“Ice water, tea, and a Tsing Tao ($3.95)” was my response when my tentatively kindly server asked me what I’d like to drink (it was late, I didn’t want any caffeine, and I only ordered tea so I’d be taken seriously, but I did enjoy half a cup – it’s free here).
The strategy of going for the “Chef’s Recommendations” sections of menus at large, Hong Kong-style restaurants seems sound, but I’m not convinced it always pays off; nevertheless, it did on this evening – I ordered enough food so I could have a light lunch the next day, two items instead of one:
#86 Fried Pumpkin with Salty Egg Yolk ($12.95) was a classic example of me rolling the dice on something I had no idea about, just because it sounded unusual, but let me tell you: this is an excellent dish, something akin to Peter Chang’s fried eggplant in terms of what it looks like – try and picture pumpkin sliced to look like thick-cut, steak fries, and the “salty egg yolk” was clearly in the thick, dark-brown batter they used to deep-fry it. There was really nothing terribly exotic about this dish, but it was delicious, and it wasn’t even all that salty. As a solo diner, it was too big, but for two people, you should absolutely get this to share, either as an appetizer, or a side dish. As I’m typing this, I’m having vivid memories of it, even though it has been over two weeks, and am salivating like Pavlov’s dog.
#90 Sautéed Fish with Chinese Yam ($14.95) doubled-down on the autumnal vegetables, and I’m glad I did. This was a cod-like whitefish, wok-sautéed with a light hand on the oil, and accompanied with several vegetables, among them, white, circular disks of Chinese yam which I would not recognize as anything other than “some root vegetable” had it not been identified on the menu. Like the fried pumpkin, this was a mild dish, but this was also a healthy dish – one that I could, and would, gladly eat fairly often. Also like the pumpkin, it sounded more exotic than it actually was – had it not been for the Chinese yam, this would have been a fairly typical (but high-qualiity) fish filet and vegetable stir-fry. I left stuffed and happy, and had a nice little lunch the next day.
#49 Dough Fritters Stuffed with Shrimp Paste ($6.95) was another thing I ordered mostly for the joy of discovery – one thing that piqued my curiosity (which, incidentally, killed the cat) was that there was a separate appetizer of “Fried Shrimp Toast,” so this clearly wasn’t that. And yet, it kind of was – in shape, these resembled the Fried Pumpkin, as they were in the same general shape as huge steak fries (rectangular prisms, if you will) – strips of deep-fried dough stuffed with a shrimp paste that has the texture of a dense, firm mousse. This was one dish I made sure to polish off, despite it being too much for person, because I was pretty sure it wouldn’t reheat very well. Like the pumpkin, it wasn’t the healthiest thing in the world, but boy they sure were good. If I had ordered “Shrimp Toast,” and gotten this dish, I wouldn’t have questioned it, so think along those lines, even though it’s a paste rather than whole shrimp.
#98 Sautéed Malaysian Style Seafood ($18.95) was a bounty of seafood – squid, shrimp, fish, scallop – again served with mixed vegetables – mushrooms, pea shoots (the biggest flaw in this dish was its over-reliance on pea shoots) – and not at all incendiary; I was bracing for some degree of potentially crippling sambal, but this is a Hong Kong-style restaurant, and style took precedence over personal foreboding. This was a generous portion of seafood, and once again the kitchen used a moderate touch with the oil (I love it when my wok-fry isn’t oiled to death), and while delicious and of good quality, the saucing here was a little less exciting than I had hoped for. This is what you think of when you think “Seafood and Vegetables” in an Americanized Chinese restaurant *but* this was of much higher quality than the norm, so take that as a stylistic comment, rather than as a qualitative one – these are wok-fried with a seasoned hand and an elegant touch, and are the types of dishes you want to eat, rather than dread – the texture is snappy and clean, and you don’t feel like you’ve fellated an oil can when you’re finished. All four of the dishes I’ve mentioned so far would pass StarStraf’s hilarious “Grandma Review” litmus test that she has been throwing into her reviews of late. However, that’s about to change, at least a little bit.
#71 Fish and Preserved Egg Soup ($9.95) had me wondering where the preserved egg was – after a few minutes, I assumed it was somehow incorporated into the broth, even though that seemed unlikely. This was again a cod-like whitefish that left me a little bit AFO’d (all fished out) because I’d been attacking the seafood here pretty aggressively, and this was the third dish I’d had with the same basic type of fish. By no means is that the restaurant’s fault, and this soup was every bit as good as anything else I had here. Ah! And finally, I saw it: a quartered thousand-year egg, and then I noticed three others as well, so sure enough, it was here; just hidden below. I love preserved eggs, but they aren’t for grandma, unless grandma is from China. I’ve always assumed “thousand-year eggs” are named as such because they look like they’ve been aging for a thousand years – they’re as black as coal in spots, and despite being mild, their appearance can fool your brain into thinking they taste like something that they don’t taste like. I suspect this is the same with Balut, a dish that I have never worked up the courage to try, even though I’m certain it’s perfectly fine and probably even delicious. Well, anyway, the four quarters of egg were not an integral part of the soup; just a self-contained ingredient, and the broth came across as containing a bit of egg yolk which I thought complemented things nicely.
#89 Steamed Frog Legs with Cordycep Flowers ($21.95) was every bit the physical challenge that I feared it might be. A melange of frog legs and vegetables, topped with a generous stratum of cordyceps (I linked that so you’d get an idea of the presentation), this was a subtle and nuanced treat (cordyceps, despite being a fungus, are no more aggressive than shredded carrot). The problem was as it so often is with inexpensive frog legs: It requires a tongue deft enough to tie a knot in a cherry stem in order to separate the strands of meat from the strands of bone. Imagine putting a little twig into your mouth, and the twig is composed of several strands of thinner twigs, each of the same length. Some of these are meat; others are bone (inedible bone), and it’s your tongue’s charge to separate the two in a Sisyphean chore that’s similar to eating a distressingly seedy watermelon, or tiny little crab claws, or any other food item that forces you to max-work for min-benefits. No, it doesn’t taste like chicken; it tastes like frog legs, but these were little baby things, and I’d breathe an occasional sigh of relief when I got a speck of meat that separated from the bone. You will use your hands with this dish, with each bite of frog leg, in order to extract bone after bone after bone. I haven’t had inexpensive frog legs in awhile, and now I remember why I haven’t – they’re just too much trouble. Recently, I had some as an appetizer at Bistroquet (I think it was at Bistroquet), and any expense for larger legs is worth it to me, preparation taking a back seat to the distribution of meat-to-bone. A very good dish, to be sure, and I knew what I was getting into before I got into it – I enjoyed this, especially with the cordyceps which I’ve had plenty of times in the past, but have simply never been able to identify, either by name or species.
Six-for-six at Taste @ Hong Kong – not bad, not bad at all. Any other opinions about it?