The menu at WangJia in San Gabriel spans almost 150 gadgets. It may be an awesome doc of stir-fries in dry, fiery or gently sauced types; soup and noodle choices by the handfuls; and micro-surveys of a number of regional Chinese language cuisines. But there’s a shortcut to a centered, gratifying meal.
Lulu Luo, the proprietor of the 3-year-old restaurant, and her household are from Shanghai, and in case you ask for steerage they will shine mild on the dishes that style most like residence to them.
The cuisines of metropolitan Shanghai and the encircling Jiangnan area — delineated by the Yangtze River Delta, a fertile space that additionally encompasses the culinary traditions of many neighboring smaller cities — by no means fairly take pleasure in the identical highlight afforded to the nuanced Sichuan firebrands which have dominated the San Gabriel Valley’s restaurant tradition within the final decade, nor the Cantonese and Taiwanese standard-bearers that preceded them.
Latest meals at WangJia remind me that the various, usually delicate cooking of Shanghainese traditions have their place within the combine. My conversations with the workers round what to order at all times finish with their one emphatic suggestion: xian rou cai fan, fried rice with salt pork and greens.
As with many sustaining comforts within the international canon, its elements quantity a handful and the method is all the things. Diced cubes of pork sizzle in a wok’s carbonized inferno, aided by a splash of oil or (extra historically) lard. The number of greens can fluctuate. At WangJia the selection is tatsoi; its leaves soften within the warmth extra rapidly than bok choy, a detailed brassica relative.
These two fundamental elements enrich short-grained rice, precooked and tossed within the wok lengthy sufficient to soak up its smoky exhalations. Just a few grains char right here and there, however the texture as a complete stays fluffy fairly than crisped. What’s most outstanding is the magnificence of its seasoning: The rice tastes amplified, as if its pure, candy taste has been piped via the style equal of encompass sound, and the occasional bites of pork blare scrumptious bursts of salt.
It doesn’t matter what else you have requested — a number of the chilly meats which can be a lot part of the Shanghainese repertoire, variations on shrimp or eel specialties, the regional braised beef and pork signatures — the xian rou cai fan tends to reach final on the desk. Use clumps of it gripped in your chopsticks to seize stray bits of meat and to sop up rivulets of sauce in your plate. Ultimately, although, like me you would possibly discover that the clear flavors of the rice dish fulfill totally on their very own.
WangJia sits within the middle of a strip mall, flanked by Bubble Republic tea store on one facet and D’ange bakery on the opposite. Luo took over the house, beforehand occupied by Q38 Noodle Home, in 2019. Like many enterprise house owners, Luo relied on carryout and supply to muddle via the inconceivable months of 2020 that she could not have foreseen.
Two years later it is exhausting to foretell when the lengthy, slim eating room with burgundy-colored partitions might be crammed and when will probably be quiet, although the standard of the meals has been constant at current meals whatever the crowd.
When you’ve proven up with a gaggle, think about settling in with a few chilly appetizers: drunken rooster doused with nutty Huadiao wine, maybe, or smoked fish whose community of tiny bones warrants the navigation for the meaty, campfire-sweet flavors. They arrive generously sized, so in case you’re solo or in a pair, you will have loads of leftovers.
You may simply as simply go straight to the restaurant’s model of dongpo pork, one of many well-known variations of the “red-braised” repertoire that turns all the things in its path to a shade of scarlet brown. Pork stomach surrenders into tenderness whereas simmering in wine, soy sauce, spices and sugar. Typically meat is served over a steamed vegetable; WangJia as a substitute merges the pork right into a trio with chewy-soft squid and willowy, threadlike tea tree mushrooms. Each mouthful brings a recent research in textures.
Lion’s head meatballs, one other defining pork dish, is available in its most classical type: a number of coarse, monumental orbs, the meat coarsely chopped but completely lush, draped in cabbage leaves and bathed in a brothy, calmly thickened sauce. Dialed-back, gingery spicing reinforces the dish’s outstanding lightness.
Amongst soups, I am a fan of the cloudy, poultry-intense inventory of the duck noodle soup bobbing with just-crisp bamboo shoots. One other one encompasses a tureen stuffed with pickled cabbage and delicate threads of lamb; the star elements tangle properly in vibrant, gamy bites, although the broth has much less general depth.
Yan du xian — a Shanghai staple of salt pork and uncured pork stomach, greens and sheets of tofu pores and skin tied into twisty knots — seems on WangJia’s menu in English as “Shanghai salty pork soup.” It, too, has a wan broth, and it made me consider the richer, superior rendition at Jiang Nan Spring, one other Shanghainese specialist, 5 blocks away. That stated, I favor the dongpo pork at WangJia; each locations must be on the map for his or her greatest dishes.
Tiny, crystalline shrimp stir-fried with longjing — the prized, nutty-vegetal inexperienced tea, also referred to as Dragonwell, whose leaves are plucked in spring after they’re nonetheless razor-thin buds — is one other regional important, and it is exhausting to seek out in america. WangJia makes the dish minus the longjing. It would arguably veer into too delicate for some palates. I just like the glassy snap of the almost unadorned shrimp, and I comply with the lead of my Chinese language buddies who eat parts of xian rou cai fan in small bowls after they’ve completed their soup and dot the shrimp on prime.
For an immersive, full-throttle finale, look to the entire crab dissected and almost submerged in a sauce that tastes splendidly of crab roe. Chao nian gao (skinny, slippery, oval rice muffins) additionally slide across the bowl. You may eat all of it half with chopsticks and half together with your fingers, sauce joyfully in every single place; it is price asking for a software to assist crack the crab.
I ought to in all probability let you already know that the sprawling menu features a strong part of Sichuan dishes. Luo’s son Kevin Ma talked about one meal that they carried over from earlier restaurant incarnations within the house and stated the Asian clientele orders it commonly.
Certainly one of lately I am going to wind round to the restaurant’s fish in scorching chile oil, or pepper beef, or fried rooster riddled with Sichuan peppercorns. There is a line in “Land of Fish and Rice,” writer Fuschia Dunlop’s e book on the cooking of Shanghai and its surrounding provinces, that has at all times resonated: “ Jiangnan meal ought to go away an individual feeling shu fu — comfy and nicely.” That holds true for me at WangJia, and till I’ve completed quizzing Luo and Ma on the dishes of their area I’ve but to strive, I will be following their options.
800 W. Las Tunas Drive, San Gabriel, (626) 872-0618, wangjiarestaurant.com
Costs: Soups $11.99-$26.99; dumplings, noodles and fried rice $5.99-$14.99; most entree-sized dishes $11.99-$35.99.
Particulars: Open every day, 11am-8:30pm No alcohol. Road and lot parking. Takeout out there.
Advisable dishes: Xian rou cai fan (on the menu as “salty pork and vegetable with rice”), crab with rice muffins, stewed duck soup, stewed pork and squid with tea tree mushrooms, lion’s head meatballs.