February 3, 2018
I had lunch today at the fancy mall downstairs from the hotel at a place called Dab-Pa, a Chinese joint claiming to specialize in Peking and Szechuan cuisine. Who knows, but I figured I'd try it, anyway. And wow, was I glad I did!
Dab-Pa: Peking & Szechuan Cuisine
I hadn't had jellyfish in some years and when I saw on the menu that their offering was marinated in aged vinegar, I thought I'd have to give it a try. The jellyfish was fantastic. It was typically crunchy, kind of like chicken cartilage. But the aged vinegar made this the best-tasting jellyfish I recall having, sweet and tangy. They looked like caramelized onions. The slices of green pepper and diced, fresh cucumber went perfectly with this chilled appetizer.
Marinated jellyfish in aged vinegar:
This dish was sort of like kung pao chicken, only without the peanuts and the sweet, tangy sauce. It certainly had a good level of heat from the chili peppers, but because the chicken was fried and void of any sauce, the peppers didn't stick to the protein; it wasn't overly spicy as a result. I just wish the chicken pieces were boneless. Anyhow, it was a fantastic dish that went perfectly with some good ol' steamed white rice.
Fried chicken w/chili peppers:
My second appetizer was an order of steamed pork wonton with hot sauce, scallion and fresh garlic. It came served in soy sauce infused with some heat, and the scallion and garlic were perfect accompaniment. The wraps were thin, tender and warm, and it was pretty much all minced pork inside. These were probably the best steamed dumplings I've had these six weeks.
Chengdu (pork) steamed wonton:
Well, I knew I'd eventually have a final dinner on this Far East Asian Savory Trip, and with that in mind, I passed on the other dozen or so restaurants downstairs at the swanky shopping mall. Instead, I went to the popular Tung Po, a seafood joint I'd been contemplating trying back in December when I was here the first time. I totally regret not going there on the first leg of this vacation because it was awesome! Frankly, the reason I didn't go was because I spent quite some time debating between trying this place and some other seafood restaurants that were also down home and with seafood fresh as can be. It's just that those other places were more remote.
Anyhow, this loud, family-style, no frills joint is the kind of place I kind of wish I'd tried for almost every single meal these last 42 days. But that certainly wasn't the case.
Maybe the nicest thing about the meal was the company, actually. While waiting about 20 minutes for a spot, I was asked to share a table with a group of three which was totally fine. For the first 45 minutes, this husband, wife and daughter who was maybe six or seven years old, kept to themselves and enjoyed a great meal while I did the same. Along the way, the couple and I would toast each other with our beer, but no real conversation. And then all of a sudden, this adorable little girl starts speaking to me in English and asked "where are you from?" And when I answered her dad and I got to talking. This little girl was so cute, she'd ask her mom something in Chinese, put her head into her mom's shoulder, then turn to me to ask a question. It's so interesting and encouraging to see that she was shy yet bold enough to speak to a stranger in the stranger's language. I guess "humble" is a better word to use than "shy." Can I just say with such modest behavior that I could tell I wasn't in America?
Regardless, her dad mentioned to me that she attends an international school in their hometown of Chengdu, which is famous for its panda bear conservatory. Maybe it's because her teacher is American that English is taught. And while chatting, the little girl would ask things like, "do you have any children? When do you go home?" She told me her name was Claire and that she has classmates from Beijing, Norway, Korea, Japan and a couple other countries. Ya know, I felt a little better about mankind at large after being reminded that most kids that age bear no ill will towards anyone. Who knows, maybe she can live most of her life without becoming jaded at the world.
After exchanging e-mail addresses with the dad, I headed out to catch the subway back to the hotel. I could sense as I weaved my way through the tables to get to the aisle that little Claire was watching me. And when I turned around, I saw she was. A wave "goodbye" and that put a perfect exclamation point at the end of a terrific dinner.
Now, onto the food!
Tung Po Seafood Restaurant
My last dish was a serving of sauteed spare ribs with cumin, scallion and garlic. These were perfectly cooked, no sign of batter, and the meat was tender and juicy. I don't know how they serve these with so little grease on them. Maybe they're parcooked and finished in the oven, then patted down to soak up any excess oil, I really have no idea. And they weren't overly seasoned, thankfully. There were several other dishes I wanted to try on their menu. I'll hit them up on my next visit to Hong Kong!
Sauteed spare ribs w/cumin:
Next up was an order of fried rice worth four Licks, just like earlier today. This version was chock full of shrimp, scallop, egg whites and chive with a generous sprinkling of dried shrimp or fish up top. Like every good fried rice I've had on this trip, it was devoid of any grease, and the grains weren't sticky which is what happens when they're overcooked. I just wished the dish were a tad smaller as I wasn't able to finish maybe 10% of it.
Razor clams in black bean sauce:
My last dish was a very generous portion of broiled eel. I hesitated ordering this because I kept thinking back on what Chef Yasuda in Tokyo told his diners about eel and how most of it is actually some other fish that's greatly processed in a factory. But maybe he was only talking about sushi eel...at least, I hope he was.
The dish was lightly marinated, probably with soy sauce, and sprinkled with white and black sesame seeds. I think I see what Chef Yasuda was talking about. This eel had body to it and didn't dissolve as soon as you put it in your mouth. Some sushi eel has just been so tender that in retrospect, it does seem unnaturally soft.
Anyway, this eel was delicious and went perfectly with the fried rice. My only issue with the dish was that it was a tad greasy which I found surprising if it were advertised as broiled. It instead tasted pan fried. But then again, I was served enough eel for four people....
First up was a pair of razor clams. These were definitely the largest I've ever seen; no wonder they charged per piece for this dish. It came in a black bean sauce and was served with chili peppers, onion and garlic. The meat was chewy, though I've never had razor clams otherwise, and they had that perfect briny flavor to them. I don't know for sure, but they tasted fresh. The sauteed onion and black beans gave the dish a sweetness while the chili provided a good level of heat while never hiding the inherent flavor of the clam.
Razor clams in black bean sauce: