I'm a restaurant groupie. If I hear that the owner of a favorite eatery is opening a new restaurant, I stalk that spot like a fat kid stalks the cake at a birthday party. I will read up on any leaked details, follow the planning process and mark my calendar so I can go during the first week it goes public. Eddie Huang's latest endeavor, Xiao Ye, opened while I was away in China. Luckily, my friend Diana suggested we go there for dinner the week after I returned to the States. I was thrilled at the prospect of trying Xiao Ye’s take on late night food found at Taiwanese markets.
I always read reviews on Yelp prior to going to a restaurant. I like to know what people did and didn't like and I like to get an idea of what to expect in terms of food, service and atmosphere. Unfortunately, the reviews weren't too stellar. At all. I must admit, after reading them, I was a bit apprehensive about going to Xiao Ye. A few discontent eaters would be understandable, but if the overall consensus is more “ehhh” than “yay!” ? I looked at Eddie's blog and read this, "I won't put out food that isn't 100 and when we do open, I guarantee it'll be perfect." Then reviewers be damned because as a frequent diner at Baohaus, I know that Eddie can produce delicious food.
Diana and I went on a Thursday night and the restaurant was packed. The place is tiny and hip hop is the music of choice. Personal photos adorn one side of the wall and I laughed when I saw a few FOB-y childhood photos because I could totally relate. There's nothing quite like growing up being first generation and having Asian parents. I'm sure Eddie could relate to my childhood: my parents left the plastic on lampshades, we had a vinyl tablecloth on the kitchen table, the stove was covered with tinfoil, and our Tupperware consisted of old margerine tubs and jam jars. I grew up eating chicken feet and fighting with my brother over who got to eat the fish's eyeball. There wasn't any fish on the menu so I wouldn't have to fight with Diana over the eyeball but... she probably would be more than happy to let me have it.
Forget Yelp. Let’s review my choices here:
First, the Brick Sit on Wall Tofu: The deep-fried tofu's crunchy exterior, its silky innards and the combination of sweet chili sauce and peanut powder made me wish that Diana and I weren't sharing everything. Note to self: order this as my appetizer next time (emphasis on my).
Next? Help U Poo Poo Greens: Snow pea leaves with garlic. At first I thought, $9 for veggies? These better be dericious (chinglish speak, according to Eddie, for delicious), I better get more than just a few leaves and it best help me poo. I won't comment on the last criterion but the first two were definitely met.
Then, Big Trouble in Hainan Chicken: When Diana suggested ordering this dish, I wasn't too enthused. I've had horribly dry chicken at restaurants way too many times to order it anymore. Furthermore, I thought back to my experience in China three years ago. My aunt has a maid whose daily market run involved buying groceries and a chicken that I would, imaginatively, name Chicken Little. I'd say hi to the it as I passed by during the day and, come dinner time, what do I see? Chicken Little dead and completely naked on the kitchen counter! I gagged when I saw her gorgeous feathers in the trashcan and could not eat chicken that night or for the rest of my month that I was there. I made a mental note to never name and acknowledge any living creature that I would possibly eat.
The method used to cook Chicken Little is essentially the same used to cook Hainan Chicken. I'm not one to pass up trying any kind of food so I put that horrible memory behind me and tried a small bite. I then proceeded to eat most of it even though Diana and I were supposed to be sharing it. The chicken was incredibly moist without a dry piece in sight and the dipping sauces were so good that I wanted to drink the house made red chili sauce. And the rice! Oh, the rice! I normally don't care for rice. I never order it. I never make it at home or eat it when I'm at Chinese restaurants. I know; I'm Asian so I'm supposed to eat rice like it's crack. It just does nothing for me. That all changed when I had the chicken rice that is served with the Hainan Chicken. The large bowl of rice is so ridiculously flavorful that I want to eat it at every meal from now on like what a good Chinese person should do.
Diana, ready to dive into the shaved ice.
For dessert? Taiwanse Shaved Ice. We were pleasantly surprised when we were presented with dessert on the house. It must have been obvious that I was a restaurant groupie and the obvious way to my heart is via food, specifically dessert. The mountain of fluffy shaved ice served as the perfect complement to the strawberries, tapioca balls, and mango flan. The condensed milk that is drizzled on the top of this concoction adds the necessary element that really makes this dish a dessert. The shaved ice isn't your typical tiny two scoops of ice cream; it's huge. Given the humidity that evening, it was a refreshing and light way to end the meal.
Due to the Yelp reviews I left my high expectations at the door and hoped to leave Xiao Ye satisfied and content. Instead, I left in bliss from experiencing food that exceeded my expectations and I left dreaming about my next visit, knowing that I'd have to come back to eat Chicken Little's brother sooner rather than later.