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Top 5 Chinese restaurants in America


eatingwitheddie
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Ben Hong --- Thanks for the reminder timeline. The history of the Chinese in North America is fascinating. We are all richer for it.

While I agree that the concerns of 'The HongKong takeover' brought an influx of superior restaurants to NYC's Chinatown, I feel that it was the lifting of The Immigration Act that made the biggest changes to the existing restaurants. It didn't happen all at once, and it happened very gradually in the burbs, but in NYC's Chinatown itself, there was more than the stereotypical Chinese foods. Before anyone ever heard of Cold Sesame Noodle, it was the rage at Hua Yuan on East Broadway. This was in the 70s. Sichuanese restaurants were there, and AAMOF were all over Manhattan. ChiuChow, and Shanghai restaurants came somewhat later, but all well before the mid-90s when the big influx came from Hong Kong.

Before the lifting of the Immigration Act, I had some pretty interesting food back in the 50s - (in NYC--not the suburbs) It is what really stimulated my interest, and I remember the dish that finally made me buy my first Chinese cookbook - Cabbage in Cream Sauce. (This was not Trader Vic food or sweet/sour stuff.) But of course that was the big city. In the towns, at that time (the 50s) it was different.

Fascinating subject.

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There may be some bias there, as Toronto's Chinese tend to be urban middle-class Hong Kongers who migrated within the past 15 years or so.  In San Francisco, by contrast, the Chinese are predominantly from rural Guangdong.  The two groups may bring different culinary sensibilities to the kitchen.

really? that's interesting. i didn't know that.

Are you referring to Toronto and San Francisco proper, or their metro areas?

I would have expected San Francisco metro area's Chinese population to be predominantly Chinese educated professionals and their families, in significantly higher numbers than in areas such as Philadelphia, with Chinese from rural China and poorer Guangdong to be in SF Chinatown.

San Francisco proper. Silicon Valley has a higher proportion of Chinese tech professional immigrants, and also a wider variety of regional Chinese cusines. San Francisco certainly has highly educated Chinese, but most became so here in the US, and cuisine-wise tend to stay close to their roots.

My familiarity with Toronto is limited, but I am aware that it has an old (mainland Cantonese) population contingent in the central area, as well as the recent HK immigration contingent in both the Dundas/Spadino area and the burbs of Markham and Richmond Hill (and three or four other "Chinatowns.")

The difference is in numbers. In SF the Taishanese are the majority force, whereas (I'm guessing) in TO it's the HK immigrants.

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Has anybody else been to Jasmine in Vegas? It's the only Chinese restaurant I know of in the US that really attempts to play the role of a modern upscale hotel restaurant in Asia. It reminded me quite a lot of the Golden Peony at the Conrad in Singapore in terms of its level of cuisine. And it was expensive, with a remarkable level of ingredients, a very attractive space, and what appeared to be a whole heck of a lot of well-trained staff. The abalone entree was well in excess of $100, as I recall. Duck was cooked over an open flame. This dish in particular stands out, I think: "Philip Lo's Hot & Sour Soup. Chef's oringinal recipe, Jar Choy, Tofu, Wood mushrooms, Egg drop & Sea Cucumber."

Wow. I'll make a reservation for the next time I'm in town.

Bruce

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I think Jo-mel has a good point, which I would take further. Not only the end of the Exclusion Act, but the gradual uplifting of the economic status of Chinese in the US (following upon the establishments of viable family units) had plenty of impact on the quality of Chinese food in restaurants. San Francisco, for example always had a self-contained Chinese community with an industrial base, and there were always restaurants preparing Chinese food for Chinese, albeit worker's fare. As the Chinese rose in economic status, and began to dine out more, the market was prepped for better fare.

Due respects to Ben Hong, but I don't think the "star stystem" applies to Chinese cuisine. (Parenthentically, I think it's mostly illusory in Western cuisines as well.) It doesn't take hiring "the best cooks out of Hong Kong, Taiwan and Shanghai" to bring the quality of the food up to rising expectations.

