As someone who has eaten everything up to and including two Thanksgiving dinners out of a Styrofoam grease box and/or off the tailgate of a truck, I know cheap—from college-cheap down through boho-cheap and then that long slide into hobo-cheap. And because I was educated to distraction and left unsupervised up to and including two separate hospital trips for still-unspecified meal-related gut poisonings, I also know good, though usually only these days from a polite distance. Mostly I just know cheap—cheap and hospitals.
But I remember good food. If you have noticed something of the expatriate's cultivated melancholy about me, it is because I have too much time and too many memories to cloud up my head, and although I may be eating a taco filled with grease knuckles and back fat (which my dumb cowboy mouth can only pronounce as "carnies"), I am remembering something good: Japanese box lunches so hot they bring them out sighing, eaten with a bunch of Army guys on lunch break from radar-testing captured Warsaw Pact tanks, or kung pao chicken presented under soft lights and music and over a drooling street weirdo outside pounding flat-palmed on the plate glass. ("Fuck you!" he said, softly. "Kill you!") But now I even hate all those old good things because East Winds Asian Cuisine in Huntington Beach is so much better, an unbelievable gourmet experience at proportionally vagrant prices and with proportionally unbelievable portions. When I was finished, I just lay there looking so full and stupid that they should have asked if I needed to go to the hospital, so I could have smiled and said, "No, friends. Not today."
Restaurateur Ned Shang was just getting East Winds lit and running about a year ago. His parents—the greats behind Huntington's Great Wok—must have been proud that their son was honoring the family tradition with a place of his own, a daring pan-Asian fusion-with-modesty restaurant that would translate his family's private dinner-table practices toward the most cosmopolitan limit possible for something next to a shouty sports bar called EAT-AT-JOES. Real home cooking, he called it then. Really hot, really high heat, really big fire—"You're on top of the fire! Flames everywhere!" he said, awesomely—and a cavernous pot for the veggies and meat and seafood and sauces. You can play with Chinese food a lot, he said. Which is true: it's generous toward the experimental. And so East Winds offers an attractive measure of the wild and the mild both, with staple Asian fare available for enthusiastic customization—an attentive and experienced waiter recommended super-fit orange peel chicken made with all white meat—and mix-and-matchers like teriyaki buffalo wings and kung pao pasta to dissolve the film off more jaded palates.
The Taste of Asia platter rings the rims of East Winds' monster menu: super-light egg rolls without any gooey grease, crisp crab Rangoon, teriyaki beef on skewers, two samosa-ish curry pastries, foil-wrapped chicken so soft and hot that it melts in your mind before it melts in your mouth, and two hefty spare ribs with the meat shyly hugging the bone. Plus free fire: a big screaming brazier, venting flames for as long as the platter lasts. Add an order of shrimp tempura, and this is almost all of East Winds' appetizers at once, except for tofu (which comes deep-fried with peanut or chile sauce, or cold with garlic, ginger and scallions).
East Winds' lunch specials—available on weekends too—are missing several decimal points on price; within blocks are several hole-in-the-mall steam-tray buffets charging the same amount for food just waiting for mercy burial in your stomach. But at East Winds, about eight bucks delivers a happy slab of prime beef and curry sauce plus veggies and rice—or honey walnut chicken, moo goo gai pan or the popular orange peel chicken—and you can even boho up to curry scallops or fish filet or hobo down to sweet and sour pork or kung pao veggies.
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For specialties: the sizzling three ingredients comes hissing with hot steam and beef, chicken and shrimp, plus a fat bowl of baby corn, water chestnuts, broccoli, onions and more, and although it's not qualified as a specialty yet, the drunk man's fried rice—extra-spicy hangover helper with your choice of meat and everything from the garden—should get a promotion just in case it helps people locate it when they're ordering.
Green tea ice cream goes down like a tranquilizer after all the sizzle, and spice-and-banana spring rolls (chocolate, hot banana, light spring pastry) are the cigar-shaped finale these kinds of experiences demand to uphold decorum. Then you say thank you and mean it: a banquet in a beach city for maybe $15 per person, and that's indulging in some unseemly gluttonishness.
For a casual cop-style lunch—$6.95 and under—there couldn't be any way to beat East Winds. For a date where you gotta prove something—couldn't go wrong either, plus there's a bar with sake-tinis and sake bombs, if you really have to prove something. And for an afternoon to sizzle away on stir-fry and Tsingtao, they got a corner booth. It's such a good thing—believe me when I tell you, unless you've been in more hospitals.
EAST WINDS ASIAN CUISINE, 7114 EDINGER AVE., HUNTINGTON BEACH, (714) 841-1800. OPEN MON.-THURS., 11 A.M.-2:30 P.M. AND 4:30-9 P.M.; FRI., 11 A.M.-2:30 P.M. AND 4:30-9:30 P.M.; SAT.-SUN., 11 A.M.-9 P.M. LUNCH FOR TWO, $18. BEER, WINE AND SAKE MARTINI BAR. CREDIT CARDS ACCEPTED. FREE DELIVERY WITH $15 MINIMUM ORDER.