West is Sour: Shaanxi Gourmet

October 31, 2011 § Leave a comment

I’ve been sleeping on updating recently, but it’s not for lack of material. My hard drive is overstuffed with pictures of savory treats from all over the greater Los Angeles area, including a dizzying number of joints from the ever-expanding restaurant scene in the San Gabriel Valley.

My favorite in recent weeks is the newish Shaanxi Gourmet, a rare outpost of Shaanxi cuisine in a crisp and forgettable strip mall in Rosemead. Located in a north-central part of China, the food of the Shaanxi region is usually overshadowed by the brawny cuisine of the neighboring Sichuan province. And while even the far-flung Xinjiang region boasts a presence in the SGV neighborhood thanks to the recently opened Omar’s Xinjiang Halal Restaurant, I don’t think I’ve ever heard about a similar representative for Shaanxi food in these parts.

Perhaps that’s why the restaurant has three huge signs posted on one wall with pictures and lengthy descriptions of famous Shaanxi dishes like “bread pieces in beef (lamb) broth” and the underwhelmingly named “stewed pork burger.” But even if some folks (including your hungry correspondent) are mostly unaware of the most popular dishes in Xi’an restaurants, the busy weekday late-afternoon lunch crowd at Shaanxi Gourmet seems plenty comfortable with the creations of this kitchen.

Like many a Sichuan restaurant, a selection of cold meats and snacks are on hand to open taste buds. The requisite and addictive chili-pickled pig ears, lightly blanched shoelace strings of potatoes, boiled peanuts, and various pickles could well have made for a satisfying tapas-style meal on their own. After being briefly distracted by a less voluble, Chinese version of Jim Cramer waxing about the commodities market on a gleaming plasma TV, attention turned to the classics of the Shaanxi cookbook.

Knife-cut noodles are a highlight of the menu, but the most infamous and irresistible dish is the pita bread in lamb broth soup. Small, chewy cubes of bread are sprinkled in a pleasantly rich lamb soup, which is larded with soft chunks of lamb. Rather than thin strips of pita bread, the bread is rather hearty, and if I were not paying close attention, I might think that bready bits were some syncopated type of noodle dough instead of bread. The dish is tasty, but lacking subzero temperatures, this is the most masochistic display of carbohydrates this side of Domino’s Bread-Bowl Pastas.

Another heavy carbohydrate load is the stewed pork burger (rou jia mo), a snack I have had before. Despite the apparently scholarly exegesis on the wall, the sandwich is actually pretty plain, though true to the translation. The flatbread is slightly spongy, closer to a bao than all-American hamburger bun, but even with the soft, flavorful pork, it’s rather plain and begging for a more imaginative remix.

The best dish of the day was listed in the modest menu as “spicy minced-meat noodles.” While the translation is pretty spare, the noodles are superb, with that wonderful chewy texture that sets apart  fresh specimens. The broth has delicious sour edge to it, which makes sense because the Shaanxi region is apparently famous for its liberal use of vinegar in dishes (though apparently the adjacent and almost identically named Shanxi province is also known for sour tastes and its artisanally made aged vinegar.)

I am looking forward to a return trip to enjoy the noodles again, and I’m also curious to try some of the dinner-only menu, which seems to include cumin-dusted lamb kabobs similar to those recently spotted in Koreatown. Thankfully, more sour times are ahead.

Shaanxi Gourmet
8518 Valley Blvd
Rosemead, CA 91770 
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