Thursday, April 24, 1997

Soups are us

Posted on Thu, Apr 24, 1997 at 4:00 AM

In many ways, Pu Yi is like dozens of other Chinese restaurants around town. Located in a plain shopping plaza down the street from UCF, it offers good food, modest prices and fast service. It's a typical neighborhood eatery, with one exception: Pu Yi does excellent soups. At similar establishments, I've often been disappointed by anemic won ton, and I've been downright offended by putrid versions of egg drop. Never at Pu Yi.

On a recent lunch excursion, the won ton was a winner: The broth was light and clear, yet packed with flavor. Delicately spicy pork was folded into two firm Chinese noodles. Floating on top were chopped scallions that tasted as fresh and green as they looked. My order of egg drop soup was noteworthy as well. The broth was thick and glossy, a bright golden color, dotted with slivers of egg whites. It was rich, not the least bit clingy or heavy.

We had barely finished the soups when the entrees arrived, fairly sizzling. Szechuan chicken ($4.65) was prepared to a medium spicy taste as requested. Braised sheets of chicken were served in brown gravy, brightened with stir-fried carrots, sprouts, bell peppers, bamboo shoots, baby corn, snow peas and broccoli.

We also had sweet and sour chicken ($4.15). The texture and flavor were about even. Chicken tenders were battered and fried to a crisp finish, with minimal greasiness. The sweet and sour sauce was sweet but not cloying, and it tasted unexpectedly fruity. On the side, fried rice was light and tasty, tossed with peas and carrots. Egg rolls were dainty and crisp, having been fried in an extra-thin wrapping of dough. Inside they were moist, stuffed with shredded cabbage, sprouts and spinach.

As for our dessert, we thought the almond cookies could have been a little more fresh. Still, they were nicely crumbly and sweet with sliced almonds on top. Service has been consistently good whenever I've visited. Waiters are diligent about bringing orders quickly and overcoming the language barrier.

The dinner menu looks more varied with interesting selections such as lobster sizzling wok bar ($11.95), shelled lobster with Chinese vegetables served over crispy rice patties. But lunch is more affordable: Try a quart of the shrimp fried rice, so packed with fresh shrimp, it's practically a steal at $5.95.

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