Chinese Eatery's Steak is Culinary Gift
Quest for a good, affordable slab of beef finds an unexpected winner in Skokie.
Editor's note: When the Skokie Patch community speaks, we listen. This week, we hunt down the best, most affordable steak dinners, and end up getting much more than we can chew.
Christmas Day is fast approaching, and it's the most wonderful time of the year for two groups in Skokie: the Asian and the Jewish communities.
It sounds like a joke, but the connection between Jews and Chinese food has gone beyond legendary and into academia. A recent book explores the subject, and a music video about eating Chinese food on Christmas went viral just a few years ago.
What exactly is it about the Jewish people and Chinese food? One academic paper points out a few likely factors. Firstly, Chinese food is close enough to kosher. It doesn't contain any dairy products or mix any dairy with meat. Secondly, immigrant Jews felt comfortable with the Chinese as the two occupied roughly the same socio-economic rung on the ladder, and the Chinese had no history of anti-Semitism. Finally, there was a perception that Chinese food was both sophisticated and elegant as well as a relative bargain.
Less well known is the connection between Chinese food and steak. We don't normally associate the idea of the classic steakhouse meal--a thick cut of grilled meat, potatoes, some steamed vegetables--with Chinese food, but the connection is undeniably there.
Recently, frequent Skokie Patch commentator Skokie Mike mentioned that he was in the mood for a steak and wanted a recommendation. Easy enough as Skokie has more than a few options for a steakhouse experience. The catch? Mike didn't want to pay the high prices associated with a traditional steak dinner, often about $40 or more.
One week later, after scanning nearly 60 different Skokie menus, eliminating chains and eateries with $20-plus entrees, we discovered a great steak in the most unlikely of places: New China Restaurant, 3710 W. Dempster St.
This Skokie classic has been in operation since 1956. New China Restaurant (the website is clearly a work in progress, and so far only features the hours) tends to fly under the radar, though it generates some of the more respectable ratings on review sites such as Yelp. Most importantly for our purposes, it serves up a steak dish. More on that in a moment.
We started with two appetizers, the Crab Rangoon ($3) and egg rolls ($2.60). The Crab Rangoon was large, piping hot, and some of the most delicious I've had anywhere. The flaky pastry puff was not at all greasy, and the creamy filling was generous apportioned with crab throughout. The egg rolls were amazing and tasted great too. Reviews had described them "as big as your hand." The egg rolls were, indeed, big, approaching the size of a soda can, making them an excellent value at two for under $3.
For entrees we first tried the Moo Shu chicken. For $8.25, the portion size was huge and as good as any Moo Shu we'd had anywhere. The only odd thing was that the hoisin sauce was thick and had to be scooped rather than poured. It didn't affect the taste, especially when heated by the entree.
Finally, we tried what we had come here for, the Hong Kong Steak. Listed under the more expensive "Chef's Specialties" section of the menu, at $13.50 the dish promised a "marinated New York strip steak with Chinese vegetables." What arrived at the table was fantastic, and, in many ways, an even match for a traditional steakhouse steak.
A long cut of New York Strip steak was sliced into sections, cooked just about medium rare, and served over a bed of vegetables--steamed broccoli, carrots, mushrooms, baby corn--and in a sweet, garlic black bean sauce. The steak was garnished with crushed peanuts, and a bowl of white rice was served on the side.
Unable to finish the entire steak and not even missing a baked potato with butter and sour cream, we had to declare this under $14 entree an affordable way to satisfy a craving for a steak.
For this happy table at a Chinese restaurant in Skokie, Christmas had come early this year.