For seven years I’ve regularly driven past the familiar stretch of Samish Way, checking out the folks loitering outside motels and quietly judging everyone exiting McDonald’s.
Over and over, I’ve wondered about New Peking, the Chinese restaurant next door to Pizza Pipeline that, from the outside, looks suspiciously like a Mafia front. The windows are small and the blinds are always shut, there are never more than two cars in the parking lot, and large Chinese masks outside leer menacingly at your approach.
In a nutshell, I’ve always been way too sketched out to actually give the place a shot.
My friend Amy, however, is a maverick of under-loved food establishments and has spent quite a bit of time in China. She insisted that New Peking not only had authentic and tasty food, but that it was also warm and welcoming and owned by a charming Chinese couple she adored. We agreed to meet for lunch, and since I arrived a few minutes before her, I took some time to soak in the surroundings.
I was surprised to see that, unlike its exterior, it is exceptionally cheerful inside. Red lanterns and dragons swing from the ceilings. A tiny rainforest of fake potted plants dot the space, and little paper slips from fortune cookies are tucked into the brick walls. The booths are a little dingy. The water glasses are a little foggy. But it feels honest and humble, and I was instantly comfortable. When Amy arrived, the owners—Sam and Jessica Chang—rushed to greet her in Chinese. She sat at my table and they all chatted and laughed for a while as I smiled and tried to catch the gist of it all.
Naturally, they love Amy because she speaks Chinese, is clever and tough and pretty, and brings them all the business she can. Their soft spot for her is charming, and the whole interaction felt familial and welcoming. Even though I can’t speak a lick of Chinese, I didn’t mind the conversation at all.
Eventually we peered at our menus and I pretty much relegated Amy to be in charge of ordering. She told me that New Peking’s orange chicken ($8.95) is unlike any of that syrupy orange chicken we’ve all had, so we ordered it. She’s also a fan of the sautéed mushrooms, bean sprouts, pea pods and broccoli ($8.50) and the hot and sour soup (cup/$1.50, bowl $5.50).
It was a great relief to have her help ordering because, frankly, most items on the menu looked intriguing and there were far too many options to ponder when I was already hungry. Though I was tempted by the crispy aromatic duck ($11.95 for half a duck), and the plethora of seafood entrees, I ended up completely satisfied with what we ordered.
The hot and sour soup is unusually good. It is thick and rich, unapologetically beefy, and chock full of wood ear mushrooms and bamboo shoots. Sam told me that it is the perfect remedy to a cold, and I didn’t doubt him for a second. It was spicy enough that I could feel my sinuses opening up, but I was never uncomfortable from the heat (i.e. my lips never caught on fire). Shortly after we finished our soup, Jessica arrived with the entrees and a large bowl of white rice while Sam ceremoniously handed us our red chopsticks.
Amy was right—the orange chicken was so much better than any other I’ve had. Made with real oranges, it’s still sticky and sweet, but not in the candy-coated fashion I became accustomed to while growing up in the suburbs, eating strip-mall Chinese food. Those dishes always ended up soggy and saccharine, but this orange chicken was perfectly crunchy and sweet yet tangy. The vegetable dish, though simple, was hearty and perfectly sautéed, the vegetables still a little crisp and not too oily.
In Chinese dining fashion, we ate slowly, talking leisurely between bites of steamed rice and chicken that managed to stay delicious even though it was stone-cold by the time we finished it. With about 12 pots of tea and a couple of fortune cookies in our bellies, we paid our bill and bid Sam and Jessica zàijiàn, promising to come again soon.
Who knew the unassuming little building on a busy road could house so much kindness and such good food? For me, New Peking is a new favorite, and I plan to bring plenty of friends the next time I go so I can try more of their extensive menu.
Visit Sally’s food blog at http://www.wolfsoup.com
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