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    Neighborhood takeout joint specializes in chifa, a niche cuisine of Peruvian-style Chinese fare that draws a loyal patronage of Latin Americans and expat Limeños. They come for the chaufa and lomo saltado, but diners newer to the culinary movement will find the roast duck and roast pork dishes gratifying.


    Teaser: Neighborhood takeout joint specializes in chifa, a niche cuisine of Peruvian-style Chinese fare that draws a loyal patronage of Latin Americans and expat Limeños. They come for the chaufa, lomo saltado and comforting soups, but those new to the culinary movement will find the roast duck and roast pork dishes gratifying.

    Sushi and noodles are all the rage at this cool lunch spot. Handsomely presented "torch rolls" with conch, scallops, salmon, tuna and sriracha are luscious, while spicy red tobiko proffer a proper pop. Bento boxes run the gamut and a bonanza of boba awaits tea-totalers.

    There's something about an authentic Chinese restaurant that lends itself to good conversation. Maybe that's just a Western perception, but the evening seemed to slip away as we sampled the menu at Chan's Chinese Cuisine. My guest and I were lulled by the languid surroundings and soft music, and rather surprised when we got up to leave and noticed that two full hours had passed.

    In retrospect, I would do a couple of things differently if I revisited Chan's. It would have been better to visit at lunch, when a dim sum service is offered and waiters stroll through the dining room with carts filled with dozens of varieties of dumplings, spring rolls and assorted delicacies. Customers choose and pay by the item, dressing up their selections with hot pastes, warm mustards and sweet sauces.

    In retrospect, I would do a couple of things differently if I revisited Chan's. It would have been better to visit at lunch, when a dim sum service is offered and waiters stroll through the dining room with carts filled with dozens of varieties of dumplings, spring rolls and assorted delicacies. Customers choose and pay by the item, dressing up their selections with hot pastes, warm mustards and sweet sauces.

    We were somewhat disappointed to find that this service isn't offered at dinner. Ordering from the appetizer menu, we were only able to sample a couple of varieties. But we liked what we tried, particularly the steamed dumplings stuffed with pork ($4.95), and dumplings filled with plump shrimp, minced vegetables and nuts ($5.95). They looked mysterious, wrapped in translucent pastry sheets and crimped shut to seal in the savory flavors, almost like a tray full of jellyfish. But they were delicious.

    We were somewhat disappointed to find that this service isn't offered at dinner. Ordering from the appetizer menu, we were only able to sample a couple of varieties. But we liked what we tried, particularly the steamed dumplings stuffed with pork ($4.95), and dumplings filled with plump shrimp, minced vegetables and nuts ($5.95). They looked mysterious, wrapped in translucent pastry sheets and crimped shut to seal in the savory flavors, almost like a tray full of jellyfish. But they were delicious.

    The won ton soups were fairly flavorful as well. My guest had the conventional version ($1.50), a clear brown broth and won ton noodles stuffed with pork. I preferred the "wor won ton" ($4.50), a heartier variety with shrimp, pork, snow peas, water chestnuts and ears of baby corn.

    The won ton soups were fairly flavorful as well. My guest had the conventional version ($1.50), a clear brown broth and won ton noodles stuffed with pork. I preferred the "wor won ton" ($4.50), a heartier variety with shrimp, pork, snow peas, water chestnuts and ears of baby corn.

    After such a promising start, we were somewhat let down by our entrees. Although beautifully presented with bright vegetables, the flavors simply weren't interesting. My guest had Chan's cashew nut chicken ($7.95), served with plenty of nuts and vegetables in a brown sauce that was quite boring. My braised duck with assorted meat and seafood ($12.95) was a disappointing stew with slippery, fatty meats. The crisp, stir-fried broccoli, carrots and mushroom caps served with our entrees were much more appealing.

    After such a promising start, we were somewhat let down by our entrees. Although beautifully presented with bright vegetables, the flavors simply weren't interesting. My guest had Chan's cashew nut chicken ($7.95), served with plenty of nuts and vegetables in a brown sauce that was quite boring. My braised duck with assorted meat and seafood ($12.95) was a disappointing stew with slippery, fatty meats. The crisp, stir-fried broccoli, carrots and mushroom caps served with our entrees were much more appealing.

    Chan's did such a good job with dim sum, they must be doing something right. If you order from the dinner menu, steer away from dishes that involve sauces and gravies. My best advice: Go at lunch, the better to affordably sample a wide range of offerings.

