This is a eulogy for the Broadway Wok & Grill. It certainly isn't a fresh kill; the Wok & Grill closed in 2006, which means that at this point it's been closed for longer than it was open, so it's pretty much the restaurant equivalent of a desiccated skeleton found manacled within a bricked-over alcove. But I loved the Broadway Wok & Grill, and I hope to do it justice.
You may dispute the idea that a Chinese restaurant can be a greasy spoon, but I posit that Chinese restaurants are in fact the GREASIEST of spoons. With all the deep fried fare and glossy sauces, Chinese food is definitely greasy. In those satellite photos from space that show the earth at night, with pinpoints of light clustered around metropolitan areas, the lights aren't streetlights — they're orders of General Tso's reflecting moonlight from the chicken's highly polished surface. Further, Chinese restaurants use more spoons than any other type of cuisine. On every table at the Broadway Wok & Grill was a steel caddy with a slot for a stack of those white plastic flat-bottomed mini ladles that are only seen in Asian restaurants. It had all the grease and all the spoons, so the Broadway Wok & Grill was, even by conservative estimates, a greasy spoon.
The place did brisk business in takeout, but the dining room was generally deserted. The real action was always in the adjoining bar. A bar in a Chinese restaurant is a beautiful thing; the drinks are strong and cheap and if you get too trashed, never fear — you can order a big shiny plate of General Tso's to stem the tide of encroaching drunkenness. The Wok & Grill's bar was no exception to this rule. Like most dives it was refreshingly devoid of pretense. Burned out on the craft cocktail scene? You can always retire to a place like the Broadway Wok & Grill, where none of the cocktails have more than two ingredients, and the bartenders don't dress like the Pringles logo.
There was always a motley collection of drunks inside the Broadway Wok & Grill bar, getting quietly fucked up while silently watching a Mariners game on the flat screens. Unless, of course, the drunks were in a good mood, in which case they'd tell each other weird stories and buy a round for the three or four dudes sitting at the bar. The decor was generically Pan-Asian, with some Ichiro memorabilia, an authentic Chinese street dragon costume, and a couple Maneki Nekos, always smiling optimistically and waving — "Goodbye, sobriety!" The jukebox never failed to disappoint. The best I could hope for was loading the thing up with Skynard before some chump ear-raped me by buying three hours' worth of Creed.
Proprietor Danny Wong was usually there too, either mixing cocktails, or doing some paperwork, or just sitting there drinking, or heroically opening a can of Shut the Fuck Up on some asshole. That last part is not hyperbole. He was a fucking badass. One time a crazy homeless guy invaded and was going from table to table muttering things to customers. Danny leaped off his bar stool, hobbled over to the dude, and started poking that crazy fucker in the chest with his gnarly arthritic finger, yelling at the guy, ordering him to leave. The homeless guy was like, "What the fuck? I'm usually the one giving the enraged rants!" To everyone's surprise, he left without another word. But don't feel too bad for the insane homeless guy; he went on to become Sarah Palin's speech writer.
Danny was an old-school restaurateur who'd been in the business for years. He was originally from Hong Kong but grew up in Iowa, and after he got back from Vietnam in the early 1970's, he moved to San Francisco and started working in restaurants. He didn't have an ethos or a manifesto or a mustache. He didn't care about farm-to-table, preferring instead to concentrate on drink-to-mouth. Nonetheless, the food was very good. The meats and produce were undeniably fresh and the execution was exquisite. My favorite dish, as I've endlessly repeated, was the General Tso's Chicken, with its syrupy bronze sauce draped over succulent nuggets of fried boneless thigh meat. The General, of course, is more than the sum of His parts, and this dish is so much greater than just fried chicken lacquered with a sweet and hot glaze. The Wok & Grill's iteration of this classic was a work of craftsmanship, at once crunchy and juicy, sweet and sour, with a beguiling tailwind of orange blossom and a lurking, subterranean heat.
With its cheap drinks and a menu designed specifically to fend off hangovers, the Broadway Wok & Grill was a true greasy spoon. I sincerely miss that place, though I don't miss that weird drunk guy in the bar with a goiter on his neck who accused me of sleeping with his boyfriend. True story: if you punch somebody's goiter hard enough, candy flies out to delight the people.
Rating: 9 Proust moments out of 10
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