Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Pasadena Wrap Up (Restaurant Edition)

A few of the things I ate on my vacation that don't warrant a post all on their own.

Zach and I went to Chick-fil-A one night - my second-ever visit. I had the spicy chicken sandwich and, for some reason, ordered some nuggets. The chicken sandwich was even better than the first time I tried it last spring. Crispy, juicy chicken that is the standard all fast food chicken sandwiches should measure against. Most restaurants, too.

I could only eat a couple of the chicken nuggets but they were good, too. Just not as good as the sandwich.

I have had Papa John's six times in my life now, and four of those occasions have been with Zach. I like their thin crust pizza, but I realized on this occasion that I am not a big fan of their regular pizza. It's not bad - I still have only had two slices out of thousands in my life that I would call "bad" - but it just doesn't do it for me. (I still think it's 10x better than Domino's or Pizza Hut, though.)

There were three things I needed to eat while back in Pasadena: a Double-Double, Taco Lita, and Yang Chow's slippery shrimp. My mom and I went there for lunch one day. "I want to get lots of food so that we'll have some leftovers in the house," she said, "so order whatever you want."

Well... okay, sure.

I started with their chicken salad, which is my favorite Chinese chicken salad anywhere, due to the delicious dressing and sweet red ginger.

Dry sauteed string beans with minced pork.

Slippery shrimp. God I love these.

Pan-fried pork dumplings.

There were plenty of leftovers, though I ate the shrimp (cold) after a couple of hours.

A fried beef and cheese burrito.

I still like these, but I gotta be honest, now that I've had Chick-fil-A's chicken sandwich, this seems like a pale imitation.

A few years back, Jack in the Box had spicy chicken bites - little pieces of breaded-and-fried chicken with the same spices as the Jack's Spicy Chicken. They were delicious. I wish they had brought those back instead of introducing these completely mediocre chicken nuggets.

I introduced some friends to dim sum six years ago and they freaking fell in love with it. For years they would not go without me, because they claimed they would have no idea what to order. I'm not sure if that's still the case, but they said they had not been to Empress Pavilion since I left Pasadena. (We've been to other places over the years, like Din Tai Fung, 888 Seafood, and Sam Woo, but Empress is our favorite, for many reasons, including other than the food.) So we planned a trip.

The potstickers were great as always.

Les always gets the duck. I am not a fan, but I love the tasty sauce and often eat bites of the cabbage underneath that gets soaked with it.

I like some of the pieces of the BBQ pork - the ones that aren't too fatty, which is maybe two or three out of 25 - but mostly I eat the cabbage off of this plate, too.

Often I find the pork buns too sweet, but this time they were the best I have ever had at Empress - not too sweet at all, and full of tender pork.

A fried dumpling of pork and shrimp? Yes please.

And the spring rolls, fresh out of the fryer, were great as always.

When my mom heard I was going for dim sum, she asked if I would bring some back, as she loves it. I said sure and went to the little take-out shop next door to Empress for the first time.

There were about three items in the case. "Is this all you have?" I asked.

"No," the girl said, "anything you want, we will make fresh."

So I got pork buns, potstickers, and spring rolls. I drove back to my parents' house, about a twenty to twenty-five minute drive, so these weren't as good as they were at the restaurant, but my mom still loved them.

As much as I love Del Taco, usually I am disappointed with their steak and/or beef offerings. This was no exception: the stringy beef was flavorless, all the flavor here came from the cilantro and salsa. It wasn't terrible, but it can't hold a candle to my beloved chicken soft tacos.

These, on the other hand, I thought were terrible. Soggy and starchy.

After I wrote about Hook Burger, Bryce thought it looked great, so a few days later when he was taking his car to the dealer two blocks away, he stopped in for a burger. He loved it. Two days later, when we were deciding where to go for lunch, he said Hook Burger. I said great. He had a beer, though I do not remember which.

I had the Bistro Burger: roasted red pepper and onion, jack, avocado and tomato (I ordered it without the former and removed the latter) and honey dijon sauce. I liked it very much, but did not love it like I did the Hickory Burger on my previous visit. (Those of you who like avocado and tomato may point out that the burger would have been better with those two things, and I will not argue.)

Later in the afternoon we met up at Kings Row, where I had the first of several pints of lager. Little Lucy in the background had mango juice.

My mom and I were going to lunch one day and I suggested yet another Chinese joint: Fu Shing.

The hot and sour soup was terrible. Probably the least enjoyable I have ever had.

The lunch specials come with a choice of egg roll or salad. While I don't like Fu Shing's salad as much as Yang Chow's, I still love it.

We started with paper-wrapped chicken. It was pretty straight-forward... which isn't a bad thing. Ground chicken meat with hot mustard and sweet-and-sour sauce is always good in my book.

I love the Sweet & Pungent chicken at Fu Shing, and the $9 lunch special, which includes the soup, salad, and rice, comes with a generous portion of the chicken. I couldn't finish it but, like the slippery shrimp, I ate them cold a few hours later.

