The Mein Man: LA Café Confounds with Its Noodles and More

la_cafe_640_5484Dish: “Salted fish w/chicken in vermicelli & rice sticker”
Place: LA Café, International District
Price: $8.99

On the plate: Two types of noodles, which require a close inspection to see. Onions, green onions, carrots, bean sprouts. Shrimp, which are presumably not the intended salted fish, with the chicken missing in action.

Supporting cast/What to do: There’s soy sauce and chili sauce around if you need it. But there might not be a server around if you need one. And you’ll likely need one.

Noodling around: I originally placed my order for “needle noodles,” as these rat’s tail-like rice noodles are relatively hard to find in Seattle. The server was very excited, saying they’re a house specialty, but just as the first dishes were about to arrive, she said they were unavailable.

The vermicelli and rice sticker combination was therefore my second choice, even though I didn’t know what “rice sticker” was. The server said it’s similar to vermicelli, but thicker. Or did she say sticker? Or stickier? Even after repeating, I was still unsure. Nevertheless, two types of noodles in one dish appealed to me.

As did salted fish.

When the dish arrived, it looks like a mass of vermicelli noodles. Only after closer inspection did I notice a somewhat clearer noodle intertwined with the rice ones. They looked almost like thin glass noodles, though the server had said something about tapioca starch. Both noodles were delicate, with a very mild soy sauce flavor. The noodle action was interrupted by occasional bits of carrot, yellow and green onion, and bean sprouts.

But, sadly, no salted fish or chicken. Just shrimp. At that point in the meal, we had stopped questioning, and just kept eating. Plus, our server had disappeared.

If she had been around, we would have asked her what filling was inside the pot stickers. It was impossible to discern whether the meat was chicken or pork. Regardless, the pot stickers were poorly constructed and cooked. In the words of one of my dining companions, “These are the worst pot stickers I’ve ever had.”

In fact, the whole meal was bland. Hong Kong-style is typically Cantonese, though with other influences–including other types of Chinese, and Western. I often find Cantonese food bland, but LA Café’s was exceedingly so. You might want to scour the menu and roll the dice on something different. Club sandwich, anyone?

If you want more: Given the state of the pot stickers, I’m not sure what else I’d recommend. Maybe try for the French fries ($2.99) or the French toast ($3.49).

Be aware/beware: LA Café in inside the Pacific Rim Center, a destination that has always felt a bit depressing. If you want some stimulation, though, I’ve heard good things about the foot massage place. No needles there, either, but reasonable rates and strong service.

First published in Seattle Weekly’s Voracious on April 23, 2012.

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