    China and Peru have enjoyed a long-standing diplomatic friendship; now diners can benefit from their culinary partnership. While the traditional Chinese fare is less than remarkable, the flavors of Peru shine. Don’t miss the ceviche mixto, tender citrus-marinated seafood served with a handful of toasted corn nuts. Read Orlando Weekly's full review: http://www2.orlandoweekly.com/dining/review.asp?rid=13329


    Teaser: China and Peru have enjoyed a long-standing diplomatic friendship; now diners can benefit from their culinary partnership. While the traditional Chinese fare is less than remarkable, the flavors of Peru shine. Don't miss the ceviche mixto, tender citrus-marinated seafood served with a handful of toasted corn nuts.

    I'll admit it: I'm not thrilled by Chinese food, at least not the overly greasy and sodium-filled kind that dominates the American foodscape. If I'm going to eat Chinese, I want it to be from some back alley in Chinatown where the menu barely taps the English language. I've always said that you should dine with someone Chinese who can show you the ropes about the good stuff. But when I walked into China in College Park with two of my least Asian girlfriends, I learned a thing or two about the validity of the Chinese-American hybrid – Chimerican, one of my friends called it.

    China in CP has one of those menus that numbers everything because there are so many items, all familiar and safe. Who hasn't heard of sesame chicken? Vegetable fried rice? Egg foo young? These dishes are so embedded in the American culture that they've almost become clichés of themselves. But what would a neighborhood be without Chinese takeout? People describe vapid districts of town, lacking culture, as places that "don't even have a Chinese restaurant." So China in CP not only fills a gap, but fills it well in its small spot on Edgewater Drive.

    We walked up at night, the bright interior beckoning. As we stepped inside, we were awash in familiar Chimerican smells – vegetable oil, sesame, shrimp and steamed rice. This truly felt like an urban Chinese takeout, with people popping in and out for paper bags brimming with red-and-white paper boxes, plastic soup containers and fortune cookies.

    I must mention the service, which was so friendly that it had the feel of a corner diner, the kind of place you go by yourself on a rainy night and pour out your sorrows while drinking hot tea and catching up on gossip. Every dish we ordered generated our server's excitement, along with a story about who else eats it or why she thought we'd like it spicier.

    Shrimp fried rice ($6.95) was an enormous dish of tender rice stir-fried with a plethora of diced vegetables and shrimp pieces. It was exactly what it promised, except it was three times larger. For value, you can't go wrong at China in CP. A family of four could feast for under $20 if they put their minds to it.

    Because it fit the atmosphere so well, we ordered crab Rangoon ($3.95), six pieces of deep-fried wonton filled with crab and cream cheese. These antiquated party appetizers originated at Trader Vic's, the legendary 1950s tiki hideaway. Even though crab Rangoon has filtered down from the days of groovy gastronomy, they are still satisfying to the American palate.

    One of my friends ordered chicken with lemon sauce ($7.95), which was more like chicken with lemon curd. The chicken was battered and deep-fried, and from the looks of the heaping plate, there was again enough for three portions. Alongside it, a bowl of bright yellow sauce was goopy-sweet. It tasted just right with chicken, but my friend admitted that she could eat the sauce on ice cream.

    My other friend ordered an appetizer of sushi. Now that grocery stores sell sushi, places like China in CP feel free to do so, too. The sushi bar that fills the back of the restaurant serves decent sushi and sashimi. My friend got the sashimi sampler ($7.95) with great toro, mediocre tuna flank and flavorless yellowtail. For her entree, she chose something that wasn't on the menu, Singapore noodles – one of those ubiquitous dishes – and they had no problems accommodating her request. They make it all the time, they told her. Her plate was a huge mound of wok-fried rice noodles with spicy, curry-flecked vegetables and seafood.

    I zeroed in on Peking duck ($15). I love this Beijing specialty that involves a process of glazing and drying to produce a succulent bird with a crispy skin atop a layer of delicious fat. It had been sliced into manageable portions and was served with thin pancakes to wrap around it and hoisin sauce for dipping.

    Although China in College Park is a far cry from authentic Chinese, it is firmly filling its small place in its neighborhood.

    Colonialtown’s Chuan Lu Garden employs plenty of fiery stimulants in their authentic, real-deal Sichuan fare. Must-try dishes: cumin lamb, laced with aromatic and mouth-numbing Sichuan peppercorns, and Lanzhou-style beef soup with hand-pulled noodles.

