Welcome back to The Bite, Sheepshead Bites’ weekly column where we explore the foodstuffs of Sheepshead Bay. Each week we check out a different offering from one of the many restaurants, delis, food carts, bakeries, butchers, fish mongers, or grocers in our neighborhood. If it’s edible, we’ll take a bite.
This week The Bite samples one of the most suspect meal deals around – the “lunch special.” You know the meal I’m talking about. Soup or egg roll, pork fried or white rice and an entrée. It’s ubiquitous to the Chinese restaurant industry. High-end or low-end restaurant, it doesn’t matter. Somewhere on the menu, you’ll find the “special lunch menu.” Oh, some places change the offerings a little bit by adding soda or salad as options. More health conscience establishments may add brown rice, but its all the same.
Join me now as I take on Mr. Tang Coney Island Kitchen’s “Special Luncheon Menu’s” Orange Chicken, with pork fried rice. At Mr. Tang’s, the offerings are soup or soda, pork fried rice or white rice and the entrée. I usually go with the spicy dishes, so Orange Chicken ($5.35) was my choice. No soup for me! A diet coke completed my meal as it was 90 degrees outside and Mr. Tang’s dining room wasn’t air conditioned.
Orange Chicken is thought to be a Chinese-American adaptation of the Hunan dish, General Tso’s Chicken. Orange Chicken consists of pieces of chicken that are coated in a thick batter, deep fried, and then stir fried in a sweet-chili based sauce. In China, in the dish “old-peel” chicken, the sauce’s flavoring comes from dried orange peel. Stateside, with our preference for the sweet, orange juice is often used as the main sauce ingredient.
At Mr. Tang’s all white meat chicken is prepared in the usual manor, but they added dried orange peel and chopped dried Sichuan peppers into the sauce, which raised the heat level and cuts the sweet. It’s a nice balance. I was really digging this sauce.
The pieces of chicken vary greatly in size from about one-inch square to less than 1/16″. The breading varies in thickness as well, sometimes I could swear I was eating nuggets of fried dough without any meat at all. Is that a complaint? I’m not so sure. The chicken is mild, almost flavorless and can stay home for all I care. The sauce dominates and is easily the star of this show. Fried dough with a great sauce isn’t a bad meal, but it’s probably not the healthiest lunch.
Now, here is where I have some real concerns; the “fried rice.” Excuse me, but when did fried rice start out with yellow rice? Ugh. The best fried rice is made with three- to four-day-old pre-cooked rice, which allows it to dry out before cooking. That’s not the case here. Almost sticky, wet and moist rice is tossed with some small pieces of barbecue pork and quickly tossed in the wok. At Mr. Tang they keep it simple. It’s fried rice with some pieces of pork thrown in for good measure. That’s it. No other seasonings.
But again, is that a complaint? Not in this meal. The orange-chili sauce of the dish can easily overwhelm your senses. Sweet, tart, vinegary and thick, it coats your mouth and tongue obscuring other flavors and textures until your taste buds are screaming for release. The bland fried rice offered relief. It cleansed the palate allowing me to dive right back down into the saucy mix.
The steamed broccoli added some visual attraction to the dish, but really had no purpose on the plate.
Back to the lunch “specials.” I have to believe that since every Chinese restaurant offers them, they have to be a better deal for the owner than the customer. I don’t know the financials behind it, but at Mr. Tang I’d bet the customer wins out. For once in my life, I couldn’t finish my meal.
Mr. Tang Coney Island Kitchen, 2650 Coney Island Avenue, (718) 769-9444.