GET LUCKY: Make an effort at Lucky House Seafood and you’ll be rewarded.
For 150 years, Chinese restaurants in America have had different menus, and often different names, in English and Chinese. Initial reviews suggested that Lucky House Seafood was breaking this mold, with a menu of chef’s specialties in English that had at least some of the Chinese-only menu options, and specials written in both English and Chinese taped on the walls. On our first visit, we obtained a take-out version of that menu, but by the second visit, it was gone and we were back to square one, coaxing a waiter to bring us dishes described by previous reviewers, to translate some of the Chinese menu, and to make recommendations. Had the Chinese-restaurant police been in with a stern warning? Did the owners decide that too many Anglo customers were ruining the fun? Did they just run out of menus?
Whatever the problem, working to get the Chinese-only dishes was well worth our effort. The southern Chinese seafood dishes on the standard bilingual menu are very good, but some of the things off that menu are extraordinary.
If you absolutely can’t get beyond the standard menu, try to get some salt-and-pepper squid ($11.50), which comes to the table fresh and hot, with some mentholated Sichuan peppercorns in the fry batter. Another barometer dish is clams in black-bean sauce ($11.95), here, as generally in Chinatown now, made with West Coast Manila clams that are like large cockles. (This dish used to be made with East Coast littlenecks.) The balance of fermented black beans, garlic, and chilies in the dish is very good. Stir-fried pea pods ($12.95) is one of the best versions around, although also one of the most expensive. These greens — the tendrils and stems of sugar-snap peas — aren’t too greasy, with a flavor midway between peas and asparagus (if you stir-fry peas and asparagus with a lot of garlic, that is).
If you move away from Cantonese food, moo-shi vegetables ($8.95) aren’t bad, with a combination of many shredded vegetables. And sautéed fish with vegetables ($13.95) is a rather dull combination of fried fish fingers and typically crisp Chinese-restaurant vegetables.
But here’s what happened when we went back with more attitude. When we were handed the standard menu, we folded it up and asked for the dishes described in reviews displayed on the stairs leading up to the restaurant, such as fish balls with seaweed and fried eggs with scallops and aloe. No dice on the fish balls and seaweed; our waiter claimed they had no such item. But he did find the scallops, eggs, and aloe ($15.95) on the Chinese menu, at a 25-percent-higher price than reported. This is kind of worth it, especially if you don’t eat the bitter aloe, which looks like strips of red, raw tuna and has the texture you might expect. Eat a few pieces for the experience, then tuck into an enormous egg-white omelet with lots of cut-up scallops.