It’s like the Chinese Denny’s. That’s what I always say. When I’m out with my Chinese friends, and it’s like you gotta eat after drinking. This is where you come in the middle of the night, in the morning. It’s like the Chinese Denny’s… Actually, that’s what they could use here, a Denny’s. – Rob
There’s that “down the rabbit hole” quality when being taken to a restaurant in the middle of nowhere, one that wouldn’t be found without a guide of sorts. This one is secluded in a mini-Vegas style. Drive through winding streets without much light, wait for an entrance to open up, follow the unending glow of neon. This restaurant is actually a row of restaurants but it’s difficult to see where one begins and the other ends. It has some qualities that restaurants around the world are starting to employ. It’s ironic to me that there is so much copying done by China and then some of the hippest restaurant qualities are found right here. And they are remarkably colloquial.
The first one is the location. It’s easy to see restaurants open up on the Lower East Side of New York or in the laneways of Melbourne and when that happens there is an inevitable conversation among eaters that goes like this:
“Have you been to the new place?”
“Where’s the new place?”
“It’s down this alley.”
“I’ll have to show you.”
“What’s the new place called?”
“It doesn’t really have a name.”
Give it two weeks and the line is out the door. And the same exact feeling holds here.
The second quality sprouting up is in the menu. It’s possibly the world’s simplest setup. The restaurant lays out the food on the table. Customer walks around the table picking what they want to eat. They cook it. You eat it. No paper, no pen, no need.
I see restaurants, especially in the world of seafood, using the long bar where the food is presented raw. Possibly some of the dishes are written on a board, possibly not. There is the quality that I can inspect what I will eat. And with the growing popularity of nearly anything with the name Michael Pollan on it and the advent of the Locavore, there’s a chuckle to see it being done without any precept of reinventing the wheel.
Here, the seafood is nearly perfect. Some discerning eyes are needed, mostly in looking at the cloudy or clear eyes of the potential dinner draped over ice. I am not competent enough to discern what is and isn’t fresh in the world of seafood that either has no eyes or has eyes that only biologists can see. If anyone has any tips on the freshness of random bottom dwelling seafood, that would be greatly appreciated.
This is now the third Saturday in a row that I’ve been here in the middle of the night after drinking. This is in turn why cohort Rob continually refers to it as the Chinese Denny’s. And yes, they could use a Denny’s here, breakfast is sorely missed. It fades away though, mostly due to the overlay of other things, like eating outside in the middle of the night.
There is a particular joy in having incredibly fresh seafood on a really warm night, and following it with crisp cold beer. It’s even more particular when in Asia. The mass amount of people eating in the middle of the night, dogs, kids singing chinese pop, all of it is terribly normal. So much so that I think most pass it over. That’s too bad really because it’s difficult to relax in Asia, and it’s a paradox that some of the busiest places offer the most calm, in that cliche white noise kind of way.
Every encounter so far has included crab legs and eggplant. The last endeavor was staking a claim in the territory of raw. I went for the oysters, possibly saying fuck it while I ordered them. To say they weren’t small is an understatement, some of them were the size of my hand. They were briny, like the sea, and I could have used some lemon or a little sherry vinegar but the addition of dark soy sauce and incredibly potent wasabi was a welcome kick.
Next came the blood clams. They looked like their name. The flavor was there, subtle and easy but the meat was tough. That always makes me question the freshness, usually around the last chew as it heads down the gullet. So again, any help discerning said freshness would be appreciated.
The seafood is the point here, but the vegetables don’t slack. The eggplant was perfect, firm and moist, and purple, very purple. The cucumber holds up well, in fact, the only thing lacking was the spinach. I’m into eating nearly anything but dirt doesn’t cut it for me. Spinach is a pain to wash when it comes out of the ground so I don’t blame the cooks for letting the dirt hitch a ride into my mouth, I just won’t order the ticket next time.
All in all, the food is perfect at this little row of neon. I would give you an address but I don’t know it. I can generally find my way back there. That seems to be the best way to find the place, generally. If you’re in town, ask me how to get there and I’ll tell you I’ll have to show you.