The food critic — Rob Balon
Up until a very short time ago, there was a serious lack of owner-operated Chinese dining in the downtown area. Then, with his usual sense of the spectacular, Ronald Cheng and a hoard of dancers resembling a fire-breathing dragon showed up at 107 W. 5th St. to celebrate his Chinatown Downtown restaurant’s opening.
And I’ll tell you I’m buzzed about this place. Not only is it close to my office, but the food is every bit as good as his signature Chinatown Greystone off N. Mopac. And in a few weeks, he will be introducing Dim Sum to the menu. Oh yes, and for all you downtown fans of Chinese cuisine, did I mention that they deliver?
My favorite appetizers at Chinatown downtown could take up the entire amount of space allotted for this review. So let’s focus on the very, very best. The Jade Pot Stickers are and have been a favorite of ours for years. Stuffed with minced shrimp, and served with some chili oil and soy, they are as good as this genre gets. I prefer mine grilled. And you have to try the Calamari, fried and served with Kan-Shao sauce [you’d better like chiles]. The taste of this dish is simply riveting. And the texture of the calamari, so vital to the overall taste, is on the money. And the Crabmeat Asparagus soup for two is never for two when I order it: it’s that good. There’s a finely rendered flavor here that is characteristic of all Ronald’s soups.
The Chef’s special’s are numerous at Chinatown Downtown. And that’s a sign that the chef is either totally crazy or really knows what he’s doing. Given the pedigree of Ronald Cheng, I’d suggest the latter. The Thai Pepper Basil Shrimp has an unrelenting flavor rush that unfolds in layers through a delicious brown sauce augmented with red Thai peppers and garlic.Great dish. Another serious favorite is the Chef’s Special Beef. The key to this dish is the crunch and the balance of orange peel and scallions. It all works in a wonderful mélange of spiciness and searing flavor. And that brings me to the Salt and Pepper Shrimp. A staple of dim sum carts around the city, I love ordering this from the menu. This insures the proper temperature and the right mix of shallots, jalapenos and onions. And the Shredded Pork with Fragrant Togan is a dish that Ronald brought back from one of his annual visits to Tapei. This dish has a mellow taste but it’s the textural contract of the pork with the togan that really works so well. See for yourself.
Finally, the Jalapeno Scallops simply take fiery tastes up to a new level of enjoyment: the scallops are wok fired in a brown sauce with fermented black beans, jalapenos, and minced onions. You may shed a tear to two over this one: but worth it.
So there you have it. Ronald Cheng is back downtown and downtown is better off for it. Dim Sum is around the corner and they’re open for lunch and they stay open late. Works for me!