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Fearless Critic restaurant review
Casual restaurant

Daily 10:30am–5:00pm

Features Delivery
Bar None
Credit cards Visa, MC, AmEx
Reservations Accepted

506 Eye St. NW
Washington, DC
(202) 628-0490
New Big Wong
The beauty is in what’s swimming in the tank—not in the tired lunch specials

Aside from its chuckle-worthy name, the New Big Wong, from the outside, could be any other highly Westernized Chinese joint in DC’s Chinatown. Many others have lesser names, from the forced “Wok ‘n’ Roll” to the generic “Chinatown Express.” And, generally speaking, the others have lesser food, too.

Come in and order the lunch special, and the New Big Wong descends to the lowest level: soggy fried food, chicken diced into miniscule and flavorless pieces, celery and carrots largely replacing vegetables like red peppers and string beans.

Your first hint that the $6.95 lunch might not be what the restaurant is really about is the set of tanks near the doors where you enter, swimming with live bait shrimp (which, when ordered, will be prepared with salt and pepper, with the heads still on), Dungeness crabs (you can get them expertly steamed with ginger and scallion), and sea bass. Your second clue might be the haunting, flowery Chinese tea, which is some of the best in the city.

The problem at the New Big Wong is that almost none of the non-Chinese customers order the real food, some of which is explained on the extensive dinner menu, and some of which isn’t on any menu. To those in the know come the spoils: a delicious salad of jellyfish, gently resilient and well spiced. A well-developed soup of oyster, bean curd, seaweed, and egg. Chinese watercress, kissed by a fiery wok (although a bit oily). Fried rice with lobster and dried scallop.

And then there is the best duck dish in Washington DC, hands down. Better than anyone else’s. It’s roasted in the Cantonese style, its skin dried, beautifully crisped, and lacquered with honey, its melting meat and singed fat bathed in a soy-based sauce of subtle sweetness, gentle acidity, unexpected spice, and profound depth.

The problem with rating such restaurants—and a problem with our numerical rating system as a whole, really—is the difficult question of how much to weigh the terrible Chinese-American lunch menu, which is clearly tailored only to customers without curiosity. There is no excuse for willfully serving bad food, but our imperfect solution is to assume that our readers will order wisely and to weigh the rating heavily toward what the restaurant does best.

New Big Wong is but a dingy basement adorned with Christmas lights, plastic tablecloths, and a few tacky wall hangings in a neighborhood that a lot of foodies have written off. Such is the enigma that is good Chinese food in America, and such is the challenge of finding it, wherever it may hide.

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