Hunan Gate (Huh? – It’s Not Gringo??!!)

Well, well – we meet again Hunan Gate.  This is the first time I’ve reviewed a place twice – but really it is like two restaurants?  How is this so?  Indeed, I can remember a while back when I made a somewhat condescending journey to a plain jane Chinese place.  I can almost picture it now:

Wow!  It has been a long time since I had been to an honest to goodness American-Chinese place.  Sichuan?  Check.  Shabu-shabu?  Check.  Stuff with black bean sauce all over it that looks an awful lot like spaghetti and asphalt?  Check.  But the General’s Chicken and Beef and Broccoli bit?  Actually, it had been a longer time than I could ever remember.  After a day of gaming in the Ballston area, we decided to check out Hunan Gate in Ballston – I am still not precisely sure why.  One of my friends said this was one of the better places in the area – and one of my Noo Yawker friends pontificated about how spoiled he was compared to here.  Personally, if the menu does not have at least one somewhat frightening item on it, it’s all the same.

Clearly, I have you – intrepid reader – excited and aroused at the possibility of Hunan Gate – with all this snark and elitist claptrap.  Oh, there are no chili crabs!  But – putting aside the obvious – this place actually is pretty solid as far as these things go.  The hot and sour soup – actually was both.  It was clearly a pretty conventional hot and sour soup – but in a way that is educational.  It is the sort of the blocking and tackling of American Chinese – if the hot and sour soup sucks, chances are the rest joins in the suckitude.  The entree I ordered was the twice cooked duck – unfortunately given how tough the duck was, it was cooked perhaps one time too many.  I understand the twice cooked thing (once for the sear, once to actually cook the meat).  Alas, I was hoping for it to have kick (being that it was starred on the menu) but it didn’t.  The sesame chicken had similar non-spicy issues (more sweet than anything).  However the kung-pao chicken had solid depth and heat considering.  The broccoli with garlic sauce though was tasty.

Ultimately Hunan Gate is a very solid choice for this sort of thing – although I still like Panda Bowl if I EVER wanted this stuff delivered.  The review might seem lukewarm – but let’s face it, we were kind of destined to tepidness.  I miss Hong Kong Palace.

Funny thing is, you go into the restuarant like we did, and it’s still the same old deal.  The old man who seated us gave us the standard menu.  But then on the advice of the place to get advice on these sorts of things, we waved frantically and said “Manchurian, special menu”.  The man lit up and smiled and then got us a much more colorful menu with pictures and names which were kind of not descriptive at all.  I’ve never had Manchurian food – or at least I would not recognize it as such, but like the shifted bookshelf that leads to the Batcave, we have been transported into a totally different experience than what we had in our previous journey.

We started with the shredded potato salad – a nice touch, especially served with the pickled vegetables they served on the side.  But the star of the appetizer portion was the pan fried chive dumplings – which were actually freakin enormous.  It is really more a chive empanada – but the chive flavor really really shines through but not obnoxiously.  Our entree choice was the Chicken and Mushroom stew (see, so descriptive).  The stew is highlighted by the clear noodles which are a little chewier texturewise but work.  But the broth is seasoned well, lot of star anise and the chicken was incredibly tender, although a little less chunky than you’d want.  The baby bok choy was solidly prepared and of good quality.  In any case – I am not sure if this is the menu I’d go back to, but there is a ton of potential here and more than enough reason to go back as a rotation spot mealwise.  It’s nice to see that there’s more to life than moo goo gai pan.

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