Yekta Kabobi

Yekta Kabobi Restaurant

For the longest, I have been on the hunt for a decent Persian restaurant in the DMV.  My love for this Middle Eastern cuisine began with its introduction during my college days 30 years ago when my brother’s girlfriend would invite us over to her mother’s home for wonderful dinners followed by a night replete with traditional music and dancing along some youthful camaraderie. The closest thing to that experience, cuisine-wise, in the DMV area was a small eatery that I discovered a few years ago when I started this blogging business, but the place folded up due to the lack of interest and not to its scrumptious offerings.  So, recently, when an Iranian lady passed on a recommended eatery to me in a chance encounter, I was more than excited to meet this new place’s acquaintance.

Pomegranate JuiceDough/Yogurt Drink

Yekta Kabobi is located in Rockville, MD, on the busy Rockville Pike that seems to harbor many eateries that I have visited, including Joe’s Noodle House (read blog) a couple of doors down from it.  Walking up to the restaurant, I noticed an attached grocery store, both occupying the spacious corner lot of a strip mall.  Upon entering, one notices the well-decorated walls and the stain-glass doors that add ambience and color to the space.  After taking my seat at an inviting table in the corner of the room, I perused the menu which I found to be well-organized but fairly packed without overwhelming the diner.  While trying to make up my mind, I started things off with a refreshing Pomegranate Juice.  What arrived was a glass of ruby red juice that was a bit tart yet not cloyingly sweet like most juices in this country.  Every drop was worth its antioxidant dosage that just set the mood right for the upcoming meal.  A glass of the traditional yogurt drink, Dough (doogh), was house-made (noted on the bill) with its light creaminess made interesting with a sprinkling of dried mint and a touch of salt, making it another refreshing drink worth ordering.

Zeytoon Parvarde & Kashka-o Badenjan/Olive Paste & Eggplant Dip

Since it was a birthday dinner in honor of me, I was given reigns to place the order for the starters.  The first dishes were Kashka-o Badenjan and Zeytoon Parvarde.  The first was a dip made from eggplant topped with fried onions, mint and fermented whey.  The vegetable was not the usual smoky version but still silky enough with a topping of caramelized sweet onions, bright mint, and sour creamy whey.  The whole mix was the perfect spread with the flatbreads that made the perfect vehicle for all its vegetal goodness especially with the good hit of fruity olive oil it exuded.  The other appetizer was an unusual olive spread that peaked my curiosity.  Not quite a tapenade since the olives were still whole, but it was covered with a thick paste made from crushed pomegranate seeds and juice, walnuts, garlic and herbs.  For me, this was an eye-opener that kept beckoning me for more with its tart qualities married with the nutty texture from the walnut bits.  My friends and I were quite enjoying both these openers, and we quickly got a bit stuffed by them.

Tahdig & Khoresh/Crispy Rice & Lamb Sauce

A dish that recalled the many nights of my collegial wonderment with this cuisine was Tahdig.  It is the prized crust at the bottom of the pot of rice that is considered such a delicacy that a woman’s worth is judged by how she skillfully produces it, that is, in the Old World.   The rice rounds were served with a bowl of Khoresh or lamb bean sauce.   The rice crisp were indeed crispy but not as flavorful as those I savored many moons ago since they appeared simply cooked with water unlike the stock-based ones.  However, the lamb sauce was divine, made meaty-rich by the bits of lamb, full-bodied by the soft beans, and a bit citrusy by the tomato sauce and dried lime used to flavor the stew.  Eventually, I focused on the stew and viewed the rounds as a canvas for this awesome sauce.

Persian Stewed Lamb Shank

On to the main courses.  The Friday Night Special was Stewed Lamb Shank.  What arrived was a large piece of meat with the bone attached to it.  A taste of my friend’s dish revealed an extremely tender and moist meat, tasting mild from its gaminess, and mildly seasoned with salt or any other seasoning.  But a taste of the jus revealed the use of saffron that exuded that exotic floral note to the dish, which made the meat more tempting.  The side of Dill Rice reminded me of the one cooked 30 years ago that I always looked forward to at my friend’s abode.  Despite such anticipation, one forkful proved to be a bit disappointing despite being light and fluffy: the rice was a bit bland due to the lack of bold stock in the cooking, and the rice was too moist from some moisture added before serving.  However, the lamb was cooked just right enough for one to hone in during Friday and Sunday nights.

