Posts Tagged ‘Chinese’

The good fortune of good food

May 20, 2012

Fortune cookies are not what they used to be. I don’t want advice, I want a prediction, a portent, a promise that something really great is around the corner.

Luckily, this fortune cookie got cracked open after a meal at Grand Sichuan House in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, and I couldn’t be too upset because that restaurant is seriously the Bomb.

Sometimes I worry that I’m getting jaded living in New York. We’re constantly surrounded by amazing food, from nearly every corner of the world. The other day, i was working in Rochester, New York, and I ended up eating Chinese food at a restaurant where my meal was preceded by fried wonton strips and a dipping dish of duck sauce. I felt like I had been sucked back at least 15 years in time, because here in New York, we no longer eat “Chinese food.” We eat food from Hunan, Yunnan, Shandong, Shanghai, Canton. I can think of half a dozen Sichuan restaurants of the top of my head in Manhattan alone. I’ll have lunch at a place life Cafe China and think, “Yeah, that’s good enough for a weekday lunch,” but not a weekend dinner.

And then, I eat at a place like Grand Sichuan House, where I have to travel all the way to the second-to-last step on the very slow local R train, and life feels full of possibility and surprise again.

Our favorite was probably the cumin beef.

You know how when you look at great art or the Grand Canyon, the pleasure is so much more when you can turn to a friend and say, “Isn’t that fantastic?” Eating the cumin beef with my friends was not quite like looking out at the Grand Canyon with them, but it might be close to gazing at Bryce Canyon. Salty, chewy, crispy, tingly, it had that peculiarly dry texture of food that’s fried with corn starch. It was endlessly fascinating.

A close second was the Chong Qing chicken. There is chicken in there, buried under the peppers, with a perfect, crisp edge. The tingly, almost sour aftertaste of Sichuan peppercorns was incredibly pleasant, sharp but as pleasant as the smoothness of excellent chocolate or port.

The jellyfish was a particular favorite of mine. Korean-style jellyfish is more elastic; this had a refreshing snap and crunch.

When the waitress took our order, she didn’t quite believe it — the six of us ordered 7 entrees and 4 appetizers. We ended up eating nearly everything.

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The only thing that’s predictable is its decor. It’s bare, with the most earnest effort to decorate represented by a string of chili pepper lights hung up in a corner. While we were there, the TV was showing an extremely depressing Chinese news story on babies in China that are lactating because of hormones in the food and water. And you get the feeling that despite the love it gets on Chowhound, most of its business is takeout “Chinese Food American Style” for the neighborhood.

But we all agreed at the end of the meal that we would like to come back. “You will return”: that would be a good fortune.

Shanghainese dim sum — better than grandma’s, but don’t tell her

September 14, 2009

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When my friend Danica invited me to meet her in Manhattan’s Chinatown for a dim sum lunch at Shanghai Asian Cuisine and a “What’s that?” tour afterwards, I tried to get other people to join me.  The more people there are, the more you can order!

But in the end, I was not-so-secretly glad no one else could come.  That meant we could order and eat “boneless pig leg” with absolutely no guilt about ordering something no one else would eat.  And I shouldn’t have doubted Danica.  The fact that there were only two of us didn’t stop her from ordering seven perfect little dishes.

Of course, we had xiao long bao, otherwise known as soup dumplings, otherwise known as juicy buns.  These were filled with crab and pork, and Danica told me the bright orange color is meant to be remniscent of a very rare, very seasonal and very expensive Shanghainese crab.  The skins were wonderfully delicate.  When they had cooled a bit, Danica urged me to put a whole bun in my mouth and bite down.  Good thing I’ve known her since college, and I am not embarrassed to stuff a dumpling in my mouth in front of her.

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There was “mock duck,” which turned out to be thin tofu skins wrapped around mushrooms.  A little sweet for me but prepared with obvious care.

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Sesame noodles, with a bit of mung bean sprouts, very fragrant and a little resistant in the way all good noodles are.

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The aforementioned “boneless pig leg,” which gets served with a funny, syrup-like clear sauce.  I would never think of dipping thin slices of gelatinous pork in something sweet but it was absolutely delicious.  I love the texture of this kind of pressed pork, that layer of skin and fat that almost squeaks against your teeth.

