Tag Archives: Chinese

China House (Westerville)

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5860 Westerville Rd, Westerville, OH 43081
(614) 899-2882

A theory: the further a Chinese restaurant is from OSU, the harder it is for the proprietors to believe that non-Chinese guests could appreciate their traditional preparations. China House is about as far from campus as any restaurant in Central Ohio with a Chinese menu could be, and, well, yes, yes we can use chopsticks. Honestly! We would like to, too. 

Please?

With the sustained application of polite insistence, the desired menus and utensils were acquired. Further efforts yielded these 4 dishes: Broccoli with Lily Bulbs, Seafood Longevity Noodles, Beef Stew Radish, and Wen Chang Chicken. 

We eat a lot of green vegetable preparations in Chinese restaurants, and none have been better than China House’s Broccoli. It’s Chinese broccoli, of course, and the minced lily bulbs made for an intriguing water chestnut-like accompaniment, but the real trick was of a goldilocks nature – not too oily, not too dry, not too salty, not too bland. And, the broccoli wasn’t over cooked (or undercooked!). Just right.

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Beef Stew (with) Radish is a common sight on menus geared towards a Chinese audience. China House’s version was entirely in keeping with previous experiences, featuring tender beef, beef tendon, large chunks of radish, some veg, all in nice thick gravy redolent of Chinese 5 spice. Those of us who enjoy the traditionally assertive 5 spice flavor and are comfortable with the texture of tendon gave it a solid thumb’s up. 

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Seafood Longevity Noodles were a bit divisive – everyone appreciated the flavor and enjoyed the generous portions of shrimp and scallops within, but the mushy texture of the noodles was both argued to be typical of the genre and, to several of us, thought unpleasant.

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The Wen Chang Chicken confounded. It was half a chicken, butchered whole and bone-in, plus head! So far so good – jibes with previous experiences. But, it was covered with what we’re pretty sure was egg roll dipping sauce. There was lots of excessively polite discussion regarding this curiosity at the table, but when we left it was largely untouched. 

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In summation: Four dishes – two hits, two misses. The menu is large, and more exploration would likely yield more gems. Help us!

Menu:

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Does Columbus have any ‘real’ Chinese food?

This question finds its way to us with increasing frequency, both online and in person, from dismissive newcomers to Central Ohio as well as jaded locals. We have plenty to say about it, but first, lets talk about this idea of what’s ‘real’. 

‘Real’, in this context, is almost always used as a synonym for ‘authentic’. To the extent that anyone has the authority to categorize any Chinese food as authentic, it certainly isn’t us. 

What we can do, though – with a little help from our friends – is to distinguish the restaurants that are cooking menu items for the Chinese palate from those that are not. In other words, while we’re not fools enough to believe that we can measure any given restaurant’s success in maintaining absolute fidelity to Chinese culinary tradition, we do believe that our merry band of grazers can discern the intent to appeal to a Chinese audience. And, we can share our thoughts on what we enjoy.

OK, so back to the original question. We have to admit that it evokes a mild sense of indignation in us, as we’ve been enjoying the fruits of many of the city’s delicious Chinese kitchens for years – often with Chinese dining companions – and have felt some measure of pride in the range of options available to a city of our size. I mean, ‘Are there any?’ Of course! How many? 

Time to make a list. 

This was a process full of surprises. Once we made our initial list, and then continued searching, we were astounded by how much it grew. There’s an awful lot out there, and far more than we’ve had the opportunity to experience.

Sounds like a new food adventure to us! Over the next year, we’re going to visit/revisit each one of the restaurants on the list (linked below), and we’re going to try them with as many people as is practically possible so we can try as broad of a range of dishes as possible. We’ll post a brief accounting of each here, and hopefully put that pesky question to rest once and for all. 

The List:

Well, almost there. Please bear in mind that while we’re trying to be complete, we may not have caught everything. If we missed something let us know! Also, please understand that some of these restaurants will only have Chinese-American offerings shown on their website. You have to explore their broader menu in person to get the full story – which is exactly what we intend to do.

After the full list (which also includes markets and bakeries), we’ve taken our first stab at categorizing restaurants by their specialties. This will be refined as our adventure progresses, but is intended to illustrate the breadth of regional and culinary specialization found among the city’s Chinese offerings.

Columbus Chinese Food Guide 

King’s Garden

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CLOSED: 9/30/12

Cuisine: Chinese (Cantonese)

7726 Sawmill Rd, Dublin, OH 43017
(Old Sawmill Square Shopping Center)
Mon – Closed, Tue-Sat 11am – 10pm
Sun – 11am – 9pm

Click here to map it!