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Gary Soup, I respectfully point out that I neither inferred nor stated "a star system". The star system is anathema to me and has been since I was negatively impacted in an earlier incarnation. My own personal m.o. has always been to follow the taste. Unfortunatel in the vast majority of cases, nonfood factors enter into a persons appreciation of a meal - decor, service, ambience, etc. These things are not USUALLY germane to the quality of the food.

Regardless of whatever the situation, any large influx of highly trained professionals into a slow evolving situation (cuisine wise at that time) over such a short time, has to impact the final result, and I believe that it has been a positive impact. Not only that, but the impact was immediate. Yes there was a constant improvement over the years, but that improvement was based on the numbers coming over during "normal" immigration, a comparatively slow trickle.

There's nothing like competition to improve a product, eh?

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  My own personal m.o. has always been to follow the taste. Unfortunatel in the vast majority of cases, nonfood factors enter into a persons appreciation of a meal - decor, service, ambience, etc. These things are not USUALLY germane to the quality of the food.

This is interesting.

We always appreciate a clean restaurant, with a pleasing decor, service, etc. It affects our visual pleasure and all that, but it is the food we go for -- not the surroundings ---usually.

But for some reason, at least for me, I am more tolerant of the seedier appearing Chinese restaurant than I would be of another restaurant -- ethnic or not. The food is the important thing. The so-called "Down and Dirties" in NYC are an example. I can overlook leaky bathrooms, and torn linoleum if the dumplings are hand-made & hearty, and soup broths have depth. I don't need to be catered to, or fawned over, if the kitchen produces quality food.

Along with that, the most handsome of places will last only as long as critical eaters are pleased with the kitchen.

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There's nothing like competition to improve a product, eh?

And demand to generate the competition.

Ben, I was riffing a bit on your discourse for the sake of making a little noise in this heretofore sleepy forum.

I recognized off the bat that you avoided the word "Chefs" in favor of "cooks" (who are the real coin of the realm). But I felt like jousting with your statement about hiring "the best cooks from Kong Kong, Shanghai, and Taiwan" being a big factor in the improvement of Chinese cuisine in TO and Van. After all, if you were to hire the "best cooks from Hong Kong", that would diminish HK's culinary standing, which I haven't seen noted. As for the "best cooks from Shanghai", from the onset of the Cultural Revolution until the flush times of the '90's, they were keeping a low profile and probably favoring only their families and friends with their efforts. How to recruit them?

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thanks for the education, ben hong. much of it i knew, but there were some interesting facts.

the part about pre 60s Chinese being primarily Taishanese,

how do you know that?

From what I recall, much of the initial Chinese immigration resulted from the Pearl River delta flooding. Did it only flood the Taishan area, or flood mainly the Taishan area?

I need a new map of where Xinhui, Taishan, and etc. are relative to the Pearl River. Or, I need to actually look at the map i have buried somewhere.

the numbers for Canadian Chinese are interesting, but not unexpected.

nice to put absolute numbers behind what I guessed. higher ratio than i expected though.

the immigrant investor thing i didn't know about. i just thought canadians had gone there because it was easier and same basic lifestlyle as US, but easier immigration via government. so it wasn't just easier, it was significantly much easier, because of that.

yes, of course that's also the reason behind the high quality chinese cuisine in Vancouver. i've told others this before, that in much of the US, east coast even more than west coast, the non-english speakers, the restaurant and factory workers, and other comparatively poor Chinese significantly dominate the Chinese population.

Herb aka "herbacidal"

Tom is not my friend.

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There's nothing like competition to improve a product, eh?

And demand to generate the competition.

Ben, I was riffing a bit on your discourse for the sake of making a little noise in this heretofore sleepy forum.

I recognized off the bat that you avoided the word "Chefs" in favor of "cooks" (who are the real coin of the realm). But I felt like jousting with your statement about hiring "the best cooks from Kong Kong, Shanghai, and Taiwan" being a big factor in the improvement of Chinese cuisine in TO and Van. After all, if you were to hire the "best cooks from Hong Kong", that would diminish HK's culinary standing, which I haven't seen noted. As for the "best cooks from Shanghai", from the onset of the Cultural Revolution until the flush times of the '90's, they were keeping a low profile and probably favoring only their families and friends with their efforts. How to recruit them?

