10/16/2005

 

Hong Kong Cafe, Spokane Valley, WA

(Note: This review includes my first monumental attempt at movie making with my groovy new Nokia Camera phone. Click play and enjoy the drama!")
New on the Chinese food scene out in the easterly region of the Spokane Valley, the Hong King Cafe sits in a boxy little building that started life many years ago as a Wendy's restaurant. Since Wendy's abandoned ship and rebuilt down the street, the building has held several short-lived ventures such as a Hawaiian BBQ Joint and Willy Wonka's Ice Cream (closed due to trademark issues, I wonder?). Faint traces of Wendy's remain - the bright yellow of the sign pole, the red and yellow striping on the window. The men's room still makes one feel as if they are about to return to their table to find Frostys and chili in a paper cup. However, that is where the similarities end, for your average Wendy's decor is bold and becoming compared to the absolute bleak sparseness of the Hong King Cafe. White placemats and white napkins on white tablecloths on tables lined up in perfect rows, church banquet style. White walls with zero decor, save for one unexplainable bit of kitsch: a framed poster with the headline "Motivation for Higher Education" depicting a neon-lit garage full of the best razoo sportscars the 1980's had to offer, with a multifaceted purple and orange fake sunset and palm trees in the background. This truly hideous item was hung directly over the little window between the kitchen and the waiter's are as if it were the only thing they could find to serve the purpose of making the window smaller. A token Chinese tassel of red string hung from the cash register, providing the only other color in the room. Although somewhat disturbing at first, we would soon come to realize that the utter bleakness of the dining room served a genuine purpose: so that diners would find nothing to distract them for the main attraction: the food. Our elderly, petite, and proudly non-English speaking waitress indicated for us to sit wherever. Gazing at the menu, I was initially disappointed to realize they served no combination dinners at all. However, they did offer $4.99 entrees for lunch, so the plan was to pick out three and split them. Realizing it was nearly three, I asked the waitress if we still had time for the lunch special. She frowned: "No lunch no. Only week. Today Saturday." Rats! Ah well, the prices were pretty reasonable anyway so we decided to go for the Spicy Szechuan Chicken and Mongolian Beef because the lurid pictures on the menu depicted them as glistening, colorful delights, and at $5.99 each we figured we couldn't go wrong. Our somewhat sleepy waitress drifted back to the table with our opening act, Hot & Sour Soup ($1.50/cup). I have always raved about the Hot & Sour down the street at Peking Palace, but I have to say that the Hot & Sour here at the Hong Kong is THE shit. Delicious thin strips of pork, bamboo shoots, and shittaake mushrooms in a soup spicy enough to make my sinuses feel young and vital again. Lou and I leered laviciously at each other as we raced to slurp down this positively orgasmic treat. I was tempted to order another cup, or better yet order a gallon to go, but such pleasures in life must remain rare to be fully appreciated. A hissy tape of background muzak suddenly kicked in loudly above us, but not even a wheezing Kenny G sax solo could distract me from my narcotic Hot & Sour haze. After the initial tease of a red round container of steamy white rice, our main entrees arrived as steaming and glistening as the picture on the menu. Large in portion and appealing to every sense, the food was truly stunning in presentation. A subsequent google search led to a Spokesman-Review blurb about the late-August opening of the place, and apparently owner/chef Yuwen Wang moved here recently direct from China, where he was a highly rated chef for over 20 years. The years of experience shine through in cuisine that is truly amazing in its authenticity. The Mongolian Beef was absolutely bursting with garlicy flavor, mingling with still-crunchy onions, shallots, and mushrooms. The Spicy Szechuan chicken was swimming in a bubbling orange sauce, along with a variety of peppers, diamond-cut carrots, and perfectly steamed crisp cabbage. The chicken was deceptively mild at first, then after a few bites, a not unpleasant spiciness emerges and becomes swiftly addictive. Lou and I were unable to hold a normal conversation during our meal due to the fact we were stuffing our faces and moaning and groaning about the sheer deliciousness of our meal. For the first time in recent memory, I actually finished mine before Lou finished his, and we found ourselves fighting over the last half-scrap of onion on the serving platter. Lou even threatened to lick his plate clean, and likely would have but for the old lady two tables down glaring wildly at us. To top off an already intensely perfect meal, they accompanied our bill with not only two sanitarily plastic-wrapped fortune cookies (I won't eat the open ones - who knows where they've been?), but also two delicious Chinese almond cookies. Yum! I was truly fluffed by the fact out bill came to less than seventeen bucks, less than a typical visit to our (former?) fave Peking Palace. For fresh and truly authentic Chinese cuisine, you can't get any better than Hong Kong Cafe. As their business card says "Nobody Beats." I highly recommend repeated visits so we can make sure this fabulous place does not go the way of Willy Wonka's Ice Cream stand.
Ambience: 2.5/10 Food: 10/10

Comments:
I felt like Siouxie heading into the unknown, as I watched a friend boldly go into the jungles of an unknown Chinese restaraunt while knowing, just knowing there was a broken down car waiting outside itching to be rescued.. moo goo gai pan indeed
 
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