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Xmas Chopsticks

Chinese food on Christmas?!

by and


In the final scene of "The Christmas Story" (yes, as in "you'll shoot your eye out." Just say it! Get it out of your system. Okay, better? We on the same page now?). . . in the final scene of "The Christmas Story," the Parker family remedies their disastrous Christmas dinner (a neighbor dog has purloined the family's turkey) by heading out for dinner at a Chinese restaurant, one of the few places open that holy day.

It is a funny and touching scene. For most of the movie, the dad has been angry and borderline abusive and it has been tense, but as the camera pans out it seems to be making room for all the extra love—genuine, genuine affection—that is filling the family and the Chinese restaurant where they have landed. It is the happy-ever-after.

But it is also a reality: Starting in 19th Century New York, on Christmas Day, many Jewish families would wander from the tenements into nearby Chinatown; both because it had the few restaurants that were open, but also they were in a neighborhood that didn't flex anti-Semitism like so many other places at that time. Over the decades and generations, that informal Christmas Day tradition has solidified something almost as common as dreidel spinning in December.

In that spirit, we offer a few suggestions. Not limiting ourselves to Chinese food, we ventured out to some of the city's Thai and Vietnamese restaurants. Start your own new tradition this year!

Chinese: Double Happiness (Tuscan Square, 2115 NE Hwy 20)

Set back from Hwy 20, Double Happiness is easy to drive past; it is unassuming, but also is a restaurant worthy of New York's Chinatown—which is to say that the menu is extensive, with a near complete catalogue of standard Chinese kung paos and moo shus, and that the food is relatively cheap (a full course soup, egg roll and main dish for around $7). This is not exquisitely prepared or delicately presented Asian food; it is hardy, tasty and cheap!

With the Szechuan style, kung pao, mu shu, egg foo young and various stir frys, it is possible to go every workday lunch in the new year, and not repeat a dish. There really isn't a standout, so much as a selection of Mongolian beef and kung pao chicken; not adventurous dining, but delicious and reliably good. The crab puffs—available with every lunch order—are crispy with a surprisingly light exterior and creamy interior. The kung pao dishes are the best in town, spicy without being obnoxious. Although the citrus zest would be evidence enough that the Orange Mandrain Chicken is authentic, the cooks leave large, curling chunks of orange peel in the dish (best to pull those out before eating, though). (PB)

Vietnamese: Dang's (1180 SE 3rd St)

Dang's is in an unlikely location for an authentic Vietnamese Pho restaurant. Adjacent to the recently closed Outback Steakhouse along Third Street, it is not the most exotic spot. The interior is more sterile café than authentic Hanoi hangout, but on a recent cold Monday evening, I was looking for traditional Pho, the broth-based Vietnamese soup.

Although I have been adventurous in my eating before, and even lived in Saigon for several months (I drank snake blood once and ate cobra stir fry more times than I can count on one hand) I decided to steer clear of some of the more authentic soups. I was looking for comfort, not complex, food—and "tripe" did not sound as appetizing as their basic chicken soup. I ordered a simple dinner—salad rolls, and Pho.

After my dinner was delivered, I sat and stared at it for five minutes because the waiter forgot to drop off any utensils with my food. When the waiter returned (smelling like he had been in the alley smoking a cigarette), I demurely asked, "Could I grab a spoon or something?"

"You'd like a fork?," he responded.

"Um, really, anything. Maybe a napkin, also."

Two minutes later, a soup ladle, chop sticks, a fork and spoon clattered onto my table.

The spring rolls were tightly packed and nothing better than what Safeway offers, but the Pho is some of the best in the region. Flavorful and dynamic—both spicy hot with chilies and peppers, but also cool and crisp with cilantro and bean sports. It may be next door to the (shuttered) Outback Steakhouse, but it is a world away from a chain restaurant. (PB)

Thai: Wild Rose Thai (150 NW Oregon Ave.)

Opened in October, Wild Rose is the newest addition to Bend's downtown Thai food market—one already busy with Noi (550 NW Franklin) and Toomies (119 NW Minnesota Ave.) within a four-block radius. It is the sister restaurant of Pure Kitchen on Franklin, owned by members of the same extended family who also own a successful Thai restaurant in New York City.

The family's experience in creating a rich and diverse menu and fun ambiance at reasonable price points is clear at both downtown locales. Keeping it all in the family, they even incorporate Grandfather's Tom Kha soup, full of punchy lemongrass and tradition.

Lacking in recognizable Pad Thai options, the Northern-Thai style menu is a refreshing change. The tamarind chicken is spicy and rich, heavy on the chicken and rice, light on the vegetables with a few green broccoli stems and carrot slices—more garnish than substance. But the crispy light fry on the chicken and the spicy tamarind sauce by far made up for the lack of color. The Pad Mamuang on the other hand, was a veggie-heavy stir-fry with garlic curry paste, overflowing with fresh mango chunks and bell peppers, accompanied by a side of extra sticky jasmine rice.

The décor in the restaurant almost feels like year-round Christmas decorations—kitsch rainbow vinyl tablecloths and mismatched chairs upholstered with bright colors. The simple, terracotta flatware compliments the busy table settings, allowing the bright and colorful food to stand out on the matte red-brown plates. Wild Rose serves the kind of family style curries (for example, a red curry chicken drumstick with carrot, onion and Thai basil) and stir-frys that I imagine are cooked in giant metal woks, simmering for hours and brimming with authentic flavors, all ideal options for a traditionally non-traditional Christmas dinner.

With lunch options between $5-8, and dinners mostly around the $10 mark (or try an entire game hen marinated and steamed in yellow curry broth for just $14) the reasonable prices and family-friendly ambiance are to be desired for a Christmastime meal. (BB)

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