This Hole-in-the-Wall Life
Rule No. 39 of the food critic handbook states that the best ethnic restaurants are those crowded with native eaters, so I wasn't expecting much from China Village when I visited with a pal. The only customers other than myself were some loud, crass white folks sitting nearby. Every stock character of the Ugly American Family was there—the overweight preteen, the wailing toddler, the cell phone-gabbing fat aunt, the blue-collar patriarch with a faded baseball cap, even the semi-autistic daughter who makes public appearances about once a month. They sat in the middle of the large, pretty restaurant and passed around sizzling trays of meat, fried rice mounds, carafes of Coke and enough noodles to string a tennis racket. They munched—loudly. Burp.The family was happy.
"The food can't be that good if only gabachos are here," I told my friend—and then I opened the menu. China Village stocks a greatest-hits of Mandarin-Szechuan cuisine—orange chicken, moo shoo pork, six types of egg foo young. I settled on the sesame chicken—a standard of Chinese restaurants that appeal to American sensibilities, but an entrée I had never tried; my friend opted for scallops in black bean sauce.
The waitress placed a bowl of fried noodles on our table, along with a tray filled with hot (both taste- and temperature-wise) mustard and sweet-and-sour sauce. I snacked on the noodles and watched the family, who continued to wreak havoc. "Are you going to kick us out?" the patriarch bellowed to the owner's son as he placed even more food on their table. Another snotnose yelled from the bathroom for someone to zip him up. The owner watched from a distance, bemused.
My sesame chicken finally arrived, along with white rice. Sesame seeds dotted lean chicken bits, adding a toasty note to the soy sauce-kissed chicken. The chicken came on a bed of pickled lettuce, which cooled the steaming plate. I added dabs of hot sauce—not Sriracha but a muddy crimson liquid as hot and as thick as freshly laid asphalt (though tastier). My friend's scallops, meanwhile, were fresh and sweet thanks to the unctuous, sugary black bean sauce. It was some of the better food I've tasted in a Chinese-American dive—no grease, full of nuance.
We then ordered dessert—fried pineapple. Probably not the most Sino-authentic of meals, but neither were the fortune and almond cookie that came afterward, for that matter. Eating at a restaurant where no one speaks English is fun, but eating somewhere with great food is much better. As for the Ugly Americans? They were loud and demanding, sure, but they thanked the owner multiple times. And us? We didn't leave a tip—ran out of money.
CHINA VILLAGE, 341 STATE COLLEGE BLVD., FULLERTON, (714) 525-3443.
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