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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Pigeon fillets make me re-evaluate Chinese food

    Andi Berlinarts columnist
    Andi Berlin
    arts columnist

    Don’t like Chinese food? Maybe it’s because you’re a Tucsonan. I hate to sound like “”Seinfeld,”” but there’s really nowhere you can get a decent cup of hot and sour soup in this town.

    Every restaurant here is the same. There’s the occasional dim sum at Gee’s Garden, but then lunch ends and you’re stuck sipping the flavorless bowl of brown gravy like before. You can load it with pepper or soy sauce, but even sticking a Chipotle burrito in there wouldn’t help that much.

    It may seem petty, but a Chinese restaurant’s ability to prepare hot and sour is a barometer of how good a restaurant it is. It’s like the spaghetti and meatballs at the Olive Garden or the strange french fry hamburger burrito at Los Betos. If that sucks, everything else sucks.

    I know it’s because Tucson doesn’t have a large Asian population, but we do have great Indian, Japanese and Thai food. Tucson may very well be the sushi capital of Arizona. You can’t go five blocks without seeing another sushi place, offering an awkward conversation with your non-English-speaking waitress and a tempting all-you-can-eat deal. Why can’t it be that way with the moo-shoo duck?

    But more importantly, they serve sautǸed pigeon fillet. You walk into a small but casual ballroom setting, and every table is packed full of Chinese teenagers and adults passing around giant fish heads or humongous hot pots filled with lettuce and seafood. They’re all drinking wine, because this is a celebration.

    I went to San Francisco for a family thing this weekend, and my dad took me to a little place called The Kitchen. It’s in a non-threatening spot out of the city, in a suburb called Millbrae, and it stays open until 1 a.m.

    But more importantly, it serves sautǸed pigeon fillet. You walk into a small but casual ballroom setting, and every table is packed full of Chinese teenagers and adults passing around giant fish heads or humongous hot pots filled with lettuce and seafood. They’re all drinking wine, because this is a celebration.

    My family sat down and we saw dozens of servers, all wearing tuxedos, frantically running around and passing out exotic plates to a myriad of tables. The servers seemed to be concentrating on the entire room instead of just their areas, which made it more confusing.

    Two men in orange dress jackets came up and tried to take our order before we had a chance to open the menu. We shooed them off, but then realized we might have needed an interpreter to help us understand what we were holding. The menu was almost 20 pages long, filled with bizarre and often revolting delicacies.

    The appetizer section alone was packed with treasures like pickled chicken feet, kidney slice with preserved veggie, cold slices of beef tenderloin with jellyfish, and salt and pepper squids. At the bottom of the page, they had random pictures of the plates that looked like stills from “”Planet Earth”” or an Indonesian nature journal.

    The 10 other lengthy sections included 15 kinds of abalone, a rare seafood that topped off at $88 a plate, stir fried goose intestine with mushrooms under “”Chef’s Suggestions,”” sautǸed foi gras, goose feet and braised cod belly in a clay pot.

    Because we wouldn’t order (and probably also because we were the only white people there), the waiters ignored us for a good 20 minutes. But by the time they came back, we were still having trouble finding what we wanted.

    My dad refused to let me try the hot and sour soup because he thought it was a waste of an opportunity. Instead, he opted for the golden seafood tender green soup for $15. The giant bowl came out looking like one of those frosting cookies you see at the deli.

    One half was orange and the other half was green. We stirred it around, and the soup actually tasted like egg flower, but was mixed with shrimp, scallops, tofu, crab, egg, greens and mushrooms.

    It was so filling that by the time our tofu slab came out, I was almost stuffed. It was about 5 inches wide and covered with creamy sauce and another barrage of seafoods. This plate was mildly disturbing, because every time I bit into a cod fish piece I got grossed out. I can’t really describe the taste, except to say that it’s just really chewy and salty.

    After that, our selections were more tame. We got chow fun noodles with beef, ma pao tofu, which is bean curd with beef in a spicy brown sauce, and an entire crab. But this meal was only a precursor for the airport eatery we went to on Sunday.

    Go Bistro was what it was called, and fried rice omelets with oyster sauce was what it served. I had to try it, despite the fact that I had a really bad hangover and had thrown up twice already.

    Pretty good, I thought. Eggs are in fried rice already, so putting the whole thing in an omelet isn’t really that bad of an idea. But eating it was, because half an hour later when I boarded the plane, I threw up the entire thing into a barf bag. I was sitting next to a Buddhist monk, which made it even more embarrassing.

    When we landed in Phoenix, we culminated our weekend of Chinese food with a trip to my favorite restaurant ever: Gourmet House of Hong Kong. Gourmet House is not really that different from Tucson Chinese restaurants because it sticks to the basics. But what Gourmet House does, it does well. A decent Chinese meal doesn’t need to include pigeon fillet, but it does need to include a steamy bowl of the best soup in the world. When I finally stuck a spoon in the heavenly liquor, I never wanted to go back to Tucson again.

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