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Tiki Central Forums General Tiki JOHN-O's Zombie Road Trip...
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JOHN-O's Zombie Road Trip...
JOHN-O
Tiki Socialite

Joined: May 16, 2008
Posts: 2646
From: Dogtown, USA
Posted: 2013-03-09 12:05 pm   Permalink

In my ongoing pursuit of Chop Suey scholarship, I recently finished reading this book which covers "a cultural history of Chinese food in the United States"...



The food's significance in Pre-Tiki culture as introduced by Donn Beach and Trader Vic is documented by the author. In fact the use of Chop Suey (and I use this as inclusive term for all Cantonese food tailored for American tastes) as a "Polynesian" staple from the 1930's though the 1960's may represent the cuisine's last pop cultural gasp. After Nixon visited China, that opened up American awareness to the great diversity of authentic Chinese food. This further relegated dishes like Chop Suey, Chow Mein, and Egg Fu Yung as unsophisticated fare for the unwashed masses.

Here's another take away that I got from the book. Contrary to the belief that Chinese food was considered exotic fare to Pre-Tiki palates, the author states that by the 1920's...

"Chop Suey and Chow Mein had claimed a place in the national diet alongside ham and eggs, coffee and a slice of pie, and Sunday pot roast."

So how did Don Beach get away with passing off Chop Suey as such exotic cuisine when most people (at least in major urban cities) considered it mere cheap and filling food ??

Musta been the cocktails !!


 
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JOHN-O
Tiki Socialite

Joined: May 16, 2008
Posts: 2646
From: Dogtown, USA
Posted: 2013-03-14 6:19 pm   Permalink

Ancient Chinese secrets in the Windy City !! Here's a place that's really not that well known outside of the Midwest. It's the Chef Shangri-La, located 12 miles outside of downtown Chicago.



Now I understand that a Chinese restaurant trying to pass as Tiki is usually not good Tiki-style. As the Bigbro is always reminding us, many Chop Suey joints jumped in late to the Tiki game with cheap decor and bad Tropical cocktails. I always assumed the Chef fell in this category, especially since it opened in the disco year of 1976.

I was very happy to learn first hand that the Chef is so much more than that, a 1st-tier place well worth any serious Tikiphile's time and money.

Let's start with the the decor. Now while there were the requisite Orchids of Hawaii lamps...




and some Tikis of a questionable aesthetic nature...



The place was chock full of Witco, the number of which might even rival that of the nearby and more well known
Hala Kahiki...







Also as was pointed out to me, several pieces originating from Oceanic Arts...



The main dining room was populated with a couple of large Moais and even had a pond with live Koi...





And the adjacent bar with its large bamboo awning was a Tiki appropriate place to enjoy a Tropical cocktail...




And how were those cocktails ?? The Mai Tai (shown above) was described to me as even more potent than their Zombie, and made a very worthy addition to my on-going cocktail quest. Their house specialty, the Dr. Fong, was also quite tasty but colored a curious Irish green. That must be a Midwestern thing...



Now I know I'm not supposed to be pre-occupied with culinary quality when in the presence of good Tiki art, but sometimes a sublime serving of classically prepared egg foo yung can be more Tiki satisfying than the rarest Witco carving. But hey that's just me.



And yes chop suey was on the menu (Yay!) as well as chow mein, but unfortunately no pressed duck.

My visit was made even more rewarding in that I was met by local Tiki peeps, Mr. And Mrs. BambooLodge, who have had a long history with the Tiki Revival. They shared with me the lore of the Chef.



Thanks Dave and Coalbe !!

Maybe the most unique aspect of Midwestern Tiki is that it feels just a little more like a Tropical escape inside, when it's freezing cold and snowing outside. Sometimes in order to get to "paradise" you need to pack a winter coat, even in March.



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Big Kahuna
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Apr 11, 2007
Posts: 2186
From: SoMass
Posted: 2013-03-14 6:28 pm   Permalink

Our intrepid Tiki traveler strikes, again. Nice work, my friend!

 
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BambooLodge
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Feb 09, 2003
Posts: 543
From: Just up the road from Chef Shangri-La
Posted: 2013-03-19 10:46 am   Permalink

John-O,

Excellent review of the Chef!

Glad we gotta chance to hang with ya, and be sure to let us know next time you're in town.

We'll be sure to keep ya updated on "Fong Fest 2013" too.
_________________
BaMbOoLoDgE...where the South Pacific meets the Great White North!


 
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lucas vigor
Tiki Socialite

Joined: May 12, 2004
Posts: 3985
From: SOCAL
Posted: 2013-03-19 11:05 am   Permalink

Connexion between chop suey and tiki?

Mission completed!


 
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JOHN-O
Tiki Socialite

Joined: May 16, 2008
Posts: 2646
From: Dogtown, USA
Posted: 2013-03-19 12:51 pm   Permalink

Yup, sometimes it's as much about the chop sticks as it is the Tiki mugs !! ...


(Photo courtesy of pa'akiki)

[ This Message was edited by: JOHN-O 2013-03-19 13:08 ]


 
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JOHN-O
Tiki Socialite

Joined: May 16, 2008
Posts: 2646
From: Dogtown, USA
Posted: 2013-03-19 3:30 pm   Permalink

Quote:

On 2013-03-01 09:15, lucas vigor wrote:

John -O, I too am totally interested in ancient chinese secrets....especially since my happiest dining memories from the early 70s were cantonese restaurants....man, I loved the food coloring and MSG! There was a place in san diego called "the lime house" that we went to quite a bit...there is virtually nothing about it on the interwebz.....


