Best Taste Authentic Chinese Cuisine. Saturday, May 27th, 2014. Dinnertime.
You might have a hard time finding Best Taste online as it’s brand spanking new. At the time I write this (May 31st, 2014), the only online evidence for the existence of this Chinese restaurant is a Yelp profile. It doesn’t seem to have a website, a Facebook page, nor does it appear on Google Maps (but I’ll fix that soon enough). And yet it exists. Specifically, it exists in downtown Bloomington, tucked in between the 4th Street parking garage and the Serendipity Martini Bar. The place is so new that their sign only went up a few days before we showed up.
I’m a bit of an amateur linguist, and so I can’t help but try to compare the English and Chinese names of the restaurants. If you don’t share my fascination, you can skip to the next paragraph. Best Taste’s Chinese name is 百味, which is probably pronounced bǎiwèi. (For the record, I don’t read or speak Mandarin, Cantonese, or any of the Sinitic languages. What little I do know comes from playing mahjong or is carried over from Japanese kanji. Most of this, I figured out through internet research.) By itself, the first character 百 means “hundred” or “many”. (I actually knew that one without looking it up!) The second character 味 means “taste”. If you type “百味” into Google Translate, it will tell you that it means “Subway”, but that’s kind of misleading. Near as I can tell, the weird translation is mostly due to the fact that the sandwich chain Subway uses the name 赛百味 (sàibǎiwèi). For the record, Best Taste isn’t underground, and it doesn’t serve $5 footlongs.
Anyone still awake? I guess I can get back to the restaurant review now.
Kira’s impression of a chopstick-toothed tiger.
On its old temporary sign, Best Taste advertised “Authentic Chinese Cuisine”, and as near as we can tell, they deliver upon that promise. Of course, neither of us has ever been to China, but we picked up on a couple promising signs. Firstly, the vast majority of the customers were not speaking English to each other or to the servers. Secondly, the menu had plenty of items that were clearly not directed at the standard stereotypical American customer. Some of the less common dishes included “Fried Pig kidney, Pig liver, and Chicken” and “Fried Lamb Testicle with Cumin”. I was impressed that they included an English translation of every item on the menu. Many Chinese restaurants seem to assume that such dishes are so unappealing to Americans that they don’t even bother translating them on the menu. I was also impressed by how few Chinglishisms there were on the menu. Apart from some capitalization oddities and a few slightly non-idiomatic translations (e.g. “Larger Intestines” instead of “large intestines”), the only confusing things were the “Stir Fried Shredded Pork with Capsicum” (are those supposed to be bell peppers or chile peppers?) and “Sautéed Beef with Agrocybe Cylindracea”. (I had to look that last one up. Apparently that’s the scientific name for “poplar mushrooms”.)
“Iron pot” with brisket, potatoes, and cilantro.
But there are plenty of less adventurous things on the menu that are still interesting, like hot pots (where they bring a pot of broth on a burner and you cook meat and veggies right at your table) and what they call an “iron pot” (basically a meal served in the wok it was cooked in). Upon the server’s recommendation, I ordered the “Brisket with Potatoes Iron Pot” which we both found delicious and greasy (in a good way). In addition to the beef brisket and the potatoes, the dish featured fresh chopped cilantro, which added a nice aroma, but was maybe a bit too strong a flavor to be eaten directly. It came with doughy bits of bread that were very handy for sopping up all the wonderful sauce and grease. I’m sure there’s a name for this kind of bread product. It reminded us of steamed dumplings.
Sliced Pork with Egg and Black Fungus
Kira also took a recommendation from the server and ordered the “Sliced Pork with Egg and Black Fungus.” The “black fungus” in question appears to be black mushroom. The green vegetable in the dish which looks like zucchini is actually cucumber, which was both surprising and surprisingly good. Kira and I both liked the dish, but the brisket iron pot was definitely the winner. It’s been a whole week since we ate there, and my mouth is salivating at the memory of it.
The correct way to put a straw into a can of soda.
Our server gets bonus points for coming up with good suggestions, knowing the correct way to put a straw into a can of soda, and for his Cosmo Kramer t-shirt, but service was a bit slow and it was very hard to flag someone down, despite the small dining room. (We also think that he should have worn his belt a smidge higher on his waist. Note: we did not take pictures of that.) Even though the place was pretty busy, a little more eye contact with the customers would’ve made things a lot easier.
Overall, we thought that despite the somewhat slow service, the food was excellent and interesting. The “authentic” description is well deserved, as near as we can tell. We’ll definitely be back soon.