Warming the heart
A Valentine’s Day celebration in the Year of the Horse
By Erica Wayne 02/13/2014
The years of the dragon and snake weren’t kind to Pasadena Chinese food aficionados. In mid-2012, Yujean Kang closed his restaurant doors after a 20-plus-year tenure in Old Pasadena riffing on traditional Chinese recipes to create a unique and imaginative menu, not to mention his great wine list. With that closing went one of the most interesting Asian restaurants in our neck of the woods.
Then, in the spring of 2013, two more long-lived Chinese restaurants bit the dust. Fortune, which had occupied the northeast corner of North Raymond Avenue and Union Street (across from Yujean Kang’s and, one might say, diametrically opposed to it both physically and ideologically) for more than a decade, was shuttered. And, Spring Garden, whose dumplings and shrimp dishes had been a major source of comfort during my first few years in Pasadena in the early ’80s (but whom I’m ashamed to admit I mostly forsook once Fu-Shing opened a bit further east) died as well.
However, the turn of a new year is a time of hope and regeneration. And while I continue to mourn the demise of Yujean Kang, Spring Garden and (to a far lesser extent) Fortune, I’m delighted with the recent rebirth of one of my other old favorites, Grandview Palace, late of the southeast corner of California Boulevard and South Fair Oaks Avenue but defunct for the past seven years, a victim (along with neighboring 66-year-old Monty’s) of urban “renewal.”
Monty’s hasn’t reopened locally, easily supplanted by Ruth’s Chris and the Arroyo Chop House. Spring Garden’s remains are being taken over by Avanti (good pizza for sure, but no sautéed green beans). But, lo and behold, the Year of the Snake did allow (along with the opening of two other interesting Asian restaurants, Osawa and Osek, on North Raymond Avenue) the resurrection of Grandview Palace on Fortune’s abandoned site.
So, this week, as we near the conjunction of Valentine’s Day and the full moon marking the end of the Chinese New Year, my heart and stomach are both joyful. My mate’s signaled that on the 14th I’m getting a box of See’s Nuts and Chews to share with him after a nice dinner of all my Grandview Palace favorites, a celebration of two holidays with one meal, as it were.
We made a pre-Valentine’s Day foray to insure that the dishes we remembered from days of yore were still available and up to snuff. Sure enough, the new Grandview Palace (the restaurant actually opened in September of last year) is almost as wonderful as an old fan could hope.
The interior décor is far more attractive than Grandview’s old digs. Although Fortune’s cozy booths are gone (I don’t love the table-filled dining area, preferring the privacy of more enveloping seating), nobody can complain about the rich colors (Chinese red and mustard yellow walls with a midnight blue ceiling), the windows fronting onto both Raymond and Union and the muted lighting.
Huge floral arrangements and papyrus-shaped wall sconces add even more flair. Unfortunately, the tiled flooring and high ceiling make the space noisy, amplifying the clatter of crockery and, my husband complained, the constant ringing of the phone. (I’m more forgiving of that annoyance if it means the restaurant is prospering!)
As for the menu, almost everything we relished at the old location is still listed, and we (having brought two friends with us) ordered much of it. For starters, we chose pot stickers ($7.95 for eight) and BBQ spare ribs ($8.95 for four). The modest-sized pork dumplings were delicious, with a tangy shredded ginger/soy dipping sauce and chili oil. The spare ribs, alas, although huge and tasty, were tougher and less charred than I remembered.
We proceeded to a tureen of hot and sour soup ($8.95), enough for two bowls apiece. The dark, rich liquid was both spicy and pungent enough to be pronounced good by the entire party. But the relative thinness of the broth was noted. Our friends commented that soup at Grandview Palace II (on East Colorado Boulevard and owned by a relative) was much thicker and contained more tofu.
Then it was time for entrees: Grandview special shrimp ($14.95), kung pao chicken ($10.95), orange peel beef ($12.95) and eggplant with garlic sauce ($9.95). The shrimp, beef and eggplant were outstanding. Our huge pile of crustaceans lightly battered in a cornstarch/egg white mixture were fried to a perfect crunch, and then drizzled with sweet syrup and chili flecks. The equally overwhelming tangle of beef (and orange peel) had been deep-fried to a deep, satisfying crisp and, like the shrimp, bathed in a sweet and sticky sauce. And the tender eggplant slabs were drenched in rich, spicy gravy.
Only the chicken disappointed. I remember being enamored with Grandview Palace’s original prep. But, somehow, this platter was unsatisfying, despite a generous sprinkling of chunked green onion and plump peanuts. The meat seemed overly tenderized. And, even though the dish was studded with whole red chilies warning of great heat, little was apparent.
I’ll certainly give it another go on our next visit, but unless we’re more impressed, we’re likely to substitute shrimp for the chicken (at a $4 premium!), green beans for the chicken ($1 less) or shift away from kung pao entirely and order other favorites like moo shu pork ($11.95), twice-cooked pork ($10.95) or shrimp with lobster sauce ($13.95) instead.
Grandview Palace has free delivery within a four-mile radius. Thank goodness, we’re within bounds. So, on Valentine’s Day, we’ll be staring at the full moon from our own backyard and consuming a romantic dual-holiday feast delivered by our happily resurrected restaurant. I’ve bought some plum wine and we’ll toast Grandview Palace’s rebirth and wish them (and us) great prosperity in the Year of the Horse.
60 N. Raymond Ave.,
Beer and wine