Shiny and red as candied apples, the tomatoes were at least pretty to look at. Nearly everything I ate at DaDong was. The kitchen, led by Andy Xu, a veteran of Atlantic Grill and Blue Fin, certainly shows attention to the details of presentation. Occasionally, it sends out something that lives up to its appearance.
A perfectly clear globe of ice, to be cracked with a spoon, kept soy-marinated ribbons of geoduck deliciously cold. Braised sea cucumber in a glossy soy-based sauce hit all the right sticky and soft marks.
My favorite dish may be the seafood variation on the Sichuan classic Chongqing chicken called Hot and Spicy Lobster: a cut-up lobster stir-fried with nearly enough dried chiles to fill a pillowcase. A close second is the baby cabbage, sliced into threads and braised with chestnuts in saffron sauce.
Whatever is causing the kitchen’s reach-grasp ratio to break down doesn’t seem to have affected the desserts. There is a fine plate of Beijing snacks, dense little half-sweet cakes made of lotus root, red beans, yellow split peas and so on. I enjoyed popping tiny seashells of white chocolate into my mouth to find out what each was filled with: Nutmeg? Tangerine? Wasabi? The simplest, though, the ice cream with an alluringly bitter edge of dried tangerine peel, was also the most rewarding.
Servers sometimes seemed to be reading dish descriptions from a teleprompter, but they made up for that with a care and attentiveness that felt unforced. The sommeliers were particularly good at interpreting the wine list, which is well-rounded and can be quite reasonable. This list would get your attention almost anywhere, but in a Chinese restaurant in New York, it’s a treasure.
But even the most gently priced bottle can go only so far to smooth over the potholes on the menu, and the suspicion that the best Peking duck in Beijing has turned into something that would struggle to stand out in Parsippany.