Chicken Soltani Beef KabobsA couple of my dining companions got a combination kabob platters – Chicken Soltani Combination Kabob.  The dish arrived with pieces of chicken breast flanking one side of some saffron Basmati rice and bits of ground beef kabob on the other.  The poultry wowed me with the seared breast pieces that were moist (a tall task) and seasoned just right with a judicious hand.  The beef was equally impressive, made from beefy Angus and seasoned with fresh herbs, onions and garlic, exuding the right flavors and moisture to make them sumptuous.  Both meats were battling the diner’s attention and one couldn’t determine which was better.  The charred pieces of tomato were sweet from the high heat but devoid of bitterness despite the burnt sections.  Quality and price-wise, this is a definite winner in anyone’s books.

Bagali Polo/Lamb Kabob

Being in a Persian restaurant, I knew I had to savor a lamb dish, thus my choice of Bagali Polo or Lamb Kabob.  My dish arrived with a ring of grilled tenderloin, onion, and tomato, all hugging a mound of customized rice that I placed with the order.  The lamb was properly seasoned, lightly salted and tasted quite mild of its lamb flavors.  I didn’t mind that they were not as tender as one would as expect, but that is what one can expect for meat well-done, a common trait in Middle Eastern cooking.  The pieces of onion and tomato were made sweet from the grill charring with the mild bitterness from the burnt bits that acted as a matching counterpoint to their sweetness.  An equal star on the dish was the customized rice, made with a combination of orange peel, pistachio, and almond slivers, which one can pick from a list of possible rice combinations.  The rice was supercharged with the candied orange peel, (tasting more like tangerine) that was perfumy and devoid of the bitter pith, and made nutty from the aromatic crunch pistachio and almond bits that also added some textural contrast.  For me, this was the perfect rice combo that matched well with the savory lamb pieces, making it the quintessential lamb kabob dish for me, especially on my birthday.

Joojeh/Cornish Hen with Barberry Rice

Another popular dish in the house is Joojeh or Grilled Cornish Hen.  The pieces of poultry looked like pieces of breast meat upon the plate’s arrival.  But one bite revealed their true nature.  Each piece was a different part of the bird: the thighs, the breast, the back, and the wings, each carrying a slightly different texture due to their need for different cooking times and also the cut of bird.  But what tied the disparate parts were the wonderfully perfect seasoning that was judicious with the salt and the various faint notes of je-ne-sais-qoui that brought some gestalt import to the whole mix, to which I ended up seriously gnawing every morsel of flesh from that small critter.  The side of Barberry Rice, ordered as recommended by my waiter, was the perfect accompaniment with the pieces of fruit with its bright cranberry-like tanginess without having the usual sweetness associated with its American cousin.  The rice and bird are definitely a match made in heaven, and it was definite treat for me to savor it, thanks to my waiter.

Bastanee/Saffron Ice Cream

Reading online reviews, I was intrigued by a dessert that I had never heard of – Bastanee Nooni or Saffron Ice Cream Sandwich.  My helpful server suggested us to have it prepared the traditional way: what arrived intrigued me visually with the ice cream sandwiched by some plain wafers, reminding me of growing up with this kind of ice cream sandwich.  The icy filling was creamy and sweet enhanced by a rose-water note, exuding its mild exotic saffron floral notes that made each bite intriguing, and studded by pieces of fragrant pistachio.  My dining companions partook in the divine dessert, but we regretted having just placed only one order to end our sumptuous meal.

Faloodeh/Vermicelli Ice Cream with Cherry Syrup

After replaying the flavors of the above dessert for a few days, I knew I had to taste another sweet treat on the second trip, and this time, I ordered Fadooleh or Rice Noodle Sorbet, which intrigued me upon reading its description on the menu.  What arrived were two large scoops of sorbet that looked rather nondescript.  After pouring the sour cherry sauce and lemon juice (bottled, unfortunately), I dug into it with my probing sensors full on.  Different textures and flavors were registering on my tongue that made the dish both mind-probing yet delightful: firm rice noodles in the sorbet, almond-like notes from the sour cherry sauce, citrus notes from the lemon juice, and floral notes from the rose-water syrup pooled around the mounds.  This was an exotic trip that continued my journey down this culinary tradition and another satisfactory ending to a delectable meal.

