Friday, May 20, 2011

New England Fish & Chips & Chinese Food

I get the usual questions from people who know I have a food blog: What's your favorite burger in Pasadena? What's your favorite pizza? What is your favorite restaurant you have ever been to?.....

But every once in a while someone asks me if I have a favorite post I have ever written. That's a hard one to answer. I've written more than 620, so there are quite a few that I really like, most dealing with vacation posts or special occasions. The other day I was talking with a friend about Chinese food, and the subject moved on to seafood. She wanted one of the two for lunch.

I said "Well, there is always New England Fish & Chips & Chinese Food. You can get both."

"That's not a real place, is it?" she replied incredulously.

I assured her it is indeed real. I had not thought about it in a while; I ate there and wrote about it almost two years ago. That was definitely a fun post to write. I decided to eat there again, and, for only the second time (the first being my letter to McDonald's to bring back Shanghai McNuggets) I am going to reprint some of a post I have written. This is how it went two years ago:

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A few years back my brother and I were in Bushmills, Northern Ireland, trying to decide what to do for the night (other than drink Guinness, obviously.) We were staying at the Bushmills Inn, a gorgeous old coaching inn, and we had been challenged by the desk clerk to see if we could find the "secret library," so we decided we had to do that first before going out for the evening. We studied the floor plan of the inn and came up with two or three ideas as to where a secret room might be. On our way to check them out we noticed a tiny room just around the corner from our room. We went in and noticed an obviously fake bookshelf on the wall. My brother walked over to it and pushed; it gave way, revealing a much larger conference room/library.

"I've found the secret library," he said. "Let's go to the pub now." Our epic search had taken about 45 seconds.

We walked down the street to a pub we had seen before we checked in to the hotel and had a couple pints. When we inquired about ordering some food, we were told that that was the one night of the week which they did not serve food. Perplexed, we asked where else we could go. We weren't looking for anything fancy and he recommended the chip shop just down the street. We walked down there and my brother declared that he did not feel like fish & chips - which we'd been eating for pretty much every meal for several days, save for a lunch in Dublin for which we paid about 60 American dollars for three pieces of sushi - and that he wanted something else.

As luck (sort of) would have it, there was a Chinese restaurant close by. Now, I have seen some pretty horrible looking Chinese fast food places in my day, and even eaten at a few of them. But this was beyond description. Still, my brother claimed that was what he wanted. We were on the main street of a village in County Antrim and he wanted Chinese food. (This sounds bizarre unless you know my brother, in which case it makes perfect sense.)

I said I would have no part of it and went to the chippy. I bought plenty of food, just in case what he got wasn't good. I got fish and two orders of chips and chicken goujons (nuggets) with several dipping sauces. I reunited with my brother and we headed back to the hotel. We sat on the floor and spread out the food in front of us. His Chinese food looked horrible but I waited for him to try it. He took one bite of a noodle-looking dish and spit it out, making a face I have never seen before.

I had no desire to try any of it, but after seeing that face I had to see what it was all about. So I took a taste. There is really no other way to say this: it was the worst tasting food I can remember ever putting in my mouth. I think it was supposed to be chicken and noodles, but all I could taste was sugar and soy sauce, perhaps an entire week's worth of sodium in every bite. I spit it out as well. I informed him that I was anticipating this and bought plenty of extra food, for which he was grateful.

I have told this story to a few people over the years (probably not in this much detail) and people usually get a laugh out of the humor of both of us eating a meal of fish & chips and Chinese food. Never again did I expect to eat such a strange dichotomy of foods at the same time.

Of course, as I should have learned from Sean Connery the last time he ever played 007, never say never again. The other day Elizabeth and I were getting back into town and both of us were craving a Slurpee, so I went to the 7-11 on the corner of Main and Marengo in Alhambra. And what did I see in the strip mall but a restaurant with a sign reading "New England Fish & Chips" and lettering in the window reading "Chinese Food." Could it possibly be? I slowly drove by - the place was closed - and looked in. It looked like exactly what it claimed: a chip shop selling Chinese food.

I am not a good enough writer to find the words to describe how excited this made me, but I will say this: in a week during which I spent two days wine tasting and eating barbecue down in San Diego County, the Angels won 6 games in a row, I got to watch Ronin in Blu-ray on a 100 inch HDTV, and the Lakers won the NBA Championship... this was the highlight.

I read a few reviews of the place online. The opinions on the Chinese food were varied, but almost all of them praised the fish & chips. There were also quite a few comments about the owner and his rude attitude, and more than a couple comparisons to the "Soup Nazi" of Seinfeld fame. Wednesday I decided to try it out for lunch. (I had planned to go to Golden China and try their lunch deal, but the parking lot was completely full of people who had come from the Lakers victory parade. There was even a line out the door at Round Table Pizza.)

