You just never know what you’re going to get when you order laconically named dishes at competently run Szechuan restaurants.
Chengdu Spicy Cold Noodle ($5.95) was seemingly homemade, spaghetti-like noodles, lightly dressed in soy sauce, chili paste, and scallion. This is an honorable noodle, better served at refrigerator temperature than room temperature (as I found out for lunch today).
Chengdu Zhongs Spring Dumpling ($4.95) were decent dumplings, a step behind the cold noodle, some being stuck together, filled with a coarse but densely packed ground pork, and bathing in a soy bath. Interestingly, if you Google “Chengu Zhong,” a picture of these dumplings from Hong Kong Palace comes up as the number one hit. And in case you don’t know who Zhong is, then click here for your culinary history lesson.
Thanks to this recommendation on donrockwell.com, I’ve had the Cumin Fish ($12.95) three times in the past year – it’s a borderline great dish, the small bite-sized pieces of dry-rubbed, sauceless, cumin-laden whitefish nestled amongst spicy green and red pepper and onion, the whole thing banking on the fish itself, and hitting a triple (but not quite a home run due to it’s slightly soggy texture (yes, I know, it needs to be eaten *immediately* upon serving)).
My friend asked me where I had Hong Kong Palace ranked in my Falls Church dining guide on donrockwell.com, and I said I think I had it ranked #2 below 2941 (as it turns out, I have Falls Church divided into two geographical areas, with both restaurants #1 in their respective area). “You’d be pissed off if you got this noodle dish at 2941,” I said.
“You could never find a fish dish like this at 2941,” she replied, “and if you did you’d pay $40 for it.”
Oh, and about that laconically named dish: I ordered the Stir Fried Potato and Green Pepper ($8.95) figuring it would be a neutral dish that complemented the fish. I was expecting chunks of potato, and cleaved green pepper, and never expected the fine julienne that I unearthed, no doubt tossed through a food processor, but with such purity of flavor, and minimal, clean oil that was watered down from the potato adding to its dexterity. If you ever get carryout from Hong Kong Palace, do yourself a favor and order this, eat half with your meal, and then crack a couple eggs over it the next morning and make yourself an omelette for breakfast.
On a second visit here (on January 12th.), I ordered the Cumin Lamb ($12.95) which is the same preparation as the cumin fish described above (you can also get it with beef or ribs). As I feared, I found myself wishing I’d ordered the fish again – the lamb meat itself was pretty tough and flavorless outside of the assertive spicing. In general, I’ve spotted a pattern which implies that unless a restaurant – not just a Chinese restaurant, but any restaurant – serves several different lamb preparations, then their lamb meat is often an afterthought.
Are you ready for your daily chuckle? Do not miss the Beef Egg Foo Young ($9.95). Yes, I just said that. Minus the gravy, I’ve always had a soft spot for this dish which is really nothing more than a variation on an omelet, but this particular rendition was the best Egg Foo Young I can remember – three outsized bird nests, beautifully put together and fried with finesse. Ignore the gravy if you get these for carryout, and simply mill some coarse salt over them (the one thing they lack is salt, and it really wakes them up). The gravy itself is lousy, and left out overnight, it separated into clumps of starch and a pool of oil, so it’s best left alone. But gravy aside, you will love this dish!
Once again, I got the Stir Fried Potato and Green Pepper ($8.95), and much to my delight, it was the exact same as before. The next morning, I made a birds nest out of an extra Egg Foo Young, surrounded by the shredded potato and pepper, and had a wonderful breakfast.
Hong Kong Palace has little coupons on their carryout menu that give you two free egg rolls (normally $2.50) with a $25 minimum pick-up or delivery order. Heed this advice: don’t bother with them. Take the worst Americanized Chinese suburban strip mall egg rolls you’ve ever tried, and these are them. There was almost nothing in them except for batter, and even the batter was unpleasant. The next time I place a $25 order at Hong Kong Palace, I’ll bypass these because I don’t like wasting food.
But the takeaway from this second visit was the Beef Egg Foo Young. Get it!