I’ve been in Los Angeles for a little more than a week now (after a two-week jaunt in late June/early July) and will be here for another week or so. As always, one of the highlights of this LA trip has been the food, and you can expect a few more posts reviewing some of our meals. If all you’re interested in reading here is whisky reviews now is the time to click on the “back” button on your browser.
Minnesota has zero Hunan restaurants; the San Gabriel Valley has many. Hunan Mao seems to be all the rage these days but Sku–of Sku’s Recent Eats–recommended Hunan Style in San Gabriel as his current favourite for Hunan food and so it was thither that we repaired for our fix of non-Sichuan but lethal Chinese food. We were accompanied by two friends from my old food forum days and so managed to do a fair amount of damage.
The restaurant has no English language signage, and so if you’re confused on arrival at the address (which is for the entire strip mall it’s located in) stand facing Valley Blvd. and it is at the end of the “arm” on the far right. It’s a brightly lit, cosy place with warmly coloured walls (and some unfortunate choice of artwork on some of the walls). You walk in by the cold bar (not quite as large as the one at Yunkun Garden), have a seat and peruse the menu while nibbling on some complimentary pickled (and hot) radishes . The section headings on the menu are only in Chinese but you can more or less figure out where you are by looking at the names of the dishes which have English translations. For some hilarity you may wish to consult the online menu which lists such categories as “Dry Pot Soil Vegetable” and “Pig, Bovine Meat”. Happily, the printed menu does indeed feature the dish with the greatest name of all time, “The Great Scraps of Fat”. We knew we had to get it; I was expecting sliced pork belly, but we did in fact receive great scraps of fat, deep-fried great scraps of fat; more on this in a bit.
Our waitress was very pleasant and had more English than any of us have Chinese; but based on that small sample size you should probably not count on too much assistance with navigating the menu (though, to be fair, she did suggest one amendment to our order which turned out to be great, even if it was a little confusing getting there). The service was brisk, and the food bore all the signs of having been prepared by an unhurried chef (we were eating very early and were the first people in the restaurant; though it had begun to fill up by the time we left); in short, the food was very good.
What did we eat? Hunan cuisine is renowned for its heat but we wanted to get a good balance of flavours and textures on the plate. Of course, we had to get the Great Scraps of Fat, and Sku had also recommended we try one of the smoked meats (preserved meats on the menu). The cold bar had not yet been stocked fully as we walked in, and what was there did not appeal to my eyes (or look very different from the stuff on offer at Sichuan places) and so we passed. Our order (click on an image to launch a larger slideshow with captions and descriptions):
So, a lot of dishes with pork (though all four tasted very different from each other) followed by two dishes of fish in broth (again, very different from each other). The ingredient that connected almost everything was pickled hot peppers, sliced thickly and thinly and strewn on and/or stir-fried with everything. By the way, while thanks to these peppers everything we ate had at least some little heat to it, and a couple of things (the steamed fish head and the pickled beans and pork) were pretty hot, the vast majority of items on the menu are not starred as hot. Then again, the preserved meat with garlic leaf was not marked as hot and it had a pretty decent and sneaky kick, especially heated up for dinner the next day.
I don’t know enough about Hunan cuisine to say anything intelligent about it, but the flavours at this meal were brighter and tangier than the more intense and earthy flavours I associate with the neighbouring province of Sichuan. Then again, if we’d ordered differently maybe that wouldn’t be true. All of this came to $102 with tax and tip. Including leftovers this could have fed 8-10 hungry people. So, really it’s between $10-13/head.
I think we’ll be back on our next trip.