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Monday, January 21, 2013

ROC Kitchen: Taste of SGV in WLA

Let's address the proverbial elephant in the room, right now: ROC is not Din Tai Fong.

But it's damn good XLB of a quality that is hard to beat, for Westsiders unable or unwilling to trek to the SGV (before you get all up in arms, yes, there are in fact people whose offices are on the Westside who cannot take 3 hour excursions in the middle of the work day to eat in the SGV - it is not always a matter of ill-informed choice or 'poor value judgment' of traffic avoidance vs amazing authentic eats for cheap). 

For us pitiful, 'real Chinese food' deprived, Westside-bound souls - ROC Kitchen is a g*dsend.  Yes, it is. Their metal steamers full of every-flavor-Xiao Long Baos (aka XLBs or Shanghai Dumplings) are plump, souped up, with meat/seafood fillings are smooth, tender and well portioned, enfolded in nice, fresh, not too chewy dough wrappers.

They arrive with the requisite shredded ginger and vinegar.  They're so juicy they squirt on cue when you bite into them.  Mims and I had the Pork XLB (8 pcs. for $7) and Shrimp & Pork XLB (8 pcs. for $9) - both were excellent. Next time we need to try the ones with Dungeness Crab & Pork, and Fish (I've never seen XLB with fish filling before, but apparently those who have had it at ROC Kitchen love it)

For variety, there are other dishes besides the Shanghai Dumplings like shao mai (dim sum dumplings with shrimp & pork or pork & rice), scallion pancake, noodles, and rice cakes.  We tried the ROC Rice Cake with Chicken, Napa Cabbage and Spinach ($10) which had a self-explanatory name.  I would NOT recommend this dish - it was pretty single note in flavor (like the generic "brown sauce" too often used in westernized Chinese take-out quality food), and the rice cakes were rubbery.  And the fact that it cost more than the far more delicious XLB honestly kind of pissed me off.  It's possible that the kitchen was just having an off day, but at $10 I'm just not going to risk it again.

As another signature dish, ROC puts their own spin on jiao zi (aka potstickers or gyoza), with the Crispy Shrimp & Pork Dumplings with Ginger Chili Dipping Sauce (8 pcs. for $9.75) - which is essentially 8 whole dumplings, which are usually pan fried individually, fried on top of a wafer-thin disc of dough so that they become attached to the crispy circle: the whole thing is then served with the dough disc side up for maximum drama.

Everyone at the next few tables turned to see (and ask) what that dish was as our waitress brought it over...

I flipped it over halfway so we could see how it looks underneath - the dumplings are fried whole, fully formed.  You might think this is just a gimmick, which it is, and it's funny that no one else has thought to do this before - but the dough disc doesn't just add to the theatrical presentation - it's pretty tasty as well, and adds crispness and crunch as you're eating the dumplings.  The only thing to note on this dish is that it's marked "Limited" on the menu, and you have to allow 25 minutes for them to make it for you.  We put our order in right away, but for some reason they took so long to bring it out that we almost overshot our lunch hour.  But, it was delicious, we did make it back in time, and it was all worth it. 

All in all, the dumpling dishes were all very tasty and well crafted. True, it's very expensive compared to most SGV eateries (but pretty much on par with Din Tai Fong in terms of price) - after drinks, tax, tip were taken into account Mims and I each paid close to $30 each, which was painful.  But, remember that the restaurant has to deal with Westside rent, which is much higher than SGV.  So, the price we pay is for the convenience of having close access to at least authentic and good quality XLB and dumplings.  Will I be coming back every day for lunch?  No, I can't afford it.  But when I get that inevitable craving during a week day?  I'm very glad ROC Kitchen is there.

So, is it a destination, say - on the weekend? I live in the SFV, almost equidistant from West LA/ROC Kitchen and Alhambra/Monterey Park. On any given weekend, when I'm not working - would I drive back to West LA just to go to ROC Kitchen? It's a no-brainer - I would drive to the SGV.

But on a weekday, when I only have an hour for lunch on the Westside? Bring it on, ROC Kitchen - as in, another steamer or two full of XLB, please.


On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 5.5 bites
Presentation - 6 bites
Originality - 6 bites
Ambience - 5.5 stars
Service - 5 stars
Overall experience - 5.5 bites
Price - $ (1 bite mark)
Probability of return visit - 90% 
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ROC Kitchen

2049 Sawtelle Blvd., Los Angeles,CA 90025
Ph: 310.235.2089

Parking: free valet on Mississipi Ave.

Facebook: facebook.com/pages/ROC-Kitchen
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ROC Kitchen on Urbanspoon

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