Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Best Thing I Ate Today: Hunan Cafe

Every week for the last three seasons, my dear friends and I have gathered to watch Lost, a show whose end is so unfathomably traumatic, I can't even think about it. Last week, when my pops was still in town, we gathered as we always do for delivery dinner and one of the best hours ever to grace a television set.

John, Jenny, Leah and I have a few restaurants in heavy rotation for Tuesday dinner. Bossa Nova often gets a call for their Chico's Salad and mysteriously disappearing and reappearing Black Bean Soup (it's the Christian of menu items). RoRo's Vegetarian Platter and Chicken Breast Plate make a frequent appearance. But we decided to go hog wild and order Hunan Cafe.

As a transplanted child of New York City, there is many things about Los Angeles I have come to love, respect and admire. LA Chinese food is not one of them. For over a decade, I have choked down “Chinese” Chicken Salads (don’t call it Chinese just because there’s some sesame oil and a wonton in there) and low sodium, steamed, white meat only abominations to my palate. In truth, a trip to Panda Express is usually far more satisfying. But then I found Hunan Café. Tucked between a supplement store and a cigar shop, dwarfed by the Virgin Megastore and The DGA, sits a West Coast restaurant that makes you feel like you are supping on 81st and Broadway.

For anyone who has ever enjoyed East Coast Chinese food, there are three magic words; “Cold Sesame Noodles”. The mere mention sends chills of ecstasy down my spine and joy leaping to my heart. You will not find a better version then at Hunan Café. Slippery, al dente noodles covered in a light, spicy, sesame dressing, chopped peanuts, and scallions, offer an improvement on the overdressed peanut butter noodles you occasionally stumble upon in the Big Apple.

The sautéed string beans are incomprehensibly delicious. Coated in a spice rub and dry fried in a wok that has been seasoned for decades, these are vegetables on a whole other playing field.

Of course, because this is LA, they offer low carb, white meat only, low sodium renditions of everything and certain dishes even have the caloric breakdowns. I was initially cynical, but one bite of their lo-cal Kung Pao Chicken studded with whole peanuts, chopped water chestnut and melted scallions and I was convinced. If I could be like Jared and eat that instead of subs all day, I would be on that diet forever.

Marty P eagerly awaiting a plate from John.

Jenny and I before we stuffed our faces.

Leah and Jenny priming their chopsticks.

As if the end of Lost weren't miserable enough, now I have to give up my Tuesday night dinner party. We need a new show obsession. FlashForward, anyone?

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