Thursday, June 21, 2012

Diasporic Dining XXXII: China Road

If you want to travel back to the Manhattan of the 70’s—in terms of restaurants that is, take I-81 North of Syracuse to the town of Mattydale. Just as Syracuse hearkens back to the Roman Siracusa, Simon Teng who was the executive chef of such chichi establishments as Auntie Yuan, Uncle Tai’s, David K’s and Pig Heaven has become the curator himself of a certain kind of Szechuanese food, a moment in the evolution of the sensibility of Chinese-American cooking which has become as rarefied as the Cantonese cuisine—served by white jacketed waiters lifting heavy silver lids—that it once replaced. His China Road is a little like Pompeii. When you go there and taste the smoked duck, ma po tofu, twice cooked beans, spicy dumpling, daikon radish cakes, and spicy crispy tilapia you feel that time has stopped and you have rediscovered the fountain of eternal youth—minus perhaps some of the other sensual delights that that the ill fated inhabitants of Pompeii enjoyed before the deluge. The curious thing is that the Chef Teng has reinvented himself as the proprietor of a roadhouse that’s a far cry from the auspicious cosmopolitan establishments he once presided over. China Road is housed in a modest shingled structure that's hardly distinguishable from the cheap motels, bars, Dollar Discount Stores and adult video shops that are scattered along the main thoroughfares in this modest part of the country. Teng’s original restaurants attracted a high ticket clientele way back when. Now the anonymity is what creates the exclusivity. You don’t have to be someone or have a fat wallet to enjoy China Road. You only have to know where the restaurant is, to savor its delights.

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