Aug 062011
 

Pretty much any town in the United States has a serviceable Chinese restaurant or two. Hell, even bad Chinese places can cook up frozen egg rolls and pre-made lo mein with inoffensive results. But buffets turn me off, particularly when it comes to Chinese food which is best eaten quickly after cooking. In Kansas City Bo Ling’s has a stranglehold on the sit-down casual Chinese market, but there are other decent places out there, some of them offering a much quicker and cheaper lunch experience, without a lunch buffet.

Out in Lenexa, Rice House does a steady business of takeout from a tiny building on W. 87th street near Lackman road. They do have four tables and five small booths for in-house diners, and surprisingly have table service for those patrons.

Update: It appears that Rice House has caved in to the allure of the lunch buffet. I haven’t had it.

Interior

The lunch specials are very cheap, a number of them go for $4.95, and come with soup and spring roll or crab rangoon. The hot and sour soup at Rice House is among the best I’ve had, with chunks of pork, ribbons of egg and a very rich broth. It was not overly sour which frankly I prefer. The chicken with garlic sauce I ordered came out very quickly and despite the presence of loathsome baby corn, was quite satisfying. Part of the appeal of Chinese food is that it typically hits your mouth within one minute of leaving the hot wok.

Hot & sour soup

Chicken with garlic sauce

Rice House on Urbanspoon

Just east of Rice House lies Babo Teriyaki, an Asian joint that serves Japanese, Vietnamese and Thai inspired dishes in addition to a very typical Chinese menu. But I haven’t had any Chinese food here. Babo sits right next door to Callahan’s and must be a welcome respite from pizza, burgers and chicken wings for those who work nearby.

Exterior

I had to try a Vietnamese dish since this cuisine is hard to find in that part of the metro after Cafe Song’s demise a couple years ago.

Alas the noodle bowl I had there was not quite right, although it looked beautiful.

Bun Thit Nuong

Containing a tougher cut of beef with a minerally undertone and bad texture, the bowl was pretty disappointing. The nước chấm, poured over the top of the dish, was too sour and tasted like the subpar versions I’ve created at home. There was a lot of liquid at the bottom of the bowl too. In general, not a great choice.

The spicy pork teriyaki I ordered on the other hand, was excellent and attractively presented, as was the yakiudon with chicken. My advice? Stick with the Japanese menu items.

Spicy pork loin teriyaki

Babo Teriyaki on Urbanspoon

Fortune Palace, just west of Quivira, is by far the nicest-looking of these three spots, and it has the best food too. A dramatically-lit bar area and recessed chandelier make this restaurant veritably suitable for date-night. Everything I’ve tried here has been prepared well and tasted good. The General Tso’s chicken, a very guilty pleasure for me, is fantastic, lightly breaded, crunchy and doused in an incredibly rich, spicy and sweet sauce. The twice cooked pork may be even better.

General Tso's Chicken

Twice Cooked Roast Pork

Lunch specials include the area’s best egg drop soup or very good hot and sour, and your choice of crab rangoon or egg roll for $6.95.

Egg Drop Soup

And the service is very attentive and friendly. I’m hoping this place stays around a long while. Located steps from Flavors of India and Cafe Augusta, this aging strip mall is a solid lunchtime destination.

Fortune

Fortune Palace on Urbanspoon

Chinese options on 87th street, a bustling Johnson County thoroughfare at lunch hour, are generally very good. I didn’t even mention the illustrious Lucky Wok which is notable for its Chinese menu, not the substandard buffet. There may even be another joint I’m forgetting or have yet to visit. Feel free to comment and let me know what those may be, or if you have other Chinese places without buffets that you like, shout it out.

South OP in brief: Two Asian spots

 Posted by at 6:29 am
Feb 262009
 

Not long ago I had occasion to spend a few days in southern Overland Park, a locale that I am largely unfamiliar with in terms of lunching options. Fortunately I was able to eat at two very serviceable Asian restaurants, both of them small, informal, locally owned and pretty tasty.

One-Bite Japanese Grill is located on 135th in a little strip shopping center near Antioch. For those who reside in the area, it’s behind the Babies R’ Us. Aaaah, suburbia. This little spot turns out to be a very suavely decorated casual Japanese restaurant. As the name indicates, they feature a number of smaller plates, particularly Okonomi-Yaki–an omelet-type concoction cooked with the meat of your choice and topped with cabbage and mayonnaise. One-Bite’s “Grill Lunch” however, is essentially a box, similar to those you see at other Asian spots around town. I had the Tonkatsu, a simple preparation of lightly breaded pork, served with rice, salad and dumplings The real standout here were the dumplings–delicate, piping hot and delicious.

If it weren’t for the odd location I would visit more often. It looks perfect for lunch with essentially an updated classic diner layout: a row of booths along one side with a lunch counter overlooking the gleaming stainless steel kitchen on the other side. The rest of the place is colorful despite minimal artwork. I wish I had brought my camera.

There is a characteristically excellent Pitch review if you want more info.

OR

One Bite Japanese Grill on Urbanspoon

****

I also stopped by Fusion Chinese at 135th and Switzer one afternoon. This is a popular spot for Chinese take out in the area. Upon enetering I was surprised at how small the space was, but dine-in customers are not an afterthought as they are at many take-out oriented places. The place appears to be family owned and the servers are super friendly and attentive. Despite its size, it is a good place to bring kids.

As the name suggests, there is more going on here than at your typical Chinese takeout joint. They dedicate a fair amount of verbiage on the menu to their health conscious preparation techniques, including steaming, grilling, wok-frying and other methods that do not rely on much oil. They also offer brown rice with every entree which is a HUGE bonus for me, unless I am craving traditional sticky white rice. Regardless, both kinds are available. In general Fusion touts itself as a “healthy alternative to traditional Chinese food” and delivers on that promise with very good food.

Both Fusion and One-Bite are deserving of their own full fledged reviews, but I wasn’t planning on posting about them when I visited. I’d love to hear others’ experiences with these restaurants in preparation for a more substantive visit in the future.

Fusion Chinese on Urbanspoon

Jan 142009
 

The dumplings at Po’s Dumpling Bar are definitely homemade, but they won’t knock your socks off. What will knock your socks off is the marinated cabbage and pork soup. Seriously, this was one of the most interesting and delicious things I’ve put in my mouth all year. I think they should change the name to “Po’s Marinated Cabbage and Pork Soup Bar.” You don’t like cabbage, you say? Well, there’s no hope for you. May I suggest the Orange Beef?

Po's Dumpling Bar

Anyway, I like the vibe of Po’s Dumpling Bar. It is very casual without the design and pomp of nearby Asian powerhouse Blue Koi. Po’s is a little more DIY in its decor and a tad less pompous than Blue Koi in terms of its menu, ambiance and service. Of course these are things that May pointed out a long time ago.

Po's

Po’s is basically a Chinese restaurant, and they have the menu to prove it. They offer a few typical Chinese-American staples like Cashew Chicken, Beef with Broccoli and Sweet and Sour Chicken under the somewhat misleading menu heading “Traditional Lunches.” Though I don’t often order these sorts of things it is nice to know that there are options for…uh, people who like that kind of food. You know, like your parents.

The menu also features a number of noodles, soups, and noodle soups. I ordered something called “pan-fried noodle” with beef which was a little bit of a surprise. It was a rather pedestrian stir-fry on a bed of crunchy noodles.

Pan-fried noodles

I have always been mystified by the crunchy chow mein style noodles, and I remained mystified. I just did not find it to be a pleasant texture component, particularly when some of the vegetables were crunchy as well. Even had the noodles been soft, i would not have been thrilled with the dish, though. The beef was on the tough side and had a minerally undertone that I found unpleasant. The preponderance of baby corn was likewise a disappointment. Between the baby corn, bamboo shoots and water chestnuts, most of the vegetables came from cans.

The lunch entree aside, my experience was actually quite good at Po’s. The real action seems to be on the appetizer section of the menu. They offer steamed dumplings, pan fried dumplings, shrimp dumplings, several kinds of buns, seaweed salad, and these delightful lettuce wraps with minced chicken and hoisin sauce.

lettuce wraps

They also have a ton of soups available. If they are all as delicious as the cabbage and pork soup, I’m going to be a regular customer. The bowl size ($4.95) is easily enough for two people to have their fill before a meal or one person as his meal. I couldn’t tell what kind of broth they used but it was as strong as a beef broth. It contained delectable, floating bits of shitake mushroom, green onions, cabbage and pork. I can’t adequately describe the flavor for you, just go try it.

