Location: 1212 S Baldwin Ave, Arcadia, CA 91007. (626) 596-2818
Date: January 29, 2023
Cuisine: Hong Kong fusion
Rating: Very good, but I like Chifa better
The Leon family knew within the first week of opening their Peruvian Chinese restaurant Chifa in late 2020 that a sophomore effort was in the cards. Though no one in the family was especially well-versed in food service or hospitality, the tenacious squad that includes Humberto Leon, the co-founder of fashion brand Opening Ceremony; his mother, Wendy Leon; sister, Ricardina Leon; and brother-in-law, John Liu; navigated pandemic-related hurdles and ultimately found success. Now they’re ready to do it all over again with Monarch, which opened on South Baldwin Avenue in Arcadia on Saturday, January 14.
Dressed up diner outside is totally SGV.
Super cool dining room.
Michael Kaplan’s son’s home-made chili oil (excellent).
Trusting the manager, I put in the entire menu organized into 4 flights. This 3rd flight item came out first but he graciously took it back, sorted it out, and sequenced near perfectly after that.
Silken Steamed Egg. delicate steamed egg with monkfish liver. The texture on the egg was great. However, the monkfish liver was a bit underappreciated in this (very cooked) context.
Decadent Spiced Okra. wok stir-fried okra in a Szechuan spice. Not particularly spicy, but very very pleasant with that goopy and crunchy okra texture.
Filet Mignon Tartare. Westholme Australian Wagyu filet mignon with pickled snow cabbage, chili crisp and quail egg. We mixed this all up and the result was an extremely flavorful tartare.
Shrimp chips for the tartare.
Slippery Egg Crab Fried Fun. Cantonese wok fried rice noodle with egg, crab and salmon roe add Uni. The “Fun” was basically rice sticks but this thick starchy dish was awesome with that old school “lobster sauce” flavor + uni. Really lovely.
Steamed Seabass Olive Tapenade. slow steamed chilean seabass topped with Chinese pickled olive tapenade. Olives are an unusual feature of southern Chinese cooking, probably courtesy of the Portuguese. They certainly worked in this night light seabass preparation.
Black pepper lobster. This special order prep was absolutely to die for. This 5ish pound lobster was super juicy and the black pepper sauce on of the best stir-fry sauces ever. Putting it on those thick al dente noodles was absolutely to die for. Once the oily pepper sauce soaked into the noodles… oh yeah!
Again, just because.
Monarch Bolognese. simmered pork and tomato ragu with Chinese egg noodle. Even on their return in proper sequence this was a contentious dish. The porky Bolognese, while a touch dry, was quite lovely. But the noodles tended to clump.
Addicting Curry Noodle. fragrant and spicy curry squid ink noodle with scallop, calamari and shrimp. We all much preferred this unusual noodle dish with its grainy yellow curry flavor. Really was addicting.
Garlic Sweet & Sour Pork. crispy fried pork with Popo’s sweet & sour sauce, onions and kiwi. Like a high end Panda Express Sweet & Sour Pork! Very fried and drowned in this sweet and jammy sauce.
Black Pepper Lobster Tail. Whole lobster tail wok tossed in sweet and spicy black pepper sauce — noodles added. The lobster (and its noodles) were so good that we ordered two tails worth of lobster with MORE noodles. However they were out of the thick round ones and substituted this linguine. The tail meat was easier to eat and I enjoyed its lobster flavor, but the shell had one up on it for being finger licking good. The new noodles were good, and if we had had them first would have been great, but they just weren’t as chewy and amazing as the larger noodles.
Our special order Tomohawk came at first “well done” but again they graciously took it back and swapped for…
Tomahawk, rare. Now this was an amazing steak and really delicious with its warm deep pink/purple center. I particularly enjoyed with the sauces.
Black Pepper Cognac au Poivre sauce. Roasted Garlic Red Wine Reduction sauce. And special Chifa Cucho Sauce. My favorite was the black pepper.
Braised Curry Lamb Shank. tender braised lamb shank in fragrant tomato curry with cauliflower puree. Great that this was on a cauliflower puree (low carb) and the meat was super tender and drowned in delicious sauce.
Trinity Fried Rice. garlic, ginger, scallion trinity fried rice with egg, shirmp and fish roe. Nice large shrimp.
Celery & Red Chidori Kale (V). simple wok tossed celery and kale with fresh garlic. This was a surprise stand out for me. I very much enjoyed the crisp crunch of the celery.
Dessert menu, but we had better:
Cremino al Siciliana Gelato — The base made with Galbani Whole Milk Ricotta and Sicilian Acacia Honey laced with house-made Bronte Pistacchio DOCG “Fudge” — made by me for @sweetmilkgelato — #SweetMilkGelato #gelato #dessert #icecream #FrozenDessert #nomnom #dessertlovers #dessertporn #icecreamlovers #gelatoitaliano #foodporn #gelatolover #food #foodgasm #foodblogger #dessertgasm #desserttime #foodphotography #gelatoartigianale #gelatomania #dessertlover #icecream #icecreamlovers #ricotta #honey #pistachio #pistacchio #fudge
Overall, this was an amazing meal. It’s sort of an interesting fusion, as it’s essentially Chifa — both the restaurant and the cuisine. Specifically this is a Hong Kong Peruvian hybrid fusion. It’s good and the decor and service are fabulous. But it’s also more expensive than almost all SGV Chinese. And I’m not sure it’s exactly better, just different. I actually like my Chinese very Chinese. I don’t even love Hong Kong “style” Chinese as much as most mainland restaurants because of the European (aka British) influence.
My favorite dishes here at Monarch were many of the ones that were at Chifa as well, like the lobster and steak. I do have to say, however, that the black pepper lobster is INSANELY GOOD. Best Chinese style lobster I’ve had. It’s also pretty expensive, but worth it. And the version we had was off menu, as the on menu one is lobster tail (which is also really good and we also had).
My recommendation would be that anyone very into SGV Chinese, or Chinese food in general, try out Monarch and see what they think themselves. I imagine many people will love it. I’ll certainly be back.