Location: 920 E Garvey Ave. Monterey Park, CA 91755. 626-288-2218
Date: May 28, 2016
Cuisine: Szechuan Chinese
Chinese food is incredible regional, and we are blessed in SoCal with a lot of very specific restaurants (mostly in the San Gabriel Valley). My Hedonist group has returned to this little known spicy Szechuan in the corner of an undiscovered Monterey Park strip mall. We love Szechuan for its spicy/smoky flavors. This is a cuisine that packs a real punch and is one of my favorites in China and CHL is seriously “local.”
But we weren’t even in the restaurant proper, but across the parking lot in “the room.” When we arrived some staff or friends were eating (and drinking A LOT of beer). They cleared out as soon as we walked in.
From my cellar: 2011 Veyder-Malberg Grüner Veltliner Weitenberg. 92 points. Excellent. Opened about 8 hours prior to drinking. Pale-mid straw in colour with a nose of green apples and stones. Bone dry and predominantly mineral in the mouth with green sourish apple, vegetal and wet stone overtones. Medium acidity with a distinct tartness which is very refreshing and long in the aftertaste. This is still a very young Veltliner which is several years away from reaching its peak. When it does I estimate that it will deserve a higher score, maybe substantially higher
From my cellar: 2006 Mas Martinet Priorat Clos Martinet. VM 92+. Saturated ruby. Pungent aromas of cherry, black raspberry, sassafras, licorice and vanilla. Pliant cherry and dark berry flavors are braced by a zesty mineral quality and framed by silky tannins. Becomes smokier and deeper with air, picking up black tea and herbal qualities on the finish. The finish is sweet but a bit clenched, with fine-grained tannins lending grip. This seems to be holding back today but I like its balance and concentration.
Stewed Lamb in Casserole. This is one of the house special dishes. It comes like this and then heats to a boiling (and spicy) temp. Below the mutton (the meat is incredibly tender, although on the bone) is a seething pit of chili sauce, cabbage, soft tofu, and glass noodles. The sauce has an incredible flavor with a good bit of numbing Szechuan peppercorn. It’s incredibly delicious and unique to Szechuan cooking.
2007 Dönnhoff Kreuznacher Krötenpfuhl Riesling Spätlese. JG 92. honey lemon, grapfruits with hint of perfume floral and Mosel like mineral tones. Juicy intense palate with rich lemony, citrus notes and hint of sweet yellow fruits that firmly supported by the mineral backbone with bright acidity that flow on to the very clean, grippy finish with ripe acidity to go along.
2012 Turley Zinfandel Cobb. VM 91. One of the more immediate, fleshy wines in this extensive lineup, the 2012 Zinfandel Cobb Vineyard is an excellent choice for drinking over the next handful of years. Suave, silky and juicy on the palate, the 2012 is built on a core of open, resonant fruit. Sweet spices notes add nuance in a distinctly supple Zinfandel with tons of near-term appeal.
Hot braised eggplant with garlic sauce. Awesome garlicky flavor, with some significant heat (of both sorts).
2001 Marquis Philips Shiraz Integrity. 94 points. Notes of mint/eucalyptus, leather, plum and dark fruit with a very subtle funky/bretty undertone that is rather enjoyable. Medium- to full-bodied with nicely integrated tannins and flavors of spice, vanilla, blackberry liqueur, and herbs. Hint of leather coming in on the finish. The most complex and ready of the four- solidly in its window and probably won’t improve in my opinion. Should hold at this level for a couple of years, but I see no reason to wait.
Wilson mixing it up. One of the biggest challenge is getting only part of the noodles and an even distribution of the chopped meat at the bottom. Clearly, when Marco Polo brought noodles back to Italy this became the seed for Bolognese sauce, as aside from this being quite spicy, there is a definite similarity. This particular version wasn’t the best I’ve ever had, and doesn’t have the nutty sesame quality the dish sometimes does, but it was certainly enjoyable.
Fried corn. Slightly sweet and could have almost passed for a dessert (certainly in Chinese terms). It blended great on the plate with other items like the above tofu, adding a bit of crunch, salt, and sweetness.
In conclusion, Cui Hua Lou, while apparently totally undiscovered, offers up some fabulous traditional Szechuan fare. Yarom thinks this is the best Szechuan in the SGV. I’m not sure I’d go that far, but it’s certainly one of my favorites. They don’t use MSG. The flavors are great. It has a slightly different mix of dishes than some. But I like a lot of the top Szechuan places, and they are each a bit different.
The service is really great, particularly as Chinese restaurants go. Our hostess Elaine really took care of us, spacing out the dishes, bringing us whatever we needed.
We went crazy overboard and ordered up about 50% more food than we needed, still this feast, including tax and tip, only set us back $25 a person! If you like spicy, you should try this place. It’s not big, but it was still busy at 10pm!
We went close by to Salju for some awesome snow. In this case pineapple snow, passionfruit, strawberry, almond jelly and boba.