new Things I Ate in Cambodia: New Canton: The Real Deal in Sacramento

Thursday, January 24, 2008

New Canton: The Real Deal in Sacramento

New Canton
2523 Broadway
Sacramento, CA 95818
(916) 739-8888

New Canton is another outpost of authentic Chinese goodness on Broadway. Known for its raucous dim-sum Sundays and the long lines to get in on most weekends here in Sacramento, I think it's popular for a good reason: this is real, good Chinese food. If I want a Chinese meal that reminds me of my time in Hong Kong, mile-a-minute Cantonese, super fresh seafood and endless cups of tea included, this is my choice in Sacramento.

Entering New Canton, you pass by a row of aquamarine colored tanks full of doomed sea creatures, gulping away at you as you mount the stairs to the big upstairs dining room. The servers, nattily attired in teal vests, plonk you down at a table, give you a menu (if you're not doing dim sum) and give you about two and a half minutes to decide what you want - which can be difficult considering the breadth and deliciousness of all that's on offer.

Dim Sum, however, is New Canton's main draw - and it's definitely got the formula down, slinging plates of tasty small bites off quickly moving carts. I may not be an expert, but the dim sum here is about as good as what you can get in San Francisco, and definitely is a huge asset to Sacramento's Asian dining scene. I'm usually impressed with the freshness and quality of the dishes. The dumplings (shu mai especially) are excellent, the rice noodle rolls are fresh and full of carbohydrate goodness, and the pork buns are thick and sweet. Be brave: try the chicken feet, which are delicious if a bit difficult to negotiate with chopsticks. Jook, noodles, and a variety of roasted meats are also on offer, as well as the usual line up of dim sum desserts - egg custards, sweet buns, and the like.

On my most recent visit, I was experiencing a terrible jones for oysters and decided immediately on the oysters in black bean sauce (market price.) The oysters here are as big as my hand - mutant creatures - and are very tasty indeed when doused in a meaty black bean sauce with a hit of vinegar and chili oil. You can't shoot these without choking yourself. I believe the shells could be used as a deadly weapon in a pinch.

Seafood is a good choice here, and I love the delicate, spicy and crunch rendition of salt and pepper squid done here - tentacles and all, which are sometimes neglected in Chinese versions of fried squid. The shell on salt and pepper prawns are a similar preparation and equally delicious, savory shells giving way to the plump and tender meat beneath. Do eat the heads....they have a curious and sublime nutty flavor which I'm addicted to.

On my most recent visit, I adored the sea bass cooked in a clay pot with eggplant. It was spicy, rich, and tasted just like a dish I ordered constantly while I was in Beijing. Something about the combination of tender-but-firm white fish cooked with meaty eggplant just creates Chinese food perfection. Leftovers were tasty the next day thrown into a noodle soup.

This dish with scallops and something described as "mushroom nuts" was tasty and perfectly prepared, although too bland for my tastes - I like my food to slap me around a little. We made the mistake of asking the server for a recommendation, which is a lousy idea if you're a lily white person in a real Chinese restaurant - they never are going to believe you if you say you really do like spicy food, and for good reason..they don't want to absorb the cost if they serve you something funkadelic and you send it back. They assume most Westerners want their Chinese food to taste like candy, and quite frankly, most of us do.

Thus, making such safe recommendations is not the servers fault, but it also means it falls upon you to figure out what you want. Still, the scallops and the vegetables were cooked just long enough, and the taro (I think) basket everything was served in was tasty enough in a candy like way.

New Canton has a damn fine hand with roast meats, and both the roast pork and the Peking duck are excellent. Peking duck is served traditional style with buns, green onion, and hoisin sauce, the light-as-air skin adhering in a greasy cloud to the rich dark duck meat beneath. I also love the crackly, vaguely citrus flavored skin left hanging on the pork - if you make any noises about cholesterol, you deserve to be slapped. Both meats are also available in small portions during dim-sum session. Keep your eyes open.

Service is quick, but dishes tend to come out in somewhat bizarre configurations and timing - which is admittedly how things are done in mainland China. It can get irritating to be immediately served one dish, then have to wait for indeterminable amounts of time for another to appear. Noise level is extremely high, especially when they're really cranking on the dim sum on Sundays. Do not expect to be able to carry on a quiet conversation, or any conversation at all when things get really crazy. Do expect to stand around in a long and confused line on the weekends as you wait for dim-sum. Hey, the fish are entertaining, especially the vaguely obscene looking geoduck clams. (Yummy!)

New Canton is an excellent place to get a fix of real Chinese food - and the ambiance is authentic as well, in both chaos and volume level. Look past it and dig in to some real Chinese food.

No comments: