Monday, April 27, 2009

More Fun With Wonton Gourmet's Food, and A Call-out of a Critic

In the one and one half years that I've been writing this blog, I have done my best to keep it honest and serious, but light and non-confrontational. However, a Metromix review of Wonton Gourmet that was brought to my attention on April 15, 2009 is so unfair and unsubstantiated, that I feel like I must use what little bully pulpit I have here to call it out for what it is: a bunch of crap. You may read Patrick Maycock's complete review here. I ask Mr. Maycock two questions: have you actually eaten at Wonton Gourmet (not just take out) and, what the f*ck were you writing about???? It's surely not the same food that I've been eating there for the past year.

You start by saying "Wonton specializes in a great selection of Hong Kong-style wonton noodle soup. The menu’s claim of “the best wonton noodle soup” may be a bit over-zealous, but the offerings are still among the best you’ll find in Chinatown" (emphasis mine). You then go from "best" to "look elsewhere" with some of the worst gibberish I've ever read.

Now, I had never heard of this restaurant or the people who own it before the first time that my friend Stuart brought me there in March 2008. Even though I have become well acquainted with owners Tom and Shirley and some of the employees there since, I would never allow that to color a review, because I value my credibility. And Wonton Gourmet is certainly not perfect. But it consistently delivers (to our table, not our home) the best Chinese food in Cleveland, and some of their dishes compare favorably to Chinese food I've eaten in Chinatowns in New York, San Fransisco, Toronto, Texas, Hong Kong, and the People's Republic of China.

Surely, Mr. Maycock, you were not writing about the same restaurant that I have eaten and posted photos from no fewer than nine times in the previous year? You accuse their food of lacking in quality (but laud the quantity), when it seems from your review that all you tried was the Americanized take out (or was it the uber-cheap lunch special?). Or did you even try that - your review does not specify any particular food items that you tasted.

The following photos are from two lunches - April 4, 2009 (prior to the April 15 Metromix review) and April 25, 2009. The first photo - from the latter visit - demonstrates that this restaurant gets more than 80 percent filled at lunch - and they turned the entire room about three times while we were there (11:30am-1:30pm):

We were seated at the front table, so this is about 90% of the room - and the last few tables to the left were also full. Note that the clientèle is mostly Asian - an indicia of authenticity and freshness. Moreover, no one seems to be missing the kitsch that covers the walls and collects dust in many local Chinese restaurants and take-out joints, as the Metromix review suggests. The photos on the walls make the authentic Chinese dishes accessible to all, and are certainly welcome decor to this Westerner. And the lack of chockes means that the room is clean in every sense of the word.

Returning to April 4, we began our meal with Chive Potstickers:

These were delicious, as always.

Chinese Donut with Rice Noodle in Soya Sauce

The sauce is the secret ingredient that brings together the neutral noodle and the crunchy, savory donut. Yum.

Turnip Cake

Seems that we order this almost every time - it is incredible not only in its taste and texture, but its consistency. This shot reveals the inside - a little porky goodness!

Shrimp Dumplings in Soup

Tasty soup coddles freshly made dumplings. As I've mentioned before - the shrimp dumplings themselves are not my favorite, because they are made with standard food-service shrimp, which to me tastes like chemicals. But everyone else I've dined with loves them. The chive dumplings are made with the same shrimp, yet are usually very palatable to me - I'm guessing that the chive taste has something to do with that.

Pork Chow Mein

This is what an authentic Chow Mein looks like. No packaged, deep fried "noodles" here! Thin egg noodles are made into a "noodle pancake" ("chow mein" means "fried noodle") that is crispy on the outside, but toothy on the inside! The pancake is then topped with a stir fry of velvetized pork, crisp vegetables, and a mild sauce. This dish is called something else on the wall menu to distinguish it, I'm sure, from what's on the take-out menu.

This version brought back memories of my trip to China almost ten years ago! This is a dish that is all about textures - the velvety meat, crisp vegetables, crisp but toothy noodles, and the way the sauce cuts across and through and marries these textures together - you simply have to try it to understand it!

Tom found it a bit mild for his taste - but a bit of chili oil (a condiment on the tables) solves that!

