Lunch table, circa 2013. Seven women and a dude are enjoying their various meals (mostly storebought, except for his which looks to be a gallon of chili that he is attempting to eat for a week straight). A middle aged woman with a Georgian accent pulls out a cardboard box of leftover Chinese food. She declares to everyone that this is the “freshest Chinese food I’ve ever tasted.” The guy sniggers a little and quips that “fresh and Chinese food go together as well as drinking Gatorade after brushing your teeth.” Quizzical stares. He clarifies his statement with a muttered “They don’t” and everyone nods in agreement.
Cue to today. Kwan Ming Bistro is located in a small little strip mall that is slightly obscured from State Road 54. I never once gave the place a glance. I didn’t know it existed. But when that crazy Southerner suggested that I could have “fresh” Chinese food, I decided a visit was in order. She used her chopsticks and drew a map in her Beef Chow Mein and when J-Fur craved an egg roll alongside tortilla chips, I made it a point to go there. Fresh my pecan ass. I’ll show them.
We rolled into the dinky little restaurant (holding maybe ten tables max) and the first thing I noticed was the absence of noise. There were no televisions or radios playing. No bad Chinese karaoke or washing machines. The only sounds came from a drunk foursome at one table and a waitress taking an order on the telephone. A few minutes after we arrived a native New Yorker came in and took a seat at a table across from us. We struck up a conversation (yes mom, I talked to a stranger)! I mean, that just doesn’t happen in most restaurants where eyes become glued on televisions and ears begin to hear the songs playing on the radio. The New Yorker echoed the sentiments of my co-worker. It was the freshest he’s ever had and he visits Kwan Ming two times a week.
We ordered and egg roll, garlic fried rice and sweet and sour tofu to go. We waited about 2o minutes or so for the food to come out. It wasn’t a quick fix (probably where the freshness comes in). I tore into the sweet and sour tofu first. I had never eaten anything sweet and sour before in my life. I think that was because my brother threw up sweet and sour sauce on his chicken mcnuggets when we were younger and that scarred me for many many years. I’m not sure what made me order it on this night (was I having pregnancy cravings too?) but I did. As a dish, it was decent. I liked the sour that lingered long after the tofu was swallowed but the sweet was a bit heavy for me. All the sauce, which was laid on pretty thick, also made it impossible to tell whether the peppers and pineapple were as fresh as everyone suggested. I loved, loved, loved the big hunks of tofu with a light breading on them although a sesame sauce might have been more to my liking.
Sweet and Sour Tofu at home (sorry about the horrific lighting, I told you it wasn’t a fast take out)
Charmidas says that in ancient times unfaithful Egyptian husbands used garlic’s pungent odor to conceal their affairs. As they returned from their mistresses they would chew a clove or two so that their jealous wife would be unable to detect a stranger’s perfume. If that’s the case, Kwan Ming’s Garlic Fried Rice should be reserved for those moments when you need to hide an orgy of epic proportions (I’m talking like an eightsome or something). This dish was the star of the show (and I know it was only a two act affair but it could’ve headlined most Chinese New Year buffets). The rice was loaded with fresh cloves of garlic that were sliced and fried until they were golden brown outside. They were then tossed with the fried rice regulars to create a masterfully blended dish. Not too salty. Not too fried. Just bite after bite of blacking out in Tampa and waking up in Gilroy, California. I happily breathed this dish for hours afterwards.
The Garlic Fried Rice
There were so many other things I wanted to try on the Kwan Ming menu: Vegetable Ma Po Tofu, Tofu with Black Bean Sauce, Fresh Mushroom with Double Squash and Mandarin Style Spicy Fries (just to name a few). Had the Garlic Lover’s Fried Rice sucked, I never would’ve gotten the chance. Because of its “freshness” and an appeal that spans from New York to Georgia, I will be back. Sooner, rather than later.
My drive home was soundtracked by the post everything Love Echo. These guys do post-dreampop, post-chillwave, post-electroindiepop, post-post twee and post traumatic stress disorder in a way that is unrivaled by even the sexiest of bands. Check their dreamy cover of the Cure’s “Love Cats.” It is from their debut album, I Promise You Always the Sky, which is out now on LebensStrasse records.
Also Kwan Ming worthy is “Distractions” from London band Knocking Ghost. “Distractions” is another debut album entrant as it serves as the title track for Knocking Ghost’s first. It was released on January 28th.