When Quinn Doan from the Hong Kong tourism board asked me if I could show a few chefs around the San Gabriel Valley last week, it may have taken me all of a second and a half to agree. I am forever going on about the diversity and high quality of local Chinese restaurants, which are generally agreed to be the best in the country, but I thought it might be interesting to see the cooking through the eyes of knowledgeable visitors on their first visit to Los Angeles – visitors who all happened to have won Michelin stars for their restaurants in Hong Kong.
The chefs were in town to do a promotional event at Lukshon and at the Grove, and would be squired to the usual grand Westside places, but they wanted to experience the huge Chinese restaurant community they had heard about. How could I resist the chance to see how L.A.'s best measured up against Hong Kong's?
Still, it is one thing to agree to guide a tour through the San Gabriel Valley, and another to come up with a plan of action -- to stack the deck for the home team. I didn't just want to show the chefs a good time, I wanted them to realize how well Chinese food is doing in California, maybe to tempt them to open a restaurant here themselves. I must have revised the itinerary at least a dozen times.
I knew that Cantonese gourmets generally look down on the cooking of Eastern China, which they consider too sweet, so places like Shanghai No. 1 Seafood and Mei Long Village were out. There is a general Hong Kong aversion to exaggerated spiciness, which eliminated food from Hunan, Sichuan, and probably Yunnan from contention, and the Northern places with their steamed corncakes and bland mustard greens also wouldn't do. I had the feeling that refined chefs weren't about to be won over by the chunky hand-shaved Shanxi noodles from JTYH or the crude but delicious beef rolls from 101 Noodle Express in Alhambra; the Xi'an-style lamb soup with torn bread from Shaanxi Gourmet or the grapefruit size Wuxi xiao long bao at Wang Xing Ji; the Uygher lamian from Omar's or the cumin-laced fried chicken bones at the new branch of Shen Yang.
Then Doan emailed: the chefs wanted dim sum. That was easy enough: Sea Harbour.
Coming later this week: Dissection of the dim sum