Friday, July 22, 2005

Cookie In My Face ...

I was watching Food Network and something made me want Chinese food.

When dinnertime rolls around, I rarely know what I want, so when I want something, I really want it.

Trouble is, Chinese in Northwest Indiana sucks.

I mean, it sucks. It's awful. But then, I haven't tried every place.

So I hauled out the phone book and looked for a new Chinese experience.

SUPER Chinese Take Out Restaurant leapt off its yellow page.

All righty, then. Let's find out how super it is.

(The best Chinese food in my life can be had at New Life on Irving Park Road in Chicago. It's known to me and mine as Mama's, because every time I go in there, the cutest Chinese lady in the world asks, "How's your mama?" My mama -- she's fine, thanks -- shares my love for New Life. But I wasn't in the mood to drive the 50 miles tonight. The Chicken with Pea Pod is worth the trip, but not today.)

I got in the car and drove to SUPER. The menu, 11 x 17 and printed in festive red and green, offers standard Chinese fare. I ordered a Chinese litmus test: egg roll, one pint Chicken Almond Ding.

"Five minute," the Chinese man said.

I took a seat. Ten minutes later, he called out my order. Chopsticks are on the counter with a sign that the first pair is free, the second pair will cost me. Chinese Man made sure I took just one pair.

Home, I unpacked. One fortune cookie, one packet of soy sauce, one packet of duck sauce (sweet and sour sauce, in these parts), egg roll in a waxed-paper bag, a tiny container of rice, and a not-much-bigger container of chicken almond ding. "This is what I paid five bucks for?" I actually said out loud.

I dumped the duck sauce into a small dish, unwrapped the egg roll, dipped and bit. Yeah, that would be the greasiest egg roll in the history of ever. Got a wad of paper towels and tried to wring it out. Slightly more edible. But Mama's egg roll would kick this egg roll's ass.

Onto the entree, then. Nice handful of almonds on top. Good. Don't go skimpin' on the almonds in chicken almond ding. I went easy on the soy sauce, readied my chopsticks, and dug in.

First of all, if you're going to put celery in a dish, you have to allow enough time for the celery to actually begin to cook. Second of all, baby corn has no place in chicken almond ding, nor do straw mushrooms. Something, though, was missing. What was it ... what was it? Oh, right: FLAVOR. I doused my plate with more soy, just so I'd be able to taste something, even if it was just salt.

I ate it. I was hungry. But I won't be going back. SUPER, following proudly in the long tradition of Chinese joints in Northwest Indiana, sucks, too.

My fortune cookie wrapper was sporting a picture of a rather coquettish-looking young thing, sort of Betty Boop-ish. Oooookay. Still, I'm a sucker for fortune cookies, and was well aware that this morsel might just be the best part of this crappy meal. So I cracked it open, pulled out the fortune and read: "You are capable, competent, creative, careful. Prove it."

Called out by my fortune cookie. The cookie gauntlet has been thrown down.

I accept.

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