I called in a carryout order to China Cafe the other day a good thirty minutes in advance, and when I got there, was told it wasn’t ready yet.
Okay, so I waited, and during that time I went back to wash my hands. My goodness, this place can be best described with one word: it’s a *dive*! It’s not “dirty,” but it’s old, cluttered, and has that sort of year-over-year crust that only this type of restaurant can have.
On the way out of the washroom, walking through the kitchen, the cook – a friendly lady who was the only person working in the empty restaurant – said “the squid was frozen, so it’s taking a little longer.” Hmm, I’ve seen too many cases in the past where I call in a carryout order, and the restaurant doesn’t begin cooking it until you arrive to pick it up (that would be you, Ravi Kabob).
I ordered Pepper Salted Squid Over Broccoli ($9.99), and based on the quality of the batter, I’m willing to believe they needed to soak the squid in warm water in order to coat it, so, no accusations here. The odd name is because it’s a salt-based batter around ring-meat only (no tentacles), with a few sliced jalapeños (the “pepper”) added into the mix.
This was a good dish, and would have been a *very* good dish had it not been salted to death. After the first third (or so) of the entree, I started getting salt-saturated. This was really, really salty, and even the steamed broccoli was almost too salty to eat with any degree of enjoyment. But it was high-quality frozen squid, the batter was otherwise delicious, and the dish was very well-fried (in a deep pan). There’s also little doubt this entree was meant to be had along with other, less salty, dishes by its side; not scarfed down in its entirety by one person as a meal.
So, while deeply flawed on its own, the execution of this squid was deft enough to call me back the next time I’m at Ground Zero in College Park (Route 1 and Knox Road). With apologies to Ferhat and Fishnet, where my loyalties will take me the next time I’m anywhere in the general vicinity.