Tu-Di-Gong, or “The God of Earth,” is said to bring good luck and harmony to those who invoke his name. Reno’s newest Taiwanese restaurant sports a sound-alike name that could be translated as “two-dimensional cooking.” Thankfully, the flavors are anything but flat at 2-D Wok.
The modern cuisine of Taiwan is a mix of Asian flavors and traditions with its own unique contributions. My dining group came hungry, so we began with several starters and small plates. Crunch & Munch Chicken ($6) involved a couple of dozen deep-fried bites of breaded chicken breast, tossed with chopped Thai basil and a salt-and-pepper seasoning blend. The chicken was a bit dry, but the flavor was there. American “popcorn chicken” has its roots in this Taipei street food favorite.
An order of beef wrap ($6) included four servings of braised beef and scallions wrapped inside a thin scallion crepe. Can’t go wrong with beef and onion. The Stewed Sampler ($6) is boiled eggs, tofu and beef that have been “red cooked,” i.e., braised in a mix of soy sauce, sugar and rice wine. The tofu was firm, and the beef was fall-apart tender.
Calamari meatballs ($6) are similar to other Asian fish balls, deep-fried in salt and pepper seasoning. I found these to be surprisingly tender, especially for squid. They were good but couldn’t compete with Momma Lin’s Fried Taiwanese Bacon ($6). A long piece of uncured, thick-cut pork belly is deep-fried in sweet potato starch, served thin-sliced with a side of plum salt. Dip the meat in the sweet salt and you might find it habit forming. Think bacon on crack.
Continuing with small plates, Cucumber Salad ($3) is a mild pickle of diced garlic and chili pepper, and quartered, inch-long cuts of cucumber. It’s mild unless you bite into one of those red hot bits of chili. The Taiwanese Rice Cake ($4) combines sticky rice stir-fried with bits of mushroom and pork, steamed and shaped into a cake, then drizzled with sweet chili sauce. Not bad if you like sweet rice.
Our final small plate was a show stopper. The gua bao or Taiwanese pork bao ($4) is completely unlike the steamed buns found in a typical dim sum line-up. A puffy piece of steamed rice bread is topped with braised pork belly, pickled mustard greens, crushed peanuts and fresh cilantro. Folded like a taco, each bite made us swoon and want more. I’ve tasted a lot of pork belly served in a variety of trendy ways, but Taiwan is way ahead of us. This bit of decadence could make a vegetarian switch teams.
Finally we made it to the entrees, each served with rice. Satay beef ($12) and Infernal Chicken Mushroom ($11) are both pretty recognizable as “Chinese stir-fry.” The beef was well-balanced with bok choy and carrot in a spicy Taiwanese barbecue sauce. Straw mushroom, carrot, onion, and hot chilies join the chicken in a spicy soy sauce mix. Or rather, that’s what the menu says. The dish was delicious and savory, but we didn’t detect much “infernal” heat.
Ginger Luffa Clams ($16) are a simple dish of steamed clams and stir-fried baby luffa fruit, slow-simmered together in a light ginger sauce. Luffa is of the cucumber family. If allowed to fully ripen it becomes very fibrous and inedible. You may have seen them dried and sold as a bathing accessory.
I’ve actually cooked three-cup chicken, but haven’t seen it named Romance of the Three Cup Chicken until now ($12). A Taiwanese classic, large chunks of chicken are stir-fried with onion, basil, whole garlic cloves and sliced ginger, and combined with the three “cups”: sesame oil, rice wine and soy sauce. Perhaps the romantic title makes sense as I’m now in love with this beautiful, flavorful hottie.