    We all know what image the word "buffet" conjures up, and it's not a complimentary one if you're looking for a fine meal. Add "crazy" to that, all sorts of pictures spring to mind that would make the late eccentric filmmaker Ed Wood blush.

    So my problem is in finding an alternative phrase for a place called "Crazy Buffet" to describe how impressive it is. Part of a small chain, this location (open since October 2001) has a giant pink facade with a pagoda on top and "gee whiz" decor inside: The black-marble entry, bubbling streams and many dining rooms will make your mouth fall open.

    So my problem is in finding an alternative phrase for a place called "Crazy Buffet" to describe how impressive it is. Part of a small chain, this location (open since October 2001) has a giant pink facade with a pagoda on top and "gee whiz" decor inside: The black-marble entry, bubbling streams and many dining rooms will make your mouth fall open.

    Called an "upscale Japanese" restaurant, many of the offerings are Chinese, including a not-too-sweet honey chicken, tofu-laden hot-and-sour soup, and crunchy, shell-on salt-and-pepper shrimp. Lo mein fans won't be disappointed; neither will seekers of peppery Szechuan beef.

    Called an "upscale Japanese" restaurant, many of the offerings are Chinese, including a not-too-sweet honey chicken, tofu-laden hot-and-sour soup, and crunchy, shell-on salt-and-pepper shrimp. Lo mein fans won't be disappointed; neither will seekers of peppery Szechuan beef.

    It's when you find bowls of Japanese udon noodles and crabmeat waiting for a ladle of rich broth, or sweet black-hijiki-seaweed salad, or rich and comforting miso soup, that things become interesting.

    It's when you find bowls of Japanese udon noodles and crabmeat waiting for a ladle of rich broth, or sweet black-hijiki-seaweed salad, or rich and comforting miso soup, that things become interesting.

    I have had sushi made with higher grade fish locally, but I've also had a lot worse and paid a lot more. The best part for sushi lovers is that you can choose your favorite and eat all you want. Toasted salmon-skin rolls, California rolls, the interestingly different "house" roll that's fried on the outside with moist fish within, broiled unagi (eel), a refreshing, spicy chopped octopus, sweet red tuna -- the assortment changes with supply, but it's all worth a try.

    I have had sushi made with higher grade fish locally, but I've also had a lot worse and paid a lot more. The best part for sushi lovers is that you can choose your favorite and eat all you want. Toasted salmon-skin rolls, California rolls, the interestingly different "house" roll that's fried on the outside with moist fish within, broiled unagi (eel), a refreshing, spicy chopped octopus, sweet red tuna -- the assortment changes with supply, but it's all worth a try.

    Desserts, particularly the green-tea cake, are a step above the ordinary, and the bread -- always my first indicator of how much a restaurant cares about its food -- is superb.

    Desserts, particularly the green-tea cake, are a step above the ordinary, and the bread -- always my first indicator of how much a restaurant cares about its food -- is superb.

    Service (yes, there are servers who bring drinks and clear used plates) is attentive and polite. Lunch ($9.95, or $15.95 for weekend brunch) is a great deal for sushi fanatics, and dinner ($18.95 to $21.95, depending on the day) features a one-shot hibachi counter: Pick some vegetables, your meat of choice (chicken, beef, pork or seafood) and a sauce, and it will appear at your table.

    Service (yes, there are servers who bring drinks and clear used plates) is attentive and polite. Lunch ($9.95, or $15.95 for weekend brunch) is a great deal for sushi fanatics, and dinner ($18.95 to $21.95, depending on the day) features a one-shot hibachi counter: Pick some vegetables, your meat of choice (chicken, beef, pork or seafood) and a sauce, and it will appear at your table.

    Think of it more as Asian communal eating rather than a buffet. And since there are Japanese creatures akin to foxes running wild in their native country, I'll coin a new phrase and say, "Crazy Buffet is crazy like a kitsune."

    Steamed talapia with fresh ginger and scallion. Roast duck. New Zealand mussels. Sticky rice shumai. Buffet restaurant.

    This is not a "what doesn't belong" quiz; rather, all of these things go together at Dim Sum Feast (5989 W. Colonial Drive; 407-293-7999), where cheap eats and surprisingly well-done dishes coincide.

    Lunch is $5.99 while dinner will set you back $8.49 and for that tidy sum you'll find sautéed Singapore mai fun noodles, freshly made Cantonese har gow shrimp balls, steamed pork buns and sweet sesame dumplings.

    All the typical buffet fare is here, so if you're a lo mein or General Tso's chicken fan, pigging out is encouraged. But it's not often you'll find a whole poached salmon and green-tea rice paste alongside fried rice and teriyaki chicken to perk up more discriminating palates.

