“Really, truly, a basically perfect dining experience: great host, great food. And of course, we really did enjoy the food.”
“A cramped space ideally-suited to takeaway. A very, very flamboyant chef-owner. A group of friends.
One of us had been before and had stinky tofu before, the rest of us had never been and one of us (myself) had missed out on stinky tofu consistently and set out to fix it.
We chatted a bit with Henry -- I had mostly had Taiwanese breakfast food but was well-read in most other Chinese cuisines. One of us was an observant vegetarian, one of us trying to avoid spicy food for a while. Henry listened and joked, offering suggestions and pointed questions.
He suggested he just make a meal of whatever he thought we'd like, and that we'd eat it. So it began.
First, with some spicy little wontons, then some very flavorful (almost the equal of Korean fried chicken) fried chicken, the stinky tofu and a seemingly-endless procession of dishes. We all liked or at least tolerated the stinky tofu (I liked it) and we had a wide-ranging conversation that Henry would occasionally jump into with a joke, some friendly teasing or suggestions.
I spoke with Henry some about Taiwanese breakfast foods, a definite favorite, and he suggested we try his beef pies, which turned out to be somewhere between salisbury steak, soup dumplings, khuushuur and beef wellington. When they came, he walked us through the extraction of the liquid from the pies and all of what he thought to be the best parts, the best technique, etc. Pretty welcome for some of us, and definitely entertaining to the whole group.
A really in-your-face owner like that can be a little annoying if he deems you too novice, or is patronizing, but Henry wasn't. Sure, he obviously gave us younger stinky tofu rather than the really rank stuff, but that was okay, it fit with the rest of the meal very well that way.
We talked about nearby Chinese restaurants and which ones he liked to eat at, etc. Throughout the meal, Henry talked at length about where his dishes were authentic, and where they veered off the beaten path and into what he thought was interesting, what he thought was good.
Really, truly, a basically perfect dining experience: great host, great food. And of course, we really did enjoy the food. Some of the unexpectedly-great dishes (a fried rice one sticks in the mind) became new favorites. Others were slightly less remarkable, but essential to the course of the meal (perfectly-good noodles with random vegetables, etc.)
The welcoming of a diverse set of eaters and the preparation of the perfect meal for the group really was something; it's often hard to find that kind of focus, even in cuisines that really demand it -- only sushi chefs even consistently try. But with his intimate location and exceedingly-playful and truly engaging personality, Henry made it happen, at least for us. “