Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Zhang's

Date: December 12, 2009
Time: Approx. 12:00pm
Location: Lincoln, NE
Restaurant: Zhang's
Overall Rating: 4







Egg Roll: 5
Food Quality: 4.5
Price: 5
Atmosphere: 2.5
Service: 3
Overall: 4

I’ve been meaning to write about Zhang’s for quite some time now. I first discovered this place in mid-summer and have been back several times since. I’m eating it right now and trying to save half for dinner tonight, but I can’t seem to put my fork down. I have the “just one more bite” syndrome. The lunch special portion size is just the right amount to eat for two meals and still feel full after each (or feel overly stuffed after one meal, which I have also done). :)

Let’s start with the Egg Roll. From what I can tell, it is stuffed with cabbage, green onions and chicken, yet it has a hint of sweetness. I’d really like to find out where this sweet taste comes from because it is surprising and wonderful! I haven’t found an egg roll like this since I ate at the Dillon’s grocery store Chinese food counter in Independence, Kansas back in high school. I know….you didn’t expect me to say grocery store Chinese food, but believe it. I’m going to go so far as to say this is the best egg roll I’ve had in Lincoln so far! No soy sauce or sweet & sour sauce needed! An egg roll that’s simple in ingredients, but packed with flavor. Wish I could have one everyday! Is Santa Claus reading this?

Okay, I need to move on from the egg roll. The Cashew Chicken had just the right sized chunks of celery, carrots, zucchini, onion and green onion. The chicken seemed like it was just lightly dipped in flour and pan fried to perfection with a slight crunch. This dish had just the right amount of sauce and was packed with flavor (sweet, salty and tangy)! Needless to say, I loved this cashew chicken and that is why it’s my new favorite.

The atmosphere is lacking a bit with one picture of Chinese symbols and a large photo of a sail boat. That being said, it is more of a take-out place and seems like they have built their reputation around that aspect instead of stellar ambiance. The facilities are very clean and they do have a flat screen TV to watch while you’re waiting. The service is fine enough. Not bad, not great. The food definitely makes up for it.

Zhang’s is my new go-to for Chinese food at lunch and if you happen to work West of 27th street and South of Highway 2, I’d highly recommend it for you as well. Although, you might want to call ahead to place your order. Every time I’ve been there, it has been steady with business at lunch time, so the wait could be more than you’d like for a lunch break. However believe me when I say, the wait is worth it for this delicious, fresh cooked Chinese food!

Fortune: "A financial investment will yield returns beyond your hopes." Let's hope so!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Windchimes

Date: August 13, 2009
Time: Approx. 12:00pm
Location: Lincoln, NE
Restaurant: Windchimes
Overall Rating: 3.5











Egg Roll:
3
Food Quality: 4
Atmosphere: 3.5
Price: 3
Service: 4

As a birthday gift from my co-workers we went to Windchimes Chinese restaurant for lunch. (Thank you all so much!)

The Cashew Chicken was excellent (even when eaten cold for dinner that night)! The vegetables were big and fresh. There were mushrooms in it, which is not common in this dish (loved it!). The sauce was a bit darker than I’m used to seeing and had more flavor than usual. They used whole cashews, which is always favorable to my taste buds. The portion sizes are very generous as well.

From what I could tell from my fellow diners’ plates, all the dishes were served with white rice. And all the dishes came with a bonus chicken wing or leg, which I thought was strange at first, but LOVED in the end. The chicken had a crispy outer layer with a very light teriyaki sauce. Delicious! I could even stretch to say that it was the best teriyaki chicken wing I have ever had! Substitute some buffalo sauce and I could very well say the same for the best buffalo wing I’ve ever had. I even asked Andrea if I could have hers (she’s a vegetarian and gladly permitted). All the dishes had a couple pieces of fruit as well. Nice touch, but when eating Chinese food, fruit is the last thing I personally want to consume. The Egg Roll had a light wrap with chicken and cabbage. It was the first time I’ve ever tasted pepper in an egg roll. I embraced the change, but in the last bites had to use some soy sauce. By the way, the soy sauce came in these cute miniature pitchers that have “soy sauce” written on them. It was a very nice touch and I have to look up where I can buy one! The Hot and Sour soup was great. All the right flavors and substance for this soup. The Crab Rangoon had plenty of flavor and were just the right size.

