by Estee Cohen.
With summer upon us, I thought it would be fun to review a family friendly restaurant. For me, what qualifies for family friendly is: decent parking, or even better, reasonably priced valet, a variety of foods for picky eaters, quick service and an atmosphere that is comfortable with the cacophony of laughter and chatter that even the best-behaved children bring to the table.
The restaurant I have chosen is Shanghai Diamond Garden. We visit here on a monthly basis whenever our local family gets together, partially due to one member’s strong dairy allergy which knocks out all pizza/bagel shops from the list. The street parking can be tricky; nothing ruins a nice evening like an $80 parking ticket, but you can park with the restaurant’s nice valet parking guy who only charges $3; you can’t beat it.
The beauty of this place is in their kindly staff; you will be rushed to a seat faster than you can say Gung Hoy Fat Chow. The best seats in the house for families with kids are either one of the 10 red booths or a table near the fish tank. In a booth, the adults can bookend the children, trapping them in their seats. The fish tank provides minutes of entertainment, positive memories of Finding Nemo, and inspiration to organize a family fishing trip. Immediately, the ubiquitous Asian waiters of Shanghai place a heap of Chinese noodles and dipping sauce to your table. Let the fun begin!
Start with one Flaming Pupu Platter because just ordering it will make your kids roll with laughter. Or try to roll, but remember they are stuck in the booth. It comes with egg rolls, paper wrapped chicken, won tons, chicken satay and beef satay. Everything on there is a hit with kids, except perhaps the paper wrapped chicken. They also love the real fire coming out of the top of the Pupu platter, because, well, little boys like fire. The chicken satay is like thin schnitzel on a stick and the beef satay is very soft barbecued meat on a stick. If you have more than 3 kids with you, you can order extra chicken and beef satay separately. If you want soup, they have over a dozen choices. I recommend: Chicken Corn Soup, which is filling and tasty, Wonton Soup, which has lots of whole vegetables and chicken breast, and Egg Drop soup for the slightly adventurous preteen who wants to dip his toe into ethnic food but not wade into the deep end. Order normal drinks for the adults and paper cups with lids and straws filled with water for the kids.
For the main course I have a trick taught to me by my sister, Erica Solomon: order Sweet and Sour Chicken with the sauce on the side. Really picky kids will enjoy the fried chicken pieces and bigger ones will dunk the chicken in the sauce. We step it up by comparing each fried bit to an animal or person: look it’s a flamingo! Winston Churchill! A panda bear on his phone and holding a basketball! They go for it every time. If you are dieting or as my husband and I call it, “being skinny”, you can ask for steamed chicken breast and vegetable. It’s pretty good, and even tasty with a little low-sodium soy sauce.
One of the best things about Shanghai is the speed of their service. I have been there dozens of times and never waited over 10 minutes for my food. Sometimes, on an early Motzei Shabbos, it is packed, so it’s quite the wonder how they do this. The answer lies in their kitchen routine which is incredible. I doubt they’d give tours to the public, but if you ever plan on opening a restaurant it would be worth asking for one. They have multiple burners going at all times with chopped vegetables, meat, chicken, and sauces all ready to go. All they have to do is combine the ingredients, flip them over a few times in a wok and send it out. There are many cooks and assistants who all do exactly one thing, say chop vegetables, or mix up sauce, and they work at light speed like an orchestra. Another reason they are so swift is due to their low turnover rate. The same core group of five or six waiters, busboys, and drink refillers, have been there for years and know exactly what to do.
They also have the bonus of clean bathrooms with 2 stalls in each, and free mints at the front desk. I just wish they’d have fortune cookies.
Check it out at 9401 West Pico Blvd. Los Angeles and call 310-553-0998. Hashgacha is Kehilla. Note they usually do not allow reservations unless you have a very big group or party. However, their speedy service makes drop- ins almost always fine.