How many of you readers out there have run the Boston Marathon? I know who you are…put your hands down. Well, at this point in my Wok About 2009, I feel like I’m half-way up Heartbreak Hill (or in my case “Heartburn Hill) and I just can’t go on. With the encouragement from the girls of Wellesley College and the BC crowd, I feel my spirit rising (if not my sodium levels) and I am beginning to ascend to the apex…
While the food samplings were getting better, I’m still climbing a mountain. At this point, I’m sort of at the base camp of the better places. I put “Imperial China” and “Eo Noodle”, both of Framingham, in this camp. I don’t go to Eo Noodle very often, but was invited to dine with some friends for lunch a few weeks back. While slightly more expensive than most Chinese luncheon joints, I will say that the food was tasty and plentiful. I give this a positive review.
On the same level is “Imperial China” of Framingham. I remember when it was “Pagoda Luau” 30 years ago, then “May Garden” after that, and for the past 15 years, “Imperial China”. I like the food well enough, and it is usually tasty, but oddly, each dish looks eerily similar, but tastes different. If you get “Ma La Chicken” and “Chicken with Ginger and Scallion”, they could be identical twins, but their flavor profiles are totally different and unique. I am intrigued, and perplexed, at the same time. “He is a loathsome, offensive brute, yet I can't look away…”
We like Imperial China…I give their Hot and Sour Soup high marks, and they serve little crispy noodles with the soup at the beginning of the meal. Their prices are a little high considering the amount of food you get, but overall, I am favorably inclined to it. One “feature” some of you may find off-putting, especially if you have kids: the restaurant has a slightly more upscale feel to it’s bar area, which includes a white baby grand piano. They usually have a talented piano player there (and one of my charter Critical Palate subscribers is related to someone in their talent pool so check her out on Thursdays), but the bar does have a little bit of a “super cougar” meat-market feel to it. When I walk in there, I feel like I’ve walked in to a pit bull den with my throat painted with gravy.
Moving up a step, I have to recommend “Chef Chang’s House” in Brookline. This is the granddaddy of all Szechwan style restaurants. I’ve been eating there at least since maybe 1980, perhaps before that.
After spending my formative years dining on chunks of beef or chicken in some MSG-laden mysterious brown sauce, CCH was a revelation. I got to admit, I was pretty comfortable eating my House of Roy special one Sunday a month when my parents told me we were meeting my Aunt Sarah at a “new” Chinese restaurant near her house in Brookline. With some typical attitude, I begrudgingly went along for the ride to CCH, and holy bat crap Batman…a new world was opened to me.
Imagine you’ve spent the first 14 years of your life thinking that Chinese food was battered chicken smothered in a redolent brown sauce with some unknown green vegetables and maybe some water chestnuts (whatever the hell those are) and maybe a shred of carrot or two; Hong Sue Gae anyone? The only Number 69 I was familiar with was Beef and Broccoli, which is in the same sauce that the Hong Sue Gae came in... throw in some dinner rolls and ahhhh, I can almost taste the Moon Palace now.
But then, you arrive at CCH…like Billy Jack returning to the Freedom School. You think the Asian writing looks vaguely familiar, the dark brown and black and red and gold of the décor shouts “Chinese Restaurant”, but alas, this is not the same. But that night, we embarked on a journey from which I have never returned…a journey into…”The Szechwan Zone”!
Gone were the stainless elevated bowls with lids, gone was the dark, semi-sweet fried rice…gone was the watery “Won Ton” soup. Enter, not the Dragon, but Hot and Sour soup and Kung Pao Chicken.
While I haven’t been back to CCH in several months, for its overall impact on my foodie life, I have to strongly recommend it, at least for nostalgic reasons. CCH opened me to the world of flavors and textures and vegetables previously unknown to my family or me. It tipped my Asian cuisine world on its axis, in the best possible way. I have never been the same since.
Coming up next, after the break…the top two…the best of the best of Wok About 2009.
You’ve been great. For now, enjoy “Coven.”