Thursday, February 01, 2007

Eating Ethnic in Los Angeles Part II

As the dawn broke over the second day of our eating odyssey, I was desperately trying to work off the brownie I ate for breakfast, running along the beach....sweating profusely, I figured that I would need to run about five times longer than the hour I had already completed to work off yesterday's dinner..but no time for that, we had to get to dim sum and fast...arrive later than 11Am and you are destined to wait in a very long line....a very bad idea when you have a 3 year old with you. The Triumphal Palace (500 W. Main St., Alhambra; (626) 308-3222) is an upscale airy place....with no dim sum carts. Instead, you order Hong Kong style from a menu. This is a bit of a disappointment, because the English descriptions of dumplings generally leave a lot to be desired. On the positive side, the dim sum usually arrives fresh and hot. We started with rice porridge or congee with sliced fish. This was excellent, the congee flavored with broth, the fish flaky and plentiful with sliced spring onions and crunchy fried dough bits on top.

We order the obvious dim sum favorites, Shiu Mai, a steamed pork dumpling with shrimp, Har Gow, steamed shrimp wrapped in a thin rice skin, spareribs with black bean sauce, steamed BBQ pork buns, fluffy white steamed bread stuffed with sweet BBQ pork, and Sticky rice in lotus leaves, and chicken feet. All of these arrived hot and were of very good quality, except for the spareribs which were too fatty. The chicken feet were exceptionally good, with a flavorful marinade and a soft melting texture. We ordered Dumpling Shanghai style which is a steamed dumpling with pork, which in its best incarnation should burst with juice when you bite into it, after having dipped it into a vinegar sauce. This is a dish that is often disappointing, the wrapping too thick and pasty and the meat dry. Here there was a nice balance of juice and the wrapping was good and fresh...not the best I have had, but in the top five. The pan fried turnip cakes were tasty and fresh, without the leftover fish oil taste that can be typical in lesser restaurants. The baked BBQ pork buns we think were good, but since Oscar ate the entire plateful, no one else got to taste them. When we got to desserts, our menu reading faltered. We tried to order the typical egg custard tarts, interpreting Crispy Egg Biscuit as this dessert. But instead we got a plateful of crispy fried dough soaked in a honey sugar syrup and drizzled with sesame seed. Not bad, but not what we wanted. Sweet Sesame Ball turned out to not be the deep fried rice dough covered with sesame seeds and a bean filling, but a sticky steamed rice dough filled with a serious sesame paste, quite good actually. Finally, we ordered Deep Fried Carrot Cake which turned out to be a deep fried orange colored ball filled with a sort of very sweet egg custard. All in all, an excellent brunch, we all agreed. The food at the Triumphal Palace is supposed to be equally excellent for dinner....maybe next time.

For dinner, we were breaking our Asian adventures and treating ourselves to some Beverly Hills luxury at the newly revamped Spago. Gourmet magazine had awarded Spago the number four spot in their top 50 restaurants of 2006, so we decided to give the place another try. We had a bit of trepidation and excitement when we arrived to see limos in a long line, reporters, and flashing lightbulbs....did we arrive the wrong night or could all this be for us? No, HBO was hosting a private party. Still the presence of movie stars, even if we couldn't recognize any of them, added a frisson of excitement to the evening. In its new incarnation, Spago, the birthplace of gourmet pizza's seemed to have ditched this favorite dish, instead the menu was heavily Italian, with a few Austrian Wolfgang Puck childhood favorites thrown in for good measure. I started with Agnolotti filled with celery root and farmer's cheese. This was really excellent, the filling light and fluffy, the flavors smooth and fresh. The butter and parmeson sauce gave it richness. Aiai had smoked sturgeon and salmon on lemon blinis...very nice but not thrilling. My mother had oysters with a sherry ginger sauce instead of the usual shallots, which gave the oysters some zest without overwhelming their flavor. Excellent. After this really good beginning, the main courses were good but disappointing in their relative ordinariness. I ordered veal weiner schnitzel and I got veal winer schnitzel. I had excepted some kind of gourmet riff on this dish, but I got the real deal. It was an excellent version of the dish but I couldn't help feeling disappointed, just because it was so unexpected. AiAi and my Dad shared the cote de beouf...and boy was it a lot of beef. That dish alone could have fed all four of us. Again, it was solid and tasty but nothing particularly special except for the mashed potatoes which were very rich and sticky with cheese. my mother had the Cantonese style Roasted Duck and this was really good. The duck skin was flavorful and although not strictly authentic, an original enough combination of flavors. The fried noodles were tasty with lots of bits of shitake mushrooms. Desserts were solid but not exceptional. The sticky toffee pudding was good, if not quite sticky enough, and served with an irrelevant orange sauce on the side. The apple strudel was good but again nothing special. The cookie plate was tasty, but nothing to write home about. After the meal, we all agreed that it was enjoyable but that perhaps one should order two or three appetizers and skip the main courses. In the end, yesterday's dinner at the Yellow Cow was more satisfying.

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