Every town has a handful of sketchy restaurants. Often it's the joints that look the most questionable that hold the secrets of culinary enlightenment. Then again, they might hold nothing more than a one-way ticket to whatever you stuffed down your gob firing back out from both ends. It's the most adventurous of eaters who are willing to risk back alley slop houses and decaying lunch counters to find out if the scariest of local eateries lead to Heaven or Hell.
Only the brave need sup. Welcome to the first installment of Dare to Dine.
In an industry where keeping your doors open for even a few years is an arduous task, Sing High is an anomaly. The self-described "chop suey house" has been feeding Phoenicians' appetite for Cantonese fare since 1928. I took comfort in this longevity, when sent here by my colleagues on this first dining dare. Surely, I thought as I rolled up to Sing High's front doors, a place that has existed for more than 80 years couldn't be a disappointment.
Generally speaking, I'm not much for obsessing over the dining experience. I don't need to eat in a gilded palace surrounded by post-modern art work to enjoy a good sup. I don't desire to have my lunch stacked in towers or topped with herby foams. So I paid little heed to the drab dining areas that, admittedly, had a great deal in common with Luby's Cafeteria. When my dining companion noticed the years of dust clinging to the silk hanging "plants" suspended over our heads (and our table), I ignored that, hoping the food would make up for the lack of ambience.
First came a round of pot stickers and a pair of egg rolls. Hardly revolutionary, these steamed and fried pouches filled with shredded vegetables and proteins were, at the very least, edible.
I felt my guard lowering -- and at the worst possible time. My main course, a noodle soup called "Wor Mein," was a Trojan horse packed with culinary rogues that ought not be trusted, let alone ingested. I speak of canned mushrooms.
A package of dried mushrooms meant for re-hydration before being added to a dish are cheap as chips, common to most forms of Chinese cuisine, and fairly tasty to boot. Canned mushrooms are fungi hell-spawn that can make even the tastiest of dishes deflate faster than a suicidal soufflé.
But Sing High's cardinal sin was its rice. Steaming and yet dry as a bone, the plump nuggets of carbohydrate befuddled my mind like a raging, feverish dream. How could a restaurant claiming to serve Chinese food make a mockery of its primary staple?
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Faced with mushrooms that until recently had spent most of their lives swimming in a putrid liquid contained within an aluminum can and a general abundance of bland flavors and over-cooked veg, I came to one conclusion: Sing High is Chinese food for old, white people who don't know any better. It is a den of mediocre expectation met daily from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. with the sort of Chinese chow that would get you killed in Shanghai.
I dared to dine and lived to tell my tale...but just barely.
Who will be next? Leave your dares in the comments sections, and stay tuned to see which brave Chow Bella contributor will be the next victim, er, diner.