Shandong Cuisine at Chili Garden (老五魯菜館) in Fremont
Around November 2007, a new restaurant opened in the space formerly occupied by Chili Garden in Fremont. It claimed to be one of bay area’s first and only “Lu” style (魯菜) restaurant. The Chinese name translated literally means “Old #5’s Shandong Cuisine”. But they have kept the same English name of Chili Garden, which was originally a Hunan style restaurant.
“Lu” is another term for the present day Shandong province in China. Its cuisine style is the foundation of the present day Beijing/Mandarin style cooking. As many of the chefs who had worked in the Imperial Palace of the Qing dynasty cooking for the emperor and its officials came from the nearby Shandong area. It is known as one of the four major cuisines styles in China along with Shangai/JiangZhe, Sichuan/Hunan, and Cantonese/HK.
It could well be that it is one of the first “Lu” style restaurant from China. But as readers of this blog may know, there is another “Lu” or Shandong style cuisine. There are many of these Shandong style restaurants that brought those Chinese dishes that were popular in Korea to America. These restaurants are also known as Korean-Chinese, as their food is based on home-style Shandong cooking.
The place serves Northern style breakfast on weekends. We ordered the You Tiao (油條; fried cruller or Chinese donut) and Shao Bing (燒餅; baked bread or Chinese naan). You Tiao is found nowadays in many Chinese breakfast places. The You Tiao here was decent but a little too doughy.
Shao Bing is less common because to truly do it right, one would need the special oven which allows sticking of the Shao Bing onto the inside wall of the oven for it to be baked. The Shao Bing was ok but not good, since it did not have as many layers as it should and was a bit dry.
We also orderd the Niu Rou Mian (牛肉麵; Beef Noodle) and the Chao Ma Mian (炒碼麵; Stir-Noodle).
The Niu Rou Mian is definitely different from the now classic version found in Taiwan. It uses beef brisket instead of beef shank. This resulted in tougher meat. The soup had good beef flavor but cannot compare with those found at ASJ in San Jose. The only plus was the hand-made, knife-cut noodles
The Chao Ma Mian is also different from the version found in Korean-Chinese places. The soup flavor lacks the heavy garlic undertone that a good version should have. The ingredients included shrimp, chicken, beef and veggies.
Just for the heck of it, we also tried the Xiao Long Bao. As can be seen from the picture, it is huge in size compared to the Shanghai style XLB popularized by Din Tai Fung. If you’re looking for good XLB like those found at a good Shanghai place, this is not it.
Just to make no mistake that this was a brand new restaurant, I noticed that one of our spoons still had the barcode sticker on it, after I had already drank from it. Yuck.
After exiting the restaurant, we heard loud arguments between some of the chefs in the kitchen at the back of the restaurant, which was facing the parking lot. Hopefully they’ve ironed out these “grand opening” issues by now.
Chili Garden (老五魯菜館)3241 Walnut Ave
(between Liberty St & Paseo Padre Pky)
Fremont, CA 94538