The massive Focus Plaza has so many dining options you could eat all three meals and never leave its confines. Dong Ting Spring is one of the more popular spots. This Hunan place is one of the smaller eateries but is clean and elegant inside.
Hunan cooking is a spicy Southern style. I’ve been eating a version of it since childhood. Even in the Midwest where Chow Mein usually involves those dried crispy noodles you get out of a bag in the chip aisle, the Chinese restaurants there usually offer “Hunan” dishes. They aren’t real Hunan dishes but when you’re a budding spice fiend growing up in Cleveland they really fit the bill. My favorite was a beef dish swimming in brown sauce with wood ear mushrooms and whole dried chili peppers. Can’t remember the name of the restaurant and I think it’s a Johnny Rockets now, but I remember me and my siblings gobbling up plates of the stuff and daring each other to take a bite out of the pepper.
Flash forward to today and trot over to Focus Plaza for a nice dinner at Dong Ting Spring (or Dong Ting Chun.) Obviously I’m not in Cleveland anymore. There’s Stir Fried Pig Intestine and Hot & Spicy Stomach on the menu. I decide to go a little less adventurous and Wild Mushroom stir fried with Smoked Ham, Hot & Spicy Fish Fillet, and the Cabbage with Chopped Chili Pepper.
Dried Chili is the main seasoning on all three of my dishes. Unlike with Sichuan cooking there’s no numbing sensation to tame the heat. This is a multi-cola meal.
The Mushroom Stir Fry is easily my favorite dish. I’m a sucker for Chinese or Shitake mushrooms. I love their meaty texture and flavor. The pork is very smoky. I wouldn’t call it ham in that it isn’t completely dried out and I don’t think it was fully cured before being smoked and then stir fried. But it is flavorful and when combined with the mushrooms you think you’re eating a plate full of meat. Very spicy meat. The dish has chili pepper flakes and slices of jalapeno throughout. There’s no slow burn at this place. You just jump right in to the heat.
Next comes the fish fillets. They resemble the Chinese fish my family makes, steamed , topped with scallions with a soy sauce and hot sesame oil drizzled over it. This dish is different in two ways. First there’s a ton of pepper flakes on top. Second the fish wasn’t steamed. It has a rich slightly oily taste. I believe it was par cooked in oil, what some Chinese chefs call “passing through oil” and others call “velveting.” Some might find the fish too oily but I liked the added richness to the light fish.
I finish off with a veggie. This is pretty simple, a big mound of Napa stir fried with dried chili pepper. It’s simple, filling, and makes me feel a little bit better for adding a green with my meats.
I have to thank Dong Ting Spring for finally giving me a true taste of Hunan. After years of nibbling at the edges I finally got a bite of the real stuff. I hope it never becomes a Johnny Rockets.