Friday, August 10, 2007

Gourmet House of Hong Kong

Last night we were going to cook in, but Tara worked late and I did a long stint at the gym, so we decided to go out for something inexpensive. I suggested Centro, Sabuddy, or Chinese. She wasn't in the mood for panini (I was, but I always am for the Italian Press there...) and said Sabuddy or Chinese was fine. I thought of going to Super Dragon, our usual one, but as usual, I remembered that Seth had been to a good Chinese place recently, Gourmet House of Hong Kong. I suggested that and Tara was game.

GHHK is at McDowell and 14th Street. Not the best neighborhood, but the review, and others comments, suggested it was worth trying. We pulled into the lot at a little after 8 and found a spot. The interior has an interesting layout. A small area with a large cooled case for drinks is inside the doors. Turning left, you see the kitchen area and a hallway. Straight behind the cooler case was a darkened room, which I thought was the main dining room. That confused me, since they were supposed to be open til 9:30 or so. However, the hostess turned left and left again, revealing the real main dining room behind a short wall that I didn't see before. It was off the corridor by the kitchen. The dining room is dominated by several huge round tables with lazy susans on them that seat eight or so. Smaller two-tops line the walls. Two huge parties were finishing up and we were led to the far back wall to a two-top. We sat down, ordered a couple waters w/lemon, and looked at the menu.

And what a menu. It's very extensive, with pages and pages of items. We didn't get one, but Seth mentioned that they also have a second, more authentic Chinese menu. After spending about 10 or 15 minutes, we finally narrowed our choices. I was waffling between Wunan Beef and Orange Beef while Tara was torn between a couple of the combination plates. When we finally signaled the infinitely patient waitress we were finally ready, we got the appetizer combo, I got a medium bowl of hot and sour soup, Orange Beef for me, and Chicken Chow Mein combo for Tara. Her combo came with a small wonton soup, an eggroll, and chicken puff. I also ordered a pot of tea.

The first warning sign was when the tea was delivered. I peeked inside and it had two tea bags sitting in the water labeled "oolong". I poured a cup and got clear water. The busboy stopped by and said it still needed to seep. Huh? At every other restaurant I've ever gotten tea, when the pot is on the table, I can pour and get tea. And 99% of them use real loose tea, not tea bags. I poured my cup of water back into the pot and waited, hoping this wasn't a precursor to something worse.

Tara's wonton soup arrived a few minutes later. A small bowl had three wontons in the bottom. I tried the broth and it seemed tasty. Our appetizer combo came out shortly after and it contained many piping hot items: 2 pan-fried dumplings, 2 chicken wings, 2 fried shrimp, an egg roll, and a fried bread stick. A small plate with a bowl of duck sauce and a smaller bowl of mustard came with it. I put one of each pair on my plate to cool and tried half of the fried bread. It was ok. Once the others cooled, I tried each and the were nothing special. Tara said the dumplings reminder her of Schwans' egg rolls from growing up. She didn't mean it as a bad thing, as she liked them growing up. Nothing really had any distinguishing flavors for me.

My hot and sour soup showed up while we were eating the appetizers. A large, probably 20-oz or bigger held molten soup. I needed to let each spoonful cool a long time before I could actually try it. I first tried hot and sour at Super Dragon a few weeks ago, and loved it. This time? Not so much. There was way too much vinegar in the soup and it dominated the whole dish. It did have a nice thick consistency, with lots of tofu, chicken, and salad shrimp, but the vinegar was overpowering. It reminded me of when we colored Easter eggs growing up. I'd barely put any type of dent into the massive "medium" serving when our entrees arrived. Since our table top was very cluttered, I asked if the waitress could box the soup to-go.

Tara's combo had lots of bok choy, noodles, and chicken. What it lacked was any flavor. She doused it with a large amount of soy sauce and when I tried it, it still lacke any flavor. She ate some of the chicken and noodles, but only because she was hungry. "Boring" is how she described it and that pretty much summed up the evening.

My Orange Beef came on a huge platter, easily enough for two or three people. the pieces of beef were much thinner than I expected and the orange sauce was a very light orange. I put some somewhat mushy rice on my plate and tried some of the beef. Hints of orange were almost there, but then they stopped. I tried some beef that was in the sauce at the bottom of the dish and still got nothing. I finally tried some of the sauce by itself, and even then, there was no flavor. It was like the cook was making the dish and got distracted, forgetting the flavorful components. I love Orange Beef and usually use it as my benchmark at new restaurants. This wasn't even worthy of the name. I ate maybe a quarter of the huge serving before calling it quits. I pushed the dish away and waited for the waitress so we could ask for the check.

It was a good fifteen minutes before she finally came by. She asked if she could box anything and we declined. She was very surprised, since we both had more than 2/3 of our respective orders still on the plates. I explained that I just didn't find the beef that flavorful and wasn't how I liked it prepared. She said that lots of people love their Orange and Wunan beef. I told her that I debated between the two, and just chose wrong. She brought the bill and it came to $33. Considering the amount of food, if we'd liked it, it would have been a good deal. However, we didn't, so it really wasn't.

Service was good for most of the meal. However, shortly after our appetizers arrived, we never saw anyone until the end. Our waters up until that point had been diligently refilled. However, by the end, we were both sucking air and never saw him again.

So obviously, we were very disappointed. They seem to not use much seasoning on the dishes we had. Seth said that he's had their Orange Beef before and it had an intense orange flavor. It's possible we hit an off night. However, two bland dishes makes us more prone to skip CHHK and stick with Super Dragon. During our initial visits there, each of us chose a bad dish, but never on the same visit. So we'll stick with them, as they are also closer and the waitstaff is almost anal when it comes to keeping drinks filled.

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