The prices were decent. You won’t break the bank, but they are a little higher than some other places in town. However, the restaurant is very clean, the wait staff was friendly and prompt, and the atmosphere was light. There was an abundance of sun shining in the windows and the Chinese d├ęcor was plentiful. I would say it is a little more “upscale” than the average Lincoln restaurant. This would be a great place to take clients or your sweetheart on a date. They had a tempting display of wine at the entrance and a large gong that we desperately wanted to hit. I would not doubt that someone has done it in the past. Visit their website for more information about the food, location, and even Chinese-Tibetan culture! http://www.your-windchimes.com/

Fortune:
"You will soon be honored by someone you respect."

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Fortune Cookie

Although fortune cookies are a modern invention, a legend has been developed and circulated to explain their origins. According to this legend, in the 14th century, when the Mongols ruled China, a revolutionary named Chu Yuan Chang planned an uprising against them. He used mooncakes to pass along the date of the uprising to the Chinese by replacing the yolk center of the mooncake with the message written on rice paper. The Mongols did not care for the yolks, so the plan went on successfully and the Ming Dynasty began. It is claimed that the Moon Festival celebrates this with the tradition of giving mooncakes with messages inside. Immigrant Chinese railroad workers, without ingredients to make regular mooncakes, made biscuits instead. It is these biscuits that may have later inspired fortune cookies.

Another theory of the origin of the fortune cookie dates back to the 19th century. A cookie very similar in appearance to the American Fortune cookie was made is Kyoto, Japan, and there is a Japanese temple tradition of random fortunes, called omikuji. The Japanese version of the cookie differs in several ways: they are a little bit larger; are made of darker dough; and their batter contains sesame and miso rather than vanilla and butter. They contain a fortune. Most of the people who claim to have introduced the cookie to the United States are Japanese, so the theory is that these bakers were modifying a cookie design which they were aware of from thier days in Japan. Fortune cookies moved from being a confection dominated by Japanese-Americans to one dominated by Chinese-Americans sometime around World War II.

This information compliments of a Wikipedia search on "fortune cookies".

Monday, July 6, 2009

Imperial Palace


Date: Wednesday, July 1, 2009
Time: Approx. 11:45 a.m.
Location: Lincoln, NE
Restaurant: Imperial Palace
Overall Rating: 4









Egg Roll:
3.5
Food Quality: 4
Price: 4
Atmosphere: 5
Service: 3.5

Last Wednesday, Andrea had the splendid idea to go to Imperial Palace for lunch. I, of course, accetped. Immediately when you step into this place it has a great ambiance. There are Chinese artifacts all over and the detail from the chairs to the ceiling surrounds you with Chinese culture. This would be a great date restaurant or just a fun night out with the family. The lighting is dim. Feels a bit like stepping out of a dungeon when exiting, but that all adds to the uniqueness.

We started off with Egg Drop Soup. It wasn't the best I've ever tried. After a couple slurps, I had to add some soy sauce. However, I rarely find an egg drop soup where I don't have to add soy sauce. The soup also had corn, carrots and peas. For a main entree, I chose the Cashew Chicken lunch combo with Sweet & Sour Pork. Note, the lunch combos come with choice of soup but no side item. The Cashew Chicken was excellent! I'm salivating thinking about it right now. It has a garlicy flavor to it, which was unlike any cashew chicken dish I've ever tasted. The change was delightful. All the vegetables were the same as usual in this dish (celery and carrots) and the chicken was what you'd expect. The Sweet & Sour Pork was average with thick breading and a very sweet, thick sauce. The pork pieces, although small (plus), had occasional hard pieces that I had to spit out (minus). That's as far as I'll go with that description. The Egg Rolls were vegetable only, and from my inspection it looked like they were only stuffed with cabbage. The outer crust was light and flaky, but there was no real flavor to it. I had to add some sweet & sour sauce to the last few bites. I would guess this may be more what a "traditional" Chinese egg roll would taste like, since this restaurant is more on the authentic side (I've heard). I did like that it was not massive and not too filling, so I could try more of everything else on my plate. The Crab Rangoons were smaller than I'm used to seeing, but that's not necessarily bad. The breading was light and crispy, even around the filling part. Very nice! Andrea tried the Vegetable Tofu dish. She said it was "nothing special". The tofu was a little softer than she prefers. So, if you like a softer consistency tofu, go for it.

