I had a real time choosing which mom & pop favorite to highlight for Save Our Faves 2007. My first choice was my perennial favorite, New Shanghai. But, after hearing from Rasa Malaysia that the owners were looking to sell the restaurant, I decided that I should choose an eatery that would benefit from some additional exposure. It took several days of consideration and quite a few drafts, but here's my mom & pop recommendation for Save Our Faves 2007. Enjoy!
(View from my office window.)
Opened in September of 2004, Lotus Chinese Eatery serves Chinese Islamic cuisine that conforms to Halal dietary tenets, and incorporates many elements from Northern/Beijing Chinese cuisine. Dishes focus on meat with strong aromatics, such as onion and scallions, added for flavor. Since the climate in Northern China is cold and harsh, few vegetables are used. In addition, since rice can not be grown in Northern China, the staple starch used in Chinese Islamic cuisine is wheat, typically in the form of breads, noodles, and cakes.
The restaurant is warm and inviting, with friendly wait staff that takes the time to learn a little about you so that they can chat with you on return visits. The food is above average, with a number of excellent dishes. I would avoid seafood as a general rule, since seafood isn't native to this style of cooking. There are a few exceptions, which I'll cover below. What surprises me about Lotus is the lack of lunchtime clientele for this excellent restaurant, particularly since it's located just down the street from the fifteen story Huntington Plaza office tower. Although the food is quite good, the restaurant is never crowded during lunch. Yet, almost every Chinese person in my company is a regular there. For me, Lotus is the perfect way to pick up an otherwise dreary day at work.
(Tummy is good for your tummy.)
One of my favorite starters at Lotus is the Ma La Niu Du (Spicy Ox Tripe). The tripe is braised to tender perfection in a soy-based broth. The gentle, numbing heat of this dish is tempered by the cooling cucumbers, while the scallions are a strong, refreshing presence. It's great for washing away fatigue and giving you the energy to spend another four hours staring at a computer screen.
(Each order contains over a dozen of these servings.)
If I'm in the mood for soup, I'll order the Shi Jing Sa Guo (Assorted Ingredients Clay Pot). Beef, shrimp, tofu, and chicken are slowly braised in a special clay pot with Napa cabbage and glass noodles. The resulting broth is light, clear, and packed with flavor. I usually don't order this without few other people to share it with. The portions are huge. However, it can be a good, light meal that won't weigh you down or burden you with a bout of food coma.
(They're wafer thin.)
Let's talk starch. Steamed rice at Lotus is complimentary. However, the savvy diner won't pass on the opportunity to try some of the Chinese Islamic cuisine's specialty starches. The Cong You Bing (Green Onion Pie) is a regular crowd pleaser. Often likened to the Chinese version of tortillas or paratha, Cong You Bing are crispy, chewy, and savory pancakes fried with green onions. Add a sprinkle of salt and eat them as it, or use them to wrap an entree up like a Chinese taco. They're delicious.
One of my personal favorites is the Zhi Ma Da Bing (Sesame Bread), which can be ordered with or without green onions kneaded in. Trust me, get the green onions. They add an amazing amount of flavor to the bread and make it suitable as a stand-alone dish. This is a traditional Chinese bread leavened with yeast and baked/fried in a wok, resulting in a crisp crust and fluffy crumb. The texture of the crumb is like a cross between focaccia and pan de mie. It's delicious.
(Baaa Ram Ewe!)
Nothing goes with green onions better than lamb. The best accompaniment for the paratha and sesame bread is this Suan Miao Yang Rou (Lamb with Leek). Tender lamb meat is flash fried with thinly sliced leeks and jalapeno peppers, imparting a savory, earthy heat. Wrapped in the paratha or eaten with the sesame bread, the lamb is a great accompaniment.
(Mess o' noodles.)
If you're in the mood for noodles, you can't go wrong with one of Lotus' Chao Dao Xiao Mian (Hand Cut Fried Noodles), that can be stir-fried with a number of different types of protein. This one is the "assorted" fried noodle dish, since I sometimes have difficulty deciding. However, the stars here are the handmade noodles, which kneaded by hand, then shaved into a pot of boiling water with a cleaver for a brief blanching before they're fried. The texture is wonderful; Resilient and chewy, yet meltingly soft. The unique shape of the noodles is designed to help hold onto the delicious sauce they're stir-fried in.
If you prefer your noodles in soup, the San Xian Chao Ma Mian (Assorted Spicy Noodle Soup) is very popular, with a fiery broth and tasty surf-n-turf ingredients. The hand cut noodles are excellent in this dish as well. Bring backup or you'll have enough leftovers for two meals.
(Veggies make mommies happy.)
My receptionist and friend, who we'll call "Pregnant Crazy Girl" out of love, is very fond of the Su Cai Ji Pian (Chicken with Assorted Vegetables). While it's a more generic dish and not traditionally part of Chinese Islamic cuisine, the high veggie quotient makes her happy. She orders this dish when she feels like eating something healthy, instead of the McDonald's "the baby" makes her crave.
(Gotta try them all.)
