Remember Chinese-American food, those heavily westernized "Chinese" classics served on "Chinese horoscope" menus and vinyl tablecloths?
Such places seem to have been replaced with pan-Asian bistros and sushi bars, but occasionally in suburban strip malls you can find a nod back to the days of egg foo young and moo goo gai pan.
Bai Du in Perrysburg is the kind of place where the take-out business is brisk and few Chinese nationals would have any idea what half of the menu items are.
There's a time for authenticity and a time for sweet and sour chicken.
Bai Du is small, comfortable, but a little utilitarian. It hides in the corner of a strip mall called Perry Junction Plaza near the intersection of Dixie Highway and Eckel Junction Road. On our visits we were seated and had menus within minutes. The server was friendly and knowledgeable at our dinner visit but less so at lunch.
We started out with Chinese scallion pancake ($4.95) and egg rolls ($1.95). Scallion pancakes are a popular Chinese street food with a long history, but they rarely show up on American menus. They're not so much a pancake as a flatbread that has a crisp crust and chewy interior speckled with green onions. Served with a soy dipping sauce, it was a great warm and crunchy prelude to the dinner. The egg roll was good and less oily than most but fairly ordinary.
The server sold us on the kung pao chicken ($9.50) with peanuts they roast in house. I couldn't detect a difference but was pleased with the heavy hand in which the nuts were added to the dish along with chile peppers, julienned vegetables and chunks of battered chicken.
We also chose orange beef ($12.95.) The sauce was deep and citrusy but cloyingly sweet and garnished with orange peel blobs that seemed to show up in several bites, offering an unpleasant bitter note. The crispy beef ($11.95) was extremely sweet as well. The sugary wine sauce obscured the nuanced flavors of this dish. The beef was a little overdone and ended up with an unusual texture that seemed crystallized on the outside and tough on the inside.
Both beef dishes arrived with steamed perfectly bright green broccoli and excellent steamed rice.
We dropped by again, this time for a quick weekday lunch. The service was extremely fast but a little rushed and impersonal. We were seated and served within 10 minutes. And the lunch special prices kept the sit-down restaurant competitive with the fast-food joints that surround the location. We ordered Szechuan beef ($6.75) and sesame chicken ($6.95) Lunch specials come with a choice of egg roll, crab rangoon, or soup, as well as steamed white rice or fried rice. The tender beef had a surprisingly spicy sauce and fresh crunchy vegetables.
The crisp battered chicken was also quite good with a rich garlic sesame sauce and fresh scallions. The won ton soup met with less approval, tasting store-bought, with limp noodles and bland broth lacking any character. But the egg drop soup was rich and fresh with silky egg strands and hot chicken broth. We also ordered the crab rangoon that comes more often with the carry-out lunches. The exterior won ton was crisp without being oily, but the filling was again a little too sweet, losing the mild crab and cream cheese flavors.
It's worth noting that the servings were all large enough to warrant a take-home container brimming with leftovers. It's also worth noting that the fresh vegetables and meat held up better than the competition when polishing off those leftovers the next day.
Bai Du won't be the place you go if you want upscale Asian cuisine or a libation with your meal. But on a cold winter night with kids in tow, what's more homey than those American-Chinese classics, a comfortable little table, and a fortune cookie to finish?
Contact Bill of Fare at: firstname.lastname@example.org