Egg Rolls On
It has always seemed to me, to paraphrase an old sentiment, that Kendall is a nice place to live but I wouldn't want to visit there. Then I somehow find myself in one of the more terminally suburban parts, and realize I'm not so sure about living there, either. Whoa, is that place polite! Which frankly made me uneasy about the Chinese food possibilities. As someone whose distinctly different formative Asian eating experiences were in my well-manicured hometown of Upper Montclair and, more positively, in the rough-cut Bowery area of Manhattan, I instinctively feel the less gentrified the setting, the more genuine the Chinese chow; lotsa cheesy linoleum inside, and cartons outside overflowing with bean sprout litter, reassure me.
But while the food at the Chinese Restaurant proved to be predominantly Chinese American -- eight kinds of chop suey, five egg foo youngs (and no softly scrambled fu yung), egg rolls (and no Chinese spring rolls), and so on -- choosing carefully from menu and blackboard specials, the latter including close to a dozen Chinese-Peruvian chifa dishes, produced a pretty authentically Chinese, and very tasty, meal.
If starred ("highly recommended") Singapore rice noodle ($7.95) is typical, stick with the stars; it was terrific. Cantonese in cooking style but incorporating influences from India, Indonesia, and Malaysia, the dish featured a mountain of very thin rice noodles sautéed with everything but the kitchen sink: red peppers, green peppers, baby corn, celery, Chinese cabbage, onion, chicken, tiny shrimp, roast pork, and a few bits of what tasted like better pork roast (juicier, tenderer, and more flavorfully fatty). The noodles had a strong curry flavor and considerable heat, which worked well, the spiciness mouth-tingling but not mouth-numbing.
Also marked "hot," Szechuan chicken had barely a hint of fire, and compared with typical versions of this dish had a huge proportion of chicken to crunchy veggies. The chicken came in a $9 combination plate with good won ton soup (plenty of crisp greens and julienned pork, delicate won tons that were amply stuffed); an egg roll with an anise-heavy as well as otherwise off-flavored filling of minced meat; what was supposed to be one sparerib but was actually two huge, meaty, wonderful ribs; and pork fried rice that was strangely spartan, containing only a few small bits of rather dried-out meat and egg.
Why "strangely" is that the pork fried rice that came with a house special of almond duck ($8.50) was packed with juicy pork, light egg curds, diced onion, and bean sprouts -- excellent. The deep-fried duck itself was heavily breaded and rather tough (it's much easier to keep duck tender when long-cooked than when stir-fried, which is why it's most commonly roasted, braised, steamed, or smoked in China), but nicely flavored and topped with a generous amount of rich, nutty gravy.
Hot and sour soup to go was quite good, a budget-priced $2 half order so packed with pork and veggies that despite much less cornstarch thickening than usual, it made a substantial meal-in-a-bowl lunch the next day.
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