we were served at Shanghai Dumpling House – with no leftovers. That almost never happens anywhere.Shanghai Dumpling House, 227 W Valley Blvd, San Gabriel, CA 91776, (626) 282-1348
Xiang Wei Lou
Thursday night's dinner had been so easy and delicious that we decided to try another place in the same stripmall – Xiang Wei Lou, a small Hunan restaurant that Kirk wrote about several years ago:
Both Tina and I had been intrigued with Kirk's description of the pork intestine at this restaurant, so we discussed chitlins choices with the very helpful young server. "You know that's the, the, the intestines of a pig," she said, rubbing her lower abdomen, as if perhaps we were such clueless Anglos that we didn't understand what intestines were. We found that sweet and amusing. Kirk had not liked the pickled vegetables he had chosen with the intestines, so with the assistance of our server, we settled on spicy pork intestines ($9.99), which she assured us came with some vegetables:
It was good to see that the restaurant has not lost its touch with intestines. These were truly excellent. As Kirk said, they were split lengthwise and well cleaned, and Tina and I especially appreciated their richness and tender chewy texture. The promised vegetables included extensive celery, scallions, garlic slices, and both red and green sliced chilies. The veggies added flavor, spice, and crunch. Being over cautious, we had ordered the dish medium spicy, which was okay because there was a lot of noticeable heat, but the dish could have been even hotter.
This was excellent fried rice, the Hunan smoked pork giving it a unique touch.
The beans were perfectly cooked in a very hot wok and tasted fresh and green beany. The pork – though it looks like bacon – has a different smoky flavor profile. This dish was probably our least favorite, though still pretty good, like someone's least favorite child.
The last item to arrive on the table was the house special, Steamed Spicy Whole Fish ($9.99):
The fish was extraordinarily tender and melted in the mouth. While it had that fresh water fish flavor, it was not muddy or fishy. The profusion of chopped dried chili pods and crushed garlics provided flavor certainly, but this dish was not excessively spicy, and the flavor of the fish came through very well. We liked it:
Xiang Wei Lou, 227 W Valley Blvd # 118A, San Gabriel, CA 91776, (626) 289-2276
Overall, we had two excellent interesting dinners, and appreciated the convenience of eating next to our hotel. I also just want to thank Kirk for making me a more adventuresome eater and helping guide Tina and I to some of the good places in San Diego and elsewhere. Thanks Kirk!