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Sun. Jul 14th, 2024

CT AG William Tong shares his favorite AAPI restaurants

By Vaseline May30,2024

Attorney General William Tong may be the state’s top legal official, but he’s also a foodie with a culinary background.

Tong, the state’s first Asian American elected to statewide office, attended schools in West Hartford. But when he wasn’t in class, he was often at his parents’ Chinese restaurant helping out in the back kitchen.

“I grew up in a Chinese restaurant,” Tong said. “My parents started a small take-out restaurant in Hartford called Town Sun Kitchen, and then they owned the Sam Pan restaurant. So I grew up working side by side with my parents and learned to cook there. I’d probably still be in trouble if I had to cook most of the things on a standard Chinese menu. It’s a big part of who I am and how I grew up.”

Tong, who credits his parents’ hard work ethic for his own successes, said the restaurant industry is tough because the hours can be long and the profits small.

“I really appreciate how difficult it is for people who work and run restaurants. I mean, it’s a difficult undertaking and that’s a huge understatement. That’s why I so appreciate what they do for all of us. It’s such an essential service. Where would we be without restaurants and supermarkets?” Tong said.

Tong is the 25th attorney general to serve Connecticut since the office was founded in 1897. When he first took office in 2019, he became the first Chinese-American attorney general nationwide.

Since his election, he has posted about his culinary adventures on his social media through “Tong’s Tastings,” in which he shares meals at various restaurants around the state. The idea, he said, is to sample delicious food along the way while highlighting local businesses.

“As a constitutional officer, I’m all over the state, and I get pretty hungry,” Tong said. “I love finding the local gem. For example, what is the place that not everyone knows, but where you should be? I want to know more about that place.’

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, held in May, celebrates the stories and culture of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, including food. Tong said there is no better way to celebrate than by visiting local AAPI restaurants to support local businesses, learning about the culture through food and enjoying a good meal.

The Courant asked Tong for some recommendations to celebrate the culture and heritage of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

Tong’s top picks

Peter Chang’s

This Stamford restaurant serves authentic Chinese cuisine from celebrity chef Peter Chang. Chang and his family arrived in the United States in 2001 and served as chef at the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C., and cooked for then-Vice President Hu Jintao. One morning in 2003, just days before they were scheduled to return to China, the Chang family left the embassy with plans to settle in the United States, according to his biography.

After years on the run from immigration officials, he worked in several restaurants until he opened his first Peter Chang’s China Grill in Charlottesville. Other restaurant locations followed in Richmond, Charlottesville, Fredericksburg, Arlington, Williamsburg, Virginia Beach and Rockville, Maryland. The Stamford location opened in 2018, according to the website.

“They are very authentic Chinese restaurants, mainly northern cuisine,” Tong said. “You get a few things with it, like soup dumplings from Shanghai or a Peking duck from Beijing. This is currently our favorite place in the house. Very tasty food.”

Shu restaurant

With three locations in West Hartford, Fairfield and a SHU Express in Avon, Shu Restaurant specializes in Szechuan cuisine, a Chinese style of cooking that is spicy, highly fragrant with citrus oils and peppery to evoke flavor. Some seasonal offerings include spicy flavored jelly noodles dressed with scallions, ginger, garlic, celery and coriander and sweet and sour pork ribs.

“My favorite place in the Hartford area, it’s right next to A Dong supermarket, a very popular Asian market,” Tong said. “It has very good, authentic cuisine. Definitely recommended if you are in the area.”

Golden Palace & Oriental Bar and Grill

Both family-owned businesses in Montville, near Mohegan Sun, specialize in dim sum, or small Chinese dishes traditionally enjoyed in restaurants. Some of the more popular offerings include shrimp dumplings and house roasted duck.

“Both places offer very authentic dim sum for brunch on the weekend and they both have a great atmosphere too,” Tong said. “They are great places to visit if you are in the eastern part of the state.”

Otaru sushi

This New Haven restaurant specializes in authentic Japanese sushi. Shaped by New York City’s restaurant scene, chef Sunny Cheng heads up the kitchen at Otaru, according to the website. Cheng has more than 20 years of experience as a sushi chef and has worked at renowned sushi restaurants in New York, such as Morimoto, Nobu and O Ya.

“It’s an unassuming place, but they have a great tasting menu,” Tong said. “It’s some of the best sushi you can get in the area.”

Mama Chow

Mama Chow specializes in a variety of Asian dishes and is located in Southport, near the Long Island Sound. The menu consists of authentic Asian ‘hawker’ dishes. A hawker center is an open-air complex in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Hong Kong with many stalls selling a variety of cheap foods. Mama Chow’s offers a variety of Asian favorites, from noodle soups to small plates with origins in Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and China, according to its website.

“Mama Chow is just wonderful. What was a revelation to me is how they cook their edamame. You sometimes get edamame as a starter at a sushi restaurant. They are often just steamed edamame soybeans. But what Mama Chow does is stir-fry the edamame with garlic and black bean sauce. It’s super savory and tasty. I highly recommend their edamame.”

Tong said some of his other favorites include Panda Garden in Stamford, the Korean-inspired Ginger’s Seoul Bar & Grill in Stamford, authentic Vietnamese Pho Boston in West Hartford and Hashi Sushi in New Caanan.

Stephen Underwood can be reached at [email protected]

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