When we heard that Tony Hu was opening two new restaurants in Chinatown on the same day, we were pretty shocked by the ballsiness of it all. Could fraternal twins Lao Shanghai and Lao Beijing live up to the considerable stature of the original Lao Sze Chuan?
Thus far, seems like no! We will report on Lao Shanghai as soon as we get ahold of their menu, but in the meantime, first impressions of Lao Beijing are…less than impressive. The menu ought to be composed of dishes native to northern China, not a commonly represented regional cuisine in the United States (most Chinese immigrants came, and come, from the southern areas). Hold on, did we say “ought”? The appetizer section seems to be sourced not from Beijing but all over the country: there’s sliced beef and maw Szechuan style ($5.45; a refuge from LSC), conch in both Hunan and Chongqing styles ($6.95), bamboo shoots in Yunnan style ($5.45), and spicy bamboo in Jia Zhou style ($5.45). Now, we’re not an expert in Chinese geography*, but those places aren’t anywhere near Beijing!
So be it. The bulk of the entrees run in the $10-$15 range, and include pork kidney served three ways, preserved pork belly, lamb with cumin, and four duck option. Duck is something Americans definitely associate with Beijing (or Peking, really) cuisine, and it makes sense that LBJ (that’s what they’re calling it already; Lyndon would be so proud! Or scared) would offer a variety of preparations. You can get it shredded and pan- or stir-fried; crispy (“twice cooked duckling, marinated in aromatic spices, steamed and then fried, served with lotus leaf bun,” which sounds pretty awesome); smoked with tea; and of course, full on, three course Peking duck for $29.95.
But wait! When stevez went last week for lunch, LBJ didn’t have any duck at all. He was bored by much of what he ordered (although it seems like it was mostly stuff from the menu of the space’s previous tenant, Dragon King), even if he was able to enjoy the lamb with cumin, which came on skewers. When Prairiedogs visited later that day for dinner, he found that the Peking duck (which evidently arrived during the afternoon) was being served with tortillas instead of the normal wrappers. Quel horreur! Even if all these kinks are to be worked out - and given Hu’s modus operandi, they will be - we think restaurants should at least wait until the entire menu is available as stated before opening. Is that too much to ask?
On a positive note, LTH superstar G Wiv thought the steamed dumplings were quite good, and saw a brighter future for the restaurant. One can only hope!
Finally, in the title of the post, we mentioned some confusion over the name of the restaurant. On the menu they faxed us, it was listed as “Lao Peking.” We just called them up, and were told it is, in fact, Lao Beijing. Curse you, Wade! Giles is okay though.
[Photo: a map of China, so you can find all those cities and provinces we mentioned]
* yes we are