There's something most people whom aren't involved with the Asian Restaurant Business, especially in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Shanghai on almost any large city should take into consideration.

Possabily the Highest paying positions are the Head Chefs in the major Restaurants, who are paid from apprentices, suppliers, owners fee's based upon the volume of business and standards of operations. The only exceptions are in the Family owned and operated restaurants who have opened sattilite operations in the United States during the last 12/15 years when this trend started. Take into consideration that a Cantonese Restaurant in Hong Kong may be over 6 floors high with space for as many as 60 + Tables per floor that starts serving Yum Cha in the morning and continues with sevice for Banquets that can have as many as 3/4 complete dinner seatings per day, with the final service as late as midnight.

Add up that volume, including the constant turnover for Dim Sum seatings mornings thru afternoons and it's possable that very few if any restaurants anywhere else are doing this type of volume regularly. What would you need to induce this Head chef to emigrate to the anywhere, where theres a tax man over his shoulder, no apprentice system and it's not traditional for suppliers to pay the Chef for rotating and making sure your produce, fish, etc are put into optimum use? It's a very different world, with different customs and traditions and a totaly different approach to employment, benefits and regulations. Forty Hour Week? Time and 1/2, whats that? Job Discriptions ? Holidays? Chinese New Year, Pay, Customs ?

The Head Chef's the Emperor of his world, but his responsability also respects and nutures his extended family. It's increadable how this works, but it's been working for a very long time. It seems to be getting better and better, plus it's providing very capable Cooks, Bakers and Chef's into our country. How much better is Chinese Food improved during the last 35/40 years. Before that it was pretty much same oh, same oh. Chop Suey, Egg Foo Young, Fried Rice, Etc.

Irwin

I don't say that I do. But don't let it get around that I don't.

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Some stats for those who are so inclined. Before 1985 there were probably 200,000 Chinese in Canada. Now there are well over 1,000,000. Toronto before 1985 had about 100,000 Chinese. Now it has over 500,000. In fact Chinese is the third language of Canada after English and French.

Now back to the topic of cuisine. Most of you here would probably know that all Chinese would rather eat a well prepared meal than do almost anything else. Well, that holds true for the rich Hong Kong people who came to Canada and found to their horror that what passed for good food was virtually unpalatable to their refined sensibilities. So they brought their own "style", built fantastic eating emporiums, hired the best cooks out of Hong Kong, Taiwan and Shanghai and introduced Chinese haute cuisine to North America. By doing so, they elevated and educated the locals to achieve higher standards. I hazzard to say that without these people, this board would be talking about the quality of a particular restaurant's sweet and sour spareribs over another's. :smile:  Toronto and Vancouver=Nirvana.

I think there is some important information that has been left out of this thread. While it is true that the immigration to North America (and especially Canada) over the last 10 years has led to an elevation in demand for and availability of fine Chinese cooking, it is also significant to understand that top Chinese chefs started leaving the mainland to practice their craft in the late 40's and early 50's, when political power shifted in mainland China and such bourgeois practices were politically unacceptable.

In the late 60's and early 70's there was an increased North American awareness of what constituted excellent and authentic Chinese cooking. This was a period when one COULD find terrific Szechuan and Hunan restaurants in NY for example, and if one looked, there were also authentic and good Shanghai, Fukien and Hakka restaurants as well. In those days the 'dai see foo' (master chefs) had been trained on the mainland during pre-revolutionary times. If you sought out these individuals, you could access world class Chinese banquet cooking.

During the late 70's and 80's as the industry expanded it also declined in quality. Many of the mid-level chefs, who some years earlier might have required more years of seasoning before rising to the top, were now able to go out and open businesses of their own: better to have a little take-out shop then be #3 saute cook in a larger kitchen. Chefs who learned to cook during this era, unless they were trained in top HK or Taiwanese establishments, may have found it difficult to be exposed to or practice the highest culinary standards.

