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So-So Chinatown Experiences. Am I ordering wrong?

Hello my fellow eaters,

I have been going to Chinatown every couple of weeks or so for about three years. For a while I was going about four times a week. I would always gravitate towards Taiwan Cafe, and was never dissapointed. The sauces are deep, intrinsic, and very complex; often rich with black bean, garlic, thai basil, chiles - that magical balance of salty, sweet, spicy and savory. So, after going there probably 60 times over the course of two years, i figured I would start checking out some of the other heavy hitters such as Peach Farm and East Ocean City. What I am finding, time after time at these places, is I get a plate of rice or noodles with with a very bland, thick white sauce brimming with plain seafood and vegetables - barely seasoned. Now, while the seafood is generally very fresh and I am all for letting ingredients shine, the whole meal just ends up being very flat and unexciting. I have tried some other dishes with black bean or a brown sauce and nothing has really impressed me that much. Suggestions?

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  1. I think you should go to Peach Farm and order the salt & pepper dry-fried shrimp. If your experience mirrors mine ( http://www.chowhound.com/topics/357298 ) then you'll be golden.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Prav

      Nice one prav. Actually anything salt and pepper fried there is good, including a pork/squid mix that rocks!

      For the OP -- if you are always getting a white thick gloop, I can't imagine what you are ordering. You must be asking for *something*, right? Stop ordering that!

    2. Peach Farm and East Ocean City are Hong Kong and Cantonese seafood restaurants. I tend to order my brown sauce dishes at Shanghai-style restaurants like New Shanghai. Or you could try Wing's for that style.

      At Peach Farm, I often order s&p squid and I always show up when soft shell crabs are in season. I've never had noodles there, but I always get an order of some sort of stirfried vegetable that is always great. At East Ocean City, I've been meaning to take a group to do a banquet there, but haven't eaten there recently enough to comment on other offerings.

      1 Reply
      1. re: gini

        I'll echo gini's rec here. If you're looking for sauces that will bowl you over with Flavor, try Wing's. I think the spicy eggplant dish he serves would give you just what you're looking for. Also, while not sauce-heavy, the mince pork with Sesame Cakes is out of this world!

      2. Have you tried Dim Sum yet during the day? If not, try Hei La Moon or China Pearl or Emporer's Garden. You might want to try (with a group and ordered 24 hrs in advance) the 3 course Peking Duck at King Fung Garden with their scallion pancakes and dumplings. I cannot attest, but a Chinese friend of mine highly recommends Ho Yuen Ting, a tiny place in the basement on Hudson Street.

        1 Reply
        1. re: paulgardner

          Ho Yuen Ting is now Best Little Restaurant as of maybe a year ago.

          http://www.chowhound.com/topics/394004

        2. cantonese (what the majority of restaurants in chinatown are) is somewhat boring taste wise compared to taiwanese and szechuan unfortunately.
          clams in black bean sauce
          S&P shrimp (but be prepared to take the shells off)
          pea pod stems
          deep fried pork chops (not my thing but some of my relatives like it)
          sizzling beef (comes out on sizzling hot plate and has a lot of pepper/onion flavor)

          The orange beef/chicken, general tso's chicken, etc. are generally americanized food so I'd stay away from it ;-)

          8 Replies
          1. re: Spike

            Awe, come on. Nothing wrong with "americanized" chinese food. It just an entirly different cuizine then real stuff. I love clams and black beans, dim sum, and most items at Taiwan Cafe but, there are times I just gotta have my fix of mu shi, general tso's chicken and (don't hit me) crab rangoons.

            1. re: slade

              Nothing wrong w/ "americanized" but the ones in chinatown don't do it too well IMHO. Too bad panda express is gone now, but the one at the galleria had a really good orange chicken :-)

              The OP wanted a tasty experience and enjoyed Taiwan Cafe, so my response was tailored for that request and that prior experience. Cantonese is definitely more subdued than Taiwanese food. I like all kinds of asian food as well, but it's important to understand the specifics of each region. It's sorta like wanting Mediterranean Italian when going into a restaurant that specializes in Northern Italian food...different typical ingredients from the different regions influence the variety of food dishes...

            2. re: Spike

              i've always eaten s&p shrimp shell, head and tail. on some occasions i did find the legs (swimerettes?) too hard and contended myself with just a bite, or two, of the carapace.
              am i not supposed to?

              1. re: ScubaSteve

                lol..you can do whatever your tongue/stomach like. I once put kheer (a dessert) on a salad at an Indian restaurant because I thought it was a yogurt based salad dressing, but it was tasty :-)

                FWIW, I don't know anyone that eats the entire shrimp w/o deshelling first...

                1. re: Spike

                  Re: Kheer faux pas

                  I always wondered when I would see that happen, especially in unlabeled buffets. :)

                  1. re: Prav

                    It was pretty funny to see the waiter rush over tell me that was really dessert, but by that time I had already piled it on the salad...I actually liked it better than the regular dressings they had :-)
                    This was Mela in the south end in case you're curious.

                2. re: ScubaSteve

                  I've eaten the tail shells of shrimp pretty often, only sucked the rest though - yum.

                3. re: Spike

                  One person's boring is another person's joy I guess. I appreciate Cantonese cooking (and could be biased because I grew up on the stuff) because it is much lighter than Sichuan or other northern Chinese cuisines. While I like occasional sauces, I generally don't like goopy over-sauced food. Cantonese cooking is a lot about letting natural ingredients speak for themselves - one of the reasons I also love Japanese food (I hear of some people proclaiming Japanese food boring too).

                  As Spike noted, Chinatown is dominated by Cantonese style restaurants, and a good number of dishes have no sauce. If you prefer sauce, then perhaps the style of cooking is just not your thing. You may want to stick to the places that specialize in regional cuisine, like a Taiwan Cafe or New Shanghai.

                4. try the Peach Farm House Special Flounder, the Shrimp and Walnuts, the hot and sour soup, the chicken with ginger and scallions on the bone, the S&P Shrimp or Squid. All of that is really good in my book.

                  1. Try the stir fried noodles at Penang such as Mee Siam, Chow Kueh Teaw or the Indian Mee Goreng as well as the noodles in soup such as Prawn Mee, Curry Mee and Assam Laksa.