Monday, February 15, 2010

It's what's not on the menu

Some people eat take-out Chinese food on a regular basis and never give it a second thought. For our family, however, opting for Chinese as a break from cooking and cleanup has often been, let’s say, an adventure.

Maybe it’s something about our surroundings in Westchester County, New York. We live in what you might call a pricey area, and many couples both work. This means, for us lowlifes without paid help, that take-out restaurants get plenty of business. They fill countless orders in very little time, and some mistakes are bound to happen. You can’t disagree that getting Chinese right is more complicated than, say, making a pizza.

But that’s all the excuses they’re going to get, for after one slip-up in the quality of the food, to us they’re history. The worst was that two different restaurants made my wife sick. (After the second incident, Elena’s doctor inquired, “Have you considered not eating Chinese food?”) While both restaurants are long gone, others remain as a testament to our current no-tolerance policy.

My own personal issue, with food in general, concerns cutting off the inedible. No, I’m hardly the helpless male who needs his steak cut into itty-bitty bites. What I mean is that for ready-to-eat foods such as casseroles, soups and rice dishes, I shouldn’t have to pick up a knife to, say, trim gobs of fat off the meat. (I’ll save the story of the whole crab I was served in a bowl of soup in New Orleans for another time.) With one restaurant we were frequenting at the time, this happened a few times before I mentioned it to the owner. “They have a lot to do…they can’t do everything,” he said with a shrug. I suppose it’s my fault that fat feels like rubber when chewed.

Still, it’s one thing for food to feel like rubber. It’s quite another when it is, like when my daughter, Katie, found a rubber band in her lo mein. We didn’t complain—any excuse would’ve been, ahem, a stretch. The unfortunate reality, for any Chinese restaurant around here, is that there’s always another we haven’t tried.

Our current favorite, across the street from the train station, is a frantic blur of people, spoons and bags. It seems the busiest restaurant we’ve seen, along with the friendliest. And the food has been great so far. They even like to throw in free egg rolls and won-ton soup.

Plus all the rubber bands we can eat.

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