Sunday, June 19, 2005

Say Yes to Drugs

I wandered around the flat, alien neighborhood for half an hour before I found one of my group. Picking him out was easy--he had the same wide eyes I knew I had. We nodded at each other, slightly more secure in the knowledge that at least we were in the right place, and continued to wait. We made some small talk. He told me about how his job was a front for money laundering. I said I knew a lot of people in his business, and that I was between jobs. He offered to introduce me around, but I declined. Eventually, we tired of waiting and decided to risk going inside alone.

And then we were five. Four plus one, really, since only one of us knew what to say and how to get what we came for. Our "hosts" would speak only to him and looked at the rest of us like they couldn't understand a word we said. This was humiliating, but you can't bring your pride to a place like this--you remember why you're there and take what you're given.

And we were given a lot. And it was amazing. When you leave the city and know who to deal with, prices drop and quality soars. Idiot agents in Beverly Hills were paying fully 10 times what we were right now, and for stuff not an inch as good. We talked a little as we indulged, and discussed which parts of what we were doing were legal, if any. We decided that we didn't know, and didn't care--the stuff was that good. After less than a minute, parts of my face were numb. When I drank the sweaty glass of water that had been grudgingly found for me, it tasted like iron shavings. I switched to coke after that on my connection's advice and hoped for the best. The guy next to me--the money-launderer--couldn't stop talking about the stuff, although he claimed this wasn't his first time. First time at this place, but not first time with this kind of thing. I believed him. He sounded like he knew what he was talking about, and this was the best I'd ever had by far. Soon neither of us could shut up. The third guy in our group--the only one to bring a girl along--stood up and disappeared for half an hour. When he came back, he couldn't stop talking either.

Imagine waking up into the middle of an addiction and you're imagining last night for me.

The place: Oriental Pearl Restaurant.

The address: 227 West Valley Blvd., San Gabriel.

The appetizers: Dried beef with chili, Pig 3 ways--ear, tongue and trotter, Fepian (beef tendon and brisket), Ong choy cooked with salted tofu, Chicken feet, Diced long beans, Chicken in chili. Cucumbers to quell the numbing fire of the szechuan peppercorns that imbue every dish, along with the chilis chopped and sprinkled throughout. If you have never experienced a szechuan peppercorn, you must before the sun sets today. I don't care how.

The entrees: Ditto on the peppercorn/chili duo--this time, the subjects were: Beef and tofu hotpot with glass noodles, Water-boiled beef, Chicken with chilis (bland name, completely revelatory dish), Kung Pao chicken (no, you have never had this), and Eggplant with chilis.

The bill: $69.50 plus tip.

Your mission: Obvious.


Blogger MEalCentric said...

You had me at "Say Yes to Drugs"

5:02 PM  
Blogger elmomonster said...

Nice post! It's a same the Sichuan Peppercorns are still outlawed...

BTW, the anonymous post talking about "The Stand" above seem to be a shiller...he's hit MealCentric and my blog this morning as well as Chowhound.

3:00 PM  
Blogger dwg said...

are they still illegal? in all forms? i thought there was at least a portion of the ban that was lifted...i could definitely be wrong.

3:19 PM  
Anonymous c said...

Wow. Coke (if I get your drift) and Sichuan peppercorns. What a potent combination. And chili too? (Admittedly that part is legal, but stuff that hot ought to be outlawed.) I'm glad you made it out alive. How did you recover!?

Maybe if River Phoenix had stuck with this mix he'd still be around, no?

So what did you like about the kungpao chicken?

7:46 PM  
Blogger dwg said...

Re the first item, yes, your capitalization is proper. I don't know about River, but from what I understand (and this comes from unimpeachable authority) Mikey from the 1970's Life Cereal ads died when he combined Coke and Pop-rocks, so no celebrity is really safe when it comes to bad combinations.

Re the KP, you're testing my sense-memory with this one, and I failed that class at Strasberg, but I'll give it a shot. Whereas most KP chicken is at best one-dimensional--oily plus some simple chinese chili pepper heat and maybe some green onions for "flavor"--the version at Oriental Pearl was, while still simple (and maybe even simpler), a perfect mix of heat and flavor, each of which aided the other. The flavor was subtle and the heat not brutal, but the peppercorns really rounded the dish out. Now that I think about it, I'd say this: standard KP chicken (at, say, Empire Szechuan) isn't so much one-dimensional as it is confusing, with no real rhyme or reason for the amounts of whatever is put in it. As a result, it's pretty bad. The lack of Szechuan peppercorns just makes it worse. Oriental Pearl's is a DISH, not just ingredients.

I hope that makes more sense to you than I fear it does(n't).

9:40 AM  
Anonymous c said...

... standard KP chicken isn't so much one-dimensional as it is confusing, with no real rhyme or reason for the amounts of whatever is put in it.

I think that's a terrific way of describing what Oriental Pearl's kungpao chicken is not. From the few times I've been there, I've been impressed with it. It's hot but not overtly so, and there's a bit of tanginess that's very refreshing when juxtaposed with the fermented flavors of the soy sauce.

I think they (O.P.) craft out these flavors right in the wok from scratch. Most other places just dump loads of plum sauce straight out of the can.

11:49 PM  
Blogger tom naka said...

Hey, you have a great blog here! I'm definitely going to bookmark you! I have a vietnamese restaurant site/blog. It pretty much covers vietnamese restaurant related stuff.

4:23 AM  

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