Yekta Kabobi RestaurantYekta Kabobi Restaurant is truly a great find especially in an area where Persian cuisine is amiss, unfortunately so.  What this place offers are delicious dishes produced by a skillful kitchen with their perfectly calibrated seasoning and authentic offerings, from the intriguing and savory eggplant and olive spreads, to the mildly yet tender lamb shank special, to the perfectly seasoned and equally cooked kabob beef, chicken and Cornish hen dishes, to the alluring and exotic rice combinations, and finally, the ice-cream and sorbet dishes that just whisk you away to a distant place with their irresistible yet unique flavors.  No wonder I noticed the groups of Persian families, as well as those from other cultural backgrounds, enjoying their dinner here – diversity is an amazing thing.  I know I have found a new favorite haunt not only to relive my youthful recollections but to also enjoy the flavors of Persian food that I discovered long time ago; this place is most worthy for this gastronomic task.

Yekta Kabob House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Yuan Fu

Yuan Fu Vegetarian Restaurant

I have always had an affinity, and still do, for vegetarian/vegan cuisine.  However, I have found that the best forms of this meatless realm are the ones tucked among the meat and seafood dishes, notably in Indian, Middle Eastern, and Asian restaurants. My experience has proven that vegetarian cuisine is very tricky in sustaining the interest of the diner, especially the omnivore, and that many exclusive vegetarian establishments don’t quite “get it”.  But there is one place that has kept my taste buds curious with their offerings over the last few years.  I paid the eatery my first visit many moons ago, and I left with a favorable impression by what I had that night.  Due to the long distance from my former home to it, I did not return until my recent move closer, and this also made easier by the monthly meetings that I have to attend at a nearby school.

Hot & Sour SoupYuan Fu Vegetarian Restaurant is located on the busy Rockville Pike in Rockville, MD, at the end of a 4-business strip mall that has been left unscathed by the rapid development around it – it is very easy to miss it especially due its location on the service road off the main road.  Inside, the space is rather small without feeling cramped. The menu lists quite a number of appetizers and soups, and a few were sampled. On a number of occasions, I started my meal with the Hot and Sour Soup. The first spoonful was a bit of a surprise but it said it all.  I was expecting a good hit of vinegar but what I tasted was milder.  As my tongue adjusted to the flavor levels of vinegar, salt, chili heat, and savory stock, I was appreciating the fine balance that did not steer my tongue too far in any direction.  The bits of button mushroom, Shiitake mushroom, Chinese mushroom, wood fungus, bamboo shoot, and tofu pieces added the “meaty” body and different textures to this thick bowl.  The side of crispy dough bits tasted fresh and nearly greaseless.  For me, this rendition will put any of the meat versions to shame with the well-balanced flavors and the bowl chokeful of mushroom and fungus.

Crispy Black Mushrooms

Continuing the mushroom theme, I ordered the Crispy Black Mushroom on one occasion.  Pieces of dark sinuous pieces arrived on some lettuce with a hint of a sticky sauce.  Biting into them, the slightly crispy batter gave way to pieces of rather thick and chewy mushroom strands.  I was truly amazed at the texture that was quite “meaty” and the flavors of the forest since I’m fond of these fungi, and I can never get enough of their flavors.  The batter was made from rice batter, evidenced by the firm texture and slight bouncy give.  The dark sweet sauce had hints of sugar, vinegar, and orange peel that made these pieces irresistible.  Never mind that they are deep-fried since they were not greasy and the flavors enticing.  This is a must-order in my books.

Sesame Spinach PancakeAn appetizer on another occasion was Sesame Spinach Pancake.  Triangles of pan-fried dough arrived with a deep green spinach stuffing peaking through.  The outer layer was crispy tasting fragrant from whole sesame seeds toasted by the hot oil and slightly bouncy from the rice flour, much like Chinese sesame doughnuts I grew up on.  The spinach filling tasted fresh and wholesome, but it was devoid of any salt which made them a bit underwhelming.  But with the help of some condiments, Chinese mustard and sweet sauce, my interest was perked up with the sinus-clearing mustard and the sugar in the red sauce.  Not exactly the most flavorful bite, but I appreciated the healthy elements in this pancake.

