Mom: What's it called? Hunan Palace?
Megs: No, Ma. They're much more realistic. Hunan Cottage. Hunan Shack might be a little more accurate.
There is a place on Route 46 East, just over the border into Fairfield called Hunan Cottage. It's got a statue of a big, roly-poly panda in front of it. Last night I was talking about Chinese food with Mike and Gena and Mike asked me how my brother-in-law felt about eating out at Chinese restaurants. He wondered if perhaps my brother-in-law felt that Chinese restaurants in the States were unauthentic. While it is true that most of the time, my kooky brother in law would much prefer to make his own dumplings, there is one restaurant that we consistently go to, and which my sister and brother-in-law say is pretty authentic. Granted, they don't serve bugs (one of my sister's favorite things to eat in China), but a lot of their stuff is apparently very similar to what you would have in China, depending on the area.
Anyway, we started going to Hunan Cottage about two years ago. Cottage is completely nondescript from the outside (and also on the inside too) but we specifically started going there because they have soup dumplings. Soup dumplings, or steamed buns as they are typically called, are a Shanghai delicacy whereby the dumpling is filled with a meatball and soup. They are fantastic. Not sure if I have ever raved about Joe's Shanghai before, but that is the place where I first had soup dumplings. Wikipedia's brief entry on the restaurant describes the dumplings. While there are several places to get these tasty treats in New York, they are very hard to come by in the Jers.
As time has passed, though, it's not the soup dumplings that keeps my family going back (while the dumplings are solid, they don't hold a candle to Joe's). It's the Peking Duck. Simply out of this world. The duck comes with all the too fatty areas cut off, with the crispiest, tastiest of skin. Then the server makes a series of wraps with duck, Chinese veggies and duck sauce. The plate costs $25 and it easily feeds 5 people (assuming you are ordering one or two other dishes). The crispy fish there is also quite nice, and the Szechuan dumplings in peanut sauce - delightfully spicy.
I am inclined to believe that when it comes to Asian restaurants, the more Asians you see in there, the better it is. That holds true for Tawara (still the best sushi in New Jersey) and Yakitori Totto in Manhattan. That is definitely the case for Hunan Cottage, where nearly every table (especially on a Sunday at noon) is populated by Chinese families. And I have to say, (as is pointed out in the Times review below), I am glad that we have my brother in law to go with us - he always gets the skinny from the waiters on what the best specials of the day are.
Chengdu 46 gets all the attention for Chinese food in this area, but I think that for the money, the authenticity and the quality, you can't beat Hunan Cottage (granted, the decor at Chengdu is much nicer).
The Times actually reviewed Hunan Cottage a few years ago. I would rank it as better than good, but what can one expect from the uppity, bitter New Jersey section food reviewers at the Times.