Tag Archives: Chinese food

Chin Chin

Montgomery has terrible Chinese food.

A few years ago we went to East China based on the consensus ranking of Grandma Advertiser’s readers. That was when we learned to be suspicious of the “tastes” of our fellow Montgomerians. Also, we felt a little sick. But we were younger then, and more idealistic, and we thought for sure a place next to the “Oriental Food Mart” would be pretty good. Sadly, we discovered that all Number One China should be known for is its flagrant false advertising. It took us a year or so after that to work up the courage to go to Ming’s Garden out on the Boulevard. I think we’d secretly hoped that place would be good and were “saving” it for a pleasant surprise. Hopes were dashed. Our food there was a basically inedible pile of vegetables in cloying sauce, served in a time-warp array of vinyl booths. We were so depressed, readers, that we could not even bear to write the place up.

But then just the other day we saw a notice in the paper that lifted our spirits – Atlanta staple Chin Chin has opened a branch in Montgomery! One of us spent many years living in Atlanta and eating at Chin Chin. This prompted extremely fond memories, so we went that very evening, all the way out to one of the bleakest parts of the Hellscape (Taylor and Vaughn, where culture goes to die and be reborn as artisanal mantle decorations) on a night when the City was screaming about tornadoes on the Facebook. Nothing could stop us.

We were richly rewarded for our knee-jerk decision to drive across town in possibly dangerous weather. The restaurant is beautiful, warm and inviting. There’s a small sushi bar with seating in the back, but the main dining room is divided by a nice installation of several giant ceramic pots that are also fountains. The water’s noise actually makes the large room seem quiet and intimate.

The menu is surprisingly vast, with sushi, Thai dishes, specialties and even hibachi meals. We ordered the seafood hot and sour soup, vegetable spring rolls, a yellowtail roll, the New Zealand mussels with black bean sauce and Crispy Fish Fillets in Hunan Style. Service was impeccable. All the dishes rolled out quickly (but not too fast) and were easy to share. To start, the seafood hot and sour soup (for two) itself may be worth a trip across town. It’s laced with egg and has just the right vinegar-y sour taste. The vegetable spring rolls were not that great – a little slender for the price, served with a giant vat of pink sauce. But the mussels were pretty amazing, each one extremely meaty and glazed with the salty sauce. As we were cooing over the soup, the yellowtail roll appeared. We are sometimes mostly wary of Montgomery sushi (nothing against any particular place but it just isn’t that great in our experience). This was the best roll we’ve had here in town – impeccably fresh fish, well rolled with not too much rice, perfectly served in the true minimalist style.

And then there was the Hunan style fish. It’s plenty for two (we even took some home for lunch the next day), but your willingness to share it with your dining companion is a true testament to your love. The fish is not so much fried as it is crisped, or something similar, so that there’s barely any batter at all, and finished with a great sauce that’s not too sweet or corn starchy. It comes with a small bowl of fried rice that’s loaded with little bits of egg and not at all greasy. Afterward, of course, there were were fortune cookies – except these were more like personal affirmations (“You look happy and proud”). When we extract text from cookie, we want cryptic prognostication, not vapid compliments.

We left so happy and full, only $35 the poorer for our sumptuous meal.

If only it weren’t so FAR AWAY. Seriously, from our house, it takes 25 minutes each way to get there – way too long for a meal if you’re not out in that part of town already. But maybe you’ll start finding reasons to go there once you eat at Chin Chin. We never, ever say this about the Hellscape, but we really should find a way to support this place. Maybe by somehow teleporting it to Fairview.

Number One China

It’s located next to the “Oriental Food Mart” so it ought to be more than just a cookie cutter generic “Chinese Food” place, right? Wrong. No. 1 China is sort of an insult to the idea of this food being the best in China. It’s possible that the Chinese government will send over agents to shut the place down or at least force them to change their name so that Americans don’t think that this is the best that China has to offer.