Tan Tan Noodles

Still within the realm of dough and spinach, I ordered Tan Tan Noodles on one night.  A bowlful of green noodles arrived topped with carrots, beansprouts, Inochi mushrooms, snowpeas, and shredded carrots.   The star in the dish is definitely the noodles which were thick as udon, stained with spinach and cooked al dente, which made these dough strings slightly chewy and healthy tasting.  The flavoring to the whole mix comprised of bits of salted radish and chili flakes that added the necessary saltiness and heat to each slurp.  In addition, a small pool of broth at the bottom added the moisture and more savoriness to the mix.  Not quite comparable to the real version that is heavily flavored with chili oil and seasoned chopped meat, I was yearning for a bit more flavor.  But I appreciated this much healthier version as well as that bright green noodles whose every strand was worth slurping .

Pan-Fried DumplingsI was curious how the house would stand up to a Chinese classic – Pan-fried Dumplings.  Four dumplings arrived with one side pan-fried and the rest steamed, signs of being cooked the proper way.  One bite into the first bundle pointed my tongue in the right direction.  The skin was thin and slightly elastic, encasing a stuffing of chopped Napa cabbage, bits of mushrooms, a good dose of ginger that added a fresh zing to the slightly dark flavors of the filling partners.  The dipping sauce had notes of oakey black vinegar and chili oil that took these little parcels to another level, and I could have eaten the whole order easily before my main course – but I had to refrain from indulging in these wonderful  bite-size packets.

Veggie Duck & Cilantro Rolls

The last dish that I savored from the appetizer section was Veggie Duck and Cilantro Rolls.   Two halves of a wheat wrap arrived stuffed with mock duck, lettuce, cilantro leaves, and crushed peanuts.  One bite into them revealed a rather firm but fresh wheat pancake, reminding me of the ones used for Peking Duck.  The “meat” was made with pressed soy sheets and it was rather soft and moist, much like fowl meat, and exuding notes of dusky spices.  The greens and herb were vibrant and they added the fresh notes to the meat, along with the fresh-tasting crushed peanuts that added some rich nuttiness to the whole mix.  The sweet plum and Hoisin sauce was the perfect accompaniment with its sweet and sour notes.  Although these bites were rather filling, it did not take much time to finish them off before the other courses due to the fresh and satisfying flavors and textures.

Veggie Duck with Basil & GingerFor the mains, one of the first dishes that I tried years ago, and is one of my favorites, is Veggie Duck with Basil and Ginger.  A hot metal pot arrived boiling with a mound of brownness topped with some fragrant fresh basil.  Pieces of “duck” (pressed soy sheets) are paired with button mushroom, fresh Shiitake mushroom, dried ginger, and mock smoked ham.  This dish was a hit with me and friend from the first bite with the fragrant 5-spiced infused “poultry”, the depth of flavor from the dried ginger, the firm texture of the fungi, and the “meaty” smokiness from the “ham”.  It was the gestalt effect of these elements that brought a lot of satisfaction to this diner and made this hot bowl totally irresistible for me. Not only is it a popular Chef’s Special but a must-order in my books.

3 Kinds of Crispy Delight

Another dish on one night was Three Kinds of Crispy.  The platter arrived with a mound of brown pieces that were not easily discernible at first sight.  I started off with the dark strands sitting on top, and immediately I recognized it as the Crispy Black Mushroom appetizer that I was fond off – one down.  The second bite was one of the battered rounds.  The crispy and fairly exterior gave way to the silkiest and mildest eggplant piece that impressed me right away.  Underneath this layer, I found pieces of battered mock chicken that mocked me for its meat-like texture and poultry-like flavor – three down.  What brought these disparate elements together is the similar sweet dark sauce found in the mushroom appetizer that tantalized the taste buds with the fragrance of dried orange peel and heat from whole dried chilies.  This is definitely a vegetarian version of the ubiquitious Orange Chicken, but tasting supped up with the chewy mushroom and melt-in-the-mouth eggplant pieces which kept me marveling at each bite.  The batter got to be a bit filling, making the side rice bowl a bit redundant in the fill-the-stomach category.

