Highlights and Crispy Beef (Recipe)
You may not know this, but my heart actually belongs to two Joes—one is my husband, the other is my hair stylist. Except he’s not just the guy who does my hair—he’s a good friend, a friend I met many moons before the other Joe came into the picture. My Two Joes.
I met Hair Joe when he was a waiter at Grace’s Fortune, the Best Chinese Restaurant Ever. It was located in a strip mall in Bowie, where I grew up. That location has since closed, but Grace’s and Grace’s Mandarin carry on both the name and delectable dishes.
During high school, my friends and I would go to Grace’s to hang out. Don’t laugh; Bowie didn’t have many socializing options for teenagers back then, unless you wanted to smoke weed or drink behind dumpsters. And I was a bona fide Good Girl, so I opted for the Chinese place.
Joe is originally from Hong Kong. When the bar opened at Grace’s, he became the bartender. He started out serving us Shirley Temples, but once we were of age, we were happy to let him test out new cocktail recipes on us.
Fast-forward 20 years or so (holy moly I just realized it’s been 20 years), and now I travel to Baltimore to see Joe, where he works as a stylist at Studio 921 Salon and Spa. I go there every month or so to pamper myself and catch up with my old friend. We share a love of food, so on one occasion, as I was having my highlights retouched (you didn’t really think I’m a natural blonde, did you?), I started asking him how to make some of my favorite dishes from our time together at Grace’s.
Crispy Beef is exactly like it sounds; small strips of marinated steak lightly dredged in egg and cornstarch then deep-fried until they’re golden and crisp, yet chewy. Tossed in a simple sweet-and-spicy sauce and served over rice, this was one of my favorite dishes to order at Grace’s—and I haven’t found a version anywhere else that even holds a candle to it.
I absolutely loved recreating this dish. While I was julienning the carrots and celery, it brought back memories of all those nights my friends and I would sit at the bar and talk to Joe, often until long after the restaurant was officially closed. We’d eat, talk, drink, and laugh together well into the night.
As I watched the strips of beef crisp up in the bubbling oil, I remembered the night of my senior prom, when my friends and I got all dressed up and piled into my mom’s minivan, stopping at Grace’s for dinner before the big event. When we arrived, the host took us to a table where a big bouquet of flowers decorated the center. In the bouquet was a note from my dad: Dinner’s on me.
Memories in a thin blade of carrot. Love in a powdery heap of cornstarch. Laughter in a sprinkling of crushed red pepper.
Life on a plate.