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Review: At New Qingdao in Alhambra, delicate fish dumplings are a specialty

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The building at the northeast corner of West Valley Boulevard and South 2nd Street in Alhambra has housed many restaurants over the last 30 years, including Happy Table and Gourmet Island. Now called New Qingdao, its latest owners swoop rewardingly into two northern/northeastern territories not as commonly represented in local Chinese restaurants.

Qingdao is a port city in the Shandong province; it sits on the edge of the Yellow Sea across from Korea and is known for seafood specialties prepared with subtlety. Just to the north, separated by a strait, begins the Dongbei region, once known as Manchuria. Its borders stretch as far as Siberia. My friend raised in China pointed out some dishes typical of the Dongbei: corn stir-fried with pine nuts, braised pork with preserved vegetables (pickles and sour flavors are common in its chilly climate) and caramelized sweet potatoes.

She asked the server in Mandarin to choose items in which New Qingdao’s kitchen particularly excels.

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He directed us to a gentle, homey combination of soft tofu, shrimp and squid, shot through with crisp slices of celtuce and scallion greens. Each bite was a shifting collage of textures. Blocky, translucent “noodles” made from mung-bean starch soaked in a bath of soy sauce and sesame oil, jolted by bits of browned garlic. The sweet corn paired with the pine nuts was the frozen variety (peas and cubed carrots also threaded through the mix), but I was happy to try it once.

Best were the Qingdao-style fish jiaozi. The restaurant offers two kinds: pale green dumplings filled with cod, and a mackerel variation dyed black with squid ink. My friend asked nicely if we might order half and half of each and the server said yes. The wrappers were thick and unevenly shaped, but the dough had just the right amount of give and both kinds of fish tasted fresh; the flavors bloomed even more with a few drops of vinegar.

I’ve been here twice, and the restaurant has been quiet both times. Maybe bump this to the top of your list to check out?

203 W. Valley Blvd., Alhambra, (626) 872-6677.

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