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Alhambra

Macau Street ~ Monterey Park

1:25 PM PDT on August 6, 2007

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Macau Street ~ 429 W. Garvey St. Monterey Park, CA 91754 ~ (626) 288-3568

The night before Ali "Wrath of" Khan and I hit Macau Street for one of the most epic cheap meals of my life, I ate at Golden City, a Chinese restaurant in downtown. At the time, it was pretty goddamn good, but by the time I left Monterey Park's Macau, it had been reduced to mere shite in my burning eyes.

For anyone who doesn't know Monterey Park, it's spit-roasted by Alhambra on top, Montebello on the ass, and is more Chinese than Gin Ling Way, Grant Ave. and Hester St. combined. But it's not shitty plastic ninja swords, tin dragons, and paper fans, it's a nice suburban neighborhood of clean streets where families enter a Bank of America busting Mandarin characters on its sign and there stand legions of dynamite Chinese eateries like a Sino-Pico Blvd.

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Macau, on the other hand, is one peninsula and two islands off of Southern China, ruled by the Portugese until 1999. I have a friend who is a major player from Vegas, familiar with just about every shade of sketchballl on the planet, who spent some time working in Macau's gaming industry and said it was the sleaziest place he'd ever witnessed ( the Girls Gone Wild dude being the sleaziest person he's ever met). It is literally overrun with pirates, hustlers, pimps, Triads, sheists, shylocks, and hired-muscle vying for pieces, according to him. China's various parts have many different styles of cuisine and though Macau Street is light on Portugese influence, it still has unique dishes cooked in a one-of-a-kind way.

On to the feast! "King" Khan and I are big fellas with voracious appetites, no less when properly gassed-up on a drive from some Thai Town safehouse. The restaurant wasn't too crowded on a Sunday, with a couple of families chilling in this clean, spacious, tasteful spot. We ordered up about four big dishes in our starved state, more food than a person should ever need, which all came in at about $20 each. The first dish to hit table was calamari.

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The squid was piled up in fried golden rings and squiggly legs on a bed of jalapeno and chives. The pieces almost melted in my mouth, bursting open and oozing a creamy flavor, almost like warm baked brie or pierogi. They were not at all chewy or oily tasting, just fried lightly enough to feel cooked, with a refreshing garlic and black-pepper batter, and no fishy taste. We ate everything, even scooping up the shredded savory lettuce scraps on the bottom to get at more sabor.

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Next came some mouth-watering lamb chops we spied on the menu, which probably had the most Portugese influence of our food. These fatty, luscious chops were like carniverous Sugar Daddies on a thin bone stick, near-carmelized with a natural, sweet flavor that was not overpowering, but divinely balanced and pleasing. Thin strings of grilled onion and cilantro were dashed over the slightly braised tops that provides a sheer cover for the purely tender middles, and the meat itself has tiny, thin pockets to crack open and get at the best juicy bits. Only the slightest taste of game lingers in this lamb, in the just the right way. All food we ate at Macau Street redefined freshness.

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Next came noodles. OODLES of noodles in fact!!! The noodles were not drowned in oil like lots of Chinese places are into. The cappellini-thin angel-hair was not super-tasty itself, but made for an excellent conduit to the surrounding bits and pieces. Thin ribbons of egg were layered over chunks of pork and fat shrimp , that when combined, exploded in the intersection of so many subtle flavors, scallions providing the strongest base. There was really a lot going on here, with the various bit-players hitting their mark on my pallate at perfect intervals.

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We were about to combust like the 45th and 46th drummers of Spinal Tap (respectively) at this point, but how could we go back without some Peking duck, especially knowing we'd be hungry an hour later (groan)? It was the best decision of my life, in a life of some very poor decisions. For five years I used to be the #1 temp at Martha Stewart Living when I lived in New York, helping manage the lives of their CEO and artistic director (and even the head felon herself) while simultaneously hustling whatever was handy to designers and mailroom friends in the company's inter-office envelopes. I picked up a little knowledge on food styling there, how positioning a turkey's pum-pum away from the camera makes for a more appetizing shot, lighting, patina and whatnot. The duck came out, no shit, with fucking golden bronze skin! It was glowingly glazed.

With the first crackle of skin, I was having a foodie 'Big O,' as I think was an ecstatic Ali, who like me was deliriously laughing as we stuffed our greasy faces with more duck. The crisp skin penetrates the soft warm flesh, making its own duck taco of shell and tender meat that almost liquifies like heated butter in the mouth. The duck was cooked-to-order perfection, not at all fatty, just fall-off-the-bone delicious, swimming in a slightly sweet sauce.

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I've was once on a week-long food tour of Taiwan, where the intermingling of disparate parts of China produce what many say is the best place for Chinese food on the planet. After my trip to Macau Street, which ended up as a 3-hour feast well into moonlight, I'd argue the same about Monterey Park. Hit this spot if you like to eat well for not too much. Xie Xie!!!!

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