Archive for the 'Arcadia' Category

Tofu King – Arcadia

Tofu King - Arcadia

I had my first encounter with stinky tofu three years ago at a hotpot joint in Monterey Park. Though the neat, triangular slabs of pressed soy bubbling beneath the broth didn’t taste as gnarly as they smelled, their wildly odious flavor failed to capture my affections.

My second brush with the stanky delicacy came a few months later at a San Gabriel pub known as the “Taiwanese Hooters.” The deep-fried rendition served here was certainly more palatable than the simmered variety, but hearts and minds were not won this time either.

Tofu King - Arcadia

I was inspired to seek out stinky tofu for a third time at Tofu King after stumbling upon C. Thi Nguyen’s brilliant article, “Stinky tofu restaurant may find converts” in the Los Angeles Times. It’s a must-read for anyone who appreciates delightful prose.

The Astronomer, normally an adventuresome restaurant-goer, refused to dine at Tofu King since he absolutely loathes stinky tofu. Fortunately, my friend Pat from Eating L.A. stepped up to the plate.

Tofu King - Arcadia

Tofu King serves two sizes of deep-fried stinky tofu—large slabs and small cubes. Pat and I chose the “Bite-size Stinky Tofu” ($5.50) to minimize the amount of actual tofu and maximize the deep-fried surface area.

To make the stinky tofu, they make a mash of mixed vegetables and ferment it for six months. Then they take fresh tofu and give it a nice, long flavor-soak in the fermented mash. The tofu burial ought to last for a week, and that’s how they used to do it, but the health department didn’t approve, so they’ve shortened the fermentation bath to three days. Thus: half-ripened, gateway stinky tofu.

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Six Taste: Delicious Dumpling Tour

Six Taste: Delicious Dumpling Tour - Arcadia

Founded in 2009 by Jeff Okita and Alex Tao, Six Taste is a local company that leads culinary tours across the Southland. Stretching from Santa Monica to Arcadia, these tours explore the histories and eateries of Los Angeles’ diverse neighborhoods and ethnic enclaves.

Six Taste recently held a “Media Day” that allowed me the opportunity to participate in one of their highly-touted outings. Since my mom was in town for the weekend, she was invited to come along as well. Joining us on the Delicious Dumpling Tour was Esther of EstarLA, Marian of Marian the Foodie, and Krista of BrandX. Everyone was excited to see and experience the city of Arcadia through Six Taste’s food-focused lens.

Six Taste: Delicious Dumpling Tour - Arcadia

Our fearless leader was Michael Lin (left), a Taiwanese-American born and raised in Arcadia. Six Taste’s founder Jeff Okita (right) also came along for the ride.

Located a few short miles east of Pasadena, Arcadia is home to the third largest Taiwanese population outside the island. I’ve eaten at a few of the restaurants and cafes that line Baldwin Avenue, but doing so with an expert by my side was a completely different experience. Our guide’s knowledgeable insights and funny anecdotes provided proper context and an interesting perspective to everything that we ate. I learned so much from Mike and definitely came away with a better understanding of not only Taiwanese cuisine, but the Taiwanese diaspora as well.

Six Taste: Delicious Dumpling Tour - Arcadia

The Delicious Dumpling Tour, which is priced at $55 per person, began at 9:30 AM and included five stops spanning two neighboring strip malls. While we were waiting for the group to assemble, Mike passed out hotdog stuffed croissants hot from the ovens of J.J. Bakery, our first stop on the tour.

The buttery croissant had a pliable and slightly stretchy consistency that is characteristic of Taiwanese baked goods. The hotdog, on the other hand, was snappy, salty, and all American.

