By the time you finish reading this sentence, you will have ingested 20 milligrams of fecal matter. Okay, maybe that’s not accurate (THAT’S A HARD MAYBE!), but there’s no denying that most of us consume some pretty gross stuff on a daily basis. The Food and Drug Administration permits a certain quantity of insect parts in pre-packaged foods. It’s common knowledge that cow’s milk is prone to come with the unrequested additive of blood and puss. Arby’s serves liquid meat, then dogs Subway for not slicing its actual meat on site. Then people willingly consume Arby’s food. Arby’s!
Despite the vast majority of America willingly consuming insect thoraxes, factory farm feces, bodily fluids, and gelatinous “roast beef” product, there’s a clear line drawn between acceptably disgusting cuisine and food deemed to be unsanitary. Much of Milwaukee relies on TMJ4 news to patrol the border of proper restaurant sanitary practice in its popular “Dirty Dining” feature. The station does a great job of policing restauranteurs and holding them to a higher code: the health code, to be specific.
However, with the loaded word “DIRTY” in the title, establishments with minor infractions that have no direct effect on the health of diners (e.g. unused pots being stored on the floor, an employee’s medication being too close to cooking ingredients) are lumped in with cockroach-infested food poisoning factories. They list specific details of infractions in each report, but by the time the average viewer hears the “D” word spoken aloud whilst waiting for the night’s lottery numbers, that restaurant is internally filed in the “never visit again and tell everybody I know for the next few days when there’s a lull in the conversation” portion of one’s mind. As much as Courtny Gerrish can help the viewer stay away from truly heinous health risks, Dirty Dining also has the ability to destroy a local business because a part-time teenage employee put the fucking soup ladle on the counter that specific day and Joe-TMJ4-viewer can’t look past the scarlet “D.” Sorry ’bout your dream, bro. Better luck next restaurant.
Here at Milwaukee Record, we believe in second chances—unless you’re Who’s On Third. That place is butt. So in the spirit of redemption, we sought out the closest Dirty Dining repeat offender to our house (kind of the anti-Yelp Roulette), set aside a couple barf/diarrhea hours just in case, and bellied up to Bay View’s own No. 1 Chinese Restaurant to defy the repeated warnings of “Dirty Dining.” The television network twice took the KK Chinese joint to task, in 2012 and 2013. Additional searching found the establishment has amassed 30 combined violations over the course of 12 inspections between 2009 and 2012, ranging in severity from a hand towel being on the prep counter to raw shrimp being stored with cooked chicken; chicken not being refrigerated at a cool enough temperature, mouse droppings on the floor, and no expiration dates on food with a one-week shelf life. That’s not even counting the report last October. However, it’s been more than eight months since Gerrish last spoke of No. 1’s cleanliness issues. Maybe the restaurant figured things out. There was only one way to find out for sure.
We walked into No. 1 Chinese on a weeknight during the peak dinner hour, only to realize we were alone in the edifice, save for the lone front-of-house employee and a customer who was scolding said employee for not telling him about the specials (which were listed on the menu he was holding). Despite the weird start, we took a seat in one of the various vacant booths in the muggy dining room and waited for the one-sided argument to end. Once the tantrum ceased, the unfazed host/server came over and handed us a wrinkled paper takeout menu (an exact replica of the one on our fridge at home). We peered at the standard Chinese restaurant fare—and clearly marked specials—and quickly decided, fuck it, we were having something with this potentially dangerous chicken we’ve been hearing/reading so much about. A full portion of General Tso’s chicken with a bowl of white rice ($10.49), please.
As our upbeat and professional, jack-of-all-trades server departed to pass along our order to the chef, we took in the scenery. In many ways, this looked like most any Midwest Chinese restaurant. There were stock prints of Asian-inspired artwork, speakers and flat screen televisions (though neither were on for the entirety of the visit). Upon further examination, there was brown rice on the floor that appeared to take on the hue of dirt. An untended bicycle was propped against a dining room wall, and the shades were drawn. We sat in utter silence, excluding the occasional clang of pots, sizzle of meat in a hot pan, and two men having a conversation in a language we didn’t know.
Fortunately, the food arrived without delay, as we were still the only customers except a little guy with a sleeveless shirt who said “Last time I was here you messed my order up” before he proceeded to order again. The heap of meat was massive, and it dwarfed the six broccoli florets at approximately a four-to-one ratio. A glob of fluffy white rice came in a separate bowl. The quantity was there, but did the quality match? To be honest, yeah, it was pretty good. As we rapidly mowed down the infamous poultry like true bad-/fat-asses, we took note of the sinus-clearing spiciness of the Tso’s tangy sauce. The chicken’s texture was that of a restaurant that wouldn’t cause you to shit blood, which is important to us. The rice was good, too. Was this the best General Tso’s we’d ever eaten? No. But it also wasn’t the worst.
We had boldly balked at the repeated warnings of local news and, in our brash act of “Dirty Dining” defiance, we earned the grand prize of paying for an adequate meal in an exceptionally weird place we’ll probably never eat at again. But at least we didn’t let the TV decide that for us.