For a girl who's never been that connected to her Chinese heritage and who can barely speak enough of the language to order dim sum, I've been spending a lot of time in Chinatown recently. Worried that our Psychiatry rotation might be slowly killing my spirit, my friend Tiff suggested that we head over to Allen Street for some nice cheap comfort food. The place we decided to visit is another tiny little restaurant - this one being too small to even have real tables - although one wall is lined with a counter and enough chairs to seat about 6 people.
Hua Ji was recommended to us by Tiff's brother Nicholas (who has already blogged it previously, but I figured that I would give my own opinion on it) and I was told that it pretty much serves up a Chinese version of soul-food. Everything on the menu is $5, and it's a pretty extensive menu considering the size of the establishment (91 items including 7 different kinds of fried rice).
Tiff ordered their Black Pepper Pork Chop as per her little brother's recommendation, and was impressed by the speed at which it was prepared for her. They seriously aren't kidding when they refer to their food as "fast food." Everything came out in tupperware, which I suppose helps with the clean-up, as their kitchen wasn't big enough for a dishwasher... or even a decently-sized sink for that matter.
I didn't see a lot of black pepper on Tiff's pork chop, but she seemed satisfied with the taste anyway (I can't give much detail since I didn't taste it for myself). On my part, it was pretty amusing watching her try to eat the pork chop without a knife, and eventually she was forced to struggle through it with a combination of chopsticks, a plastic fork, and her teeth. To her credit, she did a very neat job given the limited resources available.
I opted for the Black Pepper Chicken Leg - my decision partly being influenced by the fact that upon first entering the restaurant, I had already noticed right off the bat that not only were there no knives, but all of the utensils were made of flimsy plastic. Anticipating the difficulties that this might pose when dealing with a more fibrous type of meat (like pork chops), I went with a safer choice. My chicken also didn't have a visible amount of black pepper on it, nor could I really taste any black pepper either. In fact, it just tasted like fried chicken. However, I can't complain too much, because the chicken was well-fried - not too greasy and also tender. It came on a bed of rice with relish and a yummy type of gravy that DID have some black pepper. In my opinion, they should re-name the dish "Chicken Leg with Black Pepper Gravy," to clear up the confusion.
Nicholas had said previously that during his last visit here, he would have been satisfied with the rice and gravy alone - the meat being an added bonus. I would have to agree. The gravy was yummy. The black pepper flavor was not overwhelming, and the consistency of the gravy was moderately thick, and perfectly smooth. With gravy, there is always a fear that it can be too salty, and leave you thirsty for hours afterwards, but that wasn't the case here. In fact, the gravy had a nice hint of sweet (which works well for me, because I have an insane love for sugar). The relish was... just relish. But when eating something like fried chicken, I always like to have a bit of green in the meal just to ease my conscience. So, I guess the relish served that purpose pretty well.
In the end, I enjoyed the food, and for $5, the portions were pretty substantial. I'm not sure if it was good enough food to make me completely forget that come Monday, I'll be returning to a job where I have to listen to people telling me about "the voices of demons" in their heads for 14 hours straight... but not bad. Not bad at all. AND, on the bright side, so far none of those "demon voices" have told any of the patients to stab their little Chinese medical student, so I guess I shouldn't be complaining TOO much...
Overall rating: 5.5/10