After completely giving up on finding good Chinese food in DC, I was finally introduced to the most authentic Chinese restaurant I’ve been to probably since I was in China. It was completely unexpected and in the strangest place, but isn’t that often the way?
So an incredibly nice acquaintance of ours had taken us shopping at Costco (more on this another time), and then proved even further how amazing he is by taking us to this gem of a restaurant. Luckily, he speaks Mandarin, so he could get the wait staff to keep our meat items from Costco in their fridge for us so they didn’t spoil. While the staff weren’t exactly friendly, they were very quick and efficient, and did do us the favour of keeping our meat for us. I imagine they could be even less friendly to groups that don’t speak Chinese… Our friend mentioned that the restaurant has a pretty ordinary take-out menu, but the menu we were ordering from was far more like something you would find in London’s China town. Lots of Chinese lettering and pictures of the food. We were already impressed, and then the food began to arrive.
The thing R and I loved about Chinese food in China was the variety of vegetable dishes, and we found all our favourites again here. The way they do green beans just turns what can be a boring side into something so savoury I just can’t get enough of it. And then there was a really wonderfully sticky and tasty garlic baby egg plant dish, which also looked so beautiful – the egg plant a lovely pale purple.
We started off though with Dan Dan noodles, and as soon as that chili oil hit my palate I knew it was going to be a good meal. Then the Szechuan pepper corns did their thing and I was hooked. Chili oil was the predominant ingredient – the chili stops it tasting greasy and the oil base keeps things relatively light – and formed part of a cooking liquor for a tofu dish (the only time in my life I’ve enjoyed tofu) and a sort of stew of pork and cabbage.
We all had a great meal, served with plenty of good tea (apparently the British drink tea like the Chinese – though I might say it was the other way around!). So if you ever find yourself on New York Avenue, near the Arboretum, check out Panda Gourmet at the Day’s Inn. You’ll be surprised.
It’s not the Cantonese I grew up with, but I’ll take it!