    Neither old nor new, Eastern Pearl has been open for a couple of years, but its unremarkable environs -- in the plaza across from Altamonte Mall -- close it in. It's a remarkable find, wondrous even, in the case of the "mango shrimp."

    Mundane life is left at the door, upon entering the contemporary room filled with bold dark-wood furniture. The modestly sized area takes on an expanded dimension, given some clever design choices. On the back wall, soft-sounding showers cascade over a relief of the Chinese character for "double happiness." To the side, a window into the humming kitchen offers rare exposure. A partitioned-off hostess/ bar station further defines the orderly, eye-pleasing configuration, and there's a nicely set-off room for private parties. Most of the tables are round affairs, fashioned with a family-style rotating server in the center. The sight of the artful entrees we ordered spinning around was a showcase of invention.

    Mundane life is left at the door, upon entering the contemporary room filled with bold dark-wood furniture. The modestly sized area takes on an expanded dimension, given some clever design choices. On the back wall, soft-sounding showers cascade over a relief of the Chinese character for "double happiness." To the side, a window into the humming kitchen offers rare exposure. A partitioned-off hostess/ bar station further defines the orderly, eye-pleasing configuration, and there's a nicely set-off room for private parties. Most of the tables are round affairs, fashioned with a family-style rotating server in the center. The sight of the artful entrees we ordered spinning around was a showcase of invention.

    Fresh roses and starched linens make for on-the-town surroundings as the options for meal starters -- appetizers, soups and dim sum -- can be studied. Homage is paid on the menu to sister cuisines, with the inclusion of Vietnamese summer rolls ($2.99), as well as Thai-style sweet-and-sour shrimp soup ($3.95). The noodles, nonspiced shrimp and basil leaf came together in a clean-tasting crunch in the roll; the "straight man," if you will, to the lively, rich peanut sauce. The broth in the soup was a sweet and tangy version, infused with spice that warmed all the way down. Fried spring rolls ($2.95) were light and flaky; the scallion pancake ($3.25) had a firm bite, crispy outside, fluffy inside.

    Fresh roses and starched linens make for on-the-town surroundings as the options for meal starters -- appetizers, soups and dim sum -- can be studied. Homage is paid on the menu to sister cuisines, with the inclusion of Vietnamese summer rolls ($2.99), as well as Thai-style sweet-and-sour shrimp soup ($3.95). The noodles, nonspiced shrimp and basil leaf came together in a clean-tasting crunch in the roll; the "straight man," if you will, to the lively, rich peanut sauce. The broth in the soup was a sweet and tangy version, infused with spice that warmed all the way down. Fried spring rolls ($2.95) were light and flaky; the scallion pancake ($3.25) had a firm bite, crispy outside, fluffy inside.

    As mentioned, the "mango shrimp" ($14.95) was a visual and palatable delight. Served in scooped-out mango shells, the generous serving of succulently moist shrimp was in a subtle sauce of cooked juice and red peppers. The al-dente texture of the cooked fruit is such that it holds its chunky shape until it dissolves in the mouth, exploding heavenly taste. The stellar execution was matched in the "shrimp in silken creme sauce" ($15.95), unusual with its mayonnaise-and-fruit-juice dressing topped with caramelized walnuts. In the Gen. Tso's family, the "crispy beef" ($13.95) was presented in shoestring form. The orange chicken ($10.95) was without artificial enhancements.

    As mentioned, the "mango shrimp" ($14.95) was a visual and palatable delight. Served in scooped-out mango shells, the generous serving of succulently moist shrimp was in a subtle sauce of cooked juice and red peppers. The al-dente texture of the cooked fruit is such that it holds its chunky shape until it dissolves in the mouth, exploding heavenly taste. The stellar execution was matched in the "shrimp in silken creme sauce" ($15.95), unusual with its mayonnaise-and-fruit-juice dressing topped with caramelized walnuts. In the Gen. Tso's family, the "crispy beef" ($13.95) was presented in shoestring form. The orange chicken ($10.95) was without artificial enhancements.

    Given the high caliber, prices are a bargain. The only gripe: For $7.50, the glass of Sterling Char-donnay could have been fuller. Hot tea was poured without request all evening, in keeping with the genteel serving skills -- practiced, politely distanced and informed -- that carried this meal to its distinctive conclusion.

