Chapter 1 – An Introduction
It’s a plague really. I could’ve been programmed to consistently order General Tso’s chicken like most people on Seamless. I could’ve been like my roommate — asking for chicken and broccoli and then pushing the vegetables aside. I could’ve been a vegetarian and enjoyed a plethora of tofu options.
No. I had to be the guy that orders chicken lo mein. Everywhere.
Do not misunderstand me — I love all Chinese food. To me, takeout in those lovable, unique cartons is Sunday night. It’s Monday leftovers for lunch. Frankly, it can be any day of the week. Dumplings, spare ribs (with or without the bones), orange beef, moo shoo anything…douse it in brown sauce and follow it up with a cookie that doesn’t really tell me any kind of fortune…and I’m a happy man.
New York is supposedly home to some of the best Chinese cuisine in all the land…not counting China. To be honest, I’m not sure I would dig authentic Chinese food within the continent of Asia. The Americanized stuff works just fine. However, living in Los Angeles and Louisiana for periods of my life was pure torture. Probably the equivalent of water boarding.
Now, steadily stationed in Manhattan, I will, nay, I must seek out the city’s best chicken lo mein.
There are rules. First off, delivery is just as valid as eating anywhere in-house. Something magical happens to that food in transit. It might get better. I’m not even going to touch on what happens when you leave leftovers in the fridge for a day.
Second, carrots do not belong in lo mein. These noodles are supposed to be savory. The sweetness comes from perhaps a scallion bite every now and then and the natural taste of poultry. If I see a shred of shredded orange vegetables in my order, you’re disqualified.
Third, I will give Chinese joints a fair shot. I will not only order chicken lo mein, but an additional dish or two so that I may judge the restaurant overall rather than solely on the entrée closest to my heart.
My journey begins where many Jews end their Christmas day: China Town. Specifically Joe’s Shanghai Restaurant on Pell Street.
The benefit of eating out at a Chinese restaurant is the family-style portions. One thing Chinese buffets got right was offering the customer a little bit of everything. Joe’s Shanghai has taken this obvious communal practice a step further by placing a lazy Susan at the center of their large tables. Sharing of their renowned soup dumplings made easy!
You come to this place for the soup dumplings. You stay for the supporting cast: scallion pancakes, crispy beef, roasted pork shoulder — which they carve up for you table-side. All above-average dishes in terms of flavor.
But how’s the chicken lo mein?
No carrots. Plus one.
The grease, necessary to most food in said category, is visible. It’s tangible. I mean this in the best possible way.
Yet the taste of the thin noodles left something to be desired. They didn’t provide that garlicky, salty bite I needed only to play off of the various veggies mixed in. The chicken might as well not have been there at all. I wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference. Point is, it failed the big test.
This in no way means I will avoid Joe’s Shanghai. The other dishes, let’s call them “The Wailers” to the lo mein’s “Bob Marley,” were absolutely delicious. I’ll go back and explore more non-noodle related choices over and over again. Just have to remind myself every time, “The chicken lo mein is like going to see a new Adam Sandler movie. It sounds like a good idea, but…”
Please, friends and readers, holla at me. Let me know where this fabled “best chicken lo mein” can be found. Draw me a map with burnt off edges and sign it “One Eyed Willy” if you so desire. Just like the Loch Ness Monster, these perfect stir-fried carbs exist. Waiting for me to find them.
To be continued…