Pork Sour Napa Casserole
I've been an amateur journalist that eats for some time now. And occasionally, my friends will insist upon me trying a place. They will drag me to some corner place and lay claim as if they were preaching "the next coming" of some sort of beef. I might be given their used-car sales pitch about the chicken dish at their under appreciated hang out. Most of the time, it's just their giddy excitement oozing out and everything being over-hyped. I'll most often agree to some point, with me inside smiling politely, since the food is somewhat acceptable, than being stupendously awesome. Though I know I'll hear their ire, if I don't amiably agree a bit.
Yet in this case . . . Happy Kitchen did not fail to deliver. At Mr. B's insistence, I was in a little San Gabriel Valley Chinese hole-in-the-wall crawl with him this week, I had to try Happy Kitchen. He said I'll love this place and will want to come back. His family and especially his mom is even a regular.
Happy Kitchen features Chinese food from Harbin 哈爾濱. The cold winters are warmed with hearty stews, like their casseroles - the Pork Sour Napa Casserole. Almost a soup, this dish is only served in a large family style bowl. The sliced pork with the cabbage in the sour mixture instantly warms you up without being too spicy. Though it isn't savory, or heck even sweet, and lacks some bold flavors, you can't stop eating/drinking it. It doesn't even look that appetising. But I couldn't stop. The sourness goes down smooth with the cabbage melting in your mouth. The pork, with a little flavorful fat, gives a slight salt taste but good mouth feel texture. I guess the pork is the token protein in this dish. Then after awhile, you find glass noodles swimming at the bottom as a nice surprise to fill your stomach.
The owner/cook, from Heilongjiang 黑龍江省 the capital, often comes out from behind and chats with the customers. Here in the melting pot of Southern California, you'll find Chinese, from difference provinces, enjoying Happy Kitchen. We were treated as long time customers, with a side their roast chicken leg.
I just found out, the week prior, that the LA Times did a nice article about Happy Kitchen. I would assume, that many outsiders (hint: white people) will discover this little gem. You won't find the kung pao chicken, general tsao's, moo goo gai pan or even orange chicken on their menu. You'll find hometown comfort food like onion pancake wrapped beef and vegetable steamed dumplings. I was told that the onion pancake wrapped beef, better known as beef rolls, is much better here with the thin onion pancake. Other places are known to use thicker and oilier ones. The vegetable steamed dumplings were filled with finely chopped greens, tofu, and mushrooms, about to burst from the seams. With such armor, you don't need soy sauce, but perhaps a little vinegar to go with the dumplings.
I remembered, with my mouth filled, I had concurred, actually nodded, with Mr. B, about his glowing sentiment about Happy Kitchen.
LA Times article on 2/18/10
What to Order: Pork Sour Napa Casserole, Beef Rolls
What not to Order: couldn't think of anything
3 pigs, $
Happy Kitchen 柳棕園美食坊
301 W Valley Blvd
San Gabriel, CA 91776
The typical menu you'll find in these hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurants.
The Beef Rolls, notice the thin onion pancake.
The complimentary roast chicken leg. This was really good. I would have ordered this by itself.
Again, the beef rolls
Look for the glass noodles at the bottom of the pork sour napa casserole.
The steamed vegetable dumplings.
Very nice size. Look at all the fresh ingredients.