King’s Garden has been around for a while, but what caught our attention was an ownership change that shifted the restaurant’s focus from Beijing-style Chinese to Cantonese-style. The new owners have a long history of running solid Cantonese restaurants in Columbus; the husband used to own Shangri-La on Cleveland Ave., the wife’s family use to own Wong Gei on campus, and her brother runs Yau’s on south campus.

Our eating team dove right into menu and test-drove some classic Cantonese dishes.

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Congee is rice cooked down with water at a very low temperature until it has a creamy consistency. This is usually served for breakfast and it cooked with different savory items like chicken, beef and etc. The version above is made with century/preserved eggs and pork. It was cooked to the right consistency and the subtle sweetness of the meat and congee was punctuated with the slight pungent taste of the century eggs.

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The pickled vegetable with shredded pork noodle soup usually comes with rice vermicelli noodles but this version came with the heartier wonton egg noodles. It was very satisfying with its salty, porky broth.

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This vegetable and pork noodle soup is different from the one above as this soup is thickened by eggs. The soup was velvety and the combination of the vegetables with the pork gave the dish a subtle umami taste.

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The seafood pan fried noodle was a welcome change after all the soft texture of the previous dishes. The noodle is quickly deep fried and placed at the bottom of the plate to be covered in a wonderful soy/oyster corn-flour thickened sauce.  The sauce will slightly soften the noodles but not completely so that you can have a wonderful combination of soft and crunchy texture.

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Normally I would never order fried rice in in Columbus because it almost always comes out to be a soggy oily mess. King’s Garden’s fried rice is the exception. This salted fish with chicken fried rice was the epitome of wok hei and skill of the chef. Every single grain of rice was enveloped by the heat of the wok resulting in a non oily and flavor packed dish. I can now rest in fried rice/wok hei peace in Columbus.

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If you enjoy tendons and brisket, the beef stew pan fried noodle is a must order. The tendons and brisket has been braised for hours turning them into buttery meat goodness and is a great companion to the pan fried wide rice noodles.  If tendons are not your cup of tea, you can order either the beef stir fried noodle or beef rice noodle with black bean sauce.

We were all extremely happy with the quality of food and pleasant service. The only downside for most of us is that this place is not in our neighborhood. For those who live in Dublin, this place should be your go-to Cantonese restaurant.

Fortune Chinese Restaurant


Cuisine: Chinese (Sichuan)

2869 Olentangy River Road, next to Buckeye Bar & Grill
(614) 263-1991
Hours: Sunday – Thursday, 11am-10pm; Friday and Saturday, 11am-11pm

Click here to map it!

After hearing mixed reviews about Fortune’s new ownership from friends and readers, we ventured to this unassuming storefront on a gray weekday and had an utterly transformative lunch. We had heard that the new owners were concentrating on Sichuan cuisine and we sought dishes with the classic mouth numbing Sichuan peppercorn. For the uninitiated, the heat of Sichuan peppercorns doesn’t translate exactly to the Scoville scale; instead, the spice numbs the lips and tongue creating a unique sensation. In Chinese, this numbing spiciness is referred to as ma la. We’ve had some great Sichuan dishes around town, most notably some items in the Imperial Garden Weekend Buffet, but Fortune has the most successful and faithfully reproduced versions of typical Sichuan dishes.

We started off with two bowls of dan dan noodles (one bowl is plenty to share between two people). This quintessential Sichuan dish has been butchered up and down by Americanized noodle shops and we were a little disappointed to see that it came with egg noodles and not the typical thin flour noodle. By the second bite, we had forgotten the noodle and were completely wowed by the flavors. Drenched in chili oil and liberally sprinkled with crisp peppercorn flakes, the ground pork and peanut toppings contributed to the overall flavor and we were substantially impressed. In no time at all, our sinuses were clearing up and our mouths were totally numb.

Another dish we couldn’t refrain from ordering was the lamb with chili pepper and cumin. Since the capital of Sichuan, Chengdu, is one of the end points of the Silk Road, Middle Eastern flavors such as cumin is very common in Sichuan cuisine. For this specialty dish, we were expecting lamb that was a little bit more dehydrated but with tender pieces of lamb and aggressive spicing, we weren’t complaining at all. The copious amounts of sliced garlic and green onions rounded out the flavors and Angela declared it near perfect.

I was tickled pink when I noticed Sliced Beef in Fresh Hot Pepper. It’s one of my favorite Sichuan dishes and pairs perfectly with nothing more than a bowl of steamed rice. It’s really a one bowl meal: layers of napa cabbage, tender beef slices, and sometimes mung bean noodles all the way at the bottom. And despite its thick layer of chili oil, it’s not really that spicy, but very pronounced in ma la flavor. This dish also comes in a fish version and we can’t wait to try it!

Ma po Tofu is another classic Sichuan dish that is often poorly executed elsewhere. This wholly vegetarian dish was the best version we’ve tried in town. Liberally sprinkled with cumin and peppercorns, the silken tofu was further complemented by garlicky thick cut leeks.

