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Published: Wednesday, 3/9/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

Chinese take-out hits a lot of the right taste buds

BILL OF FARE
BLADE RESTAURANT CRITIC

Chinese take-out restaurants aren't hard to find. Those little places with a few tables in the window, a full-width counter below a standardized menu, and an open kitchen occupy a spot in virtually every local strip mall. But good Chinese take-out can be harder to find. More often than not, the fare is oily, bland, and forgettable.

China House has become our go-to take-out joint when we're in a rush and want something that isn't going to taste like it started out in a frozen bag.

The location in Maumee's Golden Gate plaza is a plus. Convenient to the Anthony Wayne Trail and downtown Maumee, the plaza has more charm than the newer strip malls scattered through the suburbs.

Service is quick, efficient, and definitely geared toward take-out. Although the restaurant has a small, nondescript dining area, this is clearly the minority of its business. There are better places for that opulent and leisurely Chinese dining experience. What China House lacks in ambience it makes up in flavor, value, and efficiency. We waited less than seven minutes on both our lunch and dinner visits.

CHINA HOUSE * * *

Address: 255 Golden Gate Plaza, Maumee.

Phone: 419-897-9966.

Category: Casual.

Menu: Chinese.

Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 10:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday. Reservations are not accepted.

Wheelchair access: Yes.

Average price: $.

Credit cards: MC, V.

Web site: no.

Ratings: * * * * * Outstanding; * * * * Very Good; * * * Good; * * Fair; * Poor.

Star ratings are based on comparisons of similar restaurants.

For dinner we started with cold sesame noodles ($4.35) and an egg roll ($1).

The sesame noodles were great with a rich spicy peanut sauce, and hints of smoky sesame oil. The thicker noodles and assertive sauce were a perfect foil for the crunchy sesame seeds and fresh crisp julienned vegetables.

The egg roll was crisp and golden without being oily, but the pork filling was a little dull.

We continued with mei fun noodles with chicken ($6.15), pork moo shu ($7.70), and sesame beef ($9.15) as our entrees.

The mei fun noodles were superb. The thin rice noodles were surprisingly light and delicious while maintaining their texture. The chicken was perfectly poached and balanced with fresh vegetables in a delicate sauce. They were definitely the hit of the meal. Mei fun noodles can easily become a glutinous starchy mass of overcooked noodles. Not so at China House. For less money than we've spent on fast food meals, we enjoyed a very generous portion of some of the best noodles we've sampled in metro Toledo.

The moo shu pork was also quite good. Moo shu is one of our favorites on Chinese menus. The D.I.Y. entree features a stir fry of fresh onion, mushroom, carrot, celery, and pork in a mild sauce, along with delicate rice pancakes, and rich dark hoisin sauce. The idea is to spoon the stir fry into the pancake with the sauce and wrap it all up. Lettuce wraps and fajitas are further evidence that there is something appealing about making personal food parcels. China House gets kudos for the crisp fresh stir fry and the generous pile of rice pancakes. The hoisin sauce was a little on the light side, lacking the rich satiny texture and dark assertive flavor that makes the Asian barbecue sauce so great.

The sesame beef was mediocre at best. We found the sauce saccharine sweet and lacking any complexity. The beef was wrapped in far too much breading, resulting in a gummy mound of orange sugary glop. In the end, the two prior entrees were far superior and a far better value.

For lunch we ordered the Hunan shrimp ($4.70) and the shredded beef with garlic sauce ($4.50). Yes, that is correct, the prices didn't exceed $5, and that included pork fried rice and enough food to have leftovers for dinner.

Hearty and filling, the hunan shrimp was excellent. Big meaty prawns and fresh broccoli glazed in sweet spicy sauce played beautifully against the smoky pork in the fried rice. The colorful presentation was a great way to wake-up the afternoon.

The shredded beef was good, but maybe a little less exciting. The beef wasn't so much shredded as served in strips. The sauce was similar to the hunan sauce but seemed to lack the same kick. The fresh green pepper and onion were great additions, but, with the same pork fried rice, the entree seemed heavy. Not that the entree was bad, it wasn't. It far exceeded what might be expected for a lunch that, let's face it, was cheaper than several items available in a vending machine.

And isn't that the point? Time and money are becoming increasingly rare. What China House does, it does very well, providing great value with generous, delicious, freshly prepared meals in a few minutes. And, maybe that complimentary fortune cookie will hint at more time or more money in the immediate future.

Contact Bill of Fare at fare@theblade.com.



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