Monday, March 31, 2008

NJ Dining: Chengdu 23, Wayne

I can't believe it's been over a year since my last blog entry. I've exceeded all previous estimations of laziness. Anyway, here's a restaurant review - one of many more to come, I hope.

Chengdu 23 opened a few weeks ago in Wayne where the Taipei Noodle House used to be. I was sad to see the old restaurant close, in spite of its poorly chosen furnishings: the bright red sofa in the shape of a hand in the waiting area looked oddly out of place. I'd enjoyed their Taiwanese beef noodle in soup - and I’d enjoyed it even more when I got the idea of ordering it with both brisket and tendon.

According to the new lao ban nian/proprietress, the previous owner had tired of the business and wanted out.

Well, I’m happy to report that the red sofa is gone, but the fish tank remains. Along with fortune cats, lightbox posters of Hong Kong skyrises at night and walls adorned with International currency notes, the aquarium has become de riguer in Chinese restaurants.

What’s not de riguer, however, is an aquatic freakshow. There’s a goldfish in the tank with something growing out of its forehead I’m pretty sure doesn’t normally grow out of a goldfish’s forehead. If the lao ban nian had any entrepreneurial inclinations at all, she’d charge admission for the sight.

Dinner and a show. Brilliant! Well, enough about the ambience.

We chose mostly from the non-Sichuanese items, because my two year old daughter was with us. Feed her anything spicy and she’ll turn into Miss Fussy McFussbucket; crying real tears and screaming for water.

So we ordered the beef brisket spicy noodle appetizer (the only item with a *, for Daddy only), half a peking duck, shrimp chow fun and chicken with broccoli - for my Chinese American daughter who has developed a worrisome palate for authentic American Chinese.

The spicy noodle turned out to be the best thing we ordered, and I can see it being an excellent replacement for my erstwhile "regular" - a slightly different rendition of pretty much the same basic ingredients, done at the same location. What more could a fella ask for?

To be frank, I could’ve done with more noodles and more beef. At about the same price, the new serving is less than half of the old one.

The shrimp chow fun was different from other versions I’ve had. The dark specks that were clearly visible on the pale rice noodle were not burnt wok detritus as I had first suspected but finely ground black pepper. The chef’s liberal hand with the pepper mill elevated the chow fun from what would have simply been a source of workaday carb and protein.

The other dishes were pretty unremarkable. I couldn't tell the Peking duck from regular roast duck. The skin was more chewy than crispy, and lacked the deep hue that comes from treatment with maltose. For half a duck, the restaurant had decided that exactly two pancakes would be sufficient accompaniment. When I requested extra, I got the impression that they're a precious commodity.

The server quizzed: How many pieces more, exactly, would I like?

About twenty minutes later, he arrived bearing two pancakes. With the grand gesture of someone who was about to give a lifetime worth of earnings to charity, he declared that the extra pancakes would be on the house.

At the end of the meal, after the dishes were cleared away and the check requested, I was hoping to be surprised with a wedge of orange or two and maybe if we were lucky, a small bowl of red bean dessert. What we got, instead, was a small plate of canned pineapple chunks in syrup. Our two year old, a fruit-in-syrup eating machine, devoured the entire thing.

After which, she pleaded: More, more. More, pleeeeease!

“How many pieces more, exactly, would you like?” I asked.


Dave said...

I liked Taipei Noodle better but at least they still have the beef noodle soup. They call it Brisket soup LOL

WoozyDoozy said...

We've been back several times since the blog entry and my overall impression is.... mixed.

With each visit, I've noticed that they've added more non-Sichuan items to the menu. Are they compromising their core to gain a wider appeal?

FYI, you can order the beef brisket soup in a large or entree size, which is not listed on the menu.

The last time I had it, it had really good heat and depth of flavor, but it was a tad too oily.

However, I do prefer this restaurant to Chengdu 1 in Cedar Grove.