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Cautious but Competent

Hong Kong Restaurant serves up great lunch specials, but plays it safe with some other offerings


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Hong Kong Restaurant opened about six months ago, as far as I can tell (the restaurant has no Web site I can find, and it's gotten almost no press) in what could be an unwise location: a couple of doors down from the well-established Seri Melaka, in a strip mall near the northwest corner of Broadway Boulevard and Wilmot Road. How can a new Asian restaurant compete with a neighboring one with a longtime, loyal clientele?

Despite a bit of menu overlap, the two restaurants offer fairly distinct fare. Seri Melaka is mainly Malaysian with a Chinese influence, while Hong Kong is a traditional American-Chinese restaurant that also features a few Thai curries. Still, Hong Kong bills itself as a purveyor of Asian—not specifically Chinese—cuisine, and even the spare, tasteful décor is rather ambiguous; it strikes me as a bit more Thai, perhaps, than Chinese. The background music avoids the Asian issue entirely; last week, it was piped in from KMXZ FM 94.9, aka MIXfm.

Even so, Hong Kong Restaurant dishes up predominantly Chinese food that will pretty much meet the expectations of the average local Anglo diner: nothing exotic, nothing really striking in flavor, but nothing offensive, either. (Oddly, the restaurant has no cream for one's coffee; according to our waiter, the owners "don't get that concept yet.")

The laminated card listing the lunch specials ($5.95 and $6.95) has asterisks rather than little peppers next to some items, and when I asked the waiter if the asterisks indicated spiciness, he said yes, and that the heat could easily be dialed back. Obviously, he didn't know who he was talking to—if anything, I prefer the heat to be pumped up. Of course, the chef can make most things hotter, too, but the waiter's automatic assurance that I wouldn't have to strip the skin off my tongue suggests that he's accustomed to dealing with more cautious diners. Some of the food bears this out.

The lunch specials were more satisfying than the rather ordinary entrées we had for dinner. Between 10:30 a.m. and 3 p.m., for $5.95, you get one of 17 entrées with egg drop soup, an egg roll and about half a cup of rice. (The menu promises fried rice, but what was on the plate was steamed; at least you can choose between white or brown.) The $6.95 special offers one of 15 other entrées, plus rice, an egg roll, either egg drop or hot and sour soup, and crab puffs.

The egg rolls were small and had very little filling, and the crab puffs allowed the flavor of cream cheese to prevail over that of the wrappers, although it was hard to detect any crab in there. The rice, both white and brown, was tender and not sticky. The hot and sour soup was nice and peppery with a strong beef-broth flavor, and the chicken-broth taste of the egg drop soup came through with full force.

As it turned out, the main components of the two entrées we tried looked identical. Both the sweet and sour pork and General Tso's chicken were deep-fried nuggets of tender meat, encased in crispy puffs as smooth as dumplings. The pork, as usual, came with green pepper, carrot, onions and the indispensable pineapple, the latter ingredient in rather short supply, but it was sufficient enough to make an impression. The chicken mingled with green onions and little hot peppers in a tangy sauce. If you don't like pepper heat, slide those little varmints to the side. If you do eat them, proceed carefully; they make little impact initially, but have a cumulative effect. By the end of the meal, perspiration was plastering my hair to my scalp, which means that the heat was about where I like it on the Scoville scale.

Come dinner time, we started with the half-dozen potstickers ($5.95), bits of pork, cabbage and ginger (the key ingredient here) wrapped in shells and pan-fried, served with a sweet dipping sauce. The sauce and the ginger combined most pleasantly, but there didn't seem to be much food for the price.

The dragon and phoenix dish ($11.95) tossed together slices of chicken, shrimp, beef and a little crab meat with broccoli, carrot, Chinese cabbage, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts and snow peas in a brown sauce. Surprisingly for a stir-fry preparation, the veggies were a little overcooked, but the meat—especially the beef—had just the right consistency and tenderness.

In contrast, the moo goo gai pan ($7.95) benefited from nicely crisp vegetables—carrot, baby corn, water chestnuts, broccoli, snow peas and bamboo shoots, plus mushrooms—along with the featured sliced chicken. But the light sauce was so mild as to have hardly any impact at all; the mouth feel was right, but the flavor was bland.

Perhaps this was only coincidental, but immediately upon finishing the dragon and phoenix dish, I had a strong, if brief, allergic reaction. Maybe it was to something in the air (the air at home; we were eating takeout), because I've never had a problem with anything that was likely to be in the dish—neither shrimp nor peanut oil nor even MSG has ever affected me this way. So I won't blame it on the food, but if you have certain sensitivities, you should ask your server what you're getting into.

Otherwise, what you're getting into is cautious but professional preparations of standard Chinese fare, fully adequate to the task but not very exciting.


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