Happy Family Togetherness at Hunan Village: Not So Happy

Not too long ago, I revisited a restaurant that had been a family favorite for years, yet had fallen out of the rotation for a while. It turned out well, and earned the place a slot back in the mental restaurant file. In a similar spirit, I took the family to Hunan Village for dinner last week. We used to go there regularly, when a couple of vegetarian family members lived down the street. They frequented the place for its plentiful meatless options, and just sort of sucked the rest of us into becoming regulars.

Memory told me that the dumplings were pretty good, but that the rest of the menu was pretty lackluster. Memory was right. The steamed vegetarian dumplings, filled with a mélange of mixed vegetables and what appeared to be glass noodles, were tasty if a bit leaden. Too much dough can ruin a dumpling and was the major stumbling point for these. A lighter touch, and these would be fine examples of the genre.

Our old entrée standby, ordered by number (VD-2) and never by name, was the vegetarian General Tso's Chicken; chewy bits of what I decided must be deep fried tempeh, glossed in a pretty standard brown sauce, with broccoli and snow peas.

My eyes got stuck on the first page, though, when they lit on a house specialty called Happy Family Togetherness. How could anyone resist such an oddly named dish? I certainly couldn't. Described on the menu as "assorted seafood and meat sautéed with vegetables," the dish ended up feeling more like "leftovers with brown sauce."

A mish-mash of roast pork, chicken, beef, shrimp, and (obviously frozen) scallops, the dish was both gloppy and thin, its brown sauce tasting of nothing so much as brown. The seafood was disturbingly watery, a by-product of having been previously frozen, and likely (in the case of the scallops) injected with some sort of plumping solution. The rice it was served with was the highlight of the dish, nutty and perfectly cooked. My daughter enjoyed the snow peas, and poached most of them from my plate.

Happy Family Togetherness, it turns out, cannot be purchased from a Chinese restaurant. From now on, I'll stick to the dumplings at Hunan, and try to find that togetherness stuff in something devoid of corn-starch and previously frozen scallops.

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Nicholas L. Hall is a husband and father who earns his keep playing a video game that controls the U.S. power grid. He also writes for the Houston Press about food, booze and music, in an attempt to keep the demons at bay. When he's not busy keeping your lights on, he can usually be found making various messes in the kitchen, with apologies to his wife.
Contact: Nicholas L. Hall