Saturday, September 30, 2006

Szechuan Hot Wok

Many people say that the best crab cake in town these days is the G&M in Linthicum, near the corner of Nursery Road and Hammonds Ferry. This is near the airport, so it's not an unreasonable stop on your trip into Baltimore - for about twice as much as an airport hotdog, you can get a wonderful, tasty crab cake!

Well, across the street from it - diagonally across the intersection - is a teensy little strip mall filled with hole-in-the-wall establishments: a dry cleaners, a Philadelphia Subs & Pizza, and a Chinese restaurant called Szechuan Hot Wok.

I don't know what it is about Szecuan Hot Wok, but everybody starts out with a good dining experience but me (but I). The folks at work go there all the time and have a lovely meal. I went there, and got sick. Dreadfully, awfully sick! Maybe I shouldn't have ordered the double fried pork, but it did not agree with me. Same with the shrimp dish I got the second time there. Now I should have known better than to order anything with shrimp at a mom-and-pop Chinese take-out, because it always makes me ill. Whatever I order - chicken, beef, veggie, even pork (usually) - it always agrees with me. But I usually get horribly ill when I eat shrimp. Most stomachs aren't so reactive to "greasy-wok shrimp" but mine is. After that last experience, I finally just learned to avoid it.

So imagine my fortitude - or stupidity - when I tried it a third time. "Really, you get sick there? I never have. Hmm, I don't know what it is!" my coworkers said to me as I decided to dial up the SHW and order what for me is a critical dish - the orange chicken. Most Chinese places do well enough by orange chicken for my tastes. The true mark of a Chinese restaurant to-be-avoided is one that screws up its orange chicken!

So I ordered the orange chicken, with white rice and egg roll, and drove over to pick it up.

They had it waiting for me (usually the wait is a little longer). I grabbed a 20 oz Diet Coke and gave the woman my card, and stared for a couple of minutes at a Tupperware container on their counter that had a turtle family in it! In the back of my minid, a little voice told me, "No, they're not going to eat them. But do you really want to order food from a place that has live animals crawling on their counter?" They were adorable, though, the little baby turtles that waved their heads around at me as I looked down in their container, as if to say, "I don't know what that big thing is, but it's sooooo hypnotic!" I think baby anythings are cute.

I got back to work, sat down in front of my computer (yes, I eat and work at the same time - and occasionally check out the NPR website), and opened the stapled-shut styrofoam container. Out wafted the aroma of orange chicken! With my spork (forgot to ask about the chopsticks), I dug into the chicken. It was tangy and a little spicy- a very good start, I thought. Then I found little fried bits of orange peel mixed in. When I find that, I know the cooks did something right! The orange peel pieces were slightly gummy, slightly crispy and very intense - tasty! The white rice was nothing special, just simple, white sticky rice, but there was a lot of it. My only complaint thus far really isn't even that big - there was only a little broccoli in with the dish. I say that's a little thing, because I have never had vegetables mixed in with my orange chicken before, so it was a nice little surprise.

Before long I had consumed about half of my lunch, and was already stuffed. I at least wanted to try the egg roll (not a spring roll, with a thin rice paper wrapping, but a fried wonton wrapping, which I like better anyway). It had delicious veggies and - aaaugh! - shrimp. I was a bit flummoxed, but what's done is done. I put my lunch in the fridge, and went back to work.

I noticed that I was still not sick by the end of the day. Great, I thought, I guess the third time was the charm after all! So I went back, got the General Tso's chicken, and again did not get sick.

Next time, maybe I should try the shrimp...? Um, no.