The San Gabriel Valley has become synonymous with Chinese food, but the sprawling sun-scorched lowlands feature plenty of other enticing Asian options. For example, writer Linda Burum recently guided me to a Rowland Heights strip mall with her LA Times review for a solid but not spectacular Indonesian meal at three-year-old Java Spice.
According to Burum, “Owner Gary Nanda’s wife, Mary, and her mother cooked at the well-regarded Toko Rame, a fixture in Bellflower since the 1980s. The Nandas later owned Little Java in Monterey Park until 2005.” That pretty much covers the back story. Now on to the food.
The meal’s standout dish – Cah Kangkung – provided more than enough justification to drive to Rowland Heights. Our waiter asked whether we wanted the ong choy sizzling or not. We asked him to explain the difference and he said, “Sizzling is more delicious.” That was an easy decision. Our ong choy arrived on a sizzling platter with soft-boiled quail eggs, fresh shrimp and garlic-pepper sauce that became increasingly caramelized and smoky as it cooked. By the time we scraped the last stem from the platter, the sauce formed an intensely flavored sludge. Great dish.
Longtong Komplit ($7.45) was a pungent stew loaded with cross-sections of rice cake, vegetables (mainly cabbage and corn), coconut milk, chunks of beef and hard-boiled egg dressed with fire-red chile sauce. Indonesian rice cakes aren’t nearly as springy as their Chinese counterparts, and the beef was a little too fatty, limiting the dish’s overall impact.
Java Spice produced a serviceable version of Char Kway Teaw ($7.45), a platter of stir-fried flat noodles with shrimp, Chinese sausage, egg and bean sprout. This dish was similar to pad see iew, but with thinner noodles. Unfortunately, this version featured none of the heat or sear that I found at Singapore’s Newton Circus Hawker Centre.
Java Spice featured minimal spice and the flavors weren’t as “exotic” as advertised, but in the San Gabriel Valley, the restaurant offers a nice change of pace from the area’s Chinese options.