South China in Alexandria - Report
A group of eight Chowhounds got together at South China in the Van Dorn section of Alexandria to try out Huaiyang Cuisine – DC’s only source of this cooking from the riverine area north of Shanghai. Among other things, known for it’s sweet take on many dishes.
Nanjing Salty Duck
Jingling Smoked Fish
Osmanthus Lotus Root
Pingqiao Tofu Soup
Liangxi Crispy Eel
Spicy Baby Cuttlefish
Wuxi Fried Ribs
Spicy Rabbit Pot
The food was mostly unremarkable. The standout dish was the crispy eel. In execution, it seemed to come out of another kitchen. Long, thin river eel deep fried to a golden brown and served moderately sweet. I can’t say it had any river flavor, but it was beautifully executed.
The Wuxi Fried Ribs came out as just another version of red-braised meat, popular throughout the region and Shanghai (there is a similar dish on the menu, grandma’s red braised meat, which features pork belly). I had the pork belly version the week before. This is outright done better and more complex at Pacifica Café in Gaithersburg, MD – but you have to order it in advance there since it takes days of preparation.
Two of our dishes were Sichuanese – the Rabbit pot and the baby cuttlefish. There are many similar dishes on the menu. These were well executed, but they’d be a lot more potent at a Sichuan restaurant.
Three of us walked in to an Ethiopian market in the same strip, Turns out it is also a full restaurant inside with an elaborate sculptural menu (maybe the fanciest menu I've seen in the DC area) and a bunch of freshly baked breads, which looked and smelled really great. It's called Tsadey.
Pan American Bakery is in the same mall for Bolivian food. Tasty saltenas.
I thought South China's spicy Szechuan chicken was well done: thumb size chunks of chicken fried crispy and buried under a pile of fried red chilis. Hot, but not toxically hot, which is fine by me. I keep forgetting to tell them to hold the cilantro, so I end up scraping a cup's worth off my fish hotpot. Since there's a dearth of quality Chinese eateries in Alexandria, we end up going here or Sampan Cafe for dim sum and tripe dishes.
Thanks for the rec on Golden Hong Kong. Better dim sum than Sampan, not as good as what you'd find in Seven Corners, but closer to me and good enough.
Finally tried the fried eel at South China. Definitely a standout; the crispiness reminded me of pork rinds. Also tried a spicy fish hotpot where the dominant flavor was cucumber (in the stock as well as shredded on top). Never had anything like it before.
Agreed that there are other places to get most of these things better, but it's still better than most of the options in that area for relatively authentic Chinese. I may have been the most enthusiastic of the folks who joined, though, by virtue of not having had anything interesting to eat in a while before that.
A subsequent visit confirmed other reports that they have a solid (flavorful and not too fiery) ma po tofu.
As I rapidly enter my dotage, proximity becomes really important to me. I'll make a special trip to Grace Garden if I'm on my way to Baltimore, or Temari Cafe if I'm going through Rockville, but I'd have a hard time justifying going all the way to Gaithersburg for dinner. The dim sum at Sampan Cafe isn't as good as the places in Seven Corners or Wheaton, but it has the advantage of not being in Seven Corners or Wheaton and there's no ridiculous wait with people staring at you drooling and tapping their watches.
Peking Duck does a good ma po tofu with ground pork in it. Also not fiery, but I don't care for fiery.