As we got into the late 80's and 90's and economic conditions in HK & Taiwan improved so did demand for 'cusine.' This is true of the mainland as well. Finally we have seen an era that has engendered culinary growth. Demand for innovation and quality has increased as the world has become a smaller place. In some cases western foods and ideas have been incorporated into Chinese cooking but this assimilation has taken effect without dliluting the cuisine but by adding to it.

A few years ago while doing a project for the Hong Kong Tourist Association I came across a dish entitled Strawberry Pork. Essentially it was an authentic and new fangled version of Sweet & Sour Pork using a fresh strawberry puree as a base. A good example of the growth and to my mind 'health' of new Hong Kong cooking.

Currently we have an enormous number of Fukienese immigrants. Their prescence in NY's Chinatown and is pervasive and is just starting to be felt by the NYC community as a whole.

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I need a new map of where Xinhui, Taishan, and etc.  are relative to the Pearl River.  Or, I need to actually look at the map i have buried somewhere. 

Just a guestimate looking at my 80's National Geog.map -----Xinhua appears to be about 10 miles, and Taishan about 25 in a line, due West, from the Pearl River.

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Eddie, that was an excellent post.

Gary Soup, there were significant numbers of cooks (chefs) recruited during the 70s and 80s by Canadian sponsors. The normal route was for the immigration officials to acknowledge that there was a pressing shortage of qualified cooks (or welders, or pipefitters, or fitters, etc.) and the sector would be prioritized. Then it was a matter using the "rice grapevine" ie: "guangxi" to find suitable applicants. The PRC gov't did not usually hinder them, with proper "documentation" :wink::wink: Usually there were more than enough applicants. :wink:

Herbacidal, I don't know what Pearl delta flood you are talking about. Didn't it flood annually? :angry: Some explanation here. Taishan was almost a generic name for us immigrants up to the 60s, whether we came from Xinwui, Hoiping, Xin Ning, Guang Hai, Yang Gong, etc. These towns and cities were in a small area roughly 50 miles square and whatever locale they came from, they all speak my dialect (with inflections) which is that earthy, profane, blasphemous, scatalogical, loud, crude, and very expressive language called Taishanese. If you spoke that dialect, you were a Taishan person, regardless of what town you came from. In the fifties and early 60s, people who came with a proper Cantonese dialect and dared to speak it in front of some "lo wah kieu" (oldtimer) soon found that it was beneficial to drop that flowery languge of the sing -song girls, and learned how to speak "Chinese", ie, Taishan. :biggrin: In my youth I literally travelled the width and breadth of Canada and found that the Taishan dialect was very DOMINANT. The Hong Kong dialect could be found in pockets of the Chinatowns of Toronto and Vancouver. Montreal Chinatown was 100% Taishanese, at least out in public.

Wesza, I understand the type of lifestyle that was led by the top chefs in the traditional hierarchy and no, they would not be swayed by the lure of a 40 hour week, clean air, etc. The impetus that drove the out migration of people was the willingness to leave the uncertainty and political bullshot behind - which has proven to be the case with a vast majority of immigrants.

Not to be patronizing, but I am really and truly happy that I found this website and I find this kind of discussion a stimulating diversion from the drudgery of pushing paper. Cheers.

BTW how do you use the quote function. At 61 years. I am a klutz when it comes to high technology.

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Ben Hong -- I didn't understand the 'quote box' function, either, until slkinsey sent me the following. (I've got a few years on you, and techie stuff wasn't my bag --- but I'm learning.) When I don't want the entire 'quote', I simply delete what is extra, from the draft, or use the quote tags.

From slkinsey:

There are two ways you can do it:

#1 hit the "quote" button to quote the post to which you are responding.

