I grunt in frustration. At this rate – or, more accurately, lack of rate – it’ll take far longer than the hour and twenty minutes “in traffic” that Google Maps had predicted for my journey.
Santa Monica to San Gabriel during rush hour is a long way to go for dumplings.
Even if they are really good ones.
Despite my irritation at the red brake lights flashing in a hypnotic rhythm ahead of me, I can’t help but laugh at the irony of the situation. Almost a year ago to the date I was none too pleased about stopping at Sam Woo BBQ in Alhambra on the way back from a 10-mile hike to the Bridge to Nowhere. While the dining experience was ultimately one of my most memorable of the year (I still think about that roast duck), at the time I was reluctant to step outside my comfort zone – even if my friends and I were driving right by the epicenter for the best and most authentic Chinese food in Los Angeles.
I shake my head at the memory. It’s hard to believe that just a year later, I’m going as far out of my way as possible to get an SGV fix – on a Tuesday night.
I arrive at my destination, Kingburg Kitchen, right at 7 pm – an hour and forty minutes after I left my office on the Westside. I’m frazzled, as expected, but also excited by the prospect of the unknown. I’m also excited that tonight I get to let someone else call the ordering shots while I practice my chopsticks skills on some complimentary pickled bean sprouts. While I litter the table with vegetation, Tony from Sino Soul rattles off a laundry list of items for our party of seven to enjoy. I have no idea what’s coming – though I am fairly confident there won’t be any quinoa, but Tony’s confidence in the family restaurant’s offerings puts me at ease.
The “A” sign in the window does too.
We begin with glasses of Suanmeitang, a sour prune juice that Tony tells us is “healthy,” as he slides the brimming cups across the table. I’m suspicious when he doesn’t take any for himself – he looks slightly ill from the smell, but the rest of us find the sour, sweet juice oddly compelling.
“It tastes like barbecue sauce,” One of the girls observes with revelation.
“Ohhh….” The rest of us sigh in unison.
The feast portion of our evening commences with “dan dan” (sesame) noodles and an order of pan-fried pork baos. The former is familiar territory from my many homemade dinners of peanut noodles and tofu; the latter is more mysterious – a meat package wrapped up in pristine white doughy flesh that’s been fried into golden submission.
My chopsticks are immediately dismissed when I see the girth and weight of the bao. Eyeing the bean sprouts that are still resting limply on the table directly under my mouth, I eagerly accept one of the forks that Tony has commandeered from the kitchen – I’m not taking any chances with this precious cargo. While I would prefer to simply bite into the steaming bun sans utensil and let the pork juices dribble down my chin like I’m eating a burger, I tear my fork through the wrapping like a lady.
And then grunt with approval.
As do the other “ladies” at the table.
The guttural sounds of appreciation will ultimately become the chorus of our evening spent experiencing Kingburg Kitchen’s symphony of carbohydrates.
We moon over the steamed and fried “fresh” pork, shrimp and sea cucumber dumplings – even though one of us (me) had initially been hesitant (viscerally opposed) to eating sea cucumber (echinoderms). We also “ooh” and “aah” over the dill and pork dumplings that showcase the herb in an unexpected application. While I normally associate dill with fish – particularly salmon – the bright flavor proves to be a charming companion for the tender pork. I find it far more interesting than the sole and leek dumplings that are a little one note in terms of texture and flavor. I am sure to grab another of the pork and dill before the plate is out of my unsteady chopsticks’ reach.
I have similar trouble reigning in my roaming utensils when the Taiwanese beef noodle soup with hand-pulled noodles arrives at the table. The supple pieces of braised beef are infused with the deep, intoxicating flavor of the soy-beef broth, and I happily abandon my lady-like behavior to slurp up the spritely irregular-shaped noodles that are swimming in the bowl.
An order of the braised five spice tofu and braised beef brisket provides welcome relief from the carbohydrate parade. I love the playful yin and yang nature of the dish – tofu on one side, brisket on the other. The firm and chewy texture of both is a nice counterpoint to the soft dumplings and pliant noodles that we’ve been enjoying all evening.
We all groan when our final savory carbohydrate of the night, gua bao with egg, arrives at the table. Tony informs us that the off-the-menu item is often considered an entire meal in China. I sheepishly bite into the intensely carby pita-esque bao. It feels rather gluttonous to be eating such a hearty item at the end of a feast like ours.
The guilt doesn’t, however, stop me from nabbing one of the steamed red bean baos presented to our table for dessert. Despite the excess of simple sugars coursing through my blood stream, I’m happy to finish my meal with what to me tastes like smashed up Wonder Bread wrapped around a mass of sweet dates.
Kingburg Kitchen’s dumplings – in particular the dill & pork and “fresh” varieties – have been well worth the drive out of my Westside bubble. The next morning, the first thought that enters my mind (other than, “Good grief, will I ever be hungry again?) is, “I can’t wait to sit through more traffic to go back.”
715 West Las Tunas Drive
San Gabriel, CA 91776-1114