Friday, February 6, 2009

Thank You, Jackie Chan

I’m sitting at the computer the other night, engaged in a hot game of FreeCell, when I hear a voice behind me: “Kate, who’s that martial arts actor?” The first name that came to mind, having seen him hovering behind Mike Huckabee all last spring, was Chuck Norris. Not the right answer. Next I answered: “What about Bruce Lee?” Still not right. So I suggested Jackie Chan. That was the right answer. (Question: Should I worry that I know the names of three martial arts actors?)

What was this about? Chuck had seen a story on the news about Jackie Chan--how he liked Albuquerque, and how, when he was filming The Spy Next Door, he always ate at a restaurant named Chopstix. (The x is to resemble two crossed chopsticks.)

Chuck has wanted Chinese food, and I have wanted seafood. So I checked out their menu on the net and found they had a number of seafood dishes. So off to Chopstix we went.

We were there for lunch, and at that time of the day, diners have three options. We could order from the lunch special menu, order from the regular dinner menu, or order one of the specials posted on sheets of white paper around the dining room. The specials attest to the authenticity of Chopstix’s food. They included Beef Tripe with Cilantro, Flour Bead Soup, Soy Sauce Pork Feet, Turnip with Pork, Mustard with Dry Bean Curd, Winter Melon with Dried Shrimp, Stewed Pork Neck Bone, Seaweed Salad, and Sweet Potato Leaves with Garlic.

Since none of these nor the lunch specials was seafood, I ordered from the dinner menu which listed three shrimp entrees, a whole steamed red snapper (this was very tempting), and salt and pepper squid. Having never eaten the latter and being curious, I ordered the squid along with a small hot and sour soup. I had my choice of fried or white rice and chose the white.

Chuck ordered the Mongolian Beef from the lunch menu. What a bargain! For $5.95 he received a cup of soup (hot and sour), an egg roll, a generous serving of beef, and white or fried rice. (He chose the fried rice.) And we shared an order of six pot stickers.

Except for a mediocre egg roll, everything we ate was first-rate. The soup was thick with dried mushrooms, bamboo shoots, carrots, and egg threads. Chuck’s soup had a large chunk of tofu; mine had none. Since I don’t much care for the texture of tofu (did I ever mention that I don’t like soft food), I didn’t miss it. At first, the soup did not seem that hot but did have the necessary acidity from the vinegar. At about spoonful number three, the heat begins to build in the back of the mouth and the nose starts to run. Hot it was from white pepper and red pepper flakes - and delicious.

The pot stickers (photo above) were handmade with light outer skins that were beautifully browned after steaming. The filling was a savory mixture of ground pork with ginger, garlic, and pepper flavor. These came with a small bowl of a soy-based sauce for dipping.

My squid came as a humungous plate of food with a large bowl of white rice on the side. I quickly realized that, were I to eat the rice, I would never finish the serving of squid. The strips of squid were lightly battered and then fried. The squid were cooked perfectly with the right amount of “chew” – they weren’t raw but were far from being rubber band like. As I am eating, I could detect a seasoning that was hard to determine. I told Chuck that I thought it might be from Five Spice Powder (Szechuan Peppercorns, cloves, cinnamon, star anise, and fennel) applied with a gentle hand. Our server confirmed that this was what I tasted – the Szechuan peppercorn is the pepper in the Salt and Pepper Squid. Mixed with the squid were bits of chopped cilantro and basil which matched well with the sweet squid.

The fried rice on Chuck’s plate was pretty standard Chinese restaurant fried rice, and as I mentioned earlier, the eggroll was mediocre. But the beef!!! The only way to describe this is to use the trite phrase “melt in your mouth.” Mixed with the beef were slivered onions or leeks and scallion tops. The soy-based sauce contained a generous amount of a chili paste like Sambal Oelek (believe it or not – I have a small bottle in our refrigerator for making my Thai Fried Rice) and a generous number of hot red chilies. As he ate, Chuck kept wiping the perspiration from his forehead and signaling the waitress for more iced tea. And he loved every mouthful.

Chopstix is a very small restaurant seating only forty-five and is located in a small strip mall in the Northeast section of Albuquerque. When we arrived, every seat was taken except for two spots at a communal table. Not being in the mood for eating with strangers, we chose to wait--and the wait was well worth it. If it were not for the mediocre eggroll, it would be a 5.0 Addie spot. Instead, we agree that it rates a score of 4.5 Addies.

Note to self: Thank Jackie Chan for his 5-star restaurant recommendation.


Chuck's Food Discovery of the Day: We found some very tasty tortillas at Garcia's Kitchen. Placing a mixture of crumbled ground beef, catsup, and seasoning on a tortilla instead of on a bun, Chuck produced . . . a Sloppy José.

No comments: