The egg roll is one of those foods that has transcended its origin and seems to exist, in some form or another, in just about every city in the United States. Most one horse towns have at least one Chinese restaurant, and they all serve egg rolls. New Yorkers have their own version, and look on it as a birthright, along with pizza and an inflated sense of gastronomic superiority. But the egg roll is a fried food after all, and that means we Americans will continue to consume them no matter how good or bad they taste. They come with every lunch special, and seem to appear in every delivery bag too. But as is true with most foods that have come from somewhere else to become an everyday occurrence, they are, we eventually discover, a bastardization of something better.
Fortunately for us, there is Yu Garden in San Gabriel, a place that does everything in its power to help you forget that long, greasy paperweight, overstuffed with strands of crunchy cabbage, shredded carrots and rubbery pork. It is a Shanghai-style egg roll; its exterior a thin layer of golden, crackling skin; its insides comprised of impossibly creamy and slowly braised Napa cabbage dotted with faint bits of ground pork. It is like finding a serving of soft and luscious cabbage soup gift wrapped in an addictive, crispy package. This may not be the egg roll you crave, and its certainly not the one you expect, but it is the one you should start getting used to. They are acceptable to eat after a light dab into a saucer of Chinese black vinegar, but really, it's not even necessary. The only real rule? Eat them as soon as they arrive at the table, as they are best consumed when painfully and dangerously hot.
Yu Garden: 107 East Valley Boulevard, San Gabriel; (626) 569-0855.