Offal and Noffal at Lee’s Garden
I just realized that I hadn’t written an offal review in a while, so I’m here to rectify it. Actually, this post will review both an offal dish and a noffal dish. What is “noffal”? Just a silly neologism for non-offal foods.
I won’t generally review noffal foods on this blog—I prefer to do that on The Offalo—but since I’ll only be reviewing two dishes, I didn’t want to break them up into two micro-reviews on two separate sites. Plus one of the dishes is an acquired taste, just like offal often is.
So, a few weeks ago, I found myself in Pasadena visiting with my wife’s family. When my wife wanted to run to the Jo-ann Fabric in Alhambra, I dropped her off and took the opportunity to go to one of the oldest continuously running Taiwanese restaurants in SGV, Lee’s Garden [Yelp; restaurant has no website].
First thing I noticed about Lee’s Garden, when I drove up to the storefront, was that it had a B rating from the County of L.A.’s Health Department, but I figured I’d just be ordering blood and guts, so I should be fine. ;-) Second thing I noticed, when I stepped into the small space, was the distinct odor of chou dou fu (stinky bean curd).
The third and most striking thing I noticed, as I sat down after ordering said dish of chou dou fu and a bowl of da chang zhu xue tang (pig’s large intestine and blood soup) was that every other patron had a plate of chou dou fu in front of them. This really boded well, I hoped, as I was moderately disappointed with the dish at Old Country Cafe.
The chou dou fu arrived within minutes, straight from the fryer to the table, piping hot, with a plate of cold pao cai (picked vegetables). The dish gave off a most pleasant pungency that a good block of blue cheese might have.
The dou fu was prepared perfectly, crisp and hot, with a light, steaming, fluffy consistency inside. The tang and twang of the fermented bean curd shone through, and the sauce the golden cubes sat in were properly piquant.
The pao cai were not as pickle-y as I’ve had, but did temper both the heat (temperature) of the dou fu and the heat (spiciness) of the sauce.
The da chang zhu xue tang arrived just as I was finishing the chou dou fu (I did save a few pieces to have at the end), the “tofu” of the this dish (the congealed cubes of pig’s blood) floating to the top of the steaming hot soup.
After the bold flavors of the previous dish, the soup initially tasted bland. Believe it or not, neither pig’s blood nor intestines have that strong a flavor. I was also used to this dish containing more ginger and zha cai (pickled mustard plant), but as I continued to consume it, more and more of the natural sapor of the blood and intestines came through. It was quite refreshing having the main ingredients stand on their own, without heavy seasoning or other bold flavors, and a nice contrast to the deep flavors of the first dish.
In conclusion, I really enjoyed Lee’s Garden. I’ve had chou dou fu at maybe a half dozen restaurants in L.A., and this was definitely the best. I’ve had better da chang zhu xue tang, but I do like their take on it. I would definitely come back for the former dish, and I might try ordering a different second dish, just to see what else is good there.
Lee’s Garden [Yelp; restaurant has no website]
1428 S Atlantic Blvd
Alhambra, CA 91803