lucky eight restaurant

Three Menus and a Few Sure Things

By Peter Meehan

    May 30, 2007

DOES the trolley still run down Eighth Avenue?”

That’s what a friend’s grandfather, Otto Martucci, asked when I mentioned I had lunch on Brooklyn’s Eighth Avenue in the lower 50s. He said he used to grab on to the back of what he called the Toonerville Trolley along that stretch 90 years ago and hitch a ride to school.

No, I said, no more trolley. And more Chans than Martuccis now that the restaurants and the markets that make up the heart — or maybe the belly — of Brooklyn’s Chinatown are clustered on that same ground.

Lucky Eight, the restaurant where I lunched, is one of a lot of new places on the strip. On a recent trip I spied a Hong Kong-style noodle soup shop, a Lanzhou-style hand-pulled noodle place, a Malaysian spot and a few seafood places and bakeries. It’s not quite the upheaval that happened since the Martuccis left the ’hood, but it has made for an improvement in its dining scene.

Lucky Eight is a small place with a big repertory spread across three menus. Roast meats hang in the window. Clean fish tanks hold a modest selection of sea creatures — crab, lobster, shrimp, fish and eel — that look as satisfied with their lot in life as creatures that are about to be seafood can.

Turn the kitchen loose on the tanks for simple preparations: steamed shrimp, by the half pound, are soft and sweet; a steamed whole fish with ginger, with a tableside splash of soy sauce, is simplicity itself.

At lunch, the Hong Kong-style soup is popular. Until 4:30 p.m. you can build your own. Noodles — ramen, e-fu, flat rice noodles, thin rice noodles and so on — are 80 cents. A few pieces of seafood — shrimp or curried fish balls or geoduck — are also 80 cents. In fact, all 40 items are 80 cents, so you can get an overstuffed bowl of soup for less than a Lincoln. I found the soup’s value, more than its flavor, to be its chief appeal.

To get the best stuff at Lucky Eight, ask for the dinner menu, the biggest menu of the three. Before you get to the abalone (expensive) and the shark fin soups (really expensive), there are laminated, picture-crammed pages of the specialties of Wei Ye Leung, a chef from Zhongshan in Guangdong Province who worked in upscale kitchens in Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan before moving to the United States. The dinner menu sprawls toward infinity, but the best eating to be done is here.

The abalone and eggplant stir-fry is sweet and meaty. A broad bowl of broth filled with blocks of silky tofu, a pinch of fermented black beans and a fair share of clams is garnished with an aromatic sprinkle of cilantro. Zhenjiang vinegar spare ribs are a must for the meat eater, their fattiness and deep char offset by a spry vinegar-based sauce.

Pride of Lucky Eight, a $14.95 stir-fry, is the signature dish. It comes to the table, sumptuously oily, in a heaping green tangle: some kind of reedy, oniony chives shot through with the white, the green and the bulb end of scallions all separate. Perfectly julienned stalks of Chinese celery add crunch. Rehydrated shiitake mushrooms add a meaty sweetness, slices of meaty abalone a little chew. Bits of baby squid create textural intrigue, and shreds of dried scallop add a depth that’s hard to pinpoint but easy to appreciate. It looks as if each element in the dish was individually browned, then thrown together to mask the kitchen’s precision.

It is, without question, the finest stir-fried dish I’ve encountered, and the kind of thing about which I may find myself asking, years down the line: “You had lunch in Brooklyn Chinatown? Do they still serve the Pride of Lucky Eight down there?”

5204 Eighth Avenue, Sunset Park, Brooklyn; (718) 851-8862.

BEST DISHES Pride of Lucky Eight; clams and tofu in broth; Zhenjiang vinegar spare ribs; simple live shrimp preparations; green beans with pork.

PRICE RANGE Most dishes are $3.50 to $15.95; dishes incorporating live seafood, abalone or shark fin are more expensive.

CREDIT CARDS All major cards.

HOURS 10 a.m. to midnight daily.

WHEELCHAIR ACCESS All on one level.

Lucky Eight is a small place with a big repertory spread across three menus.

Lucky Eight Restaurant Prices in Brooklyn, NY 11220

Hours of Operation

Hours may fluctuate. For detailed hours of operation, please contact the store directly.

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