What the Fook?

Ed Mortka, never having been to the Chinatown section of Philadelphia, suggested we meet there for dinner and drinks this past Saturday. To that end, Russ did a little research and output a list of about 30 possible eateries. I narrowed it down to nine restaurants, and we sent those choices to the Mortkas, with Karen selecting the winner, Lee How Fook. Now that’s what I call teamwork!

However, our rendezvous started an hour-and-a-half before reservations allowing us time to walk the ‘hood. Our first choice for drinks was the questionably named Hop Sing Laundromat, on Race Street described as a swanky speakeasy-style bar with meticulously made cocktails. Claiming to be one of Philly’s best, it also comes with a list of rules—such as no phones—long wait lines, and a provocative owner known to be polarizing. Hmmm, sounds intriguing…

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The difficult to find entrance to Hop Sing Laundromat.

First, you have to find the place. With Ed and Russ both using smart phones you’d think it would’ve been easy. But Hop Sing does not have a sign out front, nor anything else to indicate it’s whereabouts. One clue, we noticed four middle-aged couples standing outside a metal-caged door, when eventually a doorman popped his head out. Based on a cash-only policy and a passerby’s comments about knowing some secret code, plus a strict dress code: no sneakers, no shorts, no tank tops, we said “The Fook With This” and opted to patronize another establishment, which led us to Bar Ly.

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Both couples enjoying pre-dinner drinks at Bar Ly.

It’s Chinatown’s first craft beer bar, that boasts a high-quality lineup of 60 taps. They also serve cocktails and wine by the glass, so something for everyone. And if you’re so inclined, large TV screens line the walls airing every possible sport for your viewing pleasure. Luckily it wasn’t loud, and it was happy hour so we enjoyed catching up over low-priced drinks. A little over an hour later, it was time to walk the few short blocks to dinner.

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Located on North 11th Street in Philadelphia, Zagat-rated, BYOB Lee How Fook has been in business for over 30 years. Chef and founder Shing Chung immigrated from China bringing his cooking talents to Philadelphia’s Chinatown in the 1970’s; while his son-in-law Andrew has turned it into a modern day BYOB classic gem with an authentic take on Cantonese cuisine.

And that authentic menu is extensive, with all choices very reasonably priced. In fact, one site says the price averages $30 per couple (our tabs were just slightly higher than that.) Choices include chef’s specials, restorative soups, whole steamed fish, and excellent hot pots, among many other options. I got to tell ya, it was extremely hard to narrow down to only a few selections.

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We all loved the pan-seared pork dumplings.

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The mixture for the lettuce wraps was made up of chicken, scallions, bean sprouts and sauce.

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A bit of meat mixture in a lettuce leaf before it is wrapped.

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A small bowl of Crab and Asparagus Soup.

Deciding to start with some shared appetizers, we chose Pan-Seared Pork Dumplings, Lettuce Wraps, and Crab and Asparagus Soup for four. There was audible ooohing an aaahing as we savored every bite. One complaint though, they brought the entrees while we were still enjoying the starters, so we felt a bit rushed. Oddly, several groups walked in after us but were turned away—unusual as there seemed to be numerous open tables in the relatively small restaurant.

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Ed’s Fried Noodles with Mixed Seafood entree.

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A close-up of Russ’s Duck with Black Bean Sauce.

Back to those entrees. Russ surprised no one when he ordered Duck with Black Bean Sauce, which arrived laden with crisp-tender vegetables. Ed chose the Pan Fried Noodles with Mixed Seafood and bok choy, and absolutely loved it. (He was the only one lucky enough to have leftovers.)

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Scallops in Mandarin Sauce enjoyed by both Lynn and Karen.

Karen and I both opted for the Scallops with Mandarin Sauce—with Karen ordering less-spicy, and me, extra-spicy. However we were both disappointed that the dish didn’t come with any vegetables. In hind sight we should’ve ordered additional veggie sides from their long list which included green beans, eggplant, broccoli, bok choy, and snow peas to name a few. We’ll know better next time.

After dinner, the night was still young so off we went in search of a place for coffee and dessert. Just up the street on 11th, A La Mousse which specializes in cleverly created customized cakes, Italian pastries, cannolis, cream puffs, and eclairs, seemed to fit the bill. We walked in and snagged a picnic table just in time before the rush piled in causing a line out the door.

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A worker shows off a tray of gorgeous sandwich desserts.

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Karen and Russ ponder which desserts to order.

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Karen and Ed split a slice of Double Chocolate Mousse Cake.

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Russ enjoyed the artfully plated Tea-R-Misu dessert.

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Lynn’s Green Matcha Tea.

While still not too late, we decided to bid farewell after our leisurely dessert. But I know we’ll be back to Chinatown to check out a few more restaurants and perhaps even make it into Hop Sing Laundromat for those specialty cocktails—but I won’t be able to take any photos 😦

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