Online Reviews of Online Reviews: The Red Hot II Saga.

Reviews

One day I was reading some heavily misspelled, half literate hate review of something that could not possibly have been as bad as the review itself and I thought, I should review these reviews. I never write reviews of anything, so, in this weird online space, I would easily fill the role of the critic. Never creating actual reviews of my own, but judgmentally assessing the relative value and beauty of another’s work. What could possibly go wrong? Here, then, is the first in what I hope to become a series of reviews that I call: “Online Reviews of Online Reviews”.

 Today’s episode: “The Red Hot II Saga”

I was looking through Yelp to find some interesting reviews to write about. I started by looking through some restaurant reviews, mostly of places I’d been before. It didn’t take long before I discovered something. Rarely does such an epic struggle come to you in the form of the Chinese food you ate last night, but this world, she is mysterious. For your reviewing pleasure, a review of Red Hot II from February 1, 2011:     

The closing of the original Red Hot is a dark chapter in Park Slope lore. The story and all its gory details have been passed down to me by fellow Brooklynites – the mysterious shutting of its doors, the forty days and forty nights of tumultuous monsoon-like weather, the subsequent 7th Ave. riots by torch-wielding residents who were out for the scalps of those responsible. Whose scalps they were after is decidedly unclear, but as legend goes, they wanted those shits like Brad Pitt in Inglourious Basterds.

Then, the sky parted and the warmth of our sun had returned. Red Hot re-opened (this time with a Roman numeral II), the dining area was packed that first glorious night, and the creators of Lost cited their cathartic final scene of the series on this very event, for even they recognized this food to be heaven on earth.

Who knows really how much all of this stuff is true – it was before my time in the neighborhood – and all I can really be certain of is that Red Hot is my ultimate go-to for the more-frequent-than-is-humanly-healthy craving for satisfying Szechuan.

I recognize this is “Americanized” Chinese food, but forgive me for not knowing any better. And, frankly, if that’s the genre it’s to be lumped under, then so be it. Whatever the label, this is personally the best Szechuan of its kind I’ve ever had. My repeated orders will attest to that statement.

And by repeated orders, I’m referring to the fact that as a regular calling up for delivery and simply providing a phone number, then hearing the voice on the other end ask, “Same order?”, well, this couldn’t be an easier transaction.

This order in question is comprised of the following – Steamed Pork Dumplings, Scallion Pancakes, Moo Shu Chicken, and Vegetable Fried Rice. Each item is fresh, delicious, and standard-setting for my God-given palate. Call me naive if you will, but this is as good as it gets in my book. Most Szechuan dishes at other establishments are often fatty, dripping with sauce, and I’m guessing equate to a few days’ worth of Weight Watchers points. Red Hot claims to specialize in vegetarian cuisine, and while I’m far from a vegetarian myself, cleanliness and quality is prevalent across all of their offerings.

Red Hot is not the place where you will find out-dated pictures of greasy food plastered across light boards and hanging above counters where some woman in her hundreds screams to the open kitchen behind her. Perhaps this makes Red Hot less authentic for some people, but for me, I get the feeling I’m walking into someone’s cozy, low-key dining room. Because let’s be honest, at the rate I order from here, it might as well be my official second home anyway.”

                        —Dan R.

I mean. What can I say? It’s a thing of beauty this review. The heartbreak, the re-birth of the Christ-like Chinese restaurant, actual information giving you some idea of what he likes about the place, all spun together into a terrific review. Full points, Dan R. Well done.

Fascinated, I found that other reviews also documented this pivotal moment in the history of Park Slope. For instance, from June 29, 2008:

 “Red Hot has re-opened under a new name – Red Hot II. I decided to do something different by revisiting it in person with a friend, which is a new experience for me having never entered the senior Red Hot. I did however order quite frequently from them. So frequently, in fact, that they were on speed dial right between my girlfriend and my mom (that shouldn’t be appalling to you, I think we all eat more than we talk to our mothers).

I walked into this chinese restaurant and discovered something I rarely ever see in a chinese restaurant – a packed house with a wait. 5 minutes later and we had a table for two and I briefly glanced over the menu realizing it was exactly the same, so I knew what I was having. On the way over I decided to give my friend who was visiting from out of town (he lives in Manhattan) the back story on the place. He seemed shocked that one person, let alone an entire community, was so deeply effected by it’s closing. “You don’t understand the depth of a Brooklynite, do you?”, I replied.

