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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Dining at Daniel Wong's

Recently, I ate at a Houston institution, Daniel Wong's Kitchen (the website is wonderfully and woefully sparse). We were there for a special occasion, and chose it as a safe place for people who are a bit averse to "authenticity". Most reviews of the place are quite old, dating back as old as five years ago (12 years ago, even), but somehow, I think they hold their place.

The usual telltale warning signs are there. Not one ethnically Asian client walked in the door outside of our party. The menu was blissfully clear of calligraphy, and was in well written English. Tables were set with forks and tea cups had handles. Chopsticks are provided only on request, and begrudgingly at that.

This place reminded me of the "Chinese" restaurants targeted at Jewish clientele when I used to live to New York City. Touted as one of the best restaurants in NYC, I was invited along for a celebratory meal, and was (quietly) disturbed by the westernization of the food. The prices were outrageous, the serving sizes miniscule, flavoring was tepid, and they served sugar with the tea, and rice in dainty little servings (with a separate cost). And my hosts were impressed and in awe of the exotic nature of the meal. I bit my tongue hard, and blatantly lied about my opinion of the meal.

Daniel Wong, however, proves that gwailo Chinese food doesn't have to be bad. The trademark Road Kill Pork, I found, is nothing more than char sui pork sauteed with garlic. But it was good char sui. Not overly sweet, and an appropriate appetizer (my inner quest for authenticity was clamoring for jellyfish and pi dan eggs, but I resolved to keep an open mind about the meal). All in all, the food was in general quite good. Yes, no knock your socks off impressive stuff, but really, you can tell that care was given to the choice of ingredients and the overall flavor of each dish. Vegetables weren't incinerated or mushed down as per Western norms, rather kept crisp and fresh. The Rio Grand Valley beef was very good, not only with the introduction of fresh oranges, but the beef itself was good quality, tender, and flavorful. Serving sizes were generous, and the service was fast. We never got around to trying any of the turkey dishes, which is innovative for a Chinese cuisine restaurant, but it does lead to my only major complaint about the meal. The insistence on using chicken breast meat for all the dishes results in some unrealized potential. Not that white meat isn't acceptable, the more succulent dark meat just holds up better with some of the dishes.

I can tell that a bunch of regulars frequent this place, and I can understand the appeal. The staff obviously know their regulars, and greet all as if they were guests to their home. Which is probably the case.


  1. I recommend DW's gumbo. It is classic Cajun gumbo with dark, earthy flavors. Nothing about it is particularly Asian. But I can't think of a better gumbo in town.

    Herman Park Duck is good too.

    I just found your site and linked to it. Nice work.

  2. Also, I couldn't agree with you more about chicken breast meat. It often is not the best part of the animal for Chinese food. Plus, dark meat has much more flavor.

    The problem is American customers. In reviews of Chinese restaurants on b4-u-eat, everyone seems to praise restaurants that use white meat and condemn the ones who use dark meat. I throw up my hands in exasperation -- how did we Americans get it so upside down?

  3. Welcome to the blog. I'm afraid I can't do gumbo as I am allergic to some seafood, but I've heard good things about it. Americans have developed this idea that eating is a chore, something that is done for nutrition and needs to get out of the way for the rest of the day. Hence, the need for simple recipes and simplistic interpretations.