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Restaurants & Bars 9

Oriental Pearl and Chung King - sichuan

Thi N. | Dec 17, 200312:15 PM

So, I've become reobsessed with Chung King recently, and also made my first visit to Oriental Pearl. Found OP through the Carl Chu book. Would never have stumbled across it otherwise. It's on Main Street off of Atlantic, way north of the dining centerplex of the area.

Chung King: best dishes are as fine as ever, but there have been oddities. For example: I can't seem to get them to make certain dishes fully spicy and tingly. Last time, the god-like beef hot pot with jellied tofu had no numb/tingly flavor at all. I don't know if that's because their supply is currently erratic with importing/legality issues, or because they've responded to increased attention from the outer world via reviews by gringoing the largely non-Chinese groups.

Aside from that, Chung King is still glorious. Best new dishes I've had there: dry-fried soybeans. Comes basically as a huge pile of pale green soybeans, with little flecks of something crunchy and smokey - dried fish shards? Lovely odd salty-savoury taste under the fresh soybeans. These go down like good buttered popcorn.

Pickled pepper dishes. These are stir fries with Sichuan pickled pepper? Their pickled pepper is fantastic - low, a bit smokey, beautifully sour. Pickled pepper with eel was... alright, though disturbing. I had expected large chunks of eel. What we got was a large pile of hundreds and hundreds of... alfalfa sprouts? Where's the eel? Then, vision clears... the plate is heaped high with the tiny bodies of hundreds and hundreds of little sprout-sized eels. Most people at the table were too disturbed to eat it. I had some. Pickled pepper was good, but the eel tasted... like nothing. Odd, mildly terrifying feel in the mouth (all those eyes!) and no particular flavor.

Time afterwards, went for pickled pepper with fish slives, which is perfect.

But the true beautiful thing was eggplant with mysterious fish flavor. In a hot pot, I think. Eggplant was soft and tender, and flavor was a clear, fresh sweetness, and all these odd savoury undercurrents. Sorry, I'm having trouble describing it. I don't know any of these flavors - I know there are all sorts of odd little things dancing around down there, but I can't name them.

But it was declared, unanimously, by all seven at the table, to be the best eggplant they'd ever had.

Oriental Pearl: Sichuan, glorious, completely different in personality. Of the five Sichuan restaurants I've been too (A1 Best Sichuan, Fu Shing, Chung King, Oriental Pearl, another I can't remember), Chung King and Oriental Pearl are several steps above the others.

Oriental Pearl is fantastic. Bright, clear, vivid flavors. Started with appetizers (3 types of cold thingies on one plate, $3.25! Piled high!). The tendon/meat marinated thing, seaweed salad, very crisp celery. Seaweed salad is fresh, garlicky. Tendon/meat is indescribably good. (I'm obsessed with this starter, and this is probably my favorite in town - over CK's and Hua's Garden's). Celery absurdly fresh and crisp.

Dishes: cold Sichuan noodle. High, beautiful, sour flavor, with bits of chopped pickled pepper. Very slight nuttiness.

Hot and sour wonton: excellent, sauce is an odd gently sour concoction, with distinct peanut flavor.

Fish slices boiled in hot sauce: frickin' incredible. Fish slices are extraordinarily fresh, cooked to gentle, velvety-ness, in powerful sour-spicey sauce. (Note: I find this to be the epitome of a certain style of Chinese fish-preperation, this gentle, near-buttery velvet texture. Chowpatty had a similar thing, entirely different flavored, but similar texture, goal at Juon Yuan and objected to the texture as "babyfood." If you disliked that texture, you'll hate this one. But to me, this is a perfection.) (Just on the texture of the fish, I've only had texture that is this fantastic 3 times, and the other two were at Cantonese seafood houses.)

I'm failing in my descriptions here. Every single sourness was completely different.

Anyway, I loved it, especially fish slices in hot sauce.

This chef feels obsessively perfectionist. Each individual ingredient was perfect. Fish slices were just barely cooked to glorious tenderness, bok choy in the same dish was fresh, full-flavored, crisp.

The personalities at Chung King and Oriental Pearl are completely different. The Oriental Pearl chef is obsessed with high, vivid flavours, completely distinct and recognizable. I'm not sure if this will mean anything to anybody, but if you've ever listened to King Tubby or Lee Perry - old 70's dub - and heard the obsessiveness with sound seperation in the mix - this guy is like that. The flavors are... spaced? So that even through this brilliantly sour/spicy sauce, I can still taste the fish's freshness fully.

Chung King chef, on the other hand, loves mysteriously complicated sauces, many low flavors, odd playful gestures. Bits of crispy savoury fish in an otherwise vegetabley, mellow dish. Odd spikes of sourness in a sweet dish.

The best I can think of is... Chung King is like Elvin Jones, with all those odd indescribale organic drum rolls, lots of play on the bigger drums. Oriental Pearl is more like Max Roach - precise, brilliant, plays a lot of the cymbals.

Both great.


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