Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Te Wei (特味串包): Doraville

An absolute gem. Big thanks to Eating Buford Highway for blogging this one.

I have no hesitation in saying that this compares with some of the stalls in Golden Shopping Mall in Flushing, NY.  I really, really, really like this place and can't wait to return to try out more items on their menu.

As Eating Buford Highway mentions in his blog post, grilling skewers (chuan 串) of meat is a fairly common street stand found in mainland China.  (And for those of you, who have not had the fortune of experiencing street food in China, thesommelier blog post on the subject is a good intro and really gets the atmosphere and appeal right.)

I mention the background of chuan partially to explain why I reference Golden Shopping Mall as a comparison point (it essentially brings that street food atmosphere and deliciousness over to NY), but also to get at another point.  Te Wei brings all of those fantastic flavors that one associates with dingy holes-in-the-walls and presents them in a clean, modern and delightfully respectable environment.

Also, instead of dealing with unfriendly, impatient Chinese vendors who expect you to order in 5 seconds (think Soup Nazi), you've got an easy-to-order sheet to pick and choose from (barring a few egregious translation issues).  In addition, there are wait-staff who speak decent English.

But the important point is the food and it's marvelous.

Lamb Skewer (羊肉) / Beef Skewer (牛肉) / Fish balls Skewer (鱼丸)
All three of these had the same cumin/red pepper spices on them, but the spice really just complements the underlying ingredient flavor, which just came out very well because of the superb grilling technique.  I must say that the lamb and beef and surprisingly small portions, but I think this is done to control the uniform cooking of the meat throughout.  The fish balls were especially wonderful, the nice char playing very nicely off the softer/juicer fish ball texture.

Rot Bamboo Mixed Decay (腐竹)
My photo of the menu cut off the Chinese characters for this dish, but this is a perfect example of bad overly-literal translation:  This really should be something like bean curd salad.
(To explain why I suspect the translation came about: by itself, the character 腐 [fǔ] means rot/decay. However, in the context of food, however, it usually refers to tofu, 豆腐, or in this case, bean curd (the curds of tofu) 腐皮.  Similarly, 竹, by itself means bamboo, but in this case is describing the bean curd, as in a bundle of bean curd.  I don't think this actually had any bamboo in it.)

What it does have are bean curd, wood ear, carrots and cilantro. What makes this so good is that everything is so fresh. In particular, the fresh bean curd was what was so surprising.  

Dried bean curd is commonly sold in Asian grocery stores.  When preparing a dish, it's soaked to re hydrate it, but frequently certain pieces get stuck together and never re hydrate and are just inedible when served. These were soft and juicy and clearly had never been dried in the first place and together with the clearly fresh carrots and the cilantro, well, it was just refreshing to be served something this fresh.  

I will note that we did find it slightly plain flavor-wise, but was remedied with a bit of the Chongqing vinegar, available at every table.

Bitter melon (凉瓜)
Cold dish with wood ear and carrot slivers. Bitter melon is always a divisive melon or even for those who do like it, like myself and my parents, it takes an acclimation period.  Like my Dad, I used to be not like the stuff, but I find myself craving it.  

I think they do a really good job here, doing some prep (blanching?) to remove a significant portion of the bitterness that might otherwise make bitter melon noobies immediately spit out the stuff.  At the same time, the bitter melon has not been cooked that long (it still retains a significant amount of crunch, like a bell pepper) and there is still that distinctive flavor for those who do like it.

Mushroom (香菇) / Wood Ear (木耳) / (Garland) Chrysanthemum (茼蒿) / Seaweed (kelp 海带)

The vegetable skewers get served in a soup, which my fiancee really enjoyed and which tasted like hot chile oil had been added to stock. It's got that Sichuan flavor and bite that is found in places like Tasty China, together with a slight umami of a decent stock.

Mushroom - shitaki mushrooms - soaked in a broth like this - nice.
Wood ears - Again, juicy and didn't have any re hydrated dry (or sandy for that matter) portions.
Chrysanthemum - My favorite of the vegetable skewers that we had. I think it had a strong enough flavor of its own to go head to head with and complement the soup.
Seaweed - Kelp, like bean curd is often dried and rehydrated, so it was refreshing to see the kelp nicely cooked, but also cutely tied into little bows.

Lamb & Tripe Soup (烟)
My particular favorite of the meal (which is saying a lot, given how much I thought of the other dishes). Just a fantastic stock, with a noticeable milkiness/creaminess to it. There was one piece of lamb, which meat was tasty. But what did it for me was the pieces of kidney, which had a fantastic flavor and were cooked wonderfully (and without any rubberyness, whatsoever.)

If it was not apparent already, this place makes me so very happy to find here. I can't wait to try more things on the menu and it gives me hope that there are other gems that I have not stumbled upon.

Te Wei Chinese Kabobs (特味串包)
5090 Buford Highway, Suite 103 Doraville, GA 30040 (Map)

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