Tuesday, April 15

Food bites: Almansor Court Sunday brunch and Lee Kam Kee

This past weekend I experienced two contradictions: a new oldie and an not-often visited standby. How so, you ask? Let's start with the new oldie first.

A new discovery: Almansor Court Sunday Brunch

The new oldie in question is the Sunday Brunch at the Almansor Court banquet center by the golf course. It's new to me, but as some fellow Alhambrans can tell you, it's been around for years and years. My family and I went there this past Sunday to celebrate my mom's birthday. Going there was like a step back in time, with mimosas and colored napkins and patrons dressed up in their Sunday best. This is what you see upon entering the foyer:

The buffet is spread out into a few different rooms, which is visually interesting but confusing for my parents, who couldn't find everything they wanted because of it. Choices range from traditional breakfast (custom omelettes, hash browns, bacon) to Mexican offerings (do-it-yourself tacos, enchiladas, and menudo) to seafood (oysters and king crab).

Extensive variation is obviously their strength here. Where else can you put a chicken crepe next to your unagi sushi that's already sitting next to a barbecue chicken wing? Evidence is here on my plate:

I do wish that the seating area wasn't quite so far from the food, and that the seafood was fresher. For the price, it's not that bad. I would say that the breakfast exceeded my expectations but that the rest of the food was just satisfactory.

Hong Kong-style Vietnamese: Lee Kam Kee

In this case, the not-often-visited standby is Lee Kam Kee, a Vietnamese restaurant located on the far west end of Valley Blvd. It's not your typical Vietnamese restaurant, with a nice interior and beautiful plateware. My mom informed me that the owner is from Hong Kong, and so the food is catered to a Hong Kong palate. A quick look around the restaurant confirmed this: almost all the patrons spoke Cantonese, and nearly all of the waiters too.

We go there for the canh chua, a sour soup filled with catfish or shrimp, pineapple, tomato, bean sprouts, and some spongy-looking green stalk. It's slightly sweeter here than at other, more heavily Vietnamese places, but is still good. This time we also had a shrimp and pork papaya salad with nuoc mam and some lemongrass pork chops.

My mom thought that the nuoc mam needed to be a bit more sour as did the soup. I find that's a theme here, to tone down the loud notes of Vietnamese cooking to appeal to the Chinese clientele. Most people who eat at Vietnamese restaurants (myself included) don't really care if the plates match or if the ambiance is any good, which are two key things here. It's not a bad thing to know its clientele, and that's probably why I don't fault it as much as I would another restaurant serving Vietnamese food.

Almansor Court Sunday Brunch
700 S. Almansor St.
Alhambra, CA 91801
(626) 570-4600
10am-2pm every Sunday

Lee Kam Kee
2505 W. Valley Blvd.
Alhambra, CA 91803
11am-9:45pm, closed Tuesdays

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Wednesday, April 9

The Green Zone

While looking for bento supplies in the area, I came across a sustainability-oriented website that had listings of various restaurants that matched their mission. One of the restaurants on that list is the Green Zone, which advertised itself as having "entrees using locally-raised, farm fresh ingredients." I was intrigued because this restaurant in located smack-dab in the middle of the eating landscape that is the SGV, a place not well-known for that kind of organic, pro-local attitude.

I double checked with a browse through other SGV blogs and a quick perusal of yelp and chowhound. It seemed to be very favorable and generally the sentiment was "I can't believe it's located on Valley!" I convinced my sister to tag along yesterday and soon we were there. It's located in Valley Plaza next to many other restaurants.

The inside is modern but not cold, with wood accents and a green theme. Almost everyone else inside spoke Mandarin. Our waiter was nice, and I'm pretty sure he is the co-owner of the restaurant. The menu is sort of a pan-Asian, not-quite-fusion affair.

We decided to each order a dish and share the wild-caught sea bass over spinach salad. She got the seafood pasta with linguine. There's a choice of sea bass, salmon, or shrimp scampi, but our waiter offered to do a mix of the three. I decided to get that SGV standby: Hainan chicken over rice. I also ordered an organic ginger ale and my sister ordered a pomegranate-apple juice.

The salad came out after about a 10-minute wait. I liked the balsamic vinaigrette on the spinach, but the sea bass was a little bit too cooked for my liking. My Hainan chicken came out soon after. The presentation was beautiful, and everything tasted really, really good. I liked that they poached the dark meat so that it was not dry at all, and I didn't have to deal with picking the meat off the bones. The rice was very flavorful, and all the sauce accompaniments worked well with the chicken and rice.

After a bit of a wait the pasta came out and we both thought the portion was huge. There was quite a bit of seafood and the sauce was very liquidy. The pasta itself had a nice bite to it, and all of the seafood was cooked perfectly and tasted fresh. However, my sister felt it wasn't their strong point and said she would come back but not order the pasta again.

With everything we ordered the price came out to more than we would normally spend for lunch (this is the SGV after all), but I am sure it would have cost way more had it been in west LA or Pasadena. I look forward to returning. In fact, I think I will go back next week and try some of the other things on the menu, like the salmon triangles with tri-colored salt, or the organic wonton soup. I recommend the Hainan chicken and may even like it better than what they serve at Hainan chicken standard Savoy down the street.

