New Hong Kong Menu
The New Hong Kong Menu (NHKM) restaurant looks like, smells like, and acts like just about every other Chinatown restaurant.
However, there's a twist.
It's not exactly in Chinatown.
It's close to Chinatown and it's arguable whether it's in or out. It sits on a somewhat quiet block of Commercial Street, between Kearny and Montgomery, smack dab on the border that separates Chinatown from the Financial District. Fittingly enough, it has elements of both. And as far as dives go, it definitely fits several of my criteria (see right hand side bar), especially initial the fear factor.
However, what I like about NHKM is the fact that it's a Chinatown restaurant, not exactly in Chinatown, that you wish the real Chinatown restaurants were more like. I can't tell you how many Chinatown menus look the same, and frankly, are fucking boring! Lucky then that this menu is a little different, and by different I'm talking offal.
At NHKM, you can get beef tendon, tripe, pigs' feet, and other goodies done several ways, including with braised noodles, in soup, in clay pot, or over rice. The best part: almost everything is under 5 dollars.
Of course, NHKM could charge more if they wanted to; they certainly have the business. Believe me, New Hong Kong Menu is no secret. During lunch this place is jammin'. True, a lot of the traffic comes from people who couldn't get in or wait long enough for the dim sum service at City View across the street. But, like me, there are plenty of those who pass up City View to delight in the inexpensive meals at New Hong Kong.
The customers are an interesting mix of young Chinese and Chinese-American white-collar workers, often with their non-Chinese friends, people in business suits, and construction workers. The best part: no tourists! (This may explain why the food is so good and cheap.) The place can get pretty loud, so don't count on getting a few pages of The Barbary Coast by Herbert Asbury* read while you sip the soup.
*I'm only up to Chapter 2, "Hounds and Harlots".
But like I said, the place is a dive. The walls are wallpapered with this funky green bamboo pattern that shimmers. The restaurant is pretty dark and most of the light comes from the windows in the front. The tables can sometimes be sticky and if you are by yourself or with one other person, you may be asked to share a table with another group. However, I've often been lucky to find a table by myself. The wait staff, all of whom are friendly and accommodating, have never coerced me into taking a table I didn't want.
While I've had the fish here, as well as a few other conventional dishes, I've never had any of the offal dishes until today. For the most part, I only eat offal in restaurants since I'm pretty chicken (there's a pun there somewhere) when it comes to cooking it at home. I've thought about it, but then I get cold feet (pun accomplished).
Today, I ordered the pig's feet over rice. First, I should back up. Before I put in my order, I was seated and brought a plastic glass of hot tea and a small bowl of vegetable, and possibly pork, broth. The broth was pretty good, and I appreciated that there wasn't the occasional piece of pork gristle, lotus root, and mystery melon/gourd floating in the bottom. Others may like this, but I'm all about the broth.
Then it came time to order.
"Are you ready?" the waitress said.
"Hi, I would like the pig's feet rice plate."
"Ok...the PIG'S FEET?" she said with a smile.
"Yes, the pig's feet."
(What? Like I'm going to be the 100th white person who's ordered the beef with broccoli or chicken chow mein today? Don’t think so.)
"OK, would you like the combo?"
She turns the menu over and smiles really big.
"See. The combo. You want the combo", she says as a matter of fact.
"Ok, sure." Why argue. The rice plate was three dollars and something, while the combo ($4.95) was only slightly more.
Not long after, my food came delivered to my table. "Wow, that was pretty fast", I thought.
The pig's feet came served in a bowl, with sauce coming halfway up, and with a plate of plain white rice. With it came a big bowl of wonton and baby bok choy soup. Though I had already had a small cup of broth, I didn't waste time in starting on the soup.
I'm not a big fan of wonton soup, and this didn't change my mind. However, I did make a good effort to try some, and for the most part, it was pretty good. I appreciated the fact that the bok choy was of a manageable size, since I hate trying to eat it when comes in huge stalks. The pork wontons were small and mildly flavorful. I ate them right away since wontons are, in my humble opinion, the best part of wonton soup.
Moving on to the pig feet, I noticed that these flimsy little napkins were just not going to cut it. Make a future note: ask for more napkins next time (or better yet, bring a clean handkerchief and a wet nap). First, the pigs' feet were mostly bones surrounded by a soft and very flavorful gelatinous substance, likely being tendon. From what I've read, pigs' feet must be slow-cooked for hours to get it to the right consistency. Considering how quickly my food was served, I figured it had been sitting in a pot just waiting on me to walk in and order it.
I loved the sauce the pigs' feet came braised in (especially poured over my rice). It was rich and sweet, tasting noticeably of hoisin sauce and the pork-heavy braising liquid. It was topped with chopped scallions that offered up its onion flavor to the dish. The feet were very tender, however, I don't know if it was the sauce, the feet, or the combination of both, but after touching the feet, my fingers became so sticky that the flimsy little napkins would cling to my finger tips and break off.
This probably isn't a dish you would want most people you respect see you eat. That is, unless they happen to be eating the same. Nevertheless, it's a good thing this place has low lighting.
Though I had eaten plenty, there was still one last thing: the dessert. Typically the dessert at NHKM is a small bowl of what I assume to be a mango (or sometimes strawberry) flavored pudding with tiny balls of grass jelly floating in it. It's pretty bizarre to most folks, me included.
Still – waste not, want not.
All in all, New Hong Kong Menu scores high on my dive-ometer and great Chinese restaurants list. This tiny, no frills place has great food, decent portions, good service, and a price that can't be beat.