Monday, August 24, 2009
Chung King: How do you say "spicy" in Chinese?
Order two plates of crispy, lightly spicy chicken cubes if there's more than four diners, because they're hard to stop eating.
I know more Thai than I do Chinese, so I can say pet-pet or pet-ma if I want my food spicy or medium spicy. But maybe it would have helped to know the Chinese for "spicy, please" at Chung King the other night, when five of us including FoodGPS and Mattatouille returned to see how it was holding up (I first wrote about it in August 2003, before I started the blog). A Chowhound post warned that the venerable Sichuan place, which moved from Monterey Park a few years ago, might be "whitewashing" the food for non-Chinese diners. And while the first burst of flavor was still intense and satisfying, we realized by the end that it was definitely lacking in mouth-numbing Sichuan peppercorn flavor as well as the usual jolting heat.
If a basic San Gabriel storefront restaurant can be said to have a "signature dish," Chung King's is probably fried chicken cubes. The golden chunks were showered with the usual flurry of dried chiles, and disappeared fast as even the more sensitive eaters of our group were able to partake in the usually hallucination-inducing dish.
Beef and tofu small pot had just a hint of spice, despite looking like a vat of seething chileosity. At the old Oriental Pearl, I had several dishes like this that left me needing a beach towel to wipe down afterwards.
Since we were with Josh "Offal" Lurie, we had to order pork kidneys with pickled peppers. They were considerably nicer than the nasty steak and kidney pie I mistakenly ordered in a British pub years ago, probably the last time I had kidneys. Tender and non-liverish when hot, the scored slices of kidney paired well with the preserved peppers. This dish needs to be eaten right out of the wok though, as it gets less appealing as it cools down. Sauteed green beans were as good as ever, while bacon and turnips would make the perfect Chinese bacon-and-egg breakfast, but it's kind of all bacon, all the time as a main dish.
Verdict: Chung King will satisfy a hankering for Sichuan and prices are quite reasonable, but there appears to be some truth to the charge that they're dumbing it down for non-Chinese diners. On the other hand, you won't leave with half of your party hating you for ruining their tastebuds.
Tip: Ask for SPICY if you can really take the heat. Also, you can bring your own wine but not your own beer, since they sell beer there.
1000 S. San Gabriel Blvd