Dear Mr. Gold:
When I used to live in San Francisco a million years ago, a night at the clubs would often wind up at a Chinatown place that I knew only as the Coca-Cola Restaurant, for the giant Coca-Cola sign that decorated its exterior. I don’t think I ever ate there any earlier than 2 in the morning, and I don’t think I ever ate there without plowing through a plate of their house-special squid, which had been baked with salt and pepper and what seemed like a double handful of sliced hot chiles. Maybe it’s just a nostalgia thing I’m going through at the moment — I spent an entire afternoon last week downloading songs by the Avengers, Crime and the Dils — but I really want to taste something like that squid again. Please.
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—Janice, Studio City
Yuet Lee, a.k.a the Coca-Cola restaurant, has been on the corner of Stockton and Broadway for what seems like centuries in restaurant years, cranking out what at one time were regarded as the best Cantonese stir-fries on the West Coast, and which were still, the last time I visited, on the high, high side of respectable. Among the objects of desire at Yuet Lee, the salt-and-pepper squid has always been up there with the steamed rock cod and the clams in black bean sauce, fried to a golden succulence, stretchy and chewy and irresistible beneath its thin, salty, sandy crust. Yuet Lee’s version was always my benchmark for the dish, too.
You can find salt-and-pepper squid in almost any Hong Kong-style or Chiu Chow restaurant — the squid at 888 in Rosemead is especially good. The version at Ocean Star may not quite match up with the one made at Yuet Lee in its glory days, but it is very, very tasty, zinger with spice; one of the most dependable items on the mammoth restaurant’s book-length seafood menu. 888, 8450 Valley Blvd., Rosemead, (626) 573-1888. Ocean Star, 145 N. Atlantic Blvd., Monterey Park, (626) 308-2128.