Hong Kong Style Fried Chicken

If you tried to get this as take-out (and it most assuredly is not on the take out menu), it would probably be limp and yucky by the time you took it home and served it. Served to our table hot from the fryer, however, this is an exquisite example of the genre - moist delicious meat surrounded by crispy skin - I don't think any of us even used the seasoning salt (MSG) that came on the side with it.

Ong Choy with Garlic

This is your basic stir-fried Chinese vegetable - hot, cooked yet with a little bite, and tasty.

Oysters with Black Bean Sauce

Fresh, fully cooked jumbo oysters pair perfectly with a spicy black bean sauce - and thank goodness for the rice to soak up the rest of the sauce!

This repast fed about 7 people and there was a little left over. We paid about $15 each, including a generous tip. Everyone at our table loved everything - the food was extremely fresh and served up hot.

I was fortunate to dine there again this past Saturday, and again there were 7 of us at the table.

I keep taking pictures of the turnip cake because it's so good!

Scallion Pancake

Another lovely dim sum type item - a little greasier than I remembered it from the last time I had it at Wonton, but delicious.

Roast Pork Ramen

This should have been the same dish as we enjoyed on March 29:

But for some reason they used the Udon noodle. It was still definitely the Ramen broth, with a slight fish flavor reminiscent of the Japanese version of this dish, and topped with strips of Nori.

Udon noodles notwithstanding - it was delicious!

Three Shrimp Dumplings in Soup

Again, this is a dish that everyone but me loves, for the reason I stated above - the shrimp is just too chemically for me.

Szechuan Eggplant with Pork

Here, perfectly caramelized eggplant pieces with a bit of "wok hey" smokiness, yet still deeply purple (thanks to the heat of the stove - I can never get this at home; the skin cooks too much by the time the middle gets caramelized) - combine with crunchy snow peas and carrots (and I think there were mushrooms in there too, but my dining companions saved me from them, LOL), velvety pork slices and spicy sauce!

Authentic Orange Beef

The caption underneath the wall photo of this dish uses the word "authentic" - and indeed, this was not your typical Americanized take-out orange beef smothered in sickeningly sweet, neon-orange goo. Strips of pounded steak are breaded and fried until crunchy, then stir fried with a mildly sweet sauce redolent of real orange (and orange peel - which adds a slighly bitter flavor element in addition to intense orange-ness). You can see bits of peel on the dish - labor intensive, but worth it. We finished every drop! I did find it amusing that they used American broccoli on this "authentic" dish - I need to check the photo of it next time I am there.

Oysters with Black Bean Sauce

These seem to have become a great favorite of ours - probably because they are so good!

We were amazed at how well we had ordered - we finished everything and were sated without being stuffed.

Well, I don't know which Wonton Gourmet Peter Maycock visited, but it sure as heck isn't the same one that I frequent. It angers me that he accuses them of having "devised a strategy" to "[o]ffer ridiculously huge portions of so-so Cantonese food for cheap. The result, depending on your budget and tolerance for taste, will vary." Though I've never eaten the Wonton "lunch special," in my experience, you get what you pay for. If true, this is no different than the Hunan in Richmond Heights - you can get a cheap, filling, so-so Americanized lunch for less than $5. But if you are willing to spend a little more, you can order from the Chinese menu for about $9-12 per dish and have great food. I suspect it is the same at Wonton Gourmet. To posit this as some sort of rip-off is just wrong.

I just hope that anyone out there who might be put off from Wonton Gourmet by a review that doesn't name a single specific dish, and that focuses on the least significant aspects of the restaurant's business (ie - takeout - the takeout menu has no Chinese characters on it, yet you saw who was eating there last Saturday - what does that tell you?; and the "Lunch Special") will go and give it a try for themselves. Thomas and Shirley will welcome you and they and their staff will give their all to ensure that you enjoy your food, regardless of how authentic you want it. Oh - we paid about $13 each for our meals last Saturday, including tax and a generous gratuity (adding it up and splitting the check as we'd split the food - its how this kind of food is meant to be enjoyed). We always have fun with the food at Wonton, from the most authentic dish to the occasional fried rice or egg roll. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

1 comment:

  1. I'm sorry I missed the feast last Saturday, but I can attest to every word that Nancy said based on my previous visits.

    Having read the Patrick Mayock review, I completely agree that he didn't bother to do a proper review.