by Sam Gugino
The Han Dynasty in China lasted for four centuries. The Han Dynasty restaurant chain (named for its founder, Han Chiang) may not last that long, but with eight locations in 10 years and another in the works, it may keep going for some time.
The Manayunk outpost, in a historic building on Main Street, isn’t the first restaurant at this spot, or even the first Asian restaurant. It looks like familiar old-fashioned Philly storefront, with tin ceilings and antique ceiling fans. Chinese scrolls decorate mustard-colored walls with an apron of brown wainscoting.
The menu has a heat index that gives each dish a number from zero (or no number), meaning tame enough for a toddler, to 10 indicating a fire extinguisher should be at the ready. Though the food here seems less scorching than the Old City Han, I’d keep away from anything over seven, unless you’re feeling dangerous. In that case, the cold sesame noodles, a substantial appetizer, will provide soothing comfort. The sesame coating on the earthy wheat noodles has a mild vinegary accent that prevents the dish from being too unctuous. The garlic and scallion flavors build as you eat. The crescendo doesn’t overpower, but it does give you a nice buzz.
Spicy crispy cucumbers (7) are somewhat confusing. Cukes, by their nature are crispy, unless something awful has been done to them. But when a menu says crispy, somehow you think they were, well, crisped. But no, these are just shards of the vegetable in an orangey, chili oil based sauce. (Chili oil is ubiquitous throughout the menu.) Though an appetizer, this is really more of a side dish or condiment that would go well for the table, especially with meaty dishes.
Entrees come on billowy white, square plates that make the colors really pop. Many dishes are divided into styles of preparation, to which meat, poultry, and seafood can be added. For example, cumin style (6) features cumin-crusted and stir-fried protein with red and green bell peppers, chili peppers, & onions. The lamb I chose was tender and flavorful with just the right level of heat for me.
The generously portioned double-cooked style pork belly (4) contained wide, thin slices of uncooked bacon that were stir-fried with leeks, hot peppers, fermented black beans, & chili oil. A lovely example of spicy food that isn’t especially hot.
You should get at least one side vegetable for the table, especially the verdant, garlicky pea leaves (more commonly known as pea shoots). They look like spinach but taste more like cooking greens, especially turnip greens. Cabbage with dry peppers (2) is a another good choice.
Service was generally fine except for the waiter who decided we should bag our own leftovers.
Han Dynasty, 4356 Main St, Manayunk; 215-508-2066; handynasty.net/manayunk
Daily, 11:30am-10:00pm. Reservations for parties of five or more only. Major credit cards accepted.
If you haven’t tried rosé wines because you think they are no different from white zinfandel, let me disabuse you of that notion. Rosés have a long tradition in Italy, Spain and especially southern France,. While rosés can be enjoyed year round, their crisp and refreshing qualities make them ideal summer wines. The lower alcohol in most rosés also helps keep fiery cuisines at bay.
As with red wines, rosés can be made from a variety of grapes, which gives them more diversity than most people realize. Generally, I prefer rosés from varietals of the southern Rhone, primarily grenache but also syrah, cinsault and mourvedre. Domaine de la Bastide Blanche Bandol 2015 (Code: 99039, $21.99), a mix of mostly mourvèdre with grenache and cinsault, is a good example. Also from Provence is Chateau D’Esclans Whispering Angel 2015 (Code: 49853, $20.99). But where the Bandol is ripe and rich, Whispering Angel is as delicate as its pale pink color suggests (though color is not always an indicator of a rose’s heft).
The 2015 Cune Rioja Rosado (Spanish for rosé, Code: 44317, $13.99), made from tempranillo is almost candy apple red in color with a ripe strawberry flavor. Bastianich Refosco Rosato Venezia Giulia IGT 2014 (Code: 73070, $14.99) hails from northwest Italy where the centuries old refosco grape has enjoyed a renaissance. This wine is deeply colored with good body and razor sharp acidity. I was also impressed by the lively Quinta De Gomariz Espadeiro Rose 2015 (Code: 49154, $11.99) from Portugal.
Chestnut Hill resident Sam Gugino is a former Philadelphia Daily News restaurant critic and Wine Spectator Magazine columnist.