There are many ways in which the coronavirus pandemic affected our lives.
It has affected our health, our businesses, our social events, our livelihoods, our tourism, our recreation ... the list goes on.
But there is one specific area in Rome that I believe the coronavirus pandemic (and consequent quarantine) has cut the deepest. And that’s in our ability to dine in at Asian restaurants.
I know. It’s devastating. But we MUST discuss this as a community if we can hope to overcome the pain and sense of loss that we all feel.
Specifically I’m talking about the fact that even today we cannot sit down at The Big Three as I call them: Chef Chen Buffet, China City and Soho Hibachi.
Yes, I realize there are other restaurants affected by the quarantine closures, but for whatever reason I feel that not being able to enjoy the delectable offerings at those three establishments has cast a dark cloud over our community.
Chef Chen Buffet (the one near IHOP) was a constant source of joy for my lunch buddies and me. It was a place we could all be happy with because there was something for us all there. One guy liked the sushi while another enjoyed the soup. One wanted to get the chicken on a stick while someone else wanted the crab Rangoon. Someone else could get the General Tso’s chicken or the pepper steak. It’s the Disney World of Rome eateries because everyone could find something they liked there and it made everyone happy. I believe as of this column, Chef Chen was open for pickup but not dine-in. I pray nightly this will change soon.
It’s no secret that I’ve loved China City since the first day I moved to Rome. I’ve written about it before. I don’t care that it’s located next to one of those ... less than prestigious ... hotels. And I don’t care if the building itself looks like it was condemned years ago. The food is magnificent. My favorite things there is the hot and sour soup and the steamed wontons but everything on the menu is fantastic — the Mongolian beef, cashew chicken, sweet and sour pork, etc.
And listen y’all. I’m old school. I don’t want my Chinese restaurant to have modern furniture and decor. I love China City because it looks like it was decorated in the 1940s, when you walked into a Chinese restaurant and felt like you were transported to the Orient. I want jade sculptures of cranes, I want lanterns hanging from the ceiling and MOST IMPORTANTLY I want a large fish tank front and center so that when I’m waiting to be seated I can stare into it and comment on its cleanliness (or lack thereof).
China City is open for takeout but not for dine-in. And my heart breaks just a little when I drive past it and realize I can’t go in and sit in the cracked leather booths and I can’t stand at the front counter and wonder what’s going on in that mysterious upstairs area. I need the full China City experience soon. I don’t know if I can’t take this much longer.
The last of the Big Three, and perhaps the one that holds the most firm grip on my heart, is Soho Hibachi. It is still closed for dine-in but is doing carry-out.
For those of you unfamiliar with Soho Hibachi, I will try to explain it as best as I can.
It’s as if the baby Jesus himself came down from heaven, opened a restaurant on Shorter Avenue and started serving goodness and light in styrofoam containers. And then seeing that his work was unfinished, he added that white sauce for you to pour in copious amounts on top of it.
My buddies and I loved going to Soho Hibachi. We went two or three times a week. Why? Because Soho piles on the rice, veggies and deliciously seasoned meat. It’s enough hibachi to feed a small village deep in the Amazon for weeks at a time. But they also serve teriyaki as well as noodles and soups.
As of the writing of this column on Monday, Soho was open for carry-out but the person who answered the phone said she did not yet know when they would be open for dine-in. And of course, as much as I’d like them to be open, they have to follow the proper procedures and guidelines to make things safe for their employees and customers.
So please join me in praying that the darkness that is the coronavirus will be stricken from the earth. We must protect and preserve our elderly, our weak, our children and Soho Hibachi.