Chasing down

Karl Wells
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Chinese take-out

My stomach started rumbling the other day. Then a little voice in my head said, "Cantonese chow mein, chicken balls, almond soo guy, find Chinese take-out, you go now, go, go ..."

I was actually on the job at the time so I had to stifle the voice and ignore the rumbles. Nevertheless, I did ask a colleague if he knew of any good Chinese take-out restaurants. To my surprise, he shook his head and said, "No. The only take-out I do is fish and chips. That's it."

Song Hee take-out for four. Photo by Karl Wells/Special to The Telegram

Dining out - My stomach started rumbling the other day. Then a little voice in my head said, "Cantonese chow mein, chicken balls, almond soo guy, find Chinese take-out, you go now, go, go ..."

I was actually on the job at the time so I had to stifle the voice and ignore the rumbles. Nevertheless, I did ask a colleague if he knew of any good Chinese take-out restaurants. To my surprise, he shook his head and said, "No. The only take-out I do is fish and chips. That's it."

"Amazing!" I thought. It would never have occurred to me that in this world there are people who have no taste for, or interest in, Chinese take-out (take-away) food.

Like most St. John's natives, I have a strong appetite for fish and chips, but a Chinese take-out meal has always been more of an "event" at my house. That's because it's never been something you have by yourself. It's a communal dining experience. We order Chinese take-out for impromptu dinner parties, birthdays and New Year's Eve celebrations - that sort of thing.

Always looking

The reason I questioned my coworker in the first place was because I'm always on the lookout for a Chinese take-out I haven't tried. Believe it or not, there are still a few out there.

Eventually I came up with one that should have been obvious to me. I believe, many moons ago (long before I was conceived) my father operated a butcher shop at the same location. Today it's the site of Song Hee Take Out.

Song Hee is located in a building at the corner of Suez Street and Empire Avenue that reminds me of a trailer home. It's squared, white, narrow and long. Song Hee is strictly take-out and strictly cash. (The "strictly cash" policy of so many of these take-outs can be a pain in the you-know-what sometimes. I guess I'm just too used to the debit card now.)

When I arrived to collect my two plastic bags laden with Styrofoam containers of Chinese food, I was quickly dispatched to the nearest bank machine (at Churchill Square) for cash. Eventually the food was paid for and I made it home where four of us dug into the goodies with considerable relish.

Zero crackle

Spring rolls and egg rolls were first down the hatch. I preferred the egg rolls because they contained more filling (loads of veggies) and were nice and crispy. The spring rolls were below average. They had less filling than I like and while spring rolls tend to be less crunchy, Song Hee's had zero crackle. The plum sauce was the common plastic packet variety, which is fine.

I'll give Song Hee a pass on the ginger beef. I ordered it on the phone without seeing their menu. When I checked the pamphlet that came in the bag, I saw that it's not on the menu. I guess they figured they'd just go ahead and ad lib a tray of ginger beef for me. While I appreciate the initiative, I suggest they not recreate what I was sold. It was essentially a very good dish of beef, vegetables and oyster sauce that had piles of raw fresh ginger root sliced up and stirred through it. I like fresh ginger, but not that way. It was overwhelming, bitter, hot and unpleasant.

Cantonese chow mein is a favourite of mine. While I prefer it with a buttery, thick, dark sauce and the crunchy-style skinny egg noodles, Song Hee's version was pretty good. It was made with vermicelli and a thin, mildly flavoured sauce. It tasted like a lighter, healthier version of traditional Cantonese chow mein. It certainly had a lower fat content than the more traditional versions. It also contained a beautiful variety of vegetables, as well as tender chicken bits and shrimp.

Better batter

I loved the deep-fried golden batter surrounding the chicken of the almond soo guy. It almost tasted like French pastry - hot, fluffy and tender with juicy pieces of chicken inside. Think of hush puppy batter from the Deep South. The gravy that came with it made the whole affair completely decadent. One or two of our number opted to forego the gravy, but I couldn't resist. (Never one for half measures, me.)

