Hong Kong House ditches the buffet for Sichuan fare

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly
Poached Sliced Fish in Hot Chili Sauce

Gone are the days of never-ending piles of serve-it-yourself crab legs and egg rolls at Hong Kong Buffet. The Henderson Road eatery has changed its name to Hong Kong House and given its menu new focus. Owner Zhiquan Zheng (who also owns Sunrise Asian American Supermarket next door, Blue Ginger Asian Bistro and a soon-to-open international market near the casino) switched to a Sichuan-heavy, table service format a little more than a year ago.

"We wanted to make the change for a long time," says manager Joe Zhou of the cuisine known for its fiery heat, but also deep and complex flavors. "But we didn't have the right chef for Sichuan food."

That changed with the hiring of chef Kewu Chen, who owned a restaurant for 20 years in the humid southwestern Sichuan region of China. Here, he crafts authentic Sichuan fare-comfort food, if you ask the owners of Hong Kong House-in this consistently packed restaurant whose large tables and separate rooms make it ideal for big family dinners and parties, typical of Chinese gatherings.

Chen and the Hong Kong House team offer suggestions on what to order for an authentic taste of Sichuan cuisine:

Gateway Dishes

Crispy Diced Chicken Chongqing Style (No. 76)

Though no longer a part of the Sichuan province, Chongqing's influence remains in the cuisine. These mini chicken pieces (fried without oil and, therefore, not greasy) are accompanied by garlic cloves and whole chili peppers and are a familiar passport into Sichuan-style offerings.

Lamb with Cumin (No. 85)

Another dry-fried meat, Lamb with Cumin is a dish adopted from Northwest China. The bridge to Sichuan? Those mouth-tingling peppercorns. Order this dish to experience the intense use of spice typical of the region.

Authentic Flavor

Dry Fried Pork Intestine (No. 79)

Organs are front and center in Sichuan cooking, and this crispy pork intestine paired with green onions, Chinese celery and peppers is a must-try. (Ordering this dish is a good way to signal to your server you want authentic dishes and don't expect General Tso's chicken.)

Beef Shank & Tripe with Red Chili Oil (No. 17)

Served cold, spicy beef shank, stomach and tendon join cilantro and green onion, a combination known colloquially as "Husband and Wife," which originated in 1930s Chengdu.

Poached Sliced Fish in Hot Chili Sauce (No. 83)

Coated in a spicy paste, this wok-cooked flounder is an ideal way to try mouth-numbing Sichuan peppercorns.

Sichuan basics to know before you go

Expect lots of garlic. If ever there's a reason to share dishes with your fellow diners, it's the incredible amount of garlic used at Hong Kong House. Whether served sliced, mashed or as part of a sauce, garlic is a familiar staple.

Bring on the spice. The cuisine is known for its spice, designed to warm the body in the province's cool and damp winters. Eighty percent of the Sichuan dishes served at Hong Kong House are spicy and can be ordered "mild" (one chili pepper on the menu) or "authentic" (two chili peppers).

Be ready for Sichuan peppercorns. These intensely floral and fragrant "peppercorns" (actually not peppercorns, but the husks of seeds from an ash shrub) are famously emblematic of Sichuan cooking. Their telltale numbing sensation balances out the (sometimes painful) heat from the ever-present chili pepper.

Don't skip the Sichuan pickles. According to manager Joe Zhou, Sichuan pickles-spicy kimchee-like pickled cabbage, carrots and celery-can be found in town only at Hong Kong House. It's not uncommon for Chinese students to call in advance to ensure this starter is on the day's menu, he says.