I never ordered anything other than Americanized Chinese food. I'm not sure if anyone in my family did. Hell, I'm not sure if they serve anything but such food. Though once, when my mom's step-sister, an avid lover of ducks, was visiting from Holland, my dad sarcastically asked if the waiter if they served duck. The poor guy - English was certainly not his first language - did not get the joke and brought out a dead duck, complete with head, for our inspection. Marie screamed. I laughed.
Then, when I got into my late teens and started trying different kinds of Chinese food, not to mention started eating at dim sum places in Monterey Park and San Gabriel, Wang's Palace all but vanished from my mind. I can't recall a single meal there during my adult life.
A few years back, when I read that Wang's Palace changed its name to Wang's Place and moved around the corner, from Myrtle Avenue to Lemon, my reaction was similar to hearing that Allen Iverson was finishing his career in Turkey: Who cares?
Yesterday, however, my brother wanted to take me out for lunch. Our original plan had been to go to one of two places out in the Inland Empire. But something came up and I had to be in Burbank in the afternoon; not wanting to drive 150 miles in one day, I suggested we meet somewhere in the Arcadia/Monrovia area. Just for the hell of it I suggested Wang's Place.
There were only two other tables occupied when we walked in (at 12:15; by the time we left an hour later most of the tables were taken) and we were given our choice of several tables. We took one by the window.
"Do you heat things up with this?" I asked my brother.
"Yes!" he replied incredulously. "You don't remember this? This was the only thing I liked about this restaurant."
"The only thing? What about the time they brought out the dead duck for Aunt Marie?"
"Well, yeah, that was cool, too."
I did not remember the flames, nor did I understand it: the food was already really hot. It required no additional cooking.
... I requested some hot mustard, which turned out to be the sinus-clearing stuff that I love.
The juicy chicken with the spicy mustard was a wonderful combination.
"I don't really see what that's going to accomplish," my brother commented when I put my fried wonton on the flame and left it there.
You know, I don't really eat enough meals these days where I have the opportunity to set my food on fire.
My brother also ordered a bowl of wonton soup, large enough to bathe in - you know, if he bathed. He really liked the soup. I mean, I didn't ask him, but just assumed since he finished the bowl...
... except for the shrimp, which he still doesn't like. No big deal. If I hadn't already recognized that I was going to have too much food for this lunch, I would have eaten them. But we had already started to put together a to-go box for our dad, who was taking the day off work.
I received a cup of hot and sour soup before my lunch special. It was fine - hot and tasty, but indistinguishable from hundreds of similar soups I have had over the years.
But the sauce, besides being a color not of this world, was sickeningly sweet. Most sweet and sour sauces, as I mentioned earlier, skew towards the sweet and not so much the sour. But this was just too much. If you mixed honey and ketchup, you would not be far off. I could handle eating the shrimp, since they were so tasty, but the vegetables (onion and bell pepper) were inedible. I wish I'd gotten to eat these shrimp in a better sauce; they certainly deserved better.
It was a lot of fun being back at Wang's
But I realize now that it's only average. There is nothing wrong with it and some of the appetizers were quite good, but off the top of my head I can think of dozens of places in the San Gabriel Valley that serve comparable food (for less money; Wang's Place is by no means expensive but neither would I call it a particularly good value). Like Shakey's or Tony Roma's or Bob's Big Boy, Wang's Place is a restaurant that used to mean a lot to me and now means nothing. I don't see any reason I will ever eat there again, and I'm okay with that.