Marinated Cabbage and Pork Soup

Po’s will not compete with Blue Koi for the yuppie dinnertime crowd, but for those looking for a quick, cheap lunch, it can be very good indeed. If you have visited and had something you enjoyed, let me know in the comments. I think once you know what you like, you’ll be a repeat customer. I’ll be back for that soup.

Read more:

Po's Dumpling Bar on Urbanspoon

Yelp

Lucky Wok: 15129 W 87th St.

 Posted by at 2:46 am
Sep 112008
 

This visit lay to rest one of the rumors I’ve heard my entire adult life, but somehow never quite believed. It goes something like this:

Chinese restaurants cater so much to their American clientele such that they dumb down the food on their menu. But, unbeknownst to non-Chinese, there is always a Chinese version of the menu that contains more authentic (and delicious) dishes intended for a more refined Chinese palate. Certainly I’ve been to these restaurants before and seen platters of completely unfamiliar and sometimes odd food being delivered to Chinese patrons. An alternate version of the theory proposes that native Chinese can just order “whole fish” or merely ask for what’s good that day and get treated to a custom made feast.

I tended to disbelieve these rumors because misconceptions about Chinese persons and their food run rampant. I can’t tell you how many reviews I’ve read that insist that such and such restaurant serves dog or cat, or they practice highly unsanitary food handling, or they skimp on quality because they think Caucasian diners won’t notice. The “secret menu” idea just seemed like a paranoid white person’s way of saying “they only serve the good stuff to the Chinese.”

Well, I’m happy to say that Chinese menus are indeed real. Real credit for turning me on to this revelation goes to commenter Tze Yuin who encouraged me to try Lucky Wok, and the ever-respectable, eloquent and refined Ulterior Epicure who has an absolutely essential post on great, authentic Chinese dining in Kansas City. In fact, skip the rest of this post and just read his. He is much more knowledgeable than I am, though far less likely to bring up Knight Rider, Schlitz Malt Liquor, or Englebert Humperdink than me.

So yeah, I walk inside Lucky Wok only to be greeted by the most pedestrian Chinese buffet I have ever seen. The usual assortment of beige, deep fried nuggets are on display accompanied by the requisite orange and red sauces that could double as dessert toppings. I realize these things have their appeal, but so does port wine cheese spread. The woman at the counter seated me, assuming I wanted the buffet. I asked to see a menu and she handed me a tome that offered the typical Amero-Chinese delights: Egg Foo-Yung, Sweet and Sour everything, Lo Mein, and various other things that are synonymous with “deep fried pieces of meat with sweet technicolor sauce.”

Then I asked if I could see the Chinese menu. She didn’t bat an eye and immediately handed over an only slightly smaller booklet which offered a completely different set of dishes. Seriously I cannot overstate the disconnect between the regular menu and the Chinese menu. This was stuff that looked delicious, stuff I found vaguely disturbing, stuff I couldn’t understand and most importantly, stuff I had never heard of.

The menu was split into categories: soups, noodles, Hong Kong style dishes, seafood, beef, pork, chicken–possibly a couple others. I ordered Hot & Spicy bean curd and Double Delight Soup.

The soup ($2.25) was beautiful to behold and pleasing to the taste buds. Two varieties of ground fish cake floating in a mild chicken broth. It was delicious, though a tad on the fish-tastic side for most Western tastes I’ll warrant. The broth was pleasantly greasy and not overpowering–clearly house made.

The tofu dish ($6.95) was a little more run of the mill than I expected. I could have been more adventurous in my choice of dishes for sure. This was basically a stir fry with tofu, green peppers, pork, hot peppers and straw mushrooms. Yes, there was pork in the tofu dish, no one ever claimed it was vegetarian.

