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July 1, 2008 7:03 AM

Harbor City closed (for now): customer mourns its passing

Posted by Nancy Leson

I got an e-mail from John Hom of Kirkland, who works in the Chinatown-International District, alerting me to the sale of his favorite Chinese restaurant, Harbor City. I thought it was a beautiful eulogy for the restaurant, and a lovely honor for the Ngo family -- who apparently ran the place with love and care.

John noted that Harbor City is slated to reopen with the same name under new ownership in a month or so, and I'm sorry to say (after reading his e-mail, and this post from those ID-lunch fanatics at MSG150) that I only ate there once. It was too long ago to recall the details, but I'll leave those to John, whose emotional ties to the place clearly run deep. He writes:

"Although you never reviewed this restaurant, and perhaps never ate
there, I wanted to let you know another Chinese homestyle, mom and
pop restaurant was sold in the ID District, located at 707 South
King Street. The owner, Chong Ngo, and his family ran the restaurant
since 1988. John Hintenberger was the only food critic who mentioned
it in one of his columns and it was one of his favorite barbecue
places. I only mention it to you because it was a restaurant which
reminded me of my dad's Chinese home-cooking when growing up in
Montana.

The Ngo's were like family to all their loyal customers and
kept an eye on the ID District for crime, which is why it was a
favorite hangout for law enforcement. Most customers talked about
Chong's house soups which were simplistic, made with clear chicken or
pork broth and ingredients added such as fungus, water cress, or some
Chinese herbs to give it flavor. He made dishes with the most basic
ingredients, soy sauce chicken (my aunt from San Francisco called it
the best she had ever eaten from a restaurant), garlic fried chicken,
spiced salt prawns and roast pork tofu, to name a few. He chose only
the best vegetables to cook, and if he felt they were sub par, they
were not on the menu that day. He had a knack for having dishes with
its own distinct sauce, not dishes made with the same brown sauce
with corn starch added as a thickener like many restaurants do.

The pork he barbecued and roasted came from pigs grown on a Heuterite
farm in Montana. The prices were affordable and it wasn't uncommon
to have soup and four dishes for five people cost $50 including tip.
In closing, I feel sorry for the people who walked by this place
without giving it a thought to try it as they wandered to an
establishment that was reviewed many years ago but had already
changed ownership."

So: Which Chinese restaurants' passing do you mourn, and what do you miss about it?

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Food for Thought | Nancy Leson on KPLU

Listen to Nancy at 5:30 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. during Morning Edition, at 4:40 p.m. during All Things Considered and again the following Saturday at 8:30 a.m. during Weekend Edition on KPLU 88.5.

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