Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Better Than It Sounds -- Lu Gi

I'll get to that hot pot in just a sec, but first, I have a big...


The release date for my first novel is set. Mark July 8 on your calendar!

MY NAME IS WILL: A Novel of Sex, Drugs, and Shakespeare, from Twelve Books, is the tale two William Shakespeares: one, the Bard of Stratford-upon-Avon at a randy age 18; the other of Willie Shakespeare Greenberg, a slacker and would-be scholar in 1980's California. Christopher Buckley, author of Thank You For Smoking, has called the book "Utterly delicious, original, witty, hilarious and brilliant. Shakespeare In Love on magic mushrooms."

You can PRE-ORDER IT NOW ON AMAZON.COM.  Or, wait 'til a signing event near you this summer.

Read more about the book on the publisher's website, here.  Be sure to check out my essay "Behind the Book.

Thanks for your attention during this shameless self-promotion. Now on to the food.

Lu Gi
539 W Valley Blvd
San Gabriel, CA 91776
(626) 457-5111
Open Daily 11a.m. - 12a.m.
MC, Visa
Google Map and Info

It's my first post of 2008 (been busy... did I mention I wrote a novel?), so I've been thinking back on 2007. Frankly, I'm glad to see its sorry ass in the rearview mirror. Good things happened; bad things happened. Is it just me, or does the good and bad always come together in bunches? The saying that it never rains but it pours is true enough, sometimes. But just as often life is like weather in the tropics... dumping rain one instant, blazing sun and blue skies the next.

It's the yin-yang thing.

Which is a long intro to a dish I've been meaning to write about for months, the yin/yang hotpot at Lu Gi in San Gabriel. In foodie circles, the hotpot craze peaked a few years ago, but most folks I know still haven't experienced it. This is still my favorite version of it, and it's worth the trip to San Gabriel.

In fact, it's extraordinary that I have yet to post about a single restaurant in the San Gabriel Valley. This is L.A.'s true Chinatown, with more varieties of regional Chinese cooking than can be found anywhere west of Hong Kong. You pull onto San Gabriel Blvd., and the smells of garlic and chili oil hit you like a truck, wafting out of the uncountable noodle houses and BBQ's and Sichuan joints. Lu Gi is just another in a string of brightly lit, functional strip mall eateries with big formica tables and a cooler filled with beer and sake and soju at the back.

For those unfamiliar, the hot pot is a Chinese and Mongolian version of Japan's Shabu-Shabu. You order large platters of thinly-sliced, raw meat: sirloin or ribeye beef, pork, pork belly (misprinted "pork believe" in the menu -- I DO believe!), chicken, tripe, whatever you like; and/or vegetables: mushrooms, cabbage, leafy greens, several varieties of tofu, several varieties of noodle.

A pot of boiling broth is set on your table. What sets apart the Sichuan hotpot is the spiciness of its broth. Whereas Japanese shabu shabu broth is mild, in many places just water that slowly becomes a broth as you cook your various meats and veggies in it, Sichuan hot pot is, like all good Sichuan, kick-ass spicy, a rolling boil of volcanic red chili oil and Sichuan pepper. You can get the "spicy" version of the hot pot, or if, like me you're feeling more yin/yang, you order the "yin/yang" hot pot. It comes in a specially-designed stainless steel pot with a divider down the middle. In one half is the wickedly spicy brew... in the other, a soothingly mild, savory white sesame broth.

You grab the raw bite of your choice, and dip it into the broth to flash-boil it. Tender beef only takes five to six seconds to cook. It's just a quick "swish-swish" (shabu-shabu, in Japanese) of the chopsticks. Tender greens take thirty seconds tops; a thick tofu cake a few minutes.

When your bite is cooked, you dip it into some ponzu or sesame seed sauce on the table, maybe take it with a little rice from a small stainless steel bowl, or maybe put it atop some noodles you've boiled up, maybe sprinkle it with some scallions. It's fresh, steaming, hot, tender, delicious.

Whether you're a sensitive palate afraid of spicy foods who just wants a comforting bowl of your favorite protein in a mild broth on a winter night; or whether you're a heat-hound with a head cold you want to blast out of your system; whether its good times or bad times; whether you're feeling yin or yang... a trip to Lu Gi is the perfect way to start off the New Year.


  1. shannon11:43 AM

    Hi Jess,

    In the last few months, you may remember receiving an email invitation to become a part of the Foodbuzz Featured Publisher Program. With all the recipe-writing and food photography to be completed, we know emails can easily get lost in the shuffle, so Foodbuzz would like to re-extend our offer of inviting you to be a part of our food blogger network. I would love to send you more details about the program, so if you are interested, please email me at Shannon@foodbuzz.com.

    And a big CONGRATULATIONS on your novel release! That is so exciting! What better way to celebrate than with a hot pot?


    Shannon Eliot
    Editorial Assistant, Foodbuzz.com

  2. Thanks for the recommend, I have been looking to try a sichuan hot pot place since I dated a girl from Sichuan and fell in love with the Sichuan spice. And I quite enjoyed this place, though I do think that the spicy broth would have been improved with some spicy sichuan peppercorns.

    Here is my review. http://www.whaleofatale.net/wordpress_restaurant_reviews/2008/01/19/lu-gi-sichuan-hot-pot-san-gabriel-ca/

  3. Anonymous6:21 PM

    I believe in Pork Believe !!! WOW - I must try this place.

  4. Hello! I just thought I'd extend an invitation to a network of Los Angeles bloggers.. It's a great way to get more readers and find new and interesting blogs: http://labloggers.ning.com/?xgi=5mcqS7g

  5. I want to say it's too hot for hot pot right now, but it's never too hot for hot pot! This place looks great. Can't wait to check it out.