Monday, August 23, 2010

Aug. 21, 2010 - Tasty China

Tasty China
585 Franklin Rd. SE (S. Marietta Pkwy. SE)
Marietta, GA 30067

Tucked away in a strip mall, Tasty China has long been an in-the-know foodie destination. Far from your typical Chinese restaurant fare, the menu features clever and original items I haven't seen anywhere else. Variety and quality of the food suffered when head chef Peter Chang left, but now he's back in the kitchen until his new restaurant opens (rumored to be somewhere in Marietta). So we'll enjoy the return to the glory days of Tasty China's menu while we can.

In order of appearance:
Pork belly in spicy garlic sauce
Hot and numbing dried beef with sesame oil
Braised fish with needle mushroom in iron pot
Smoked duck (special)
Shanghai bean curd rolls (special)
Pan-fried sesame cake bread

Pork belly is my current obsession food. It's bacon but better. Pairing pork belly with garlic? Sign me up. It was not what I expected. I was used to large pieces of stewed, buttery pork belly, while here we had thin slices resting in a hot oil based sauce. But from the texture of the many layers of pork to the flavor of the sauce and garnish (even the cilantro was fresh and crispy), I could eat a plate of this for breakfast, lunch, dinner and every snack in between.

I really wanted to like the hot and numbing beef. It came on the recommendation of our dinner mates, plus we had read that all the dry-fried dishes were extraordinary. But really, I ended up being rather disappointed. I liked the tingling around the corners of my mouth as I ate and the dish was not so hot that I was reaching for the water (despite chomping on several peppercorns). But I had a hard time dealing with the extremely dry beef. Yes I know it was "dry-fried" but unfortunately it was like eating beef jerky with sauce. Maybe the hot and numbing sauce with another meat (one not dry-fried) would have been better.

The braised fish was outstanding. The fish retained its shape and texture without disintegrating or flaking into the soup (a common problem with fish). The fish alone was good, but add the needle mushrooms (think of them like alfalfa sprouts in mushroom form) elevated the dish. The very spicy (an angry orange-red color) soup was so good I had several spoonfuls on its own.

The smoked duck (served with what we nicknamed "funyuns") was a nice dish. Duck tends to be fattier than chicken, but this was not too oily. The fried onions and peppers the duck was served with provided a crunchy texture to contrast the soft, fatty flavor of the duck. One of our dinner mates was still gnawing on pieces as the staff was collecting our plates.

For some reason, the appetizers we ordered came out last. The sesame cake bread was OK, but seemed to me a bit like breadsticks on the table at the beginning of the meal - simply filler. They had a very subtle flavor that wasn't savory, wasn't sweet. I ended up dipping the bread into the soup from the braised fish. That was a better combination.

If you asked me to describe what "bean curd rolls" would look like, I would not have been close. Picture sheets of yuba bean curd skin, rolled back upon itself until it looks like the cross-section of a very old tree. It was garnished with a little scallion and soy and oil sauce, served cold. Mostly you are getting the crunchy texture of the bean curd and the beauty of the dish. Perhaps as an appetizer I would have liked it more, or maybe leftover as a breakfast item.

A great meal with friends, sadly without the abusive wait staff we had come to expect. Even without the 10 percent discount for paying cash, we got incredible value for our money (less than $60 for four people). Enjoy the true Tasty China while you still can.