Day 91: Macau
Famed chili crab hot spot “Macau Street” has been remodeled into a place called “Hometown Kitchen”, so I gave them a call to make sure they still have their signature dish. “Yes we do. But not tonight. Not in season.”
“Do you have any other dishes from the Macau region at your restaurant?”
“Do you have any other dishes that are from Macau. Macau food?”
“Food from Macau?”
“Yes. The region. Macau.”
“Oh, yes. Yes, of course.”
“Great. Thank you very much.”
I sit down at a table inside of Hometown Kitchen with Mr. Meatball, Shana and Abba, as our waitress comes, ready to help.
“So, no chili crab tonight?” I ask.
“No. No. Not in season. Are you the one who called?” she asks.
“Yeah, that was me.
“So what other dishes here are from Macau?”
“Yeah. You said there were some dishes from Macau.”
“Oh, no. The restaurant was called Macau Street. Now it’s Hometown Kitchen.”
“Yeah, I know. But you said you had some dishes from Macau.”
“Oh, no. No. We have Hong Kong style. Same thing.”
Our shoulders sink as we realize that there’s no way in hell we’re getting the food we want here. But luckily, someone on Chowhound had just mentioned that a very good restaurant called The Kitchen, another restaurant in San Gabriel Valley (and the one from our first stop on 11-in-11), does have some Macanese options. So we apologize for any confusion, then move the party to friendlier ground.
It’s around nine thirty now, and the restaurant is near empty, other than a table of hilariously loud and drunken Chinese guys celebrating a birthday in the far corner. The host seats us in the other corner of this massive space, as we spread out on a table that’s twice the size required to contain our party. Somehow, Abba, Shana and I wind up sitting on one side of the large round table, with Mr. Meatball all by himself on the the other end. “I feel like I’m at a parole hearing,” says Meatball, as I add, “If they had parole hearings at Chinese restaurants, I’d be way more inclined to go to prison.” Looking over the menu, we happily find a dish called “Macau Style Salted Pork Shank”. The restaurant also has a section of the menu which claims to include Macau and Hong Kong style dishes. Upon asking which dishes are Macau, the waitress gets flustered and brings over an English speaker who says, “Oh, it’s basically the same as Hong Kong. They’re very close. But the pork shank is Macau.” So we shrug, then order the shank, and ask if they have chili crab here. They say yes, so we get it, along with some other house specialties and a few beers. Abba adds, “I’m sure there actually are differences between Macau and Hong Kong food, just the same way there are differences between various Middle Eastern foods. But to an outside observer, they can seem very similar.”
“Here is crab,” the waitress says, setting down a plate. We look at it with total confusion, noticing that it is in fact not a crab at all, but rather a small roasted bird.
“This is crab?” I ask.
“Crab,” she repeats, then brings back the English speaker.
“Crab?” I ask.
“Yes,” the English speaker responds, “squab.”
Oh. We go on to order a chili crab, but keep the quartered squab because it looks so darn good (and is— even coming with a chopped off, roasted head). More food arrives, and I must say, the Macau style pork shank is great. A giant hunk of shank, surrounded by slices of juicy pork meat with an amazingly crispy crust. “I think they dry the meat after it’s braised,” says Abba, “then they deep fry it. That’s how the skin gets so crispy.” Works for me. We move on to the sautéed beef with green onions, and as each of us take our first bite, can’t help but shout some form of bewildered praise. You see, most sautéed beef you get at a Chinese restaurant is either tough or cooked through and soft. But the pieces here, amazingly, are served perfectly rare. “This tastes like really high-end Mongolian beef,” says Shana. Refreshing bean leaves, served bright green, offers some solid roughage to the equation as we work our way through crispy noodles, softened in sauce and topped with an amazing amount of giant mushrooms, huge scallops, whole shrimp, squid, beef, chicken and even some big hunks of bok choy.
Then the chili crab comes. Broken into sections, pre-cracked and ready to be taken down, we each grab a piece and get to work. Covered with large chunks of garlic and a really flavorful (and fatty) sauce, we tear violently into this addictive sea insect, our hands glistening with grease as we suck out every last bit of meat we can find before moving on to the defenseless sack of buttery roe that’s been hiding with great futility under this creature’s massacred corpse. There’s something carnal, raw and genuinely exhilarating about picking up an animal with your bare hands, tearing it apart, devouring the contents and leaving nothing behind but an empty shell whose destiny, simply, is to be summarily discarded. Our bestial nature now in full swing, we return to the pork shank, taking turns gnawing every last scrap of meat off the humongous bone, and bearing no regard whatsoever for our appearance in an otherwise civilized metropolitan city. Tomorrow, we may be humans with lives, jobs, common courtesy and responsibilities— but right now, we are wild, untamed creatures of the night.
Then the pork shank runs out of meat, so we wipe our hands with moist towelettes, correct our posture and enjoy an on-the-house sample of their creamy, eggy and quite refined mango custard. So what started as a desire to appreciate the cuisine of Macau, turned quite happily into a great appreciation of a restaurant that seems to do everything well. Stuffed, happy, and back in human form, we thank the friendly staff of The Kitchen, pile into the car, and start driving west. “You know,” says Abba, “I can’t wait to wash my hands when I get home.”
203 W Valley Blvd
Alhambra, CA 91801
Food Breakdown: 3 non-alcoholic beverages, (amazingly) 7 dishes, 3 small desserts (on the house)
Distance From My House: 19 miles