Saturday, November 17, 2012

Han Dynasty Review

One of the top 50 Chinese restaurants in the US (as per CNN, so take from that what you will), Han Dynasty ain't no fortune cookie / duck sauce / General Tso's kind of joint. We're talking about Szechuan cuisine - and it's got an inherently spicy kick, which I can wholeheartedly confirm is the case at Han Dynasty. If you can't stand the heat in this kitchen - then get the hell ... just kidding!

Apparently you can ask them to tone down the heat and they do gauge the heat using a 1 to 10 scale. For example, the Dan Dan noodles (a must get here!) register at an 8 - feel free to ask them to tone it down to a 5 or a 6, tourist!

In any case, I made a 12PM reservation and arrived half an hour early since I was out and about exploring Old City. Han Dynasty opens at 11:30AM, but as you can see - most of the staff and chefs were still waiting outside for the place to open. Close to noon - someone arrived with the key (not Han himself unfortunately!) and we were finally in! The staff was extremely nice and bought us water, while letting us know that the kitchen would be about 10-15 minutes before they could start service. Believe me - it wasn't much of a wait and the kitchen was capable of serving freshly made dishes quickly!

One more hot tip - if you can gather 7 or more of your closest friends (read: 8 including yourself), stop by for their tasting menu, which starts at $20 per person. Multiple courses of delicious bits - it's the best deal in town. It was just the GF and myself though this visit ... so alas, I simply ordered enough to warrant our server, Jason, to ask whether we wanted the lunch-size portions for everything except the Dan Dan noodles - even though lunch portions are typically not served on the weekends (may have been a misstep by Jason, but he held true to his word regardless). This was much appreciated, especially since we clearly had enough food and the dishes were all under $10! I've listed the normal dinner prices below as the lunch prices do not appear to be listed anywhere. 

But on to the meal ...

Dan Dan Noodles ($7.95, Heat Level: 8)

This dish is an absolute must for many of the diners at Han Dynasty - just check out the reviews on Yelp. 'Dan Dan' refers to the type of pole that was used to carry this dish by street vendors. The pole was carried over the shoulder with two baskets - one containing noodles, the other containing the sauce.

This version arrived with a deliciously devilish sauce on the bottom. The server mixes it for you at the table - gotta love table-side service even when it's as simple as mixing noodles. The spicy sauce appeared to have minced pork, scallions, chili oil, and Szechuan peppers. It had a burning kick which came at the end and lingered for a few minutes. Then, you simply get used to it! Once the rice comes for your entrees - it mixes perfectly with the chili oil that develops on your plate. Delicious.

Double Cooked Style Pork Belly ($13.95, Heat Level: 4)
Leeks, hot peppers, fermented black beans, and chili oil.

But really - for those of you who know what I'm about - we're here for the pork belly. This rendition came with thinly shaved slices of the beautiful cut of pork. It was lightly crisped, with much of the fat rendered off nicely. The leek, hot peppers, and fermented black bean were perfectly blended with the chili oil and clung to the pork belly. The hot peppers' heat had been tempered, allowing the peppers to be eaten without any worry - adding a nice smokiness. Admittedly, this dish has a bit of a salty kick - a bit more than I normally like - but this was well balanced by a sauce which was cloyingly sweet and tempered by the fermented black beans. Mixed with the steamed rice - it's an absolute treat.

Shifu Special - Three Cup Chicken ($14.95)

Wow - I can see why this is another crowd pleaser. 'Three cup' refers to the three cups of sauces used to cook the dish - typically, soy sauce, rice wine, and sesame oil. The chicken had a light crisp, but more importantly, it was extremely succulent. The sauce was viscous and gently coated all the good bits, including added elements of whole ginger and roasted garlic cloves. It had depth as well - both salty, savory, and slightly sweet/sour (how's that for alliteration - no hands, Ma!).
String Beans w/ Minced Pork ($11.95)

This dish allowed for some freshness throughout the meal, which overall had an unsurprisingly savory tone. The string beans had a nice snap to them and were extremely fresh. The minced pork bits had a bit of crunch and were delicious. The dish was not overly sauced so the greens were allowed to shine.
Here's a shot of the entire meal.

Before I give my overall conclusions however, I wanted to go back to the pork belly (of course!). I couldn't help but eavesdrop on a nearby mother and son. The boy couldn't have been older than 14 or 15. He clearly wanted to be adventurous and try pork belly for the first time. A fan of fine cuisine or just a genius - I'll never know.

Son: "Oooo pork belly. I really want to try that - I hear it's great. Even better than bacon."
Mom: "I don't know ... pork is bad for you. Pork belly can't be good. You don't want that."

Really mom?!! Really?!! (a la Seth Meyers/Amy Poehler) The kid wants some elevated cuisine and clearly has a higher sense of cuisine than you do - let him be. And for those of you concerned about childhood obesity - the kid was rail thin and I'm sure his cholesterol was fine (better than mine at least!). Luckily our waiter, Jason, was serving them as well and pushed for the pork belly as well. The kid won out!

Seriously though, this mother was incorrigible and unrelenting - essentially smothering. Fortunately, the kid had heart and spoke his mind respectfully and was clearly intelligent. I wanted to adopt him - a future pork belly connoisseur, I'm sure.

Mom: "Cut your noodles and wipe that spicy sauce off your hand."
Son: "Mom - if they wanted the noodles shorter - I'm sure they would've cut them for us."

But I digress ...

Han Dynasty was a unique experience and highlights the spiciness of Szechuan cuisine. If you're looking for standard Chinese take out - prepare to have your mind blown away. The chefs here present a multitude of flavors that play well with each other. Flavors linger, sting, and may actually cause you to sweat. And you'll enjoy it.

One last shout out to our server, Jason. Provided great service throughout our meal - from start to finish. The added bonus of providing us with lunch portions (and prices!) didn't hurt as well. The meal would have normally totaled over $60 including tax/tip, so this was an added bonus to a great meal.

We'll be back.

Han Dynasty on Urbanspoon

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