Sunday, June 19, 2005

Monterey Park, CA - New Concept

One of the most famous chinese restaurants in California's southland lies in Monterey Park. This fabulous restaurant with highly regarded food (justifying the lofty prices) is hidden in a little city that has been overrun by the likes of communities such as San Gabriel and Arcadia. But when it comes time to impress with a wine-and-dine experience, whether for business or pleasure, New Concept Restaurant is one of the very top choices around.

Consider yourself forewarned: be prepared to pay money. You can easily spend $500 per person, depending on your order. Even humble items cost an arm and a leg. A single duck foot, for example, currently costs $4.80 there. (Generally, one should be able to purchase 8/$1.00.) Tonight, the group of us opted for a relatively inexpensive feast, settling on the set banquet menu shown below (exchanging baked lobster for the baked abalone, and a hand-ground walnut dessert for the steamed hasmar). The total cost was slightly over $700 including tip and excluding drinks.

Or, in English (not a literal translation):

I would advise making reservations beforehand and arriving early. When we arrived at 6:30pm, we were initially told that there was no space. A number of well-frequented, popular chinese restaurants seem to say that so frequently, it might as well be their greeting. But, if you say the right things or enter with the right people, miraculously, they will have space. Perhaps they'll open up the back room or set up an entirely new table. Why in the world they choose to be so exclusive, I don't know, but it seems to be a trend, unfortunately.

This foodie was a bit disappointed in the food. No doubt it was one of the best chinese meals that I've had, but given New Concept's preeminent reputation, I had expected just a little more. It ranks in reputation a bit higher than Seafood Village Restaurant and much higher than CBS Seafood Restaurant, yet the latter two prepare better food and/or offer better values for the food.

Praise goes to the chef(s) for taking an experimental take on traditional dishes. Many chinese chefs seem unwilling to explore fusion concepts, or if they do, don't entirely succeed. New Concept Restaurant showed promise with culinary explorations, and we admired some new food preparations we've never had before. The pate with sliced roast pork and the deep fried battered scallop dish were subtle twists on traditional fare. They didn't reach perfect harmony (although the roast pork by itself was exquisite), but the effort to create something new was a welcome experience.

The best-made dishes of the menu by far were the flavorful and tender House Special Deep Fried Squab, and the Egg-wrapped Special Fried Rice. Fried rice is one of those classic dishes that in theory, anyone can make. But mastering it is quite another accomplishment. New Concept pulled this dish off with flying colors
through the use of fresh, high quality ingredients and skillful culinary expertise. Their homemade XO sauce was particularly flavorful compared to that of many other restaurants.

On a general scale, the meal was good; it's definitely a restaurant worth visiting. However, I found the food unbalanced. It was a bit too flavorful at times: the walnut dessert was too sweet, the Sheephead Fish too salty, and the Deep Fried Battered Scallop clashed with a funky sauce that just didn't win me over. The Braised Shark's Fin Soup with Fish Stock was deemed "very mediocre" by our party as a whole, although I individually found it rather satisfying. My best guess is that the others were unaccustomed to shark's fin being served with a white fish broth.

The restaurant excels in their attention to detail and service. Many of the dishes were wonderfully presented (a trait uncommon to many chinese restaurants) and the wait staff came often to change our plates and tea cups and otherwise attend to our needs. They even noted personal drinking preferences so that, by the end of the meal, they were able to accurately pour the tea in stronger or lighter concentration to the individual's unspoken preference.

If you're looking to experience some of the best chinese food you can find, New Concept Restaurant should definitely be in your book. As mentioned before, it has a reputation which outclasses the likes of 888 Seafood Restaurant, CBS Seafood Restaurant, NBC Seafood Restaurant and even Seafood Village Restaurant. As a general note, CBS Seafood and NBC Seafood tend to have solid food with less emphasis on creativity. 888 Seafood and Seafood Village are a little more creative with their cooking as is New Concept. But truth be told, you can't really go wrong with any of these picks, so please do stop by and check each of them out!

New Concept
700 S Atlantic Blvd.
Monterey Park, CA 91754
(626) 282-6800


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