Just 14 months ago, word of the new Shu Feng outpost in the San Gabriel Square created buzz and enthusiasm. The original location in Rowland Heights is arguably the best Sichuan restaurant in greater Los Angeles, and news of a second location was met with high anticipation, particularly from two camps: those who looked forward to a shorter drive for their favorite Sichuan dishes, and those who had yet to try Shu Feng's fare because of its far-flung locale at the base of the Puente Hills.
Located upstairs in the large mall, where it replaced a Shanghai style restaurant in October 2009, Shu Feng quickly established itself in the perpetually crowded SGV scene by providing spicy dishes ranging from the exotic to the familiar: cubed spicy fried chicken and Zhong's dumplings (simple dumplings swimming in chile oil and blackened pepper) were only two standouts from the large menu it shared with the original location.
Jonathan Gold picked Shu Feng's dan dan mian as one of the "Best Dishes of 2009", and even the commonplace ma po tofu was anything but at Shu Feng, where it ranked as one of the best versions anywhere. Just last month, we gave some love to one of their veggie dishes with a Sichuan kick. In fact, one of the only knocks was the surprising lack of that Sichuan staple, a cold appetizer table, but that had been corrected this summer.
There are still plenty of other options for mouth-numbing excess in the San Gabriel Valley: The venerable Chung King and the Sichuan dishes at two Yunnan-style restaurants, Yunnan Garden and Yunchuan Garden.
Shu Feng Garden, however, had a special place in the valley's canon of great Sichuan eateries. Sadly, the owner has decided to sell the San Gabriel branch and concentrate on the original Rowland Heights location, which is doing "fine." No word yet on what will become of the waitstaff or the chefs.
Will we spend the extra time driving to Rowland Heights from time to time? Yes. Will we miss the convenience of the San Gabriel location? Indeed. Soon another restaurant will occupy the space, and the circle of life will continue, but it truly feels as if something is missing. In the vast and often interchangeable culinary landscape of the San Gabriel Valley, that speaks volumes.