Saturday, June 28, 2014

Las Vegas Chinese Food Revisited

Most of you have read the original posting on this blog, later expanded for the Menuism blog, dispelling the myth that the best Chinese restaurants in America are in Las Vegas.  The popularity of that item has been puzzling to me.  It was later republished by the Huffington Post, even though I didn't think there was anything particularly noteworthy about the article, and indeed less worthy of publication there than a number of other  Menuism articles that were not reprinted.  Then on their Las Vegas annual convention website, the American Library Association included a prominent link to the article on the list of things for their attendees to do while in Las Vegas.  And now the article has been picked up by Scribd, the noted online digital library website.  My only explanation is that this article has garnered interest because it represents the intersection of two very popular topics, Las Vegas and food, as opposed to being particularly interesting or well written in its own right.

I do want to add an addendum to this article to reflect my subsequent visit to Wing Lei Restaurant.  I seldom write about restaurants that I  had not actually eaten at, but I felt compelled to mention Wing Lei because of its general renown, plus the fact that it was a Michelin one star restaurant.  Also,  I was fairly comfortable with my comments about Wing Lei, since its menu was wholly Americanized with items like egg drop soup, sweet and sour pork, and General Tso's chicken, a clear indication that this restaurant would do nothing for the reputation of Chinese restaurants in Las Vegas.

Finally having had the opportunity to eat at Wing Lei, I am pleased to confirm that my suspicions about the restaurant were correct.   I will say just like Michelin, I did give Wing Lei one star, though mine was on a scale of five, on the Opentable website.  As taken directly from that site:
Wing Lei

  • "Wing Lei is probably the only Michelin starred Chinese restaurant in the western United States. Wonderful setting and great service, but the food is borderline awful. Unless food is secondary to you, save your money and go to Panda Express. Or if you insist on a pricey Chinese meal, head to Hakkasan."
Actually, my comments above were relatively kind compared to how I really felt.  I had ordered the General Tso's chicken and the duck salad, the former in honor of my cameo in The Search For General Tso and the screening at the TriBeCa film festival.  It is possible to make Americanized Chinese food taste good in an upscale setting.  I've experienced that at such places like Tommy Toy's and the Empress of China in San Francisco (even some of the stuff at Ruby Foo's in New York was tasty) and that's what I was sort of expecting at Wing Lei.  What I got was awful (there was no borderline).  I've had better gloppy chicken at buck-a-plate Chinese fast food steam table outlets in South Central Los Angeles than what they served at Wing Lei.

Virtually all the other diners give Wing Lei four or five stars, some praising the General Tso's chicken in particular.  So it's clear what the profile of their targeted diners are, and how little they know about Chinese food.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Cleaver Quarterly

I had the honor and privilege of being interviewed for the inaugural edition of The Cleaver Quarterly, an illustrated international English language journal dedicated to various aspects of Chinese cuisine, published in Beijing.   This appears to be the first print magazine devoted solely to Chinese cuisine.   The interview is more like a round of 20 questions (in this case 23 questions)  about my experiences in seeking out Chinese restaurants throughout the United States and Canada.   While my previous L.A. Weekly and Los Angeles Times interviews would seem to have covered most of the territory that would be of any interest to readers, the 20 questions format did give me the opportunity to recount some tidbits from the past, such as what turned out to be the culinary awakening at Kim's Restaurant in Clarksdale, Mississippi in 1976, my surprise in finding authentic Chinese food at Creasian Restaurant in Springfield, Missouri during my Cashew Chicken tour, as well my statement that Chinese food in Houston is better than that in Manhattan. 

One question which would have been better answered if the interview occurred just a little bit later dealt with the Chinese tradition of fighting for the restaurant tab at the end of the meal.  They asked me about any memorable fights and frankly I don't recall any.  However, after dinner a few weeks ago the customary fight broke out.  However a person at the table abruptly stopped the proceedings by saying "This is not a Chinese restaurant.  You're making a scene by fighting for the check."  Yes, the fight was at a European deli.

Since The Cleaver  Quarterly is an English language publication produced in Beijing, the exposure will be regrettably limited, since it is a fine, high quality publication.  It can be ordered online for $10 plus $7 handling at