“All you brooklyn people are fucked in the head’, he says.

“Watch it!”, says someone walking by who obviously wasn’t in tune to the whole conversation.

“And sensitive too”, he replies.

I order my usual, Kung Pao Wheat Glutens and an egg roll. He orders something off the chef’s specialties. I was surprised when a plate of Kung Pao Tofu comes out, I express quitely that it is different and the waitress picks up on it but walks away. I take a bite and its actually quite good but I am still disappointed. She comes back and takes my plate away apologizing and comes out a few minutes later with the Wheat Gluten that I had really ordered. The food was better than I remembered. The service was a bit slow and I imagine delivery is not going to be as fast as it usually is to start. I can understand this and I can give the service a pass for a little while.

There is still a mystery surrounding the closing a month or so ago. A sign said “personal reasons” on the door. Then they board up and several sources online say that they will re-open in August. But here we are, the last weekend in June and it’s reopened, remodeled, and re-staffed. At least I assume this because I’ve never been in before, however the unfamiliarity of some of the staff with the menu leads me to believe that it was re-staffed. One older asian gentlemen seems to have made the cut and his only comment was “under new management”. He said it suspiciously like there was something he knew that he wasn’t telling.

My only regret was not grabbing a take out menu. I have no idea what the new number is. The old one is disconnected and I really want to order from them tonight!”

                                    — Eric I

Speed Dial, you guys! I’m sure Eric I has figured it out in the last 5 years but, for the record, Red Hot II’s number is (718) 369-2577. You’re all very welcome.

But there is even more here. The residents are not in agreement at all. There are a number of equally long, negative reviews. And while none of them quite achieves the narrative beauty of Dan R, they are, many of them, every bit as passionate. In fact, a fair amount of the loathing and resentment in these reviews seems to be aimed at the people behind all the positive reviews. It seems that an underground Park Slope Civil War has been raging for years. Behold, from March 27, 2010:

 “Those who are familiar with my restaurant reviews may note that I tend to “poo-poo” a restaurant only when it has been guilty of causing severe gastronomic disappointment. Unfortunately, after trying this Chinese restaurant no fewer than three times, I am left with no alternative.

Frankly, I feel bad giving this place such a poor rating. On each of my visits (two of which were for take-out), the service was decidedly polite and gracious, and the restaurant had a reasonable number of people packed in. They offer the appearance of a solid dining choice, and have a vegetarian-friendly menu (a bonus for my many veggie-friends).

Unfortunately, absolutely nothing about the food justifies return visits. In fact, the only reason I even bothered repeatedly trying Red Hot II was my refusal to accept that a seemingly popular restaurant could, in fact, be anywhere near this bad.

Regardless of what I ordered, I found the food the worst of both worlds: absolutely drowned with oil, and yet simultaneously so bland that it simply couldn’t be enjoyed, even with extra soy sauce.

Does it matter if vegetables are fresh and crisp if the sheen of grease renders them incandescent? Red Hot earns the dubious honor of introducing me to broccoli that wasn’t seared in a well-seasoned wok so much as blanched in oil — and even the oil was tasteless to the point of peculiarity.

Does it matter if the wontons are a nicely balanced, delicate texture (if thin), when they are floating in broth so briny that it could have been used to dehydrate Tutankhamun’s corpse? How is it even possible for something with that much salt to have so little nuance in flavor?

Does it matter if a selection has a generous portion of chicken, if the chicken requires a bovine level of digestive prowess? By which means can one render thin slices of chicken this chewy — seriously, what did they do, cook it in a microwave, on high?

My experiences could not have simply been the result of an off night in the kitchen, because I’ve twice returned to this restaurant to give them another chance, only to end up with more punishment… which makes the establishment’s apparently loyal following all the more puzzling to me. Why bother, especially in such an otherwise culinarily gifted neighborhood?

Sorry folks. I feel guilty for this, but nothing I’ve tried here has been worth the calories… not even close. Blah.”

                        — Joe M.

