Chinese Take Out

me in wand and wings

A random chick asked me to share a two-bedroom bungalow half a block from the beach on a Venice walk street.  The year was 1979.  There wasn’t much else going on.  I was living in my friend’s kitchen that had I converted to a very small bedroom by simply hanging a Japanese print curtain next to the refrigerator.  It was pretty ghetto.  But it was easy reaching from my bed for a can of Tab, and I had a six-pack-a-day habit.  Anyway, I can’t resist the beach, so I said yes.  Problem was, I didn’t know this girl all that well.  And soon learned there would be no chicks staying-up-all-night-in-PJ’s laughing.  Turns out, she was a full-blown groupie.  And an alcoholic.  She spent her nights at a recording studio with some band that shared her in the late night hours.  Most of her days were spent cleaning the recording studio.  Not for money, just because she was a fan.  My roommate was never home to pay her rent on time.  And if she were home, she would start a fight to get out of paying the rent.  Fun times.

I would spend hours listening to a new artist, Elvis Costello, and the song, “Watching the Detectives,” which I would play along with on my drum practice pad outside on the patio.  It was a sorry little existence.  I never felt safe alone at night, and I was pretty sure my big cat Cosmo, who went missing for hours at a time, had joined a gang.  Some nights, I would go with my friend Pam to little bars and joints on the strand, Cosmo trailing behind us.  Cosmo wore a scarf the way dogs did in that era, which means I put the scarf on him.  He didn’t wake up in the morning and say, “Hey, I think I’ll sport this great red scarf today.”  Cosmo would wait outside those little bars for us and then follow me home.  By the way, I never drank, so I’m not sure what we were even doing in those joints.  Something to get us out of the house, I guess.   Most days I wore stars on my face.  Sometimes I carried a wand.  A combination of vintage and punk clothes was my wardrobe.  I was very colorful.  Speaking of colorful, the roomie once told me this story.  Actually I had heard this story for years, I just didn’t know I was now living with a “famous” person.  Or is infamous the better word.

Pam and me

Pam and me

When the Justin Bieber of that era (Hint: he was on a TV show, initials DC; brother SC, also a pop star.) was in his heyday, she had spent the night with him.  In the morning, while he was walking around his kitchen cooking breakfast, she was on her knees, crawling, with a part of his anatomy in her mouth.  Are you getting this visual?  He’s asking her if she wants bacon with her eggs, and she’s unable to coherently speak, saying, “Mm-huh.”  It’s a famous story that went around my crowd of friends, and little did I know she would one day be my roommate.

One day, while living with the groupie that was never home, I fell sick with a fever.  Probably the flu.  I was stuck in bed, too ill to go fetch food.  I was not really an order-food-to-be-delivered kind of a person.  I was more of a person who went out to pick up the food, or who just sat in a restaurant and ate.  I didn’t know how to cook yet.  That would all come much later when I had hungry children of my own.  But back then, I sat in my pad, the “director” who thinks everyone is her personal assistant, wondering who out there might be interested in the unrewarding job of fetching me some food.  I had a house charge account at Ah Fong’s in Beverly Hills.  My dad paid the bill at the end of each month, so I ate there occasionally.  I assumed that restaurateur Benson Fong, who had been an actor, had once upon a time appeared in one of my father’s movies.   “Who do I know that lives in Beverly Hills?” I thought to myself.  I came up with someone.  A very sweet girl I barely knew, though once, several years before, we did go to my mother’s house in Palm Springs for the weekend.   I called information.   Lucky for me, her number was listed.  I called her, out of the blue, and said, “Hey, it’s me, Fredde Duke.  Are you by any chance free to go pick up an order of Chinese food for me?”  When I say this was random, that is just putting it mildly.  This was a total fucking stretch.  HELLO?  You barely know me but…

I sweetened the deal by offering that she could order anything she wanted from the menu, dinner was on me.  I mean, really, it was on my dad, but he would understand.  He would call this “good road-managing.”  The girl said that she had to go to school at USC, where she was in a graduate program, but sure, on her way home, she would be happy to pick up my food and bring it to me in Venice.  Oh my god, how nice is she!  And what a stroke of genius on my part!!!!  I said, “Great, what time do you think you will be running by Ah Fong’s?  I’ll call in the order — and what dishes would you like?  They make great pan fried noodles.”  She declined the invitation to share, and then I felt really awkward, but not, in fact, awkward enough to say forget about it.   After all, I really was sick.  Still, to relieve my guilt, I continued trying to entice her.  “What about sesame sliced pork with duck sauce?”  “No thanks.” “Chicken in a bag?  Not sure why I even like it, but I do.”   So, that is how this very kind, not really great friend came to my rescue and brought me Chinese take-out one night, long ago.  (And if you’re reading this, I’d still like to buy you dinner.)

