Wang's Grand scores with the duck, complimented by more subtle offerings. Melissa Buote discovers Hali's golden age of Chinese food.
I'm waiting for my friends Ron and Kristina in the dining room at Wang's Grand Chinese. Quiet easy-listening music floats through the warm air. An electric fireplace glows with golden light nearby. Metal chopsticks gleam in the light, silver against the gold metallic sheen of the tablecloths on the glossy, plastic-topped tables.
After a few minutes of sipping water and letting my eyes wander around the room, from the Asian-inspired art on the walls, to pandas sitting atop the mantle and Chinese lanterns glowing red above the bar, the server who greeted me as I walked through the door glides over to my table with a newspaper, generously offering a way to divert myself while I wait.
After flipping only a few pages, my friends arrive. "I think we might be entering a golden age of Chinese food in Halifax," says Ron as he looks at the menu, which has some dishes that sound as exciting as those found on recent, separate trips to JiXiang on Quinpool Road. We observe a moment of silence for the dearly departed Hungry Chili.
I order an egg roll ($1.80), while Ron and Kristina each get a spring roll ($1.80). They turn out to be indistinguishable from one another. While we are unable to make snap decisions about our main dishes, we quickly agree on an order of crispy squid with spicy salt ($7.95), which our server takes to the kitchen while we make our final decisions.
Crispy shredded chili beef and sizzling duck with ginger and green onion instantly make our list, but beyond that we are stumped. We turn to our server for suggestions and she kindly suggests we order the combo for three ($39.50), substituting for dishes we want as we go. We are confused since we'd be switching out everything but the rice, but she leads us forward, suggesting the addition of spicy chicken and leaving the appetizers as a la carte items. The switches don't make total sense to us, but we figure she knows how the menu works better than we do, so we agree.
The squid arrives in a luscious pile of pale, curled tentacles. Lithe strips of carrot, green pepper and red chilis are pops of colour. The squid is cooked well, with just the slightest chew. The heat of the chilis is wonderful alongside sweet bites of onion.
Just as we finish the last few bites of the delectable squid, our other dishes arrive.
It looks more like a plate of noodles than a plate of meat, and each thin twisted curl of chili beef has a toothsome crunch. The dish doesn't taste especially beefy, but the sweet, spicy sauce is delicious, especially good when offset by our more savoury fare.
The chicken is served in small pieces, on the bone, with a simple mix of carrot, celery and onion, peppered with chili flakes. Sichuan peppercorns round out what looks to be a numbing plate, but falls a bit short of our heated expectations. The squid was spicier.
The Young Chow fried rice also falls on the subtler end of the spectrum. With just the lightest hint of soy sauce mixed in with barbecue pork, ham, peas and egg, it's a good complement to our saucier dishes but not especially memorable on its own.
The duck, on the other hand, is both eye-catching and mouthwatering. Served on a cast-iron skillet in a haze of steam and bubbles, it truly sizzles. The meat is moist and tender with a delectable crispiness to the skin. Green and white onions and thick slices of fresh ginger add gentle sweet and spicy notes that add up to a wonderfully savoury dish.
The meal feels like a steal and we leave with a loot bag of leftovers filled for tomorrow's lunch. It was worth the wait.