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The fried wontons, in this array, should have seemed boring but they weren’t, not at all.  They were crisp, greaseless, and juicy.  What more could you ask of a wonton?

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The drunken chicken was almost my favorite, almost only because I couldn’t quite pick one favorite in the end.  I loved the quiet boozy flavor.

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And even though we hadn’t quite managed to finish everything, Danica ordered a pancake filled with sweet red beans for dessert.  I love eating with Danica.  She wisely ate one piece.  I ate four.  There must have been a little sticky rice flour in the dough, as the dough stayed chewy and resilient inside even as it was crispy on the outside.

Danica told me her Shanghainese friend introduced her to the restaurant.  She says, “The food is better than my grandmother’s!  But I can’t tell her!”

These wondrous little dishes were only the first of many amazing things I saw that day—loofah in its green, edible form; strings of Chinese sausage; beef “pizzies.”  But nothing blew my mind the way this jewelry display did.

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I’m so lucky to live close to Chinatown.  I hope the food keeps getting better and the jewelry porkier.

The restorative powers of a jicama salad

April 29, 2007

It was an intense weekend of food for me, if somewhat laid-back in terms of cooking. Friday, my friend Leslie came over for drinks and snacks. I had originally planned for crudites and other pantry antipasti, but I got all worked up sitting in the office thinking about spiced pork meatballs with guacomole that I rushed to the Coop right after work to get groceries for a bigger, Mexican-flavored meal. The Coop was a madhouse, though, and I only got home seconds before Leslie arrived, too exhausted to carry out my grand plans. So we had a slap-dash dinner of meatballs, guacamole, store-bought salsa and chips, and some quick quesadillas with monterey jack cheese and spicy yellow peppers. Leslie is, thankfully, the kind of friend I can ask to grate cheese and chop vegetables, and it turned out prosecco goes surprisingly well with semi-Mexican food. Easy and satisfying, and I got to use my new griddle.

Saturday, I went to a dim sum birthday brunch at Dim Sum Go Go at 11 am, followed quickly by a daytime wedding at 1. By the time I left the wedding at 6, I was so stuffed (and tipsy) I could barely see straight. I waddled home and went almost immediately to bed.

On Sunday, a big group of friends and friends of friends gathered at Spicy & Tasty for lunch. We were overwhelmed by the menu–what was “luscious duck”? “Enhanced pork”? How much should we order? What to do?

I felt like I had to take charge, since I had organized the outing, but to be honest, I felt too nervous to order what I truly would have ordered if I had been alone and had four stomachs. We got two orders of dan dan noodles, one of my favorite things to eat in the whole wide world; two orders of cold sesame noodles; two orders of tea-smoked duck; eggplant in garlic sauce; enhanced pork; seaweed with garlic; beef with peppers; and an almost disgustingly bland soup of soft bean curd and zucchini, our attempt to order something we had seen at another table that looked a lot tastier. (If I had been alone, I probably would have also ordered jellyfish, maybe some tripe or tendon, and some more cold, spicy dishes.)

The dan dan noodles were perfect, with that strange, subtle flavor so unique to Sichuan food.

The “enhanced pork” and the beef with peppers were big hits, as was the tea-smoked duck. And when the bill came, we were stuffed, but we seriously considered ordering more so we could help the restaurant pay its rent–$11 per person! I’m dying to go back.

By Sunday evening, I was exhausted from all the eating I’d done. I could have skipped dinner, I suppose, but that didn’t really occur to me. I knew it would be good to have a refreshing salad, something raw and crunchy and clean. I already had all the ingredients for the jicama-melon salad I hadn’t gotten around to making on Friday: jicama, cantaloupe, blood oranges, cilantro, and fresh limes. (No pomegranate seeds for me, since they’re a winter fruit in NY.) I threw everything together, let it sit for an hour in the fridge as recommended, and ate a big bowl while watching a PBS documentary on dogs. You know you have serious dog-fever if you find yourself cooing to the TV by yourself. But the salad was good! Next time, I’ll use a little less lime and hope for a riper melon.


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