#2 copy the section that you want to quote and bracket it with QUOTE tags, like this:

[QUOTE]Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Donec luctus feugiat mi. Vivamus malesuada, libero eu posuere pellentesque, mi dolor laoreet ipsum, at tincidunt mi tortor ac felis. Cras gravida dolor in nulla. Fusce adipiscing ligula vel erat. Nunc metus nulla, placerat id, vestibulum sit amet, bibendum et, magna. Aliquam justo purus, luctus et, suscipit eu, adipiscing in, pede. Donec nonummy accumsan ante. Nam nibh augue, vehicula vel, ornare in, rhoncus et, lorem. Proin aliquet luctus ligula. Nullam felis massa, ullamcorper in, auctor nec, iaculis vel, quam. Cras tempus. Praesent tincidunt varius elit.[/QUOTE]

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A few years ago while doing a project for the Hong Kong Tourist Association I came across a dish entitled Strawberry Pork. Essentially it was an authentic and new fangled version of Sweet & Sour Pork using a fresh strawberry puree as a base. A good example of the growth and to my mind 'health' of new Hong Kong cooking.

Strawberry pork, lemon chicken, orange shrimps....

Here's a page from the menu booklet for Xinya (Sun Ya) restaurant in Shanghai, 1935. It was a mammoth place frequented by Westerners, compradores, and well-heeled local enterpeneurs alike. It's still there, but surviving mostly through franchising fast food dim sum.

Check out the footnote at the bottom of the page for item #100, "Sweet and Sour Pork".

Page08.jpg

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Some stats for those who are so inclined. Before 1985 there were probably 200,000 Chinese in Canada. Now there are well over 1,000,000. Toronto before 1985 had about 100,000 Chinese. Now it has over 500,000. In fact Chinese is the third language of Canada after English and French.

Now back to the topic of cuisine. Most of you here would probably know that all Chinese would rather eat a well prepared meal than do almost anything else. Well, that holds true for the rich Hong Kong people who came to Canada and found to their horror that what passed for good food was virtually unpalatable to their refined sensibilities. So they brought their own "style", built fantastic eating emporiums, hired the best cooks out of Hong Kong, Taiwan and Shanghai and introduced Chinese haute cuisine to North America. By doing so, they elevated and educated the locals to achieve higher standards. I hazzard to say that without these people, this board would be talking about the quality of a particular restaurant's sweet and sour spareribs over another's. :smile:  Toronto and Vancouver=Nirvana.

I think there is some important information that has been left out of this thread. While it is true that the immigration to North America (and especially Canada) over the last 10 years has led to an elevation in demand for and availability of fine Chinese cooking, it is also significant to understand that top Chinese chefs started leaving the mainland to practice their craft in the late 40's and early 50's, when political power shifted in mainland China and such bourgeois practices were politically unacceptable.

In the late 60's and early 70's there was an increased North American awareness of what constituted excellent and authentic Chinese cooking. This was a period when one COULD find terrific Szechuan and Hunan restaurants in NY for example, and if one looked, there were also authentic and good Shanghai, Fukien and Hakka restaurants as well. In those days the 'dai see foo' (master chefs) had been trained on the mainland during pre-revolutionary times. If you sought out these individuals, you could access world class Chinese banquet cooking.

During the late 70's and 80's as the industry expanded it also declined in quality. Many of the mid-level chefs, who some years earlier might have required more years of seasoning before rising to the top, were now able to go out and open businesses of their own: better to have a little take-out shop then be #3 saute cook in a larger kitchen. Chefs who learned to cook during this era, unless they were trained in top HK or Taiwanese establishments, may have found it difficult to be exposed to or practice the highest culinary standards.

As we got into the late 80's and 90's and economic conditions in HK & Taiwan improved so did demand for 'cusine.' This is true of the mainland as well. Finally we have seen an era that has engendered culinary growth. Demand for innovation and quality has increased as the world has become a smaller place. In some cases western foods and ideas have been incorporated into Chinese cooking but this assimilation has taken effect without dliluting the cuisine but by adding to it.

A few years ago while doing a project for the Hong Kong Tourist Association I came across a dish entitled Strawberry Pork. Essentially it was an authentic and new fangled version of Sweet & Sour Pork using a fresh strawberry puree as a base. A good example of the growth and to my mind 'health' of new Hong Kong cooking.

