Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Takeout (aka, pre-Thanksgiving laziness...)

Well, I got home for Thanksgiving yesterday and in preparation for the big day, we've been taking it easy in the kitchen. Tonight, that meant ordering Chinese takeout. In New York, I would have simple ordered online through Seamless Web where I have my credit card info conveniently stored in my profile for eazy ordering. But in Jefferson City, MO, that's not really an option. Imagine that... A city of less than 40,000 people, surrounded by even smaller towns. Yes, it's the state capital, but that's apparently not enough to get us an interstate highway. You have to drive 30 miles north to get to one of those...

I know you're probably wondering what all that has to do with takeout. Well, in a city this small, there isn't exactly a thriving food delivery culture. There's certainly no centralized, Web-based takeout "middleman" service like in out nation's larger metropolitan areas. When people in Jefferson City want takeout, odds are they'll have to get in the car and pick it up themselves. It's not that big of a deal since you can drive just about anywhere in less than 15 minutes. That is, it's not that big of a deal until you order dinner and then try to pick up that order from a different restaurant. Yeah, that's right...

It was just myself and my parents (my sister stayed in Chicago for the holiday) and we had decided to order from Happy Garden. After a discussion about what to order, my mom called in the order. Five minutes later, my dad left to pick it up. But when he got there they didn't have the order. Now, normally he would have called home to see if we had made a mistake, but his phone wasn't working so he reordered on the spot and waited for it to be cooked. Mom and I didn't realize what happened until he got home. Well, turns out the menu for Hunan's was still sitting out by the phone. So out headed mom to go pick up that order.

It's still unclear where the communication breakdown happened or if the wrong menu was simply grabbed inadvertently from the file, but now we had two identical orders from our two favorite Chinese restaurants. In the eyes of a food blogger that only means one thing: side-by- side taste test.

Well, Hunan's is on the left and Happy Garden is on the right. From the top there's egg drop soup, crab rangoon (why can't you get those in New York?), fried potstickers and, in the middle, happy family is on top and chicken with broccoli is at the bottom center of the plate. In ever case except the crab rangoon, Happy Garden was the clear winner.

The Hunan's crab rangoon, which is folded in a flatter shape, actually had a smoother filling with actual crab flavor. The other simple tasted like gritty cream cheese with scallions in it. The soups were drastically different, too. The Hunan's was a celery based broth with just the slightest hint of egg sitting at the bottom, while the Happy Garden soup was a thick, gelatinous base made with real chicken fat that, according to my mom, is good for arthritis, and large, obvious ribbons of egg. The happy family from Hunan's seemed like it had all been individually frozen and then tossed into a wok after it had been given sufficient time to develop freezer burn. The Happy Garden version was much fresher. It's only bad point was the use of obviously imitation crab meat. I would have preferred they had simply omitted the "crab."

The chicken and broccoli from both were acceptable, but Hunan's used chunked chicken with bits of fat and cartilage present, while Happy Garden went with thinly sliced, perfectly trimmed chicken breast. The potstickers were both OK, but side-by-side I preferred those from Happy Garden.

So, now there's a ton of Chinse food in the spare fridge and it might not survive the day with all the refrigeration needs of the Thanksgiving holiday. And now that I've sampled the restaurants off the same plate, I can honestly say I only care to eat half of them anyway...

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