By C. Thi Nguyen, Special to the Los Angeles Times
July 7, 2011
So many breakfast foods around the world have the same familiar ideas at heart: simple, filling, just the thing to soothe your soul's journey from bed to the harsh light of the working day. Having Taiwanese breakfast at Huge Tree Pastry is like looking at an American diner breakfast, just slightly refracted.
The place even feels like a diner, from the happily worn, old linoleum tiles to the pleasant Formica tables. The foods have about the same culinary thrust as your average pancake breakfast but are written all over with the Taiwanese bent for textural play.
Witness their version of that ultra-casual Taiwanese classic, the glutinous rice roll, called "salted rice ball" on the menu. It's soft, sticky rice wrapped around a long, crispy fried Chinese doughnut, with a layer of slightly sweet Chinese cotton-candy pork fluff in between. It's a hefty, warm, utterly satiating festival of carbs. Peel back the plastic wrapping and eat it with your hands. For maximum textural pleasantness, get it fully loaded with crunchy homemade mustard pickles; the result is pleasing comfort-food flavors arrayed in a weird harmony of textures: fried and soft and meaty and chewy and fluffy all at once.
Huge Tree Pastry is the reincarnation of an old Monterey Park breakfast favorite, Yi Mei Chinese Pastries, which was hit by a fire about two years ago. The old location was a cramped little stall with too few tables and too many customers. The new incarnation is far bigger and far cozier, and it fits the food better. There's enough space to chill out and really sink down into your pile of starch.
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Huge Tree's green onion pastry, a little sesame-studded morsel of golden flaky pastry, is halfway between an onion scallion pancake and a croissant. Take a bite and admire the way it spans the gentle, crumbling crisp of the outer shell, to the soft semi-stretchy flakes below, to the near melting moistness of the inner layers. You can also get the same dough stuffed with pleasantly bland shredded daikon or charmingly sweet curried pork, or just sweetened and hollow.
Or try the same flakiness transmuted into a heartier form, shao bing: the wheat cake with beef and mustard pickle. This is a variation on the theme of flaky pastry, inflated to the size of a sandwich, then stuffed with beef slices and cilantro and flattened. The result is a happy marriage between a croissant and a Cuban pressed sandwich.
Daikon cake is carb-intensive comfort in a thick white rectangular pancake made from rice flour and daikon, fried crispy on the outside, gelatinously moist on the inside. Think of an almost-gooey-in-the-center pancake, but fatter and more fried and leagues more warming.
For a trip away from the crispy and carby, there's an array of bowls of fresh soy milk. If you are used to the sad, denuded soy products that make their way into some Western vegetarian cooking, be not afraid. This is soy well and truly proud of its identity, glowing with the vegetal taste of fresh, unadulterated bean.
Probably most satisfying are the savory soy milk and the sweet bean curd. Savory soy milk comes with a lovely array of meaty nibbles and tripe-y bits. Sweet bean curd is a gentle, silky delight with a handful of spiced peanuts for texture. The soy bowls are intended to be garnished to taste by the customer; add some sugar or vinegar to your pleasure. If you're observant, you'll notice most of the regulars order a long Chinese doughnut, called a "twisty curler" on the menu, to dip into their bowls of soy.
The lunch menu is long on simple Taiwanese noodles and soups. Most of it might be pretty familiar, though their oyster vermicelli noodle soup is notable for its unapologetically intense flavor — with oysters and loads of vinegar. For those seeking something more along the lines of that diner-comfort vibe, try the minced pork with rice. It's pork and mushrooms and gravy poured over warm rice. It's got the carnal pleasures of a hamburger and the comforting liquid warmth of a stew, together in one satisfying bowl.
LOCATION: 423 N. Atlantic Blvd., No. 105-106, Monterey Park, (626) 458-8689
PRICES: Breakfast dishes, $1 to $6; lunch entrees, $4 to $6; drinks, $1 to $3.
DETAILS: Open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. Sweet tea drinks. Lot parking. Cash only.
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