Did I say Chiu Chow? My first meal at 888 — which included a garlicky terrine of beef shank; crunchy, tofu-skin-wrapped dumplings of fresh crabmeat and taro (crab balls); a soft, fragrant lamb stew (seasonal); and sugar snap peas sautéed simply with oil and a touch of salt — seemed almost country-French. Another good place to start is the Chiu Chow cold plate: symmetrically arranged slices of tender steamed geoduck clam, aspic-rimmed pork terrine, crunchy strands of jellyfish, cold halved shrimp in a sweet, citrus-based sauce. Or try a soup of whole perch gently poached in the heat of broth, sharp with the flavor of Chinese celery and herbs, made complexly tart with sour plum, or an astonishing dish of Chiu Chow–style braised goose: neat slices of white meat and dark arranged in a heap, garnished with strips of fried bean curd and served with a dipping sauce something like a fruity Chinese vinaigrette. 8450 Valley Blvd., Rosemead; (626) 573-1888. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Dinner for two, food only, about $20. Full bar. Lot parking. MC, V.
The basic deal at a Chiu Chow noodle shop is, of course, Chiu Chow noodles: slippery rice noodles the width of your little finger, or firmer, square-cut egg noodles that resemble bouncy linguine, submerged in broth, garnished with things like boiled duck legs and sliced pork. At Kim Chuy, the special noodles include duck and shrimp, squid and cuttlefish, and four kinds of fish cake; also floppy, herb-
spiked won ton. The Chiu Chow beef-stew noodles come with melt-
ing shanks of tendon and hunks of long-simmered chuck. Chiu Chow spiced beef noodles come in a gritty, spicy demicurry, almost crunchy with ground nuts (another missing link between Chiu Chow cooking and Thai). Fried noodles — with chicken, with beef, with mixed seafood — are passed, smoky but still soft, through an ultrahot pan and served not 10 seconds after they are cooked. They’re fully possessed of that elusive quality that Chinese call wok chi, special wok energy that is possible only in restaurants as small and informal as Kim Chuy. 727 N. Broadway, No. 103, Chinatown; (213) 687-7215. Open daily 8 a.m.–8 p.m. Lunch for two, food only, $8–$10. No alcohol. Validated lot parking. Cash only.
Most of the really good stuff at Kim Tar is listed toward the beginning of the menu under the heading “Dishes.” There’s anise-scented beef stew, like Cantonese beef stew but spiked with an extra wallop of fish sauce — irresistible if you like the slithery texture of long-cooked tendon. An extraordinary Chiu Chow–style hot-and-sour soup bathes chunked tomato, pineapple, and either fish or shrimp, bright with cilantro and the hotness of fresh chiles. Kim Tar also serves the best Chinese barbecued pork this side of Monterey Park, sweet and full of juice. Anybody would like crisp fried dumplings stuffed with fragrant sautéed leeks, tiny taro egg rolls the size of a baby’s thumb, delicious roast duck and the occasional barbecued spareribs. It’s also safe to say that Kim Tar is the place in
East Hollywood to come if you’re looking for salted pig’s intestines, pig’s kidney hot pot or a party-size portion of soft young pig . . . which you’re probably not. 4806 Melrose Ave.; (323) 669-1180. Open daily 10:30 a.m.–10 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $7–$15. No alcohol. MC, V.
Ruen Pair Thai
At Ruen Pair Thai, there are actually two menus: one the standard two-page pad-Thai/cashew-chicken takeout sheet that non-Thais are pretty much automatically given, the other a yellow four-page menu that lists the restaurant’s real specialties — and translates them all. As you walk into the place around 2 a.m., you can look past the fish tank and across the crowded tables, and everybody is eating more or less the same thing: omelets and morning-glory stems. The omelets are the flat, crisp, well-done Thai kind, fried in oil, frizzled brown at the edges, studded with firm fragments of coarsely chopped shrimp, little cubes of turnip or a handful of peppery ground pork. The morning-glory stems are hollow little things, slightly crunchy, with almost a watercress bite, fried with an immoderate amount of garlic, bursting with green juice — and even better if you drizzle on a bit of vinegary fish sauce, which acts much the same as pepper vinegar does for soul-food collard greens. 5257 Hollywood Blvd.; (323) 466-0153. Open daily. Dinner for two, food only, $10–$15. Takeout. No alcohol. Lot parking. Cash only.