Growing in the San Francisco Bay Area creates, quite fortunately, the pickiest of all eaters: the Food Snob. It’s an affliction, really, born out of the knowledge that there is always a better option for consumption. The question always comes about, ‘Why am I eating this? It’s really not that good.’ And the answer is, invariably, because it’s there. But in the Bay Area, the food present is almost always delicious and never eaten simply because it’s there. Ranging from Californian to Chinese, Japanese to Indian, Brazilian, Italian, French…it’s food Mecca. It really, really is. Over the past two and a half years, I’ve yet to find better food anywhere. Chicago, D.C., New York, Florida, L.A.—I’m waiting to be pleasantly surprised.
Washington’s Chinatown is a four block-area just east of the downtown Metro Center and its resemblance to a Disneyland attraction is striking. The sidewalk transforms into little bricks complete with Asianish engravings, magically the signs gain Chinese characters and there is a huge, multi-colored and gilded arch in only the best of the pavilion style. The thing is, there is also a Chipotle, a Starbucks, a Fuddruckers, an AMC…
It’s really Disneyland, or at least it’s certainly not a Chinatown like I’ve ever seen.
There are however, some signs of a true China town, most easily recognizable being hanging Peking ducks in the windows and red, glistening strips of barbequed char siu (pork). Following the recommendation of a D.C. native, I ventured to Full Kee restaurant for lunch. All signs pointed towards a delicious and authentic meal—the ducks, the open air barbeque. Unfortunately, I ate lunch that day simply because it was there.
The Hong Kong style Shrimp Dumpling (ha gao) soup tasted muddy, most likely due a lack of attention given to the broth. In a dumpling soup, when the real meat of the bowl is in the dumplings, the broth needs to have an extreme depth of flavor to support the rest of the meal and at Full Kee the broth was simply bland and tasted remarkably like hot water. The dumplings did have a nice, luscious skin, and the filling was mostly comprised of shrimp, but they were overcooked and the sole spice were chunks of ginger unevenly distributed thorough the filling. Only after the liberal addition of chili sauce and soy sauce was the soup anything close to enjoyable.
The vegetarian and chicken lo mein was nothing special—at home it would have been considered decent fare from a Chinese fast food place in a strip mall, not from a sit down restaurant.
Nothing like the Chinese food at home, but I’ll admit I wasn’t shocked.
Thus far, the best things I’ve consumed in D.C.’s Chinatown are hot chocolate and a latte from Chinatown Coffee, a coffee house located on H St. that has absolutely nothing to do with China except in name. But the hot chocolate, oh man. Perfectly thick with a nice cap of wet foam, it’s truly delicious. After the disappointing lunch at Full Kee, we decided to at least return to a tried and true coffee house. Of course the barista, upon learning that we had attempted to eat Chinese for lunch, recommended what he considered to be the best place around—Chinatown Express, complete with the requisite ducks in the window and hand pulled noodles.
That’s for another day. Currently, I’m sticking with espresso drinks.