Chef Chen - Irvine
A pang of sadness hit me when I heard that Nice Time Deli in Irvine closed. It wasn't because I was particularly attached to it. To be honest, it had been ages since I last visited. But the fact that it would no longer be there was again a reminder that nothing lasts forever and a lesson that we often take everything for granted until its gone.
The dish that I will miss most is their pai gu fan, better known as pork chop rice--a simple cut of pork, pounded into thin, flat fingers that spanned an area as big as my face. Beneath was an unglamorous plate of rice soaked with soy-sauce cooked ground pork, a humble piece of tofu and a simmered egg.
The dish was comfort food. No bones about it. It's the kind of meal that doesn't aim for anything but sustenance; but one that you come back to, again and again, because of how warm it made you feel.
Pai gu fan is almost a commodity in Irvine. In fact, just next door I found a worthy and close enough replacement. Chef Chen's pork chop comes as a swooping, grand gesture of pig, flattened to a pamphlet's thinness and cooked crisp under its own brand of a sweet golden batter. The requisite rice mound below is moistened with a corn-starch thickened oyster-sauce gravy with bits of ground pork and bok choy.
Like me, other fans of pai gu fan have a Nice Time Deli surrogate in Chef Chen, and it is good.
Chef Chen's Restaurant
5408 Walnut Avenue # B
Irvine, CA 92604
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