The prices were reasonable for such sizeable portions and tasty food. The lunch specials range around $6. The two egg rolls were $2.75 and half an order (4) of crab rangoon was $2. The service was prompt and the food came out super fast. You can definitely tell the owners of this restaurant have been around for a while and know what they are doing when it comes to running a reputable restaurant. Just after I got back from this lunch, I received an email from a friend. This friend said she works with a doctor from China and he recommended this place BUT to order off of the "Chinese menu". Apparently, there is a special menu for Chinese people or anyone else who cares to look at it. It comes in Chinese or English. I'm very curious and will be going back soon....to be continued.

Fortune: "Time makes you wise. Ask advice from someone older than you."

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Authentic vs. American Chinese Food

In between stops on my Chinese food tour, I thought I'd give you some fun facts about Chinese food. This one comes from a Wikipedia search on American Chinese food. Enjoy!

American Chinese food typically treats vegetables as a garnish while cuisines of China emphasize vegetables. This can be seen in the use of carrots and tomatoes. Native Chinese cuisine makes frequent use of Asian leafy vegetables like bok choy and kai-pan, and puts a greater emphasis on fresh meat and seafood. As a result, American Chinese food is usually less pungent than authentic cuisine.

American Chinese food tends to be cooked very quickly and with a great deal of oil and salt. Many dishes are quickly and easily prepared, and require inexpensive ingredients. Stir-frying, pan-frying, and deep-frying tend to be the most common cooking techniques which are all easily done using a wok. The food also has a reputation for high levels of MSG to enhance flavor. The symptoms of a so-called Chinese restaurant syndrome or "Chinese food syndrome" have been attributed to a glutamate sensitivity, but carefully controlled scientific studies have not demonstrated such negative effects of glutamate....American Chinse cuisine often uses ingredients not native and very rarely used in China. One such example is the common use of broccoli in American Chinese cuisine.

To read more go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Chinese_cuisine.

Comments:
Who knew there was such a thing as "Chinese food syndrome"? I really better watch out for that! And if authentic Chinese food does not include "a great deal of oil and salt", then I will have to say "no thank you", give me the American version any day! Oil and salt is what defines American food, right?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Jacky Chen (not Chan) III

Date: Saturday, June 20, 2009
Time: 1:30pm
Location: Newton, KS
Restaurant: Jacky Chen III
Overall Rating: 1.5







Egg Roll: 1
Food Quality: 1.5
Price: 3
Atmosphere: 2
Service: 2

As I said in my “Mission & Background” entry, I will when I can, venture out of Lincoln, Nebraska to taste some Chinese cuisine around the country and give you my fairest rating. This past weekend I took a jaunt down to Newton, KS to visit my mother. We went out to eat (as we nearly always do) at Jacky Chen’s Chinese food buffet. We arrived at about 1:30pm and to our dismay nothing on the buffet was fresh. I was trying to make excuses for them about it being later in the lunch time frame, but as my mother put it “that doesn’t matter.” And I couldn’t agree more!

