New Chinatown restaurants explored

February 11, 2008 9:09:55 AM PST
There were no ball drops or confetti Thursday night. But the Chinese New Year did kick off at sundown, ushering in the "year of the rat."Our food reporter noticed a slew of new restaurants in Chinatown recently, each focusing on a different city. He decided to take along a fellow eater who knows a thing or two about Chinese cuisine..

The Chinatown Square Mall is a hub of activity these days. To help me decipher the latest openings, I took along my colleague Linda Yu, who loves to eat as much as I do. We begin at Lao Beijing, which literally means "Northern Capital."

"The most famous dish that comes from Beijing is Peking Duck. But the rest of the cuisine of Beijing is that it comes, it gathers from most of the Northern provinces, particularly Shando province which is very close by, which is where my family is from, and one of the things that you really notice is that people don't always understand, is that they eat a lot of wheat product as part of the Beijing cuisine, not rice," said Yu.

So it's no surprise then, to see the meat, skin, scallions and cucumbers rolled up into delicious pancakes, two additional courses follow:

"A lot of the meat is saved and its cut off of the carcass and its stir-fried with some vegetables, fresh vegetables and then the rest of the carcass is taken and it's put into a soup, and that usually comes at the end of the meal so you get three courses out of one duck," said Yu.

Just a few doors away, a taste of the ocean awaits at Lao Shanghai.

"Shanghai very simply means 'on the ocean' and that's what it is. It's a cuisine that has lots of seafood in it. And this is shaolin bao. That means 'little steamer dumplings.' And that's exactly what they are....what's special about them is you have to put them in a spoon because there's soup as well as the meat mixture inside...The first bite and you get some soup and you sort of sip the soup out of it and then you eat it. You drink the soup," said Yu.

Across the way, the new Chi Cafe is emulating a Hong Kong-style dining experience.

"Hong Kong means 'fragrant harbor,' talking about a city on the harbor, seafood, lots of seafood," said Yu.

From deep-fried cuttlefish to spicy clam soup, there are more than 200 items on their extensive menu.

"You'll probably find more different kinds of seafood in the Hong Kong style of eating than any where else in China," said Yu.

The big parade steps off at 1 p.m. on Sunday in Chinatown.

Lao Beijing
2138 S. Archer Ave.

Lao Shanghai
2163 S. China Pl.

Chi Cafe
2160 S. Archer Ave.