Crispy Hunan "Fish" FilletAnother fried battered dish that caught my attention one night was Crispy Hunan Fish Fillet.  The colorful plate comprised of large pieces of “fish” and some parboiled fresh vegetables on the side.  The “fish” pieces had a soft texture and appearance of crab meat, while the seaweed wrapping imparting a scent of the sea.  I found the protein pieces a bit stodgy due to a thin piece of taro root used to hold the “fish” together, but by removing it, it didn’t taste as “heavy”.  The vegetables were perfectly cooked as well as the pieces of pea and carrot on top of the fish.  But no Hunan dish is really veritable if were not for its sauce.  Here, we have a perfectly executed one with the right amount of vinegar, sugar, chili heat, salt, and spicy bean paste – the proper elements to make the right Hunan sauce.  I would order this again just for that well-executed sauce that made this dish sing.

Chow San Shein

Another Chef’s Special was the last dish I savored on my trips there – Chow San Shein.  The plate arrived glowing bright with colorful pieces of sweet pepper, broccoli, snowpeas, yellow squash, and three types of main elements.  The smoked “ham” like in the Veggie Duck dish was present, exuding its savory smokiness and having a meat-like bite.  The oval bites of “baby abalone” had a slightly firm texture reminding me of fish cakes and tasting of seafood notes.  But it was the “carved and curved” Shiitake mushroom that screamed for my gastronomic attention. These pieces were slighty “meaty” in texture, reminding me of the consistency of squid, and replete with its forest goodness that made me look for more of it among all the other goodness.  The brown sauce, probably vegetarian oyster sauce, was the right balance of flavors that brought all the elements together without being gloopy or overwhelming the integrity of each ingredient including the fresh-tasting perfectly cooked vegetables.  I must say I couldn’t get enough of this flavorful and healthy looking dish and I’m looking forward to another order of this dish.

Yuan Fu Vegetarian RestaurantFinally, I have found a vegetarian restaurant that not only serves dishes that are well-executed and properly seasoned, but they are inventive enough to keep me wanting to try more of its offerings despite the lack of animal protein.  At times, I could not believe that I was enjoying them as much as I did, with the wonderful perfectly balanced Hot and Sour Soup, the crispy “meaty” bites in the Crispy Black Mushroom, the al dente spinach-colored Tan Tan Noodles, the gingery and savory Dumplings, and the flavorful and equally tempting mains made with mock duck, seafood, ham and chicken.  Putting aside the lack of meat and seafood protein, the kitchen here understands what it takes to serve exciting and flavorful dishes, pointing towards the history of vegetarian cuisine in the Far East as the result of  practicing the Buddhist faith. No wonder an article published yesterday named it the top Chinese restaurant in Maryland (read article) – maybe a slight hyperbole, but a quite fair estimation in my books.

Yuan Fu Vegetarian on Urbanspoon

Bob’s Shanghai 66

No holds barred:  I struggle with and shy away from Chinese food especially the insipid and bastardized versions served in this country.  You may have read that I went back to my birth place for my parents 50th anniversary over last summer, and I took the opportunity to literally stuff my face with all the dishes holding childhood memories and gastronomic reveries.  The highlight of this epicurean trip was visiting a number of fine-dining Chinese restaurants to remind myself of what veritable dishes of this grand cuisine taste like.

Bob's Shanghai 66

From aversion to affinity.  Having returned from my Southeast Asian trip, my hunt for decent Chinese restaurants has been reinvigorated, and I quickly went back to an old haunt that had not seen my face for many moons (read Full Key).  Shortly after such a memorable trip, my laptop screen flashed an online coupon offer for a restaurant offering cuisine from the mainland.  With coupons in hand, I made a couple of trips to Bob’s Shanghai 66 located on the same location where Bob’s Noodle 66 (read blog) used to be located before moving itself merely across the street, once by myself, and the other with a friend from the mainland in tow.

