Orange Chicken from New Apolo (52 Grand Street, Brooklyn)
New Apolo is a great example of one of the first types of “fusion” food restaurants — the Chinese/Spanish mash-up.
Though Wolfgang Puck claims to have “created the first and best example of America’s fusion cuisine” with the opening of Chinois in 1983, “with his bold menu of Asian dishes created with California’s fresh, accessible products combined with French culinary techniques,” this isn’t exactly true.
The institutionalized blending of European and Latin cookery with Chinese food had been going on for a very long time before that in the U.S. and the rest of the Americas — at least since the influx of Chinese immigrants to our nation as well as to South America and the Caribbean.
This can be seen in New York’s Latin neighborhoods.
Nowadays, actual examples of venues and plates that feature both elements of Cantonese and “Spanish” cuisine can be harder to find — they’re dwindling, as evidenced by the disappearance of the Chelsea’s Cuban-Chinese hangouts — but they do exist.
(We’re talking places that have truly blended offerings, not just the Chinese places that feature fried plantains as a side dish).
At New Apolo, you can order a plate of ham fried rice — said to be a Puerto Rican fave — starting at $4.35.
However, most of the dishes are distinctly Latin, Chinese-American, or straight-up Cantonese or Sichuan, not a true mix.
So Year of the Takeout settled upon the orange chicken, a recipe that has helped popularize “Chinese” chains such as Panda Express and P.F. Chang’s because it’s so accessible: Even people who think beef with broccoli is too exotic like orange chicken because it’s fried meat with a sweet sauce.
(Think super citrusy sesame or General Tso’s and you get the idea.)
Anyway, the $8.75 dish comes made-to-order — judging from the fluffy crunch of the breading and moistness and softness of the meat, it appears that the restaurant fries the chicken with each ticket, not ahead of time.
And the sauce does feel different from Tso’s or sesame — the plate pops with zesty, fresh orange peel, adding a light element to the gravy’s thicker, candy-like overtones.