Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Post 50.3: Goodbye Thousand Oaks, Part 3 - Authentic Chinese (LA: Agoura Hills)

The Thousand Oaks area has plenty of cookie-cutter restaurant chains that serve cookie-cutter American food.  It's tough to find a good mom and pop shop that serves anything remotely close to the cuisine from the home country.  The first time I was introduced to a local Chinese restaurant, I sat down to find a placemat with the twelve signs of the Chinese zodiac and a shining, metal fork.  Now... I'm not against Western silverware, but the lack of chopsticks in plain sight in an authentic Chinese restaurant is a bit unnerving.  And disappointing.  The second time a co-worker suggested Chinese food, I walked up to a restaurant with two abnormally large horses guarding the entrance... not my definition of Chinese food.

Thankfully, another co-worker discovered Hot Wok, a small mom and pop restaurant run by an immigrant trio from the northeastern region of China.  Rather than serving overly soy sauced Americanized Chinese chock full of water chestnuts, Hot Wok (滾鍋) rolls out truly down home items like hand-made dumplings (手工水餃), scallion pancakes (蔥油餅), and spicy broiled (poached) fish filet (水煮魚片).  Here are some of the dishes from Hot Wok that have saved me from the panda and the horse in T.O.

Black bean noodles
listed on the menu as cha jiang mien (炸醬麵)

With plenty of cucumbers and bean sprouts, this noodle dish is a little bit Chinese... but with a simple black bean sauce, this noodle dish mixes in the characteristic of Korean jjajangmyeon.  My ideal version would include a good portion of ground pork, but the black bean sauce is enough to make me feel right at home.

Leek & pork dumplings
listed on the menu under (韮菜豬水餃)

Hand-made dumplings around the Conejo Valley? Unbelievable.  Not only do they come close to the real deal, they are the real deal.  Flavorful pork is blended with fragrant green leeks and filled into freshly made dumpling dough.  These eight little heavenly clouds with just a touch of soy sauce truly spark a bit of inner happiness.

Pan fried pork calzone
listed on the menu as imperial pan fried meat pastry (京都)

I've never actually had this item ever before, but ironically, this pork pancake hits close to home.  The imperial pan fried meat pastry, as Hot Wok calls it, is like a calzone in that it's stuffed with different ingredients and enclosed with a bread-like carbohydrate.  Like a lasagna, though, there are multiple layers; ground pork and thin pastry are placed over each other one layer at a time within the outer casing.  Soft, crispy, soft, crispy... savory, salty, savory, salty... the textures and flavors confuse my brain.  And I'm also confused about what to call this item... pastry? Calzone? Pancake? There's one thing my brain knows for sure though... this thing is delicious.

Beef wrap
listed on the menu as beef roll pastry (牛肉餅)

While the imperial meat pastry is something I've never had before, the beef wrap is something I've enjoyed throughout my adult life.  Wrapped within a Chinese tortilla are slices of braised beef and an explosion of cilantro.  It's relatively small compared to the beef wraps at other restaurants, but you know what that means? I can eat the whole thing by myself.

Cumin lamb
listed on the menu as lamb with tze lan herb (孜然羊肉)

The mix of cumin and chili peppers with fatty curls of lamb creates a truly tasty flavor.  The spiciness is more fragrant than biting.  It's an addicting taste.  You'll understand when you place the savory lamb over a bed of steamed white rice.  The rice soaks up the spicy oils from the lamb, taking away just enough grease so that you can continue shoveling bite after bite into your mouth.

Stir fried loofah/luffa
listed on the menu as sauteed si qua (清炒絲瓜)

Luffa isn't your typical green vegetable.  It's not leafy like bok choy, and it's not as common as gai lan (Chinese broccoli).  I'm surprised this unique vegetable is even served outside of the San Gabriel Valley.  Not only does this vegetable turn into the exfoliating, body cleaning sponge once it's dried, it's also special in that it tastes more like a soft cucumber rather than the squash that it is.  Stir-fried lightly with just a hint of garlic, luffa will help you get your daily fiber intake in a tasty way.

Thousand layer pork
listed on the wall in Simplified Chinese only (笋千肉)

The illusion of a thousand layers is created by slicing the fatty pork belly paper-thin and cutting the edges into the shape of ocean waves.  The thousand layers of pork belly sit atop a mound of young bamboo shoots, which are tender yet crisp to the bite.  Dig down deeper under the bamboo shoots, and surprise! You will find a bed of green spinach, which balances out the unhealthy fat of the pork.  The pool of brown gravy is another illusion itself.  Upon seeing the sauce, I thought that the dish was going to be overly salty, but a hidden sweet and savory flavor took over... if only the thousand layer pork was truly a thousand layers.

Sure, the first few items on the Hot Wok menu are orange chicken and kung pao shrimp, but hidden on the final pages of the menu are what save it from being tossed into the same category as Panda Express and P.F. Chang's.  Items that are also worth trying are a Korean style spicy seafood noodle soup (jjambbong) listed on the menu as three delicacies chow ma mien (三鮮炒碼麵) and Taiwanese beef noodle soup (紅燒牛肉麵).  I'm definitely going to miss this comforting lunch spot.  'Til next time, T.O., let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

ML - 20110416

1 comment:

  1. the cha jang mien was fail. im craving the pork belly thing & sean is still talking about it hahaha