I went straight for the Chicken Egg Roll and Vegetable Spring Roll. Both were very dry, which seemed to be the theme of this dining experience. DRY! I couldn’t even finish the egg roll (a very rare occurrence). Next I tried the Crab Rangoon, not bad if you like a lot of cream cheese and not so much crab. They didn’t have Cashew Chicken and I couldn’t really find anything close to equivalent. So, I tried the Spicy Chicken. It was the best item I found on the buffet. Just enough spice, not overpowering, and the chicken was a good consistency. General Tso’s Chicken was just ok. Tried a Crab Stuffed Mushroom. It would have been good fresh. The Garlic Mushrooms needed more garlic flavor. The Teriyaki Chicken on a stick was so dry I could hardly get it off the stick. Last, I tried the Japanese Chicken, which was nothing spectacular. I’d stick to perfecting their Chinese food before they venture to Japan.

I can say they had a good variety of food. This place is kid friendly with many other options besides Chinese food. I tried a Cheese Stick and Fried Okra. Like a broken record, they would have been good FRESH. They had sushi too. I tried the California Roll (just about the only sushi I will try off a buffet). You can never be too safe with raw fish. It was average. Not exceptional, but not bad. The price for this buffet was $6. That was the silver lining – I didn’t break the bank to eat bad food!

So, if any of you happen to be in Newton, KS sometime in your life and your heart is craving a little Chinese flavor, I recommend going to Jacky Chen’s Chinese buffet only if you can get there as soon as it opens. If you can’t be at the door as it unlocks, I’d order off the menu, or better yet, drive about 20 miles East to Wichita and take your chance at another Chinese food establishment.

Fortune: “An interesting musical opportunity is in your near future.”

Turns out that musical opportunity was closer than I thought. For the first time in nearly six years I have a car with a CD player! For my trip down to Kansas I found all my old CDs from high school and literally sang until my throat was on fire. Forgot how good it feels to hear old songs I love, reminisce about high school friends, and even play a little air guitar all in the privacy of my little bubble on wheels. Give it a try sometime!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Highlands Great Wall

Date: Friday, June 12, 2009
Time: Approx. 12:00pm
Location: Lincoln, NE
Restaurant: Highlands Great Wall
Overall Rating: 3.2











Egg Roll: 3
Food Quality: 4
Price: 4
Atmosphere: 2
Service: 3

I went to the Highlands Great Wall for lunch with Andrea last Friday. This is a fast food Chinese place. However, the food quality is WAY better than ordinary fast food. The Egg Roll was a little better than average. It had chicken in it and the cabbage pieces were small and well cooked, which I really like. The food was hot when it came out. You order at the counter and they bring it to you. The people were friendly. Felt a bit rushed when ordering (good thing I knew exactly what I wanted), but that's to be expected at noonish. The Cashew Chicken was really good! They used full cashews in just the right amount. The sauce was typical for that dish, sweet and salty together. The vegetables were cooked just right and the chicken was a typical chinese consistency. It was even great cold, which is how I ate the leftovers for dinner that night. Don't judge if you haven't tried it...I would eat any Chinese food cold! I tried a couple bites of Andrea's dish - Vegetables in a Garlic Sauce. It was excellent. I could tell they use fresh vegetables.

The portions were what you'd expect for an American restaurant, HUGE. I ordered a medium portion size and had more than enough for dinner that night too. Andrea had a large size and the rice had to be served on a separate plate. She gave me her leftovers (that's a good friend) and I can attest that it was great cold as well when I ate it for dinner Saturday night! This was been such a great Chinese Food week! The price was right on for the portion sizes. Each of our dishes were $7. Worth it when you can definitely get two meals out of it, or stuff yourself to the brim in one meal. So overall, the numbers average out to 3.2, but for simplicity sake I give it a 3. I would absolutely recommend this place if you are on the West side of town, in a rush but still want some excellent Chinese cuisine.

Fortune: "Products are merely physical expressions of ideas."