My mom had the shrimp with broccoli, which were just fine, but, come on... fried chicken pieces are better.

The funny part is I'm only exaggerating slightly when I say "daily." But it's only five bucks at happy hour and he loves it. I took a small piece. I didn't love it, but it's pretty good.

I wanted to try one - it has been a long time - to see how I like it. It turns out, not surprisingly, that I don't like it nearly as much as the chicken soft tacos.

Well... this sucks.

If you've been reading for more than a year or so, you are aware how special Hutch's BBQ is to me. I have said more than once that while I do not believe it is amongst the top 100 restaurants in Pasadena, it is the restaurant I love most, and my favorite hamburger in the world. I have been eating there my whole life; my mom has been eating there her whole life.

I had not only read (in several places) but heard from people I trust that Hutch's has gone way downhill, that we might be hearing the death rattle. So I avoided the place. I didn't need to see that. On my last night in town, however, my brother was over and we were planning on meeting up with my dad - who works just a few blocks away - for dinner. We decided on Hutch's.

We were the only customers in the restaurant for the duration of our meal.

Oh man.

My brother had the BBQ chicken, and he said it was fine, although not all that good.

And here is the echo of what used to be my favorite burger in the world. The patties used to be thicker and cooked in barbecue sauce to the point of falling-apart juiciness. This was just a flabby, frozen patty. There used to be lots of fresh, crisp lettuce; this was just one piece of watery stuff. And there used to be a delicious relish on the burger. I could not taste any here. The bun was a sad, squished thing.

I always knew this day would come. But it doesn't make it any easier.


Adam said...

I eat at Chick-fil-A every Monday. I get 12 nuggets. They are, I am sure, the tastiest little morsals of pressure cooked breaded chicken on this green orb. There is such a complexity to them in terms of flavor. Nutty and mouthwatering, developing into sweet. I don't even use sauce. They are even good cold (which McNuggets are not)

I usually enjoy my original sandwiches with an equal mix of texas pete and honey.

Interesting about Papa Johns. I worked for them briefly in made in the store, but the thin crust is pre-packaged and baked, like what you'd get in a grocery store.

Slippery Pete said...


Anonymous said...

sorry about hutch's, pp. pour some liquor out for da homie.

JustinM said...

Adam: Yeah, but I actually like those grocery store thin crusts!

Slippery Pete: It's a little off topic, but music talk is always welcome here. I had to look up Gwar. I figured out ICP though.

Anon: This song is dedicated to my Hutchs'/In that gangsta lean/Why'd you have to go so soon?

Slippery Pete said...

Gangsta lean by DRS? I was the proud owner of a Range Rover previously owned by one of their singers. Even had a "Gangsta Lean" license plate holder. True story! This was before I got into Gwar. Wow, these comments have really come full circle.

JustinM said...

I believe you - who would make that up?

Mike N. said...

Oh no, no toasted ravioli!? Did you get to Sprawl-Mart? I actually just made Louisa t-ravs last night, and on the back of the box it says "Have ravioli sent anywhere, call 314-868-3000". I'm sure that's probably ridiculously expensive, but maybe you can work out your own recipe? If you can find some decent frozen ravioli (I actually find frozen to be better than 'fresh' most of the time) just cover in italian breadcrumbs and deep fry, and that should be close.

And btw, I miss the cheapo Del Taco tacos! Especially 3/1.00 taco tuesdays, but Del Taco was always a cheapo-post-bar destination, so maybe it's just the memories of good times.

JustinM said...

Mike, I went to the Rosemead location - which is a little closer to my parents' and also claimed to have them in stock. Nope. I thought about then going to Covina, but my time was running short and I didn't feel the need to hit up two Wal Marts in one day, especially since I now know the "in stock availability" isn't always accurate.

Julie said...

I'm sorry about your Hutch's. That is a really sad decline.

Justin said...

Next time you go to Yang Chow you absolutely must get the Spicy Szechwan Wonton Soup. It's absolutely incredible. Kind of a "secret" item on the menu.

JustinM said...

Justin! I miss your comments - you are one of the 10, maybe 5 best commenters here. You mentioned the wonton soup a year ago - my f**k up, I totally forgot about it. My next Pasadena trip will undoubtedly include Yang Chow... must remember.

Mr. Pinkman said...

Solid post. Good variety of items and places. I wish there was a good Chick-Fil-A in NYC and halfway decent Cali grade Mexican Food.

Any tips for good, inexpensive Mexican Food back east? Chipotle is so boring and inauthentic. There are a lot of Mexicans in NYC, I don't know why the Mexican Food is never as good as California.

JustinM said...

I"ve had good Mexican here and I've had inexpensive Mexican here, but not both. But I've only been here eight months. I'm sure it's out there, I just haven't found it.

I agree with you about Chick-fil-A.

Mr. Pinkman said...

Yeah for expensive Mexican (margaritas, sangria and all that) I like Rosa Mexicano. But when I do want Mexican, I usually want a quick burrito or taco like on the go, not a fancy sit down lounge type of place. Taco Bell doesn't cut it.