Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Great Chinese in Rockville

I was sitting with a group of people the other day and one of them mentioned that they were headed to China in the near future and that they were looking forward to the food.  Another of the group mentioned how "real Chinese food is totally different than what we have here." "You can't get the real stuff unless you go there," declared a third.

That instantly got me riled up into a food-nerd tizzy because that particular declaration is a total load.  A load which it will be my pleasure to dispel right now in this post.

I've shared this list of excellent Chinese restaurants in Rockville with lots of folks and I've never been told that any of the recommendations failed to meet either expectations or standards.

To be clear, I've not been to China but those who have will certify these spots as being virtuous in their authenticity.

Here's List of Great, Authentic Chinese Food In Rockville, MD:

A&J Chinese Restaurant, across from Best Buy on Rockville Pike serves great Northern-style dim sum.  Saturdays and Sundays are packed with Chinese families enjoying rich, spicy soups with house-made noodles.  There are small plates packed with cold-sliced pork and beef, smoked chicken, pig ear, thousand year egg with tofu, and steamed pork buns.  For veggies there are cucumbers in spicy garlic sauce, tangy pickled cabbage, mixed veggies with baby corn, wild mushrooms, setan and soy skins, and soy beans mixed with cooked greens.  Fried pork chops and chicken thighs are crispy, salty, savory and served with rice and powerfully-pungent mustard greens.  The best part?  It's super cheap.  Like $10 per-person cheap.

Joe's Noodle House, along the side of the strip mall across the Pike from the Container Store, has been considered a top Sichuan-style Chinese restaurant for years.  Their mapo tofu is fantastic - spicy and numbing.  Their salty-spicy fried squid with garlic and jalapeños is the best around! They offer a dish called "crispy squid lips."  If you can show me the lips on a squid, I'll give you five dollars.  Joe's also offers a nice frequent buyer program for those who pay with cash.  Totally worth your while.

China Bistro, near Montgomery College, makes spectacular dumplings. Really, these things are ridiculous.  Ji Cai, beef and celery, shrimp and chive, Mama's Special...all of them unique and rich and steaming hot.  Served with a vinegary soy sauce and "hot" (that ubiquitous jar of chiles in oil with the cute little spoon and lid) they are hot and juicy.  You can try not to eat too many of them, but trying doesn't help. You're going to waddle out no matter what. The cold mixed vegetables, soy skins and cucumbers with garlic are great small plates to keep your dumplings company.

Sichuan Jun River Restaurant, formerly Sichuan Pavillion, makes remarkable Sichuan-style food. It's located just outside of Rockville Town Center's north end.  If spicy is your thing, this is your place.  Their General Guan's Chicken makes General Tso's seem about as spicy as a bowl of rice. This is another super place to get authentic mapo tofu and their deep fried spicy tofu is tip-top, too.  They also do some very special stuff with vegetables, especially in the Stir Fried String Beans with Ya-Cai, a pickled mustard green stem, which delivers a surprising burst of salty, intense fragrance.  You should eat here. You should have been eating here for years!

Bob's Noodle 66 is super-authentic Taiwanese.  They have a great lunch special featuring two entrees and a soup/stew for about $25 and it's got plenty of food for two people.  The menu's got a pretty steep authenticity curve in that you won't find much that feels familiar to the American palette - I LOVE that aspect of this place.  There's stuff like jelly fish, loofah (sponge), and stinky tofu.  The menu's got a steamed fish in wine sauce which is light and sweet.  Their soups and stews are very good, too. Service can be spotty, but get past that and you're in heaven.

East Pearl, across from Wintergreen Plaza is, apparently, Hong Kong.  Try the roast duck, the walnut shrimp, the spicy shrimp dumplings, string beans, and the spinach.  The sliced boneless pig knuckle is wonderfully porky and is served with crispy pickles. Their hot pots - lamb in a deep brown sauce with water chestnuts and one with salt-dried fish and tofu - are unique and strong in flavor.  There's a long list of hot and cold appetizers and many Chef's Specialties, all of which seem appealing and each that I've tried have been delicious.

Silver Fountain in Aspen Hill makes great dim sum.  They've got excellent versions all the standards plus some dumplings that you won't find in most other places.  Their chicken feet are tender and flavorful.  If you decide to try them anywhere, do it here.  The Lo Mai Gai is a gem of glutinous rice with bold inclusions of duck and sausage. It gets busy, so get there early or be prepared to wait. Order off the menu for solid Cantonese favorites.