The Green Zone
534 E Valley Blvd.
San Gabriel, CA 91776

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Saturday, April 5

Current food sampling: Bollini's Pizzeria Napolitana and the Boiling Crab

Here's part two of my mental food blog clean out:

Italian in the SGV: Bollini's Pizzeria Napolitana

Blogger Lyndsay mentioned she'd heard blog rumblings about a good Italian place in Monterey Park and that it seemed legit. Me? I was skeptical. She sent me the link to this post by Wandering Chopsticks, and a looksie at the pictures there an
d a quick look at the menu had me convinced that I had to try it. I convinced my sister it was the perfect place for her casual birthday lunch (evil aren't I) and so we went there yesterday. Owner Chris is out, so no pasta, but we did order salad and pizza. A sign inside said no photography (boo for this blog) but I managed to shoot one of the outside and of the cal bianco pizza once we got home.

We got the arugula salad with bacon, corn, baby tomatoes, mushrooms, goat cheese, and a red wine vinaigrette. The arugula was perfectly peppery and matched well with the other elements providing salty, sweet, or creamy notes. A cal bianco pizza (parmesan sauce, smoked chicken, garlic, basil) and salsiccia 3 pizza(mozzarella, tomato sauce, three-pe
pper sausage, red and green peppers, italian peppers, goat cheese, basil) were shared.

The pizza was super thin! All in all delicious, and the people were super nice. Merits a return visit for the pasta when Chris returns.

Another blogger recommendation: The Boiling Crab

While looking for crab places (don't ask me why) I came across Jonathan Gold's snippet about The Boiling Crab in Alhambra, almost literally down the freaking street from my house. I heard more while perusing food blogs and decided I needed to try Cajun-style
crawfish as presented by Asian people. I convinced friend Vinh (pictured with such an enthusiastic look on his face and a crawfish bib) to try it out with me.

Inside is packed with stuff on the walls, televisions, fishing nets, and Mardi Gras beads. Not exactly your usual SGV restaurant. The clientele was mostly young and R&B blasted from the speakers. The menu is simple, with a choose-your-seafood then what type of seasoning, and various add-ons like corn on the cob and fries.

We were originally going to do one pound of crawfish and one pound of dunge
ness crab, but the latter was too expensive for our tastes so we switched it to shrimp. We added two corn on the cobs and some cajun fries, all with the "whole sha-bang" seasoning which means all the seasoning options thrown together. About 15 minutes later a clear bag showed up on our table with everything we ordered except the fries. Opened, it looked like this:

The seasoning was good and very garlicky and paired well with both the crawfish and the shrimp. We both liked the shrimp better because the payoff was better after all that peeling. the corn on the cob managed to be spicy and buttery at the same time. The fries were nice and crispy, but were the last to get eaten. This is what my side of the table looked like afterward:

$28 for all of the above plus a refillable soda with tip for the both of us for lunch didn't seem like a bad deal at all. As Jonathan Gold says, "I can hardly wait to return."

Bollini's Pizzeria Napolitana
2315 S. Garfield Ave.
Monterey Park, CA 91754

The Boiling Crab
742 W Valley Blvd
Alhambra, CA 91803

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Brief return to the SGV: old and new favorites

I'm back in the SGV for a brief vacation and I thought I'd do a sampling of what I've eaten so far. Upon perusing my blog pictures folder, I also came across some restaurants from previous trips that I had yet to add to this blog. So, I'm going to lump them into two long "here I am again" posts to save room in my brain and because I'm too lazy to think of more post titles.

Up first, an oldie but goodie: Garden Cafe

This is my standby for cafe food when I'm at home. We usually stop by for late night drinks of the non-alcoholic variety and some greasy late-night food. About a month ago I stopped by with my boyfriend to take advantage of the late night eating option that doesn't seem to exist where we live. This particular night it was totally dead in there, which makes me thing Garden has fallen out of favor with the local late night crowd in favor of newer establishments like the Sunday Bistro.

I ordered the Hainan Chicken with rice, and he ordered pork chops with mushroom sauce. My dish came out with better presentation than I expected, and it was delicious, too. The soup was flavorful and the sauces were a perfect foil to the moist chicken., right on par with Savoy's famous Hainan chicken. The pork chops were greasy but big portioned, and somehow Garden's mashed potatoes were better than I remembered.

I hope that they don't close down due to the new, flashier cafes because it's still one of my favorites after all these years.

Another restaurant memory: Chabuya Ramen

In the same visit we went to the Sawtelle neighborhood for a visit with the BF's sister. After perusing blogs per usual I settled on Chabuya ramen. I was looking forward to their "Asian Bun Sandwich" and some ramen. I ended up getting a mini pork sandwich and a mini shrimp rice bowl. The sandwich came on a peking duck-type sandwich roll alongside a small salad. The rice bowl was not so mini with its huge mound of rice. I thought the flavor was good, but that with the amount of rice the rice bowl became bland.

My boyfriend got the special dipping ramen (tsuke-men) that came with two dipping sauces. He liked, but thought it was a lot of work since the noodles kept sticking together. His sister got the classic ramen with miso and said the portion was just enough that she felt satisfied without being too stuffed to ice skate, which we were doing later on.

We all agreed it was good, but not the best ramen we'd ever had.

Garden Cafe
228 W. Valley Boulevard
Alhambra, CA 91801
(626) 289-1833

2002 Sawtelle Blvd
Los Angeles, CA

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