We were enjoying our dinner at New Asia in Germantown and simultaneously getting free entertainment from the little girl sitting behind me. Her story was a modified version of the tortoise and the hare, peppered with insights and wisdom from Aesop.
The beaver told the turtle to move out of the pond and the turtle suggested that the pond was big enough for both of them, and, by the way -- welcome, neighbor.
"What??? I'm not going to live with your kind! Live with a turtle!" the beaver (oh, maybe it was a badger) said.
Two things struck me. The first is that I felt for the poor turtle, feeling a little profiled myself because I had had to specially request the Chinese menu instead of the American-Chinese menu both times
I went to New Asia.
The second was that there was no duck in the girl's pond, and I knew why: Mr. Duck B. Delicious was on my table.
But first to the menu issue. I'd heard good things about New Asia from several people and all used the word "authentic." We decided to swing by one Sunday for lunch and found ourselves looking at a menu that looked the same as most other Chinese restaurants. We ordered, ate, pronounced it good enough but nothing exceptional, and left.
Still, people kept telling me about it, and I finally realized there are two menus. Back we went. Again, we weren't given a Chinese menu, so I asked for one. Then, as they say, I saw the light. Instead of generic Kung Pao and General Tsao, I was presented with a multipage menu of hot braised this, fragrant that, and both Peking and Cantonese duck.
Know the difference? Peking duck is the "production" duck. It comes to the table in segments with the skin, fat and some of the bone removed. The fat is discarded and the skin, crisp and delicate from having hot air forced beneath it during cooking, is served alongside soft buns, slivered green onions and, at New Asia, a plum sauce. You assemble your own little sandwiches.
Cantonese duck is your basic roast duck, served cut but with the skin and layer of fat intact.
Both are superb at New Asia: Deep, earthy, a little musty. The Cantonese duck is served on a bed of fresh and crunchy pickled cucumbers, cabbage and carrots. It's addictive, and I found myself poking around under the duck for more pickle.
The fragrant eggplant is a standout dish, as are the hot braised sole in a chili sauce and the deep fried sole in spicy salt (the pork in spicy salt is also excellent).
The eggplant dish is tender, slender, just barely purple squash cut lengthwise and sauteed until tender in what is probably a simple sauce but tastes as if it were composed of a thousand spices.
The hot braised sole was something of a surprise. We ordered from the Chinese menu, but the fish was covered in a neon red sweet and spicy sauce. I won't vouch for authenticity, but I didn't care. The fish was delicate in texture and taste, fried(not braised) in a light batter. While the sauce was sweet, it had enough of a bite to compensate.
The deep fried sole in spicy salt appeared to be the same delicate chunks of fish, but served clean of sauce and on top of deep fried fins. You can leave them on the plate if you want, but at least try a nibble. They're a bit tougher than catfish tails, but along the same line.
Numerous noodle soups are available, and fresh lobsters and Dungeness crabs are in a tank, ready for the picking. No turtles, though; they're busy teaching a lesson to the snooty beaver.
Address: 2075 Exeter, suite 90; Germantown
Telephone: (901) 751-8889
Hours: Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Handicapped access: Yes
Alcoholic beverages: Limited wine and beer
Don't miss: The Cantonese or Peking duck; the fragrant eggplant.
What's hot: The menu items with a pepper next to them...