Wednesday, December 9, 2009
I love Chinese food--white rice increases my life force, I could eat roasted duck until I am sick, and get double helpings of bok choy in garlic sauce any day of the week. When I was 4 and going through an extremely "picky" eating phase as a way of punishing my parents for having my sister, Amanda, the only thing I would deign to eat was...wait for it...sea food chow fun.
Needless to say, I was a bizarre child, but my fixation on classic Cantonese-style Chinese food has never left me. I am extremely fastidious about it, and the taste of kung-pao chicken or orange anything repulses me. It's what Taco Bell is to actual Mexican food.
The irony is, in a city of thousands of Chinese restaurants, it is hard to find one that isn't complete tourist fare or squarely in the take-out category, at least in my experience. Back home in DC, my family was devoted to Mark's Duck House, a loud, rowdy, sit-down brasserie that served amazing Hong-Kong style Chinese food. It even got my grandma's seal of approval when she visited, and I literally do not think that we have eaten at any other Chinese restaurant in ten years. It is Chinese food at its best, and I have yet to find a comparable place here in NYC. The fact that I actually don't speak any Chinese doesn't help matters.
However, I think my search might finally be making some progress. Tonight, Vronsky and I went to "Congee Village" down on Allen Street and it was fabulous. Neon lights call to you from three blocks away, and there is a waterfall as you walk in the door. It is Chinatown excess at its best, complete with multiple karaoke bars.
And clearly, the food matched up to the décor. The duck was excellent, although it was steamed rather than roasted, which is still my preference (the skin MUST be crispy!). The pot-stickers were nice and plump, the gia-lan (Chinese broccoli) perfectly sautéed, the scallops nice and juicy. Vronsky and I weren't hungry enough to get into any of the noodle dishes (sea food chow fun is usually my litmus test), nor were we able to try the soups or another vegetable dish, but I have confidence in Congee Village, and will be back for more.
However, I do not think my search for the perfect Chinese restaurant is over. The food needs to stick in my memory so well that I become a bottomless pit the minute I walk in the door. At Marks, for a family of six, we get: sea food bean curd soup, pot stickers, prawns, clams in black bean sauce, seafood chow fun, beef and gia-lan (broccoli), white rice, a half rack of roast duck, baby bok-choy in garlic sauce, plus five-spice pork and friend rice to go. Bring on the sweat pants!
And that entire meal is centered around the duck, which is picked clean off the lazy Susan in about 4 minutes by the Case clan. While the aforementioned steamed duck at Congee Village was nice, I am still searching for that perfect roast duck to center my experience. I think Congee Village is perfect for group dinners, as it has that fun-festive environment that really jives with a family-style meal, but I think the next on my list of restaurants to try is the Golden Unicorn. I went there for dim sum years ago, just a few weeks after I moved into the city and got hideously lost along the way and showed up so flustered and late that I couldn't really enjoy the food, which was cold by that point. Will report back with my thoughts in due course!