When we got to Los Angeles last summer Hunan Mao was all the rage. On account of my aforementioned hype-phobia we skipped it and on Sku‘s recommendation got our Hunan fix at Hunan Style instead. And that was a very good meal. This year we decided to give Hunan Mao a go—after all how often do you get to eat at a restaurant named for a dictator whose policies killed tens of millions of people by starvation?
It’s a large, bright restaurant—and while it didn’t fill up (we were there for lunch on a Friday) they seemed to be doing steady business a year after all the hype. We were joined again by the same set of food forum friends who ate with us at Hunan Style, and had a good time eating and reminiscing about the days when food forum politics took up too much space in our lives, and getting some scuttlebutt from one member of the party who works in the food industry in LA.
What we ate (we stuck almost entirely to the “Chef Recommended” section of the menu)—click on an image to launch a slideshow of larger images with complete captions:
As at Hunan Style, a bowl of hot pickled radish is put down on every table. Not very far from radish kimchi and quite good.
Toss-Fried Pig Skin with Leek and Hot Pepper. Frankly, we were hoping this would turn out to be Hunan Mao’s version of the dish with the greatest name of all time (which turned out to be surprisingly good as well at Hunan Style last year). I refer, of course, to “The Great Scraps of Fat”. Sadly, this was not it; very happily, it was very good in its own right. The tangy heat of the pickled pepper kept the skin from getting too cloying.
Toss-Fried Mutton with Cilantro. This was very good as well; however, the meat aside, this wasn’t terribly far away from the toss-fried pig skin in style. By the way, I’m not sure if “toss-fried” is a specific Hunan method of frying/sauteeing or if it’s just how Hunan restaurants in the SGV conventionally translate what usually gets described as “stir fried”.
Smoked Hunan Ham. You can choose to get it with one of a number of veg/tofu options. I think we went with dried long bean, but I’m not seeing much evidence of it in the picture—and the dish was all about the smoky ham. Anyway, it was very good too.
Mao’s Braised Pork with Garlic. The famous braised pork belly that is said to have been Chairman Mao’s favourite dish. Your lipid profile will go up just looking at it. This was just okay, I thought. While the consistency of the fat was excellent, much of the meat that I got was overcooked.
Steamed Fish Head Casserole with Special Hot Pepper. The classic Hunan steamed fish head—carp, I believe. The fish was perfectly cooked—and there was a lot of it past the collar. As we had at Hunan Style last year, we got it with soft tofu. This was just excellent with the shiso/perilla leaves and the pickled peppers bringing sourness and bright heat to the broth. You have to order this as soon as you sit down as it takes 30 minutes to prepare.
Sauteed Taiwanese Lettuce. After the excellent sauteed lettuce at Chengdu Taste earlier in the week I was all about ordering sauteed lettuce at every opportunity. I don’t know if Taiwanese lettuce and “Arden” lettuce are the same thing but, garlic aside (whole here, minced there), this was all but identical to Chendgu Taste’s version. Very good.
A very good meal on the whole. However, I think I slightly preferred our lunch at Hunan Style last year—though, of course, we ordered very differently. While I think the fish head might have been better here, I think I liked most of the other things at Hunan Style a bit better. The fault is partly ours/mine for inadvertently ordering three things—the mutton, pig skin and smoked ham—that were fairly similar in style. It must be said that though they didn’t guide our order the waitstaff here are far more proficient in English than our waitress at Hunan Style was—so if that’s a consideration that might be a tiebreaker.
All of this food—which generated a ton of leftovers—came to about $100 with tax and tip for four people.