Currently we have an enormous number of Fukienese immigrants. Their prescence in NY's Chinatown and is pervasive and is just starting to be felt by the NYC community as a whole.

In New York City The "Hunan Restaurants", began with only 2 that opened on the upper west side. The Szchewan trend began after A group of Szchewan Chefs were allowed to introduce Szchewan Food, by the Chinise Government thru a special project in NYC. It used to be a joke amoung the Chinese community when so many Taiwan immigrants who knew little or nothing about Szchewan Food, or the Restaurant business were opening Ma & Pa places that wierd.

The Restaurants in Vancover were the first to attract reasonably competent younger cooks, who were able to eventually become chefs, but that was because the money people behind the restaurants were the same competent operators from Hong Kong, same for LA, San Francisco and NYC.

But even now there aren't many Chefs anywhere earning the middle 6 figure incomes, especially with the tax advantages then those in Hong Kong without being owners or operators. Almost all the better Dum Sum places were trained and crewed via major Hong Kong Restaurants. Even after all these years there are still very few expert Chinese Roast Cooks available.

I don't say that I do. But don't let it get around that I don't.

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In New York City The "Hunan Restaurants", began with only 2 that opened on the upper west side. The Szchewan trend began after A group of Szchewan Chefs were allowed to introduce Szchewan Food, by the Chinise Government thru a special project in NYC. It used to be a joke amoung the Chinese community when so many Taiwan immigrants who knew little or nothing about Szchewan Food, or the Restaurant business were opening Ma & Pa places that wierd.

Wesza-

It sounds from your post like you are may have been involved in the NYC Chinese restaurant community, as I was.

My knowledge of that period is strong and while I don't know everything I do have different memories than those you have expressed.

To my recollection the Hunan restaurants of the upper west side date to the mid and late 70's. Hunam located on 2nd Ave and Uncle Tai's at 1059 Third Ave. were in fact the first Hunan-style restaurants in NYC and in North America for that matter. They opened in the end of 1972 and the start of '73. They were inspired by a trend in Taipei where the well respected Chef Peng opened a very popular Hunanese restaurant a few years earlier. He eventually wound up in NYC as well (on east 44th St.). The menus of these restaurants were filled with specialties 'never before served in NYC' as the ads read, and featured items that Chef Peng had popularized in Taipei. Dishes like Lake Tung Ting Shrimp (brocolli & egg white), Vegetable Pie (mock Peking Duck), Tung-an Chicken, Honey Ham w Dates, Homemade Pock-marked Beancurd (Chef Peng's Beancurd), were truly exciting to experience.

The restaurants along upper Broadway, which were centered in the 90's (street numbers), Hunan Cottage, Harbin Inn, The Great Shangahi, Eastern Garden, The Pomegranate Garden, Chuan Hong, Shanghai Cafe, Szechuan, were just some of the names, constituted an exciting and resaonably authentic food experience. While a number of the Northern and Shanghai restaurants predate the early 70s, the Hunanese restaurants all date from '75/'76 or later, some years after Hunam & Uncle Tai's.

As for authentic Szechuan restaurants and chefs. The Chinese government did send teams of chefs to NY, but again this was years AFTER this cuisine hit the streets. Szechuan Pavillion (1975/6?) was the Manhattan restaurant that was famous for having a mainland kitchen crew. By the way, on the occaisions I dined there, I never thought the food was of the same quality as that of the best chef's at NY's top woks.

I for one, had no trouble finding excellent professional chefs who knew and specialized in great Szechuan restaurant and banquet cooking. The Four Seas, one of the earliest players, was located in the Wall Street area, and was first reviewed in The Times in (I would guess) 1966. It's chef, Lo Huey Yen (Uncle Lou) was one of the great Szechuan chefs of his generation, not just in the states, but worldwide. He was the family chef to the preminent 20th century Chinese painter Chang Ta-Chien. A year or so later he formed a partnership with Robert Chow and the recently deceased David Keh and opened Szechuan Taste on a corner in NY's Chinatown. I believe this to be the first dedicated Szechuan restaurant in the US. It was followed a year or two later (1969) by Szechuan at 95th & Broadway. Another great chef, 'shorty' Tang ran the kitchen there. He prepared very clean and highly authentic Szechuan food. Tragically Chef Tang passed away not long after that, but his family opened Hwa Yuan Szechuan at 30 East Broadway which became a mecca for Szechuan food fans. Generations grew up on their spicy cold noodles and carp braised in hot bean sauce.

