The icy bite of the unforgiving, harsh winter wind made me tuck the tip of my nose in the scarf wrapped snuggly around my face and neck. It also made me walk faster. My grandmother has always walked faster than I could keep up. Even when we went to Paris, she was continuously trying to beat whatever crowd (visible or otherwise) to the next destination.
I had to be about seven the first time I went to Chinatown. I’m not sure of the occasion. (We were always going out to some show; why do you think I’m so cultured now? **hairflip**) But after every special outing we would always go to a restaurant. I remember stopping at one of those stands selling scarves and tourist trinkets, and getting a game I called escalator penguins. Now that I think about it, it was really dumb. Just penguins climbing a mountain and sliding down to start the whole process again. But that shit tickled me EVERY SINGLE TIME.
This memory stuck with me as I lead my parents through the cramped streets. Not that I knew exactly where I was going…but it didn’t matter. Armed with a gps , I was excited to finally get there and have a feast. Descending the stairs of what I thought was going to our entry into Wo Hop, my dad pulled the sleeve of my jacket and led me to the store front entrance. “That’s for the tourists.” God Forbid I’m lumped into that horrid category “TOURIST”. I quickly joined them in the store front where the real people ate. But not without shooting a quick side eye at the giant bold B rating plastered on the front window. But knowing what I know, I could brush aside the stereotype and brushed it off to just being because of a broken pipe or standing water. We had to wait a little bit for a table because my mom is consistently cold no matter where we go, and didn’t want to sit by the door. The set up was pretty simple, built in the style of the Chinese restaurants you see, only with booths and no kitchen in sight.
As soon as we sat down I recognized ,where we were. The same table in the corner. The same smell. The same restaurant Mommy Gigi took us to almost 15 years ago was still engrained into my memory. It was January in New York City so the obvious choice was soup. My dad ordered what was basically a hodgepodge of anything they could find in the back ( duck neck, wontons, bok choy, green onion, mushroom, chicken slices) all simmering together in a chicken broth accented with ginger and all of the delicious umami from the different meats and vegetables. My mom and I wanted fried wontons so we got that as well with a salty oyster sauce spooned on top.
I realized in that moment that although it’s the same wonton, the application very much makes a difference in taste. The wonton in the soup had a milder taste (Maybe because the flavor was spread out in the broth or because it was fighting with all the other flavors in the bowl.) But I do prefer soup dumplings over fried ones because of that reason. Any way, I found the fried wonton a little salty with the oyster sauce and definitely soggy because of it.
First up was the salt and pepper squid. It was basically fried calamari but with the added touch of scallion and jalapeno. Normally I don’t advocate the use of peppers in calamari ( AKA New England Style sweet peppers) but this was perfect. The salt of the crispy squid was a nice touch played against the sharpness of the pepper.
Our second dish was snails in black bean sauce. I know! I was a little skeptical because of the B rating and I don’t really trust shellfish for Chinese places anyway. But how will I know if I don’t try right? Surprisingly, they tasted like mussels. The only thing was getting them out of the shell was tricky. If your slurping skills are on point then that’s the way or if you are classy like myself you’ll dig out the meat with a toothpick.
My mom and I are basic so we got shrimp and string beans with garlic sauce. It was regular I have nothing profound to say about it. It was what it should taste like. Garlicky sauce with slight spice and surprisingly, (in a good way) crisp for being drowned in the sauce.
Overall, the restaurant was delicious despite their seemingly unforgiving B rating.