Best Quality Daughter's salt-and-pepper shrimp comes with a Thai-inspired dipping sauce.
Many lunar new years ago, I made my one trip to China. Already a little bored by card-carrying Cantonese cuisine as it was then served in the U.S., I was expecting a kind of epiphany of the so-this-is-what-it’s-supposed-to taste-like sort.
This might have had to do with the fact that we were closely supervised and likely taken to restaurants considered not to pose a challenge to foreigners. Or maybe I just needed a little more palate practice to pick up on the subtleties of the cuisine. Fortunately, the often-challenging cooking of the Sichuan and Hunan provinces eventually made their way to American shores, rendering Chinese regional foods once again of interest. But that was also long ago.
If, like me, you’re often in need of a swift kick in the keister to reenergize your appreciation of a cuisine gone cold, may I suggest Best Quality Daughter? Let me also suggest that on your visit to the newish eatery at the Pearl you start with the tantalizingly tingling honey fried peanuts. They’re like a praline with the added boost of numbing Sichuan peppercorns. Topped with a tumbleweed tangle of red chile threads, they are utterly addicting and a suitably feisty companion to either the floral but earthy Tapei Personality cocktail with scotch and chrysanthemum syrup or the lilting Gin Sing with litchi cordial and roasted coconut juice. The pair were best two of the three cocktails we sampled on a recent visit.
Best Quality Daughter's interior has abundant visual verve.
To be clear, early press releases characterized BQD, named for a scene in The Joy Luck Club
, as an “Asian-American concept,” thus giving owners Jennifer Hwa Dobbertin and Quealy Watson — the pair also owns Tenko Ramen in the Pearl’s Bottling Department — freer rein in the kitchen. In an era of pitched battles over who gets to represent what cuisine, naming has become increasingly important.
Despite the hyphenated descriptor, the restaurant’s dishes that sound straight-on Chinese are the ones that first catch the eye. Gai lan (Chinese broccoli) with oyster sauce is one such, and it’s executed with a clarity and creativity — oh, those crispy shallots — that make you look at it anew. This Western palate could have used a few flakes of finishing salt, but their absence is only incidental.
There’s salt in appropriate abundance in the salt-and-pepper shrimp, a dish that’s proved disappointing from lesser kitchens. The full portion is meant to serve a happy family of three, but the half order is entirely adequate for two or more. We were warned about shell, but there was only the tip of the tail to contend with, and it was just lightly crunchy. There wasn’t even a suspicion of grease. The creative kicker in this dish is its juxtaposition with a Thai-inspired and galangal-accented dipping sauce. Even the most strident anti-revisionist couldn’t complain.
The pairing of Thai and Chinese seems tame when contemplating the snack that is their Sizzlin’ Rice Chips, served with a Thai curry baba ghanoush — and parmesan — for an Asian-Middle Eastern-Italian mashup that could have been an overreach. Yet the mountain of cloud-light chips freckled with black sesame seeds was perfectly happy to play in the unexpectedly warm and comforting bath. Kitchen irreverence begets guessing games on the part of the diner, and we collectively detected a hint of sweetness that might have been maple syrup or brown sugar.
The name dan dan, which signifies peddler’s noodles carried on a pole, doesn’t in itself suggest a preparation, but most of us have become used to the combination of springy noodles with ground pork in a light but fiery coating featuring chili oil. Not so at BQD, where the noodles and the pork remain but the sauce once again benefits from ties to Thailand. Redolent of coconut milk and makrut lime leaf, the creamy Panang curry totally upends expectations — but in a provocatively good way.
Thai chili “jam” was a necessary accessory to the, again, unexpected combination of crab boudin with Oaxaca cheese in the eponymous eggrolls. Call them a good try that missed the mark. The equally odd-coupling of breakfast-taco chorizo, egg and cheese in potstickers with “hot, hot salsa” will have to wait for another day. Sturdy and comforting, a plate of fat noodles with short rib featured quality ingredients, but with a flavor profile dominated by five-spice, it seemed to lack the creative verve of most of the other offerings. Split steamed buns are fried to serve as savory brackets for ice cream and sherbet in the two desserts on offer. Best-quality status goes to the sublime lychee.
If you’re seated outside, as we were, make it a point to do a tour of BQD’s interior. It’s got abundant visual verve. Pandemic-appropriate piñata pandas served as place-takers on alternate tables in one dining room, while custom wallpaper featuring offbeat local landmarks enlivens the bar. Should that paper ever need replacing, BQD need not be ashamed to add itself to the roster of landmarks.
Best Quality Daughter
602 Avenue A | (210) 819-4236, bestqualitydaughter.com
Tues-Thur 11 a.m.-3 p.m. & 5-9 p.m., Fri-Sat 11 a.m.-3 p.m. & 5-10 p.m.
Taipei Personality cocktail, honey fried peanuts, sizzlin’ rice chips, gailan with oyster sauce, Panang curry dan dan noodles, salt-and-pepper shrimp, lychee sherbet sandwich
Best Quality Daughter brings a refreshing take on Asian-American cooking to the Pearl. Overseen by the team that honchos the Bottling Department’s Tenko Ramen, familiar-sounding dishes such as gai lan with oyster sauce and salt-and-pepper shrimp take on a fresh life, and creative mashups such as rice chips with Thai curry baba ghanoush and dan dan noodles in Thai curry raise both eyebrows and expectations.
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