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J.J. Bakery – Arcadia

 

After our lunch at Din Tai Fung Dumpling House, The Astronomer was craving some sweet carbohydrates. J.J. Bakery is located in the same complex as the dumpling house and looked mighty inviting. The majority of the pastries at J.J. are made from the classic Chinese sweet dough a la Pham Nguyen and K.C.’s Pastries. There’s also a lovely selection of dainty Asian-style cakes. Prices are a bit high (anywhere from $1 to $4 per pastry), but the smell brought back memories of our favorite spots and made a purchase hard to resist. The Astronomer chose a pineapple-filled bun and a flaky almond puff pastry. Neither one was mind-blowing, but the almond pastry had just the right amount of sweet topping and definitely hit the spot. If you’re ever looking for dessert after a meal at Din Tai Fung Dumpling House, a pastry from J. J. Bakery will do quite nicely.

J.J. Bakery
1130 S. Baldwin Avenue
Arcadia, CA 91007
Phone: 626-574-5866

Din Tai Fung – Arcadia

Pretty much ever since we got to L.A., The Gastronomer and I have been hearing great things about Din Tai Fung Dumpling House, an establishment owned by a Taiwanese family that also operates celebrated restaurants in Shanghai, Japan, and Hong Kong. We both love dumplings (in my case, perhaps love is not a strong enough word—I’m obsessed), and these were rumored to be the best in the area. Reviewers claimed that they would happily drive an hour or more across the metropolitan area just to feast on Din Tai Fung’s soup-filled delights. Even though The Gastronomer and I did not possess a car, we began to plan a journey to Arcadia by bus.

Fortunately, The Gastronomer’s Mom recently hooked us up with our own set of wheels, and now getting to Arcadia is a snap. We visited Din Tai Fung one Saturday for a late lunch. The dining room wasn’t tremendously large, but it was certainly well-appointed and a happening place. We perused the menu while we waited for a table. Obviously, we had to try the classic pork dumplings, but what should be our second dumpling choice? The Gastronomer considered adventurously trying the fish dumplings. She asked the hostess for her opinion, and the look she got back made it clear that fish was not a good idea. It was suggested that we order the pork and shrimp shiu mai instead. We were glad we did.

While we waited for our food, we studied up on the proper way to eat Din Tai Fung dumplings. I tried following the directions for a few dumplings, and also tried just popping the whole thing in my mouth at once. They were awesome both ways.

As explained in the instructions shown above, the dumplings were served with a vinegar dipping sauce with freshly julienned ginger. I’m used to dipping my dumplings in soy sauce, which was also provided, but this was better.

The dumplings were wonderful. The Pork Dumplings ($7.25) were round and filled with broth, while the Pork and Shrimp Shiu Mai ($9) each had a whole shrimp inserted into their open tops. We couldn’t decide which variety was our favorite, but The Gastronomer particularly loved the plump and juicy shrimp atop the shiu mai. As we never made it to Shanghai during our Asian travels, this was my first experience with soup-filled dumplings, and I can’t say for certain how Din Tai Fung’s stack up. However, I preferred them to any of the Northern Chinese-style dumplings that I ate in Hong Kong, Xi’an, and Beijing, which were amazing to begin with. The wrappers weren’t too chewy, the meat was seasoned just right, the sweet broth added an extra burst of flavor and warmth, and the ginger dipping sauce really brought everything together. What a treat.

In my opinion, Din Tai Fung is totally worth the hype, and also worth the price, which seems to be people’s only complaint about this place. Ever since living in Vietnam, my appetite for eating huge portions of meat at one sitting has decreased considerably (see Korean barbecue—I felt a bit ill after that meal), so twenty dumplings was just about right for us.

On our way out of Din Tai Fung, I spotted a newspaper article on the wall that described the restaurant’s history. Apparently the son of the Taiwanese founders immigrated to America many years ago, but his parents encouraged him to pursue non-restaurant careers because food service was too demanding and time-consuming. While he was toiling away as a garment inspector, he witnessed several impostor Din Tai Fung restaurants spring up in California, trying to take advantage of the Asian branches’ notoriety. Each of them produced an inferior product and eventually closed. Tired of seeing his family’s name tarnished, the son gave in and opened his own restaurant, a true Din Tai Fung Dumpling House. It seems like he’s making the dumplings right.

Din Tai Fung
1108 S. Baldwin Avenue
Arcadia, CA 91007
Phone: 626-574-7068

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