Restaurant Review - Gingerly served
Hong Kong Gourmet respects fine points of presentation, seasonings, sauces
I heard my dinner before I saw it. There we were, having a lovely conversation in the modest, subdued green surroundings of Hong Kong Gourmet, when suddenly a pronounced hissing sound broke through the air. Then sputtering. Then crackling. The menu isn't kidding when it calls the dish Sizzling Oyster with Ginger and Scallion.
Here came our server, walking carefully at a stately pace then dumping — gently — the contents of a steaming bowl onto a searing hot plate. Dressed in a neat white shirt, dark trousers and a tasteful patterned tie, he was giving my entree all the respect it deserved, never taking his eye off the bubbling contents as it slid from bowl to plate. And the aroma! Once the plate was set down in front of me, fragrant ginger took the lead, and no wonder: The thin slices of fresh ginger were nearly as large as the seven plump fresh oysters themselves. Scallion tops, their perky deep green color peeking through the sauce, are the perfect counterpoint, which is why the Chinese use it.
Ginger and scallions can make nearly every kind of shellfish taste miraculous, but at Hong Kong Gourmet, the combination is especially brilliant when paired with fresh oysters. That's why Sizzling Oyster with Ginger and Scallion appears only on the daily specials insert in the dinner menu, and only when the oysters are prime.
But if oysters are out of season, there surely will be grouper, red snapper or whole fresh fish of some kind doctored with, say, the venerable black bean sauce; yet another good idea that Hong Kong Gourmet does well.
The regular menu is comprised of the many standard dishes you have come to expect from Chinese restaurants — Moo Goo Gai Pan, Kung Pao Chicken and so forth. But there is also a scrumptious shrimp with plum sauce (or lobster sauce or hot garlic sauce) and shrimp with asparagus. Peking Duck does not require 24 hours notice to enjoy (oh happy day!).
But there are also some intriguing things on the menu that don't appear on menus elsewhere: Sea Cucumber and Fish Maw in Hot Pot, for example, or Baked Pork Chop with Special Sauce.
My preference is to concentrate on the day's specials because they are different, if nothing else. That's how we got an unbelievably good pepper shrimp dish recently. Crisp and piquant yet sweet beneath, the shrimp arrived piled on a platter that was empty in no time. From there we moved on to the salt-and-pepper squid — this is on the regular menu at both lunch and dinner. Frankly, I like the Chinese salt-and-pepper treatment so much I would probably eat a piece of paper if it were prepared that way. The squid, though, wasn't the usual rubbery cross-sections that generally appear in such a dish. Rather, the kitchen had sliced the pieces on the diagonal, rendering them tender instead of rubbery.
I like ordering soup here first — limpid wonton, peppery hot and sour or the egg drop soup with its thick body and corn kernels — so I have something to savor as I consider what to eat. And I have had good luck in getting knowledgeable servers who really know what is the freshest and nicest thing on the day's menu.
A note to vegetarian readers: If you don't ask to have your tofu stir-fried, the kitchen will deep fry it, with less than delectable results.