    The sheer variety and low price point of the assorted dishes makes this hub of pan-Asian small plates a popular draw, but it's better for snacking and drinking beer with a group than sitting down to a trad meal. The menu attempts to replicate the feel of a Singaporean street-food market with an array of tiny, tasty Chinese, Malay, Viet and Indian dishes. The place packs ’em in, so call ahead or risk waiting.

    Tony Chen likes it hot. With his wife, Kathy, he used to own a restaurant in Vermont, but moved to Florida because it was "too cold" up north. At the Chens' latest restaurant, Imperial Dynasty in Longwood, one of Tony's specialties is Empress Chicken, which he describes as being "known throughout northern Vermont." The entree includes nicely battered strips of chicken with fresh broccoli, cauliflower, peppers and carrots in a very hot brown sauce. I guarantee there was less snow in Vermont whenever that dish was ordered.

    Taiwanese-born Tony's first restaurant in Florida was the Royal Dynasty in Ormond Beach, opened in 1993. In March, the Chens moved to their current location on State Road 434 and a space formerly occupied by Cara Mara Restaurant and, before that, a Shoney's. The exterior still has the corporate-food look, not much different than the Denny's next door.

    The style of food at Imperial Dynasty reminded me of those "Polynesian" restaurants my folks and cast members of television's Route 66 used to enjoy in the 1960s. Among the entrees are such dishes as beef and broccoli ($9.25), egg foo young ($6.25 to $9.95) and chicken chop suey. Fortunately, the food at Imperial Dynasty is a step up from the Polynesian lounges, but it's not without some flaws.

    Perhaps because of my lingering first impression, the menu didn't strike me as the type to include spicy dishes. But, by paying close attention to the tiny pepper symbols when ordering, you'll avoid being surprised like I was.

    Unexpected appetizers included kimchi ($2.95, which was marked "hot"), ground chicken wrapped in lettuce leaves ($5.45), and a lovely dish of several different kinds of bright green, chewy seaweed in sesame oil ($3.95). A thick and mild chicken and corn chowder ($1.95) was blessed with savory roast chicken threads.

    The food is good, but tastes are aimed at Western palates, just like at Polynesian eateries. And that might be the shortfall of Imperial Dynasty. The ingredients in the "house special" Triple Delicacy ($13.95) were first-rate: Extremely tender chicken and juicy, fresh shrimp were served atop thin pan-fried egg noodles. But it was all covered in a sauce that was much too salty.

    Stuffed dumplings ($4.95), either fried or steamed, were enormous and enormously heavy: The ground-meat interior was the consistency of meatloaf, like an American version of dimsum.

    In sum, Imperial Dynasty offered not disappointing cooking, but not terribly adventurous, either.

    The long-standing dim sum hot spot cools somewhat in the evening hours, but that doesn’t stop diners craving traditional Cantonese-American from indulging in the copious number of dishes offered. For freshness, look to the tanks teeming with striped bass, tilapia and lobster; otherwise, take your chances with the huge menu. Wor shu duck is a crispy, garlicky winner.


    Teaser: The long-standing dim sum hotspot cools somewhat in the evening hours, but that doesn't stop diners craving traditional Cantonese-American from indulging in the copious number of dishes offered. For freshness, look to the tanks teeming with striped bass, tilapia and lobster; otherwise, take your chances with the huge menu. Wor shu duck is a crispy, garlicky winner.

    Dim sum: It's not for brunch anymore. Not under the auspices of Ming's Bistro where the a la cart scarfing extravaganza is an all-day affair. Sure, the cart (and a few specialty items) is only available weekends before 3 p.m., but the selection is impressive and, more importantly, as authentic as any you'll find in cities with large Chinese populations. So don't come expecting to find egg-foo-this and sweet-and-sour that; bastardized Chinese fare can be had up the street at P.F. Chang's.

    Like many a dim sum joint I've visited, the dining room is spacious, high-ceilinged and almost proletarian in its essence, nuanced only by a half-dozen faux-crystal chandeliers and a trio of horizontally hung Chinese watercolor prints. Dinner by the flicker of fluorescent lighting is the norm, but it fails to cast a shadow on the medley of items on the dim sum menu, most of which can be had for under $3.

    Dumplings ' shrimp, pork, taro and turnip ' are dim sum staples, but a true gauge of a kitchen's worth is the quality of its chicken feet ($2.50), and this kitchen does 'em right. Textural excellence is attained by frying, boiling, marinating and then steaming the talons, the end result being nothing short of divine. There's not much flesh to chomp on, granted, but teething the delicate bones, then tearing away the fiery-hot and velvety skin is absolute magic.

