Chinese banquet dining is serious business in the San Gabriel Valley, though you might never know, since most of these meals take place in private rooms, drawing from negotiated, unprinted menus. My in-laws are Chinese-American, born in China, and we typically gather around lazy Susans at least a few times a year to share celebratory dinners. I rarely know exactly what to expect, though they typically order soup, vegetables, fried rice, suckling pig, and at least a couple live seafood dishes. To celebrate my father-in-law Eugene’s 80th birthday, he and my mother-in-law gathered family and friends in a back room at Elite Restaurant, a Cantonese restaurant in Monterey Park that’s better known for dim sum.
Live shrimp and red rock cod were both beautifully steamed, preserving each seafood’s distinctive nature. Still, the dish I’ll remember most from this meal involved lobster. A whole creature was hacked into chunks that exposed the sweet meat. The chef wok-fried the lobster with chewy, disc-shaped rice cakes (neen go), garlic, ginger, pork squiggles, and scallions. I’ve never seen a dish like this on a restaurant menu, but it was delectable.