This week, Jonathan Gold makes his return to LA to do what J. Gold does best, sharing what would otherwise be an under-the-radar gem on the fringes of the city. Such is Nature Pagoda out in the San Gabriel Valley, a restaurant specializing in Chinese herbal soups and Cantonese clay pot rice. The Time critic discusses the ubiquity of crunchy rice in cuisines across the globe, an art that is sometimes lost with the prevalence of electric rice cookers:
Korean cooks know that the tastiest part of bibimbap is the caramelized skin that forms where the saucy rice hits the super-heated stone of a dolsot, and any Spaniard can tell you that the socarrat, the crunchy layer at the bottom of the paella pan, is more important than any quantity of lobster. A good Iranian meal often includes stew heaped onto the thick, crisped rice crusts called tahdig that form at the bottom of well-made polo. The crisp masses of rice at the base of Sichuan sizzling rice soup probably count. The crunchy, golden chunks in the Thai rice salad nam khao tod. Puerto Rican pegao? Scorched rice has multitudes. [LAT]
At Nature Pagoda, it’s all about the Cantonese hot pot that requires the perfectly timed processes of sauce pouring and mixing:
You will pretend to be surprised when you later discover a tawny, crunchy crust at the bottom of the pot, but you know you will have earned it. If you pause to snap photos, there will be no crust. If you spoon chile oil over the top first, there will be no crust. If you stir bits of ham, braised choy sum or catfish into the pot before you remember to pour in the sauce, there will probably be no crust. Nature’s Pagoda, a modest Hong Kong clay pot rice specialist plopped down among San Gabriel’s marble-encrusted Chinese malls, repays the quick and the patient both. [LAT]
The Goldster calls particular attention to the varieties made with fresh frog, chicken with lily flower, and preserved meat, but also recommends the four mixed herbs with black chicken soup and wei kei with rabbit soup.