Wok ’n’ roll

Pasatiempo - - RESTAURANT REVIEW - Alex Heard For The New Mex­i­can

Be­fore eat­ing at Wok Chi­nese Cui­sine re­cently, it had been a while since I’d set foot in a Chi­nese restau­rant. Over the years, I’ve lived in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., New York, Chicago, and San Fran­cisco — all places where it’s easy to find first-rate Chi­nese food. Here in New Mex­ico, dis­tracted by green and red chile, this beloved culi­nary tra­di­tion has sort of slipped my mind, so it was fun to go to Wok and re­visit old fa­vorites like hot-and-sour soup, fried wontons, and what their menu calls Gen­eral Tao’s chicken.

Wok sits next door to Dr. Field Goods Kitchen, in the shop­ping cen­ter just west of Jack­a­lope on Cer­ril­los Road. Walk through the door and you’re hit with that fa­mil­iar aroma — a com­bi­na­tion of steamy rice, stir-fried seafood, and sticky- sweet sauces — per­me­at­ing a rel­a­tively small in­te­rior that feels compact and warm on a win­ter day. The space is ar­ranged in a split level: ta­bles and chairs on the lower floor, ta­bles and booths above that. The padded booths are a lit­tle tight, and if you’re a long-legged per­son, you’re likely to feel cramped.

Wok ob­vi­ously has a loyal fan base: wit­ness the wall of happy-cus­tomer pho­tos. Both times we vis­ited, for a week­day lunch and a week­end din­ner, the place was hum­ming, with drinks and food com­ing and go­ing in the hands of servers who were re­ally be­ing kept on the run. The menu here is huge, run­ning to 126 num­bered items un­der cat­e­gories that seem slightly ran­dom: Wok Spe­cial, Soup, Ap­pe­tizer, Siz­zling Plat­ter, Poul­try, Seafood, Veg­etable/ Tofu, Lo Mein, Fried Rice, Egg Foo Young, and Lunch Spe­cial. (There are no desserts — just for­tune cook­ies.) There are nightly spe­cials, too, though the avail­abil­ity of those can be hit or miss. Dur­ing our din­ner visit, for ex­am­ple, Wok’s spe­cial board ad­ver­tised roast duck. Our ques­tions about it — was this a whole duck or duck slices? — seemed to puz­zle our wait­ress, who dashed off to the kitchen and then re­turned to re­port that there wasn’t any duck af­ter all.

For lunch, we started with hot tea and a beer — Wok serves a lim­ited slate of big-brand wines and beers, in­clud­ing Kirin, Sap­poro, Heineken, and Sut­ter Home — be­fore set­tling on two lunch spe­cial com­bi­na­tions: soup, an egg roll, two pot stickers, and a main dish. (The prices for this spe­cial vary, de­pend­ing on the main dish you se­lect.) My hot-and-sour soup had a nice dark color, good chicken-broth fla­vor, tofu chunks, car­rots, sea­weed strips, more chicken skin than chicken, a gelati­nous shine, and a too-mild level of spicy heat. Both the egg rolls and pot stickers were or­di­nary: a bit on the oily side, with cab­bage serv­ing as the dom­i­nant fill­ing in both.

My din­ing com­pan­ion or­dered or­ange chicken, while I tried the Gen­eral Tao’s. Th­ese dishes were quite sim­i­lar, and nei­ther re­ally stood out. In both cases, chunks of chicken had been bat­tered and fried to a tough con­sis­tency and then coated in a sweet, glis­ten­ing goo. The or­ange chicken tasted al­most can­died. The Gen­eral Tao’s was made with small hot red chiles, which added some wel­come heat as a con­trast to the sweet, and the chicken had been tossed with coarsely chopped onion and bell pep­per.

Dur­ing a din­ner trip with three peo­ple, we started with sev­eral ap­pe­tiz­ers, which are some­times the most in­ter­est­ing things on a menu. First up was an or­der of cheese wontons, which were very tasty and at­trac­tive, with each won­ton skin pinched into a crown shape. There were six of them — a gen­er­ous amount — and in­side each was a good, tart blob of cream cheese, with the whole as­sem­bly fried to a nutty, del­i­cate brown.

We also liked the scal­lion pan­cakes, thin pan-fried pieces of dough flecked with scal­lions. They were served with two sauces: a sweet or­ange sauce that shows up of­ten along­side Wok dishes and a tangy com­bi­na­tion of a soy-based sauce with pep­per flakes that was a per­fect ac­cent. We also liked the veg­etable tem­pura, which fea­tured a very del­i­cate bat­ter on pieces of car­rot, zuc­chini, onion, mushroom, and broc­coli. Least pop­u­lar of the four was the salt-and-pep­per crispy cala­mari. It had a good fried-fish-style coat­ing, but the squid was too thick and rub­bery.

Wok ob­vi­ously has a loyal fan base: wit­ness the wall of happy-cus­tomer pho­tos.

We also tried a dish called green jade shrimp and scal­lop — a gen­er­ous med­ley of ten­der seafood, pea pods, bam­boo shoots, wa­ter chest­nuts, zuc­chini, car­rot strips, and baby corn with the usual shiny glaze. Last up was one of that night’s spe­cials: cumin lamb, which con­sisted of ten­der­ized strips of lamb stir-fried with chiles, onion, bell pep­per, and cilantro. The pep­pers made this dish so hot that we couldn’t eat it, which wasn’t in­di­cated on the spe­cials board. So if you or­der a spe­cial, ask about spici­ness.

Over­all? I’d go back, start­ing out with apps and a beer and ex­per­i­ment­ing with un­fa­mil­iar en­trées. It’s just a mat­ter of hit­ting the right com­bi­na­tion.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.