Tony Lin's, in the same strip mall as Sports Authority, is known by most as a great place to get solid American-style Chinese food.  What most people don't know is that they have an authentic menu, too!  Go in, order items off the American menu to be safe and then order an item off of the authentic menu to be adventurous.

Also, for great Chinese teas, try Ten Ren Tea in Wintergreen Plaza.

Did I miss your favorite?  Share it in a comment!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Simple Roasted Chicken

Buying a whole chicken take guts.  Lots of people think they're gross or messy or hard to cook.  Or maybe folks are scared because of the myths about fancy preparations or deathly-dry results.

Let's be really clear: Anyone can make a killer roasted chicken.

Thomas Keller, fancy chef extraordinaire, developed my favorite roasted chicken recipe.  It's my favorite because it's dead simple.  I've never screwed it up and, so long as you pay attention to the timer, neither will you.  Yes, I promise.

Here's what you need to do. (I've left out steps from the video because I have no patience.) 

  1. Buy whole a 3-5lb chicken.
  2. Remove the bag of innards* then rinse the bird, dry it and let it warm to near-room temperature.
  3. Set the oven to 425-450 degrees
  4. Season the inside of the bird liberally with salt pepper and whatever else you like; garlic, herbs, whatever.
    1. Avoid stuff like lemon or liquids which would increase the moisture content of the air in the oven; that's a crispness killer.
  5. Truss or tie the bird (I use two toothpicks to hold the legs together)
  6. Place it in a sauté pan or use my method and suspended the bird over the pan using a stainless steel cooling rack.
  7. Season the outside of the bird liberally with salt, pepper and your dry spices, if desired.
  8. Place the chicken in the hot oven and set your timer to 40 minutes (your mileage may vary here)
  9. Remove when cooked.
    1. If your bird feels undercooked - it may feel soft when you press the breast or the juices may run pink instead of the desired clear -  return it to the hot oven for 5-10 minutes depending on your needs.
The result of this process is crisp and juicy every single time we've tried to make it.  You'll notice that our finished bird was already missing its wings and tail by the time we took the picture.  Those parts are to be eaten immediately.  They're the best parts and you are not obligated to share them.

The bird was cut into parts and pieces and served with asparagus and mashed potatoes.

This recipe is too simple not to try.  Go buy a bird and let me know how it turns out.

*Do what you will with the innards.  All of it is worth eating grilled or sauteed in butter.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Kat's Italian Ragu

 Kat grew up eating her Nana's tomato gravy on lucky weekends.  Everyone in the family swears this stuff was the thing of joy.  Interestingly, Nana was totally devoid of Italian blood.  Nana was the daughter of a Native American lady and a Frenchman.  And true, it was joy none the less.

Kat has made great red sauces in the past, but never one that took a swing at a traditional Italian version:  The version where she makes "her" sauce - her style, her taste - but focuses on pasta and sauce as a first course and then serving a platter full of meltingly-tender meats of varying species and body part as a second course.  The original version is beef meatballs and chicken sausages but she's just turned back to eating pork so she took a trip to the grocery for inspiration.

She hit the Harris Teeter and came back with a meat maven's mash-up of hot pork sausage, beef short ribs, lamb stew meat and a pork tenderloin.  That's a lot of fatty meat with the exception of the tenderloin. Deciding to gild that particular lilly, the tenderloin,  just a bit we butterflied it, pounded it flat and sprinkled in salt, pepper, shaved garlic, torn basil, re-hydrated raisins and toasted pine nuts.  That was rolled and tied as best I could.  I am terrible at trussing - no patience, all spaz.

The meats - lamb, pork rollatini and short ribs - were seasoned and seared off with the sausage in a big aluminum pot with a generous portion of olive oil.  Each side bronzed, removed and set aside.  Kat left the fond and rendered fat in the pot for step two.

The second layer of flavor came from aromatics: onion and garlic.  These were browned simultaneously and, when cooked, Kat added oregano, pepper, italian seasoning, basil, tomato paste and secrets.  This was cooked together, formed a deeper, darker fond which was deglazed with red wine.  This simmered down until the alcohol aroma disappeared from the steam.

Three cans of tomatoes - 1 crushed and 2 pureed - were added to the pot and the whole mess was stirred.  The meat was added back in and the temperature was turned to high.  Once the pot's contents came to a messy, enthusiastic bubble, the heat was turned down to medium low and we walked away knowing that all we could do now was screw it up with unneeded attention.

