Restau­rant Re­view

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Chi­nese food around town

Chow’s Asian Bistro When Chow’s opened in Santa Fe in 1993, it was on the cut­ting edge of what could be called nou­veau Chi­nese — fresher, health­ier ver­sions of tra­di­tional Sichuan dishes — which the restau­rant it­self has called New Age or con­tem­po­rary fu­sion cui­sine. Chow’s hot and sour soup, for ex­am­ple, in­cludes such non­tra­di­tional in­gre­di­ents as chopped toma­toes and button mush­rooms along with the cus­tom­ary white pep­per and black vine­gar. It’s a good light soup — but it’s nei­ther very hot nor very sour, and it bears only min­i­mal re­sem­blance to its pro­gen­i­tor.

Cof­fee chicken, cre­ated by owner Ja­son Zeng’s fa­ther, is Chow’s sig­na­ture dish. Chunks of chicken breast — rubbed and mar­i­nated with ground cof­fee, quick-fried, then drained to re­move ex­cess oil — are stir-fried with scal­lions, red chilis, green beans, and a pro­pri­etary sauce to pro­duce a slightly sweet and spicy, de­li­ciously dif­fer­ent dish.

Lu Lu’s Chi­nese Cui­sine & Bar Some­times fin­ger food, rather than a sit-down din­ner, is just what you want to share with friends, per­haps washed down with an icy cold beer. So we de­cided to mine Lu Lu’s ap­pe­tiz­ers — the menu lists 11 hot and seven cold choices, plus seven soups. It was a frigid night, so we by­passed the chilled Sichuan noo­dles and let­tuce wraps in fa­vor of the hot and sour and won­ton soups, the Chi­nese onion pan­cakes, bar­be­cue pork spareribs, crispy cream cheese won­tons, egg rolls, golden fried shrimp, pa­per­wrapped chicken, and “beef cho-cho.” (Ev­ery­thing but the soup and onion pan­cakes is avail­able in one pack­age on the Po-Po Tray for two — a Chi­nese spin on the pu pu plat­ters once stan­dard at Poly­ne­sianthemed restau­rants and avail­able in some vari­a­tion on most of Santa Fe’s Chi­nese restau­rant menus.) Yes, it was a fried-food fi­esta. And yes, we ate it all. If you want to sat­isfy your yen for Chi­nese food with­out leav­ing home, Lu Lu’s is the only choice in Santa Fe that of­fers de­liv­ery. You can ac­cess the restau­rant’s full menu through Dash­ing De­liv­ery (505-983-3274; www.dash­ingde­liv­ery.com).

Panda Ex­press Founded in 1983 in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, Panda Ex­press now op­er­ates more than 1,800 Chi­nese fast-food out­lets around the world, in­clud­ing two in Santa Fe. When Lucky Peach — the ir­rev­er­ent food jour­nal co-founded by New York restau­ra­teur David Chang and for­mer New York

Times restau­rant re­viewer Peter Meehan — re­cently pub­lished “The Of­fi­cial Panda Ex­press Power Rank­ings,” we de­cided to give their top three picks a try. If you like your Chi­nese food sweet, with no sig­nif­i­cant spice or burn, or­ange chicken is the dish for you. The breaded chicken nuggets, deep-fried be­fore be­ing wok-cooked with a se­cret or­ange sauce, ac­count for a full third of the chain’s revenue. Fat and su­gar are an un­beat­able com­bi­na­tion. The honey-wal­nut shrimp dish was a de­light­ful surprise: The shrimp was moist and fla­vor­ful, the wal­nuts crispy, the sauce lighter and less sweet than that coat­ing the or­ange chicken — a com­bi­na­tion worth a re­turn visit. Lucky Peach’s third pick, an egg­plant-tofu dish on the na­tional menu, was not avail­able in ei­ther lo­cal Panda Ex­press — some­thing we found odd in a town known for its vis­i­ble — and vo­cal — veg­e­tar­ian and ve­gan din­ers.

Wok Chi­nese Cui­sine The gos­sip is that Wok changed hands re­cently — some­thing we can nei­ther con­firm nor deny. What we can say is that when Wok says a menu item is hot and spicy, it means it. While it shares a num­ber of menu choices with other Chi­nese restau­rants in Santa Fe, Wok also of­fers a taste of the Mon­go­lian-in­flu­enced cui­sine of north­ern China — more meat-cen­tric and spicier than its Can­tonese- and Sichuan-in­spired cousins. When we or­dered the cumin lamb, a daily spe­cial, our wait­ress said, “Ah. That’s real Chi­nese food.” Heav­ily rubbed with cumin and served with onions, green pep­pers, a hand­ful of cilantro (aka Chi­nese pars­ley), and dried red chilis, the un­sauced lamb was bold, ten­der, and nose-run­ning hot — and un­like any­thing else we had sam­pled around town. The ma po tofu was also a good ren­di­tion of the Sichuan classic, de­spite the non­tra­di­tional ad­di­tion of peas and car­rots to the dish. The braised tofu was silky and fresh-tast­ing, swim­ming in a brac­ing bright red sauce with more of those ubiq­ui­tous red pep­pers, and pre­pared with finely diced pork as is cus­tom­ary — al­though Wok will hap­pily leave out the meat on request.

Yin Yang Chi­nese Restau­rant Yin Yang has been op­er­at­ing con­tin­u­ously in Santa Fe since 1990. The large menu in­cludes a range of ap­pe­tiz­ers, soups, pork, chicken, beef, duck, seafood, and veg­e­tar­ian dishes — mostly in the Can­tonese and Sichuan style, with a few Hu­nan and Mon­go­lian spe­cial­ties. The hot and sour soup was bet­ter than many other ver­sions we tried — chewy bits of dried black mush­rooms, creamy tofu, rib­bons of egg, bam­boo shoots, and just enough corn­starch to hold it all to­gether — but not quite as hot or as sour as we would have liked. Like­wise, the seven veg­eta­bles with tofu didn’t come close to earn­ing its heat warn­ing. What it did de­liver was the promised as­sort­ment of seven crisp-cooked veg­gies and soft tofu braised in a mild hoisin sauce. Gen­eral Tso’s chicken — large chunks of chicken thigh, fried to a crisp and bathed in a sub­tle ginger, gar­lic, and chili sauce with crunchy steamed broc­coli flo­rets — was very sat­is­fy­ing.

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