    Oddly named, but superbly tasty, 'fried noodle rice pasteâ?� ($2.50) ' rolls of flaky pastry wrapped in a soft, candy-white noodle and splashed with sweetened soy sauce ' could be served for dessert. The peppery zing of spicy beef tripe ($2.50) outdid that of the chicken feet, but the dish was far too chewy to devour. Best to suck the spicy juices out of the honeycomb stomach lining and discard the remnants. If you're used to meatballs of the Swedish or Italian variety, you'll likely find the trio of ashen-colored steamed beef balls ($2.50) too dense, pasty and flavorless. Dim sum dishes are often loaded with salt and MSG, so order a pot of tea (the oolong is good); if you want more tea, turn the lid over to get the waitress's attention.

    If you'd rather order a la carte (not cart), there's a host of dishes from which to choose ' everything from barbecue to congee to casseroles. The house special spicy beef hot pan ($8.95) is served in a small steel wok and kept simmering by a burner underneath. The advertised spiciness in the piping-hot mix of tender beef strips, vermicelli, carrots and mushroom caps was lacking, possibly because my mouth was still feeling the burn from the chicken feet and tripe.

    Vigorous slivers of ginger in the ginger scallion fish fillets ($8.95) are the sole flavoring in this simple, refreshing dish. Circular morsels of soft whitefish are accented by scallion, all held together by clear, thick sauce. Glistening stalks of bok choy highlight the tender beef and vegetable chow fun ($6.95), a decent, if entirely pedestrian, dish.

    Aside from the occasional 'Are you sure you want to order that?â?� look, my waitress, one of a small army of red-vested waitresses patrolling the restaurant, was quite affable and helpful in pointing out the ingredients of the assorted dishes (menu descriptions are terse).

    Ming's is a little hard to spot, tucked away a block north of the intersection of Colonial and Mills, but it's well worth seeking, and its reign as the top Orlando destination for real Chinese cuisine is sure to flourish into a dynasty.

    Shopping near the West Oaks Mall a few weeks ago -- on my 27th trip to the hardware store for a home renovation project -- I spotted an unusual sign: "October Rice," it said, "a Chinese Cuisinery."

    Open since last September, the "cuisinery" is nestled in a strip mall between a uniform store and a bar-stool outlet, so you might not expect to find more than garden-variety food. And with only five little tables in a small space, an open kitchen and counter service, October Rice doesn't look like a sit-down restaurant.

    But, appointed in lovely shades of light and dark woods, and deep-blue lighting fixtures, the atmosphere seems to convince people coming in for take-out to stay. The counter and tables fill up quickly with people enjoying skillfully crafted renditions of familiar dishes.

    The menu is beautiful, printed on creamy paper with elegant type, but the prices are more than reasonable.

    The food sticks to the standard Chinese fare that you'd find on most menus but makes credible use of well-chosen and well-prepared ingredients. October Rice makes a savory hot-and-sour soup ($1.75), with strips of chicken and tofu cubes in a broth sharp with vinegar and spices. "Chinese ravioli" ($4.50) are deep fried wontons filled with chicken -- a bit too crisp on this visit but still a pleasant combination of flavors and textures. Chicken teriyaki ($3.75) is oven-roasted and brushed, not drowned, in dark sauce and served with crisply saut?ed vegetables.

    The "festival of the sea" special combined plump shrimp, tender and moist stir-fried scallops and a chunk of lobster in a surprisingly light soy/wine sauce that didn't cover up the taste of the seafood ($11.95). The "sweet & sour" chicken ($6.95) hearkens back to days when chefs actually used pineapple and pickles, instead of sugar syrup and vinegar, to create the two contrasting flavors. Bravo for that. The wok-fried tofu ($6.25) is soft bean curd and vegetables seared in garlic and soy sauce, a much-needed alternative choice for the veggies among us.

    In another unexpected move, food is served in take-away containers with plastic cutlery -- but they're the sturdiest containers I've seen. (I'm still using them.)

    In Asia, rice is traditionally harvested in October, when much-needed rains from the monsoon season have ended and the 100 days of growing are over. Even in the U.S., October rice harvest festivals pop up all over Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana. So October Rice alludes to an important time of the year for an important resource. Plus, it's a wonderfully lyrical name.

    For all the mediocrity wreaked by line-up-to-the-trough Chinese buffets with gloppy sweet-and-sour sauces and soggy takeout containers, spanking new P.F. Chang's China Bistro stands in stark contrast.

