is a yearlong project to canvas Chinatown, block by block, discovering
the good, the bad, and the hopelessly mediocre. Maximum entrée price:
"No," the waitress said, her lips flattening into a straight, hard line.
"No, you don't have any salted white chicken?" I asked, pointing back at the sign on the wall I'd just asked her about.
"No, you won't like it," she responded. "Soy sauce chicken, yes. Sesame chicken, yes. That ... no."
Considering that I've been eating in Chinatown two to three times a week for four months now, this was the first time anyone had denied me a dish I'd asked for. Still, I'd rather be mothered by someone who cared what I ate than ignored. We tussled for another minute before I gave up and ordered the $5.50 barbecue combo -- with soy sauce chicken, as directed -- and another wall special: beef stew with turnips. In reward, she brought over bowls of a thin beef broth pungent with inch-square chunks of braised daikon.
New Moon Restaurant is yet another of Chinatown's Cantonese barbecue-steamtable shops. Its window is festooned with red-skinned ducks and strips of lacquered pork, and the silver tubs brimming with braised offal.
What's not obvious until you walk through the door are the small tables in back of the restaurant and a stairway that leads to more on the second floor. At lunch, there are enough customers eating rice plates to keep the server shuttling between the kitchen, the butcher, and the tables. (Incidentally: Why is it such a rare thing to see a woman wielding the cleaver?)
Beef stew with turnips? It was fine, though not particularly tender, and I think I'd have rather pressed harder for the salted chicken. Our waiter made sure the butcher gave us breast meat for the soy sauce chicken, and it was beautifully poached, the flesh plush, almost pillowy. The chicken hadn't been left in the marinade long enough after poaching, however; they painted a bit of the sweet soy liquid over top, but it didn't permeate the meat.
The chicken came with a scoop of rice the size of a newborn's head, and crisp stir-fried vegetables instead of the few leaves of oily cabbage some place serve. And the roast pork may be my favorite in Chinatown yet, riddled with soft, sweet skeins of fat; the lean portions tasted as tender as if they had just been pulled from the ovens, and the bright red marinade came off as fragrant rather than candy coating. Every now and again, I'd catch the waitress hustling by with one eye cocked to see where we were standing. Give it another two visits, I think, and she might let me graduate up to salted chicken and braised pork skin.
New Moon Restaurant: 1247 Stockton (at Pacific), 434-1128.