There was supposed to be a code. If a restaurant has a Chinese name or a name like "Bamboo Temple," it has real potential. If it has a name like "Crazy Chopstix," it might have decent General Tso's chicken, at best.
With the debut of Wallingford's Rocking Wok, that tradition is in peril, because the restaurant's Taiwanese food is fresh, unusual and often intensely delicious.
Unless you've been to Taiwan, you've probably never come across a Taiwanese meatball, but Rocking Wok has them. The meatball ($2.95) features chunks of braised beef and mushrooms steamed inside a thick rice-flour dumpling skin and topped with a sauce suspiciously like thin ketchup. All together, though, it's a flavor and texture riot and probably a great hangover cure.
Other Taiwanese dishes include squid potage ($4.25), stinky tofu with kimchee ($3.75) and oyster chitterling with thin noodles ($4.95).
The extensive menu, with a full page of Taiwanese specialties, also features a small array of dim sum dishes and well-known Chinese entrees like Ma Po Tofu ($6.75) and dry sautéed string beans (here called Delight Green Beans, $6.75). I tried both of these dishes and found them competent but unexceptional.
Rocking Wok has a facility with breads. In addition to the thousand-layer pancake described below, they serve the best scallion pancake ($2.95) I've had in Seattle. The leek pancakes ($3.95), a set of fried empanadas full of minced leeks, are also well worth a try.
Prices are modest throughout the menu; only the seafood entrees break the $10 barrier.
Service at Rocking Wok is unfailingly friendly; if there's anything to complain about, it's that their heat isn't always on, and you may need to wear your jacket during the meal. (According to the restaurant, they do have a heater but don't always use it; feel free to ask.)
Rocking Wok sits on an unlikely corner, several blocks from any other restaurant. Starting next fall, however, Roosevelt High School will close for renovation and its hundreds of students will be right across the street in the old Lincoln High building. I hope Rocking Wok is making extra Taiwanese meatballs.
Chicken and sweet corn soup: Comfortingly bland, this soup needed a shot of soy sauce but was a good accompaniment to the many fried foods we ordered.
Thousand-layer pancake: Something like the Chinese version of puff pastry, this is a pillow of hand-leavened dough fried until crisp. Perfect for mopping up sauce or eating plain.
Wonton in chili sauce: Several pork and cabbage wontons, sprinkled with chopped peanuts, lounge in a bowl of red chili oil. The crunch of the nuts, the burn of the hot oil, the slippery meatiness of the wontons — this is a superb rendition of a classic dish.
Pork chop with salt and pepper: When the menu says "fried," they don't mean "stir-fried." This dish consisted of big, meaty chunks of pork chop deep-fried and sprinkled with copious amounts of salt and pepper. You have to really love salt to be smitten with this dish; luckily, I do.
House special crispy duck: In the Rocking Wok kitchen, there is a frymaster — and I'm talking about a person, not a piece of equipment. The crispy duck emerges juicy, salty, lightly breaded and without a visible speck of grease.
Itemized bill, meal for two
Chicken and sweet corn soup $5.25
Thousand-layer pancake $2.95
Wonton in chili sauce $2.95
Pork chop with salt and pepper $7.95
House special crispy duck $9.95
Matthew Amster-Burton: email@example.com