Cosmo sporting his red scarf

Cosmo sporting his red scarf

practice pad

practice pad


Food:  I researched Ah Fong’s online and there are still people out there talking about the signature dish Beef Su Chow.  In fact, I found one person who recreated the recipe.  Turns out, it’s someone I know, Pauli Moss.  Thanks Pauli!!!


1 pound sliced top sirloin or filet mignon
(freeze slightly for even slices 1 inch by 2 inches by 1/3 inch thick)
Marinate the meat for 3-5 hours in:
1 teaspoon fresh minced garlic
1 teaspoon fresh minced ginger
1/2 cup DARK SWEET SOY SAUCE (available in Thai Markets)
1/2 cup of dry sherry wine
1 Tablespoon Hoisin sauce

Saute in a wok with 2 tablespoons peanut oil for 3-5 minutes on medium/high heat

Remove the beef and set aside. Reduce the sauce over the heat for another minute and pour over the beef. Serve with white jasmine rice.


Garnish with 1/2 cup freshly chopped green scallions IF DESIRED




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13 Responses to “Chinese Take Out”

  1. robin says:

    my dream is that someone will get the recipes, not in the style, but the real genuine ah fongs recipes and reopen. on north beverly drive or calabasas. wherever. who was the roomie? need names! love your stories and what’s more……I LOVED YOUR MOVIE! BOTH TIMES!

  2. Debbie Schellenberg says:


    You really should write a book…so much fun to read!!!!

  3. Phil Kaufman says:

    I remember Ah Fong’s on North Beverly. It was really a large restaurant, I thought, sort of too large for its own good….to much spent on overhead and real estate, more on quantity than quality. I found the food there generally unexciting and mediocre.

  4. Pauli says:

    Ah Fong’s was our Sunday night religion. Chicken fried rice and beef soo chow – and yes, I wish someone would open up another one, and bring The Luau back while they’re at it. I’ve since traded the sherry in the recipe for rice wine (mirin) which works much better than the sherry. The trick to making it taste like it should is using a funky, very well used steel wok and stir frying it on very high heat for less than a minute so that it gets smoky. Hard to do in a home kitchen. Thanks for the homage Fredde.
    I’ll bring you Chinese take out any time!

  5. Laura Plotkin says:

    Ah Fong’s was our Thursday night go-to place–such fond memories of their “old style” Cantonese food–and then going up to the corner–was it Whalen’s Drug Store?–where we would buy school supplies! Thanks for another great trip down memory lane! What ever happened to your notorious roommate?

  6. Fredde,
    I love your Chutzpah. I’ll have the pan fried noodles. It’s so hard to get good Chinese in LA.
    So adorable you.

  7. cristi ulrich says:

    Another perfect memoir!!

  8. Mitch says:

    A little Ah Fong’s in Venice…what a juxtaposition. When I first left home I searched for a cheap rental in that part of town. I remember checking out an old apartment house near Windward. The dark hallway stank — probably of urine, possibly of other things — and all of the units were padlocked. Some had more than one nailed to the frame. I got the feeling that even a couple of strong locks might not have kept out a determined junkie. This was back when Venice was kind of a dangerous place. I’ll betcha that few restaurants delivered to the neighborhood. I know that by 1979 Venice was semi-gentrified, but parts of that area remain a little rough. You’ve always been a brave one, Fredde! BTW, when I worked in Hollywood, and whenever I was feeling a little flu-ish I’d score some Pink’s chili. Within a half hour, the flu was no longer my biggest concern.

  9. July 1st 2016 Ah Fongs was the best of the best places to eat during the holidays or birthdays or mother’s day or father s day or a special occasion .Benson Fong and his entire family .were amazing and awesome and beautiful and lovely .made you feel like you were a family member and the best of the best drinks and the best of the best food My late Mom Gloria Haley Parnassus did a movie in Mexico with Benson .and how ï sure do miss this place .Love adrienne radovich becker in California and the Granddaughter of Jack Haley Sr who was the Tinman from the movie The Wizard Of Oz and Thank you Fredrica Duke for sharing this with all of us and if anyone from Benson Fong Family please tell them I would like and love to hear from them

  10. Carol Ward DUdley says:

    Would you believe I have only been there once – the rest of the family many other times – am I wrong that Lew Wasserman had them open another one in the valley across from Universal? I remember they had a fabulous fruit punch – ala vodka – one of the only times I needed a bit of help getting up the stairs – too bad its no longer there (among with so many others)

  11. Debi fries says:

    I love that all my old sometimes forgotten memories of my stomping grounds get to hold center stage from time to time as you recycle our fondest spots. Loved ah fongs and the luau and definitely have no recollection of being on my knees in that kitchen! Definitely not breakfast of champions!

  12. Linda says:

    Thanks for the walk down memory lane …

  13. Linda says:

    Thanks for the WONDERFUL walk down memory lane …

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