BY ALEX SUNDSTROM
If you have an Asian fetish and are looking to take a girl somewhere, Chinatown’s Hong Kong Eatery is probably not the best bet. For one thing, the food itself is not submissive and demure like a few pink slivers of sashimi; instead, the pig and duck carcasses hanging from the window augur a world of assertive delights like sautéed duck’s tongues and pig feet. Even worse, being seated around large communal tables doesn’t really give the sense of having conquered Asia.
Hong Kong Eatery projects not only a willingness to be colonized, but an efficiency to rival its namesake city, which is depicted in numerous black and white pictures on the wall. Several different waiters serve each customer; they seat everyone very quickly and work out the sales tax in their heads at the end of the meal.
The sheer productivity of the operation makes for some very inexpensive meals. The roast pork noodle soup – “char siu mien” if you’re ordering in Cantonese – ($3.75) is a full meal: the thin stringy noodles would be at home in any Hong Kong noodle house, and the pork is lean, with an intense barbequed flavor that is softened by the warm broth. You can get the same thing with handmade wontons – one chef is constantly wrapping wonton skins around shrimp, and the resulting freshness is excellent. Fried noodles with steak (“ow yok tsau mien,” $4.95) are even more filling, just oily enough and interspersed with sautéed green onions.
Roast duck (“boon siu ap,” $8.50 per half) is a bit higher-maintenance than most roast poultry operations – getting the meat off the bones is a bit tricky with chopsticks – but the HKE chefs can take anything that walks around, kill it, and sauce it so perfectly you will weep. Be sure to ask for some “lat yao” – hot sauce – to smear on your duck. No part of the bird is wasted – the aforementioned duck tongues (“ap lei,” $9.95 in an ambrosial “XO” sauce) are like miniature chicken wings, and a real treat if you have always wondered what it’s like to kiss a duck. If you’re white, the staff will roundly mock you for ordering this, which makes it taste even better.
If you aren’t up for meaty pig’s feet or perfectly roasted chickens, the aquatic side of the menu is probably not worth venturing into. Scrambled eggs with bitter melon and dried scallops (“fu gwa tsau dan,” $9.95) succeed mostly because of the contrast between the rich eggs and the bite of the cucumber-like bitter melon, but the scallops themselves are hard to detect. The condition of the fish tanks doesn’t inspire much confidence. The lobsters seem like law students, crawling on top of each other to reach the closed lid of the tank, but acting fairly resigned and depressed about it. Eventually the lucky lobsters get called back for interviews with large, prestigious pots of boiling water.
Hong Kong Eatery is a pretty specialized place – when asked if they had desserts, one waiter remarked, “Nothing you would like,” and managed to find some fortune cookies. They couldn’t top the pineapple buns (“baw law bao”) served at the bakery one door over anyway.
Fortune cookies aren’t normally given away, and there are no forks to be found; the restaurant has no particular need to comfort American clientele and provide them with reassuring, standardized food. Instead, it specializes in the more enticing arts of butchery and roasting and throwing stuff in a wok. It’s not the sort of thing most tourists would look for, but a hungry and curious student could do no better.
Hong Kong Eatery79 Harrison Ave, BostonOpen daily from lunch until 10:30 pm617-423-0838