The menu was printed by the same people who print the menus of every single low-end Chinese restaurant in the English-speaking world. The food may come out of cans. Flavorless. Mediocre in nearly every way.

At 2549 Madison Avenue in the hilariously named Madison Square Shopping Center, the No. 1 China restaurant ought to be good. But it isn’t. It isn’t even remarkable. We ordered Number 102, the sauteed vegetables with garlic sauce, and Number 103, the bean curd Szechuan style. The vegetables were disgusting and limp and covered, inexplicably, with a rubbery red sauce. Why are they so red? Millions of beetles probably died to make our frozen broccoli this color.  The tofu was edible, but any taste it might have mustered was obscured by the unmistakable flavor of cornstarch.

We should have gone next door to the market and gotten some stuff and just made our own at home. Next time we will.

East China

East ChinaWhen someone offered to take us out to eat, we got excited. Move over depression era meal budgets! This one’s on someone else! So we decided to try out the place that was voted to serve the Best Chinese Food in Montgomery. At least, that’s what the Montgomery Advertiser poll said.

When we arrived, we felt sure that we couldn’t be in the right place. It had those huge color pictures of food up behind the counter, like some kind of $5 Chinese place in New York City. And yet, it also had some expensive wooden floors and a fairly nice seating area. Maybe this was the place after all.

We were seated in a nearly empty smallish dining room. The menus are pretty expansive, but light on veggie items. They are broken into the familiar meat categories and the familiar staples of the modern homogenized American Chinese restaurant. Sichuan mingles without effort with Cantonese with no explaining. It’s a bit snobbish (but accurate) to say that most Montgomery diners don’t know the difference. They’re there because they can get the noodles with shrimp or one of those pork things. So the menu caters perfectly to that. When you think about food that way, of course there are 90-something options.

We ordered three entrees for the three of us, plus some egg rolls. The waitress was pissed that we asked whether various items contained meat. Of course she was. Still, based on the subsequent service, it was clear she was just pissed to be at work and not so angered by what was definately NOT a hyper-particular ordering on our parts. We ordered a spicy tofu and broccoli dish, a garlic eggplant dish, and some moo shu veggies. We also each ordered a spring roll, which was oddly fried, but the only veggie option of the appetizers after eliminating egg rolls and the dumplings.

The tofu broccoli was the best of the lot. It was far from spicy and generally somewhat bland. The broccoli was cooked right and the tofu was at least fried into golden brown cubes. The eggplant was the worst of the three. It was pretty much an whole large eggplant, cut up and gleaming purple, served with a brownish and flavorless garlic sauce of some sort. The pieces were huge and tough to cut up. And the middle of the road was the moo shu, served with hoisin sauce and three smallish won ton noodles. They were messy and, well, unremarkable. It was fun to assemble little burritos of hoisin and shredded veggies, but they were small and, once they were eaten, there wasn’t much fun about a pile of chopped up semi-crisp cabbage.

One particular highlight was that when seated, they bring you a bowl of fried noodles and a bowl Crispy noodlesof “duck sauce” with a tiny dollop of spicy mustard in it. It was almost as if they had seen the chips and salsa idea in a Mexican place and wanted to copy it. But nice salty chips and fresh cilantro-based salsa is one thing. Heavily fried noodles dipped in yellow glucose sauce is another. Thinking about Montgomery folks shoveling in a bowl (or two) of these before their meal helps explain why Alabama is only ranked above Mississippi in “Most Obese States in the Nation.”

All in all, it seems unlikely that we’ll go back to East China. There’s nothing East Chinese about it. It doesn’t have all of the offensive trappings of many of the worst Mexican places (where they spend more time on having the mariachi band and the sombrero for birthdays and the parrot decorations on the wall than they do on the food). But it does seem to worry more about having a bunch of stuff on the menu than it does worry about making sure the items are good. And in a town like Montgomery, even when there is authentic Korean food at several places around the city, basic worry about appearances is enough to win you the best Chinese food in town.