    Enter the eye-popping, postmodern interior of the high-profile debut of this restaurant chain at the still-developing Winter Park Village, and you'll think you've fallen through a pan-Asian rabbit hole. This is a world of silky Chinese murals, Ming-style vases, stacked-stone walls, a bustling show kitchen and pumped-up music.

    Enter the eye-popping, postmodern interior of the high-profile debut of this restaurant chain at the still-developing Winter Park Village, and you'll think you've fallen through a pan-Asian rabbit hole. This is a world of silky Chinese murals, Ming-style vases, stacked-stone walls, a bustling show kitchen and pumped-up music.

    But it's the consistently enjoyable menu that will lure you back -- and you'll have lots of company, too. We stumbled into a one-hour wait for a table on a Saturday night. As for a seat at the bar? Forget it. We settled for standing with the rest of the herd, and while we sipped a glass of house Chardonnay, we spied the captain's tables at the perimeter of the kitchen. These are the only two tables in the house for which reservations are accepted. It was fun to watch as a tag team of waiters brought platters of glistening delicacies.

    But it's the consistently enjoyable menu that will lure you back -- and you'll have lots of company, too. We stumbled into a one-hour wait for a table on a Saturday night. As for a seat at the bar? Forget it. We settled for standing with the rest of the herd, and while we sipped a glass of house Chardonnay, we spied the captain's tables at the perimeter of the kitchen. These are the only two tables in the house for which reservations are accepted. It was fun to watch as a tag team of waiters brought platters of glistening delicacies.

    When our turn finally came, General Tso and his chickens were nowhere to be found on the innovative menu. Instead, we tried and loved the weirdly wonderful "Chang's chicken in soothing lettuce wraps" ($5.95). Spicy chicken and vegetables were folded into watery iceberg leaves, burrito style. The spiciness was heightened by a spoonful of mustard-based sauce, which was prepared tableside by our waiter. "Pan-fried Peking dumplings" ($4.95) were a savory counterpart, stuffed with pork and vegetables.

    When our turn finally came, General Tso and his chickens were nowhere to be found on the innovative menu. Instead, we tried and loved the weirdly wonderful "Chang's chicken in soothing lettuce wraps" ($5.95). Spicy chicken and vegetables were folded into watery iceberg leaves, burrito style. The spiciness was heightened by a spoonful of mustard-based sauce, which was prepared tableside by our waiter. "Pan-fried Peking dumplings" ($4.95) were a savory counterpart, stuffed with pork and vegetables.

    "Mu shu chicken" ($8.95) was light and crisp, stirred with vegetables that crunched. A delicate hoisin sauce added plummy accents. The sweet, meaty mixture was wrapped in pancakes as thin as crepes. Crispy honey shrimp ($12.95) were plentiful, lightly battered and quick-fried.

    "Mu shu chicken" ($8.95) was light and crisp, stirred with vegetables that crunched. A delicate hoisin sauce added plummy accents. The sweet, meaty mixture was wrapped in pancakes as thin as crepes. Crispy honey shrimp ($12.95) were plentiful, lightly battered and quick-fried.

    All of the servers were well-trained and forthcoming with smart suggestions, despite being overtaxed by the volume of customers. Our waiter steered us in the right direction again and again, including his favorite, "macadamia nut pie" ($4.95), which became our favorite, too. This is a piece of glorified chocolate turtle pie with macadamia nuggets adding interest.

    All of the servers were well-trained and forthcoming with smart suggestions, despite being overtaxed by the volume of customers. Our waiter steered us in the right direction again and again, including his favorite, "macadamia nut pie" ($4.95), which became our favorite, too. This is a piece of glorified chocolate turtle pie with macadamia nuggets adding interest.

    P.F. Chang's China Bistro injects excitement into the Chinese dining milieu. It's a pleasure to experience the chic trappings and sophisticated service that are taken for granted with other cuisines.

    In practically every neighborhood in Orlando, you'll find a Chinese restaurant feeding residents' pangs for kung pao chicken, pork-fried rice or beef lo mein. Such restaurants garner little to no fanfare; like fast-food joints, they occupy the lower rungs of gastronomic options. So when Panda Bistro opened its doors on the Colonial'Alafaya corridor, it seemed like no big deal. But then I realized the appealing eatery is the brainchild of Maggie Lee, proprietress of Winter Park's Tatáme. I've always liked Lee's tea-and-sake house, but wouldn't go there if I were craving a meal to accompany my lychee-infused sake. So naturally, I was stoked at the prospect of dining at a Maggie Lee'branded restaurant. At first blush, it was pretty much as expected, with original art by Lee and other local artists setting it apart from other strip-mall noodle houses.

