Cafe Reviews

Second Helpings

Occidental Tourist: About six weeks ago, I gave Silver Dragon (8946 North 19th Avenue, 674-0151) an exceptionally good review. I praised the Hong Kong-style fare, but noted that, unless you were Chinese, you'd probably never get a chance to sample it.

That's because Silver Dragon tries to banish us gweilos to our own dining area, complete with forks and knives, classical music and an English-language menu with nothing but "one from column A, one from column B" snoozers.

Asian diners, on the other hand, eat at big tables set with chopsticks in another room. They're handed a Chinese menu with brief English descriptions of the dishes.

On one visit, I came as a gweilo, and, predictably enough, got shuttled off to the side room and ate some uninspiring food. Another time, I came as part of a group of eight, including four Americans who'd spent 14 years in Hong Kong. This time we sat in the Asian section, got the Chinese menu and ate like royalty.

Reader Tim Clark dropped me a note saying he thought I had let Silver Dragon "off the hook." Here's the gist of his message:

This kind of Oriental vs. foreigner nonsense that Chinese restaurants used to pull off has no place anywhere now. I know we live in a bit of a Chinese food desert, but there are a couple of good ones, at least. Now, I think there's no excuse for Chinese restaurants to have two menus, let alone have a separate room for the honkies. There are plenty of cheesy, American-style Chinese restaurants for the timid in this city. So now it's time for the people who open Chinese restaurants to be put on notice.

Most people (I really believe this, though I may be an idiot) want the good stuff--the noodles, the hot pots, the crispy salt shrimp. If Chinese restaurants feel that they need to offer people Day-Glo, sweet 'n' sour Bo Bo balls, they can put it on the last page of the menu--"for our friends with their taste buds stuck in Indiana."

I lived in Toronto for 12 years, and I only came across this kind of thing a couple of times. And in those restaurants, none of the food was any good. So I probably won't bother with the Silver Dragon.

I understand the frustration. No doubt Silver Dragon's well- meaning proprietors think they're doing us a favor, steering us away from the hard-core ethnic fare. But it's a mistake. Clark is right--most of us do want the good stuff. So cut out the double standard, and give every customer a crack at what you do best.

As for Tim, I'd suggest he take a group of six or eight friends and demand Silver Dragon's Chinese menu. For true Chinese-food fans, it's worth the aggravation, especially the Crispy Hong Kong Style Chicken, Salt and Pepper Squid, Crispy Shrimp with Glazed Walnuts, Spicy Eggplant Hot Pot and any noodle dish.

--Howard Seftel

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Howard Seftel