This was an era of fine classic authentic cooking, prepared by chefs trained in China who had learned pre-1949. In those times one could staff a kitchen with elite, highly trained professionals, something that became much more difficult just a few years later as the seasoned chefs grew too old and as the industry expanded and its labor pool became dilute and spread thin.

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Strawberry pork, lemon chicken, orange shrimps....YUCK (eddie's edit)

It may be popular to to denegrate Sweet & Sour (and its variations) as western oriented/Americanized Chinese food, which it has of course become. But it significant and important to note that Sweet & Sour is authentic Chinese food that can also be beautifully and deliciously prepared. In fact when I encounter a really great master chef and preorder a banquet I might go out of my way to see if any sweet & sour dishes are included in his repetoire. Squirrel Fish with Pine Nuts, Pork with Fresh Lychee, Spare Rib Tips Braised w Sugar and Black Vinegar are just a few items that I would be excited to eat.

And it's absolutely true that most Sweet & Sour Pork, Lemon Chicken etc. stinks. Doesn't have to be that way - the Sweet & Sour Pork in my house kicks butt.

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It's absolutely true that most Sweet & Sour Pork, Lemon Chicken etc. stinks. Doesn't have to be that way - the Sweet & Sour Pork in my house kicks butt.

Sorry for quoting myself and then commenting on it but I have another thought on this topic.

If we were to set up a teaching syllabus for a class on Chinese sauces one of the first things that I would talk about is how many different sauces are prepared form the same or similar sets of ingredients. One of the important things that differentiates one from another is the proportion and presence or absence of sugar and vinegar. In fact it is frequently the amount and proportions of these two things that alter a dish's flavor profile. The point here is that Sweet & Sour falls into the same category as all the other sauces, it just has relatively more sugar and vinegar and less soy and wine. Looked at from that perspective, it seems to be a sauce that logically falls into the spectrum of authentic Chinese sauces, though admittedly it is all the way to one side. It is a flavor that is a degree or two more familiar to the western palate and therefore one that was most easily assimilated and eventually adapted (some might say corrupted).

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It may be popular to to denegrate Sweet & Sour (and its variations) as western oriented/Americanized Chinese food, which it has of course become. But it significant and important to note that Sweet & Sour is authentic Chinese food that can also be beautifully and deliciously prepared. In fact when I encounter a really great master chef and preorder a banquet I might go out of my way to see if any sweet & sour dishes are included in his repertoire. Squirrel Fish with Pine Nuts, Pork with Fresh Lychee, Spare Rib Tips Braised w Sugar and Black Vinegar are just a few items that I would be excited to eat.

I agree with that entirely. My wife's Shanghainese home cooking repertoire includes a sweet-and-sour pork dish that's a variant on red-cooked pork, but with the addition of Zhenjiang vinegar and rock sugar. She also sometimes does a sweet-and-sour fish dish that's not quite as elaborate as Songshu fish (though she'd be loathe to treat a really fresh fish that way).

I was trying to lampoon the self-caricature that the sweet-and-sour style has become. In my salad days I once went a wretched (but very cheap) Chinese-American restaurant on Polk Street in SF and watched as the cook prepared sweet-and-sour pork with the flourish of dumping in a whole small can of fruit cocktail.

I don't thing strawberry pork is something I would order in any cuisine. Now if you want to talk about raspberry chipotle glazed ribs....

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To my recollection the Hunan restaurants of the upper west side date to the mid and late 70's.

I can confirm that. I don't remember the Hunan Balcony before I returned from my 1975-77 trip to Malaysia. Ditto for the original Empire Szechuan. I don't remember all of the restaurant names you remember, though.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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