The people of Southern Louisiana never miss an opportunity to throw a parade, so, given the strong Irish presence in New Orleans, it should be no surprise that St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated to the fullest.
In response to pleas to "throw me something, mister," riders on Mardi Gras floats throw such relatively benign items as beads, doubloons, and stuffed toys* (although on occasion with such vigor as to cause minor bodily injury). But St. Pat’s Day is another story. In addition to beads, “ingredients for an Irish stew are thrown to the crowd, like cabbages, carrots and potatoes. Just be on the lookout—your head will thank you for it” (gonola.com).
We decided to head out to the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Metairie, a suburb just to the west of us. The parade was scheduled to begin at noon, and we left home around 10:30. Plenty of time, don’t you think? Wrong.
The first sign of trouble came as we tried to exit I-10 at Causeway Boulevard. Traffic was backed up on the off ramp and we could see that Causeway was jammed with cars. Not a good sign. When we finally reached the general vicinity of the parade route, a new problem emerged—parking The Big White Truck. After numerous detours down narrow streets with cars parked on both sides and me continually saying to Chuck “You’re fine on my side, You’re fine on my side, You’re fine on my side,” we finally arrived back on Causeway Boulevard. We felt as if we had escaped with our lives and were grateful that The Big White Truck was unscathed or that we had not “scathed” another vehicle. Our decision? Beat a hasty retreat and find another activity for the day.
And that is why we find ourselves at 5 Happiness** Chinese Restaurant in New Orleans drinking green tea instead of green beer.
Two large “gold” lions guard the large “gold” entrance doors. Or what I took to be the entrance doors. As I am tugging and tugging, another couple arrived and told me to enter through one of the smaller doors on the side.
We entered a large lobby
with a small bar to one side.
Off to the right of the lobby are smaller
“event” rooms and to the left is the larger main dining room. You would never guess that the Katrina flooding sent water to the ceiling and ripped off the roof.
“With over 29 years of service to the locals, Five Happiness has been selected as the Best Chinese Restaurant by New Orleans Magazine and Gambit. Experience Chinese cuisine at its finest…. ‘A consistent and quick local favorite for family dining,’ quoted by Zagat survey…. After Hurricane Katrina, the restaurant has been completely renovated and remodeled. The decoration is sleek and chic with subtle Asian feel” (fivehappiness.com).
“With its rich red wood and shiny black-lacquer decor, Five Happiness gives an extra polish to standard Chinese dining. During any dinner or lunch rush, the restaurant hums with activity. Huge dining rooms are packed, while waiters glide smoothly between tables, ranging from tiny two-tops to 20-person celebration spreads… (contributor at citysearch. com).
We quickly decided to start with a shared appetizer of Salt and Pepper Calamari, which was a plate of small thin rings prepared with chopped red and green bell peppers, sliced scallions, and crisp jalapeno pepper rings. The only other place we have seen this calamari preparation was at Red Lotus in Santee, CA. The calamari take on the flavor of the peppers, and the vegetables take on the flavor of the calamari. The result is fantastic. The calamari came with a sweetish cocktail sauce, which added nothing to the dish and was quickly set aside. The calamari didn’t need the sauce.
Time for entrees. Thank heaven I noticed that most diners were exiting carried a Styrofoam “to go” box, or we might have added stir fried string beans to our lunch. Common sense prevailed, and we made do with two.
For Chuck it was the Crispy Beef with black pepper and onion. I am not sure how 5 Happiness prepared this dish. A subsequent “google” of Chinese Crispy Beef wasn’t much help with some recipes giving instructions for double cooking with a quick stir fry being the final step. Others for a single cooking. My guess is that 5 Happiness uses the first method, but I can’t be sure. Soy and either sugar or honey are used in most recipes with the sugar helping to create the slightly sticky coating. I wouldn’t call the meat chewy, but the exterior was crisply charred with the interior meat moist and tender. However this was prepared, it was delicious.
My choice was the asparagus with shrimp in hot garlic sauce. This was a large portion of pencil-thin asparagus, which was cooked crisp tender with an equally large portion of perfectly cooked small shrimp. Now asparagus and shrimp are among my favorite foods, but the dish was lacking in one respect—the sauce was neither hot nor did I taste much garlic.
Looking at the quantity of food set before each of us, I was presented with a dilemma. Neither the beef nor the shrimp could be reheated without overcooking. The asparagus showed the greatest potential for “to go.” So I elected to consume all of my shrimp with about a third of the asparagus and then help Chuck finish his crispy beef. Wasn’t that nice of me? The remaining asparagus was consumed for breakfast the next morning.
I am not going to pretend that this is the greatest Chinese food ever. But my traveling philosophy is to embrace where you are and not where you’ve been. In a city with a small Chinese population (the only figure I could find was 958 Chinese residents as of the 2000 census), you aren’t going to find the same level of Chinese food you would find in a city with a much larger Chinese community. This is a long way to say that I give 5 Happiness 4.0 Addies because it exceeded our expectations.
*One exception is the coconuts thrown by the Krewe of Zulu. “Used to be, Zulu riders threw those coconuts, and for many generations, that was just fine. Then America began its love-affair with personal injury lawsuits, and people started going to court to claim all manner of damage from coconut impacts. In 1987, the Krewe of Zulu couldn't get insurance coverage unless it stopped passing out coconuts. The next year, however, the Louisiana Legislature and Governor Edwards gave us SB188, AKA the ‘Coconut Bill,’ which excludes the coconut from personal injury as long as the coconuts are handed, rather than tossed out” (neworleans.about.com).
**”According to Chinese tradition, the world offers five kinds of happiness: longevity, wealth, health, virtue and peaceful death” (Lee Cutrone at bestofneworleans.com).
To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.