At 8 o'clock on a Saturday night, the large Franklin Avenue underground restaurant Orchid was at near full capacity – with close to three dozen tables filled (see Garden City Patch's business profile).
Fried noodles with hot mustard and duck sauce immediately arrived with a pot of tea. The noodles and duck sauce are both an American Chinese restaurant staple – they came to popularity in the 1950s when Chinese restaurants went main stream and were considered exotic. You will not see this knosh served in a Chinese home.
The menu was deceiving; it read standard American Chinese fare at first glance, Lo Mein, Chow Mein, etc. A true foodie can barely muster excitement for American Chinese fare. However, the food turned out to be Chinese fusion-Chinese gourmet – with flavors and cooking techniques from around the globe intermingled with Chinese ingredients and some not-so-Chinese ingredients such as veal, potatoes and apples.
The Scallion Pancakes (5.75) were golden, light and crispy and had many airy layers. The only way to achieve this feat is to fry on demand. This was an authentic Chinese munchie served with a small bowl of soy. Do not use the salty brown sauce, it will annihilate the delicate flavors of the scallion pancake.
Orchid's owner Jimmy Ng joined Patch at the table. "Don't use that, I serve it because some people ask for it. You don't need it," said Ng. He took pride in his scallion pancakes and that pride echoed again and again with each dish.
The Steamed Vegetable Dumplings ($5.50) arrived after the pancakes. They were nice little pouches filled with shreds of fresh spinach, finely minced carrots, some bean curd and cellophane noodles. Made on site, they and their fresh components were a pleasant surprise.
The Orchid House Soup for 2 ($8) arrived as a clear, crisp fresh chicken broth as its base and was filled with tender slivers of chicken tenderloin, medallions of pork and medium size shrimp. The tender trio shared the bowl with water chestnuts and Chinese mushrooms, which were similar to shitake in flavor and texture. A few pieces of barely cooked broccoli also swam in the broth. It was a nice melody, satiating without being too filling.
Dinner specials were all under $20. As Ng explained what sets his dishes apart from other Chinese dishes, he asked a head waiter to bring out Kung Po Chicken. Ng's version was not fried; it consisted of small chunks of soft buttery chicken breast with fresh peanuts in a slightly spicy sauce. The sauce barely coated the dish, which allowed you to taste all the flavors. If you like spice, request some hot paste for the table or ask them to spice it up further.
The Ocean Flavored Shrimp ($19.50) was aromatic and enticed before it hit the table. Barely coated with a light brown Shao Hsing Wine Sauce, it had a hint of spice and some slices of fresh tomato. Chinese mushrooms were soft on the palate with a smoky flavor and shared the plate with crunchy bamboo shoots and nice big 11-15 count white shrimp from Mexico. The shrimp had a nice firm bite to them. Ng only buys wild catch shrimp from Mexico opposed to the farm version available from 48 countries around the world.
Ng had set up a banquet table for a private party with his friends, several Chinese couples in their 50s and 60s. He had a special delivery of blue crabs delivered that day for his dinner party.
Although not on the menu, Ng had his special crab dish sent to the table. "Most Chinese people like the female crabs, they have the eggs in them," said Ng.
The dish had two beautifully fried blue crabs with copious amounts of dried szechuan peppers. This dish had enormous spice with a small amount of scallion snippets. Our female crabs were worth the fight; the roe was briny and melted in your mouth and the crab meat succulent.
Black Forest Scallops ($19.50) produced enormous scallops with a nice firm texture in a garlic black bean sauce – fresh tender black beans hid on the bottom of the dish covered by firm broccoli florets. Ng only buys his scallops from Novia Scotia because they are flash-frozen and have the best texture and flavor.
House Fried Rice ($12) was a must. At first, one might think the price too expensive for a rice dish but this is the Chinese equivalent of a fine Risotto – not the dark brown greasy mixture we've become accustomed to at most Chinese haunts. The rice dish was very light in color with spirals of fresh scrambled eggs, bright green peas, finely diced roast pork, small shrimp of good quality and flecks of scallions.
Desserts hovered around ($5.75) and included Honest Crisp Banana for 2, Sesame Fried Banana, ice cream, Lychee (the fruit of an evergreen tree in China) and pineapple chunks. A platter of perfectly ripe pineapple, watermelon and honeydew slivers topped off the meal.