It's what you like that matters. And I like science fiction movies and books about sailing ships and celebrity memoirs and amateur pornography. I like music made in the years that music really mattered to me -- those years I spent in high school and in kitchens and had very little of what anyone would consider taste -- and falling asleep on the couch to cartoons in the wee hours of the morning. I like literature born of pain or poverty or cripplingly poor social skills and candy from foreign countries with no concept of what candy should be made of and girls who saw the original Star Wars in the theater during its original run because girls who didn't, I have absolutely nothing in common with and can barely even talk to. When I'm in the mood for seeing shit blow up, I like Michael Bay movies because no one makes shit blow up better than he does, and when I'm in the mood for barbecue, I like it to be made by someone with a little psychotic backwoods hillbilly in their blood because I know that the ability to cook good barbecue is genetic and smoking pork is only one step removed from distilling moonshine--both of them being an art bestowed only on god's most special children. I like foie gras and French cheese and American cheeseburgers and Spanish tapas in almost equal measure. And while I like the cultural collisions and almost holy rigor of immigrant, ESL cooks making hot pots and jellyfish salad and char siu bao and sesame balls for their fellow transplants desperately homesick for a taste of Tianjin, Wuhan or Guangzhou, I love the second- and third-generation cuisine of Chinese cooks cooking for Chinese customers who grew up on the sweet-and-sour chicken, pineapple shrimp and kung pao, moo shu and orange-flavor everything that is indicative of the American-Chinese refugee canon -- neither wholly one thing nor entirely the other; a cuisine born of happy and repeated impacts between an American taste for sugar and bold, simple flavors and the Chinese appetite for all manner of savory weirdness and sauces that make the French look like poor, Third-World culinary cousins.
And when I'm looking for precisely that kind of Chinese food, now I know where to go: to Paradise Asian Cafe out in Aurora, which just happens to be the subject of this week's review.
Needless to say, I really dug the place -- almost as much for what it didn't have as what it did. There's no gloss here, no modernity, no sops toward healthy living or modern Japano-Chinese-American Pac-Rim fusions. What Paradise offers is pure, Chinese-American food, right down to the crispy fried noodles with hot mustard and excellent, straight-'80s shrimp with lobster sauce.
For those of you uninterested in historical Chinese-American cuisine (which is unimaginable to me), this week I also return to Cabin Creek Smokehouse in Aspen Park, which still serves the great BBQ Mashers -- and now ofers breakfast, too!
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For all this, as well as interviews with chefs and bartenders, and lists of awesome eateries, come back here tomorrow, when the new Westword hits the stands/web. welcome in advance.