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Jade Rivers

Date: June 10, 2009
Time: Approx. 12:30pm
Location: Lincoln, Nebraska
Restaurant: Jade Rivers
Overall Rating: 2.5 Egg Rolls







Egg Rolls:
1.5
Food Quality: 2.5
Price: 4.5
Atmosphere: 2.5
Service: 3.5

I went to the Jade Rivers Chinese Buffet yesterday for lunch. I wouldn’t go so far as to put “famous chinese buffet” in the title on the menu, as they did. They didn’t have Cashew Chicken, so I tried the Almond Chicken, which by the way, did not have any almonds. It was just OK. That word really kind of sums up the whole experience. They had pork and vegetable egg rolls. Both were very dry and I had to use soy sauce. Side note: If you have to use soy sauce on an egg roll, in my opinion, that is not good. The Crab Rangoon was the worst I’ve had. It was bone dry. No filling at all and they were very small. The Vegetable Lo Mein was average. A little dry and the noodles were thick. The Egg Drop Soup as so so as well. It had green onions in it and looked a little oily. The General Tao’s Chicken was what you’d expect for a buffet, along with the Orange Chicken. Generally, good hot or luke warm, but try to get it while it’s hot! The best item I ate was the Teriyaki Chicken. There was no breading, but the sauce stuck to it well, giving it a full flavor. The chicken pieces were a familiar consistency too. Always good to see in a Chinese restaurant. The last item I tried was the Indian Chicken. It needed a bit more flavor. I was expecting to taste that Indian flare, but might have been expecting too much for this place!

I’d like to come back and eat off the menu to give a fair rating of food right off the cooker. Overall for a buffet, I give it a 2.5 out of 5. The price was $5.99. So for that cost, the level of food was right on value. The service was good. All people were very friendly and prompt in removing plates. We were even asked if everything was good, which is unusual for buffet-style places. Restaurant was clean. Definitely felt like I was in an “American-Chinese” place. The Chinese ambiance was lacking a bit. If you’re looking for cheap Chinese food with fair quality and mass quantities, this is your place. http://www.jaderiversbuffet.com/

Fortune: “Share your insights with close friends for rewards this week.”
A perfect fortune for the first week of this blog. These are my insights, shared only with close friends…so far.

Rating System


I will rate each restaurant on a scale of 1 to 5 egg rolls in five categories, along with an overall rating. The categories are: Food Quality, Egg Roll, Price (Value), Atmosphere, and Service. Yes, the egg roll is a separate category from all other food. You can tell a lot about the food just by the egg roll! Think about it.


Since I can't try everything on the menu in one sitting, I will order the same three things at each restaurant: Cashew Chicken, Egg Drop Soup, and of course, and Egg Roll. This will help me to fairly rate each restaurant on the same items. If there are people with me, I will kindly ask to try a bite of what they are having in order to add some variety. To all my friends...you've been warned. If I am at a buffet, I will taste as many foods as I can. And lastly, I will only drink water as to not tamper with my taste buds!


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Background & Mission

Some of you may be wondering who in the world would dedicate a blog to the love of Chinese food. For all of my fellow Chinese food lovers...no need to explain. Since I can remember my favorite food has been the egg roll. Some of my greatest childhood memories with family and friends have been around a bowl of moo goo gai pan, an egg roll (or two) and a crab rangoon. I'm almost positive I came out of the womb with an egg roll in hand. Although my mom cannot confirm. And I'm not ashamed to admit that I've driven 50 miles one way, just to taste one more time the best egg roll in my opinion.

So for fun, I made it a goal this year to visit all the Chinese food restaurants in Lincoln, Nebraska and share my experiences with the world (or maybe just my close friends). My mission is to do the dirty work for you when it comes to the best Chinese food in Lincoln, NE, and from time to time, around the country. For I hate nothing more than to waste money on a bad dish of cashew chicken. I vow to be fair in my ratings and diligent in the pursuit of the best overall meal and egg roll in town. You can rest assure I have over 20 years of experience in this field of study. My taste buds are well trained and my eye for sweet & sour quality, superb.

I dedicate this pursuit to my parents, who have always supported my love for Chinese food. Taking me out for nearly every birthday and even a Thanksgiving or two. And to my best Chinese food eating buddy, Bethany. She kept the passion alive and drove that 50 miles with me!

Keep a look-out for my next blog about the rating system and method of critic.