Finally, there was the old standby, sweet and sour chicken balls with pork-fried rice. I thought the chicken batter was a tad thick, but otherwise the dish was on par with most good versions I've tasted. The pork-fried rice seemed lightly fried in a modest amount of oil. I liked this slimming version of fried rice that still packed a lot of pork flavour.

The ginger beef was a bit of a temporary party stopper, but for the most part we were pleased with our Chinese take-out dinner party. Song Hee will now be added to my "been there" list. If you know of another good Chinese take-out, please, drop me a line.

Karl Wells is a restaurant panellist with enRoute and judge with the Cuisine Canada/University of Guelph Culinary Book Awards. He is also co-host of the upcoming Rogers TV show "One Chef One Critic," debuting 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 21. To reach him, log on to his website: www.karlwells.com.

Organizations: Cuisine Canada, University of Guelph

Geographic location: St. John's, Suez Street

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Comments

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Recent comments

  • jenny
    July 02, 2010 - 13:34

    the best chinese food is restaurant next to Toyota Plaza on Kenmount Road...fascinating authentic decor also

  • Bev
    July 02, 2010 - 13:31

    Try New City on Pennywell Road for good chinese food

  • Daphne
    July 02, 2010 - 13:29

    I had Song Hee recently and found it good a little fresh but very tasty. I wouldn't recommend New City on Pennywell Rd. I thought it was the worst chinese food I've ever had so far, the service was poor, we didn't get all of our order. Magic Wok, Water Street, is the best so far.

  • Lori
    July 02, 2010 - 13:21

    I haven't had that particular Chinese take away because I am so impressed with Canton Restaurant (take away and eat in - located on Newfoundland Drive by Mary Brown's, in that plaza - sorry, don't remember name) that I choose not to go anywhere else. Their food is fabulous. Shoulda asked me where to go for Chinese, Karl!

  • lucy
    July 02, 2010 - 13:21

    There are a few nice chinese restaurant
    in CBS also. I perfer Crystal Jades in Foxtrap.

    Lucy

  • S
    July 02, 2010 - 13:20

    Karl,

    The best Chinese take out in the city comes from Hong Kong Restaurant on Water St. Enjoy.

    SR

  • Happy Chinese Consumer
    July 02, 2010 - 13:15

    I have to agree with Blair. I have eaten at just about every chinese place in town, CBS, and Mt. Pearl and Sequerra's on Elizabeth ave is the best. General Tao's chicken is to die for, and the service is great.

  • Mao Tse Tung
    July 02, 2010 - 13:15

    If you can find a decent parking place, my little red book says Loong Wah across from the bus depot on Lemarchcnt Rd is the place to go. Great food at amazing prices.

  • Blair
    July 02, 2010 - 13:15

    I've had Song Hee before, is it ok, I prefer Loong Wah on Lemarchant Road. However the best Chinese food(both Buffet or take out) in St John's or Mount Pearl is Sequerra's on Elizabeth ave, in the same building as Holiday Lanes. By far the best!

  • Robert
    July 02, 2010 - 13:13

    A few years ago I lived near Song Hee and my roommate and me swore by it. We had a saying: 'You can't go wrong with the Song'.

  • AF
    July 02, 2010 - 13:12

    I stumbled across Song Hee in the Yellow Pages one evening when I got a craving for Chinese food and I've been hooked ever since. They even delivered to my door!

    I know what I'm having for supper this evening :)

  • dree
    July 02, 2010 - 13:10

    New City is truly the WORST chinese food ever.

    Mei Meh Wok across from Ches' on Freshwater has the best hot 'n sour soup in the city.

  • chickenball
    July 02, 2010 - 13:09

    If you want chinese food Lucky's is your best stop on topsail road in the pearl.Always fresh,consistant and the service is phenomanal(not sure of speelling)

  • eILEEN
    July 02, 2010 - 13:09

    I don't know the name of the Restaurant, it used to be Baxter's in Holyrood. Passed by there on Sunday. Parking lot and both sides of the road were filled with cars and I have eaten there on occasion and it's always been really good.

