(blogger’s note: this post is dedicated to Joanne / Donald, who were recently engaged, and due to wed next February. Joanne, thanks for reading; Donald, thanks for the tire hook-ups for the last 3 years.)
Yi-Mei of Monterey Park was hit by fire late last Spring of ’09. Instead of waiting for the rebuild to complete, this October, Yi Mei’s proprietors simply up-rooted the entire Taiwanese restaurant, including the thrashed cold drink case, including their decade-long Latina employee who speaks Taiwanese, to another plaza half a mile north of the old locale. The new location, next to a relatively thrashed supermarket & opposite of one of the worst, yet popular, dimsum chains in Los Angeles, used to house “Dumpling Masters”, yet another SGV carb-whoring hole-in-the-wall which never amounted to much of anything.
For 1 last breakfast hurrah before being forced to eat congee and pho for breakfast 3 weeks straight, I plopped my ass onto newly added seats at the proverbial phoenix-risen-from-ashes restaurant,
Yi-Mei, err. Huge Tree. This post was meant to have been published the second week of November, but my lofty idea of actually “blogging” while traveling through various food heavens amounted to not even a small pile of beans. This past weekend, I found myself staring at a Scandinavian-accented blonde dude with a script in his hand, awkwardly eyeing the pink laminated menu. He ordered a bowl of sweet tofu-flower, a huge mantou/egg sandwich, but was absolutely parched a few bites in and had to order an additional herbal tea. Immediate thought: what the hell, Yelp effect after 2 months? Chow? How did this man walk into this corner of San Gabriel Valley to only find himself absolutely unimpressed by the food?
This morning, about to upload some pictures & finally post up after a month plus hiatus, the mystery of the desperately-seeking ordering advice guy was solved: Mr. Gold descended upon Huge Tree. Before someone else accuses me of studying their blog yet destroying their restaurant recommendations, I didn’t realize Huge Tree was covered last week, nor did I actually read the piece despite the link. Thinking back, I should’ve helped the Scandinavian fella with the ordering process. Sorry screen-writer guy!
The dou4 hua1 (tofu flower) he ordered is semi-vitreous, but isn’t considered a breakfast soft drink. It’s great if you’re ordering something not so bready as a mantou, but if you’re eating a full bao, get a cup of roasted rice drink (mi3 jiang1, seen above) to wash down the bread. [NB: after traveling in China for a week and sometimes relying on total shits of travel guides written in Hanyu pinyin with NO diacritics marks which rendered nearly all pinyin absolutely useless, I will begin to use Wade-Giles tonal marks as of this post for all pinyin used, though proper pinyin is absolutely not guaranteed. IMNSHO, tonal marks, if diacritics not are not available, are much more important than actual correct pinyin usage.] A typical breakfast for 1 would consist of yo2 tiao2 wrapped in shao1 bing3 (cruller in sesame bread pocket) with a bowl of sweet (or salty) soy milk. That’s it. This is the breakfast of champions in much of Taiwan, and central East Coast of China. You will find this combination in nearly every other street corner in Shanghai, in food stands in Nanjing, Hangzhou, etc. In Los Angeles, there is, bar-none, no better purveyor of this combination than Huge Tree / Yi Mei, but only if you come first thing in the morning when the items are fresh.
However, this prodigal breakfast of fried cruller with soy milk is almost never found at my table. I demand animal protein for breakfast. Breakfast for 2 will usually be 1 egg pancake, 1 salty sticky rice roll, 1 bowl of hot roasted tea drink, or 1 bowl of sweet soy milk with egg. Sometimes a pork gua1 bao1 will substitute the stick sticky rice roll, sometimes it’s the sliced red cooked beef in the sesame shao1 bing3 (flat bread). If the Scandi dude ordered in above fashion, he wouldn’t have been observed dousing the man2 tou2/egg sandwich with soy sauce and house sauce.
In other note, Huge Tree is still sporting a fantastic pork belly gua1 bao1 loaded with peanut powder, pickled mustard greens, thick chunks of stewed pork interspaced with melty lard (seen above). Despite what the LA Times might tout circa ’08, nothing besides Four Seas in the SGV touches Huge Tree / Yi Mei in the gua1 bao1 pissing contest. Let’s not even start on the $9 Momofuku Noodle Bar’s pork baos, a blatant shark bite of the Taiwanese classic rebadged as a NY “signature dish”.
After 20 years of providing payments towards the Yi Mei Mercedes Benz car loan, these dishes are what we stick with. It’s not that the xiao3 long2 bao1 is bad (it’s ok), or the beef noodle soup & various dumplings are unpalatable (they’re also ok), or the various Taiwanese snacks (oyster pancake, oyster noodle sticks, ba3 wan2, etc.) are bad. They’re simply not exemplary renditions of anything actually made in Taiwan. A tourist returning from a brief Taipei visit will undoubtly scoff at all the non-breakfast menu items. but I dare anyone to find a better roasted rice drink in all of California.
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