--Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, Physiologie du Gout, 1825
I am headed back to L.A. tomorrow.
I find myself craving, rather badly, a beef roll from the 101 Noodle Express.
The first time I went to the 101, with my friend Ron, we each grabbed a beef roll, gnawed off a huge bite, chewed, and then our eyes glazed over, a hush descended upon the table, and neither of us spoke for a full minute. Then finally, one of us breathed, "Oh my God." And the other said, "You are kidding me, right?" and then we both said together, "That is the most delicious thing I have ever tasted. "
Here's how L.A.'s own über food writer, the great Jonathan Gold, describes the beef roll: "a steroidal composition of fried Chinese pancakes, cilantro and great fistfuls of thinly sliced meat wetted with sweet bean sauce and formed into something like a Chinese burrito the size of your arm. A specialty of Shandong, half a day’s drive north of Beijing, a proper beef roll may be big enough to feed a family of four but is also oddly delicate; it may taste of crisped pastry and clean oil but also projects the muscular minerality of the braised meat. The San Gabriel Valley boasts many good beef rolls, but the best are generally acknowledged to come from 101 Noodle Express, a cramped, narrow storefront adjoining a shuttered bowling alley, a place whose general dinginess tends to keep away a lot of the people who might enjoy the beef rolls, the pumpkin-shrimp dumplings, and the cold noodles with cucumber and bean sauce."
Dingy, shuttered bowling alley, oil...If that doesn't send you scurrying at the soonest possible opportunity to 1408 E. Valley Blvd. Alhambra 91801, I throw up my hands.
First you get yourself a tasty order of pumpkin and shrimp dumplings. Then you get the beef roll (one order comprises two rolls, each of which unless you are a COMPLETE hog, easily makes a meal).
Then you find some hole-in-the-wall greasy spoon, order a Vietnamese coffee, and talk about movies, books, the next great meal, death, and life in glorious, maddening Los Angeles.