I vaguely remember that name. But THIS place was in L.A. ...



 
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lucas vigor
Tiki Socialite

Joined: May 12, 2004
Posts: 3985
From: SOCAL
Posted: 2013-03-19 3:59 pm   Permalink

here is the signage:







_________________
http://soundcloud.com/lucas-vigor/sets/set-3/

I AM A SOCIOPATH!


 
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lunavideogames
Grand Member (2 years)  

Joined: May 09, 2012
Posts: 924
From: San Diego
Posted: 2013-03-19 4:17 pm   Permalink

John-O, if you are in that neck of the woods, are you going to finally get to the Foundation Bar?

 
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Lake Surfer
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Oct 21, 2002
Posts: 3375
From: Milwaukee, WI
Posted: 2013-03-19 4:51 pm   Permalink

Quote:

On 2013-03-19 16:17, lunavideogames wrote:
John-O, if you are in that neck of the woods, are you going to finally get to the Foundation Bar?



Yes, John-O... If you ever make it up to Milwaukee, let me know! I'll make sure Foundation rolls the red carpet out for you! We've got a good local distillery that's worth the tour and tasting too!


 
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JOHN-O
Tiki Socialite

Joined: May 16, 2008
Posts: 2646
From: Dogtown, USA
Posted: 2013-03-20 09:07 am   Permalink

Thanks Dave, I look forward to that.

Maybe I'll try to make it a Midwestern Tiki twofer if can make it out for the next Fong Fest.



 
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JOHN-O
Tiki Socialite

Joined: May 16, 2008
Posts: 2646
From: Dogtown, USA
Posted: 2013-03-21 7:16 pm   Permalink

Just like first wave Tiki bars are a disappearing slice of mid-century Americana, so are Chop Suey restaurants. In Los Angeles for example, most of the 1950's-1960's places have fallen by the wayside, victims of changing tastes in Chinese food. OG places like the Far East Cafe and the New Moon have evolved (devolved really) past their Chop Suey roots and the legendary Man Fook Low is a distant memory.

So for those of you who cherish vintage Chop Suey as much as vintage Tiki (and really shouldn't we all?), here's a couple of surviving places that still figuratively keep the old Chinese lantern burning...

Paul's Kitchen has been around for so long that it's located where the original Los Angeles Chinatown used to be. It's in a seedy area near Skid Row but you will be rewarded with some of the best Pre-Tiki food around. No Chinese kitsch, it's essentially a dumpy 1950's (40's ?) time warp diner...



This is one of Tommy Lasorda's favorite restaurants, they even have a special combo named after him. The clientele is 90% Latino which is always a good sign when seeking out this type of food. Our Hispanic brothers love their pakai, chow mein, and egg foo yung. Also too many Chinese customers is a warning sign that the food may not be authentically inauthentic enough to be good Chop Suey.

The other noteworthy thing about Paul's Kitchen is that they serve two classic Cantonese dishes that are almost impossible to find these days; pressed (almond) duck and hom yu. Pressed duck was an early "Polynesian" staple on Tiki menus. Hom yu (steamed pork hash) really wasn't a Tiki dish but is a cult favorite for China Meshi aficionados.

Another rare place where you can find both pressed duck and hom yu is Chinese Garden in Montebello. It's been owned and run by the same family since 1962.

The restaurant evokes a 1960's modern aesthetic with its large metal framed storefront windows and Formica lunch counter ambiance. Here's the entrance from the parking lot...



And the food? It's probably the closest to what I remember of my beloved Far East Cafe in Little Tokyo . FYI, hom yu is not on the menu but can be served on request. Also you can get the pressed duck with either sweet and sour sauce or brown gravy. Traditionalists will go with the brown gravy.

Wong's Restaurant in Garden Grove also had pressed duck and hom yu, but unfortunately it closed in 2012 (Sorry Lucas Vigor, that would have been local for you).



Remember everyone needs to support their local Tiki bar... AND their local mid-century Chop Suey joint. Who knows how long these places will continue to survive?

Real Tikiphiles eat Chop Suey. Gan Bei !!


 
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lucas vigor
Tiki Socialite

Joined: May 12, 2004
Posts: 3985
From: SOCAL
Posted: 2013-03-22 09:31 am   Permalink

Dang! I drove by there quite a bit! O-John, what is your take on paper wrapped chicken? I rarely encounter it any more.

 
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JOHN-O
Tiki Socialite

Joined: May 16, 2008
Posts: 2646
From: Dogtown, USA
Posted: 2013-03-22 12:26 pm   Permalink

Paper wrapped chicken !! That was my favorite appetizer as a young child at the Far East Cafe. I can remember the pre-dinner anticipation for those tin-foiled triangular treats like it was yesterday. And paper wrapped chicken is also on the menu at both Paul's Kitchen and Chinese Garden. It's a classic.

Also I've been thinking about hosting a Tiki event at Chinese Garden and forcing all of the Tiki peeps to eat hom yu. I think BigTikiDude would love it. Hom yu has a rich bacon taste that goes great with hot mustard and soy sauce.



 
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Atomic Tiki Punk
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Jul 19, 2009
Posts: 5472
From: Costa Misery
Posted: 2013-03-22 1:31 pm   Permalink

Paper wrapped chicken! yes, one of my favorites too!
have you found any good Paper wrapped chicken on your quest?


 
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