Mastering the ‘breath of the wok’
On its face, Silver and Gold Amazing looks like half the Chinese strip mall joints in the San Gabriel Valley. It’s a bright, inviting Monterey Park shop with a few clear plastic tables and a huge menu, squeezed into pretty much the smallest space in which a restaurant can exist.
But you’re not here for the decor, you’re here for the staples of Cantonese cooking -- stir-fried beef chow fun, tripe lo mein, dried scallop fried rice and wonton soup -- because Silver and Gold Amazing is, at heart, a diner that serves soul-satisfying versions of working men’s classics.
But, like the perfect diner from the road trip of your dreams, Silver and Gold Amazing does these standards with unearthly care. Beef with black bean gravy chow fun has wide, stir-fried rice noodles that are slippery, toothsome and ever-so-slightly charred. On top, there’s black bean gravy with tender beef and crisp bell peppers. It’s a little sweet, a little salty and very aromatic with soy, black bean and the flavors of beef. But the gravy is delicate, toned down enough to reveal the pure, nutty taste of the rice noodles.
Cantonese cooks are known for their mastery of wok hei -- literally “the breath of the wok.” It’s the ability to impart an immediate connection between fire and food -- a roastiness, a subtle taste of char that gets delivered from wok to table. The cooks at Silver and Gold Amazing have their wok hei down. You can hear the sizzle and clatter of fast wok action from the kitchen, and stir-fried dishes reliably roll out, one after the other. Fried rices come out with each grain still distinct, fluffy and nicely toasted; stir-fried noodles come out edged with crispiness.
Many of the better Cantonese places in the San Gabriel Valley serve a pretty good rice noodle -- soft, delicate and charmingly slippery. But Silver and Gold Amazing’s noodles stand out. Their stir-fried chow fun is wonderfully soft and smooth; at their core, the noodles have a satisfying chewiness, with the distinctive texture of compressed rice. Combined with the touch of wok hei char, you have a noodle worth savoring.
The menu is massive but straightforward: all the Cantonese basics, such as wide rice noodles, thin rice noodles, egg noodles and rice dishes with all sorts of toppings: beef, barbecued pork, wontons, bean sprouts, fish balls. About a third are soups -- wonton, fish ball, beef, with your choice of noodle. Another third consists of stir-fried dishes: both noodles and rices. The last third is a variety of congees, or Cantonese rice porridges, and rice sheet rolls.
Silver and Gold’s style is subtle saucing and spicing designed to emphasize the rice or noodles. Even beef tripe lo mein is delicate enough that the main flavor is that of fresh egg noodles.
Wontons come in soft wrappers that basically melt into eggy pudding the moment they hit your mouth, revealing distinct chunks of pork and shrimp.
Congee is full of perfect textural touches. House special rice porridge has bits of soft tendon and wonderfully coarse hunks of beef sausage, like good country-style sweet Italian sausage. The porridge is silky, the thin slices of green onion still crisp.
For sheer glee, there’s Chinese doughnut with rice sheet roll: the same tender rice noodles, left in broad sheets and wrapped around a long, savory Chinese doughnut and topped with a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds and green onions. Rice sheet roll with steamed fish fillet is elegant, but for bringing sunshine into sad hearts, nothing beats the experience of biting through the tenderest possible rice sheet, right into a crisp fried doughnut shell. It’s the physical pleasure of a custard-filled doughnut, inverted.
Divine fried rice
The most satisfying dish is minced beef fried rice: rice and rice-sized bits of beef, all mixed up into a big, steaming heap. The waitress might suggest a few drops of hot sauce.
Like all the best diners, Silver and Gold Amazing is wise in the ways of cooking with fat. Nothing is greasy. Instead, in every dish, there’s a barely detectable slick of oil -- just enough to make everything delightfully slippery and fun.
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Silver and Gold Amazing
728 S. Atlantic Blvd., Suite 103, Monterey Park, (626) 282-8108
Rice sheet rolls, $2 to $4; entrees, $4 to $6; to-go bags of wontons and dumplings, $16 to $18 per pound.
Wonton noodle soup, beef tripe lo mein, fish ball noodle soup, minced beef fried rice, dried scallop fried rice, beef chow fun with black bean gravy, lai wan congee, rice sheet roll with steamed fish fillet, Chinese doughnut with rice sheet roll.
Open 8 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. daily. Rice sheet rolls made until 4 p.m. Tea, herbal tea and sweet tea drinks. Cash only. Lot parking.