6 Hours later the bright-red oil was skimmed from the sauce and we pulled the meat from the gently bubbling pot and let it sit on a plate in a warm place on the stove.  The meat from lamb pieces and beef ribs had mainly fallen off the bone and these remnants were stirred, disintegrating, into the sauce.

Spaghetti was boiled and bread was toasted.  The sauce was ladled over the pasta which was heaped high on plates. The flavor was big and bold and meaty.  The sauce was velvety and with all the different fats it coated the spaghetti really nicely.

I hope Kat makes this again.  Every Sunday.  Forever.

Pork All Broken Down

Friday, July 29, 2011

Here's a Crushed, Toasted BBQ Chicken Sandwich

Crushed, toasted BBQ chicken sandwich with avacado, sprouts, tomato, lettuce and garlic/caper mayo was dinner tonight.

The chicken was marinated in BBQ sauce during work, seared on the grill for 6ish minutes (2-3 minutes a side) and then left to bake in a closed grill for 10 minutes then cool for 4.

Rolls were toasting to a crisp on the top shelf of the grill while the chicken baked.

BBQ chicken,  avocado, sprouts, salted tomato, lettuce and garlic/caper mayo were layered on.  The sandwich was closed and crushed then handed to those in attendance.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

101: Refrigerator Soup

Timid home cooks take note: You can’t screw up refrigerator soup.*

Even in the heat, Kat and I have been turning to refrigerator soup because it can be light on calories and still pack crazy flavor thanks to flavorful meats and fresh summertime veggies. It can be super simple or you can spice it up with seasonings and aromatics like onions, garlic, cilantro, chiles or lemongrass to take it wherever in the flavor-spectrum that you want to go.

It’s called refrigerator soup because it’s great for cleaning out wide swathes of the edible contents of your fridge.

The work time is 15 minutes. Cook time is an hour and the recipe is simple: oil, low-sodium broth or water, seasonings and aromatics you like to taste; and things you like to eat.

It’s easy to get more specific, but the idea is to make what you like. It really is that straightforward.

Tonight, we used:
Olive oil
Dry Seasonings: salt, pepper, old bay seasoning, dried Italian seasonings, bay leaves, thyme
Wet seasonings: Pickapeppa sauce, Worcestershire sauce, canned diced tomatoes
Things we like to eat: Onion, Carrot, Celery, Cabbage, Green beans, Zucchini, Andouille chicken sausage

Prep: Get out a pot and put it on the stove. Chop up the things you like into edible sizes.


1. Put about 3 tbsp of oil in a big pot (6-8qts) and heat on high
2. If you’re using raw meat, season and brown that on all sides and remove it for later
3. Add dry seasonings you like to taste and let them saute in the remaining oil
4. Stir occasionally for 2 minutes until the smell fills the kitchen
5. Add aromatics and cook
6. Add the rest of the things you like to eat
7. Wait 4-5 minutes then stir so the hot what you like to eat is on top
8. Wait 4-5 minutes, add salt and stir thoroughly, scraping the bottom of the pot
9. Add the wet seasonings, stir and cook for 3 minutes
10. Return browned meat to the pot or add pre-cooked meat now
11. Cover with broth or water (2-3 quarts) and bring to a boil
12. Reduce to simmer and cook for 30 minutes
13. Stir, taste and adjust seasonings if needed
14. Continue simmering until things you like to eat are tender
15. Portion, serve, eat.

That’s it.

It’s so easy that you have to try. What will yours have in it?

* It's almost impossible to mess this up. All that can really go wrong is that you make too much. This happens when you’ve added too much salty, sweet, spicy or acidic flavor and you end up having to balance the taste and then add extra broth or water until it’s edible. Avoid this by using restraint at first and then adding more seasoning once the soup has been simmering for at least 30 minutes. Then fix it up right if you have to.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Pantry Productions: Cracker with Anchovy and Apricot Jam

Dinner was roasting and I needed flavor, fast!

I reached into the cabinet and grabbed stoned wheat crackers, a tin of Cento brand anchovies and some apricot jam. It's crispy and bright; sweet and salty.

I thought that is tasted awesome but Kat was recently up from a nap, didn't have fish on her mind and so I need somebody else to confirm this.

Look, I wouldn't recommend this if I didn't think it was damn tasty.

Will you try it and report back?