Sunday, January 07, 2007

Cafe Zen

I have not been making a whole-hearted effort to eat out less since my visit to England, so unfortunately I spent more money last night than I cared to. Not too much, but more than I wanted to. The whole evening out was $25, including a movie and dinner. The movie was Dreamgirls, which is playing at the Senator and is sooo damn good! The movie is worth seeing if for no other reason than Jennifer Hudson's show-stopping performance of "And I Am Telling You I Am Not Going." Oh my God, it had people applauding twice - and you know she couldn't hear 'em! So please go see it. And see it at the Senator (I can forgive the buckets of popcorn in the front rows from the previous show this time, but let's hope they don't make that untidiness a habit).

The dinner came afterwards, as I went with some friends to the Cafe Zen, which is in a ridiculously close walking distance. Cafe Zen is a pretty good Chinese place, a perfect place to catch dinner after a matinee at the Senator. It has the distinction of having some of the tastiest hot tea I have had at a restaurant. Most places just have weak - I mean weak - tea, but Cafe Zen's was robust and flavorful green tea. It was also complementary.

My friends ordered a bottle of wine, which went for $25. I might've had some - the waitress poured me some without asking - but I had a headache, and alcohol only exacerbates my headaches. We also ordered some appetizers. My friends got soup, and I ordered a shrimp spring roll (only about $1.50). Hot, and tasty! Then the three of us all had pork potstickers. These were much juicier than I am used to, which was great - well, a little messy but great. This was only about $3.50, little more than $1.15 per person.

For our main courses, we each ordered something different. My one friend got the Sichuan beef (about $8), which was tasty (I tried it). My other friend ordered the crispy duck ($11), which was fatty, as duck usually is, but indeed crispy on the outside. Yum! (Yeah, I tried it as well.) I ordered the Mongolian pork, which does not usually come spicy. I asked them to spice it up for me. I don't think they did - or if they did, they have a much meeker idea of spicy than I do. It was tangy, but not too tangy - actually, not as tangy as I prefer. But it was good, with slices of onions and scallions. It came with complementary white rice. The whole dish was all of $8, quite worth the price.

I did like the food, but I do yearn for real, non-Americanized Chinese food. We got to talking about how some, maybe many Chinese restaurants are afraid of the non-Chinese reaction to some of the traditional Chinese foods. So they give us a tamed-down version, and if you actually want something more traditional, you have to ask for the Chinese menu, and have a working knowledge of written Chinese. I don't know if this is true or just an urban legend, but it's enough to make me consider taking some Chinese classes. Besides, it'd be fun to learn Chinese! I like languages anyway.

Cafe Zen on Urbanspoon


johnny dollar said...

cafe zen is pretty great, i agree.

that is an interesting theory about ordering the original stuff in a secret code more or less, i might argue that even knowing the terms might not be enough to get the real deal. further you might suggest that chinese-american food is its own cultural entity with at least 100 years of development... a former emplyer gave us a report from china... apparently you can't get anything approximating chinese american food in china. go figure. at least chop suey is pretty much a thing of the past in the u.s.

Baltmore Snacker said...

>>SIGH<< Would that we could get the real stuff in the US. Oh, I totally agree - Chinese-American food is surely as authentically Chinese as Mexican food in the US is authentically Mexican, or Italian in the US authentically Italian. I guess I'll just have to start saving those plane tickets for Beijing after all!