First, let me say this: anyone who refers to the guy as a Nazi has not dealt with very many older Chinese men who speak English as a second language. This guy was a downright kitten compared to some of the people I have encountered. (An older Chinese shopkeeper once misunderstood a question my friend Jon asked him in Chinatown and he took out a knife and started waving it around wildly, shouting "you both go now or there will be trouble!") Yes, the guy was gruff, and he certainly yelled a lot with the people in the kitchen, but to me he said "please" and "thank you," as well as calling me "sir" twice.
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I then went on to describe what I ordered. On this occasion, in 2011, it was much more of an easy trip to New England Fish & Chips & Chinese Food. There was no Lakers victory parade to deal with - something I'm guessing we won't have to deal with for a long time, actually - and, although it was much busier in the restaurant, I had no trouble placing my order and taking a table.

On the wall are handwritten menus listing all of the Chinese items. Behind the counter is a more traditional menu board listing all the seafood options. (I tried to take a picture of it but there were too many people in the way.) Most of the people coming in - and there were a lot of customers on this day - were getting Chinese food instead of seafood. And most were taking it to go.

I ordered the Combo #1: two shrimp, one piece of fish, and fries. I also ordered an egg roll. On my previous trip I got an order of orange chicken that, while the chicken was good, was bathed in a sauce both too salty and sickeningly sweet. So I decided that an egg roll would be better this time. Plus I was worried that my meal would not contain enough fried food without it.

The egg roll was delicious. You have to love a restaurant that places malt vinegar, soy sauce, ketchup, and chili paste on the table for you. I used a little of the chili with the egg roll, but really it was good enough to eat without any condiments.

The rings of shrimp were crunchy and moist, but a little too tough. A minute less in the fryer would have been better. They give you impossibly small containers of cocktail and tartar sauce (there was a line of several people ordering food or I might have asked for more) so I ended up eating most of the seafood without condiments.

The fish was better than the shrimp: it was tender and juicy and cooked perfectly throughout. It's not going to be confused with all the fried fish I ate in Ireland on that trip, but by San Gabriel Valley standards, the taste and the price were great.

I do like New England Fish & Chips & Chinese Food, not just for the charm of being able to order both items, but for the quality of the food. It's not great - I will take the Southern-style, corn meal-fried fish at Pasadena Fish Market over this any day - but it's good and this whole meal, which I couldn't even finish, cost less than seven dollars. I will definitely go back, though not with any great urgency. I'd like to say that it won't take me two years to return, but to be honest it might.

9 comments:

Stephen said...

That is SO awesome that you reviewed this place! Kelly and I have been talking about going there for a long time, but she was always a little suspicious of the quality due to the dual purpose menu. We will now check it out thanks to you!

The post, and concept, reminds me of Golden Palace Mongolian BBQ on East Colorado Blvd. in Pasadena. It was built as an H. Salt Fish & Chips (the ceiling lights & tables remain true to the old H. Salt design). When the restaurant was converted to the Mongolian BBQ concept, for a number of years, it was dual purpose as you could order Mongolian BBQ, or Fish & Chips. In the end, the Mongolian BBQ concept won out.

Thanks again for this great post.

Bryce said...

I love the description of the Hot & Spicy items on the menu.

Michelle said...

What a fantastic Friday morning read.

Jessica said...

I agree with Michelle!! I should be be processing some of this paper on my desk as opposed to reading a post about fish/chips/chinese. Ah well.

JustinM said...

Stephen: Thanks for reading my man. I have to say, the one time I had the orange chicken, it was only slightly better than Panda Express. But the seafood is tasty.

BTW I ate at Mongolian BBQ once when I was a teenager and have never returned. I did not enjoy it. But I am not opposed to trying it again.

Bryce: You mean how all the Hot & Spicy items are also parenthetically called "(Hot & Spicy)"? Yes, I like that too.

Michelle: Thanks.

Jessica: You know how they say March Madness costs the economy $192 million in lost productivity? I won't be happy until my blog costs the economy at least ten bucks per day.

Anna A. said...

never heard of a combo like this before... wow! a fried bucket with eggroll and shrimp... equipped with malt vinegar and soy sauce. If that's not #winning I don't know what is. PS. they really need to serve beer at this place.. i don't know how you managed.

Julien said...

So long as they could confidently and successfully prepare enough Chinese items, I wouldn't worry about their ability to add fried fish.

Since the first time I tried fish and chips involved buying it from a nice little place in southern England, I may be biased, but I am definitely a fish and chips fan. I'm down to go give the place a try.

Malt vinegar for the win!

JustinM said...

Anna: There is a 7-11 two doors down in the strip mall!

Julien: I'm not going to lie to you: if you remember what that fish & chips tasted like in the U.K., you're probably gonna be disappointed.

Julien said...

When it comes to some things, I'm not that picky. I'd give it a shot. Worst case scenario, it gets extra malt vinegar.