Just about everybody I know in New York must get takeout of some sort two or three times a week. Most homes have a drawer stuffed with takeout menus. It's a way of life.
Not so much here. I know my New Yorker husband misses his Chinese takeout, so when I heard about the new Secret Chinese Delivery, I thought I'd surprise him.
The secret is that nobody knows where the food is prepared or who's doing the cooking. You just go online and order. However, right now the service is only open from 5 to 10 p.m. Friday through Monday, and delivery is limited to Los Feliz and Silver Lake.
I thought I'd order on a Friday morning for delivery that night at 7:30. But no can do. I have to wait until 5 p.m. So I set an alarm and get on the computer at 5 p.m. sharp and make out my order. First hitch: I have some trouble with my password and have to have it mailed to me.
Second hitch: You can't choose the delivery time. The impassive screen reads, "Delivery time will be 55 to 70 minutes." Too early since I'd invited my neighbors for 7:30. I figure I'll need to order the food around 6. But will orders be backed up then? I have no way of knowing — and seemingly no way to communicate with the folks behind Secret Chinese Delivery. (I found a phone number later.)
I leave my completed order up on the screen, everything filled out, ready for me to hit the "Continue" button. At 6, I hit the button and nothing happens. Argh, am I going to have to redo my entire order? No. After refreshing the screen and signing in again, there it is. I just have to re-enter the address and delivery instructions. It's at this point that I find out I can opt for the 50-to-75-minute delivery time or press a button for "Later." Why didn't they tell me that upfront?
Shortly afterward, the phone rings with someone from Secret Chinese Delivery requesting a credit card number. We had just polished off a bottle of rosé when the doorbell rang, right on time, and a deliveryman handed over our order, neatly packed in typical Chinese cardboard containers. My husband got busy dishing the food onto platters while I set the table.
The appeal of Secret Chinese Kitchen is not only the delivery. The kitchen uses Mary's free-range chicken and grass-fed beef, among other healthy ingredients from local farmers. The food is definitely not greasy. It's also a bit bland and doesn't taste particularly Chinese. Nothing to rave about, perfectly fine for a night you don't feel like cooking.
Our order for four totaled about $100, though we probably ordered more food than most. Steamed free-range chicken dumplings ($6) won't set dim sum fanatics afire, but they're competent with a delicate filling. Char Siu spare ribs in agave-beet-five-spice marinade ($9) went over better, though I found them too sweet. We all enjoyed the sticky black tea-hoisin chicken wings ($7). But Chinese tea-smoked chicken salad ($12) was underdressed and too muted to be interesting. It was also short on chicken.
"Jump for Choi" — sautéed bok choi and mustard greens with chopped peanuts ($7) — didn't give much joy and General Tso's free-range "Mary's chicken," billed as spicy, hardly warranted the adjective ($11).
Secret Chinese Delivery's concept is worthy, but cooks, you need to turn up the flavor.
I liked the Szechuan organic eggplant ($10) the best, though that, too, could have used more heat. "Eco-farmed fried rice," which you can order either with vegetables or pork, just passed muster. If it hadn't, you can be sure my husband would have pulled out his wok and gotten busy.
Written at the bottom of the online menu: "No msg, no food coloring, no corn syrup, no refined sugar, gluten-free soy sauce. Thanks to maryschickens.com and realtimefarms.com as well as all the local organic farmers and ranchers." And that is precisely why this Chinese food costs more than the food in your local strip mall Chinese.
Delivery fee is $3.
Secret Chinese Delivery (323) 913-0071; Friday to Monday 5 to 10 p.m. Order online at Secret Chinese Delivery.