Chinatown mainstay still delivers tasty fare

Seven Stars Around the Moon is chick-en breasts stuffed with pork on a bed of vegetables with shrimp. David Chan (below) has owned his eat-ery for 27 years.
Seven Stars Around the Moon is chick-en breasts stuffed with pork on a bed of vegetables with shrimp. David Chan (below) has owned his eat-ery for 27 years.

David's caters to the late-night crowd

Posted: August 14, 2009

The menu touts David's Mai Lai Wah on Race Street in Chinatown as "best restaurant in town." That's a bit of hyperbole, but it probably is the best restaurant in town open at 2 in the morning.

Owner David Chan has developed his restaurant in the past 27 years to include many different styles of Chinese cuisine. You'll find Cantonese, Szechuan and Hong Kong. The latest update of the menu includes choosing your own live fish from a tank (market price).

For me, David's is more retro than current. The first time I entered the brightly lit red dining room gleaming with mirrors and chrome, I was back in the '60s with my parents. They sipped classic cocktails such as the mai tai, Singapore Sling and Zombie while my brother and I sucked down Shirley Temples adorned with paper umbrellas. We had our first taste of the exotic - Chinese food as interpreted in Midwest America.

David's decor definitely has the feel of "Mad Men," that AMC period drama about advertising, '60s fashion, drinking and smoking. So, I ordered a Singapore Sling ($6) and waxed nostalgic.

This is the place to go with a crowd and share a bunch of dishes. The menu is huge and so not everything is going to be great. And, some dishes are far more suited to post-revelry excess than afternoon lunch with the kids. Kitsch at 2 a.m. is too much fried food and red dye at 2 in the afternoon.

Fitting into the after after-hours selection is the Seven Stars Around the Moon ($15.95). This is an extravaganza of a fried boneless chicken breast stuffed with pork (a precursor to turducken, no doubt) on a bed of vegetables with shrimp, lobster and pork surrounded by fried scallops and garnished with pineapple squares bedecked with maraschino cherries.

Best bets are in the appetizer category. Both the salt and pepper chicken wings ($5.75 for 10) and the salt and pepper squid ($8.95) are divine. There's just enough to make a crust - and make you thirsty for a second Sling.

The steamed dumplings are just average and the dough is far too thick, but the accompanying freshly grated ginger sauce is a revelation of how good fresh ginger really is. One of my tasters grabbed the last bit, took it home and the next day reported that it is now the only condiment he will eat on his hot dogs.

You also can't go wrong with the spring roll with duck ($1.50). It's got all the good vegetable stuff plus wonderful shreds of duck meat throughout. Bet you can't eat just one.

One of the stellar dishes was the Beef Short Ribs with Black Pepper Sauce ($10.95). They arrived at the table sizzling dramatically with an aromatic waft of steam to entice us. These little morsels of short ribs are tasty and if you aren't self-conscious - and who is after a Zombie cocktail?- you can gnaw around the bone for ultimate flavor.

There are a number of noodle dishes on the menu, from the wide chow fun to thin mei fun to lo mein as well as panfried. But with so many truly great noodle houses in Chinatown I'd say that's best left for another day.

That said, if you have a carbohydrate craving, go for the Duck Chow Fun ($8.50) as my tasters rate it best of the noodle dishes. They enjoyed the soft, chewy texture of the noodles accentuated with well-prepared duck seasoned with soy sauce.

David's General Tzo Chicken ($9.95) is slightly different. Rather than having chicken that is double-coated and fried, there are smaller pieces with less coating. You can order it spicy or with sesame sauce, and like all of David's sauces, it was heavy on the cornstarch. I can't say I find that necessarily a bad thing, though.

So, this won't be gastronomic affair you remember for decades, but David's is an established Chinatown eatery that offers a fair value for what's purchased in a fun atmosphere. Late night you can cast yourself in a Rat Pack role or just linger and enjoy some people-watching as youngsters from the Trocadero and warriors of the late shift come in.

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