Monday, May 19, 2008

More Fun Playing with Authentic Chinese Food at Wonton Gourmet

We last played at Cleveland's newest Asiatown star, Wonton Gourmet, at the end of March. Solicited by a friend who had not yet dined there, we met for lunch as a foursome on Sunday. Both our young server, and the older gentleman who kept watch from the front of the house (who I suspect is the owner) were thrilled that four Anglos went for the authentic side of the menu (actually ordering mostly from the "specials" up on the walls in Chinese characters; thanks be to Stuart Spivak for getting translations for most of them). Wonton Gourmet is located at 3211 Payne Avenue, Cleveland (no website, (216) 875-7000).

We began with a delicacy we'd enjoyed the last time we visited: Fish Maw and Dried Conpoy (Scallop) soup:

Here, a few drops of Red Vinegar have been added

This soup is amazingly delicate and complex; don't be put off by the icky sounding name. The fish maw actually lends more texture than flavor, and the dried scallop delivers with intense flavor.

Since it was Sunday lunch, we decided to try a few Dim Sum items:

Turnip Cake

This was the freshest turnip cake I've ever tasted. Creamy inside, crispy outside - it did not require any condiments.

Shrimp Rice Noodle Roll

This ubiquitous item was also very good - the rice sheet tasted freshly made, and the shrimp had no objectionable smells or tastes.

Guotie (Pot Stickers)

These were the best pot stickers I've had in Cleveland - right up there with the ones made from scratch by Annie Chiu at Sun Luck Garden in Cleveland Heights.

The bottom was perfectly charred.

And the top was crispy but soft - perfect texture.

Hard to make out the inside - but there was pork, shrimp and something yellow which I think was scrambled egg, as well as a green herbal. It was served with a very simple dipping sauce, and the combination was simply dynamite!

And now, onto the entrees:

Lap Cheong (Cured Sausage) and Pork Belly Sausage Stir Fried with Rice Cake

This dish also pleased. The older gentleman explained to our table how Wonton Gourmet makes the rice cakes from scratch - and they had the taste and texture of freshly made rice pasta. Stir fried simply in the pork fat, with crisp vegetables and a dash of soy/vinegar to finish it - it was a perfectly balanced, satisfying dish.

The top piece of sausage is the bacon-like type; the bottom is the lap cheong. The server said they make it in-house.

Salt Baked Softshell Crab

Our server was delighted that we took such delight in the "real" Chinese food - he brought one of these fellows out to our table briefly, alive and not yet cooked, to show us that we were getting the rare treat of live rather than frozen softshell crabs. It was simply delicious! Not greasy, but perfectly crunchy, with a little spice and lots of garlic.

Stir Fried Ong Choy (Chinese Green Vegetable) with Garlic

This dish helped to round out our meal. Our friend Tom exclaimed that this lunch was worth an hour's drive from Akron - healthy praise indeed!

We are lucky in Cleveland to have a good sized Asiatown, and Wonton Gourmet is a fabulous addition to that community. You don't have to be able to read the characters to be able to order a fantastic meal here, and you can play with food that is as authentic as your palate dares.

After lunch, we visited the newest Asian grocery to open in Asiatown: "Park to Shop", 1580 East 30th Street, (216) 781-3383. This large, sleek, modern store was a delight to shop in. Prices were very competitive with the other Asian groceries in town, and the selection was very good.

Bob and I stopped at the cooked meat counter and pondered roasted duck, roasted pork, char sui (BBQ Pork), pork parts of every description, roasted fowl and roasted squid. We wound up getting char sui and and roasted pork to accompany our lunch leftovers for dinner. Sorry - no photos, but take my word for it - they were delicious!

The fish counter looked (and smelled) very nice; there were some live items (including frogs) and the already dispatched ocean dwellers looked fresh and tasty.

And so, we experienced another great Cleveland option for playing with authentic Asian food, whether you want to be served by an expert, or play with it yourself.

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