You’d think, after a matinee of Django Unchained, the Director & I would have been feeling particularly bloodthirsty upon stopping by the real-dealio Hong Kong Barbecue for takeout on Xmas Day, where the delightful family in charge was tending to 2 other couples of (I’m guessing) my tribal ilk as they dug into heaping platters of roast duck, whole fried fish, & garlicky pea shoots.

But of the quartet of dishes whose every last bite we adored, it was the titular vegetable (pictured on the right) that proved for me the ultimate revelation.

I’d initially ordered water spinach with pickled tofu sauce & jalapeños, but they were out of that, so I got the variation sauteed with romaine instead. Either way, if I’d thought about it too much beforehand, I might have gotten cold feet; after all, it should’ve occurred to me that “pickled” is synonymous with “fermented”—& one of my greatest gastronomic shames is that fermented soy beans, known to the Japanese as natto, absolutely turn me green with revulsion, try as I might to undo the damage done by Steve, Don’t Eat It!’s now-classic diatribe against the stuff.

But as it happens, fermented bean curd is a whole different (non-)animal, not unlike a soft cheese; this source nails the description as “reminiscent of Camembert, with a hint of anchovy flavor.” Turned into a thin sauce, it becomes a sort of Asian Alfredo—creamy & gently funky & spiked with the fresh green zing of sliced jalapeños—to highlight the distinct vegetal heartiness of the romaine, which is so much more obvious when it’s cooked than when it’s raw.

Pictured left is fish-ball curry, also a winner. Likewise relatively thin—the gloppiness one tends to associate with bad Chinese-American fare is nowhere to be found here—the curry was sprightly, dominated by the tang of ginger & onions, & the fish balls addictive, with the texture of scallops but the clear flavor of whitefish & whitefish alone (if they use any filler, it’s minimal). Chunks of red & green bell pepper & celery added a touch of contrasting crunch.

Satisfied as I was, I couldn’t keep my paws off either the Director’s ultra-treyf house-special fried rice with both shrimp & barbecued pork as well as scrambled egg (oy vey, kids) or his minced pork with sweet-potato glass noodles.

You can see for yourself how beautifully 2-toned the gristle-free pork on the left is, & the plump, firm shrimp were no slouches either, but the rice itself really brought it all together—only lightly fried to offer a little toastiness rather than soaked through with cooking oil. As for the dish on the right, it too was all about the slight sweetness of the actual, crisp-fried noodles & their thorough integration with the bits of tender pork & loads of bright carrot & celery—robust to be sure, but surprisingly variegated in effect.

The menu goes on & on, yet the number of concessions to whitebread expectation are refreshingly few compared to the myriad hot pots, congee bowls, & specialties rife with duck’s tongue & jellyfish, gingko nuts & lotus leaf. I won’t be waiting until next holiday season to explore it further.

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