In her best-selling book The Fortune Cookie Chronicles, Jennifer 8. Lee explores the complexities of Chinese food in America. Parts read like a text book (check there's even a bibliography and chapter notes), but overall, the book is a great read and made me hanker for some Chinese food.
Trouble is, until recently, the Chinese food in these parts hasn't come close to the goods found in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Well, things are changing a bit for the better, thanks in part to Harvest Moon.
Situated on the corner of Oracle Road at Rancho Vistoso Boulevard, Harvest Moon attracts a well-heeled crowd. The small dining room is often packed with folks from the neighborhood, all there to enjoy some of the best Chinese food in the area.
The high-ceilinged room is modern and open; gold-dappled walls have only a few Asian-inspired pieces on them. An L-shaped bar sits in one corner with an open kitchen in the back. There is a short, moderately priced wine list, along with beer and cocktails. Service is both relaxed and proficient—servers are there when you need them, without constant hovering. Food is brought to the table steaming-hot.
The menu has plenty of the usual Chinese-restaurant items (including General Tso's chicken, $9.50, an item to which Lee devoted an entire chapter), but then there are somewhat unusual offerings like curry shrimp with potato ($11) and Singapore-style rice noodles ($9.50).
Starters include the kitschily named puu puu platter ($7.50 per person). Brought to the table with a mini-hibachi—complete with live fire—the name totally belies the time and thought that goes into the preparation of each element. Included were two fantail shrimp in a toothsome tempura batter, four well-stuffed crab puffs, two meaty barbecue pork ribs, four foil-wrapped chicken pieces grilled to a nice char, two crisp miniature egg rolls and two beef skewers. You can choose to grill any or all of the items, but all are done so well that the fire is almost superfluous.
The two dipping sauces (served as soon as you settle in, along with crispy wonton strips) are splendid. One is the ubiquitous plum sauce, with a hefty squirt of hot mustard right in the middle. Served warm, the two come together in the mouth, both sweet and fiery. As for the other sauce, soy sauce is mixed with balsamic vinegar, jalapeños, sugar and other "secret" ingredients; it is at once salty, sweet, savory and spicy.
Other starters include a marvelous house egg foo young ($8.75) and tasty, plump pot stickers ($7). The egg foo young is perhaps some of the best we've ever sampled. Four half-inch thick "cakes" with crispy edges were topped with shrimp, beef and chicken in a light sauce. This dish could be a meal itself.
But appetizers aren't the only things that shine. The two soups—egg flower and hot and sour—that come with the dinner specials drew raves. The egg drop was light and full of flavor; corn kernels swam among swirls of dropped egg. The hot-and-sour broth was dark, rich, smooth and loaded with bits of meat and vegetables.
Entrées sampled included the sesame beef ($10), the aforementioned Singapore style rice noodles ($9.50), the crispy duck (half $13, whole $22) and the crispy shrimp with spicy salt ($13; shell on or shell off—your call). Dishes come with a choice of brown or white rice.
The sesame beef proves the kitchen has a handle on things. Most versions of this dish consist of tiny bits of tough beef in a nondescript sauce, but Harvest Moon's version has big strips of tender beef cooked in a luscious light sauce. The meat and sauce complement each other perfectly.
The noodles (one of many noodle dishes on the menu) were tossed with sautéed vegetables—light and lovely.
With the crispy shrimp, there first was a salty, airy crunch, followed by a bit of heat and then the sweetness of perfectly cooked shrimp. This was a tasty dish, and I would definitely order this again.
Finally, the duck: The half-portion was more than enough for two. The outside was well-seasoned and had a nice crunch, while the meat itself was pink and tender. It tasted great cold the next day, too.
The food served at Harvest Moon exceeded expectations. This isn't your ordinary run-of-the-mill Chinese cuisine. The food is smart and tasty, especially the sauces—whether for dipping or those that come with the dishes. It is apparent that each and every dish is lovingly prepared with quality ingredients.
I only wish Harvest Moon was closer to my house; I'd eat there on a regular basis.