Sunday, January 4, 2009

More Hunan than Hunan

Prior to ~6 months before moving from Hawaii, I did not like Chinese food. I don't like goopy sauces, plum sauces, or anything overly sweet and/or sour.

While I still dislike chow mein, lemon/orange chicken, General Tso/whoever's chicken, chilled ginger chicken, fried rice, moo shuu, egg foo yong, Peking duck, that dark plum sauce, etc., these dishes had given me an aversion to all Chinese food until my father took me out to lunch on Fridays and introduced me to other Chinese dishes that I now truly enjoy, but cannot get in Cleveland, like duck noodle soup and choi sum with brown sauce. Of course, I have always loved steamed rice cakes (bok tong go) and dried, candied coconut, winter melon, carrots, and lotus root.

Just as my father opened my eyes to the plethora of Chinese dishes and restaurants Downtown, I left the islands and traveled cross country for 3 months.

I was introduced to Hunan Coventry on my first pass through Cleveland. I loved it! They were not stingy with their meat and shrimp, unlike other places where it's loaded with cabbage and onions.

The staff are dressed in white long-sleeved shirts, black vests and pants. The tables are always covered with white tablecloth and folded, standing cloth napkins. The water service is always excellent. Leftovers are always packed before you like a show. The server automatically splits the leftovers up evenly if the table is made up of separate couples.

I discovered hot and sour soup here. After trying the soup at numerous restaurants, Hunan Coventry still makes it the best; perhaps they shaped my tongue for the soup. Another discovery that has gone unmatched as well is their flower-shaped crab rangoon. The filling is rich and creamy, with chunks of imitation crab and green onions. I realize this isn't an authentic Chinese dish.

The other appetizers that we've tried over the years are all right. The barbecue ribs, which I am not a fan of to begin with, were large, meaty, and seasoned well. The egg rolls were huge, filled with shredded cabbage that must have been previously simmered in some kind of broth and pepper. I prefer Vietnamese summer rolls, as far as rolls go. The sauce was pretty awesome though, made with chunks of orange rind. Beef skewers were tender and tasty, marinated in shoyu, garlic, and ginger. The shrimp with bacon was made of ground shrimp and a slice of bacon, then deep fried. It had bacon, so Bug loved it. The won ton soup was yummy with fat, meaty dumplings. The broth wasn't salty, so it gets 2 thumbs up from me.

On a recent trip, we ordered:
- House special lo mein ($9.95) -- generous portions of beef, pork, chicken, and jumbo shrimp fried in a light sauce with thick lo mein and green onions. It's my favorite dish so I always order this. The noodles and meats are perfectly cooked, nothing is overcooked or chewy, and the sauce is light enough that it imparts flavor to the dish but doesn't require me to eat rice as a salt neutralizer nor is it chock full of garlic that most places need to use to cover up the lack of skill or bad quality ingredients.
- Orange chicken ($12.95) -- 5 battered, deep-fried large whole chicken breasts sliced, with an orange reduction (gastrique). The sauce also comprised of orange rind, garlic, and whole dried Sichuan chili peppers. I was skeptical at first, but I liked the sauce as it was not sweet. Breasts aren't my thing at all, so I ate one slice and left the rest for Bug to enjoy since he loves breasts. I'm a leg person.
- Kung pao beef ($11.95) -- diced water chestnuts, copious amounts of peanuts, whole Sichuan chili peppers, and chopped green onions in sauce.

This easily serves 5-6 adults, so it obviously fed us for 3 meals. And those chili peppers are NO JOKE! WOW!

A few years ago, we had a lo mein dish that was fantastic that I hope to be able to try again some day, as it is no longer on the menu. The dish consisted of an extremely thick, chopped peanut "sauce" that was folded into the noodles. The sauce was more like a thick, extremely chunky peanut spread, not the usual peanut dip that one encounters in Thai and Vietnamese cooking.

Hunan Coventry is my favorite Chinese restaurant because I always walk away feeling extremely satisfied with the flavor, great service, and quality. The large portions don't hurt either.

- Cassaendra

Hunan Coventry Chinese Restaurant
1800 Coventry Rd
Cleveland Heights, Ohio 44118
Tel: (216) 371-0777

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