  • FortuneCookie
    July 02, 2010 - 13:09

    I, too, like Sequerra's (General Tao's chicken is really a stand-out), but for a Chinese buffet, give me the Golden Phoenix in Mount Pearl any day! They have such delicious food and what a variety. The chicken balls are the best I've ever tasted.

  • Joanne
    July 02, 2010 - 13:09

    I have eaten at many a chinese place, some good some bad, but my favorite is Sequerra's

  • jenny
    July 01, 2010 - 20:24

    the best chinese food is restaurant next to Toyota Plaza on Kenmount Road...fascinating authentic decor also

  • Bev
    July 01, 2010 - 20:19

    Try New City on Pennywell Road for good chinese food

  • Daphne
    July 01, 2010 - 20:17

    I had Song Hee recently and found it good a little fresh but very tasty. I wouldn't recommend New City on Pennywell Rd. I thought it was the worst chinese food I've ever had so far, the service was poor, we didn't get all of our order. Magic Wok, Water Street, is the best so far.

  • Lori
    July 01, 2010 - 20:04

    I haven't had that particular Chinese take away because I am so impressed with Canton Restaurant (take away and eat in - located on Newfoundland Drive by Mary Brown's, in that plaza - sorry, don't remember name) that I choose not to go anywhere else. Their food is fabulous. Shoulda asked me where to go for Chinese, Karl!

  • lucy
    July 01, 2010 - 20:04

    There are a few nice chinese restaurant
    in CBS also. I perfer Crystal Jades in Foxtrap.

    Lucy

  • S
    July 01, 2010 - 20:02

    Karl,

    The best Chinese take out in the city comes from Hong Kong Restaurant on Water St. Enjoy.

    SR

  • Happy Chinese Consumer
    July 01, 2010 - 19:55

    I have to agree with Blair. I have eaten at just about every chinese place in town, CBS, and Mt. Pearl and Sequerra's on Elizabeth ave is the best. General Tao's chicken is to die for, and the service is great.

  • Mao Tse Tung
    July 01, 2010 - 19:55

    If you can find a decent parking place, my little red book says Loong Wah across from the bus depot on Lemarchcnt Rd is the place to go. Great food at amazing prices.

  • Blair
    July 01, 2010 - 19:54

    I've had Song Hee before, is it ok, I prefer Loong Wah on Lemarchant Road. However the best Chinese food(both Buffet or take out) in St John's or Mount Pearl is Sequerra's on Elizabeth ave, in the same building as Holiday Lanes. By far the best!

  • Robert
    July 01, 2010 - 19:51

    A few years ago I lived near Song Hee and my roommate and me swore by it. We had a saying: 'You can't go wrong with the Song'.

  • AF
    July 01, 2010 - 19:50

    I stumbled across Song Hee in the Yellow Pages one evening when I got a craving for Chinese food and I've been hooked ever since. They even delivered to my door!

    I know what I'm having for supper this evening :)

  • dree
    July 01, 2010 - 19:46

    New City is truly the WORST chinese food ever.

    Mei Meh Wok across from Ches' on Freshwater has the best hot 'n sour soup in the city.

  • chickenball
    July 01, 2010 - 19:45

    If you want chinese food Lucky's is your best stop on topsail road in the pearl.Always fresh,consistant and the service is phenomanal(not sure of speelling)

  • eILEEN
    July 01, 2010 - 19:44

    I don't know the name of the Restaurant, it used to be Baxter's in Holyrood. Passed by there on Sunday. Parking lot and both sides of the road were filled with cars and I have eaten there on occasion and it's always been really good.

  • FortuneCookie
    July 01, 2010 - 19:44

    I, too, like Sequerra's (General Tao's chicken is really a stand-out), but for a Chinese buffet, give me the Golden Phoenix in Mount Pearl any day! They have such delicious food and what a variety. The chicken balls are the best I've ever tasted.

  • Joanne
    July 01, 2010 - 19:44

    I have eaten at many a chinese place, some good some bad, but my favorite is Sequerra's