I know people love their local joints, but average Chinese does little for me. Heavy sauces. Chopped up meat. Limp broccoli with the General Tso's chicken. I love Grace Garden in Odenton and enjoyed myself at Hunan Taste in Catonsville. But my old standard Jesse Wong's Asean Bistro was the only closeby Chinese tasty enough to check out.
My tastebuds and my email say that I was wrong.
Red Pearl opened on the Columbia lakefront in May, and it drew me in with a menu of authentic Sichuan food. Last Saturday, we went for lunch and ordered across the menu -- kung pao from the "authentic" menu, a stirfried noodles with seafood from the standard menu, and a Chinese broccoli in garlic sauce from the specials.
This was a surprising hit. The broccoli was tender, but still crisp with a sauce that clung to the green but wasn't heavy at all. The kung pao was spicy, but tasted of ginger beneath the hot peppers. And the noodles may have been my favorite -- tender noodles crisped on a wok and then topped with shrimps, scallops and huge chunks of fish. The fish fillets were cooked beautifully. The focus really came from the seafood. Three of us gorged at lunch, then had two lunches of leftovers -- plus some extra broccoli that I snacked instead of having dessert on Sunday night.
On top of my meal, Red Pearl has been getting some raves from other folks. ColumbiaJ commented about potstickers with hot oil and flounder with soft tofu off the regular menu. The Minx of the Minx Eats blog had some authentic dishes along with Peking duck and crispy fried rockfish. (She takes great photos.) And HowICook was my real inspiration to visit -- emailing about how he had eaten the regular menu kung poa and then gone back for the same dish off the authenic menu:
The waiter repeatedly warned me about the spiciness. I assured him I was up for it. Well it was nothing like the American version with the gloppy sauce. The dish had lots of blackened dried pepper, ginger and other authentic ingredients. It was stir fried to smokey charred perfection with lots of flavor. The waiter warned me not to actually eat the dried peppers. I mostly followed his advice and the dish was complex and hot enough anyway. My mouth was numb at the end so I got the real experience. I can't go back to normal glop again.
Click here for my 2010 write-up of Chinese restaurants in Howard County.