Remember this place from a post last year? This is a location of the former; horribly bad VIP Oriental Buffet. Around July - August of last year, the place turned into something called Gourmet City. I pass here almost every day and have rarely seen a car parked in front of the place. I brought the Missus by early one evening; She took a look in the empty restaurant, turned to me and said "no effin' way....." The place really looked like a front for some nefarious operation. Money laundering? Human trafficking? In the end, and you will have to stay to the end, we found out how this place stays afloat.
Anyway, I queried my friends and found two takers who were up for a visit; Xiāngjiāo has been missing China, and John who I kid quite a bit about his questioniable taste, but never his good nature and friendship.
We got there at 545 and the place was empty......a huge empty restaurant.
Looking at the menu, it became apparent that this place was mainly for hot pot, with a good amount of Sichuan with some miscellaneous dishes thrown in.
So of course we went with hot pot....with some miscellaneous dishes thrown in.
If I can recall their prices since it's been awhile, the costs here are a bit lower than Little Sheep. Also, they have a larger variety for their Yuan Yang Guo - Split Hot pot.
Also, unlike just about every hot pot place in San Diego; there's a huge condiment/sauce bar which totally reminded me of China. All the usual suspects except fermented shrimp paste....there was sesame paste, fermented tofu, leek sauce, sa cha sauce....though some of it was rather watered down like the fermented tofu.
We chose the "Chongqing Old Spicy Pot", basically an extra spicy Mala Guo, and the "Oxtail Tomato Pot" which actually looked kind of greasy.
The Oxtail broth was quite fatty, but very mild. The spicy broth was better. It was full of Sichauan peppercorns making it nice and numbing, but lacking heat and complex flavors. We went to the condiment bar and got a half bowl of chili oil adding it to the broth which at least brought the heat.
The meats were nothing to write home about. Definitely not in the same league as other places.
The rest was a n interesting combination of items; Xiāngjiāo staple which took her back to her favorite hot pot shops in Beijing, the potato. The most interesting item was something I hadn't had before; the pork rinds. Placed in the broth for a few second; they absorbed flavor and attained a strangely pleasant texture that was soggy-crispy-chewy in spots. My usual favorite, the spongy frozen tofu was fine, though the broth just wasn't lively enough when absorbed into the bean curd.
My favorite moment was attained near the end. The spicy broth had reduced by about half into almost a gravy like texture. The young lady was going to refill our broth but we stopped her. I put the noodles into the potage and it sucked up all the Sichuan Peppercorn-Chili-meat flavored broth. Poor JohnL. He almost put the noodles in the broth at the beginning and both Xiāngjiāo and I raised our voices in protest. Such are the unwritten rules of huo guo.
In the end the hot pot was ok, nothing amazing, but perhaps I'll try it again.
Of course we ordered some other stuff. The Chengdu Taste copycat "Toothpick Mutton".
This could almost be the perfect beer dish. But in this case, the meat was too tough, it wasn't salty enough, nor did it have enough cumin to satisfy my preferences.
The good; I loved the cut, nice slices, crunchy tendon. The flavor left much to be desired, it was, well, bland....like really bland, no heat, what ever happened to suan tian ku la xian?
Lastly, and sadly, another item I basically forced down the throat of Xiāngjiāo and JohnL was the Shenjian Bao. I felt bad guys, my apologies.
You know. I've had some good SJB in China, even some decent versions in a food court in Alhambra, to this day JohnL's sister claims it's the best thing we had on our food crawl. Heck even my Mother In Law got in the act (we need soup next time). You could tell these were hand made.....though sadly so. The sizes were grossly disparate. The dough was awfully gummy, a problem with the steaming process; the filling too tough and without flavor. So I committed a sin. I poked holes in the SJB and dumped them in the mala broth.
Quickly pulling them out and dumping the vinegar on them.
Sorry to say, this was the only way I'd eat them. A sad end for something I enjoy so much.
The service......well if you like SGV like service you'll get it here. It's typical.
As for the secret to this restaurant's existence I noted in the first paragraph? Well, we were getting ready to leave at 730. The place was empty except for one other table. I was still at a lost as to how this huge property could exist for a year with business like this. When 30 people walked in the front door!
We walked outside and saw a bus parked in the corner. My goodness...this was THAT restaurant! In our travels, the Missus and I always note the xxxxx (fill in the blank) tour group restaurant. Whether in Portugal/Spain/Greece/Turkey there was always THE place that served the Chinese/Korean tour groups. I had always wondered where that place was in San Diego. At least for this day, I knew where the Chinese tour groups were being fed in "America's Finest City". It was Gourmet City.....
5541 Clairemont Mesa Blvd
San Diego, CA 92117