Restaurant: Cui Hua Lou [1, 2, 3]
Location: 920 E Garvey Ave. Monterey Park, CA 91755. 626-288-2218
Date: September 20, 2013
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). Yarom (the leader of my Hedonist group) invited me out to try some spicy Szechuan and a totally undiscovered place he found while wandering around. 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.
The storefront, as usual, isn’t much to look at.
A menu with fairly literal translations.
And the usual minimalist decor.
1999 Joseph Phelps Sauvignon Blanc. IWC 87. Expressive, floral aroma combines melon, grapefruit, mint, licorice and fresh herbs. Supple yet tangy and firm, with nicely focused flavors of lemon, grapefruit, licorice and fresh herbs. Slightly elevated alcohol leavened by brisk acidity. Nice combination of texture and brightness.
Seaweed with chilies. Very pleasant, with a firmness and just a bit of heat.
Jellyfish heads and cucumber. More a texture dish, but it had a bit of a vinegary tang.
2011 Joh. Jos. Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett. IWC88. Aromas of passion fruit and nut oil. The creamy tropical fruits flavors are light, well-balanced and elegant. Certainly fun to drink.
Cured beef shank. Like Chinese pastrami, with a bit of a smokey flavor.
Shredded stomach with scallion. Pork stomach really. I’m not an offal fan, but this was as good as stomach gets.
2007 Lamborghini (La Fiorita) Era Umbria IGT. 88 points. Good dark fruit and cherries on the nose. Significant fruit in the taste along with some herbal notes and good acidity. Medium length with some good tannins at the later part. May need more time to develop.
Stewed lamb in casserole (house special #1).
Inside the hot pot. This stuff was awesome. Probably the best dish (of many). Tasty tender lamb and this amazing hot chili sauce that really had a nice flavor.
Skewers of lamb on the left and Chinese hot dog on the right. Both were rubbed with cumin, making the lamb classic cumin lamb. The sausages were amazing, like sweetish hotdogs rubbed in cumin.
Some more skewers, lamb and chicken wing.
2009 Kongsgaard Syrah. Parker 97. The 2009 Syrah Hudson Vineyard is simply breathtaking. White flowers, spices, savory herbs, licorice, graphite and new leather are some of the many nuances that add complexity to a core of deeply expressive dark fruit. The 2009 impresses for its stunning textural elegance and sheer brilliance.
Cured beef shank in sesame bun. Basically Chinese pastrami sandwich!
Sweet and sour fish. Nice tender Tilapia with a flavorful sweet sauce.
1996 Lanessan. Parker 88. A sleeper of the vintage, Lanessan’s 1996 boasts an impressively saturated dark ruby/purple color, and knock-out aromatics of melted chocolate, asphalt, and cassis. Deep, rich, and medium-bodied, with excellent concentration and purity, this impressively-endowed, flavorful, well-structured wine should be at its finest between 2004-2016.
Beef tendon Xing Ziang Style. Unusual but pleasant texture in a tasty spicy sauce.
Potato with chili. Basically shredded potato with a slight vinegar and oil tang.
2011 Joh Jos Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese. Parker 94. A yeasty, smoky prickle as well as the effect of dissolved CO2 causes the nose to wrinkle from a glass of Prum’s 2011 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese A.P. #18, but behind that are heliotrope and lily-of-the-valley along with ripe apple, pear and melons that in turn inform a delicate, subtly creamy palate of striking transparency to stony, crystalline, alkaline and smoky black tea and liquid floral nuances. This shimmers and excites even as it soothes in a lingering, uplifting, glowing finish. It will certainly merit attention for the better part of a half century.
Kung Pao Chicken. One of the best versions of this classic dish I’ve ever had. Lots of very flavorful Szechuan peppers.
1999 Guiraud. Parker 90. Tasted as part of a vertical held at the chateau. There is a sense of conservatism to the Guiraud 1999, but it still retains attractive scents of dried honey, marmalade and a touch of chlorine. The palate is actually better than the nose, with a lovely seam of acidity and effervescent marmalade and quince-tinged fruit that is very precise toward the long finish. The ’99 should be looked back on as a success in an oft-forgotten vintage.
You mix it up like this and there is lots of pleasant heat to go with the al dente noodles.
Check out that chili oil left in the bowl!
Twice cooked pork. Another fabulous dish. The pork had some heat and sweetness, with a whole lot of flavor.
Ma Po Tofu. One of my favorite dishes. This classic Szechuan dish was the spiciest of the night. The pleasant soft tofu is just on fire. The name literally translated as “Pocked Marked Old Lady Face Tofu” which is quite amusing.
Fried corn. Slightly sweet and passed for a dessert. But afterward, we went down the street to a shaved ice place, which I’ll blog about seperately.
In conclusion, Cui Hua Lou, while apparently totally undiscovered, offers up some fabulous traditional Szechuan fare. If you like spicy, this place was really very good. Cheap too as this feast, including tax and tip, set us back $21 a person!
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