As we were presented with our check for our meal at Chifa, there was some grumbling from the Westchester contingent that it wasn’t right that Zio and I ordered soup as appetizers.
“I didn’t think we could have soup,” Gerry stated.
“Yeah, it’s against the rules,” Eugene bellowed.
“Show me where it says we can’t have soup in our rules,” I responded defensively.
“That’s just wrong,” Eugene said, shaking his head.
“Hey, you could have ordered the soup. Nobody would have stopped you.”
“But you can’t really share soup, so we don’t order it,” Gerry explained.
“All you had to do was ask,” I said. “I would have gladly shared my soup with you.”
“What are we gonna do share spoons? It just doesn’t work that’s why we don’t do it,” Eugene argued.
“How can you eliminate soup from the choices? I love soup,” Zio said.
Mike from Yonkers, technically also from Westchester, wisely abstained from the debate, content to slowly pick at the hominy kernels that surrounded what was left of his ceviche mixto.
Zio shrugged. “That duck soup was really good,” he said.
I nodded. “I know, the sopa pac pow was the highlight of my meal.”
And I wasn’t just saying that to further infuriate Gerry and Eugene who were still steamed that Zio and I had the temerity to order soup. It was the truth.
Granted, Zio and I ordered the soup before Eugene and Gerry arrived and without their consultation—we were waiting in the restaurant, along with Mike from Yonkers, for what seemed like a long time, later finding out there was some confusion on the timing of when we were to meet.
Zio’s pick, Chifa, was located on a small stretch of Northern Boulevard that wasn’t a car wash, lube job joint, gas station, or fast food place. Down the block was the Taste of Lahore, which was right next to a dark, inconspicuous Italian restaurant called Trieste. Doing his due diligence as always, maybe Zio was drawn to Chifa, learning that its name translated to mean Peruvian Chinese food and that it was something our group had not yet experienced. Either that or that it was not far from his Astoria love nest. Whatever the rationale for making the pick, Zio wasn’t divulging it.
Mike from Yonkers arrived a few minutes later and after sipping cold Cusquena beers while perusing the Chinese-dominant menu, we went ahead and ordered the soups and a couple of appetizers; “wantan frito” also known as fried wontons and “lomo asado,” Chinese bbq pork slices.
Gerry and Eugene walked in just as the soups arrived. The sopa pac pow was a steaming bowl of what seemed like a glorified egg drop soup; the big bowl thick with pieces of chicken, duck, asparagus pieces, and shrimp.
Eugene eyed Zio’s soup, redolent with tender slices of duck, noodles, and vegetables. “What’s that?” Eugene asked him.
“Duck soup,” Zio replied, his face down, steam coating his eyeglasses, as he carefully sipped the scalding soup.
“That was on TV the other day,” Gerry deadpanned.
“Hail, Freedonia,” I mumbled, not looking up from my own soup that also had a few slices of that tender duck.
After that there was no further discussion of the soups until the complaints at the end of our meal that I’ve already chronicled. Instead the others ordered beers and their own dishes including lomo saltado for Eugene, tai pa, for Gerry, the aforementioned ceviche mixto for Mike from Yonkers, while I went with a noodle dish, tallarin taipa, and Zio choose the pork with garlic.
Besides the gargantuan size of the platters—everything was big at Chifa—there wasn’t much to distinguish the Peruvian Chinese from the standard Chinese-American Cantonese that we are so familiar with. The tallarin taipa, a “mei fun” type noodle dish with an assortment of meats: pork, chicken, baby shrimp, and the duck, was swimming in an oyster/soy sauce while Zio’s pork with garlic was just more of the roasted barbecued pork we had earlier now presented in a barely perceptible garlic sauce with the addition of a few vegetables.
The tai pa Gerry ordered, according to the menu, “Chifa’s most popular dish,” was more of the same; chicken, pork, shrimp, duck but with welcome addition of a quail egg and fish ball all combined on a large platter and coated with an oyster/soy based “special sauce.” Even Eugene’s traditional lomo saltado, a mountain of beef, French fries, and onions over rice was not up to my high Peruvian standards for the dish.
Maybe it was the addition of the controversial soup or maybe it was just that the dishes were so big, but both Zio and I went home with leftovers.
“And that ain’t right either,” Gerry remarked, his eyes on our packed doggie bags. “Maybe I’m still hungry? Did you think of that?”
Noting the size of the tai pa that Gerry was putting the finishing touches on, I hadn’t. But also knowing Gerry and his prodigious appetite, I should have.
73-20 Northern Boulevard
Jackson Heights, Queens