Southern Brooklyn

Mr. Tang: Orange Chicken – The Bite


Welcome back to The Bite, Sheepshead Bites’ weekly column where we explore the foodstuffs of Sheepshead Bay. Each week we check out a different offering from one of the many restaurants, delis, food carts, bakeries, butchers, fish mongers, or grocers in our neighborhood. If it’s edible, we’ll take a bite.

This week The Bite samples one of the most suspect meal deals around – the “lunch special.” You know the meal I’m talking about. Soup or egg roll, pork fried or white rice and an entrée. It’s ubiquitous to the Chinese restaurant industry. High-end or low-end restaurant, it doesn’t matter. Somewhere on the menu, you’ll find the “special lunch menu.” Oh, some places change the offerings a little bit by adding soda or salad as options. More health conscience establishments may add brown rice, but its all the same.

Join me now as I take on Mr. Tang Coney Island Kitchen’s “Special Luncheon Menu’s” Orange Chicken, with pork fried rice. At Mr. Tang’s, the offerings are soup or soda, pork fried rice or white rice and the entrée. I usually go with the spicy dishes, so Orange Chicken ($5.35) was my choice. No soup for me! A diet coke completed my meal as it was 90 degrees outside and Mr. Tang’s dining room wasn’t air conditioned.

Orange Chicken is thought to be a Chinese-American adaptation of the Hunan dish, General Tso’s Chicken. Orange Chicken consists of pieces of chicken that are coated in a thick batter, deep fried, and then stir fried in a sweet-chili based sauce. In China, in the dish “old-peel” chicken, the sauce’s flavoring comes from dried orange peel. Stateside, with our preference for the sweet, orange juice is often used as the main sauce ingredient.

At Mr. Tang’s all white meat chicken is prepared in the usual manor, but they added dried orange peel and chopped dried Sichuan peppers into the sauce, which raised the heat level and cuts the sweet. It’s a nice balance. I was really digging this sauce.

The pieces of chicken vary greatly in size from about one-inch square to less than 1/16″. The breading varies in thickness as well, sometimes I could swear I was eating nuggets of fried dough without any meat at all. Is that a complaint? I’m not so sure. The chicken is mild, almost flavorless and can stay home for all I care. The sauce dominates and is easily the star of this show. Fried dough with a great sauce isn’t a bad meal, but it’s probably not the healthiest lunch.

Now, here is where I have some real concerns; the “fried rice.” Excuse me, but when did fried rice start out with yellow rice? Ugh. The best fried rice is made with three- to four-day-old pre-cooked rice, which allows it to dry out before cooking. That’s not the case here. Almost sticky, wet and moist rice is tossed with some small pieces of barbecue pork and quickly tossed in the wok. At Mr. Tang they keep it simple. It’s fried rice with some pieces of pork thrown in for good measure. That’s it. No other seasonings.

But again, is that a complaint? Not in this meal. The orange-chili sauce of the dish can easily overwhelm your senses. Sweet, tart, vinegary and thick, it coats your mouth and tongue obscuring other flavors and textures until your taste buds are screaming for release. The bland fried rice offered relief. It cleansed the palate allowing me to dive right back down into the saucy mix.

The steamed broccoli added some visual attraction to the dish, but really had no purpose on the plate.

Back to the lunch “specials.” I have to believe that since every Chinese restaurant offers them, they have to be a better deal for the owner than the customer. I don’t know the financials behind it, but at Mr. Tang I’d bet the customer wins out. For once in my life, I couldn’t finish my meal.

Mr. Tang Coney Island Kitchen, 2650 Coney Island Avenue, (718) 769-9444.

Mr Tang Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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  1. General Tso’s Chicken, the version we’re used to, comes from NYC actually (1972 at Shun Lee Palace). The version with the battered chicken, that’s deep-fried and comes with dried jalapenos.

    Also good luck finding General Tso’s chicken in China, it’s not common, but you can find dishes that are similar, and probably led up to its eventual creation.

  2. Maybe, maybe not. 

    I’ve seen a few conflicting stories about the origin of General Tso’s chicken.

    Here’s one..

    Around 1974, Hunan and Szechuan food were introduced to the city, and General Tso’s Chicken was an exemplar of the new style. Peng’s, on East 44th Street, was the first restaurant in NYC to serve it, and since the dish (and cuisine) were new, Chef Peng was able to make it a House Specialty, in spite of its commonplace ingredients.

  3. Shun Lee’s was the oldest we could find when we did a story a few years back about it. Though Peng’s is different by using white meat, whereas Sun Lee’s used dark meat. The other difference was Shun Lee used water chestnut for for deep-frying whereas some of the previously-existing dishes skipped the deep-frying for pan-frying.

    P.S. Yeah ‘WTF?” with the yellow rice?!!!

  4. I must admit that this does looks good BUT! 

    Chinese food from Kung Fu Restaurant

    1950 Bath Ave
    is one of the best chinese restaurants in brooklyn. Large portions, tasty and they actually give you nicely decorated plate and fork, not plastic.

  5. Mr. Tangs was never good.  That is why all but one shut down.  There used to be one in Bay Ridge, one on Nostrand Avenue,

  6. I go there for the all you can eat sushi. Never tried the Chinese food menu. Added to the list.

  7. Best spare ribs are by far from Chinatown on Vorhees and 23rd(?) There is no fat or gristle at all and they are always perfectly cooked and amazing with a bit of duck sauce.


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