Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Tai Lake : Philadelphia

**Update Dec 10, 2009*** Stopped by with my Dad on our ridiculous unintentional restaurant crawl and got the lobster rice porridge.

Lobster Rice Porridge - Serves 4, but my dad and I could pack it away, right? Just kidding, we planned on  leftovers.  It was decent and certainly something I've never seen before, even in Boston.  It had plenty of lobster pieces, with shells still on, but cut in a way that most pieces were easy to pick the meat out of.  The lobster was decently fresh/cooked.  The rice porridge a bit underwhelming in that I kept on expecting it to be more lobster flavored, but all I really tasted was white pepper.  Perhaps you don't see this as often because lobster is (usually) expensive and there isn't the flavorful throwaway bones as in fish, chicken that can flavor the porridge.

Green bean Dessert - I usually see the red bean dessert, but my Dad said that this was just as common as the red bean version in Hong Kong.  This one is usually more "cooling" than the red bean and I can definitely see that.  I actually quite liked this version and might prefer the green bean dessert over the red bean one.

My parents passed through Phili for a little less than a day and besides taking them to my usual hunts in Reading Terminal Market (Dinics, Dutch Eating Place, Hershel's) and Heung Fa Chun, we also checked out Tai Lake in Chinatown, based on my gf's dining experience.

While we didn't end up ordering what she really liked, the lobster rice porridge (this only seemed to be on their siu yeh [宵夜 = late night snacks] menu), we did have a fairly solid meal there.

Boiled shrimp - After spotting the shrimp in the tanks out front, my parents opted for this relatively simple dish and it was quite nice. My dad explained that you can only really do this at restaurants where you spot fresh sprimp in the tanks. And like the New England lobster, the idea is that the fresher the shrimp, the less flavoring you should put on it. And here the shrimp didn't disappoint, the texture reminding me of fresh lobster.

(These aren't the shrimp we ate, but they photograph better than
the smaller gray ones we did end up getting.)

Black Chicken & Herbal soup - I actually don't remember ever having black chicken before, but the skin of the chicken is black and purportedly, the meat is gamier than "regular" chicken. (See Wikipedia, NYtimes) As the chicken had been stewed in the soup and then the meats/herbs separated from the broth upon serving, this was probably the wrong dish to see the difference between black chicken and regular.

But as for the soup, it was quite lovely, a lot more herbal than the soups I usually make from my measly soup mix (perhaps I add too much meat?)

Steamed Striped Bass - So, it turns out that my over-cooked fish meter might be a little skewed. While flavorful and pretty fresh, the meat was tougher than other steamed fish I've had, kind of like pork that's been boiled (not nearly that bad, but a texture I associate more with land meat). In the past I'd probably call this slightly overcooked, but my parents deemed it due to the type of fish. Shrug, guess it doesn't matter if it tastes good. We plowed through the entire fish.

Chinese Water Spinach (Dow Miu) - Very good, mainly because of its freshness, leading it to be extremely tender and easy to eat. Flavored with garlic and some fu yu (腐乳, salted and fermented tofu)

Sauteed duck tongue with basil - Not sure why they say basil, when it comes with strips of Chinese celery, which are slightly more bitter than the regular celery. The duck-tongue was okay, while the Chinese celery was a bit tough to chew.

Taro Tapiocca Pudding (西米露) - A solid version of the taro dessert to top things off.

This place no doubt serves solid food, but I'm going to hold off saying anything more on this place, since the dishes we ordered are more Cantonese ones and if things can be just judged from the name (Tai Lake is on the border of the Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces), this place might actually specialize in a slightly different Chinese cuisine.

Hopefully if I get a chance to return, I'll try asking for what they specialize in.

Tai Lake
134 N 10th St Philadelphia, PA 19107-2309 (Map)
(215) 922-0698
($Chinese, $Philadelphia)

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