You Kitchen in Alhambra features a wide selection of school dumplings, cakes and pies – and giant freezers for those who want to take home a bag of frozen dumplings to enjoy at home. (Photo by Merrill Schindler)
Not long ago, Shu Mai and Har Gao saved my brain. seriously. Let me explain: I was craving some gado salad, a plate of nasi goreng, along with some satay, I was driving to a little Indonesian restaurant one Sunday night, and my mouth was watering at the thought of all this culinary delight.
I got to the restaurant around 5:30pm, looking forward to an early dinner. I went in and found a sign telling us the restaurant was only operating outside due to a shortage of staff. Which was fine, because beef and such travel so well.
Oddly enough, there was one long table at dinner, and someone stood up and asked if they could help me; It appears that the table was a restaurant family having a Sunday night meal. I said I would like to order some dishes to go. At this point the chef stood up and told me I had to wait at least 20 minutes for her to come back to cook… because she was having dinner.
I’ve been writing about restaurants apparently since Herbert Hoover was in office. I thought I saw it all, but this was the first thing. And it made me feel kind of… crazy. It was like stepping into a “Twilight Zone” version of a restaurant, where customer service is just a vague idea of what the point of running a restaurant is.
I passed by, sitting on a chair by the door, watching the chef enjoy her meal. And I wandered in the night, feeling a keen need for solace.
If I were a drinking guy, I might have paused at a low dive because of the stiffness. But I’m not. Instead, I just started driving, feeling the need for food that brought me back a sense of semi-reality—the vague notion that the point of a restaurant is to serve good food to paying customers. And then, I stopped at the red light, stared to the right — and there was the little one You are a kitchen. I knew I had found a soothing balm for my soul.
In relation to the many (many!) Chinese dumpling houses in the San Gabriel Valley, the tiny little mall You Kitchen is the anti-religious Tai Fung. Where Din Tai Fung grows more sophisticated with each new branch – including full bars serving exotic blends – You Kitchen brings water or tea to diners at just a few tables.
When it comes to dumpling houses, small is often the standard in the San Gabriel Valley. A group of names exude goodness – a found poem of dumpling happiness: Long Xing Ji, Hui Tou Xiang, One One, Tasty Noodle, Happy Noodle Kang Kang and many more.
And to this simple world of highly focused restaurants, You Kitchen is one of the best. He’s probably the only person sitting in a mini-mall with a Golden Mile bowling alley. Dish a few lines, then eat some dumplings. This is very … excellent.
The menu is easy enough to negotiate, though the options abound – well suited to an old dumpling’s hand. You should, of course, start with one of the five appetizers, because a hearty build-up before the main event is always a good idea. One application is spicy wonton, which is very tasty, but probably belongs in the title of wonton. Except, all the wontons in there are in the soup. So, I guess appetizers are where your helpless pasties go.
The other four apps are all salads. Or at least, they are salads because they include vegetables. Don’t expect lettuce and tomato here. But expect roughly chopped cucumbers, in a garlic sauce that is far from bland. (Garlic is one of the themes for you. They love garlic!) The garlic jumps off the plate, to the point where you first taste the garlic, then notice the snails. That’s fine with me.
There’s a seaweed salad with garlic too, along with a mushroom salad, and a bean salad with scallion oil. Nothing particularly heavy, but nothing light either. However, they do prepare you for the little bundles of happiness that follow. And there are a lot of them.
The proper dumplings have 18 options, none of which are exactly standard-issue Dumpling House product codes. There are two types of house dumplings – one filled with fish flavored with coriander, the other with chives.
More from Meryl: Enjoy Mexican food in Pasadena with the end of the chocolate fountain
All of the dumplings have a combination of flavors: there are pork dumplings with fennel and pork dumplings with corn. Chicken and shrimp dumplings with chives and corn. Pork and shrimp dumplings with pumpkin. Dried shrimp dumpling with butternut squash. The flavors are complex, even ornate, much more than the usual dumpling food.
There’s so much more: nine breads, steamed and fried. There are long xiao dumplings, tucked under the buns, that most know as soup dumplings – exquisite creations that should always be eaten with care, to avoid the hot soup getting inside your mouth, and spilling everywhere.
Noodles and wontons are served in soup, as I said. But if you are not in the mood to eat noodles in soup, there are Szechuan Dan Dan noodles. And I can’t go here without ordering one (or more) of the pies—from the basic scallion pie, through to the pork-stuffed pie, the “hand-holding” bun, the “big mouth” pocket, and the sesame tray pizza.
Creativity tip – It’s rare that you’ll encounter this many options. (And all the dumplings come in oversized plastic bags, kept in a pair of industrial freezers. They’re perfectly steaming life!)
There are four dessert options, two of which are pies – red bean and pumpkin. And she’s fine and great. But, as always, if I’m within walking distance of calling out, I’m down for Foselman. It is an institution and a tradition. And it has more options than your kitchen.
It also restores my faith in the happy world of eating out. The shrimp, pork and chive dumpling followed by chocolate dipped strawberry ice cream is a taste of heaven on earth.
Merrill Schindler is a freelance Los Angeles-based dining critic. Send an email to email@example.com.
You are a kitchen
- evaluation: 3 stars
- Title: 1402 Al Wadi Street, Al Hamra
- Information: 626-977-8088; www.youkitchenca.com
- kitchen: Chinese dumpling house
- when: Lunch and dinner, every day
- details: tea; No reservations
- atmospheres: The little dumpling house on the storefront, between 101 Noodle Express and the bowling alley, features a wide selection of school dumplings, buns, and pies — and giant freezers for those who want to take home a bag of frozen dumplings to enjoy at home.
- the prices: About $15 per person
- On the list: 5 Appetizers ($6.99 – $8.99), 18 Dumplings ($8.99 – $16.99), 9 Cakes ($1.99 – $11.99), 7 Dumplings ($6.99 – $11.99), 7 Noodles ($8.99 – $10.99)
- credit cards: MC, F.;
- What do the stars mean: 4 (World class! Worth a trip from anywhere!), 3 (Excellent, even exceptional. Worth a trip from anywhere in Southern California.), 2 (Good place to go for a meal. Worth a trip from anywhere in the neighborhood.) 1( If you’re hungry, and it’s close, but don’t get stuck in traffic.) 0 (Honestly, not worth writing about.