Review: At Mas', Jonathan Gold Finds Hearty, Spicy Food Just Like Your Chinese Islamic Mother Used to Make
Have you stopped by Mas’ Chinese Islamic Restaurant? Because it’s kind of wild on a Sunday afternoon, a world of head scarves and bright dresses, skinny suits and skullcaps, and children dumbstruck at the massive piles of sizzling black-pepper beef. The green-onion flatbreads — every table has one! — are as big as birthday cakes, and when you pick up a wedge you can see dozens of strata. Crisp shards of beef short ribs, cut laterally and thin in what Korean restaurants call “L.A. style,” are stacked six inches high.
The air is heady with garlic and cumin, burnt chiles and charred meat. The tables are set with forks — you have to ask for chopsticks. Jamillah Mas’ cooking is hearty and full flavored, spicy except when it isn’t, and unafraid of excess.
There was a time in the not-so-distant past when Islamic Chinese cooking looked like the future; a future awash in sesame sauce and mutton-organ warm pots. When the big Chinese food mall San Gabriel Square was young, the most popular restaurant was probably Tung Lai Shun, inspired by a famous Islamic restaurant in Beijing and serving a style of food we had never seen here before. I used to take visiting cookbook writers to Tung Lai Shun — I was convinced that Richard Olney would find hints of Provence in the plush braised lamb and that Fannie Farmer auteur Marion Cunningham might find inspiration in the flatbreads. (They didn’t, but it in no way diminished my admiration.)