Wednesday, September 5, 2012

THE Chinese Restaurant



We've always called it "The Chinese Restaurant". Chef Laney Xiang says the name is something that is tonally unpronounceable for me. The hanja for the place is "Chinese Food Things" but that is up for debate since the characters have various interpretations. The one thing you do need to know that this is the best Chinese food in Daejeon, not Korean-Chinese or American-Chinese but Chinese-Chinese.


The storefront is a bit confusing because it looks like a tiny grocer. The restaurant is in the back, after you walk through the front. This place used to be a little hole in the wall but over the last few years it's become a large hole in the wall. They've taken over the store spaces next to them and expanded the restaurant, a testament to their popularity. The menus on the wall were redone and now they have installed motorized turners for the lamb skewers, so they continue to cook evenly when you’re not paying attention. They’ll even burn evenly if you don’t pay attention. English is not spoken but rather Korean is the lingua franca since Mandarin is the language of the owners and staff. The very first time I was there I was thinking "We're going to eat here?"—that’s how wack the place looked.




Then the food came out; glorious, aromatic Chinese food, full of color and flavor. Textures you'd forgotten about and ones you didn't even know existed in food were rolling around in your mouth. The execution of this food is almost always amazingly spot on. Restaurant reviews usually discuss the dishes ordered and make recommendations, but just order anything that seems pretty on the wall menu and you won't be disappointed.



Frog legs... (insert Homer Simpson drool sound here)


Chef Laney Xiang and I frequently order frog legs since this is the only place that manages to NOT overcook them (yet once, and only once, they were overcooked. In true Laney and Earl Style, we didn't finish them). A big, huge platter of froglegs as we would say in the American south. The sweet and sour pork is not over sauced and the meat is so tender you don't have to wrestle with it and end up eating the breading first. The pork they prepare also has a light crisp exterior so there's a slight crunch when you bite. This crunch is so delicate more than one person has looked up in astonishment when they try this dish for the first time.


Eat the whole prawn, head, legs, shells; okay we don't normally eat the tail.


After the first bite of her prawn, J.E. Seuk, of Language of Shapes fame, uttered "Oh my god!" in a voice loud enough to have the server return to the dining room befuddled at what might be amiss. J.E. ordered the Prawn and Pepper dish (#2) and was slightly disappointed when she saw that the prawns were served shell on. I popped the head end of a prawn in my mouth, crunched it off, and said she should try these before she formed an opinion. "They're like fried soft shell crab." she said after the first few bites. J.E. ate well over a dozen of the prawns. Todd Seffrood, the resident Daejeon king of I'm-not-gonna-eat-any-weird-food, enjoys these flash fried, head on, shell on prawns. The dried fried crunchy peppers provide a piquant contrast of flavor and texture.



Chef Laney Xiang made an amazing eggplant dish at a party of mine in Seoul that was so powerfully remarkable that David Kalinowski, a former Chinese expat, asks me every time I have a party "Is your friend the Chinese chef coming?" They serve that same eggplant dish in The Chinese Restaurant and it must be as good because Chef Xiang orders it when she goes there. Fried rice, get some. Soup, they got it. Bok choy with mushrooms and oyster sauce, can't get enough of it. Kung Pao chicken; you should order that some time so you can experience how it is supposed to taste. No matter what we order Laney always says "We should order noodles; they're very good here." Fantastically piled, comprising an array of colors, the noodles don't disappointany of them. Pick a noodle dish, any dish. Lamb skewers roll back and forth along with skewered garlic cloves accompany all the dishes laid out on the table; this is a lovely dining experience, the one restaurant in Daejeon that should be a part of your regular rotation in your dining out schedule. To omit this place is a foodie cardinal sin and there is special place in hell for those people, alongside child predators and people who talk in movie theaters.




This place is a gem. Bring at least four people to feast there, six is better, so you can sample more than two dishes. If you read this and don't go there within a week, well then you're what we call a "stupid person" back home.







How to get there:
With your back to Daejeon Station turn right. After 20 yards, there’s a crosswalk. Cross the street, then turn right. There’s a little road that veers left off of the main drag, go down that street. About 60 yards down the street you will see the lanterns on the right. 010.6476.0187 if you want to call them and have the cab driver take you right there. The hassle-free method.



Walk too fast and you might miss the entrance. Across the street is a printing shop.



Match the numbered picture with the menu to assess how much your meal will cost.








These are the dishes for an individual if you wish to eat there by yourself.