Once upon a time in America, Chinese food was considered exotic. It was served on porcelain dishes with metal flatware in opulently-decorated restaurants. Golden dragons, keyhole doorways, and ornate tapestries could be seen in these Chinese restaurants, which were staffed by attentive waiters in gold and red waistcoats, the runners with a bleached white towel draped over their forearms. The restaurant owner would stop by your table and broadly smile as he asked how everyone was enjoying their meal. If you ordered Moo Shu, a waiter would expertly make the first serving for you at table side, using only two spoons and a slathering of plum sauce.
And fortune cookies did, at one time, contain fortunes. Not meaningless platitudes like, “Your joy is infectious,” or “Dream big, act bigger,” but actual, honest-to-goodness fortunes like, “You will come into money,” or “The one you love will return your affections.” I never did see a negative fortune. I never saw a fortune cookie where the slip inside read, “You will soon be diagnosed with a fatal illness.” I think I might have placed more stock in them as a device for knowing the future if they’d ever dispensed an unpleasant prognosis. “Your adopted mother is sleeping with your boyfriend.” If you fold that into one in five cookies, eventually you’re bound to hit paydirt.
Last night, my girlfriend and I had the extreme pleasure to visit New Ruan’s Restuarant in Bensonhurst with our friends Joe G. and the Radical Donna Fran. They know of my penchant for classic Chinese restaurants and mentioned this place to me last year when they spent a short while living in the area. Let me tell you, it did not disappoint, not in decor or service or sickly-sweet American-Chinese food which is a different taste altogether from what I call “chicken feet Chinese food.” It’s like McDonald’s: if you want McDonald’s, you don’t want a hamburger, you want that gummy, lukewarm patty churned out in the back room from McDonald’s own Play-Doh machine. Same goes for Chinese food: if you want the real deal dim sum and a broiled fish with the eyes still in it, then go to Chinatown. But if you want bright red spare ribs that make your fingers sticky and a wonton soup with bok choy in it, then you must check out New Ruan’s.
It isn’t very big, but New Ruan’s makes good on every foot of available space by hanging red paper lanterns from the ceiling and displaying an awesome faux brass mural of some berserk ancient Chinese whatsitz that looks kind of like a bunch of children swarming another child in a rickshaw. Or something. When the dapper Chinese waiter with pomade in his hair strolled up and started filling empty glasses with ice-choked water from a metal pitcher, I knew I was in the right place. I ordered the most vital dish to test when gauging American-Chinese food: shrimp toast. In a decent neighborhood with a large Reformed Jew contingent, the shrimp toast will be made of actual shrimp; in a take out dive, it will be made of shrimp paste. I am glad to say that New Ruan’s did not disappoint, ladies and gentlemen: the toast is shrimped.
Everything I had was good in context of the restaurant and the price was exactly as expected for an authentically inauthentic experience of that caliber. I’d recommend it to anyone of a similar bent who misses a time when eating Chinese food was a special experience, and not something churned out in a space the size of a broom closet with no regard for style. The waving porcelain cat on the counter is cool, but it’s not fucking with a golden dragon beckoning customers to taste the secrets of the Orient. Bring back the days of bow tied waiters and pu pu platters!