This photo sums up our selection of classic Sichuan dishes, heavy on red chili oil and utterly delicious.

To round out our meal, we also shared a simple dish of pea shoots stir fried with garlic. Even in the best of kitchens, delicate leafy greens are so hard to execute consistently. At Fortune, the leaves were just barely cooked through, the stems still had a nice crispness, and it was not too oily. A true indicator of great skill.

On our way out, we noticed that the new management had posted signs of their house specialties. We did well by ordering three of the eight, and we can’t wait to come back to try more! Left column, translated: Beef Tripe with Hot Pepper Sauce, Ma La Dried Beef (Beef Jerk with Red Chili Sauce), Diced Rabbit in Chili Oil, Ma La Beef Tendon (Beef Tendon with Red Chili Sauce). Right column: Ma Po Tofu, Fish Filet in Hot Pepper, Cold Beef with Spicy Sauce, Dan Dan Noodles.

Imperial Garden, Weekend Buffet


2950 Hayden Road
Columbus, OH 43235
614-799-8655
www.imperialgardenoh.com
Buffet available Saturdays and Sundays 11:30am to 2:00pm

Click here to map it!

The folks here at alt.eats would like to issue a formal apology to our readers: we’ve been holding out on you and we’re really sorry. The weekend buffet at Imperial Garden is so extensive, it required several repeat visits before we could coherently write about it. Every time we go, we spend too much time eating, and too little time taking pictures and notes. For a comprehensive list of buffet offerings, take a look at, our friend, ChoosyGourmand’s blog post.

We like to start in the back room, where the spread consists of soups, snacks, and desserts. There are always three soup options, a salty soup of the day (such as fish with pickled mustard greens), an unsweetened fresh soy milk, and a sweet red bean soup. There are also a dim sum items like sesame balls, noodles, dumplings, and fried crullers. We like to save the sweet red bean soup and fried mochi sesame balls filled with peanut paste for the end of our meal. A note for the uninitiated: the sesame balls are very popular so keep an eye out for them or they will be gone before you blink!

Don’t fill up in the back room because the double steam tables in the front room is where all the goodies are! Since Rod has done such a great job documenting each dish, we’re just going to highlight our favorites. Above, clockwise from top: braised beef tendon with bamboo shoots, roast duck, julienne pressed tofu with bamboo shoots and pork, braised beef with turnips.

Salt and pepper crispy shrimp. “Salt and pepper” is a common preparation method for fried squid and pork chops. These shrimp are excellent and can be eaten whole or peeled.

Perhaps my favorite item of the entire buffet is this Sichuan peppercorn fish filet. It’s made with chili oil and Sichuan peppercorns which gives two layers of heat, front end spiciness from the chili oil and tongue numbing spiciness from the Sichuan peppercorns.

Pig ear and wilted romaine salad dressed in a delicious sesame and chili oil sauce.

Mapo tofu with pork intestine. This is an unconventional take on mapo tofu which is usually ground pork stir fried with cubed silken tofu and chili oil sauce.

Tender baby octopus (or squid) stir fried with celery.

The buffet offerings at Imperial Garden are not for the faint of heart but less adventurous eaters can eat very well. There is always white rice, rice vermicelli, stir fried bok choy, and two soups at the front of the buffet. In addition, the salt and pepper chicken wings, Japanese eggplant, and northern styled julienne potato (naturally crispy) are delicious alternatives to the more unfamiliar dishes. Most menu items are in the buffet and at about $13 per person, the buffet pricing is a bargain for its variety and quality.

Golden Delight Bakery


1516 Bethel Road
Columbus, OH 43220-2004
614-459-6888
www.goldendelightbakery.net
Tuesday-Sunday 8:30am-6:00pm, closed Monday

Click here to map it!

If you are exploring the Bethel Road area for an alt.eats adventure, a great place to satisfy a sweet tooth is Golden Delight Bakery. Known far and wide amongst many ethnic communities for their light and fluffy fresh Strawberry Cake, this Chinese (by way of the Philippines) bakery also offers a dizzying array of individually sized sweet and savory treats.

The cakes are Golden Delight are less like cake and more like a pillow-y souffle complemented by an equally light whipped icing. For a quotidian treat, cake rolls are $7.95 and for special occasions (weddings included!), cakes range from a diameter of six inches to large sheets. The fresh strawberry cake is the most popular but there are other flavors such as mango mousse, mocha cappuccino, and taro.

Golden Delight offers a myriad of Cantonese styled pastries great for a breakfast on the go or an afternoon snack. Above left is a coconut pastry with yeasty, lightly sweet bread swirled with light caramel and toasted coconut flakes. Above right is a hot dog supreme, a sweeter take on pigs in a blanket.

