Tag Archives: LA Weekly

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.

An open-faced letter to Jonathan Gold

24 Mar

Dear Mr. Gold,

I’m not sure what an open letter is but I think this counts as one.  As I’m sure you recall, I tweeted you a 2007 video showing abominable conditions at a Canadian foie gras producer and you replied back to me and said that this video was “outdated, irrelevant propaganda” and that “all 3 US producers are impeccable.”  Then I sent you a recent video of conditions at the three U.S. foie gras producers – with some of the footage being as recent as late 2011 – and you went silent. It wasn’t surprising in a way, given that there’s no definition of “impeccable” that would allow for the conditions seen in that footage.

But don’t you think you owe it your 30,000 followers on Twitter whom you told that the U.S. producers are “impeccable” to then either defend those producers or admit you were wrong? Don’t you think it’s cowardly to accuse me of sending you “outdated, irrelevant propaganda” and then when I send you a new video that’s current and couldn’t be more relevant, I’m met with radio silence?

I also found it surprising that you used the word “propaganda” – such a meaningless word thrown about by both sides in any argument. Propaganda is in the eye of the beholder, isn’t it? Even facts can count as propaganda. If your purpose was to be harsh by using such a word, then I don’t mind, since I was harsh in my first few tweets to you as well. But if that was a heartfelt use of the word then I find it very disingenuous.  Especially after the second video I sent you.

I was also troubled by what was implied in your tweets, which was that you DO have concern for the animals that become foie gras and that that’s why you were certifying the U.S. producers as “impeccable.” But DO you really care? Does this mean that you always check the provenance of foie gras before partaking? Does it mean you did not eat foie gras a few years ago when conditions were like those seen in the video you called “outdated”?

I took a look at the menu for Umamicatessen, where you enjoyed the foie gras donut featured in your adoring review in the Los Angeles Times (which didn’t even mention that foie gras is soon to be illegal in the state of California, though that’s even more your cowardly editors’ fault than your own). Well, it turns out the menu for Umamicatessen does not describe the provenance of the foie gras used in their donut. Did you ask them? I would guess you did not, even though your tweet to me suggested that you ARE concerned about such things. Did you make a reasonable effort to guarantee that the foie gras you were about to consume came from one of the three “impeccable” U.S. producers?

Aren’t you being a phony here, Mr. Gold? Trying to act like you indeed are concerned about the welfare of these animals and the conditions at the various production farms, and yet not really checking, and possibly never being concerned enough to check before partaking?

I also imagine that you roll your eyes at the upcoming ban on foie gras and see it as the work of pandering politicians and a misinformed and hysterical electorate, without stopping to think that this was not a measure to ban all meat, which would have gotten very little support, but a measure to ban a form of meat that is created in a way that is particularly cruel for the animals whose livers are taken.

As I said in one of my tweets to you, I wonder if you have a family cat or dog and if you’ve ever taken a moment to think about how you’d feel if someone shoved a long metal pipe down its throat the way that foie gras producers do to their animals.

Your writing is all about pleasure, about how food, well-prepared, can afford us one of the greatest delights that humanity has to offer. But do you ever take a moment to think about the lives of the animals that become this food? I know that’s tough to do, Mr. Gold, because I was a meat eater for close to half a hundred years. I was in denial, too. I occasionally heard about or saw the undercover videos revealing conditions at factory farms, but I chose to ignore them or to imagine them to be isolated incidents. Most likely I simply tuned it out before it was ever capable of gaining a toehold in the part of my brain that thinks about things.

But I was not a food writer for a major American newspaper, yet alone a Pulitzer Prize winner, so I did not have the professional obligation to consider the topic from multiple angles and in great detail.

What you are is an enabler. You enable people to view the mistreatment of these animals as something they needn’t ethically concern themselves with, to view it as something insignificant when compared to the end that justifies these means:  a sumptuous donut. After all, here is a prize-winning writer at a bastion of American journalism giving the continued consumption and treatment of these animals his imprimatur.

You spend your days seeking out new and mind-blowing tastes, which is fine, hey, it sounds like a great job, but think about what it rides on the back of. I stopped eating animal products after reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Eating Animals” book. Perhaps you consider that to also be “outdated, irrelevant propaganda” never mind the fact that Safran Foer, one his generation’s leading literary figures, took two years out of his life to research and write this book.

And Mr. Safran Foer, to my knowledge, is not a vegan. He is a self-described vegetarian, and according to his book, an on and off one at that. Perhaps you have read his book, which would come as a pleasant surprise. If not, you should, unless you fear, as I think you may, that it would lead you to stop eating meat and perhaps all animal products.

While I don’t eat meat anymore I am not someone who actively advocates for others to stop. My family and friends still eat meat and I do not attempt to proselytize them. I only bothered tweeting you in the first place because I found your foie gras donut orgasm to be so brazen and defiant and, well, hard-hearted. It was, to my mind, a political statement: I will eat whatever I god damn please.

I have tried to refrain in this letter from making analogies. The atrocities carried out on factory farms on a regular basis can be compared to many things, but those who defend meat are quick to accuse those who compare things of equating things. I’m sure you and they might even take offense at the use of the word “atrocities” to describe such treatment, thinking that word should only be reserved for human mistreatment. But if you’re going to throw around the word “propaganda” like a political hack on a cable news show then I have no problem using a word like “atrocities.”

As I mentioned in my tweets, I’ve been a big fan of your writing for years. Not that you need me to tell you that; you’ve got thousands of fans and a Pulitzer Prize. But don’t you believe that such a prize, especially a journalistic prize, comes with obligations and responsibilities, especially concerning honesty? And not just being honest with me, I wouldn’t expect you to care about that, but I’m talking about being honest with those 30,000 followers you told about the “impeccable” U.S. foie gras production. I can’t imagine that any of those 30,000 followers who watched the second video I sent you would think those conditions were anything but appalling, yet alone “impeccable.”

One of the major changes underway at this time in America, Mr. Gold, is a reconsideration of how we treat the animals that become our food. I wouldn’t expect you to be as contemplative a meat-eater as someone like Mark Bittman, whose recent New York Times columns have been in the vanguard of this current reassessment, but to blast out a blowhard huff about “outdated, irrelevant propaganda” when you and your bloodied-apron friends are about the only ones left defending this fort seems like the behavior of a spoiled little child.

If you consider yourself an intelligent person, which you no doubt do, and which I no doubt consider you to be as well, then the problem here must not be intellectual but rather psychological. Beyond the fact that you make your living writing about food, the great proportion of which comes from animals, there seems to be an unhealthy refusal to reconsider your current positions.

Were you to begin to question the ethics of eating meat, or even the tiny fraction of meat consumption that is foie gras, perhaps you fear your whole world would unravel. Foodie friends would abandon you. The industry you embrace would brand you a traitor. You would have to, gasp, refrain from certain things you find to be delectable! But delectability at what cost?

It seems pretty clear what direction the world is moving in, and on what side of history you will be left on, and there were no doubt many Pulitzer Prize winners who won for columns that would now make our skin crawl in 2012.

Again, not that you care about that. But you should care about the obvious. You should be better than the typical American who eats meat out of habit, who doesn’t think much at all about their food or where it comes from or how it’s made, who isn’t one of the country’s leading food figures, and who spend most of their lives eating food you probably wouldn’t even want if trying to survive a plane crash.

Take some time, Mr. Gold. Re-think your positions. Then please get back to me. Thanks.

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