Growing up Jewish on Long Island, New York meant a few things to me: Youth group every Wednesday evening, saying the Chanukah prayer before receiving a present each day for eight days in a row during the holidays, and eating Chinese food.
Lots of Chinese food. We’d call in for takeout every Sunday evening (without fail), on Christmas Day, for “Easter” dinner (no, Honey baked ham was not an option), on mom’s “Mahjong” nights, and whenever my dad had the craving – which was almost always.
We’d hop in the car and drive to Hau Po, our neighborhood place, and stuff ourselves full of house-made shrimp chips while waiting for our order. In the car, we’d break open the noodles or eat an eggroll. And then, once we were finally home, we’d unload the bags: little sauce packets and white containers littered the table. From soup and ribs to all the main dishes we could eat – by the end of dinner, we’d be stuffed and sleepy, feeling a bit gross but satisfied.
I moved to South Florida in 2000, and it took me until now to find a classic Chinese food restaurant I could call “great”. The place is called Chow Down Grill. And don’t let the name fool you. While it would seem to have nothing to do with Chinese food, it was named for the Chinese who ran “mess halls” in Miami and officers would tell the men to go “Chow Down”… But let’s talk about the food.
Chef Joshua Marcus (formerly of China Grill and BLT Steak) makes everything from scratch – from the sauces including mustard, soy, duck, and peanut sauces to the tofu, which is firm and offers a solid consistency, and soaks up the flavor of any of the beautiful sauces in which it’s placed. (Chef uses tofu in many dishes, making Chow Down an amazing place for vegetarians to dine).
The Menu offers so much good food –starters such as organic chicken wings, fried shrimp wontons in peanut sauce, scallion and herb pancakes and egg rolls (with pork or ground chicken and shrimp) really whet your appetite for more. The soups, which include the best hot and sour I’ve ever tasted, look standard when seen on the menu, but once you eat them, you taste the difference.
Main dishes are abundant; beautiful proteins and wonderful sauces – that come together with veggies, in a variety of combinations. The sauces include Mongolian BBQ, Spicy Szechuan Sweet and Sour, Garlic-herb, Orange Chili, Spicy Green Curry, Black Bean, and more. Since everything is made from scratch (Chef Josh says that there are no shortcuts), you can really taste the difference. Where all too often, Chinese food is heavy and leaves you feeling full and “nasty”, the food at Chow Down contains no MSG, no preservatives, and nothing artificial – just fresh, top-quality ingredients that are prepared to order and are always fresh.
There are so many choices that it’s almost impossible to choose. Fortunately, an abundance of “little plates” and super reasonable prices enable guests to sample a variety of dishes without breaking their wallets. There are numerous ways chef prepares dishes – grilled, smoked, roasted, steamed, braised, and sautéed; each one a subtle reminder of how skilled he is. With so much “goodness” under one roof, it’s difficult to pinpoint what is “the best”, but if I had to narrow it down, I’d begin with the dumplings, which are one of the restaurants stars. All made daily onpremise, the five dumpling varieties include vegetable with soy beans in a beet wrapper; pork and chive in carrot wrappers; organic chicken in basil wrappers; beef in porcini mushroom wrappers; and shrimp, fennel and corn in squid ink wrappers. Hello, deliciousness. One is better than the next. Pho, a Vietnamese soup is a staple in many places. At CDG, the hearty bowl of noodles comes with beef broth, fresh herbs, red onion, jalapeño, and a protein. It is the type of meal that is so tasty, you want to slurp directly from the bowl and once you hit bottom, lick the sides so you don’t miss one drop. And finally, Bahn Mi, a sandwich that is served up “everywhere that’s anywhere” in the nation, but is severely neglected locally, is enough to get me to eat there every day. For just $8.95, you get a baguette stuffed with the protein of your choice (such as 24-hour braised beef, 5-spice roast pork, roasted organic chicken, and for the vegetarian s in the bunch, a Tofu and wild mushroom combo), cilantro, pickled carrot, cucumber, radish, jalapeño, and red onion. The under-eaten and under-appreciated dish is so delish I can’t even put it in words. To complete the picture, a “sauce holder” – a wooden block that has six little holes hollowed out to hold six little squirt bottles, each filled with unique house-made sauces – is delivered to the table. Peanut, hoisin, soy, duck, and mustard, sit quietly, awaiting their turn to enhance a specific dumpling or dish. It’s heavenly.
There are noodles dishes (the Chow Fun is killer), salads, duck, lamb…I could go on all day, but I won’t. I will end this by saying, “Get to Chow Down Grill and try it for yourselves. You won’t be sorry.”
The original location opened in Surfside more than a year ago; the second location on 9th and Alton on Miami Beach, opened its doors this past August. No matter which you choose, you are in for a treat!
Shari Lynn Rothstein has been writing about food, wine, lifestyles and fashion for more than 20 years, in New York and Florida. She resides in Aventura. Shari can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for comments, questions thoughts.