When I picture a restaurant named Bon Mar Che Bistro, I picture a small cafe with cozy tables covered with white tablecloth where I can order a charcuterie plate, a glass of wine, and relax with a good book. That’s absolutely *not* what Bon Marche Bistro is about.
Instead, it’s a small, family-owned restaurant tucked behind a strip mall in Monterey Park. It’s famed for ‘home styled’ Chinese food and more specifically, a dish which involves lots of cooked food layered in a wooden bucket. Unlike other Chinese restaurants in the area, Bon Marche’s kitchen is fully visible, taking up one half of the restaurant. Standing up and looking over the counter topped with plastic baskets of produce, you can watch the chef toss sizzling bits of food in the wok with expertise. It reminded me a little of the hole-in-the-wall eateries in China where there was just a giant wok in the middle of the sidewalk.
On my first visit to Bon Marche, the woman working there was enthusiastic about the menu and the food offered. I was still perusing the menu while waiting for my dining companions to arrive when she came up and explained their bucket dish and suggested I order it. But I was really in the mood for claypot rice!
Luckily, when the BF arrived, he ordered a vegetarian version of the bucket dish, so the pressure was off me and the lady let me order the claypot rice with beef and egg. Our dining companion got stir fried shrimp after helpful suggestion from the lady again.
The claypot rice arrived and I learned my lesson. The rice to topping ratio was very skewed — a giant pot of rice and a few pieces of beef, a fried egg, and a small dish of sauce. If I was given more sauce, which tasted great, the dish would have been better; as it was, it was lacking. The beef was tough and had a strange, unfresh taste.
The stir fried shrimp dish luckily was better. It tasted just like something my mother used to make for dinner. The sweet shrimp and the salty sauce played on each other nicely. When the woman delivered the dish, she exclaimed how special it was because no other restaurants served it and that other restaurants tended to overcook the shrimp. It was a good spiel and all, but the shrimp was a bit overcooked and while it tasted good, it wasn’t something that I’d never had in any other Chinese restaurant.
Then came the highly acclaimed (by the staff anyway) bucket dish. The restaurant’s specialty. Was it all that it lived up to? Well, considering we got a vegetarian version of it, it’s not really fair to judge, but it certainly was the best dish of the visit. Layered on top of vermicelli noodles were baby bok choy, mushrooms, tofu, and sauce. Everything was cooked perfectly and the sauce dripping down to the noodles underneath made them a treat to slurp up.
Despite its shortcomings, Bon Marche Bistro lives up to its “home styled” Chinese food description. None of the dishes we ordered then and on subsequent visits were spectacular, but they certainly tasted like something that could be made at home. A couple of dishes I got on a later to-go order had some weird tasting meat, but maybe that was just the danger of a to-go order. People visiting the restaurant shouldn’t expect fancy, banquet-style Chinese food. The restaurant’s menu is full of unpretentious, simple, home-cooking dishes that may not look great, but at least it tastes home-made.
331 W Garvey Ave
Monterey Park, CA 91754