Cheffy Take on Chinese Takeout at Lucky Danger
Lucky Danger, 455 I St NW, Washington DC (Mt. Vernon Square), reviewed January 12, 2021
You’ll be glad to know this isn’t a 2020 year-in-review. No one wants to relive that shit show, including me. I thought about doing a post on the best takeout I had in 2020. I even started flipping through my photos only to realize that, to paraphrase the great Martin Freeman in the British version of The Office, I was boring even myself. Then I thought maybe I could talk about the 2020 restaurant closings that affected me most. But it still felt wrong. We all know the terrible toll that 2020 has taken on local restaurants. You can read about it here, here, and here. I felt like the last person in line to stab the victim in Murder on the Orient Express. The point’s been made.
It took a Peloton ride to get my head straight.
Before we go any further, yes I am one of those annoying Peloton owners. For those unfamiliar, Peloton is a glorified stationary bike that comes with a video screen so you can join virtual spin classes in NYC and London. The classes are sorted by intensity so you can select the precise level of inadequacy you want to achieve. My wife always notes, supposedly in our defense, that we had a Peloton before the pandemic hit. But I don’t know how that helps. Maybe we’re entitled jerks, but we’re not Johnny-come-lately entitled jerks!
Anyway, earlier this week I was riding with my go-to Hannah when she came out with one of those empowering little aphorisms that makes Peloton such an easy target. She was talking about the difficulties of 2020 and her advice to us was — and I’m quoting here — to “take the tears of 2020 and water the flowers of 2021.” Let’s put aside the fact that salty tears can’t be good for flowers. Her broader point that our pain can be put to productive use isn’t a bad one. And since I’m never going to do the other thing she instructed us to do — drink half my body weight in ounces of water every day — I’m going to give the looking-forward thing a shot. So let’s not look back at the pain of 2020. Let’s look forward to killing some flowers in 2021.
My first restaurant recommendation of 2021 is a new Chinese takeout place in Mt. Vernon Square called Lucky Danger. It’s the brainchild of Chef Tim Ma and Chef Andrew Chiou. Ma was born and raised in Arkansas; many of you will know from his fancier restaurants, Kyirisan (now closed) and American Son. As Ma told Eater, Lucky Danger is “unapologetically American Chinese…It started as an ode to my uncle. I wanted to explore the food that he had in his restaurant, which was the centerpiece of the food I had growing up, and also the centerpiece of my culture and much of my family’s story.”
But while Lucky Danger mostly offers familiar Chinese-American staples, and a fun, playful motif, you can tell that a chef is in charge: the beef is high quality and picks up good char in the wok, the crab rangoon has more crabmeat than cream cheese, the braised pork belly is fall-apart tender, and the sauces are fresh and well-balanced with no hint of gloppiness. Sometimes Ma throws in a less familiar ingredient like winter melon, dried radish, or yu choy, a leafy green with small yellow flowers that you may have seen at Asian markets and briefly thought about cooking before settling for something more mundane. Here’s the menu.
Of the things I tried, the only misses were the hot & sour soup, with its thin and too-vinegary broth, and the decision to use fried rather than sautéed chicken in the kung pao and cashew chicken dishes. I didn’t mind the fried chicken chunks, I just didn’t think it made those dishes better and wasn’t worth the calories.
Lucky Danger has no phone so you have to order online. Slots for pick-up and delivery open every morning at 10 am for that evening. I’d recommend getting on right away if you want a prime slot.
Chinese Greens (Yu Choy) with Garlic and Shaoxing Wine
Eggplant with Basil
Duck Fried Rice
Pork Belly with Preserved Veggies
Cashew Chicken (photo from Eater)
Pan-Seared Pork Dumplings by Laoban
I ordered from Lucky Danger less than a week ago and I’m already plotting my next order. The car ride downtown isn’t a bug, it’s a feature. Not only is the food worth it, but it’s a chance to (1) sit somewhere other than my home office, and (2) make a dent in my crushing podcast backlog. Who needs DoorDash when you’ve got a dozen episodes of Keep It to binge.
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