I had the honor this week of dining at Dragon Gate with our mysterious and intrepid correspodent, Aki, at Dragon Gate in chinatown (on Elizabeth near Grand). To both our surprise, DG has undergone a transformed of sorts: the specials that lined the walls were no more, and there was a new menu, with many of those specials incorporated under Chef's Suggestions (as the manager told me), and my favorite waitress was nowhere in sight (hopefully her day off).
Aki had posted about the eel-mushroom rice casserole as the premier dish here, and we made sure we got it. We also tried a house special appetizer of braised squab, pork chops with fried milk, and water spinach (which was the vegetable in season). The squab was small, but packed a lot of flavor. Somewhat gamy, the meat was very rich and dark. I believe they braise it, and then fry it at the end because it was dry and crispy -- nothing like I would have thought a braised item would be. I remember some ancient posts (about Shun Lee perhaps?) where some posters mentioned fried milk, and I had been curious to try it. It was somewhat of a revelation, as it's deep fried sweetened condensed milk, somehow thickened to the consistency of cheese. By itself, it would make a nice dessert, however, with the pork chops (which was also in a very sweet sauce), it didn't seem like a good match. I liked them separately.
The eel rice casserole was definitely the star of the table. Big caveat. The eel casserole that Aki mentioned in his prior post no longer is on the menu or wall specials, so he had to describe it to the waiter until they figured out what he wanted. Aki points out that item #131, yellow eel with black mushroom rice casserole is NOT the one he usually gets. Here's what he said to me in an email:
>The yellow eel & black mushroom is different thing --
> actually this is one of new menus, i 'll try this
>one for next visit --, yellow eel is much more
>smaller, looks like a " Dojo fish ", tastes
>different.The eel we had was "White eel ". So, you
>have to ask that " white eel & shitake mushroom rice
>casserole " and point the yellow eel & black mushroom
>and say " not this one" to make sure that they got it
(I'm not sure what he means by dojo fish either). Anyway, the rice was perfectly cooked and seasoned with the sweet sauce, but not overly so. And the eel was also nicely cooked. Aki thought it was slightly undercooked and could have been just a bit softer in texture, but I was enjoying it too much to notice. Pieces of ginger and garlic rounded out the flavor with the mushrooms playing a high note as well. The best part was the rice crusted on the side of the casserole. "Like a rice cracker", Aki says.
I've had some similar dishes at places like Congee Village, and it really does seem like the cooks at Dragon Gate take special care with their food. The eel is completely boned, for example, which is no simple task, or the razor clams that I usually get there are shelled (out of their shell, that is). No matter when I go there, however, it's nearly empty, which worries me somewhat.
By the way, they usually throw a gringo menu at non-chinese clientele. Be sure to get the menus that are in the binding.