After looking over Joe M’s profile, I have to say I’m tempted to do a whole review just on Joe M’s Yelp account.  His profile quote is “Something like 50% of the places I’ve poo-pooed have gone out of business,” which suggests a difficulty with the whole causation/correlation thing. It also informs the gravity he implies in the opening of this review. “I’m left with no alternative,” he says. The way someone would say, “you made me do this” right before they pull the trigger. And then again at the end. “I feel guilty for this.” Because, of course, we now know from his profile that there is “something like” a 50% chance he has just doomed this place to failure. The bankruptcy gun has been fired. The dice of failure have been cast. And fully 3 sides of each of those fateful dice spell doom. Doom, people. That’s a heavy weight to have to carry around on one set of shoulders. Luckily, Joe M. (whose Yelp nickname is, I kid you not, “Joey”, as in Joe “Joey” M) says that when he’s not yelping he’s “probably working or at the gym.” I’m guessing all that gym time is just so he can measure up to the extreme burden that comes with the power of his reviews. Heavy stuff Mr. M.  Sleep well my brother.

Looking past the fantastically interesting case of Joe “Joey” M, there are a couple of other negative reviews that caught my attention while reading through the Yelp saga of Park Slope Chinese food. The tale of star crossed lovers Kezam O. and Neera J. from January 6, 2008:

“My girlfriend used to get take out from here and she acknowledges it was generally fine.

But then one day we ate in the actual restaurant. I ordered the sesame chicken, which was made with bad chicken.

To be clear, by “bad” I don’t mean to say the chicken wasn’t cooked right or I simply didn’t like it. I mean it was “off”, beyond “sell by” date, and should not have been served to people. This was very obvious.

To make matters worse, when we complained the staff were not only rude, but they insisted on charging us for the meal because we had eaten some of the broccoli. They did end up giving us a 10 percent discount, but they were not happy about it.

I probably should have called 311 and reported the incident, but didn’t.

There are a couple other very negative reviews of this place below this one which you should probably read. One mentions finding a cock roach in the food; the other finding meat in a vegetarian dish. Those reviews would seem to support the notion that a call to the health department and possibly the Department of Consumer Affairs is in order.

Needless to say, wouldn’t eat here using someone else’s stomach. Definitely won’t be going near the place again.”

                                    —Kezam O.   

 I’m not sure whether a cock roach is the same as a cockroach. But I assume it is something far, far dirtier.

But wait, another view of the tale of the bad chicken and the 10% discount, this time by the girlfriend her very own self:

“So I must preface this review by saying that when I lived in Park Slope, this was my “go-to” for good greasy Chinese delivery. It was dreamy. I was so excited that Chinese restaurants in NYC have brown rice (which Thai restaurants do not… it is the opposite in Boston, where I used to live). THe food was fast and yummy. Their sesame chicken had that perfect crispiness, even with delivery.

And then, the inevitable happened. The dream died.

My boyfriend and I went to the actual restaurant one lovely evening. We ordered the sesame chicken and something else. The other food was fine, but the chicken was BAD. It tasted like someone had frozen the chicken a day too late, and not quite fully defrosted it before cooking. It was just off. Once my boyfriend and I realized it was not right, we had already eaten half of the broccoli garnish.

Apparently eating the garnish at this restaurant equals “no taking the item off your bill”. Even if eating it would probably make you puke for a few days. We tried to return it and got all kinds of attitude from their staff. They finally consented to a 10% discount on the bill. Definitely not a Danny Meyer type of experience.

Sadly this has soured me from the restaurant and I will not return. I read a review below about people finding a roach in their food, and meat in vegetarian meals. On both occasions, any complaints were met with attitude, and less than stellar customer service. Unacceptable.”

                                    —Neera J.

Like Rashomon, but way less interesting, we get the seperate views from each member of the party. Marvelous! It would seem, though, based on their Yelp profiles, that Neera J and Kezam O have now gone their separate ways. Neera to Auckland, New Zeland, poor Kezam left lonely here in Brooklyn. Perhaps they couldn’t agree on everything the way they could on the foulness of their deep fried hunks of sauce covered chicken. The inevitable happened. The dream died. This life! She is cruel!

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About Chris Michael

Eating guitars since 2009.
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