A few weeks ago, a bunch of us headed down to Sunset Park, Brooklyn to a restaurant called Lucky Eight to celebrate Gideon's birthday. Sunset Park has a sizable Chinese population, and 8th Avenue, where many of the Chinese restaurants and shops are concentrated, is sometimes referred to as Brooklyn Chinatown. I've been eating out in this area for years, thanks entirely to my friend James, who is Chinese and lives in the neighborhood. Starting in high school, James would periodically lead a group of intrepid eaters to some fabulous restaurant for dim sum. We would almost never consult a menu; rather, James would just ask our server (in Chinese, of course!) what was good that day, and a parade of sumptuous (and, for most of us, exotic) dishes would soon crowd our table.
Now that I live one neighborhood above Sunset Park, I've been shopping and eating there much more often. The grocery stores, vegetable stands and fish stalls are incredibly bustling and lively, with vendors shouting out offers and attempting to lure customers to their wares, making for an engaging shopping (and people-watching) experience. Recently, James, our friend Sam and I ate dinner in a fantastic restaurant called Lucky Eight that James (of course) picked out. The dishes we ate were unlike any Chinese food I had ever had before--much, much cleaner and lighter than the greasy takeout a lot of us are accustomed to, and with smooth, nuanced and balanced flavors. The restaurant also happens to be especially welcoming to non-Chinese diners: all the servers speak English (often not the case in other restaurants in the area), and the menu features large, full-color photos of all its specialty dishes, making it a lot easier to order. Lucky Eight made such an impression on me that when Gideon asked for a restaurant recommendation for his birthday it was the first place that came to mind.
What follows are some photos of the food we ate that night. I have to say that I don't remember the individual prices of each dish, but what I do remember is that we ordered 6 dishes and a bunch of beers and we paid $18 each, including tax and tip. For the quality of the food and the hospitality of the service I'd say that's a pretty remarkable deal. So go! You won't be sorry.
We started with some duck's feet. Yes, the idea of eating feet might be unsavory, and the gelatinous, chewy-crunchy texture of the dish is likely off putting for those of us not used to consuming such things. But I have to say that this dish is truly delicious. I first ate it with James and Sam, and made sure to order it again. The feet are served cold, deboned, and, along with some sweet, lightly pickled shreds of carrot and daikon radish (and a few slivers of red chiles for a touch of heat), tossed in a vinaigrette-type mixture of sesame oil and rice wine vinegar. It's a very refreshing dish and a gentle introduction to the nose-to-tail type eating that is so common in all regions of China:
Next up was a stir-fry of impossibly tender and juicy jumbo shrimp with sweet, crunchy candied walnuts and large pieces of warm, ripe pineapple. The vegetables included crisp green beans and chunks of onion. A scattering of toasted sesame seeds tied everything together:
For a vegetable dish we chose eggplant with abalone, a species of giant sea snail (!). I had never eaten abalone before and I was a little intimidated by the thought of it--I figured that it would be plain-tasting and very chewy. I was totally wrong; it had a mild, but tasty, flavor and a smooth, soft texture that matched beautifully with the creamy Japanese eggplants. The mix was coated in a sweet soy-based sauce and crowned with a few slices of scallion:
For a meat dish we chose a lamb hotpot. Again, I had eaten this previously with James and Sam and couldn't get it out of my head. The stew is brought to the table over a little gas flame and continues to bubble away as you eat, wafting its succulent aroma over the whole table. The dish included tender, falling-apart pieces of lamb, some chewy, delicious slices of bean curd skin (one of my favorite ingredients in Chinese cooking), slices of lotus root and thick leaves of Chinese cabbage. The broth surrounding all of those tasty ingredients was thick, meaty and rich:
And lastly we ate a simple, straightforward dish of baby bok choy with garlic and ginger. The glistening little globes reminded me of emeralds:
Oh yeah, I told you we ordered six dishes, right? Some of those among us with less adventurous palates ordered a type of rice noodle dish, but I didn't like it--it was heavy on curry seasoning but also somewhat bland at the same time. So I'm not including it here. Artistic license, doncha know?
Lucky Eight Restaurant
5204 8th Ave. (between 52nd St and 53rd St)