Archive | April, 2012

Happy Family = Happy Me

28 Apr

Happy Family
500 N Atlantic Blvd
Ste 171
Monterey Park, CA 91754
626.282.8986

A week ago, the LA Weekly ran a piece about the “10 Best Vegan-Friendly Restaurants in L.A.” Number nine was “Happy Family Vegetarian Restaurant.” Good timing, since I had plans to go there two days later. The article says, “Eggs may pop up here and there, so it’s advisable to check with the staff before ordering.” Because of that I checked with the staff, who told me there is no egg in anything. So apparently it’s really “Happy Family Vegan Restaurant” — but why scare people even more, I suppose.

Happy Family is in a crazy mall called Atlantic Times Square that is kind of like The Grove on ginseng. It’s a mix of commercial and residential space and it’s got one of the crappier underground parking garages I’ve ever been in. Snap a pic to remember where you parked. Trust me. And I’m not a get lost in a parking garage person.

Then when you come upstairs from the parking lot you have to walk to Atlantic Boulevard because the entrance to Happy Family is on the street. I guess Atlantic Boulevard must be why they call the place Atlantic Times Square but isn’t Atlantic Times Square kind of redundant since the real Times Square IS on the Atlantic? Calling it Pacific Times Square would make more sense but not if it’s on Atlantic Blvd I guess.  But since it really isn’t anything like Times Square maybe the best thing to call it would be Westfield Times Square or China Grove.*

Happy Family offers an All You Can Eat menu. It’s $13.95 for adults and $8.95 for kids. You get one spring roll and one “Minced Squab in Lettuce” and then a crazy amount of food. The spring roll is tasty and the Minced Squab — which is pretty much a PF Changy lettuce cup — is very tasty. As for the rest of the food, I took a lot of pictures so I’ll just roll through them and tell you what I thought of these dishes.

“Vegetarian Sliced Pork with Broccoli”

The “Vegetarian Sliced Pork with Broccoli” was the best dish I had. I don’t know why this is considered pork with broccoli and not the more common beef with broccoli, especially since the soy in this dish seems more intended to mimic beef not pork, and does an impressive job of it. The fake beef, sorry pork, has a pretty similar texture to the real thing and perfectly takes on the taste of the sauce. I’m not saying I need my soy to act like it’s meat, but since that seems to be the goal of this restaurant, they succeed as far as this dish goes.

“Vegetarian Chicken with Cashew Nuts (Wheat Gluten)”

The fake chicken with cashew nuts was good, too, though not as good as the fake beef with broccoli. And now that I see the menu says the fake diced chicken here is wheat gluten, I suppose it’s possible the fake beef in the fake sliced pork with broccoli is also made of wheat gluten. But it didn’t say, so I don’t know. The fake chicken in this dish was a little bit rubbery but I liked it, and I don’t usually like rubbery food, at least not as far as I know. Maybe it’s fake rubber.

“Vegetarian Rib (Taro) with Sweet & Sour Sauce”

The “Vegetarian Rib (Taro) with Sweet & Sour Sauce” wasn’t so good. It was basically a soft, gushy mess that was more zeppole than rib.

“Vegetarian Deep Fried House Chicken with Sesame (Mushroom)”

The fake sesame chicken also suffered from zeppoleosis. In fact, I didn’t realize it was made of mushroom until I looked at the menu. It was soft and doughy inside, and when food is like that, it seems more like dessert to me than a main course.

Shredded pork with…

I’m not sure which dish this is. I asked the waitress what her favorite dish on the menu is and she said “shredded pork” and brought me this and it was good. But when I look at the menu I can’t figure out which one it is. Maybe shredded pork with bean curd? Whatever it is, it tastes better than it looks.

“House Tofu with Black Bean & Brown Sauce”

The “House Tofu with Black Bean & Brown Sauce” was one of my favorite items. Part of what I liked was that it wasn’t trying to be a fake meat, though don’t get me wrong I can enjoy fake meats with the best of ‘em. Sometimes tofu like this can be limp or soggy but this was just the right amount of softness without falling apart when you picked it up. Oh, and it was tasty.

“Stir Fry Spinach”

Not too much to say about the “Stir Fry Spinach” except that it was simple and very good.

“Fried Bread”

I saw some people at another table eating this and I asked the waitress what it was. She said, “I’ll bring you some.”

Fried Bread minus mouthful.

When it arrived, she said it was “fried bread.” Okay, those are two good words to put together, right? But when I took a bite, well, yup, it tasted like a zeppole. Which wasn’t so bad since I’m guessing it’s supposed to taste like a zeppole. In fact, zeppoles are definitely in the fried bread frylum. But there’s only so much fried bread someone needs. Especially in a Chinese restaurant.

Tiramisu cake

For dessert I had the tiramisu cake. There was a big problem with this. No, it didn’t taste like a zeppole. But when it was first served it was clear it had just come out of the freezer. It had the crystally texture that an old container of ice cream can get. Or an old container of Almond Dream. (One of the great things about going vegan is that you don’t have to give up that awful crystally freezer taste.) Once the tiramisu cake hit room temp it wasn’t bad but by then it was kinda ruined for me, like a movie after a cellphone ring. Oh well.

