One of the most common urban foodie legends involves an alleged top-secret menu at your favorite Chinese restaurant. As the story goes, the proprietors of the restaurant reserve this menu of authentic foods from their homeland only for customers of Chinese descent or ambitious diners who somehow became privy to the menu’s existence. Those select few worthy of the special menu are treated to delicacies rarely seen outside Chairman Mao’s banquet table, while the blissfully ignorant diners at the next table sup on Americanized faux fare.
At Jung’s Golden Dragon, procuring the elusive special menu does not require a $20 handshake or a secret password. Instead, the “yellow menu” can typically be found tucked inside the regular menu. If not, a simple request is the key to unlocking this treasure trove of traditional Szechuan dishes. The only admission required is an open mind and a high tolerance for heat.
Shrimp toast and crab rangoon are on offer as appetizers, but a thick pancake dotted with onion or melted leeks is a much more pleasant entryway to your meal. Pan-fried dumplings are an addict’s next attraction, with pillows of taut dough surrounding ground pork—a luxury rarely seen outside of a Rolls-Royce. The dumplings are interconnected by a thin crepe-like batter, which requires you to separate each dumpling from its neighbors. The next step is a quick dunk in a soy and vinegar concoction before hoisting the dumpling to your mouth. Enjoy this moment; there are very few of these in life.
Cold sesame noodles studded with thin slices of cucumber provide the same palate-cleansing service as a sorbet before your chopsticks proceed through the fiery depths of the entrees. Ma po tofu with ground pork is a dish of tender, almost molten cubes of tofu floating in a blazing sauce laced with Szechuan peppercorns—a floral and spicy shot to the jaw. This is tongue-tingling eating, but enduring the pain delivers similar euphoric effects of a long run or short cry. Even spicier is the Korean noodle soup, served in a cauldron that delivers two days’ worth of soup under a bubbling layer of chili oil.
Those not yet up to the challenge of exploring the textural oddities of the jellyfish in garlic or the pig intestine hot pot can find solace in Mandarin chicken and an extremely satisfying version of mu-shu pork (save for the dry, crackly pancakes). But Jung’s is a restaurant that rewards diners who lower their inhibitions and explore the unknown.