Of course, there is also the quintessential barbecue pork pastry. Golden Delight has two varieties, the fluffy steamed bun, and the above, a braided pastry filled with sweet and savoury barbecue pork. These are addictive!

At a little over a dollar a piece, there’s no reason not to stock up on the small buns, a couple more: above left, ham and egg, with a generous squeeze of mayo; above right, melon (which doesn’t actually contain melon), filled with a light custard and is named for the sweet crumb topping. If they are available, definitely try a taro bun!

In addition to its exhaustive list of pastries, Golden Delight also offers steamed buns (veggie, pictured above, sweet red bean, pork, pork and mushroom). As a testament to how popular these buns were, we were only able to snag a veggie bun. Filled with rice vermicelli, shiitake mushrooms, cabbage, and generously seasoned with black pepper, it was both satisfying and delicious! If you have any room left, don’t forget to pick up a couple cream puffs, egg tarts, almond cookies, and sweet loaves of yeasty bread (mixed with cinnamon raisin, coconut, taro, or red bean).

It’s impossible to go wrong with any of these delicious treats. There is always a steady stream of business for cake orders and snack buns. Two of us here at alt.eats may have polished off an entire six inch strawberry cake, without sharing. And others of us may have scarfed four pastries in one sitting, in the name of taste testing. Yes, these baked goods inspire immoderate nomming and we aren’t one bit ashamed of it.

Lai Lai Asian Kitchen

Cuisine: Chinese

6823 E Broad St, Columbus, OH 43213-1516
Phone: (614) 861-3515
Monday – Friday: 11am – 9pm
Saturday and Sunday: 11:30am -9pm

Click here to map it!

A couple of us had heard rumors of an excellent Chinese restaurant on the East Side called Lai Lai. Being that it was hard to pin down specifics such as their regional cuisine specialty, our interest was piqued and we headed east on a recent week night to see what the fuss was all about. Since there were seven of us, we  were able to order quite a bit and get a good feel for their menu. We were a little disappointed to find out that there was not a separate Chinese menu, but after a little conversation with the owner who hails originally from Taiwan, we were assured that there were items with a more authentic flavor and that if need be, the kitchen would prepare special requests with a days notice. First up, the appetizers.

The Crispy Garlic Tofu had a delicately crunchy exterior surrounding soft tofu. The dipping sauce consisted of a mix of yellow hot mustard and duck sauce.

One of the appetizers on the specials menu, the salt and pepper calamari tossed with green onions is a staple in Chinese restaurants.

The Fiery Wontons had good flavor from the mild peppercorn sauce but the ratio of wrapper to filling was left us wanting more.

Dan Dan Noodles is really a misnomer. This dish should really be renamed noodles in peanut sauce.

We were impressed with how quickly the food came out but it might have been because we were one of two tables in the well decorated and spacious dining room. The entrees:

The Smoked Duck was by far everyone’s favorite at the table. So much so that we ordered another serving of it. The duck is placed into these taco-shaped buns (bao), maybe with a smear or two of hoisin sauce, and eaten immediately. While some of us opted out of the bao (it was tough, especially when it got cold), the flavor of the duck was spot on, infused with tea smoke and much like ones I’ve had in Asia.

The Taiwanese Style Noodle was more wet than we were used to seeing and nothing in the flavors jumped out at us as particularly Taiwanese. This is a good detour if you’d like to try something other than Lo Mein.

Coming from a group of adventurous eaters, we were all surprised to see that the Twice Cooked Pork was very lean. Traditionally made from pork belly, Lai Lai makes their’s with lean pork to make it more accessible to their customers. This was also more saucy than we were used to.

Fiery Szechuan Fish Filet with just the tiniest hint of numbing Sichuan peppercorns.

Any respectable Chinese restaurant has to have excellent greens that are simply stir-fried. Lai Lai was no exception: one of the first plates to be cleaned, the Shanghai Bok Choy (also known as baby bok choy) was still crispy with just a hint of garlic.

The Sa Cha Beef with Choy Sum was also well received. The owner offered to make us this dish off the menu since we were looking for more Taiwanese flavored dishes. Sa Cha is a type of condiment similar to oyster sauce but with a smokier and seafood-y flavor. Here, it is stir-fried with choy sum (closer to bok choy than Chinese broccoli) and beef. Though this was not as fancy as some of the above dishes, it was home-style and went great with a bowl of steamed rice.

We had hoped that the menu offerings would appeal to both novice and experienced palates with the inclusion of classic Chinese appetizers such as marinated cucumbers, vegetarian duck, and drunken chicken. Despite this, we cleaned every single plate and were so full that we didn’t get a chance to try the lauded desserts in Lai Lai’s display case. Our expectations were high but nonetheless, we had a good meal with great company. If we’re ever hungry, east of 270, we’ll be sure to keep Lai Lai’s in mind.