As a much maligned and debated story goes, a certain Chinese chef émigré to New York City devised a dish that would forever shape what many generations of Americans would call Chinese food. That dish is General Tso's Chicken. It has no historical tie to the famous General Zuo Zongtang, his relatives, or technically his province of origin, but it set the table for how Americans experience Chinese restaurants. Today, there are Chinese restaurants over the country, all serving up nearly identical dishes of deep fried food tossed in ketchupy, cornstarched, sugar-ladened sauces.
How refreshing then, to step into an authentic Cantonese restaurant serving culturally correct cuisine. Wei Hong Seafood Restaurant is in the former site of the skin-flick Fine Arts Theater of many decades ago, but don't expect XXX movies with your XO sauce, a spicy seafood based sauce; instead, you might enjoy a vintage Chinese movie shown silently during dinner.
The décor of the restaurant is sparse, with white-clothed tables densely arranged on laminate hardwood floors. Yet, despite, its lack of creative interior design, one thing is certainly apparent, the staff takes pride in cleanliness.
As with most authentic Cantonese restaurants, the menu's strengths are beef, pork, chicken, duck and shellfish. Wei Hong's extensive menu also offers vegetarian item along with entrails, jellyfish, tripe, chicken's feet and the notorious shark fin soup. Although many of these dishes might intimidate some diners, this reviewer recommends that you try a few of the exotic items; most are a treat for all five senses.
With such a menu, it is no surprise that most of the restaurant's patrons are Chinese, a welcome sign for someone looking for real Cantonese cooking. Add to that the presence of a live shellfish tank at the front entrance and my taste buds were tingling before I was seated, bad news for one of the tank's two residents.
Dinner began with a ceramic pot of jasmine tea steeped in scalding water; its fragrance kept our small table scented the entire evening. When it came to the massive menu, some guidance from the leaves at the bottom of our cups would have helped. My eyes have always been too big for my stomach and our choices were made all the more difficult because of the staff's insistence that we try this and that.
We began with a generous portion of seaweed soup with bean curd and shredded pork ($6.95). The briny purplish seaweed played nicely against the tender tofu and roasted meat. We added a touch of garlic-chili paste for a little heat. The brothy soup was rich with flavor and perfect for people who had just come in from the cold. An important note: soup for two at Wei Hong is really soup for four.
Our two entrees arrived next and given the large portion, one would have sufficed. A roast half duckling ($11.95) was fricasseed with a Chinese cleaver into roughly two dozen pieces, fork-tender and flavorful with a crispy caramelized skin. The duck had a wonderful fragrance of clove and Szechwan peppercorn from its five-spice rub and a small side of rich pan gravy made for a great dipping sauce. Dungeness crab was served in a large bowl with a stuffing of spicy seasoned ground pork, dried scallops, garlic and green onion. Our server explained that the crab was prepared in the style of Hong Kong and I found it to be similar to Typhoon Shelter crab, a dish resulting from the convergence of so many Southeast Asian fishing cultures in Hong Kong's densely populated seafaring villages. The crab was sweet and fresh, with a generous topping of ground pork, salty dried scallops, chilies, fried garlic,and the famous XO sauce of Guangdong Province.
As we dove in to the meal, we soon found ourselves putting chopsticks and silverware aside and simply eating with our hands, breaking crab legs apart and pulling juicy pieces of duck from the bone. To accompany both of these wonderful dishes we ordered a side of stir-fried green beans ($8.50) quickly blistered in a traditional hot wok with a generous amount of garlic and sesame. The beans were fresh and tender with a slight garlicky crunch and a beautiful green hue.
After wading through the fare and making light work of stacks of napkins, we were full, staring at each other from over a messy table. We had not set out to eat so much, but we certainly ate well. In all, we walked away with a little bit of everything we ordered, which became a different meal the next night (recipe follows). Wei Hong Seafood Restaurant is a must for those looking for an authentic Chinese experience. Although not likely a good choice for a first date, Wei Hong makes for a perfect communal dinner. It's a great place to savor authentic Cantonese cooking with family and friends. Bring your wet wipes!
The Leftover Chef Recipe: Farro with Roast Duck and Blistered Green Beans (Serves 2). Ingredients:
- 1 cup Farro
- 1 tsp hot chili oil
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- 1 tsp vegetable oil
- 1 cup Wei Hong roast duck, picked from the bone
- 1 cup Wei Hong blistered green beans
- ¼ cup Harbor crab stuffing/sauce (ground pork, dried scallops, garlic, chilies, et al.)
- 1 Tbsp tamari or regular soy sauce
- 1 Tbsp butter, unsalted
- salt and pepper to taste
- sesame seeds, as a garnish, about 1 tsp
- Make the farro. Rinse under cold water using a strainer. Add to a saucepot with 3 cups water. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer until the water is cooked off and the farro is tender.
- In a sauté pan over high heat, add the three oils.
- When the oil mixture is hot, add the green beans, duck and ground pork/dried scallop mixture.
- Fold in the farro and sauté the entire mixture over high heat for 1 to 2 minutes or until thoroughly heated.
- Remove the pan from the heat and incorporate the soy sauce and butter.
- Check for proper seasoning with salt and pepper.
- Garnish with sesame seeds and serve.