Sometimes you just get lucky.
Sometimes, when you're expecting run-of-the-mill food, you get a happy surprise or two tucked away in the deepest recesses of the menu.
Such was the case today when I went out to lunch with a bunch of co-workers at Chu's Wok Inn (known in Chinese as 天香楼, the House of Heavenly Fragrance) right at the border of Orange, Garden Grove and Anaheim. I've been there many times, and the menu is sort of a greatest hits list from the Cornstarch Epoch of Chinese dining in Southern California: General's chicken, beef and broccoli, chop suey.
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What I wasn't expecting on the menu were the Shanghainese specialities. Shanghainese rice cakes (nian gao) with napa cabbage and either shredded pork or shrimp, fish fillets in wine sauce, braised tofu, hidden away in the menu. We only ordered the rice cakes today, and while a little bit flat in taste, they were a surprisingly good choice for the starch component of the meal.
Of course, there were no chopsticks in evidence, our waiter was more likely from Tijuana than Tianjin, and the menu was resolutely English-only (which hindered me in finding the true Eastern Chinese specialities), but someone in the restaurant put a few tastes of home on there.
I need to investigate some more, because OC doesn't have much in the way of Shanghainese food at the moment. I'd love to find a place that will make me lion's head meatballs, West Lake beef soup digne du nom, fried yellow croaker and seaweed, even if I have to order it all off the menu ahead of time.
Chu's Wok Inn, 13053 Chapman Ave., Orange; (714) 750-3511.