Bob's Shanghai 66Xiao Long Bao/Soup Dumpling

Xiao Long Bao/Soup DumplingWalking into the space, you are immediately impressed by the sheer busyness created by  customers packing the restaurant sitting at the tables or standing in line, and the large glass-enclosed assembly line of workers producing (and overtly advertising) the restaurant’s signature dish – Xiao Long Bao or Soup Dumpling. So without any hesitation, we ordered a bamboo basket full of these small beauties from the section listed as Shanghainese Tapas.  One bite into these Shanghai delicacies said it all.  The dumpling skin was slightly firm but thin enough to be both completely cooked and able to hold the ingredients of a meat filling that was well-seasoned and tasted multi-dimensional, bursting with a rich soup produced by the pieces of gelatinized stock (I noticed the little glowing cubes imbedded in the meat mixture in the production line) melting during the cooking process.  The secret is to place one dumpling in a spoon, piercing it to let the soup pour out, drink the rich liquor, and ingest the dumpling – instructions are not included there.  The side sauce of ginger slivers in earthy Chinese black vinegar is the perfect acidic and flavor counterpoint to the mouth-sticking soup and the rich pork stuffing.  These bites were worthy enough for my friend to state that he would bring his mother there just for this dish (Chinese love  their mothers too).  Another trip entailed an order made with pork and crab roe – the subtle crab flavor married well with the mild pork.  The perfect palate cleanser was the hot tea with its bitter tannins to wash away all the good richness from each little purse. Being the only restaurant in the DMV area serving this dish, they have got their act right for this house speciality.

Sticky Rice Shiu MaiAnother steamed item that I was curious to try was Sticky Rice Shiu Mai.  The shrimp version was what I am accustomed to having had enough of it in Cantonese Dim Sum houses.  But these Shanghai bites were not what I really expected.  Thin egg pasta skin has been stuffed with cooked glutinous sticky rice and steamed to bring the elements together.  The rice filling had bits of  Shiitake mushroom imparting its oakey woodsiness into each grain, along with a faint fragrance of bamboo leaf which the rice was steamed in.  But for me it was just starch on starch, and my interest in it quickly faded – my Southeast Asian conditioning was screaming for more salt and flavor interests.  Maybe a side of soy sauce and more ingredients in the stuffing would have made them a success for me.  However, my friend seemed to enjoy them, and I appreciated the dish’s veritability.



Scallion Pancake

Another Shanghainese small bite that I had read about was Scallion Pancake, and an order made it to the table.  Flat pieces of dough containing pieces of green onion have been fried crisp, filled  with a mild pungency from bits of green onion in each bite.  Again, my Southeast Asian sensibility was screaming for more in the areas of flavor, salt, and taste interest.  After a few bites, I was beginning to appreciate this simple dish especially the light crispy texture.

Leek Fried CrescentsAnother fried small bite was Leek Fried Crescents.  Semi-circular pastries made from glutinous rice flour arrived at the table looking a bit drab and lack luster.  But one bite into it called my attention. The stuffing was a soft concoction of Chinese chives and soft fluffy scrambled eggs that  exuded savoriness that belied the simple ingredients.  As I was marvelling with each bite, my Chinese friend stated that sometimes bits of dried shrimp can be found in the stuffing.  Sound the gong!  Yes, the Umami-ness is from the use of finely shredded dried shrimp that brought each bite to another level – I could not get enough of these bites.





Spicy WontonsThe last order from the “tapas” section was Spicy Wontons.  I grew up on these Cantonese style dumplings either in a mild-sauced noodles or in a clear broth.  In this case, these bites came swimming in a pool of redness, ringing out its fieriness with its Szechuan identity.  Sure enough, each bite was spicy hot from the chili oil and made more incendiary by the use of Szechuan spicy bean sauce, Doubanjian, which added the necessary saltiness to a well-flavored meat filling that could have stood by itself.  After a few bites, the chili heat was making my mouth slightly numb from its sting, but this salty meaty combination was completely irresistible for both of us, breaking my friend into a sweat which didn’t slow him down at all.




Ja Jang Mien

Having read online customer reviews, Ja Jiang Mien was mentioned a number of times, and I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to try it.  My dining companion had mentioned that this Beijing dish is usually salty and plain.  A bowl of thin wheat noodles arrived with a topping of minced pork seasoned with fermented beans sauce, soy, and garlic.    Salty it was; plain it wasn’t.  After giving the noodles a good mix, it tempered the salt content, and the meat sauce imparted its savoriness to the bland starch.  The presence of couple of pieces of Edamame was a nice surprise.  My friend further exclaimed that this version was a supped-up version of the original, which was to our benefit for this sitting –  a slightly salty but savory slurp indeed.  Hint: follow the advice of cyber critics.