Cat's favorite Chinese dish in the whole wide world is Gong Bao Ji Ding (Kung Pao Chicken), which, despite what steam table places like Panda Express have done to besmirch its reputation in the States, is a classic Sichuan dish. The Kung Pao Chicken at Lotus is well done, although not quite as good as the one at New Shanghai. The chicken is tender and flavorful and there are no filler vegetables present. I'd like more nuts, but that's just a personal preference. This is another good wake-me-up dish to blast away the lunchtime sleepies.
(Mmm... Shrimp candies.)
Another non-traditional dish I like ordering is the He Tao Xia (Honey Walnut Shrimp), which was invented in Hong Kong. While I normally wouldn't order this dish at a Chinese Islamic restaurant, Lotus puts a highly appealing twist on it with the use of orange juice in the sauce. Overall, the dish is only so-so, but I really like the unique taste the added orange flavor imparts.
(Just add potatoes.)
My good friend, "Mr. Big", is a true carnivore. The only vegetables he'll touch are starches. To pander to his prejudices, I often order the Sha Cha Niu Rou (Beef with Satay Sauce) for him when we eat at Lotus. Thin slices of beef are stir-fried in a gravy made using Chinese satay sauce. He likes this dish just fine, although it tastes a little thin and sour to me. Still, if you have an American carnivore in your group, this inoffensive dish will surely satisfy them.
(A taste of home.)
San Bei Ji (Basil Chicken) is a very popular dish in Taiwan, and Lotus' version is excellent. I order this whenever I'm feeling particularly homesick. The tender chicken braised in Thai basil, soy sauce, garlic, sesame oil, and wine is delightfully rich and must be eaten with a big bowl of rice. This, and the next dish, are the "killer apps" at Lotus.
(Who needs meat?)
You might not believe it from reading this blog, but I try to limit my meat intake to two meals a week for health, ethical, and religious reasons. I pretty much only eat meat when I eat out, where I mostly stick to seafood. I'll pause now for disbelief.
Got it out of your system? Good. It's quite true. Don't get me wrong, I love meat. The problem is, meat loves me back, turns to fat, and just won't leave. So given my desire to avoid entangling alliances with it, one of my usual orders at Lotus is their Hong Shao Dou Fu (Tofu in Brown Sauce), which is the best one I've ever tasted. Cubes of fried tofu, whole shitake mushrooms, and slices of tender bamboo shoots are braised in a thick, soy-based sauce that's a real delight to eat. It's impossible to crave meat when eating this dish. The best part is, it's very healthy for you, given the essential nutrients and protein found in both bamboo shoots and tofu.
Since my mom reads this blog, I need to throw in a healthy dish to keep her from giving me a lecture/scolding on eating properly. This item isn't on the regular menu, but if it's in season and they have it, I always get it. Kong Qing Cai (Chinese Spinach) doesn't remotely taste like spinach. Its crunchy texture and herbal flavor make it a tasty and nutritious side dish for any Chinese meal. Love you, mom!
Lotus Chinese Eatery - Delicious Chinese Islamic food at very affordable prices. If you're a professional in the area, stop by for lunch. You'll be back time and time again, I guarantee it.
Bill (multiple trips, so no total):
Spicy Ox Tripe - 4.50
Assorted Ingredients Clay Pot - 12.95
Green Onion Pie - 1.95
Sesame Bread - 7.00
Lamb with Leek - 8.95
Assorted Hand Cut Fried Noodles - 8.95
Assorted Spicy Noodle Soup - 7.00
Chicken with Assorted Vegetables - 8.95 (5.95 lunch)
Kung Pao Chicken - 8.95 (5.95 lunch)
Honey Walnut Shrimp - 13.95 (7.95 lunch)
Beef with Satay Sauce - 8.95
Basil Chicken - 8.95
Tofu in Brown Sauce - 6.95 (5.95 lunch)
Chinese Spinach - 6.95
Lotus Chinese Eatery
16883 Beach Blvd
Huntington Beach, CA 92647
As part of Save Our Faves 2007, I'm asking my Orange County readers to try Lotus Chinese Eatery and post about their experiences here. Let me know if your experience was good or bad, and what you think of one of my favorite mom & pops.
Ok, tagging time! Within the States, I'm tagging:
- Kathy of a Passion for Food
- Eat, Drink, & Be Merry
- Jeni of Oishii Eats
- Passionate Eater
- Kirk of mmm-yoso!!!
For some international flavor, I'm tagging:
- Joanh of a Hungry Girl in Taipei (Taiwan)
- Ben of Chow Times (Canada)
- The Food Pornographer (Australia)
- Obachan of Obachan's Kitchen & Balcony (Japan)
- Yixiaooo of Some Like it Haute (Singapore)
- Mia of the Skinny Epicurean
Please introduce us to your favorite mom & pops for Save Our Faves 2007! Ask your readers for their impressions of your fave, and don't forget to tag at least five other bloggers for Save Our Faves 2007. Detailed instructions are in the Save Our Faves 2007 post I keep linking to. (^_^)