My Huffington readers know that I have traveled all over the world seeking really good Chinese food...to New York, London, and Hong Kong, as well as to many, many authentic restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley here. Just 10 miles east of downtown L.A, it is home to some 250,00 food-loving Chinese. Some years ago my friend Ping Chen took me to enjoy several meals at her friend's Shanghai restaurant, Green Valley, in SGV. Ping and her friend Rose (Rong Hu) both came from Shanghai; Ping married my buddy Brian Wald and Rose opened up a wonderful eatery in 1998. Her chef and partner was the legendary Charlie Wong (Wang Haibo), who was described in a Gourmet Magazine article as "twitchy, hyperkinetic, and painfully thin, as driven a man as I have met. His large restless eyes roam his restaurant incessantly. He has long, light hands, philosopher's hands, but these too give away his life's obsession, for they are mottled with the multiple spatter burns of the fanatical Chinese cook." I wrote then that their sophisticated Shanghai-style food was unique and delicious, more hip than Hong Kong, more alluring than Beijing, a surprising breath and variety not seen in the more familiar Cantonese cuisine. Rose then was fixed up by her attorney with another client, Robert Murphy of Powell Industries in Houston, and married him, retired to Texas for several years. But, as Bob related to me this week, Rose was restless and missed running a restaurant with Charlie....so recently they found a good location in the San Fernando Valley and just opened a new place, GREEN VILLAGE (15466 Ventura Blvd. Sherman Oaks, Ca. 91403 (818)385-01389, three blocks west of the 405 Freeway on Ventura Blvd. I go over the hill via Beverly Glen from my Beverly Hills abode and can get there in about 25 minutes....faster than going downtown or to Venice.
Fish in Wine Sauce with woodear mushrooms is the simple name for an exquisite dish.
It was food writer Linda Burum who once told me that 1000 A.D. in Hangzhou, China, elite members of society could dine at restaurants offering hundreds of beautifully crafted, intricate dishes....which partially explains why I believe that Chinese cuisine is the most sophisticated and interesting in the world. I have written that many of my newsletter readers over the years have complained to me that there wasn't a decent Chinese restaurant anywhere in the San Fernando Valley. Well, the drought is over....now there is...is there ever! Shanghai's nickname is "Heaven on Earth." Understandable. I was in heaven the moment I began eating here. You know that I eat in three-star restaurants all over the world, but frankly I think that some of the dishes I have tasted here recently rank with the best French and Italian food I've eaten anywhere at any price. Speaking of price, the cost of dishes here are so remarkably reasonable given the complexity and quality of the ingredients that I am startled at the low prices. Stunningly subtle, I doubt if the food in China could be much better than that of Rose and Charlie in Sherman Oaks.
Charlie Wong is the head chef and co-owner of the Green Village.
In keeping with the need to be a comfortable accommodating neighborhood restaurant, they feature dine in and take out, catering, delivery all over the valley, and even have free Wi Fi and TV (which I find disconcerting and dislike. I try always to sit facing away from any TV.) The menu here is enormous, with lots of Chef's Specials, and there are two dozen dinner dish entrees for $7.95, including Shrimp in Lobster Sauce and Kung Pao Beef. The lunch specials are $6 and amazing. But today I am going to tell you about a new "Healthy California-Style Special Menu" which went into effect this week...a dozen dishes which Rose and Charlie have prepared for the health-conscious among us...but which, I find, are so exquisitely delicious that I, who disdain all healthful measures, have returned several times to enjoy. There is a Fish Filet in Wine Sauce with wood ear mushrooms at $7.50 which I would put up against the $50 entrees at Providence any time. There is a Truffled Rice ($7.95) with shiitake mushrooms, baby bok choy and capers, which is subtle and scintillating. Charlie sent out a dish he calls French-Style Sautéed Beef ($10.95) which was sliced beef cooked with butter and fresh black pepper sauce, so exciting I ordered another to take home. To start there are Chicken Pot Stickers, six dumplings for $6.95, the skins thin and the fillings just so good. Steamed Veggie Dumplings, six for $5.95, are shiitake mushrooms with a mustard sauce. There was a dish I remember from the old place: here they call it Tempura Fish Filet with dill ($8.95), but I remember it from before as the celebrated Ning Bo Seaweed-flavored Yellow Fish, sautéed yellow croaker with river moss. Fingers of fish wrapped in seaweed, dipped into a thin batter, then flash-fried crisp until puffy and doughnut-like, served with a little dish of mixed salt and pepper., the finest fish sticks in the world. I am not a tofu lover, but even I was impressed with the Tender Tofu Salad ($5.50), with sesame oil and green onion sauce.
Tempura Fish Filet with Dill are the best fish sticks I have ever eaten.
My favorite dishes on the new California menu are two dishes of green bean noodles. Yes, I know, you have never heard of green bean noodles. They are like the clear cellophane rice noodles I have been eating for the past three months on my wheat-free, gluten-free diet, only better. The first was the Clear Noodle Salad ($6.50), with sesame oil, peppercorn oil, cucumber and green onion. I liked this...until I tasted my new passion. Sauteed Green Bean Noodles, with minced chicken, mushrooms, cilantro, in a XO sauce. (This sauce does not contain XO brandy, it is a dried shrimp sauce developed in Hong Kong,) Oh, my, I consumed it with relish, dreamed about it, and went back the following day for another portion. I will never visit Green Village without having this exquisite dish. Incidentally, of course there is no msg in the food, and many of these dishes are gluten-free. They have a wine and beer license, (a glass of wine is $5.75), but I suggest you drink Tsingtao beer ($3.95) with this food, I was delighted with the Fresh Mint Lemonade ($2.50) they had prepared, and ordered several in the course of lunch.
Truffled rice is succulent, soft and tempting.
I knew it was fortuitous for me to be there the first time I visited when I asked the young Chinese waiter his name and he said Jay. "No," I said, "that's my name, what's yours?" He replied, "Jay Liang." I knew I was in the right place. Time has proven me right.
To subscribe to Jay Weston's Restaurant Newsletter($70 for twelve monthly issues) email him at jayweston@sbcglobal