Chinese Eatery Offers Perfect Duck and Other Delights
Our server, a bespectacled young woman, dutifully records our order: appetizer, soup, vegetarian dish, chicken dish, beef dish, shrimp dish, duck. I open my mouth to order something else. She raises a hand.
"One moment," she says, pointing at each of us with her ballpoint pen. "You are four people. This is too much food. You stop now." So we did. And we knew we were in good hands.
Chinese Delight is one of those neighborhood joints that offers nothing in the way of ambiance but plenty in terms of food, service, and friendliness. Take our recent visit to the Hampden eatery: After she took our server's advice, she brought us three spring rolls ($1.25 each) accompanied by a complimentary egg roll. The lightly fried spring rolls overflowed with chicken and shrimp. And the enormous egg roll ($1.25 each, if you're buying) was stuffed with cabbage, bean sprouts, and a modest amount of shrimp. We appreciated the generous servings as much as we were surprised by the staff's candor: During our meal, a young man emerged from the kitchen and told us, "You ordered won ton-ho fun soup. You will like dumpling-ho fun soup. It's better." Hey, we were game.
The dumpling-ho fun soup ($4.50) arrived in a tureen. Ho fun is a wide white rice noodle that doesn't have much taste, and the broth was bland despite the presence of lettuce and snow peas. Not so the pork-packed dumplings, which were fragrant with garlic and perked up the soup considerably.
The first of our main courses to arrive was Peking duck (whole $24, half $14.50). Unlike the the other entrées, this dish is presented formally, down to the length of spring onion, decoratively cut to curl at both ends--the better to use as a brush with which to spread plum sauce on the thick pancake in which you roll up the duck meat and crispy skin. Done right, it should be at once sweet and pungent, crispy and soft. And this one was done right. Beverly, who thought she didn't like duck, couldn't stop eating this one. Later in the meal, our server presented us with the more duck meat, carved from the bone and stir-fried with snow peas, straw mushrooms, mini-corn, carrots, and water chestnuts in a light brown sauce. In other words, one duck became two entrées. Nice.
Satay beef pan-fried noodle ($6.95), while not advertised as a spicy dish, offered a nice hit of red pepper. A glass pie plate layered with thin, crispy noodles (like skinny chow-mein noodles) was topped with onion, green pepper, and tender strips of medium-rare beef in a light brown sauce. In Chinese Delight's hands, even an old standby such as diced chicken with cashew nuts ($6.95) was, well, delightful, the cashews still crunchy after being lightly sautéed with pounded-thin white meat.
But the standout dish, aside from the Peking duck, was something called crispy shrimp with walnut in special-salad sauce ($9.95). Picture, if you will, a platter ringed with steamed broccoli. Inside the bright green ring is a mound of pale, golden shrimp--butterflied, barely battered, lightly fried, dusted with toasted sesame seeds. Tumbling over the shrimp are crisp, candied walnuts. And poured over the shrimp and nuts is the sauce, a sort of thin custard made from honey, milk, and vanilla. If you're thinking you don't like sweet entrées, think again. When we weren't snagging the last morsels of duck, we were angling for the remaining shrimp.
After all this food, the mixed-veggie dish, Buddhist Delight ($5.50), was a bit of a letdown. Healthy, certainly, and the vegetable variety was good, but the entrée didn't engage the eyes or the taste buds. (And in all honesty, the thin brown sauce restaurants tend to use in Buddhist Delight has never had an attraction for me.) Still, I was intrigued by a long, skinny vegetable none of us could identify. We asked our server, who didn't know the word for it in English. She sent our young man out from the kitchen, who told us it was a flower but that he didn't know the flower's name. "It makes a very good soup. Next time you try it," he said, and disappeared back into the kitchen.
Soon after he re-emerged with a bag labeled DRIED LILY FLOWERS. Our elusive ingredient was elusive no more.
Logy with good food, we slowly rose to our feet and made our way to the door. Our server, large brown bag in hand, dashed forward to intercept us. "The chef made you some lily-flower soup," she said, thrusting the bag into our hands. "So you can taste it at home."
This gesture capped our dining experience. Suddenly, the big, bare room, too bright under the glare of fluorescent lights, took on a warm glow. The soup, when we tasted it later, tantalized and transported us to a place of mystery, far away. How nice to know taking a return trip won't be difficult.