MONTEREY PARK - Debate over where to dine for the evening is less of "Do we feel like Chinese?" than it is "What kind of Chinese would we like?"
When the Beijing Pie House opened up however, there was no debate and I immediately jumped at the prospect to visit this almost magical sounding place.
I brought along my mother who, hailing from Taiwan, was already accustomed to Beijing-style cuisine. Nonetheless, there were still items on the menu that she hadn't ever tried before.
For those who are familiar with pork soup dumplings, this restaurant is an extension of that cult-status dish. With hefty names like Homeland Meat Cake, Mixed 3 Item Pie, and quite literally-- Beef Cake, you had better come hungry. Fortunately, your meal will be finely balanced by the appearance of cold, light appetizer dishes.
And lest you think Beijing Pie House only caters to the meat-centric however, their vegetable-meat "pie" combinations sound just as enticing, using everything from: summer squash, fennel, cabbage, leek, radish, to wild vegetables.
For those of you unafraid by the prospect of meat, the most outstanding dish to try is the lamb pie-though that too is obligatorily flecked with wisps of green zucchini to offset the heaviness of the meat and pastry.
To call them pies is a bit of a misnomer-though I promise you that they are as exciting as they sound. They are more like fully encased hamburgers, meat patties wrapped up in pastry dough that's then fried until crispy. All the juices from the meat get locked up inside the pastry during the cooking process and inevitably gush out after taking a bite (no matter how seasoned of a Beijing pie-eater you are).
Ignoring this incredibly rich and luxurious broth is not an option, as it's the best part about these pies. Everyone seems to have their own preferred method as to how to drink this soup and eat the meat pie at the same time. Some may hold the pie with one hand, and a spoon with the other to catch any soup that comes out. Me, I prefer to just dunk the pies into the soup with each bite.
Their daunting hefty-sounding names are also a bit misleading. The Homeland Meat Cake actually achieves a wonderful delicateness thanks to the flaky, thin pastry crust that sandwiches alternating thin layers of silky pork mixture and dumpling wrap. Put altogether as a whole, they belie the heaviness of the dish.
If, by now, you haven't reached the point of surfeit, your eyes may wander over to the dessert section of the menu. Once again, the names of the dishes will not fail to stimulate your curiosity: Rolling Donkey, Sweet Snow Ball.
Deciding though, that I had not yet had my fill of their flaky pastry, I decided to go with their Sweet Sesame Paste cake instead. It arrived, badly blackened to a crisp, and with sparse filling in between the layers of dough. Indeed it was disappointing, but my spirits were still too high from the previous dishes to really mind.
Order this: Lamb Pie, Homeland Meat Cake, Pork Soup Dumpling.
Skip this: Sesame Paste Cake, Mixed 3 Item Pie.
Location: 846 East Garvey Avenue, Suite A in Monterey Park
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays. Closed on Mondays.