All in all I’d say that if you’re vegan or vegetarian and like Chinese food and ampersands,  this is the place for you. Just leave a trail of (fried) bread crumbs so you can find your car afterwards.

*Linking to a Doobie Brothers video does not imply approval.

Native Foods Westwood you try a little harder?

18 Apr

Papered-over front window in Westwood.

I love Native Foods.

Wait, I should clarify. I love their food. And the people who work in their stores. And the fact that they’ve caught on with a non-vegan and non-vegetarian crowd and are showing people that vegan food can not only taste good but great.

Now the part I don’t love: this company has perhaps the worst customer service I have ever encountered from a business. Not at the stores. There the people are, for the most part, super friendly and helpful.

But have you ever tried to email them a question or concern? Quite possibly you just answered yes. Did you ever get a response to your email? Quite likely you just answered no.

What is with a company that puts an email address for customer service questions on their website and then doesn’t reply? Bizarre.

One manager told me that the company is only willing to pay one person to handle all the emails and that it’s too much for one person. Another manager at a different store told me the owner is very controlling and all emails are routed straight to him. Who knows? All I know is that the second I mentioned the word “email” to both of these managers their eyes rolled up in a way that let me know they’re well aware of the company’s huge customer service problem and have to listen to complaints about it from customers all day long. They both told me the same thing, which was basically: If you ever have a problem at a Native Foods please don’t try to email just come into the store and ask for a manager and we’ll try to make it right for you. Good advice.

And what does all this have to do with their Westwood location? Well, first of all, I’ve found that location to be the best run, have the friendliest staff, and be super-well managed.  Wish I could say the same for Culver City. *sigh*

So yesterday, wanting a Chicago Dip sandwich because I fear it might be gone come next week when I believe the new menu is set to debut, I drove over to Westwood Village. I then did the mandatory 15 minutes of circling before finding a spot. But hey, it’s worth it, because I love that sandwich!

I get out of my car, put my coins in the meter, and then start walking down the block. Step + anticipation, step + anticipation, step + anticipation. I’m almost there. Step + salivating anticipation. I’m there! I put my hand on the door handle and pull.

The door does not move.

It’s 6pm. I look around. My brain tells me to admit it to myself: they are closed.

Now a normal business would have a sign up on the door or window telling you why they’re closed during normal business hours, right? Especially a business that has a signholder attached to the wall right next to its front door. But that’s empty. Empty as in, someone took the time to remove the large menu that’s usually in said signholder but did not replace it with a sign of explanation. This is a bad sign.

Note the empty signholder to the right. The lack of a sign is not a good sign.

I try calling. You know, since a normal business would have an outgoing message telling you what’s going on. Ring Ring Ring. Hope fades to acceptance. Ring Ring Ring ring ring…

While I’m standing out front, for about two minutes, six — that’s right — six separate parties come by, try the door, look at each other surprised, look at me, exchange shrugs, and walk off.

Now if you patronize that location, you know they’ve been going through some changes. They’ve been renovating the space next door to become their new restaurant, and during this renovation they’ve stayed open, but have forced any diners wanting to eat there to consume their meal straight from a cardboard box. You can’t imagine how awkward and unpleasant it is to eat a hot meal from a cardboard box until you try it. It basically interferes with every biological pleasure receptor designed to make you enjoy a meal. With most companies I’d assume they’re forced to do it this way because of some arcane zoning rule or something. But with Native Foods you never know. Might just be a clueless owner or something.

The last time I ate there  — a couple of weeks ago — it looked like renovations for the new location were getting toward done. I was psyched. But mind you, still no signs up announcing an opening date, and of course nothing letting you know they’re going to shut down the existing restaurant for a period of time before the new one next door opens.  Yesterday I peeked through a hole in the plastic sheeting covering the inside of the window and it looks really close to done. Signs are up and everything. I even took a photo. It looks nice. With an upstairs dining area and all. Can’t wait. Really.

Through the looking glass.

So when I got home I checked their Twitter to see if there was any information on the Westwood location closing or opening. You know, because any normal company with a Twitter would use it for exactly that purpose. To let their customers know what’s going on. I searched back a month. Nothing.

Then I went to their website’s blog. Again, searched back a month. Nothing.

Finally, I looked at their “locations” page and lo and behold there it was: Currently Closed for Expansion/Remodel Re-opening May 1st

Perfect! Because that’s exactly where customers who have been to that store a hundred times would look for information for that store: at the place that tells them where the place they’ve been to a hundred times is located.

This is also a company that, keep in mind, asks for your email address in order to give you one of their Rewards Cards. And then you use your email to log into their website and check your points and rewards totals. But does this company ever then use your address to send  you updates and information about the company, you know, the way every other company in America does? Nope. And by the way, there’s even a box on the website that says: “Sign up for the newsletter” — I’ve entered my email address into that box a number of different times, even though they already had my email address. Did I ever once get a newsletter  — or ANY piece of email from them? Nope. *sigh*

Native Foods owner: you’ve got lightning in your hands. Your chain is expanding, thriving. Loosen the reins a little bit. Delegate more. Hire additional people to help you out. Do whatever you need to do in order to keep your customer service problems from cutting against the good will generated by your food and your staffers. Because most people only put up with bad customer service for so long before they go elsewhere. And these days, there are a lot more elsewheres opening up.

Eat peace.

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