So it wasn’t an overwhelmingly unfamiliar flavor at all, just a simple stir fry with good, fresh ingredients (well, the mushrooms were likely canned) and I couldn’t stop eating it. So sorry, no bizarre flavors here folks. In fact, many of the dishes on the Chinese menu seemed like they would appeal to many gringos. I say these restaurants should publicize these menus more and expand their client base. Or not. Personally I like the feeling of eating something really special while fat guys with mustaches are eating egg rolls from a Sysco bag and sweet & sour sauce squeezed out of a pouch. The portion was outstanding, easily enough to have leftovers the next day.

The service was truly wonderful. It was absolutely no trouble to order from the menu during lunch buffet hours and didn’t mind when I asked for the Chinese version. The food came out quickly and was so freaking hot that I could hardly eat for 5 minutes.

The decor is pretty typical and unremarkable. Red vinyl booths, some gold-accentuated artwork. Nothing fancy, nothing particularly tasteful as far as I’m concerned, but this is a lunch joint. The taste needs to be on the plate, not on the wall.

So overall, an outstanding experience. I can’t thank Tze Yuin enough for his her recommendation and encouragement to move into uncharted territory for me. Seriously, from now on, I’m asking for Chinese menus at Chinese restaurants. I don’t care if I risk looking like a pompous douche or a creepy asiaphile. It really makes all the difference.

Read more:

Lucky Wok Chinese on Urbanspoon

Yelp

Kin Lin: 314 E. 51st

 Posted by at 8:23 pm
Mar 032008
 


Well, Let me start by saying that Kin Lin is a great little place. It sits nestled in an unassuming shopping center on 51st street, just across the way from the UMKC campus. It shares a streetscape with Muddy’s coffee house, Pride Cleaners (yeah they’re not gay), a Russell Stover’s and something else.

This charming but unassuming locale serves essentially as the business district for the university, which is frankly pathetic. I know, UMKC is a commuter school, there’s no campus culture, the students are too busy with full time jobs and raising their babies. I’m calling bullshit on a lot of that, just ask anyone who lives in the student neighborhoods to the east and south of there. There are plenty of students who live by the campus. The area could use a few more good restaurants and shops geared toward a younger clientele. Really I’m just mad because there are so few good places to drink around there. I mean, you have the peanut on Main, Mike’s on Troost and…and…um, Pizza 51? The Mixx? ah, screw it, let’s go to Westport.

So Kin Lin is really cheap. And they will surprise you with some very tasty, freshly prepared dishes. No canned mushrooms here, people. Entrees come in large and small sizes and prices are very reasonable. You can get steamed or fried rice which is par for the course, and egg rolls are a buck. Lunch specials run less than five dollars, and include egg roll and soup.

Less than five dollars.

And this food is generally far better than Red Dragon House downtown though not quite as good as Bo Lings. But Bo Longs is kind of annoying isn’t it? Especially the one in the board of trade building. But for the money, Kin Lin is a good lunchtime option in that neck of the woods. Not everything is great, you have to find some things that you enjoy and stick with them. The Chicken/Tofu and green beans is great, as is the spicy chicken, hot & sour soup, and pork in black bean sauce.

Chicken with Chinese broccoli

The staff is super friendly, and I would just ask them what is good if you are feeling squeamish, which many folks do around super cheap chinese food. Just look at any restaurant review forum, chinese restaurants abound with tales of dead insects, rotten chicken, dog meat and other semi-racist rhetoric. Seriously, go to yelp and see for yourself.

This is a lunch spot, it doesn’t matter that it’s open for dinner. The space used to hold 7-8 tables, and now has more than doubled its size into the adjoining room. But it still ain’t fancy. They still have a plastic christmas garland and icycle lights hanging in the front window. The modern-ish light fixtures are obviously from Target circa 2003. This attempt at remodeling is as charming as it is cheesy. Did I mention that this is table service? yeah, that’s what I’m talking about. You’ll have to ask for chopsticks and there is no fountain soda (cans only) but they are very friendly and efficient. You will get out of there in less than half an hour.

You will eat in close quarters which, depending on how much you hate other people, can be annoying. This large group of people at a table near me spent their entire lunch talking about network television. One person was excited about the latest season of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. This was surprising coming from a grown man, since I thought only ultra-christian conservatives and the mentally disabled watched that show. And please, I don’t need another young white guy telling me how great The Daily Show or The Office are. Fine, I get it.

Read more:

Kin Lin Chinese on Urbanspoon

Yelp