Not all Chung King’s are created equally. The only one to try, according to Nicole is the one run by Linda Huang’s at her address at
We weren’t able to join Jonas when he led a recent outing to the restaurant. Our visit last weekend was completely serendipitous. We had driven out to Banning to pay our respects to my mom who is buried there. If you have ever gone to
My mom used to joke that the most beautiful place in Banning was the cemetery and our last trip there proved her correct on that score. Blissfully quiet, the graves are placed on a broad plateau that sits high above the desert floor. No freeway or town noise reaches this far up into the mountains. Eventhough the dry heat bakes the landscape, the well-watered grass is green around the graves and the trees that surround the plateau stand straight and tall. We shared a peaceful moment with my mom, had a group hug, and then headed back to LA.
We were tired and hungry and debated whether or not we should take the time to stop and eat or just go straight home. We realized that we would drive through
The advantage of eating with a large group is being able to sample more of the menu. With four of us, we stayed close to familiar dishes: Kung Pao Chicken (#59), Green Beans (#105), Wonton Soup (#31), and Szechwan Shredded Pork (#53). I took a chance with a dish I hadn't seen before, something called Crispy Rice Crust with Shrimp (#77). Frank discovered the pickled
The first dish was the Szechwan Flavors Cold Dishes. Perfectly seasoned with just the right amount of heat, the sea weed and bean sprouts (with a few slices of carrots and shredded scallions thrown in for contrast) were delicious. I ate them as a topping to the steaming rice. We had barely gotten half way through the large serving when the Kung Pao Chicken arrived, Michael’s favorite. The outside of the chicken was crispy, the inside moist. The caramelized sauce was counter-balanced by the heat of the
Then the Shredded Pork arrived. Again, the flavors were perfectly balanced, the meat succulent. After our time in the desert and almost four hours driving, the meal was starting to revive us. Then came two revelations: the Crispy Rice Crust with Shrimp and the Won Ton Soup.
Actually called Broth Wonton, the soup was a minimalist version of a won ton soup. No carrots, bamboo shoots, mushrooms, bok choy, or chicken, the soup was as advertised, broth + wontons with a sprinkling of chopped scallions. The soup was lightly spiced with black pepper but was otherwise fat free and clear. The pork inside the won tons was sweet and lightly seasoned. This was soup and won ton wrapper and pork, pure and simple. Each ingredient as fresh as possible, each complimening the other with simplicity. In her novels and food articles, Nicole Mones speaks eloquently about the sophistication of Chinese cooking. The soup was such a good example of what she describes.
And then there was the Crispy Rice. I thought this might be like a Korean rice dish I’d had before with the rice crisped on the bottom of a hot stone pot, but this was something else entirely. A clear sauce, stir fried vegetables—bok choy, carrots, onions, tree mushrooms, fresh bamboo shoots--and shrimp were ladled on top of half a dozen crispy rice cakes. Where the sauce had touched the rice cakes, they had begun to soften, but where they were still separate from the sauce, they retained their crunchy, smoky flavor.
We ate and talked and ate again, the food reviving us after a long, hot day. The meal was perfect for the occasion, because we were hungry and because my mother was famously a lover of Asian food: Chinese, Japanese, and Vietnamese (her favorite). It was appropriate that we had visited her just before and then eaten at Chung King. She would have enjoyed the meal.