Yesterday, upon returning home to Dallas from Houston, I was craving a big bowl of noodle soup. I had spent the weekend in Houston attending a friend's wedding and had no time to grab a decent Asian meal around Bellaire Boulevard, known for some of the best Asian food in the nation.
Since I had the Monday off, I drove to Richardson's Chinatown to visit a restaurant about which I've always been curious, but had never been brave enough to try. Being a notoriously particular eater, there are times I intend to try a new Asian restaurant, but end up visiting a reliable favorite. Rather than dine at Canton Chinese Restaurant, I have consistently eschewed it in favor of its neighbors, May's Ice Cream or Jeng Chi Dumpling House. Only not this time.
Not in the mood for something as heavy as May's or Jeng Chi's, I finally visit Canton. Its interior looks newer than that of its neighbors, and its clientele is a much more diverse. The majority of the restaurant's diners were non-Asian, which might otherwise give me pause, but it was a Monday and this was a lunch crowd so I saw no reason to go into full-blown panic mode.
As I was handed a menu, I saw a second troublesome sign: The menu's first page was a lunch special list with familiar items like "kung pao," "sweet and sour," and "beef with broccoli." Not that I don't enjoy a guilty meal of General Tso's Chicken every now and then, but there was a reason I had driven all the way to Richardson for a Monday lunch rather than ordering take-out from the comfort of my couch. Things started looking worse when a surly waiter, bored from taking our drink order of water and iced tea, walked away while I was mid-sentence. Things really started spiraling downward when a bible thumping non-Asian customer sitting at the table next to us, loudly complained that his chicken had too much gristle on it.
Feeling trapped and not wanting to draw attention to myself, it was too late to turn back. I stared longingly out the window and across the parking lot at May's. The noodle soup selection at Canton is meager, and I was regretting my gamble. As we waited for our order, a waiter brought out a snack of stale fried wonton noodles (similar to the kind you get at Chinese take-out restaurants) and a plate of pickled white cabbage, carrots, and jalapenos. The sweet pickled vegetables were a bright treat to the progressively bleak experience, but Canton would need a Maglite to put a good shine on this meal.
Our order of roasted pork wonton egg noodle soup arrived first. Although the pork was cut into thin and wimpy slices, the wontons, plump and juicy, were quite good. The broth, lackluster and under-seasoned, was missing...something. Not enough salt or sugar rendered the broth a lukewarm bowl of water. Having skipped breakfast to have this meal, my boyfriend and I shared the bowl of noodles while waiting for our second dish to arrive. We were almost finished with the first bowl of noodles, when finally, my dish came out. The braised duck wonton noodle soup wasn't what I expected it to look like, but I have to say it looked amazing.
Inside the massive bowl sat thin egg noodles, shitake mushrooms, bok choy, and an entire duck thigh swimming in a dark aromatic broth. Maybe it was because of the bland bowl of noodles preceding it, but my first sips of the duck noodle soup were a rich and flavorful punch to my palate. As my stomach grew fuller, however, I became more discerning and started noticing the negatives in the dish. After my boyfriend finished his soup, he joined me in dissecting my bowl. He looked down at a piece of duck between his chopsticks and asked, "Does this duck taste frozen to you?" It did. For a "braised" duck, the bird was dry and tasted of freezer burn. As we continued eating, the soup became unbearably saltier. Between the foul duck and the abuse of Chinese five-spice, msg, and salt in the broth, I left almost half of the dish uneaten.
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I had killed my curiosity, but I hadn't killed my cravings. We left Canton and walked across the parking lot to May's. After a completely satisfying meal of fried pork chop noodle soup, garlic green beans, and two separate Taiwanese shaved ice desserts, we both agreed to stick to our favorites for a while. But as we drove away from the shopping center, I spotted a sign out of the corner of my eye: "Yung Kee BBQ." I knew my curiosity would again get the best of me.
Canton Chinese Restaurant
400 N. Greenville, Ste. 25
May's Ice Cream
400 N. Greenville, Ste. 25