Thursday, June 25, 2009

Consistency, Thy Name Is Wonton Gourmet

The final stop on my Cleveland weekend adventure was a mid-afternoon lunch at the ever fabulous and always delicious Wonton Gourmet and BBQ. I have written about this wonderful Cleveland eatery several times before and I will continue to write about it because I think it is an important part of our ethnic Asian community. If I can inspire just one person who reads this blog entry to give them a try, then I feel I have accomplished something important. Seven of us met up in the early afternoon hours after my shopping trip with friends to several local farmer's markets and to a side trip to Mr. Brisket and Pincus Bakery. With all of that travel and shopping, we were famished!

Within minutes of us sitting down and ordering, food started showing up like crazy. Of course we ordered some all-time favorites. But we did have a chance to order some new dishes as well. I photographed everything, but will gloss over some of the dishes I've talked about in other entries. First up, a shot of what I think have to be the best chive potstickers in Cleveland:

This time around we also included an order of the regular potstickers, too. Which, to be fair, are the chive potstickers minus the chives. So, pork and shrimp.

Both versions were tasty and moist. I still prefer the chive myself because of the extra sharpness from the chives. Next up, the "Nancy" shot of the interior (trust me, holding the dumpling with one hand and taking a non-blurry photo with the other isn't an easy task):

And, of course, the ever ubiquitous turnip cakes:

All of these items were outstanding. A dip in a little of the accompanying sauces or a little chili oil and the flavors are out of this world.

Next up we decided to add something that has shown up a couple of times on our table. I briefly talked about it in my last entry on Wonton Gourmet, the fried crueller in a steamed rice noodle:

This interesting dish is a play on textures. The unsweetened crueller inside the rice noodle has been fried crispy, just like a donut. It is then wrapped in a rice noodle and steamed to perfection. The rice noodle actually protects the crueller inside and it doesn't get soggy in the least. It is served with a savory soy-based sauce that adds the extra bit of salt required to make this a well-balanced dish.

Our final appetizer of the day is one that I have heard many people recommend, but I had yet to try it. The cold jellyfish and pickled vegetables appetizer

is an amazingly interesting dish. This is a completely cold dish consisting of jellyfish sliced into long thin "noodles", pickled vegetables also cut into longer thin strips, and a wonderful sesame oil dressing which ties the entire dish together. The jellyfish actually has a crunch to it that is matched by the pickled vegetables. I'll admit that when I first tried just the jellyfish by itself, it had a strange textural element to it (notice I said "strange", not "bad"). But it wasn't until I ate the dish as a whole that I really understood what the point of this preparation was. This particular preparation is almost like an Asian "slaw". The crunchy pickled vegetables and the crunchy jellyfish are tied together with a sesame oil dressing. Eaten together, it made all the difference in the world, and I think I would actually order this again if I had the choice.

Now that our appetizers were out of the way, our entrees soon began to follow. First up was the beef chow fun:

I've had this dish at several restaurants besides Wonton and have always loved it when done well. Wonton's version had a lovely "beefy" taste to it and wasn't oily at all. This would be an excellent dish to order for someone who is dipping their toes into the Asian culinary swimming pool, as it were. Beef, rice noodles, soy sauce and bean sprouts are stir fried together until it achieves a nice glaze. I had several helpings of this dish.

Next up was a dish that I got to experience when I attended the Chinese New Years celebration at Wonton that some good friends of mine set up earlier this year, the Hong Kong style pork chops:

While the homemade barbeque sauce on this dish has always impressed me, I do find that the fried pork chops vary between being tender and tough. Sometimes the meat just melts in your mouth, other times you kind of have to gnaw your way through it. The sauce alone over rice is reason enough to order this dish. I can take or leave the pork.

Since I had first heard about bitter melon on the original Japanese production of Iron Chef over a decade ago, I have always wanted to try a dish that had this uniquely Asian ingredient. Today I had my chance as we ordered this Bitter Melon, Egg, and Shrimp dish:

As the name suggests, it is indeed bitter. I learned from Debbie that this particular version was about a medium level of bitterness. She's had preparations where the bitter melon was far stronger. While the scrambled eggs and shrimp were cooked perfectly, I could only eat a small amount of this dish. I'm not going to say it was bad because bitter melon is a new flavor to me. Who knows? Perhaps having this a few more times will allow me to have a greater appreciation for the flavor. Just like jellyfish noodles and sea cucumber, I'm glad I had the opportunity to try this unique flavor.

Finally, we ordered a green for the table, this time a special that was recommended to us by our server, yam leaves with shrimp paste. Unfortunately, the green looks kind of washed out by my photo, but I can assure you in real life they were bright green when brought to the table:

These were also okay. Not great. Not bad. I think my favorite preparation of greens at Wonton Gourmet is with garlic. It seems to be the only way that consistently enhances the flavor of the green rather than mask it. This was the first time I had the experience of eating yam leaves and honestly, it reminded me mostly of eating cooked spinach in texture and flavor.

The final thing that consistently amazes me is how little you pay for the amazing feast that we always seem to get when we go as a group. For all of this food, with tax and tip, it only came to $14.30 per person! And there were leftovers! I know that walking into an unfamiliar environment can be a little daunting for some people. But with pictures of the dishes with English translations on the walls, it couldn't be simpler to order and know exactly what you are going to get. As I've done in the past and as I'm sure I'll do in the future, I really recommend you give Wonton Gourmet & BBQ a try for yourself and see just how good they really are.

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