We live down the street from a Chinese restaurant. It’s the kind of joint where you don’t really want to see the kitchen, like ever, and there are always drunk old men in the bar talking about something that you don’t really want to hear, like ever. Odd, because we live in a nice neighborhood.
On the occasional night when we’re out of leftovers and I can’t bring myself to set foot in the kitchen, we order takeout from the skeezy Chinese joint. It’s not bad. It’s not good, but it’s not bad. Greasy, likely full of MSG, and with enough calories to plump your booty for many days. But we still order it.
Why? Because I love Chinese food. Or really, American-style Chinese food. You know–General Tso’s, pork fried rice, beef with broccoli. Food that they probably don’t serve in China at all but that Americans (and me, in particular) can’t get enough of. That’s why when I heard of a Chinese joint in the city that was actually delicious—known for their exceptional food and praised by many a local critic—we transcended neighborhoods to get there.
Yes, the sign says, “Jack’s Tapas Cafe: Mainly Chinese.” There are three things interesting about this title.
1) The obvious: it’s not a tapas joint. There is no food of Spanish origin here whatsoever. They mean it in the “small plates” sort of way (according to the menu), but the portions aren’t smaller than any other Chinese joint.
2) “Mainly” Chinese? There isn’t a thing that’s not Chinese on the menu. All Chinese. All day long.
3) “Cafe.” It’s not a cafe at all. It’s a restaurant. A full fledged, sit-and-order from a waiter restaurant.
But frankly, this place could call itself “Bertha’s Bitchin’ Burritos: Mainly Chinese” and I would still eat there. Daily.
It’s a casual spot. Nothing fancy. Cement floors. Crappy chairs. Weird decorations all over the walls. A bathroom that doubles as a janitor’s closet.
I didn’t care.
Why? Because we started with this. Looks like a regular noodle dish, but in reality it was, and I will state this for the record: the best noodle dish I have ever had. Tender, handmade noodles tossed with cabbage, green onions, chicken, and some incredible sauce that came directly from heaven. Amazing.
And here’s where I apologize profusely: I didn’t write down the names of the dishes. I assumed that I could grab them online later. I was mistaken. Jack’s website is mainly their address, and that’s it.
You say I should make up names for them instead? Why yes. Yes I will. This one will simply be called “Best Damn Noodle Dish I’ve Ever Had.”
I got ahead of myself. Before “Best Damn Noodle Dish I’ve Ever Had,” we scarfed down these green onion pancakes. Well, they call them tortilla-something-or-others here, but I’ll call them “Order This as an Appetizer Flat Green Onion Thingies.” They come with a tangy dipping sauce.
And then there were green beans. I normally don’t dig green beans. They’re not interesting to me. Not a heck of a lot of flavor, and they’re always overcooked. But these, these I wanted to inhale. They were spicy. Tender yet still crispy. And they did exactly what a vegetable side dish should do—they complimented the other flavors on my plate. I hereby knight thee “Green Beans that I Actually Want to Eat.”
You’re wondering by now how many people were dining with us. There were seven adults and one pint-sized tiny gal. Honest.
Since we didn’t order any rice, we opted to go with this sesame-scallion bread. This, my friends, is what all Chinese meals are missing. Eff the rice. Grab a slice of this dense, chewy bread flavored with scallions and topped with toasted sesame seeds and go to town. Dip it in your brown sauce. Smother it in your noodles. Call it “The Chinese Version of Naan.” And love it. Oh, my. Love it.
Here’s the only dish that I recall the same of: “Three Cup Chicken.” And, since I’ve been fawning over this restaurant so dang much, it’s time I cut it with a little criticism. The chicken was cut into itty-bitty pieces, smothered in a sauce that was completely to die for, and cooked in this cast-iron pot.
But here’s the thing: the chicken was bone-in. Cut into tiny, tiny pieces. That means tiny, tiny bones landmined everywhere. You’re liable to a) break a tooth, b) choke, or c) get really pissed off that there are sharp little bones hiding out in this delicious, delicious chicken. I went with c, and therefore label it “No Common Sense Chicken.”
These next dishes don’t even need silly names:
Lamb sauteed with green onions and some other little veggies. Delicious. Totally unexpected flavors.
Greens, garlic and shiitake mushrooms. Simple. Perfect.
And finally, here’s Jack’s version of General Tso’s chicken. It was tiny chunks of chicken balled up, breaded and deep fried. I wasn’t crazy about the way the chicken was prepared, but the sauce was one of the best General Tso’s sauces I have ever had.
Whew. That was a lot of food. Deep breaths. Undo top button.
And with that, the seven (and a half) of us rolled our full tummies on outta there. Notice how Lucy on Husband’s shoulders is the same height as our pal Peter? He’s one tall drink-o-water.
It’s not often that I go to a restaurant that surprises me, but Jack’s Weird Name Cafe totally succeeded in doing just that. If you’re in the Sea-town area, give ‘em a try. It’s Chinese at it’s best.