I got a tip.
Not like in those film noir movies when a trench coat-wearing silhouette in a phone booth speaks in a raspy voice for anonymity’s sake. It was from the lips of a NYC mom whose high school kids frequent a Chinese eatery for lunch. The place was a little joint called Friend House.
Bordering on the hazy dividing lines of the East Village and Gramercy, it sits on the corner of 3rd Ave. and 13th St. Regardless of the locale’s preferred nomenclature, my apartment resides in their delivery zone. So these eyes never got a chance to gaze upon the restaurant I assume is as sociable as its name.
At first glance, the menu threw me. This place was recommended based on the lo mein, yet here I saw categories like “Sushi and Sashimi” and “Thai-Style Entrees.” Personally, I think this insults the intelligence of Americans. How so? Well isn’t it wrong to group all Asian cuisines together? It’s not as if they employ a chef from each country to specialize in the food from their homeland.
Secondly, if you’re going to run a restaurant, you should find your niche and do that one thing great. Not good. Great. When Mexican joints start doling out pizza and Greek-run diners claim to specialize in Italian-style pasta dishes, I do more than a double take.
Strike one, Friend House.
Strike two came rather quickly. But we’ll call it more of a check swing. They didn’t offer chicken lo mein. In my years of dissecting and analyzing Chinese food, I’ve seen a lot of things. Some I wish I could un-see. However lo mein variety is almost always guaranteed. You are given a choice in the US of A: chicken, beef, pork, shrimp or vegetable. That’s the way democracy works.
Friend House apparently operates as an autonomy. Their offering? Duck lo mein.
Ok – I’m a duck lover, not a fighter. How have I never even thought of this as a possibility? I understand that the purpose of this article is to seek out the city’s best chicken lo mein. Still, the opportunity seemed rare and I was already on their Seamless Web page.
In addition to the duck lo mein, I ordered a mix of pork and shrimp steamed dumplings and kung pao chicken. No complaints on the dumplings – a food that nearly every culture has some kind of take on. As for the kung pao, it felt too “homey” for me. I mean that in the sense that when mixed with the white rice, I was hit with sense memories of chicken pot pie. Just because I get a mouthful of chicken, celery, carrot and baby corn doesn’t mean those ingredients should feel any less Chinese. The dish lacked heat. It served as a potential warning sign for the duck-based pasta to follow…
Fear not, the warning sign was unwarranted. The duck lo mein was awesome. Perhaps a little too sweet but this wasn’t due to the inclusion of carrots. There were none. I’ve already stated my personal belief that carrots with these greasy noodles is the ultimate lo mein taboo. Duck, being naturally sweet, certainly rubbed off on the accompanying components and made it’s presence felt. The addition of red onions heightened that element as well.
The pan-fried noodles had that perfect “coffee with milk” color and some pleasingly burnt edges. That char could’ve done some good on the duck skin, though fast casual delivery service probably does not lend itself to ensuring crispy skin.
Overall the lo mein was pretty outstanding. It’s a change of pace that I will certainly order again in the future. Nonetheless it does not fall into the parameters of the series and thus my search for the oily Holy Grail continues.
My Fortune Cookie Fortune: Among the lucky, you are the chosen one.