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Chinese fare has an authentic flair at Tai Pan House in Rancho … – Inland Valley Daily Bulletin

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The numb and spicy Sichuan beef at Tai Pan House in Rancho Cucamonga also contains dried chiles and green onions. (Photo by Dorene Cohen)

Hong Kong style chow mein at Tai Pan (Photo by Dorene Cohen)

From Hacienda Heights comes a new and welcome addition to the ever-growing constellation of regional Chinese restaurants in Rancho Cucamonga, courtesy of Fung and Linda Lam.
At Tai Pan House, the food centers on Canton Province in southeastern China with an emphasis on Hong Kong cuisine. The focus is on fresh seafood, noodle dishes, porridges and clay pot rice dishes that showcase the pure flavors of individual ingredients.
Spiciness is not a major characteristic of Cantonese cuisine, while texture and freshness are paramount.
Tai Pan House’s chef is from Hong Kong, so you can rest assured that the preparations ooze authenticity.
Red “floating” lanterns hang from the bluish/purple ceiling while the walls are done in shades of orange and mustard hues.

Not your everyday selections

During a recent visit, we dove right in, sampling pigs feet and lotus root cooked in a clay pot. The feet are quite gelatinous and contain more fat than meat and exude a luxuriant mouth feel. Lotus root, which is cut into cross sections, doesn’t absorb the five spice powder infused soy based sauce. It’s there to provide a distinct textural contrast to the pig feet.
Chive pancakes is a dish most commonly found in the northern Chinese Muslim areas. The triangular slices are excellent for tempering spicier dishes such as the Sichuan numb and spicy beef. Not everything on the menu is Cantonese.
In this version, the numbness is toned down by going easy on the Sichuan peppercorns, but there is no shortage of dried red chiles to elevate the heat level. Excellent tender slices of sauteed beef add to this dishes’ allure.
Another unusual item is the pork skin and fish ball in what is called a satay sauce, not the Indonesian spicy peanut infused version but rather a dark brown beefy sauce thickened with pork skin fat.
The fish balls are distinctly spongy when you bite into them, and the small amounts of pork skin adds flavor and an undercurrent of gelatinous texture. You’ll also find pieces of green pepper, onions and cubed pineapple adrift in the broth.
The crispy chicken with ginger is hacked into pieces after having been marinated for 24 to 48 hours then deep-fried to a golden brown. The half a chicken is served with a mound of fresh chopped ginger, which adds a jolt of pungency to the overall flavor. The residual sauce has a sweet soy base that wasn’t overly salty, and the meat was a touch too dry, so drift each piece through the sauce to moisten things up.
The sauteed sole filets with paper thin black tree mushrooms and snow pea pods is a textbook example of how textural contrasts and impeccably fresh ingredients can elevate the status of a dish. The snow white tender sole filets tasted as if they had just been plucked from the sea. I’d recommend drizzling a modicum of chile oil into this dish to enhance the overall flavor profile and accentuate the subtle tastes.

A must-try

My favorite dish was the special sliced pork with aged mustard greens that had been dried and preserved with salt, then rehydrated. Slices of unctuous pork belly are steamed for eight hours in a sauce containing sweet soy and probably some black vinegar along with additional ingredients whose identities are closely guarded by the kitchen staff. The meat’s flavors burst with a porky goodness, served atop lettuce while the minced mustard greens sharpness cuts through the pork belly’s inordinate richness.
Finally, for all those who remember the Chinese/American food of the 1950s and ’60s, where the term “chow mein” referred to thick soft noodles and vegetables with little, if any, flavor — a dish that would have no place on the menu of any self respecting truly authentic modern Chinese restaurant — true Hong Kong style special house chow mein at Tai Pan House is a refreshing change. The noodles are thin, partially fried egg noodles mixed with carrots, Chinese broccoli, sliced pork, sole filets, diced chicken and sliced mushroom caps. There’s no sauce to speak of, but a touch of chile paste and a sprinkle of soy sauce adds immensely to the flavor profile.
Again, the impeccably fresh ingredients and a plethora of textural contrasts highlight what “real” chow mein is all about.
David Cohen is a freelance dining critic and food co-editor for Inland Empire Magazine. Send him email at dcohen4@verizon.net and follow him on Twitter @dcfoodfiles.

Tai Pan House

Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
Address: 8031 Archibald Ave., Rancho Cucamonga
Information: 909-989-2223, taipanhouse.net
Cuisine: Chinese with an emphasis on Cantonese
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays.
Details: Shaved ice. Take out available. More exotic menu items include frog and Chinese sausage steamed in lotus leaves, cold marinated jelly fish, clam and winter melon chicken hot pot, and congee (porridge) with salted shredded pork. Beer and wine license pending.
Atmosphere: Comfortable cafe style
Prices: $7.95-$9.95 for lunch, $9.95-$15.95 for dinner
Recommended dishes: Special sliced pork belly with aged mustard greens ($7.95), Sichuan numb and spicy beef ($7.95), crispy chicken with ginger ($11.50), Hong Kong style house special chow mein ($8.95)
Cards: MC, Visa, AMEX
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