With the recent opening of Fang’s Kitchen, the emerging trend of Chengdu-style restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley has made its way to Monterey Park. While the food from Sichuan Province is known for ma la – the combined numbing and spicy effect of Sichuan peppercorns — the cuisine from the provincial capital of Chengdu tends to be more complex, more subtle and less incendiary than that from the other well-known city in the region, Chong Qing.
Here’s what to expect: a trained chef from Chengdu preparing an array of interesting dishes from his or her home city using quality ingredients, often presented with creative touches in a restaurant with a nice décor. Also expect some things you might not have seen before at an L.A. Chengdu restaurant.
Fang’s Kitchen has some dishes common to Sichuan restaurants, including mung bean jelly noodles (listed as Peanut Bean Jelly) and the steamed pork coated in rice powder from neighboring Hubei Province. It also shares some items with the two established Chengdu-style restaurants, such as Leshan Bobo Chicken — skewered chicken bits, offal and vegetables served pointy end down in a bowl, providing a grab-bag effect for diners. There’s also the rice cake dessert first spotted this summer at Szechuan Impression (known here as Chinese Rice Cake with Black Sugar Dipping).
But this is what is fascinating about the quartet of notable Chengdu-style restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley: the dissimilarities and variety of each's dishes. There is little room for menu overlap.
At Fang’s Kitchen, the menu is 70 items, 22 of them cold dishes, 34 hot. Don’t look for Kung Pao Chicken, because you won’t find it (they do have Kung Pao Shrimp). Also, don’t look for any lamb dishes – not even the toothpick lamb popular at the other Chengdu places, dan dan mian, or much in the way of other noodle dishes or wontons in chili oil.
So, what do they have? Rabbit is common and popular in Chengdu and that’s reflected with four items, including a Chengdu favorite and local delicacy, Spiced Rabbit Heads. Fang’s Kitchen is the first place we’ve seen this dish in the San Gabriel Valley (Szechuan Impression has since featured a limited number of orders of rabbit heads).
Another item on the menu is one that only recently turned up at Chengdu Taste's Rosemead location. Listed at Fang's as Chengdu Style Sandwich ("pita bread stuffed with vegetables and meat"), a large plate of meat and vegetables is served on a plate with flatbread so your party can make your own Sichuan version of Rou jia mo, aka “Chinese burger.” It's also available as a small order.
Even something as simple and as common as marinated tofu (on the menu as Halogen bean curd) provides an opportunity for presentation and creativeness. A plate of tofu, stacked Jenga-style, arrives on your table with a dish containing a dipping sauce — a concoction of diced dried red peppers, pepper flakes, chili powder, salt, sesame seeds and other spices.
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In the San Gabriel Valley restaurant scene, imitation is the sincerest form of business. Entrepreneurs have noticed the long waits at the first three Chengdu-style restaurants, so expect more of the same. Fang’s Kitchen is another worthy addition to the area and far more than an imitator.
Fang's Kitchen, 306 N. Garfield Ave., A12, Monterey Park, CA 91754; (626) 288-4567.