The Belknap Zone
Because there is no way, no freaking way, that Phat-Dat has been preparing incredible Chinese seafood there for half a decade, and Chow, Baby noticed it only last week. No way. Because, think about it, on the corner is the unthreatening Pho Nam, where Chow, Baby frequently takes pho newbies. Right next door to the suddenly appearing Phat-Dat is Phuong’s, where Chow, Baby often satisfies its curried-goat or pork-blood-soup cravings. And then there’s the anchor, Vietnam Plaza Super Market itself, where Chow, Baby always goes to replenish its Café du Monde Coffee & Chicory stash between New Orleans visits. No, Chow, Baby knows Vietnam Plaza better than it knows its own kitchen. There’s no way a restaurant could have gone unnoticed here. For five years.
On the other hand, Phat-Dat sure looks like it’s been here five years, give or take 50. It has the same overly bright fluorescents, zero décor, and serene service as its cousin, Arlington’s Bat Dat Ocean. Phat-Dat doesn’t have the piped-in Casiotone music, but it does have a lobster tank, with half a dozen lazy-looking specimens awaiting their turn to be served with black bean or green onion sauce (market price, currently about $20). More within Chow, Baby’s budget is, well, everything else. Phat-Dat’s Chinese standards and delicacies are generally under $10, sometimes way under, such as the $3.95 lunch specials like chop suey and beef with broccoli (soup and fried rice included). But when in a Chinese seafood restaurant, Chow, Baby starts with fried shrimp balls ($7.95, actually a dinner item off the Chef Specials section) – six battered-and-fried handfuls of pure ground shrimp, no filler, each the size of a tennis ball. “Panda” prawns ($8.95) are marinated in vinegar and honey, deep-fried, then coated with Szechuan spicy sauce and red pepper flakes, like a super-gourmet sweet-and-sour shrimp. What could be better than that, you ask? Oh, how about butter shrimp ($9.95), lightly floured and then fried in butter and green onions? Chow, Baby will never again whine about shells left on, as these added a nifty, flavorful crunch. Oh, to think that Chow, Baby could have been enjoying this dish for the past five years.
No. Impossible. But there was a way to test the Belknap-time-flux theory. Chow, Baby had recently noted that Sunny’s Grill was gone, replaced by something called A&D Buffalo’s (4005 E. Belknap St.). Now, if this brand-new fast-food philly & wings chain-wannabe also claimed to have been around for five years … . Unfortunately, the answer to “How long have you been here?” was “About a month,” and there was no chance of mistranslation. So the theory remains, alas, unproven. Also unfortunately, Chow, Baby stayed to eat lemon-pepper wings ($4.59 for six, with fries and drink) that weren’t too bad and a philly cheesesteak ($4.49) that was.
A&D’s best feature (no, it’s not the chirpy servers) is its view of the restaurant row behind Beach and Belknap, which includes boy-I-wish-were-there-now Pho Bella, Thai Belknap, and Boba Tea House. And look! “Coming Soon: Saigon Taipei Farmer’s Market.” Knowing what “Coming Soon” means in restaurantese (“Not Soon Enough”), Chow, Baby is hoping for another time-flux blast.
Contact Chow, Baby at firstname.lastname@example.org.