Mapo TofuMoving on to the main courses.  I decided to taste their version of Ma Po Tofu.  This ubiquitous  dish can be found in most so-called Szechuan eateries but I have always longed for something that give me a good sense of the true dish.  Well, this one did.  A glass bowl arrived with silky smooth tofu cubes covered in a thin pool of fiery chili oil, furthered spiked by bits of dried red chili bits, and bits of fresh-shucked peas (judging from its granular texture and myriad of sizes) and carrot that provided textural and flavour contrast to the slipperiness.  A good stock and some bean sauce provided the necessary body to what could have been a two-note dish, boosted by large slices of fresh garlic. What I thought was a sprinkling of white pepper on top totally misled me.  It was the regional Szechuan peppercorn spice that added to the singe quality in my mouth with its lip and mouth-numbing effect, compounding the back throat burn from the chili oil.  Having a penchant for gastronomic pain, I couldn’t put my spoon down, and I was enjoying every mouthful curiously waiting for the five-alarm bell to sound!

Fried Flounder in Hot Chili Sauce

Being a bit of a masochist for chili heat, I also ordered another fiery dish at the same sitting (Yeah, I know) – Flounder Fillet in Hot Chili Sauce.  Pieces of mild-tasting flounder have been battered in corn flour to produce a silky coating after being smothered by a stock-sauce filled with bits of pickled red chilies, which added some sourness, along with some scorch, and dried chilies. Like the above dish, I was enjoying the heat level that was just right, even with the mild tasting fish, and this was further aided by large slivers of pungent garlic.  The mound of blanched broad bean sprouts and Napa cabbage not only provided textural counterpoint but also some necessary relief to the sweat-inducing notes.  A tasty and satisfying fish dish indeed, but not for the faint of tongue.

Eating at Bob’s Shanghai 66 was like a study abroad lesson in Chinese culinary topography, from the rarely served and tasty Soup Dumpling, alongside a bit flavor-lacking but authentic small bites, to the fiery Szechuan tapas and main dishes that did a number on my taste buds that kept me coming back for more for its complexity and not-so-suble mouth-numbing flavors.  This is what true Chinese cuisine is about – unadulterated, revelatory, and uncompromising.  With a large Chinese population in the DMV, more restaurants are stepping up to the demand from customers and knowledge of the initiated.  Places like this puts the cognoscenti like me many steps closer to attaining the Holy Grail of this grand Asian cuisine.

Bob's Shanghai 66 on Urbanspoon


Beef wrap with Scallions

A recent visit to this place gave me a chance to try some new dishes. A Chinese “tapa” ordered was Beef Wrap with Scallions.  It was like a burrito wrap with a strong wheat skin encasing thin slices of beef and lettuce leaves. The beef slices tasted seasoned, made even more savory by a copious amount of Hoisin sauce that made each bite delectable.  The use of wheat and beef meat points toward the northern origin of this small bite, akin to the Southern Fujian version of Popiah (see blog).  Unfortunately, I could not detect the use of scallions which would have added a slightly pungent note and more interest to these mild bites.

Salt and Peppered Squid

For a seafood dish, we honed in on Salt and Peppered Squid.  I had tasted this dish before in another Chinese restaurant recently (see blog) that I have grown fond of.  The pieces arrived battered and deep fried, with slices of green onion and red pepper softened by a short trip to the hot oil.  However, this plate was quite lame compared to the aforementioned version.  The batter was a bit too thick and not crisp enough due to either a lack of sufficient time in the oil or the oil not being hot enough.  What a shame.

Shredded Pork and Bamboo ShootsThe last main dish was Shredded Pork and Bamboo Shoots.  Slivers of young bamboo shoots are paired with slivers of pork, tofu and green onions, all brought together by a savory sauce made of oyster sauce, soy sauce, and sesame oil.  I enjoyed the tenderness of the bamboo shoots, the mild moist slivers of pork, and the healthy mild tasting tofu that provided more soft texture to each spoonful.  And that sauce – it was enough to whet the appetite and to beckon the mouth to get another mouthful.  This was definitely a dish that is a vestige of its former identity as Bob’s Noodle 66 (see blog).  A dish worth ordering, in my estimation.