Wednesday, May 09, 2012
I'd heard a lot of great things about Hong Hua (27925 Orchard Lake Road, Farmington Hills, MI) and read a lot of glowing reviews, praising it as the best Chinese restaurant in Southeast Michigan. Their web site has some beautiful photos of elegantly prepared dishes. It's not cheap, but it promised an excellent dining experience. And so I was roundly disappointed by what I actually found there.
The restaurant was very noisy, and I almost decided to leave at that point, but I was looking forward to a really fine meal and so decided to stay. There's a separate Chinese language menu, but as neither of us speak any Chinese dialect we looked to our waitress for help. We told her that we were looking for real Chinese food, not Chinese American, and asked if there were any specials. No, not really... but she'd check. Yes, there were a few seafood dishes. We ordered the giant oyster ($6.95), along with Shredded Duck and Mushroom Soup ($4.95/cup), Orange Beef ($14.50) and Eggplant in Chili Sauce ($10.50).
The oyster was interesting, although indifferently prepared. It consisted of a large oyster in its shell, covered with yam starch noodles and a spoonful of black bean sauce on one side. The sauce was on the noodles, not the oyster, which, as far as I could tell, was simply boiled or perhaps steamed with no seasoning.
The soup consisted of a small cup of a starch-thickened broth with a few shreds of duck, a few pieces of mushroom, and a bland, salty flavor. I remarked that it struck me as looking ans tasting very much like the typical American-Chinese sweet and sour soup, without the sweet or the sour. Janet agreed.
Calvin Trillin, in one of his books, characterized the typical bad Chinese-American restaurant as featuring "lumps in brown sauce" and that's a fair description of the two dishes seen in the photo above. On the left is the orange duck, and on the right, the eggplant. What's wrong with this picture? For one, they're both the same dull brown, suggesting way too much soy sauce and the use of a few common sauces for a variety of dishes. The eggplant dish used your standard American eggplant, rather than the typical Asian varieties seen in good Chinese restaurants. And what's the bell pepper doing there?
All this came as a big surprise, and a big disappointment after the glowing reviews I'd read in Yelp and the media. Going back to the Yelp reviews, I can see that the only real Chinese food is found on the Chinese language menu- things like steamed fish, congee, and jellyfish are only to be found there. I may return, but only in the company of a native Cantonese speaker.