Restaurant review: Shanghai Diamond says Merry Chinese!

Nathaniel Kukurudz, Managing Editor

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Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan mentioned in her confirmation hearings last summer that as an American Jew, she generally spent Christmas eating Chinese food (www.tinyurl.com/BPChinese). In her honor, this week seems like the perfect occasion to review the best Chinese restaurant on Pico Boulevard.

Shanghai Diamond Garden has rightly made a name for itself in the past few of years since it became the favorite Chinese destination for Pico-ers.  Being situated near the popular Nagila Pizza and Meating Place doesn’t make it easy to find a parking spot, which can easily repel customers — but only if they don’t realize (as I didn’t) that there’s valet there.  Ten minutes and a spot a few blocks away later, I walked into the restaurant on a weekday evening. It’s very appealing from the outside. Amusingly, there’s a very large aquarium strategically placed at the entrance to calm the nerves, which serves as a fun distraction, too.

I was very quickly seated at a table and brought drinks. On the way to the table though, I noticed that the carpet was less than clean and that there were only about six tables occupied in the large space. It perplexes me how a restaurant decides to cover their floor in carpet but also expects to be well looked upon. Don’t they realize this is not only unsophisticated, but also unsanitary? In any case, I appreciated the Chinese décor on the walls and the lighting that help give it the ambiance that its name suggests.

My waiter brought me a menu, and delicious Chinese noodles with duck sauce to munch on in the meantime. About the waiters, I was very entertained by the difficulty we had communicating — another great addition to the Chinese feeling the restaurant creates. The menu was extremely wide-ranging. It consists of sushi (there is a sushi bar near the entrance), and a variety of appetizers, soups, meats, fowl, and fish, all ranging from about $15 to $20, and around $10 for the appetizers. At first, I thought that was a bit expensive, but once I was served, I reconsidered.

I started with the $4 miso soup and ordered the $16 Mongolian beef as my main entrée. Both dishes pleasantly surprised me. The soup was very flavorful, and the kitchen managed to balance the sodium level with the flavors extremely well. However, I was a bit upset and annoyed that I had to ask for soy sauce, which should be on every table in all Chinese restaurants without having to request it.

The Mongolian beef was very satisfying as well. It is an assortment of London Broil beef with scallions, celery, onion and a thick brown sugar-filled sauce. I found it to be a great combination and the vegetables helped make up for the fact that my blood glucose would rise dramatically that evening, especially with the steamed rice and carbohydrate-filled chips that come along with every dish. In addition, the fact that the portion of the beef is enough for two people makes up for its relatively high price. So it comes down to whether you want extend your life a couple days or get a really good value for your money. Up to you.

All in all, I was very glad to observe the season by visiting Shanghai Diamond Garden. I am sure that it will last through many more changes in the Supreme Court thanks to the unique cuisine that it caters. And for a mere $20 meal (plus tax and tip, of course), I encourage even students with a low budget to try it out if they haven’t already.

Quality of food: 4 stars. Very good but hard to get your mind off the unhealthy aspect to it

Ambiance: 3.5 stars: Friendly atmosphere but acoustics aren’t the best

Value for price: 4.5 stars: Expensive but portion large enough to fill you up

Feeling of cleanliness: 3 stars: The carpet just doesn’t do it for me.

Overall:  4 stars.

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