Saturday, April 3, 2010

Take It With a Grain of Salt

Sensational Saturday was upon me again, and I was excited about my daytime plans. I was going to go to Annapolis to have lunch with a chef friend, but due to bad weather there, our meeting got moved to DC. I was a little disappointed because I wanted to play tourist and I also wanted to review a seafood place. But it didn’t matter. As long as Chef was buying lunch, I can gluttonize anywhere!

It seemed like everyone (tourists and locals alike) was “oot and aboot” in DC, since the weather was gorgeous and it was the peak time to see the cherry blossoms. We chose Chinatown as our food destination. With the plethora of restaurants in the area we decided to walk around for a little bit and check out menus and peek inside restaurants. After much hemming & hawwing, we finally settled on Chinatown Express.

You know something is working when a place that is the picture-perfect definition of “hole in the wall”, has a line-up that extends outside to the sidewalk. On Saturday, there were over two dozen people standing outside. This place definitely had some fans, especially those craving handmade noodles and authentic Chinese food. I myself am one, having eaten here several times before. I love the beef tendon hot pot (there’s something about the gelatinous texture), pan-fried dumplings (amazingly, not greasy), and the roast meats (what’s not to love about crispy pork skin?). Today though, was all about simple, comfort food.

Chef and I waited in line for only about 10 minutes, then we were led to our seats upstairs. It turns out the reason the wait time was so short was because we were sharing a table with a Chinese family of four. We didn’t care though, we just wanted to eat! After Chef and I scanned the menu, we chose the seafood noodle soup (mine), the beef noodle soup (his) and the pan-fried pork dumplings (ours).

I was really hungry, so when I got my bowl, I dove right in. Screw chopsticks, I’m forking it! The soup looked great, with a good amount of seafood like squid and shrimp and fish. I slurped up the handmade noodles and took a bite of the squid. And then… I reached for the soy sauce and poured a good amount of it into my soup. I generally find Chinese food really flavourful, rarely needing to be seasoned. Unfortunately, that was not the case here as my soup was quite bland. Did the cook have salt amnesia or something? On the other hand, Chef was completely satisfied with his beef noodle soup, as he dug right in. He did suggest adding some of the ginger-green onion condiment into the soup, which along with the soy sauce, greatly improved the taste. The pan-fried dumplings were a much better story. The combo of the pork and leek was delicious and the slight crunch I got biting into the dumpling was great. Where was this cook and why didn't he make my soup?

Afterwards, Chef and I talked about the food. He said that Chinese food is typically made on the bland side because the cook wants you to taste the fresh ingredients. I don't buy it, because I have many Chinese friends who, when they cook, make my mouth explode with flavour. My best guess is that because this place is such a popular tourist destination, the cooks do not want to overwhelm the visitors with Chinese flavours. Oh well. Good for newbie palates, bad for those wanting a taste adventure.

Chinatown Express
746 6th Street NW
Washington, DC   20001

Chinatown Express on Urbanspoon


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