The Open Door

The second of my two dinners last Saturday. My friend Christina just moved back to the States a couple of weeks ago, after a year teaching in South Korea and a few months after that traveling through Southeast Asia, and she had been very depressed upon setting foot in L.A. So she called me on Saturday to complain, and we decided to get dinner with our friend Jolene. Girls night out (I’m considered a girlfriend in their circle)! Everyone knows how indecisive I am, but these girls aren’t too much better, so we designated Jolene as the alpha to choose a place since we were meeting in the 626 area and she knows the area best. She decided on a restaurant she’s been at a couple of times and had enjoyed – The Open Door.

The Open Door sells itself as an izakaya restaurant, but its cuisine is far too fusion-y to be called such in my opinion. Let’s just call it a tapas bar. And people close to me knows that I don’t like Asian fusion for the most part. But the menu (including the chalkboard specials – I see this more and more at tapas restaurants) has a pretty good variety. The three of us weren’t all that hungry, so we got six dishes:

Vegetable crudite with homemade Caesar dressing and edamame with truffle butter – I’m not sure if I have the names of the dishes correct (since there’s no website or menu online), but this was from the chalkboard. Veggies were refreshing, and Caesar tasted like…Caesar. But nothing special. But the edamame with the truffle butter was quite delicious.

Imo (sweet potato) fries with curry aioli – another decent dish, but nothing out of the ordinary.

Beef tataki – I liked the ponzu, but I’m more accustomed to tataki being on the rarer side, and having tenderloin medium rare just makes me want to have actual steak.

Sauteed mixed mushrooms – had some zucchini as well. It had a nice smoky, meaty flavor. Probably my favorite dish of the night.

Steamed clams – solid execution of a classic. The wine broth was good. This was off the chalkboard as well.

We probably didn’t get any of the restaurant’s more risque dishes, but the group of dishes that we ordered were pretty solid. Nothing that blew me away, but none of them were subpar either. On a brighter note, the service was excellent and their beer section was pretty decent. We sat at around 8 P.M., and didn’t end up leaving the restaurant until midnight. At no point did they appear to rush us out, even after we finished eating before two hours was up (we ordered a bottle of wine in hour three, and they didn’t even bring us the check until I asked). I would have no problem coming back to try some of their other items, but at the end of the day, there are way too many good izakaya and tapas restaurants closer to me to make this worth a trek to Monterey Park. But next time I’m in the 626 and someone suggests The Open Door, I would have no objections.

Chris Hei grade: B-

The Open Door
122 S Atlantic Blvd
Monterey Park, CA 91754
(626) 282-9829

Note: credit Christina for the photos.

Ding’s

I haven’t been to Ding’s Restaurant (or as I know it, Ding Pang Zi – literally translated as “Fat Guy Ding”) in years, and even then, only to the bakery/deli side where they serve Taiwanese breakfast. Little did I know that the Szechuan restaurant next door shares the same name (and even a Yelp listing). We decided to come here last night because my friend Alan lives nearby and swears by the place. I, on the other hand, was skeptical, as I have experienced the decline in quality of the Taiwanese counterpart (a reason why my family and I haven’t gone back in years despite my grandparents living a few blocks away).

The place was near empty (only one other table besides ourselves), but it’s not like that affects the service for Chinese restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley anyways. Our group of four ordered four dishes: house-special lamb (sauteed with Szechuan peppercorns), beer-braised duck (served in a soup dish burner), sauteed eggplant and string beans, and a whole fish in spicy sauce with tofu. Don’t remember if these are the actual English names on the menu, but I’m sure that even if they aren’t, they’re still more technically accurate. I don’t believe I saw some of the more authentic Szechuan dishes on the menu like “water-boiled” beef, but don’t quote me on that (as I wasn’t really paying attention to the menu). I felt that the food was decent, but not for the price that they were charging (each dish was > $10). Everything was more-or-less just drenched in hot chili oil, and even then the dishes didn’t have that Szechuan heat I was looking for. Felt more like a lunch-special-quality Chinese food to me. I normally wouldn’t sound this mean, but I’ve been told that I’m too nice with regards to giving out grades/ratings, so someone will have to feel my “wrath.” I can probably get comparable food at my grandma’s.

Chris Hei grade: C

Ding’s Restaurant
117 N Lincoln Ave
Monterey Park, CA 91755
(626) 288-2211