Yeah, you know me. OPB is our code for Orange Peel Beef, and last weekend we visited Hunan Garden in Palo Alto, California, the OPB mothership.
Much to our horror, they changed their cornstarchy coating, throwing the beef-to-breading ratio out of whack (too much breading!), plus it is now lighter in color (irrelevant? but somehow less fabulous) and smoother, limiting the degree of cling by which the beef chunks used to attract tasty bits of fried/pickled detritus from the sauce and garnish. So it’s no longer a perfect 10, but still a 9, and better than any other version of OPB I have had. Here are the key points:
- Beef piece size: Hunan Garden gets it right, not too small (like Li Ho in DC’s Chinatown) and not too large (New Kam Fong, Joe’s Noodle House and pretty much everywhere else).
- Sauce: most orange sauces are too sweet and/or too thick, but HG’s is a perfect spicy/orangey/sweet balance, and just viscous enough to cling to the beef.
- Garnish: I confess I don’t remember how other restaurants do it, but HG’s garnish of pickled onions, carrots, and cucumbers is a fantastic counterpoint to the spicy-sweet sauce and the fried beef pieces. Fried stuff + pickled stuff = good eatin’.
We also tried the fried eggplant but it came out sauteed — New Kam Fong remains reigning champ there. And we enjoyed hot and sour soup on the house because one of us (the whitest boy in the room, who worked for years in China) ordered his beer in Mandarin — at that point only three of us were there, and when the rest of our party of seven arrived, the additional foursome also got free soup but the waiter was literally gritting his teeth as he delivered it. Pretty funny. We also enjoyed ordering four orders of OPB for the table — HG always tries to talk us out of more than two orders, and in truth they have other excellent dishes, but we just have to maximize our OPB while we can. Who knows when we’ll be back.