Da Ping Huo, Hong Kong
The last time I was here was years and years ago, when my colleagues in Hong Kong told me about some Sichuan "private kitchen" that would not take walk-ins and forced you into one of two seating times. Nor was there a menu as one just ate whatever the lady wanted to cook, after which she sang Chinese opera for you (L/G 49 Hollywood Road, 2559-1317). That was pretty cool at the time, but I hadn't been back since.
Fast forward several years later, and this speakeasy was featured in both Zagat and Fodor's, of all places. But we came tonight nonetheless, where HK$280 (US$36) per person got us a huge course that started with four spicy appetizers that we liked better than meals in Chongqing. These dishes not only used better ingredients, but also featured much deeper and sophisticated flavors rather than just brute spiciness. After this, the meal took a bit of a break with a clear but absolutely delicious chicken, mushroom, and cabbage soup. This was even better than I had remembered this place being years ago.
Unfortunately, I was not as big of a fan of the second half of the meal, particularly a stewed beef that was pretty tough to chew as well as a shrimp dish that didn't really do anything for me. But the meal ultimately ended on a high note, featuring mapo tofu, fen jen pork ribs, and some spicy dumplings, not to mention a light bean and vegetable soup that helped reset the palate. OK, so maybe I didn't like two of the dishes, but otherwise everything else was pretty much better than I had remembered. And yes, the chef still sang a song at the end of the meal.