From Paris—and Beijing—With Love

Food critic Ann Mah misses those Palena burgers. Photograph courtesy of Ann Mah.
Food critic Ann Mah misses those Palena burgers. Photograph courtesy of Ann Mah.

When Ann Mah was a cookbook blogger in DC’s Cleveland Park, she spent much of her free time scouring the Chinese-food scene. The former Beijing-based restaurant critic found lots to like: “superb” onion pancakes at A&J, dan dan mian at Joe’s Noodle House (“like a trip to Chengdu”), and beef chow fun at Chinatown’s Full Kee. Mah, who now lives in Paris with her Foreign Service–officer husband, puts that knowledge to good use in her debut novel, Kitchen Chinese, about a hapless but funny twentysomething who moves to Beijing and becomes—you guessed it—a restaurant critic. Mah, who still pines for the cheeseburger at Palena and the crabcake sandwich at C.F. Folks, reveals more of her favorite things in our quiz.

Martha Stewart or Ina Garten?

Definitely Ina. Martha’s food is elegant and admirable but too decorous. Ina’s is like a cozy, buttery, salty, sugary hug.

Peking duck or fried chicken?

Peking duck. Though KFC is insanely popular in Beijing.

Le Creuset or All-Clad?

Le Creuset. My seven-quart, flame-colored casserole was perhaps the best thing about my bridal shower.

Beijing or Shanghai?

Beijing. After living there for four years, I’ll always love its boxy griminess. I hope to have the chance to live in Shanghai one day, though.

Jellyfish or chicken feet?

Chicken feet are really tasty, but I can’t get past their appearance. Plus jellyfish are crunchy and chewy. How many foods can you say that about?

Truffles or foie gras?

Both—together.

American Idol or Top Chef?

Top Chef. If I had my way, Top Chef would replace every reality TV show in existence.

Padma Lakshmi or Gail Simmons?

Gail has an earthy charm, but Padma is so intriguing: The scar! The ex, Salman! The hybrid Anglo-American accent! The baby!

Napa or Provence?

Provence. I’ve spent the past four summers there and have fallen right into the Peter Mayle trap. I love the tiny hilltop villages, the sometimes-grumpy locals, the wine, the produce, and the lavender.

Macarons or chocolate-chip cookies?

Macarons. They come in so many different flavors, many of them weird and wackily inventive, like vanilla-and-olive oil.

Carla Bruni or Michelle Obama?

Michelle. I suspect even French people love her more.

Central or Bistrot du Coin?

Hmm, I’d have to say Westend Bistro. I love their fish burger and truffle-Parmesan popcorn.

White wine or red wine?

All wine.

This article appeared in the April, 2010 issue of The Washingtonian. 

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