The Find: Ning Jie in San Gabriel
You might feel a momentary sense of dislocation when you first stumble across Ning Jie, in the San Gabriel Mission District. Ning Jie is next to the centuries-old Mission San Gabriel Arcangel, in a preciously faux-adobe shopping district. It's probably the only place in San Gabriel you wouldn't expect to find a Chinese restaurant, but here it is -- a pure Beijing outlier, serving distinctive regional specialties and street food.
It's where owner Raymond Ning makes his rich lamb noodle soups, fragrant wine-filled fish casseroles, cumin-encrusted grilled quail eggs on a stick and the beefiest crispy pancake this side of Beijing.
Ning's is a small, clean, relaxed restaurant. The walls are covered with cat-themed decor. Ning cooks, and his wife, Shirley Xiang, runs the front, though a lot of late nights, it's just him.
He'll be smoking outside when you show up. He follows you in, takes your order, then wanders back into the kitchen and starts chopping and sizzling, bringing out the dishes one by one.
The skewers come out fast, listed under "B.B.Q." on the menu: all manner of meat, encrusted with cumin and chile powder, stuck on a stick, and grilled. There are crispy chicken wings, wonderfully crinkly, creamy mushrooms and more. Grilled quail eggs are firm on the outside and still gooey at the yolk. The best B.B.Q. item may be something called "chicken frame" -- a whole, small bird, chopped up into little bits for maximum nibbliness and covered in a second skin of toasted cumin.
For the full story by C. Thi Nguyen, click here.
Photo: An egg-and-spinach dish at Ning Jie. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times