There’s a stack of take-out menus on the counter next to the door of Tang St. Chinese Resaturant, a new place on San Pedro Avenue, just south of Thousand Oaks. On the front is the motto worth repeating: “Food is the paramount necessity of people, taste is the priority of eating.”
Inside the menu you’ll find plenty to feast on, a large variety of Chinese-American favorites, from egg drop soup and sweet-sour shrimp to lemon chicken and chop suey. But don’t settle for the expected. If you want to make taste the priority of your dining at Tang St., then ask your server for the authentic Chinese menu and indulge in some exceptionally good flavors.
Many of the dishes on this menu may sound familiar, but you’ll soon discover you’re not treading on common ground. The sweet-sour ribs, for example, are not swamped in some DayGlo sauce with pineapple chunks and carrot slices suspended in the goo. In fact, you shouldn’t really expect a sauce at all. The large nuggets of pork were rubbed with seasoned flour before being tossed in the wok with a little oil, so the flavors of sugar, ginger, and spice are all in the coating on the meat, which could include bones. A few fresh vegetables added crunch and color.
More traditional were the pork dumplings, held together with a diaphanous layer of dough from the bottom of the pan. It was pure comfort food and did its best to prepare us for what was to come.
That included Spicy Duck with Beer, served over a flaming pot. Cubes of duck, bones and all, were floating in a lightly hoppy broth that showcased both beer and spices as well as the rich flavor of the meat. In the end, this was perhaps my favorite dish, because I was so pleasantly surprised at how well the wheat and citrus qualities of the beer worked with the dish.
The sound of scrambled eggs with tomatoes intrigued all of us at the table, and we were glad to dig in to the combination. But this was a dish that we ended up respecting more than loving, largely because sugar has been added to it — and that’s not a surprise either Bonnie or I appreciate in savory dishes, especially egg dishes. Sugar, in even the smallest quantity, can throw off a wine, and it’s often unnecessary. A little bit of research shows that the sugar is traditionally included when the dish is served in parts of China, but I would probably leave it out when I try to recreate it at home.
When we asked our helpful waitress what the two specials of the day were, she left us to translate the Chinese characters on her phone. She had told us the first was a hot pot with pork blood and a host of other ingredients in it while the second included fried pork balls.
Neither captured our fancy, but we did order the Pork Intestines with Pickled Cabbage. That’s right, a Chinese version of sauerkraut with soft intestines all swimming together. I loved the texture of this dish, though the aroma of it is decidedly pungent and may prove off-putting to some.
We couldn’t stop there, so we also had tender strips of beef stirred into a spicy pepper blend. And, yes, our table of three couldn’t hold all we had ordered, but we didn’t care. We were too busy enjoying all of the tastes coming from the kitchen.
There are a couple of strikes against Tang St. and neither has to do with the restaurant itself. One is the road work along the 281 access road, which makes it fairly unpleasant to drive to. The other is that it is housed in a space that was once occupied by a deplorable Chinese restaurant, and the ghosts of that wretched place seem to linger in the parking lot.
The first view of the interior doesn’t help much, either, as the place is minimally decorated and seems somewhat dingy. Yet the more we sat at the table, the more Bonnie and I wanted the massive Chinese print that covers the far wall. (It would look better in my house than hers. I know that for a fact.)
You can bring your own wine or beer to Tang St. We brought in a sampling of a German Riesling, a California Pinot Noir and a Rhone blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre, each of which went well with the occasionally spicy, complex flavors (though only the Riesling liked the sweet eggs).
Tang St. is still fairly new, and it is still finding its audience. There is talk of cutting back some of the authentic Chinese dishes, but this would be a shame. You may want to get over there in the next couple of weeks and let the folks at Tang St. know that while we like our Twice Cooked Pork and General Tso’s Chicken, we really appreciate the chance to have something special.
Tang St. Chinese Restaurant
16111 San Pedro Ave. #116