The sign in the window said “Homemade Pork Dumpling.”
Not exactly a smoking gun. But my Chinatown antennae went up instantly. First of all, it was odd to see a sign like that in the window of a Chinese takeout stationed in a corporate strip mall. The place was Sun Garden (716-689-8228), 55 Crosspoint Parkway, Amherst, off North French Road near the I-990 exit.
Most of the signs you see in the deep-fried corn-syrup joints are about how cheap they can get. I silently thank the ghost of General Tso every time I spot a “Special $1.99 Lunch” sign. That’s English, but no matter who’s behind the counter you can translate it as “Desperate and careless.” I chalk off those places like a general shading minefields on his battlefield map in crimson ink.
“Homemade Pork Dumpling.” It intrigued me because its message acknowledged that you can get pork dumplings that aren’t homemade, or even store-made. Dumplings that arrive at strip malls all over Western New York frozen, in the back of a truck. The ones that make you wonder, amid an order of potstickers, when the Chinese started stuffing steamed tennis balls with pork.
The young man behind the counter with the close-cropped hair alleged that his cooks were dishing out the real Chinatown flavor, right there in Getzville. Which made me skeptical, to put it politely.
So we put his cooks through their paces.
Those homemade pork dumplings ($4.75 for eight) were good – tender skins, not too thick, surrounding a flavorful pork nugget – but they were, in retrospect, a distraction.
We homed in on the “Salt baked squid” ($8.95) instantly. That’s the same label used by Manhattan Chinatown favorite Great NY Noodletown (28-1/2 Bowery) for a dish of gently deep-fried squid wok-seared with fresh chiles. It’s all but unobtainable in Western New York.
Sun Garden’s version is good enough to remind you of Chinatown, but not quite good enough to transport you there. The salty-spicy flavor is there, courtesy of the seared chiles, but the squid is a bit chewy.
Still, to be fair, you can see from the first photo how much that bothered us.
The rest of our feast – including a confrontation with General Tso – after the jump.