I am positive I’m over-simplifying the arduous process involved in creating a great restaurant, but in its essence, it seems pretty simple to me. In order to make me a lifelong fan, a restaurant has to meet four important criteria. First and foremost, you have to make delicious food, recipes into which you can pour your heart and soul.
Second, you must be consistent. If you have a regular dish on your menu, it should always taste the same. Variations on a theme are welcome, but the quality and core should remain.
Thirdly, strive for friendly and inviting service and atmosphere. Your restaurant could be in a dingy strip mall, but if it’s clean and comfortable with pleasant employees and heavenly scents wafting from the kitchen, I will be back again and again.
Finally, and this is a big one for me (and I think most folk out there these days), you have to make it affordable. While I understand balancing things like providing a living wage for your employees, sourcing quality ingredients and paying the over-priced rent/mortgage on your space is a precarious thing, but if a large percentage of the local population can’t afford to eat your food on a regular basis, who are you serving, really?
There are many restaurants who have achieved this miraculous quartet and if you read a lot of my stuff, you’ll see them appear again and again. Well, I have a new spot (new to me, at least) to add to my ever-growing list, a Chinese restaurant in Harvey specializing in Cantonese cuisine called Hong Minh.
I’m not positive when they opened (more delicious research is needed), but they are obviously a family-run establishment that look like they’ve been hunkered down on 8th Street for a long time. Located in an ancient small strip mall next to a Vietnamese grocery, Hong Minh is the quintessential hole-in-the-wall restaurant with low heavily-beamed ceilings, subdued light and simple furnishings. But other than the glistening roasted chicken and duck hanging in the small front window, the first thing I noticed when walking in were the mouth-watering aromas, an excellent sign when trying a new restaurant. The nose knows!
The place was packed for lunch (another good sign), filled with regulars who know a great deal when they taste one. The server (and I’m guessing either the chef and/or owner) was speedy, attentive and obviously excited about the food, informing us about their best sellers and specials right off the bat.
Long before our cafe sua da finished steeping, we got a large plate of crispy, pork and veggie-filled pot stickers with an irresistible soy/vinegar dipping sauce. While dunking and devouring the crisp dumplings, our entrees arrived — a huge, steaming bowl of won ton soup was placed before me and my dining companion’s sizzling clay pot filled with eggplant and saltfish was particularly spectacular in all its bubbling glory. Everything was wonderful, from my hefty, pork and shrimp-filled won tons bobbing about in a savory, clear chicken broth with bright green bok choy to the multi-layered umami of my DC’s incredibly moreish eggplant, chicken and saltfish stew.
Getting down to the nitty gritty, aside from the food and service, one of the most amazing feats the folks at Hong Minh performed was their affordability. The wonton soup was $11, the pot stickers were $6, and the clay pot special was $17, which might seem like a lot until you take into consideration that there was enough left over for another meal.
Thus far, Hong Minh has checked off three of my four requirements with relative ease, the only one I’ve left to test is the consistency. But, I’ve already planned my return visit, and this time I might even bring John with me.