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Sugar Spice Café: Ladies who lunch in the SGV

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A few weeks ago, food maven extraordinaire Jonathan Gold described this new restaurant, saying “There are ladies who lunch….and ladies who lunch in Chengdu.” Drawn by this description, I pulled together a posse of ladies and headed for Sugar Spice Café, in the mini-mall next to the Hilton on Valley Boulevard in San Gabriel.

Unlike the usual SGV noodle joint, there is décor of which to speak: wicker chairs, comfy banquettes, and even a couch with a coffee table. All is clean, crisp. There are Chinese pop music videos on the flat-screen (although the songwriters all seem to have Scandinavian names). This alone could keep me happy for hours. And then comes the big surprise: the waitresses cook - or more accurately, assemble - the meals, from a salad-bar-like station behind the counter. Nary a chef was spotted; the tiny back room appeared to be a dishwashing and prep room.

Regardless, lunch at Sugar Spice Café was very good, with the extra added dimension of surprise that no one was actually cooking behind the counter where the very good food came from. The menu includes noodle bowls and hotpots, a few cold appetizers, teas and other drinks, and cookies (in addition to lunch/dinner, the café promotes tea and cookies in the afternoon). When we ordered the bean curd and greens appetizer, our waitress plopped a plastic container in the middle of our table. Within was a spicy mix of diced smoked bean curd and chopped mustard greens - a tasty way to start the meal. I’d assumed that the case full of cold appetizers was for take out, but it turned out to be for take out and eat in, all prepared ahead of time and stacked neatly in the the fridge. Our Plum Tea (too smoky for one guest) and Honey Chrysanthemum Tea (just right) came in plastic cups with lids and straws, as if we were about to go.