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LA Times Restaurant Reviews This Week Go Where Michelin Wouldn’t

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From Shanghainese in the San Gabriel Valley to OC’s Little Arabia

Jiang Nan Spring
Shanghai baby ribs from Jiang Nan Spring
Jiang Nan Spring

This week’s joint LA Times reviews pull in two very different directions, revealing the massive swath of possible food coverage for Southern California along the way (ahem, Michelin).

First up is an open question from co-critic Bill Addison, who asks if San Gabriel Valley specialist Jiang Nan Spring has “SGV’s best Shanghainese food?” Here’s the case, as told through the sprawling menu:

My favorite among Jiang Nan Spring’s seafood entrees is hunks of tilapia fried in batter striated with seaweed; it gives the appearance of thin green veins feeding life into the fish inside. The restaurant lists about a dozen seasonal seafood specials. One Shanghai-specific showpiece features sea cucumber in a sauce enriched with the distinctive taste of shrimp roe. This delicacy may not charm uninitiated palates, but if you’re down for its gelatinous and righteously oceanic fundaments, it delivers.

And then there’s the pork:

Lion’s head pork meatballs have a proper silken lightness. Nubs of scarlet pork ribs veer way further into sweetness than is often common; I’m much more taken with a gem I’ve rarely seen on menus in America: fen zheng rou, boneless cylinders of pork rib meat smeared with rice flour and steamed in fragrant lotus leaves.

While Addison isn’t smitten with the restaurant’s signature soup dumplings, it hardly counts against his overall experience, especially when the newer restaurant’s dining room so clearly has found its footing already. “In the four months since opening,” Addison says, “the restaurant has found a steady audience that orders with gusto and lingers contentedly.”

Forn Al Hara
Forn Al Hara

Meanwhile Patricia Escárcega made her way down to Anaheim to check out the wonders of Forn Al Hara in the Orange County city’s bustling Little Arabia District, where “flatbreads are topped with everything from homemade sausage to herb-spackled cheese, and baked to order in the kitchen’s massive natural gas hearth oven.”

But that’s not all:

Maybe the best thing you can eat at Forn Al Hara, though, is the labneh and honey flatbread, a sweet-savory bread brimming with tangy soft white cheese and great swirls of honey.

Mostly the review focuses on the ubiquitous owner Mo Alam, who is a steady presence not only at his own restaurant but the entire strip mall plaza where Forn Al Hara exists; Alam is a part owner of the property. Just be sure to grab something from the bakery case on the way out of the restaurant, as Alam inevitably waves goodbye:

You can get a taste of the old family recipes in the bakery case. Depending on the day you come, there may be slices of the syrup-soaked semolina cake, or rows of mamol — buttery, domed-shaped cookies filled with chopped dates or nuts. There are always trays of knafeh, the terrifically gooey cheese pastry topped with fine, thread-like shreds of crisp semolina dough. The baklava is top-notch: glossy with syrup, remarkably crisp, the kind of baklava worthy of breaking a daylong fast. And even if you didn’t come for baklava, odds are good you won’t leave Forn Al Hara without it.

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