at a booth, one of a half-dozen booths that run alongside
one wall of CCK. The others were filled, as was one of the
two large, round tables in the middle of the room, each topped
with a lazy Susan for easy item exchange. Ours were the only
non-Asian faces in the room.
on a stretch of Central Avenue peppered with small eateries.
Van’s Vietnamese is a few doors away; a Latin-American Grill
is nearby. Opened early last year to serve a combo of Chinese
and Japanese fare, CCK went through a change when Ocean Palace
closed and its owner, Peter Chan, took over here.
Ocean Palace, there’s a renewed emphasis on seafood. Your
view of the kitchen is obstructed by large fishtanks (although
we spotted no denizens within the night of our visit), with
the occasional flare of wok-fire glowing through.
is an old-fashioned type of restaurant, which means only that
it harkens back to that Pleistocene, pre-Chinese- buffet era.
Once seated, we’re confronted with a stainless steel teapot,
hot with tea; a bowl of fried noodles with the usual dipping
sauces. Chinese zodiac placemats. A menu with seemingly endless
offerings, and a specials board on the wall. And, of course,
those pandas, that waterfall, the TV set, silent, its subtitles
incomprehensible to me.
at home, which isn’t surprising. This kind of Chinese restaurant
is probably the most American of all restaurants, outstripping
even McDonald’s in its ubiquity. I could already taste the
hot and sour soup I was about to order.
board suggested cherry bass with black beans ($15), Chinese
mustard greens with BBQ pig ($9), sizzling beef with black
pepper sauce ($12), BBQ pig with fried bean curd in hot pot
($10), and chunks of salted flounder with hot pepper ($15),
among other items. It would be the sizzling beef for me.
was able to stay within the American realm by ordering crab
Rangoon ($3.50), a deep-fried pocket of crab- tinctured cream
cheese, and General Tso’s chicken ($9), which turns out not
only to have been invented in New York but originally had
none of the broccoli and wasn’t as sweet. Those were characteristic
of General Ching’s chicken, another American dish, that got
conflated with General Tso’s.
it matter? Authenticity is elusive and evanescent, and yesterday’s
bastardization gets legitimized by tomorrow’s nostalgia.
even General Tso gets kneecapped these days with bland, sticky
servings. CCK’s version is crisp and generous with spicy dried-red-pepper
how our dinner went, much to the amusement of our servers.
My hot and sour soup arrived first, a brew that was both spicy
and vinegary. Three more soupbowls then arrived. It turned
out that the starter my wife ordered, watercress and pork
soup ($7), is a large portion, and of course we wanted to
was a worthy companion for the soft pork slices; the broth
was very light, the seasonings gentle. But I, too, had ordered
another soup. My strategy was to taste it and then have it
wrapped, but when the small tureen of pork noodle soup ($12)
arrived, how could we not explore it? A darker, richer broth
than the last soup also yielded mushrooms, broccoli raab alongside
sliced pork and thin noodles. This is something to enjoy on
its own, as a meal in itself.
that sizzling beef was ahead, and it arrived with the promised
fanfare, its metal plate so hot that the serving spoon was
still dancing. Chewy beef slices, onions and pepper in a thick
sauce aren’t the most chopsticks-friendly, but I’m no virtuoso
with them, either. Whatever the case, the entrée delivered
a hearty, robust flavor.
the chicken connoisseur, faced a dilemma: She wanted a serving
of chicken with mushrooms, but three varieties are offered.
Price isn’t a determining factor: They’re $8.50 apiece. “Which
would you recommend?” she asked our server.
probably doesn’t get asked such a thing very often, and took
a moment to consider it. “Black mushrooms,” she said. “Those
are Chinese.” So perhaps there is a quest for some manner
of authenticity lurking within our culinary melting-pot.
we didn’t compare the chicken with black mushrooms to the
other versions, it proved to be a very good presentation with
a nice confluence of flavors. But she couldn’t finish it,
even with the help of her family. My fortune cookie for once
actually promised a fortune—literally—so with that and our
bags and bags of leftovers, we left, happy as those pandas
we passed on the way out.