There we were, Mary and I, sitting and chatting as we waited for our apps in the comfortably cozy confines of Tea Station Chinese Bistro. We sipped Tsing Tao beers and gazed out at the main drag of Norton Commons, the new subdivision with the old-time look, trying to figure out why this village somehow feels both appealing and a little creepy all at the same time.
Norton Commons was Louisville’s first large venture into the “New Urbanism” (or at least the first since St. James Court was developed in 1887). Hey, New Urbanism is cool! Something new, made to look old, compact and walkable, retro in style, quaint but, um, “safe.”
So what’s not to like?
“I like rice,” the late, wacky stand-up comic Mitch Hedberg famously said. “Rice is great if you’re hungry and want 2,000 of something.”
This is funny because it’s a presumably true statement about a reality that we’ve probably never considered before, and yanks a laugh out of our bellies before we suddenly come up short with the obvious follow-up: “So what?”
When I was a child, country-style chicken and dumplings wasn’t a thing in my citified family, but I wanted them to be. I would read about dumplings in children’s books and dream of tasting these succulent-sounding goodies.
“You wouldn’t like them,” my mother said, declining to make some for the family table.
Eventually I got to try some, and sure enough, Mom was right as usual. Thick rectangles of flabby dough, floating in chicken stew? Meh.
But that was before most folks in these parts knew of Chinese dumplings. Continue reading
I love Chinese food, and I’ve loved it since I was a little boy, when the only places you could get it in Louisville were the old Hoe Kow — then at Bowman Field, gone for years — and the sibling eateries House of Chen in Shively and Oriental House in St. Matthews. Only the last remains, and Grandma and Grandpa would probably recognize only part of its 21st century menu.
After all, back in those days when the Beatles and the Stones and Dylan were new, so was Chinese food. Well, not to the Chinese, who’ve been eating it for millennia, but certainly to folks in Louisville who were suspicious. Continue reading
We rolled up to our destination in the gathering darkness, and I found a parking spot at the curb out front. I turned, looked up, and … wow! This looks just like our old neighborhood in New York City! It’s a sturdy, three-story block of brick, not brownstone — visualize Queens, not Greenwich Village — with cozy lights in apartment windows on the upper floors, and busy storefronts opening on the street: a meat market, an Italian gelato shop and a family-run Chinese eatery.
It didn’t seem obvious at the time, but looking back on it now, it’s clear that Louisville’s affection for gourmet-style and ethnic food skyrocketed when the first wave of Baby Boomers grew up. It must have been the middle 1970s when we suddenly realized that it wasn’t necessary to keep all our food from touching on the plate, and that there were more exciting things to eat than Mom’s steak and potatoes and tunafish casserole.
“I went to Oriental House for lunch the other day, and we had a really good Chinese meal that didn’t cost us an arm and a leg.” This statement would have been perfectly grammatical, and factual, in 1960, and it still is.
Think back to the days when Oriental House was new. One of the first Chinese restaurants in Louisville, it’s getting on toward 50 years old now. St. Matthews was just starting to sprawl when Oriental House settled in to its colorful quarters on Shelbyville Road back in the ’60s. The St. Matthews mall still had that new-mall smell, the Watterson Expressway had just inched around to US 60, and there were still plenty of potato fields around.
“Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.” Not merely the intro line of the original Japanese “Iron Chef,” this fundamental hypothesis goes back to the French gourmet Anthelme Brillat-Savarin’s 1825 gastronomic essay, “Physiology of Taste.”
If Brillat-Savarin had examined my dinner at Peking City Bistro, he might have concluded I am a pregnant Chinese woman, a revelation that would come as a considerable surprise to both my mother and my wife.
Intrigued? Pull up a chair, and I’ll tell you the story.
I’ve reviewed the dim sum many times over the years, returning most recently to examine the chicken feet and other “challenging” specialties for a review in the Jan. 7, 2009, LEO Weekly. It is also a regular stop on our brunch circuit when I’m not reviewing.
But what’s Jade Palace like in the evening, when the dim sum carts aren’t rolling?
Don’t be shy, take the challenge – grab hold of Jade Palace’s chicken feet and don’t let go. Chicken feet aren’t much different than chicken wings, right? Continue reading
|This table-topper at Red Pepper Chinese Cuisine featured cranes carved from daikon radish, perched on “rock piles” made from yams, decorated with what looked like taxus yew sprigs from the bushes out front. Photo by Robin Garr
LEO’s Eats with LouisvilleHotBytes.com
Are you the kind of adventurous diner who has always wanted to experience an authentic Chinese banquet but have despaired after too many meals of sweet and sour pork, fried rice and the like at chopsticks houses and Asian buffets?
Here’s good news: With a little advance planning, a willing spirit and a smile, you can enjoy a Chinese spread right here in Louisville that will take you surprisingly close to what you’d be served in Shanghai or Beijing.
All you have to do is get together a group of like-minded foodies, drop in on your favorite Chinese restaurant and ask the management’s assistance in organizing a special banquet.
This approach probably won’t work at a fast-food Chinese eatery or buffet. It requires a quality Chinese restaurant with a highly skilled chef. Louisville boasts several of these, my current favorite being Red Pepper Chinese on Brownsboro Road, where Sichuanese Chef Shen Hong Huang boasts restaurant experience in Chicago and in Chinese embassies around the world.