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  • Arcadia
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  • 3 out of 5 stars
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  1. Steak tartare at Monarch
    Photograph: Courtesy Sam McGuire
  2. Monarch dining room
    Photograph: Courtesy Kanya Iwana
  3. Monarch close-up dining room
    Photograph: Courtesy Kanya Iwana
  4. Silken Steamed egg at Monarch
    Photograph: Courtesy Sam McGuire
  5. Monarch bolognese
    Photograph: Courtesy Sam McGuire
  6. Black sesame meringue brownie at Monarch
    Photograph: Courtesy Sam McGuire

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

The menu at this new-school Chinese restaurant in the SGV is hit-or-miss, but at least there’s plenty to look at.

For the aesthetically inclined, there’s plenty to appreciate at Monarch, the brand-new weekend-only restaurant from Humberto Leon and his extended family. The wavy periwinkle tables, custom Bordallo Pinheiro cabbage plates and a wall-to-wall glass bead curtain evocative of the waterfall lamp from Wong Kar-wai’s Happy Together, among other meticulously curated design elements, were all handpicked by the Opening Ceremony cofounder himself and would definitely earn anyone social media clout. But more gustatorially inclined patrons, especially those familiar with the San Gabriel Valley’s incredible Asian dining scene, will find the mix of Cantonese and Taiwanese items here sadly lacking in consistency and overall wow factor. While some dishes are tasty enough, many are downright disappointing—and none come off as distinct or memorable enough to warrant a return visit.

As with Chifa in Eagle Rock (the designer’s first foray into hospitality), the kitchen is presided over by John Liu, Leon’s brother-in-law, with the personal history of his mother, “Popo” Wendy Leon, serving as culinary inspiration. Whereas Chifa delves into the family roots in Peru prior to moving to America, Monarch draws from the matriarch’s days as a young woman in Hong Kong. Aside from a few Taiwanese dishes, the bulk of the offerings skew Cantonese, with much homage paid to the former British colony’s famous cha chaan tengs, or Hong Kong cafés. A separate, and somewhat confusing, section at the bottom of the menu offers expensive steakhouse cuts of Australian Wagyu, which also forms the basis of a humdrum steak tartare. The raw appetizer’s distinctly Chinese condiments—chili crisp and pickled snow cabbage—taste more of attention-grabbing novelty than anything else, a characterization that extends to almost all of the menu, cocktails included.

Monarch’s strongest savory items, by far, are the items imported from Chifa and the heftier fusion-style offerings. Topped with shrimp and fish roe, the fried rice is a crowd pleaser, as it is at many Chinese restaurants, and Liu’s take on Taiwanese beef noodle soup is delicious, full stop. The egg noodle bolognese is rich and satisfying, as is the baked pork chop rice in tomato sauce. Served hot in the skillet and generously sprinkled with Gruyere, the dish tastes like a Chinese chicken parm in the best way possible. Best of all was the slippery egg crab fried fun, a seafood-inflected take on the classic Cantonese cheung fun. Chewy pieces of wok-fried rice noodle rolls, bathed in a silky sauce, disappeared almost instantly from our table on one of my visits. I only wish the rest of the menu could be as good. 

Aside from these few delights, there were plenty of duds. The “addicting” curry squid ink noodle dish, flavored with little more than curry powder and fresh seafood, tastes as bland and one-note as it sounds, though I admit that may simply be British culinary influence coming out in Cantonese fusion cuisine. Monarch’s steamed egg, luxuriously embedded with creamy monkfish liver and topped with salmon roe, falls short somehow in flavor and presentation. I should mention here that most dishes come plated on deep green hued cabbage plates, which when paired with the purple-blue tabletop don’t exactly make the food seem more appetizing. On the cocktail front, the pretty-looking Lychee Butterfly tastes like a watered down college party mixture of gummy bears and hard liquor, while the vodka-based Morpho ostensibly flavored with aloe honey, cucumber and citrus tastes like almost nothing at all. On the upside, both cocktails can be made with non-alcoholic spirits, and the restaurant has an excellent tea selection.

Service, this early in the game, is attentive and welcoming, and on any given weekend evening (Monarch, like Chifa, only serves dinner Friday through Sunday), you’ll catch a glimpse of at least one member of the Leon and Liu clan in the dining room, making the rounds. Almost all servers are clad in baby blue shirts and sweatshirts, which are also available for sale alongside other Monarch merch, much of which is displayed, funnily enough, in a glass case that once housed roasted ducks when the Monarch space was a noodle shop. It’s a small reminder of the ever-evolving nature of the SGV dining scene, which now has a uniquely Asian American special-occasion eatery all of its own—even if the place itself is far from perfect.

The vibe: Maximalist high fashion meets Chinese banquet hall.  
The food: A mix of Cantonese and Taiwanese cuisine, plus a selection of pricey Australian Wagyu cuts. Highlights include the slippery egg crab fried fun, baked pork chop rice and the black sesame brownie by Flouring LA. 
The drink: A few signature cocktails/mocktails, plus wine and beer. Mocktails are made with local non-alcoholic spirits brand Optimist Botanicals, plus a seriously good selection of high-quality teas and coffee.
Time Out tip: Don’t bring your vegan friends here. While the stir-fried veggies are, of course, vegan, only a few menu items can be made vegetarian, not vegan.

Patricia Kelly Yeo
Written by
Patricia Kelly Yeo


1212 S Baldwin Ave
Opening hours:
Fri–Sun 5–9pm
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