Live And Let Dine: Big Trouble In Little China

lacf2.jpgThe concept was simple. Two bloggers, two sites. One potentially dangerous meal. Neither man knew what the other would eat. Neither man knew what the other would write. They knew only that they would eventually describe the same hour to parties unknown. Online. This is one half of a joint review of Silver Lake’s LA Chinese Food. Be sure to read Ryan’s song on the same meal at Losanjealous

Ryan of the most-excellent Losanjealous blog has regularly impressed and entertained me with the chronicles of his daring culinary exploits (and his Oki-Dog fetish), first catching my eye when he ventured into Tom’s Burgers in Silver Lake, which he went to last Presidents Day first because that thrillseeking side of him has always wanted to give it a try, and second because it was high time to celebrate Tom Jefferson and what better place than with a meal at a resaturant named after our third president!

I’m not quite sure what prompted it, but at some point recently I contacted Ryan indicating if he was really and truly a brave man he’d give that strange and decrepit portal to hell chinese food place across the street from Tom’s a try. To which he responded “Let’s do this! When?” And in my email back I first typed out “Whoa dude, I’m not the crazy one here. You’re on your own!” But then I deleted that and found my adventerousness and my backbone and wrote back “How’s Thursday?” And he wrote back that it was no good and wanted to know what my Saturday was looking like and it wasn’t looking like a good day for bad food so we went back and forth a bit and eventually we agreed on last Tuesday at 7 p.m. and here we were in front of this horrible looking place (pictured at right) peering in at its dim customerlessness void through its filthy front window with its “Sorry, We’re Open” sign and its posted “B” grade and its “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone” announcement (as if beggars can be choosers!) and suddenly I’m sincerely questioning my resolve and the thickness of my stomach lining. And Ryan says, “I’m going to have scallops.” But his voice is shaking a little bit.

And in we went.

As bad as the place looks from the outside, the welcome we receive from the owner/hostess/waitress/wife-of-the-chef-in-the-back on the inside does nothing to allay my instinct to flee the place like the cowardly lion from the wizard. But at the same time I empathize on a subhuman level at what a bitch it is to have to disrupt the reading of one’s newspaper to grab two photocopied menus and deal with a couple of fucking idiots who don’t have the sense to know they shouldn’t be eating here in the first place!

I say “I believe we had a 7:30 reservation?” and that goes over reaaaaaal well, and after a few awkward moments of Ryan and me loitering in the middle of the place hoping for a little seating guidance from the woman we realize we are on our own and grab the nearest table to us from the huge selection of empty ones that existed. Tossing the menus in front of us she walks back to her paper and our relationship with her grows even more uncomfortable after noting that the menus are headered with the name “L.A. Cafe” while the almost-readable sign hanging outside the establishment called the place “L.A. Chinese Food”and I dare to ask what the true or current name of the place was.

“Why you ask?” she snaps.

“Uh, no reason…” I tapdance, “it’s just that I’ve lived here almost two years and haven’t been here and… uh, couldn’t find any information about it on the internets.”

She grunts and squints her eyes, clearly thrown by that unfamiliar interwhazit word I used. “Well we go by both!” she proclaims. We follow up with a safer line of interrogation as to how long the place has been in operation. With a certain amount of pride (or maybe it’s regret) she blows us away with “34, 35 years.”

Ryan says “Get the fuck out!”

She says “You first!”

Everyone laughs.

Now it’s her turn to question, hitting us with “What you want to drink?” I order a Diet Coke, Ryan requests hot tea with a tapwater back. She goes to get them and we fish around the menu. Depositing our beverages Ryan asks her if the place serves scallops.

“No! No seafood!” There’s that pride/regret thing again.

I was relieved. “Do you recommend anything?” I inquire.

“I do not recommend anything!” was what she exactly said, and adamantly, too. I start to ask if that made it easier to defend against liability claims, but I thought better of it. Instead I follow Ryan’s lead and order the french fries — that’s right… french fries at a Chinese place. Additionally from the appetizer side of things Ryan crosses his fingers and orders some sort of pork loin dish and I go for the BBQ spare ribs. For our main courses I settle on the Ginger Beef and like Anakin to the dark side Ryan can’t stay away from the mystery wrapped in an enigma called Chinese Sausage… WTF?

An ungodly amount of time later our appetizers finally arrive and in our server’s only intuitive moment she follows up with some ketchup without having to be asked. I almost want to hug her. Then almost immediately thereafter our main dishes show up with a bowl of white rice to share. We dig in to everything but not without some trepidation. Ryan gives a noncommital shoulder shrug and says “Bland” when I asked how his pork appetizer is. I offer the same assessment of the spare ribs.

“But the fries are good,” I offer. Ryan concurs.

Regarding the ginger beef. It’s… bland, too. There’s an essence of ginger somewhere in the vicinity of the oily meat, but then again it could be my deodorant. And Ryan’s sausage platter? Well the secret’s out. It’s Hillshire Farms Polska Kilbasa. And yes, it’s bland, too. But not just bland. Flavorless. As if this restaurant with its glaring flourescent tubes and its dingy greasy walls is a vacuum in which no flavor can survive. Yet this restaurant has somehow done just that for 35 years.

The woman rewards us each with a stale almond cookie and a staler fortune cookie as we settle up the $21 tab. I crack mine open and it reads “You will get the fuck out of here and soon.” And we do.

6 thoughts on “Live And Let Dine: Big Trouble In Little China”

  1. It should have been obvious when you saw the “B” grade, because all good chinese restaurants are “C”.

  2. I’ve always thought we should do an “Extreme Dining Tour” of L.A.

    B’s and under. Bonus points for any place with boards staple-gunned to the front, or for places that obviously used to be a Winchell’s…

    I’d publish it. you all rite reel gud.

    anyone gutsy enough to try this with me?

    It was inspired by Ruen Pair’s “B” rating and their fine, fine food in Thai Town. God bless that place.

    I’m totally serious. Email me if anyone wants to collaborate on this. Bloggers dine dangerously, news at eleven.

  3. Will, you have to let me know where you get that ginger-scented deodorant!

  4. sorry it’s no rambutan or pho cafe…but then again, those joints don’t serve REAL asian food either.

  5. I’m curious if you guys have had the opportunity to check out Seafood Village Resturant on Melrose and Vine (5730 Melrose)? Not to long ago we visited on Thursday night, after a movie.
    I will use one word to describe the experience S U R R E A L. Of all time I’ve lived in LA no other word can complete describe that evening. Reminiscent of a David Lynch movie, even I dont fully understand the combination of charcters, atmosphere and elements we encountered. Try it.

  6. I laughed out loud at “Get the fuck out!” “You first.” Yup, that sounds like the Chinese Food Lady, as my group of friends called her back in the 1980s.

    Mind you, I haven’t eaten there since maybe 1995, but when I was broke and living in Silverlake oh so many years ago, I went there regularly. And got the chicken curry, and rarely anything else. I think it was $3.

    I, for one, am glad that LA Chinese Food is still in business. First, it’s a non-chain, mom and pop place. Second, it’s one of the few remaining remnants of the old low-rent Silverlake. And last, it fills a need for the low-income folks in the neighborhood – despite the obscenely inflated rents, there are still people in the neighborhood who could never afford the likes of Rambutan or Gingergrass or whatever.

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