Chinese-American cuisine strikes a resonant chord. Equal parts nostalgia, comfort and flavor, it has a particularly broad appeal. So what happens when you get a couple of guys with Link Group-experience who decide to do their own take on it? The answer is Blue Giant, a new restaurant in the Lower Garden District that serves up Chinese-American favorites using fine-dining sourcing, techniques and style.
Don’t let the phrase “fine-dining” put you off – owned by Bill Jones and Richard Horner, Blue Giant is decidedly casual. As for why they decided on Chinese, Horner cites both his love of the cuisine and the challenge it posed. Chef/Owner Bill Jones was particularly influenced by time spent in Chicago’s Chinatown, which offered more robust versions of the Americanized dishes he’d grown up with on the Northshore.
To do their due diligence, the duo set out on a mission to eat a lot of Chinese. Little Chinatown in Kenner was one place, as well as Dian Xin in the Quarter. “Everywhere we went we found something we liked,” Horner said. “We’d ask about the dishes and sometimes the owners would share some of their knowledge with us.”
Chinese food is especially technique-driven, so learning that part involved a lot of trial-and-error at first. “I think we cooked a flock of ducks before we got close,” Horner said. Finding the right kind of duck was also a challenge. “We ended up sourcing from a place that provides ducks to Chinatown restaurants in New York.” Their efforts paid off with their “Peking duck,” a splurge-worthy dish served with house-made hoisin sauce.
Appetizers include takes on crowd-pleasers like egg rolls and shrimp and pork dumplings. Consider the “Chili Oil Cucumbers,” spicy cubes tempered with a bit of sweetness akin to spicy bread and butter chips. Move on to one of the two main noodle dishes – the “Dan Dan” are fresh wheat noodles sourced from Sun Noodle in Hawaii, while the lighter “Chow Fun” features a wider rice noodle. Both the noodle dishes (as well as the fried rice) are tossed in a searing hot wok whose thin metal sides quickly add texture and caramelization. “It adds a depth of flavor which is hard to describe but easy to perceive,” Richard said.
A standout dish is their “Dry Chili Chicken.” Marinated first in a mix of soy and Shaoxing wine, it is tossed in “chicken spice” – a mix of salt, sugar and various peppers – dredged in a mixture of flour and cornstarch, then fried to order with garlic, ginger and dried chilis. Garnished with cilantro, these fiery nuggets will have you reaching for your beverage along with another serving. Balance it out with “Char Sui Pork.” Cooked in an oven purpose-built for their aforementioned Peking duck, the pork’s crisp caramelized exterior yields to mouth-meltingly tender inside. There is just one dessert – coconut ice cream from local artisan purveyor Sundae Best – perfect for tamping down the lingering sizzle from Szechuan peppercorns. The bar menu is short but sweet, offering a couple of throwback cocktails like a Mai Tai and Suffering Bastard.
When visiting, go early or expect a wait – Blue Giant does not take reservations and fills quickly. If it is full, try and grab a seat at the bar, which also offers a view of the wok stations with their roaring blasts of flame. Another option to beat the crowds is to go for lunch.
MEET THE CHEF
Blue Giant is a partnership between Executive Chef Bill Jones and General Manager Richard Horner. Jones grew up on the Northshore and Richard hails from Baltimore. The pair met while working at Cochon, where, I am quickly told, is not where they learned to cook Chinese. They both reside in the Lower Garden District and felt like a casual Chinese-American restaurant was something that the neighborhood needed. “It was something we wanted to share with our friends and neighbors so long as they were willing to take the chance with us,” Horner said. Judging by the wait, this has proven to be the case.
Blue Giant, 1300 Magazine St., Lower Garden District, 582-9060. L, D Wed-Mon. Closed Tues. bluegiantnola.com
Over on the Garden District Side of Magazine Street is Jung’s Golden Dragon, which offers a special Chinese menu featuring a compelling array of options. Recommended dishes include the pan-fried dumplings, cooked together in a distinctive batter and served with a vinegar-based dipping sauce whose acidity slices through the hot oil.