"It's not liver."
Wayne and I looked at one another. What we were eating was obviously not liver. More important, it was not lung. The menu's fanciful description of the dish was "Husband and Wife Lung Slices."
Instead, it was tender slices of beef along with somewhat rubbery slices of beef tendon, tossed in a spicy-hot sauce with some vegetables. I'd asked our server at Man Chun Hong (5953 Buford Hwy., 770-454-5640) why it was called lung and she repeatedly told me that it's not liver.
So it often goes, eating on Buford Highway. It's difficult enough getting a description of a dish in a mainstream restaurant from a waiter whose first language is English. In ethnic restaurants, it's often impossible, and if you're truly adventurous, you learn to order and hope for the best. The "lung," a huge starter, was terrific.
Man Chun Hong – or Manchunhong, depending on where you see the name written – has been around a while and I've reached a dead end trying to get details about its ownership. I know that it was opened in 2006 by the owners of Hae Woon Dae (the popular Korean barbecue spot, also on Buford Highway). It had a slightly different name when it opened, apparently, and specialized in Korean-Chinese cooking, with a heavy accent on noodles.
The Korean-Chinese menu remains but, on a tip from reader Bob Mullan, I visited last week to try a request-only Sichuan menu. It's actually two menus and, according to Bob, a Chinese-food fanatic, includes "at least 30 things ... that I've never seen anywhere else in Atlanta."
There are some creative names, to be sure. Besides the Husband and Wife Lung, there's Slobber Chicken, for example and, if you've always wondered what Mao Tse Tung liked to eat, there's a pork-belly dish named for him, according to one of the cooks who actually came out to thank us for ordering from the Sichuan menu.
Sichuan cuisine, named for a province of southwestern China, is characterized by its use of chilies, pickled vegetables and the "numb and tingling" peppercorn indigenous to the province. In other words, it tends to be firecracker-hot.
A warning: After you've asked to see the Sichuan menu, you may end up in the usual argument with your server, who will guide you toward blander dishes. Our server tried to talk Wayne out of ordering fish with pickled vegetables, for example, certain he would hate the stuff. Another warning: Portions are gigantic and obviously meant for family-style dining. I'm talking large families.
Along with the "lung" starter, we ordered a comparatively prosaic but addictive order of pork-filled wontons submerged in an almost fiery broth heavily spiked with red-chili oil, afloat with chopped peanuts, garlic and scallions. Your nostrils will flare, your sinuses will relax, your lips will tingle and your teeth will love the creamy noodles with the crunchy peanuts.
Wayne's entree selection, the fish with pickled vegetables, was an absolutely gigantic portion. (In fact, he made two more meals out of the leftovers.) I'll be honest. I was not crazy about the fish itself. It was big chunks of creamy white fish – I have no idea what kind – that tasted completely bland to me.
But I loved the sauce, basically a rich broth full of bits of pickled vegetables. My favorite ingredient was slices of fresh king oyster mushrooms – silky and juicy. There were also a lot of very hot green chilies which were cooked whole, so their piquancy did not completely dominate the dish but did allow the pleasure of an occasional burst of fire.
Our other entree was a bowl of pork belly with mushrooms and vegetables. The cook called it "Mao Belly Pork" and when I asked if it was named after Mao Zedong, he said it was indeed the Chinese leader's favorite pork dish. The mushrooms in this dish were reconstituted dry ones. A strong peppery flavor dominated the dish and there were a good many red chilies scattered throughout the bowl.
Even with a huge amount of food left over, we managed to eat dessert, a tart of sweet red beans coated in sesame seeds.
As Bob Mullan said in his note to me about the restaurant: "It may not quite reach the culinary stratosphere of Tasty China, but it has the advantage of being far closer" to town.
A visit to Ecco
I've been craving cocido Madrileño, ever since I learned that Ecco has been serving it Tuesday nights. It's a meat-heavy stew popular in Spain, especially Madrid, often served in three courses. First is the broth in which the meats have been cooked; then the vegetables, always including chick peas; followed by a variety of meats.
I usually work Tuesday nights but happened to have last week's free, so I made a beeline for the restaurant, as did a hell of a lot of other people. The place was packed and we had a brief wait for a table.
The dish is a bargain at $17 or $24 with a glass of wine. Although it's not the staggering portions I've seen in Spain, it is enough that you should not order a starter, unless it's something to aid digestion of massive amounts of protein.
Here, the dish is served all at once. I actually prefer it served this way. Everything was very good, including the broth, which you can use for dunking your meat. Or you can add some of the chickpeas to it, if you want. It's bracing, slightly salty and deeply flavorful straight up.
Among the meats was an especially good house-cured brisket. There was also morcilla (blood sausage), cured pork belly and another type of sausage. Pickles and chilies were on the side and the chickpeas were cooked with carrots, cabbage and potatoes (although I found no potatoes in my own serving).
If you want a heart-stopping – I mean hearty – meal, try this out. I suggest you make a reservation, though.