Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Twin Dragon Restaurant

If we wanted Chinese food, there was only one place we would go when we lived in Los Angeles: Twin Dragon, at 8597 West Pico Boulevard. When we went there, business seemed to be all right, but I suspect that they have gained more of a following since. A quick search turned up a Hollywood celebrity sighting at the restaurant, plus a link to the Twin Dragon Web site. (I am gratified to know they are still there, at the same location where they've been for close to fifty years.) If food quality has stayed the same, then they deserve recognition. I don't know how we discovered it in the early to mid-1980s, but it probably had something to do with the fact that my ballet studio was nearby. We were regulars, my parents and I, stopping by for an early dinner as frequently as once a week, and occasionally bringing guests with us as well. We got to know the owners and all of the wait staff, in particular a waiter who called himself Wilson—his name was incongruous with his nationality and surroundings, but of course the United States has a history of hostility toward "overly" foreign names (the list of fouled up birth certificates and other documentation on my mother's Greek side of the family is legendary), and I think Wilson was the type of (maybe lonely?) person to do most anything to endear himself to his American neighbors, hoping to convert them to friends. He succeeded with us quite easily, he was so sweet, and I also remember that when I went away to boarding school, Wilson sent me a thick cut-glass lamp (that eventually broke; I was miserable about that for a long time). We always ordered the same things for the most part: won ton or hot-and-sour soup; sweet and sour shrimp; Kung Pao chicken, which came with a side of anecdotes (of dubious origin) about General Kung Pao, supplied by my mother; and then there was maybe something with broccoli or cashews; finally, fried rice. We were usually given a choice red-leather, semicircular booth back near the kitchen, and we were well attended to overall. Eventually, we were so well received, that we were almost always gifted with some "very special on the house" dessert, in addition to the fortune and almond cookies. Sometimes the dessert took the form of cubes of pineapple that we ate with toothpicks. Once we were the beneficiaries of a giant platter of lychee nuts. These days, it wouldn't bother me; I have grown to like the rose-water flavor of lychees. At the time, however, I didn't like the smell or the texture. My father was not a particular fan, either. But when someone brings you a sincere "very special on the house" gift, you do not look it in the mouth, rather you open yours, bite, chew, and swallow. If you don't really like it, you figure out how few you can eat in order to make a good show of it and not cause offense. Except that I should clarify: you do not do this if you are my mother. Still the cause of a teasing family outrage to this day, my mother flatly refused to eat any of them. We tried to convince her to join us, but it was no use. To make matters worse, in the midst of forcing them down: "You know why I don't like them?" "Why?" I took the bait. "They've always reminded me of eyeballs." No, she wouldn't eat a single one. There are other stories—you can't frequent a restaurant as often as we did the Twin Dragon without having a supply of stories—but more than any one dish or any single event, what I remember was that it was a family tradition I looked forward to, and that the Twin Dragon owners and staff made us feel like we were also part of their family. It's nice to know that, no matter what changes have occurred in our old stomping grounds of West L.A., this slice of culinary nostalgia still remains. 

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