The first time I saw Jian Hua Wang, proprietor of Chef Wang's Kitchen, was at a special dinner many years ago at the Nine Dragons restaurant at Epcot where Mr. Wang's noodle-pulling skills were put on full display. The demonstration was nothing short of impressive and when we learned he had been selected to prepare a banquet for the Japanese royal family, we could easily see why. So to see the Beijing native open his own restaurant many years later in the 1st Oriental Supermarket Plaza was a pleasant shock, to say the least – a shock that only intensified when it dawned on us we were eating the best Chinese food in the city.
It's Northern Chinese that's served at Chef Wang's but, as in a northern city like Beijing, the culinary influences of all of China's regions have been fully absorbed. However, the one dish most patrons craving Northern comfort start with is the Japanese eggplant with peppers and potatoes in a light brown sauce ($12.95), a Dongbei specialty. It's an incredibly invigorating and unadulterated presentation that just wowed us. The aroma of the dish, and every dish that followed, lacked the heavy, smothering effluvia one finds in Chinese restaurants of lesser worth. Here, the scents are fresh, pure and never repurposed. There's a refinement to the flavors (and the plating), so don't expect dishes to come out in rapid-fire succession. Trust me, when they're served, they'll induce exclamations of awe.
Order the water-boiled spicy fish filet ($16.95), then ooh and ahh over the immaculate display of ingredients; the infernal broth of Sichuan peppercorns, tien tsin peppers, and jalapeños; the yielding flesh of whitefish. This is life-giving food at its best. More Sichuan comes in the form of "spicy napa heart wok" ($12.95) served in a gurgling stainless steel hot pot. At first, the crunch of napa ruled, but after about 10 minutes, the heady broth of ginger, garlic and Anaheim peppers infused the now-softened cabbage, tofu and enoki mushrooms. I say "broth" and not "sauce" as the liquid is practically devoid of corn starch and other thickening agents, which contributes to its "clean" taste. It's not heavily soyed either.
Right, let's get to the noodles. Wang, as I mentioned, is a noodle maestro and had we only eaten his hand-spun Sichuan mein ($9.95), we would've thought it a worthy dish. But when compared to everything else we had, this dim sum item basically amounted to a bowl of spaghetti Bolognese without the sauce, with minced pork instead of minced beef. "I feel like it needs some shaved Parmesan," said one of my dining comrades, noting the dearth of umami. It just wasn't in the same league as the other dishes we sampled – like the beef chow fun ($11.95). Those fat rice noodles, cooked slightly beyond al dente, had the right amount of chew to go with the plush beef, and with none of the over-smoked essence of wok.
Another dim sum item we thoroughly reveled in were the pan-fried beef knishes ($7.50) which were reminiscent of Shanghainese sheng jian bao – the sturdy, thick-skinned, soup dumplings that are more gratifying than delicate. The deep flavor of beef and scallion, with a wee bit of oily splurt, was simply magnificent. Get these.
Really, you won't come across any clunkers here, and best of all, the dishes don't sit heavy. If you're like us, you'll plow through everything with great gusto and say, "Wham, bam, thank you Wang."