Brunching Up the Dope Chinese of Old Thousand
They're waging a sort of, y’might say, To-Go Box-er Rebellion
By Wayne Alan Brenner,
7:00AM, Tue. Apr. 28, 2020
Sometimes a journo gets an email about a brunch deal from one of the many struggling restaurants in this town, and, in addition to adding it to the Chronicle's List of Takeout Options Currently Available, that same journo decides to partake of the deal himself.
And, you know, in the three years of the Before Times during which this place I’m about to mention opened and flourished, I’d never eaten at Old Thousand.
One reason: I must’ve missed Melody Fury’s review when it was first published, because it was a glowing review of the place.
And the other reason, or a pale substitute for a reason, for not having eaten there sooner, was that, okay, it’s Chinese food.
Because I’m fiftysomething now, see? And so I remember old-school American Chinese food. I recall it mostly from my days in the suburbs of Long Island, no less, and it was always a taste I enjoyed, especially when I was a kid. But then I grew up, and my palate changed, and my tastes became more … adventurous?
And during those Brenner-aging decades, more American cities, more parts of the U.S., were blessed with other Asian cuisines: Korean, Vietnamese, Thai, Japanese, and so on in spicy profusion. And that was what I’d always go exploring in my various hey-I’m-a-grownup-now foodie forays throughout the kitchenscapes of Austin. And I tended to think of Chinese food as being more along the lines of the mildish noms resultant from having been dumbed down for Western consumers back when the transcontinental railroad lines were first being built and there was, ah, gold in them thar hills. Right?
But I ordered the brunch special from Old Thousand, because it’d seemed like a good deal, and because I’d heard so many positive things about the place. And also because I was aware of the reports of Americans of Asian heritage being insulted or attacked by deranged American Occidentals who believed, in their willfully ignorant manner, that anybody with even the hint of an epicanthal fold was somehow personally responsible for every COVID-19 death and our Generally Egregious Situation … and so I figured that buying a meal from Old Thousand would also serve as an oblique and less ah actionable method of support – in lieu of taking a tire iron to one of my fellow Occidentals’ heads, say.
In my latest fantasie de cuisine, I imagine a single Chinese restaurant that somehow embodies all Chinese restaurants. (What we mean by the word stereotype, after all.) I imagine a restaurant having chugged along with the same-old same-old fare, more or less, since the mid-1950s … and, suddenly, the longtime eatery looks around at the popular and critical success of so many Korean, Vietnamese, Thai, Japanese, et al. places, and it goes, “WTF? W the everloving F, people? Guess it’s about time I stepped up my fucking game here.”
And surely that happened a while ago.
In any case, that would explain the glorious, downright spectacular flavorbombing and gut-satisfying culinary brilliance of what my wife and I chose to pick up from Old Thousand for brunch this past weekend.
The venue’s tagline: “Old Thousand: Dope Chinese.”
We got the Veggie Fried Rice and the Chicken-and-Waffles as mains. We got three dim sum items to accompany: Smoked Salmon Rangoons, Hot-and-Sour Soup, and Lo Bak Go. We got a bottle of Champagne and a much tinier bottle of orange juice – to make mimosas with. That was how we optioned the brunch specials they offered, and it set us back just $55. And I cannot tell you – because it’d be tl;dr and you’re already regretting having read this far, maybe, already regretting yet another em-dash-enclosed aside – I can’t adequately describe how thoroughly wonderful, how spicy, how bright with flavor and diverse fresh ingredients the entire meal was.
(Note: You could go ahead and read Fury’s review now, if you hadn’t earlier; it’s spot-on.)
But I can mention one more thing about what I devoured, if you’ll indulge me here? Just one more thing?
Listen: Lo bak go? It’s a kind of turnip cake, the internets tell me. So it’s a vegetable thing, and it’s something a vegan could enjoy, if you know vegans who enjoy things. But it reminded me of nothing so much as a freshly sautéed, stunningly tender sea scallop.
Srsly. The taste … the texture … And there were, oh my, several of these cubes of lo bak go in that dim sum part of the feast, and –
Enough! By now you’re either looking to get an order for next weekend’s Old Thousand brunch for yourself, or the country’s current situation has screwed you so bad financially that there won’t be a moment of outside foodie pleasure for you until you get the sweet taste of voting that Drumpf creature out of the White House this fall, am I right?
[Note to self: Don’t read the comments. And wash your hands, baby.]