In New York, Xi'an Famous Foods, a tiny, sticky-tabled Flushing
basement dive, sprouted into a Shaanxi-cooking empire, helped along
both by Voice critic Robert Sietsema's advocacy and by Anthony
Bourdain's televised moans of pleasure. And a sleek, San Gabriel
Valley equivalent became almost inevitable.
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The entrance to Shaanxi Gourmet is flanked by replica Xi'an warriors, and the walls are lined with slick photomurals of the famous dishes. The plates and bowls were purchased from the nice end of the restaurant-supply store. The waiters' costumes would look sharp in operettas. It's a different crowd than you'd expect -- cooking from China's northern provinces is usually extremely cheap when it makes it over here, and at Shaanxi Gourmet you're going to spend $8.50 for lunch instead of $4.49.
Most of the menu is untranslated, but that probably doesn't matter. Ninety percent of the people in the room have ordered the bouncy cold noodles sauced with chile, Sichuan pepper and vinegar, and that's what you're going to get, too. The Xinxiang lamburgers, which is to say split flatbread stuffed with lamb? You're going to get those, too. And then you're free to get the Big Plate Chicken, which is, you know, a big plate of chicken, with noodles and sauteed peppers and things, but you'll probably end up with the lamb soup instead, fortified with hand-torn bits of flatbread that take on the consistency of pearl pasta in the rich, hot broth.
Shaanxi Gourmet: 8518 Valley Blvd., Rosemead; (626) 288-9886.
Note: This piece has been modified since it was originally published to reflect changes made by the author to the first paragraph.