Friday, May 4, 2012

So There Chuck is...,

walking around and taking photos at the French Quarter Fest, and he happens to start talking with a local man. And their conversation turns—as do many of our conversations with "locals"—to the topic of restaurants. “Where would you go for good Chinese food?” Chuck asks.

And the response is: “9 Roses (Hoa Hong).”

So about a week later we drove across the Crescent City Connection (the bridge) to the Westbank area of Gretna to seek out some good Chinese food.

“In 1984, single mother Tu Doan and her 3 children made the journey from South Vietnam to Terrytown, Louisiana, to start a new life. Mamma Tu had made her living in Saigon as a restaurant cook. Upon her arrival in this area, she brought her skills to Tu Do restaurant on Manhattan Boulevard….one of the first Vietnamese restaurants on the Westbank. She worked at Tu Do until 1990 when she opened her own restaurant Hoa Hong 9 Roses on 8th Street in Harvey. The whole family, including the children, worked at the new restaurant….In 1996, the Doan family made the move from the small building on 8th Street to the restaurant’s current location on Stephens Street in Gretna. By this time, Ana was married to Jeff Nguyen and they both joined Mamma Tu in running the new, expanded 9 Roses…. 9 Roses…was voted the Vietnamese Restaurant of the Year by New Orleans Magazine in December 2009…. Mamma Tu retired a couple of years ago but still serves as ‘consultant’” (Reprinted with permission of The West Bank Beacon at

As at 5 Happiness in New Orleans, two giant lions guard the entrance
doors. The “lion is a special animal to Chinese people. A pair of stone lions, a male and a female, can often be seen in front of the gates of traditional buildings. The male lion is on the left with his right paw resting on a ball, and the female on the right with her left paw fondling a cub. The lion was regarded as the king in the animal world so its imagines represented power and prestige. The ball played by the male lion symbolized the unity of the empire, and the cub with the female thriving offspring” (

You enter into a very large yet attractive room. The use of dark woods for the tables and chairs provides a sense of warmth and the tan walls are covered with oriental artwork and large golden dragons.
Each table contains about every Asian condiment you could desire—Chinese mustard, sweet chile sauce, pickled jalapenos, hoisin sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil, and sriracha.

9 Roses claims to have the largest menu of any restaurant in the New Orleans area. Unfortunately, I neglected to do due diligence and didn’t realize that about eighty percent of the menu items were Vietnamese with the remaining twenty percent being Chinese restaurant staples. But we still concentrated our attention on the Chinese offerings.

I have been craving hot and sour soup and chose to start my meal
with the
“small” bowl or cup. This was a surprisingly good version (I have learned not to have too high of expecta-tions with Chinese food in the New Orleans area.) and was loaded with tofu, scallions, Chinese mushrooms, bamboo shoots, and pork shreds in a nicely balanced hot and sour meat stock. I did add a small glug of sriracha for extra heat.

Chuck decided he wanted to try something new from the appetizers
selection and ordered the shrimp toast (hatosi). Shrimp are finely minced along with other ingredients into an almost fine paste and then spread on toast triangles which are then deep fat fried. Our server suggested that he eat them with some of the sweet chile sauce. He thoroughly enjoyed them. And so did I—or at least the miniscule taste he gave me.

His entrĂ©e choice was one of his Chinese restaurant favorites—Sesame Chicken. Chunks of chicken breast are tossed in a marinade
that contains corn starch and then are set aside. The corn starch
that “velvets” or tenderizes the chicken meat so that the meat, when deep fat fried, doesn’t become dry. After frying, the chicken pieces are tossed with a sauce that can contain soy, sesame oil, chile paste, vinegar, and sugar. The sugar gives a slight stickiness to the chicken crust and the vinegar cuts some of the sweetness from the sugar. With his chicken came a whole head of lightly steamed broccoli. He was in heaven. Well, more so over the chicken than the broccoli.

My choice—the Szechuan Pepper Squid—was less successful. This is a dish I loved at Red Lotus in Santee, CA, and enjoyed at 5 Happiness here in New Orleans. But 9 Roses’ version came up short. First, the pieces of squid, while beautifully and lightly battered, were very
chewy. I don’t know if this is because the individual pieces were larger than normal or whether they had been overcooked. But chewy they were. But the biggest disappointment was the lack of flavor. What small bits there were of green and red bell pepper and jalapeno were left raw. What Red Lotus does so well—and 5 Happiness almost as well—Is to toss the fried squid into a pan with the peppers to that all elements take on the flavor of the others.

Now Chuck and I have a mild disagreement. He thought that 9 Roses was equal to 5 Happiness, and I decidedly prefer 5 Happiness. And 5 Happiness doesn’t involve crossing the bridge. And since I am the writer and rater, I am only going to award 9 Roses 3.0 Addies.

To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.

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