THE Chinese Restaurant

We’ve always called it “The Chinese
Restaurant”. Chef Laney Xiang says the name is something that is tonally
unpronounceable for me. The hanja for the place is “Chinese Food
Things” but that is up for debate since the characters have various
interpretations. The one thing you do need to know that this is the best
Chinese food in Daejeon, not Korean-Chinese or American-Chinese but Chinese-Chinese.

The storefront is a bit confusing because it looks
like a tiny grocer. The restaurant is in the back, after you walk through the
front. This place used to be a
little hole in the wall but
over the last few years it’s become a large hole in the wall. They’ve taken
over the store spaces
next to them and expanded the restaurant, a testament to their popularity. The
menus on the wall were redone and now they have installed motorized turners for
the lamb skewers, so they continue to cook evenly when you’re not
paying attention. They’ll
even burn evenly if you don’t pay attention. English is not spoken but rather Korean is the lingua franca since Mandarin is the language of the owners and staff. The very first time I was there I was thinking “We’re going to eat here?”—that’s how wack the place looked.

Then the food came out; glorious, aromatic Chinese
food, full of color and flavor. Textures you’d forgotten about and ones you
didn’t even know existed in food were rolling around in your mouth. The
execution of this food is almost always amazingly spot on. Restaurant reviews
usually discuss the dishes ordered and make recommendations, but just order
anything that seems pretty on the wall menu and you won’t be disappointed.

Frog legs… (insert Homer Simpson drool sound here)

Chef Laney Xiang and I frequently order
frog legs since this is the only place that manages to NOT overcook them (yet
once, and only once, they were overcooked. In true Laney and Earl Style, we
didn’t finish them). “A big, huge platter of froglegs” as we
would say in the American south. The sweet and sour pork is not over sauced and the meat is so tender you
don’t have to wrestle with it and end up eating the breading first. The pork they
prepare also has a light crisp
exterior so there’s a slight crunch when you bite. This crunch is so delicate
more than one person has looked up in astonishment when they try this dish for
the first time.

Eat the whole prawn, head, legs, shells; okay we don’t normally eat the tail.

After the first bite of her prawn, J.E. Seuk, of
Language of Shapes fame, uttered “Oh my god!” in a voice loud enough
to have the server return to the
dining room befuddled at what might
be amiss. J.E. ordered the Prawn and Pepper
dish (#2) and was slightly disappointed
when she saw that the prawns were
served shell on. I popped the head end of a prawn in my mouth, crunched it off, and said she should
try these before she formed an opinion. “They’re like fried soft shell
crab.” she said after the first few bites. J.E. ate well over a dozen of
the prawns. Todd Seffrood, the resident Daejeon king of
I’m-not-gonna-eat-any-weird-food, enjoys these flash fried, head on, shell on
prawns. The dried fried crunchy peppers provide a piquant
contrast of flavor and texture.

Chef Laney Xiang made an amazing eggplant dish at a
party of mine in Seoul that was so powerfully remarkable that David Kalinowski,
a former Chinese expat, asks me every time I have a party “Is your friend
the Chinese chef coming?” They serve that same eggplant dish in The
Chinese Restaurant and it must be as good because Chef Xiang orders it when she
goes there. Fried rice, get some. Soup, they got it. Bok choy with mushrooms
and oyster sauce, can’t get enough of it. Kung Pao chicken; you should order
that some time so you can experience how it is supposed to taste. No matter
what we order Laney always says “We should order noodles; they’re very
good here.” Fantastically piled, comprising an array of colors, the
noodles don’t disappoint—any of them. Pick a noodle dish, any dish. Lamb skewers
roll back and forth along with skewered garlic cloves accompany all the dishes
laid out on the table; this is a lovely dining experience, the one restaurant
in Daejeon that should be a part of your regular rotation in your dining out
schedule. To omit this place is a foodie cardinal sin and there is special
place in hell for those people, alongside child predators and people who talk
in movie theaters.

This place is a gem. Bring at least four people to feast there, six is
better, so you can sample more than two dishes. If you read this and don’t go there within a week,
well then you’re what we call a “stupid person” back home.

How to
get there:
With
your back to Daejeon Station turn right. After 20 yards, there’s a crosswalk.
Cross the street, then turn right. There’s a little road that veers left off of
the main drag, go down that street. About 60 yards down the street you will see
the lanterns on the right. 010.6476.0187 if you want to call them and have the cab driver take you right there. The hassle-free method.

Walk too fast and you might miss the entrance. Across the street is a printing shop.

Match the numbered picture with the menu to assess how much your meal will cost.

These are the dishes for an individual if you wish to eat there by yourself.