My wife is the IT department at a small food flavor company in the area, which is owned by the Japanese. Their primary product is the little soup packets that go in a specific brand of Ramen noodles, but they also make flavors that go IN many products that are beloved by millions. Much of the management staff has been sent here directly from Japan, and they are very interested in eating anywhere that has good Asian food, the more authentic, the better.
Where am I going with this? Well. As I am sure you are aware, half the battle of “date night” is figuring out where you’re gonna eat. Once that’s decided, everything else is smooth sailing. Ginny came home Thursday and said that the R&D Manager had asked her about a “new, spicy, Chinese restaurant” that had opened in the Brassfield area. He said it reputedly was very authentic cooking, but that’s pretty much all the information he had given her. We decided to check it out.
Captain Chen’s Gourmet China is a relatively new, sit-down Chinese restaurant, located in Brassfield Shopping Center, in the space that used to be a Wok n Roll, or something similar. It’s beside what used to be Ham’s, and the sign on the building says, “Go China”. They’ve really got to work on that… Anyway, the signs on the window advertise “Chongqing style” food. According to Ye Olde Internet, “Chongqing” (pronounced “chun king”) is a type of Szechuan – style cooking – which means it’s packing a punch on the heat-o-meter. (Please note that in this post, if I say “hot”, I mean spicy-hot, as opposed to temperature.) This place ain’t your mama’s take-out Chinese.
When we went in, around 6pm on a Thursday, we were the only non-Asians in the place, other than one guy who was busing tables and working behind the counter. Everybody else appeared to be Chinese. There was a huge contingent of about 30 young people at three large tables in the middle of the floor. Each table was served a variety of dishes, which were shared among the folks at the table. The waitress told us that there was some kind of Chinese fall festival going on, and that’s why the group was meeting there. Whatever – I got to see quite a few of the dishes without having to order them all, and (bonus!) I got one of the guys to tell me what was in each bowl.
The menu features quite a few things we had never heard of. In fact, I only saw one dish listed that I had heard of – Kung Bao Chicken (their spelling), which was on the daily specials board. Everything else was new to us.
We ordered what was pictured on the front window glass. Ginny got the Chongqing style Hot and Spicy Fish, and I got the Shredded Pork in Homemade Garlic Sauce. We’ll talk about the fish, first.
The picture on the left, above, shows the spicy fish dish as it arrived to the table. The portion is enough for four people, no kidding. All that red stuff? Chili pepper flakes, and chili pepper oil. The fish is tilapia. The dish also had some seriously lonnnnng bean sprouts (I joked that they were sprouts from yard-long beans), cilantro, and those yellow blobs on top are chunks of minced garlic and ginger. This stuff was seriously hot, as one might imagine, but in a different way than one might expect. There was something in the dish that caused a weird tingle on the tongue – I described it as “sparkle tongue”. It was almost like bubbles from soda water. Definitely not the same kind of warm heat one gets from, say, a jalapeno pepper. The flavor was very tasty, but we both decided if we ordered it again, we’d ask for less of the chili oil, ‘cuz that was just crazy! The pic on the right, above, is the Lake O’ Fire that remained after the fish and sprouts had been moved to a take-out container.
My pork, by comparison, was relatively bland. As you can see in the picture, the dish consists of strips of pork, which were quite tender, julienne carrots, a bit of green onion, bamboo shoot strips, and garlic. There is also some ginger in there, somewhere. We decided that the bamboo shoots were pickled; there was a bit of tang from them. There was plenty of sauce, and it actually wasn’t as garlicky as I expected it to be. It was quite good, and mildly spicy, from the ginger.
Along with the entrees, there was white rice. Interestingly, there was not one single bottle of soy sauce to be seen. Also interestingly, the place settings for the Asian folks all had chopsticks. Ours had forks; we had to ask for chopsticks.
There is a variety of Asian beers on the menu (which the Asians beside us drank with straws!), as well as hot tea and Pepsi products. Sadly, they do not serve iced tea.
Next time we go, I’m getting the ribs!