Wan Lai

May 21, 2009 · 5 comments

in atlanta, dining out

On post #1 on this site, I stated that the intent of this site was to learn, hold myself publicly accountable, and get outside my food comfort zone.

But one benefit that I had not planned on is that I’ve met a handful of bonafide foodies who have been kind of enough to guide me in my on-going food adventure, particularly in the area of Korean and Chinese cuisine.

Shamefully, my previous residence was right by Buford Highway (slightly ITP), yet I rarely took a chance and tried anything new; Penang and Little Szechuan was pretty much it. I’m doing my best to make up for it, any chance I get. So when Chloe agreed to take me along to Wan Lai, which she and Bliss have both written up recently, I was pumped.

We met up for lunch, which had drawn a large crowd – always a good sign. I would have been lost trying to order from their large menu, but Chloe quickly suggested a few items, “Jimmy – congee or three dumpling soup?” Before I could answer, she answers herself, “Let’s get both!”. (please watch that video, it’s awesome!)

Chloe placed our order, after which the waiter counted out all seven dishes, then looked at us with a quizzical and sarcastic look. Move it along. We’re hungry.

With my recent Sichuan experimentation, I was interested to see how Cantonese differed. While writing this post, I did some research, and discovered that many of the dishes/ingredients we ate at Wan Lai are Cantonese mainstays – congee, century eggs, and beef chow fun are all staples. Similar to Sichuan, stir-frying, braising, and steaming are the primary cooking methods, but Cantonese sauces are often much lighter and less intense and full of heat as Sichuan. The most often used spice is Chinese 5 spice, which can actually vary and have more than 5 spices, though anise, fennel, and cinnamon are almost always going to be included.

So there’s a small bit of knowledge. But how did it taste? Well, it was one of the best all around Chinese meals I’ve had. I love the heat and boldness of Sichuan, but Wan Lai is rocking. You need to get out there and try it. Order a ton like we did, and you’ll be left with enough leftovers for 3-4 meals. Lucky for me, Chloe doesn’t like leftovers.

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Dish #1: Century egg congee. The eggs looked like mushrooms to me at first, but read the century egg link and you’ll understand. Much like porridge, this wasn’t bad, but can be very plain tasting if you don’t get a big bite of pork and egg. Worth a try if you haven’t had it.

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Dish #2: Three dumpling soup. This was ridiculously good. Chinese cabbage (appeared much like broccoli rabe to me), amazing broth, and firm, crunchy (from the shrimp) dumplings. I had to pace myself at this point.

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Dish #3: Beef Chow Fun. I loved the beef and the delicious noodles in this dish. The beef was soft, succulent, and texturally awesome. The flavor of the whole dish was overpowered by bean sprouts to me, but this is definitely something to try.

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Dish #4: Fried Rice. Eh, it was fried rice, not bad, but too filling for me to waste valuable stomach space on, except for the wonderful pork mixed in with the rice.

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Dish #5: Ong choy water spinach. Tubular and leafy greens, sautéed with garlic in a light sauce. I loved this, please try it. 

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Dish #6: Pork belly and taro casserole. This was one of the casseroles that takes 20 minutes or so for them to prepare, but I didn’t even notice the wait with all the other food on our table. The sauce was rich, very sweet, obvious 5 spice flavor, and there was tons of pork belly and taro. I thought taro is a root vegetable, but you actually eat the “corm”, which is like a root, but it’s actually an underground stem.

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Dish #7: Garlic fried chicken – Ridonkulous. Perfectly crispy and covered with garlic, you are going to want to savor the skin on this bird.

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Wan Lai Chinese on Urbanspoon

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