Normally I report on a restaurant after several visits, although one visit usually is all you need to know whether a restaurant is recommendable.
One visit will tell anyone that Jumbo Sea Food Restaurant, one of many fine Chinese restaurants in the thriving Asian communities in the Alhambra area, is recommendable. The food is very, very good.
Seafood is the key word, and you'll meet the creatures, alive and well, the minute you open the door. They're all swimming or lolling about (lazy turtles, crab and lobster, eel among them) in tanks that line a wall. If you point to one of the critters and say to your waiter, "I want him" (or "her," as the case may be), that's what you'll get--freshly dazed out of its waters, cooked to your preference, and onto your plate.
Jumbo is basically a Cantonese restaurant, and the menu looks and reads like the Hong Kong telephone directory. Two and three or even 10 visits would not be adequate to sample all the dishes.
You will find dozens of Cantonese specialties on the menu which, happily, is divided into appropriate categories: shark's fin dishes; abalone dishes; barbecue dishes; sizzling platter dishes (including steak, chicken and seafood); seafood dishes, varying from shrimp, eel, turtle, scallops, oysters and clams to squid, lobster, prawns and whole fish; plus the normal range, including desserts (tapioca and almond cream).
The special fixed dinners, which serve two or more persons, include a soup, two appetizers, a choice of entree, rice and dessert (no substitutions) for $11.75 and $7.50.
Although somewhat varied, the lunch menu does not do justice to the restaurant, although at $2.95 for the lunch special, you'll get your money's worth and more. Still, try for the evening.
I was intrigued with the clay pot specialty on the lunch menu, but did not try it because they were serving turtle that day, and turtle is not one of my favorite foods. However, there are other clay pot dishes, such as chicken and bean curd, roast pork with oysters, crab and ginger, which I would try.
I tried the noodle soup because one can usually tell after tasting the broth from the stockpot (the base of many other dishes on the menu) whether the food, in general, is good. The broth was excellent.
The fried squab on the lunch special was succulent, crispy and tender--so tender you could eat the bones. The vegetable dish was a stir-fried Chinese long-leafed green, which was neither oily nor too plain. It was perfectly cooked and tasty.
Except for exotic items and seafood, evening dishes are in the $5 and above range. There is bird's nest with crab meat for $14, and shark's fin with brown sauce for four persons for $34, plus abalone with sea cucumber and a dish with duck's feet, which tells me that the place caters to Chinese.
According to one of the owners (the Wong brothers also own Wong's Seafood in Newport Beach), Jumbo draws at least 65% of its clientele from Taiwanese immigrants.
Things like preserved squid with spicy salt, boiled beef tripe, steamed minced pork with salted egg and aged pork with taro also tell the story. Otherwise, things like scallops with black bean sauce, crab with ginger and onion, beef with spicy sauce, barbecued Peking-style duck, crispy, deep-fried chicken or lemon chicken, minced squab with lettuce, probably will please the Western taste.
The menu goes on and on, so you will be entertained as you sip their red tea and wait for the waiter to slap the silverware on the table and toss a napkin on your lap. The service is, shall we say--impersonal. But not without soul.
Jumbo Sea Food Restaurant, 203 W. Valley Blvd., Alhambra, (818) 289-9908 or (818) 289-9911. Open 7 days for lunch 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.; dinner 5 to 10 p.m. Reservations accepted. Visa and MasterCard accepted. Free parking in lot. Average lunch $2.95; dinner $8 without beverage. Wine and beer available.