I try to visit local restaurants at least twice before I blog about them. To be fair, but also because showing two or three dishes doesn't make a very interesting post. So we're going pretty far back to my early blogging days for this one. Back in September 2007, I checked out Hot Stuff Cafe.
Partly spurred by a Los Angeles Times article that mentioned chef and owner Jimmy Wang was a Le Cordon Bleu graduate who once worked at the Ritz Carlton in Marina Del Rey. I'm not sure if the owner is Chinese-Burmese? Old reviews of the former incarnation, Romantic Steak House, indicated so, but there was only one Burmese item on the menu, tea leaf salad. The rest of the menu was a blend of Chinese cafe classics and some fusion dishes.
We started off with complimentary buttered bread.
And creamed corn soup.
I couldn't pass up the opportunity to try the Burmese pickled tea leaf salad with cabbage, tomato, assorted nuts, and garlic jalapeno, $8. It was quite spicy, but I loved the sour, spicy, crunchy contrasts. The fermented tea leaves were addictive! I ate so much that the tea leaves kept me awake until 4 a.m. Who knew?
I've tried this salad at three different restaurants now, and while the presentation of the tea leaf salad was nicer at Burma Superstar - San Francisco, Hot Stuff Cafe's was way more flavorful. Unfortunately, the pickled tea leaf salad wasn't that popular and on a later visit, I found out it was taken off the menu.
My dining companion ordered seared duck breast and caramelized barley risotto with blackberry sauce, $14.
Artful presentation and juicy duck, but quite a small portion. Actually, the menu and portions wouldn't be out of place if we were dining in L.A., but we weren't in L.A., so by San Gabriel Valley Chinese cafe standards, this was quite expensive.
I ordered the special of the day which was beef pot pie with a small side salad.
I liked the puff pastry top.
But the beef stew was so far down from the puff pastry that I had to break off pieces to dip them in. Gravy-soaked crust is the best part.
The stew was good. Pearl onions. Vegetables. Chunks of beef.
Anyway, so dinner was fine. Good, but overpriced for the area, and nothing that I couldn't get at any of a bunch of Chinese cafes so nothing compelled me to return.
In October 2009 Hot Stuff Cafe participated in DineLA and the menu looked pretty interesting so WeezerMonkey and her co-worker decided to try it with me. Unfortunately, we weren't allowed to pick what we wanted from each of the three courses, but had to order entire set menus. Hey! That wasn't clear on the DineLA website, and while we liked some dishes, but didn't like the way the set courses were arranged. Also, WeezerMonkey and I could've sworn we remembered the lunch price was $16, but it was $22 when we were there. And double-checking the website afterward also confirmed the $22 price. So either we were both mistaken, or the price was adjusted after we initially viewed it. We were pretty sure it was the latter though because the price difference would have influenced us not to go.
Anyway, so we opted not to get any of the DineLA menus, and to order from the regular lunch menu instead.
The restaurant offered a variety of slushy, fruity drinks. This wasn't mine so I don't remember the flavor.
Complimentary buttered bread and corn soup.
But this time, we also had the option of Hong Kong-style Tomato Borscht.
Romantic Steak House was known for its sizzling plates so we ended up getting three to share. Szechuan shrimp with hot sauce, $12.
Top sirloin steak served with vegetables and a choice of rice, pasta, or fries, $8.
Seasonal vegetable pasta with black pepper sauce, $8. It might not be so apparent with this photo, but the noodles just looked sloppy. The three of us just looked at each other.
The dinner fusion menu seems more inviting, if a bit expensive. The lunch dishes were just OK.
The dessert menu, however, seemed much more appealing. We ordered Everything pineapple, pineapple coconut bread pudding, housemade pineapple ice cream, and pineapple chutney, $6.
Hot "stuffed" chocolate cake, warm chocolate cake with gooey hazelnut filling, and vanilla ice cream, $7.
Trio of tea-flavored creme brulee, golden tea, jasmine, and rose, $8.
The tea-flavored creme brulees were my favorite.
Overall, I just felt lukewarm about Hot Stuff Cafe. Nothing bad, but nothing that made me crave anything I tried either. Well, except maybe the tea leaf salad, but that's no longer on the menu. And perhaps the tea-flavored creme brulees.
Other Chinese cafes:
Baccali Cafe and Rotisserie - Alhambra
Garden Cafe - Alhambra
Sunday Bistro - Alhambra
Hot Stuff Cafe
315 S. San Gabriel Blvd.
San Gabriel, CA 91776
11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
1 year ago today, mom's geoduck, dynamite-style and chao oc (Vietnamese rice porridge with clams).
2 years ago today, Weekend Herb Blogging #135.
3 years ago today, Sweet, Sour, Salty, Spicy Tropical Fruit Salad.