Ding’s Garden (大合卤味): a taste of Wenzhou

The city of Wenzhou may not be known for their cuisine like other parts of China, but I was still excited to learn about a restaurant which supposedly has dishes from Wenzhou. Ding’s Garden is also known as Savory Garden and also known as 大合卤味 — it all depends on which sign and menu you look at. The restaurant is incredibly small with just a handful of small tables and a glass display case which holds various cold appetizer plates and brined duck.

Dings GardenDings Garden
Dings GardenDings Garden

Of the appetizers, I’ve had the pickled cabbage, kao fu, tofu sheets with pickled snow cabbage, and braised thin-sliced pig ears.  Their pickled cabbage, one of the best renditions of this dish, was crisp, sour, and a little spicy.  The kao fu was even better because it was soft, slightly sweet, slightly salty, and without any of that canned food taste.  The tofu sheets were also a good choice, especially after having such a bad experience with them at another restaurant. Finally, the thin-sliced pig ears were fantastic — salty, spicy, soft and slightly crispy with cartilage.  If you’re a fan of pig ear, definitely try these.

Dings Garden

My first time here, I wanted a traditional Wenzhou dish, which I heard involved fish balls. They may not sound too appetizing, but they’re harmless; they’re just like meatballs but made out of fish instead of beef or pork.  I ordered the fish balls in noodle soup.  The fish were less ball shaped and more rustic, like small strips of fish. Each bite contained the cooked fish batter which was both soft and chewy with chopped ginger mixed in.  While the fish was new to me and interesting, the star of the dish was the noodles, which were wide but thin — kind of like wider, thinner fettuccine.   Even though these were wheat noodles, they had that slippery mouth-feel that rice noodles like the ones in chow fun had.  This was the first time I’ve had wheat noodles like this and I really enjoyed them.

Dings Garden

The BF also wanted to try the noodles, so the lady working there was nice enough to offer us off-menu a vegetarian noodle soup with just pickled snow cabbage, water, salt, and noodles.  The dish was simple and a great way to highlight the noodles.  Next time he orders this, we’re going to ask for some pickled mai gan cai which’ll probably add another layer of depth to the soup thanks to its slightly earthy flavor.

Dings Garden

When I visited Ding’s Garden a second time, I tried another specialty of theirs: large wontons in soup.  The wontons were casually squeezed in large, thin wrappers and then cooked in a simple soup with seaweed, strips of thin omelet, and ground pork.  It may not look like much, but this bowl of soup and wonton was so warming and comforting that I don’t know how I’ll force myself to try something new next time I return.  Even though there are no noodles in this soup, rest assured that it’s more than enough to eat thanks to the large wrappers and the amount of wontons.

Dings Garden

Maybe not for novices, but Ding’s Garden also has decent stinky tofu.  It’s stinky, but not blow-your-socks-off stinky.  The braised tofu with chili oil is savory and salty inside, maybe a bit too firm, and pairs perfectly with a bite of the pickled vegetables.  Don’t be scared away with the redness of this dish. Its bark is worse than its bite.

Ding’s Garden may not look like much, but most of the food I’ve had here was solid and tasted like no-frills, good, Chinese food.  The lady who works there is friendly, the noodles are good, and the prices are low.  It may be too small for large groups, but it’s perfect for a quick, casual lunch when I’m in the mood for simple Chinese food.

Ding’s Garden (大合卤味)
534 E Valley Blvd
Suite 10
San Gabriel, CA 91776
(626) 573-5668

S’more Pain @ Hunan Chilli King

I returned to Hunan Chilli King for lunch a few weeks ago after my initial visit. Although the experience of eating there was painful, it was a good sort of pain and I was soon craving more after.

Hunan Chilli King

I don’t know if this is only a lunchtime deal, but after the BF and I ordered, the waitress brought out a bowl of porridge with either pumpkin or yam in it as well as the usual small dish of pickled string beans and peanuts. The porridge was bland and comforting, which is a sharp contrast to the highly-spiced dishes to come. I’d like to think that having a bowl of this before diving into the real dishes coated my stomach enough to prepare it.

This time, I ordered what I guess would translate to ‘water-boiled lamb.’ It’s thin slices of lamb braised in a thin spicy, garlicky sauce with plenty of chopped peppers thrown in. There’s a certain, unmistakable smokiness in Hunan Chilli King’s peppers that I don’t usually notice in other peppers. It comes close to the unrivaled chile peppers that I had in some dishes in Fujian province in China. The best way I can describe it is that it’s like a lingering, smokey foreshadowing of the hot pain that’s about to come in few seconds after biting into that pepper.

Hunan Chilli King

The bowl of water-boiled lamb was gigantic, but about 1/3 of it was full of chile peppers, bean sprouts and garlic. What’s good about this dish is that you can take the leftovers home and then toss them in the wok with some rice noodles and you’d get another meal or two thanks to the extra sauce and peppers.

Whenever I have friends who say they like and can handle spicy food, I think about bringing them here. I’d like to think that I’m fairly tolerant of heat, but I’m only man enough to barely handle the medium-spicy here. I’d really hate to see what the extra spicy is like.

534 E Valley Blvd
Unit 2 & 3
San Gabriel, CA 91776

Xiao Long Bao Showdown: Din Tai Fung vs. Shanghai Xiao Chi

Attention! I’ve just gotten out of a time traveling vehicle from the past to bring you xiao long bao showdown! So what if I missed the xlb bandwagon a few years ago? I still enjoy the dangerously hot soup dumplings.

Din Tai Fung is many people’s go-to spot for these dumplings, but not me.  The restaurant itself is crowded, a little too efficient, and I always feel rushed by the service there.  Sure, the big window in the front that overlooks the sterile-looking dumpling wrapping station is pretty cool and it’s a good place to bring people who are new to xlb’s, but I consider this more of a tourist location.

Xiao Long Bao Taste-offXiao Long Bao Taste-off

Their standard pork dumplings are always consistent. Because the skin is so thin, they’re extra delicate, so make sure to have your chopstick skills handy.  One time the BF went there, they brought him a basket of dumplings but they were all leaky with most of the soup gone!  My favorite dumplings here are the combination crab and pork ones. The extra savory taste of the crab makes the soup so stand out.

Xiao Long Bao Taste-off

Shanghai Xiao Chi is one of the other places I go to for xlb’s.  The wrapper has more substance, the meat is a little gingery, and the soup is great. The xlb’s seem more homey and rustic too, so maybe that’s why I like them.  The service is also pretty nice and relaxed.

Between the two, Shanghai Xiao Chi is my preferred choice.  The dumplings are larger and cheaper, compared to Din Tai Fung’s smaller, more expensive ones. There’s no cool window to look into, but after seeing that once, it doesn’t really matter.

Shanghai Xiao Chi
828 W Valley Blvd
Alhambra, CA 91803
(626) 588-2284

Din Tai Fung
1108 S Baldwin Ave
Arcadia, CA 91007-7508
(626) 574-7068