Terra Cotta warriors, reminiscent of Xi’an, frame Shaanxi Gourmet's entrance.
Consensus can be a powerful thing, and the idea of straying from it can be intimidating, especially when you’re ordering at a restaurant, and the menu’s in another language. After Shaanxi Gourmet opened in a former Rosemead auto mall, writers started praising the lamb dishes, and with good reason. They’re flavorful, but it took time to get a better sense of offerings. One major push toward understanding took place between my first and second visits, when Shaanxi Gourmet added a photo menu and their vision came into focus.
Inside, Shaanxi Gourmet’s surprisingly modern space features burnt orange booths, panels of Chinese characters, overhead LCD screens touting specials, and a cold deli case near the register. Another improvement between my two visits was expansion, as the owners busted through the northern wall to add more seating. An additional reason to like Shaanxi Gourmet is their modern service, which reminded me of Korean restaurants, or an airplane. Tabletop buttons signify Call (green), Bill (blue) and Red (cancel). No more need to flag anyone down.
Start with Cold Dishes. They charge $3.50 for three vegetables, $3.95 for three meats, and for $4.50 for “2 meat 1 vegetable,” including crunchy cold julienne potatoes, surprisingly tender chicken gizzards and crunchy, oil-slicked pig ear strips.
Cold Noodle with Sesame ($3.30) had a hint of heat and a cool, creamy texture.
The Chinese hamburger ($3.50) didn’t interest me much, but my friends insisted on ordering a version with lamb. A dry bun hosted dry shredded and spiced lamb. Shaanxi Gourmet also offers beef and pork variations.
Pita Bread Soaked in Lamb Soup ($7.95) basically amounted to rosy slices of lamb, glass vermicelli, thin, crunchy Chinese celery and tiny, firm dough cubes that soak up the jus. Indulge before the cubes cool and get gummy. Garnish with cilantro, chile sauce and pungent, crunchy pickled garlic.
Biang Biang Noodle ($7.50) was DIY. Dress thick noodles with condiments/ingredients to your liking.
The finished product included a balanced blend of spinach, tomato sauce, scrambled egg, crunchy green beans, braised pork belly, and a celery, carrot and tofu mix.
We requested one final dish and our server suggested a spicy noodle ($6.95) similar to chow mein with pork squiggles, onions, tomatoes and jalapeños.
On our second visit, I was happy to see Shaanxi Gourmet updated their cold dish selection. Kitchen staff treated firm slabs of beef tongue to numbing red chile oil, red chile seeds, crispy Chinese celery stalks, and plenty of salt. Tender pork stomach slices joined more chile oil, whole chile pods, Chinese celery and what tasted like cinnamon.
We enjoyed the misshapen rice noodles (~ $3) at first, devouring cubes of spongy bean curd, crispy bean sprouts and Chinese celery. However, by the time we hit the bottom of the bowl, the pool of numbing chile oil left a sour taste that may have come from vinegar got to be too much.
Our final dish featured thin, fettuccini-like flour noodles ($6.65) in a soup that also contained Chinese chives, scallions, floppy wood ear mushrooms, fatty pieces of pork, and rhombus-shaped strips of omelet. What made this noodle soup especially compelling was the intense broth that combined pickled pucker with more of that numbing peppercorn spice.
After we requested the check for our second meal, I noticed people eating skewers, and then saw lamb, shrimp and whole fish on the overhead LCD screens. Some people might call that a missed opportunity, but I’ll call it an excuse to return. We once again waved goodbye to the terra cotta warriors, fortified with lamb, pork and possibility.