    A couple of fresh faces stood behind the counter juggling takeout and dine-in orders, while an older chap who appeared quite deft at handling a wok anchored kitchen responsibilities. Given the sheer number of items available (close to 150 on the menu), he probably has one of the thickest, strongest wrists in Orlando.

    A picture menu will hold your attention while you hold up the line forming behind you, so it's best to grab a bill of fare, peruse an assortment more varied than characters in the Chinese alphabet while you're waiting, and then order. A majority of the patrons here are students, and Panda Bistro seems to straddle the line between catering to undergrads with unsophisticated palates and ministering to neo-hipsters who fancy themselves connoisseurs. As at Tatáme, that's Lee's target demo ' and they're literally eating it up.

    The pair behind the counter seemed so inundated with carry-out orders that it was a while before our order was taken. All was forgotten when the egg drop soup ($2.95) arrived, its clear yellow broth, suspending silken strands of golden yolk, making a comforting start to the meal. Edamame ($3.95) appeared to be overcooked, but the soybeans remained full and plump. Mains, as you can imagine, run the gamut. We opted for the Hunan Double ($9.95), an altogether ordinary stir-fry of beef, chicken and the requisite vegetables in a thick, broccoli-heavy sauce. The dish lacked that seasoned-wok essence that separates a good stir-fry from a great one (like Tasty Wok's); if you want it spicy, better ask for some sriracha and chili oil. Pan-fried noodles ($9.95) came served with a lighter sauce that was a little more flavorful than the Hunan, but it was the perfectly crisp egg noodles that made this dish worth ordering again. I'm not sure I'd order the boneless Peking duck ($13.95 half; $23.95 whole) again. The shiny slabs of dark meat looked nice sitting on a bed of scallions, accompanied by mu shu pancakes and hoisin sauce. But the duck was a bit too greasy and the sauce a tad too gluey for our liking.

    When diners are presented with scores of options, the fare is bound to be hit-or-miss. A more focused menu would certainly help, but when you sustain a student body with diverse backgrounds and tastes, variety can take precedence over a concentrated approach. And Lee is the key. She knows her audience, and as ambitious, creative and determined a gal as she is (she often delivers food herself), Lee's sure to make Panda Bistro a success ' even if she has to grin and bear it.

    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.

    I found myself uttering the common Cantonese refrain m'goy (or 'thank youâ?�) repeatedly at this modest corner noodle house where roasted birds dangle as freely as modifiers in a high school English essay. No matter the language, the dishes here ' cheap, authentic and downright delicious ' speak for themselves.

    Curry-infused Singapore rice noodles ($9.50) ruled, each pan-fried thread pungent with the essence of the wok and with enough shrimp and pork to realize a Levitical nightmare. A swell of thick, flat noodles glistened in the beef chow fun ($9.50), textured with a bushel of crunchy scallions and bean sprouts and layered with tender slices of beef. As far as the suspended fowl is concerned, appetizer portions of roast duck ($5.95) and chicken ($5.25), hacked into bite-sized chunks and served with a secret dip ' soy sauce and sesame oil were the only ingredients I was able to glean ' offer a proper juicy-to-crisp ratio.

    Adventuresome gastronomes can have a field day with dishes from duck feet to jellyfish to beef tendon congee, while daily specials are handwritten and posted on a rack near the kitchen. The space is small, relatively unadorned and perpetually bustling with families, though heads are typically buried in bowls. The red-and-black-clad waitresses are quick, efficient and always poised to educate the uninitiated, but if you're really craving a Sino-American staple, you can get your fill of General Tso's chicken too.

    The name is misleading, but Teriyaki House is the place to come to for real-deal Taiwanese fare. Skip the paper menu and focus on the photo menu: Sweet sausage, fatty pork belly and grilled milkfish all delight, but stinky tofu is lamentably easy on the nasal passages. Ask for three-cup chicken, a Formosan fave that'll have hot-pot hounds salivating.

    After the slap of Charley and too many hours in a powerless, mildewing kitchen, the sight of the lights aglow inside Winnie's Oriental Garden drew us in like a magnet.

    Though dressed in post-hurricane attire, we were welcomed by the young host, who sat us out of sight of the main dining area (at our request) in a corner table near the bar, in perfect sight of the color TV. (Another old friend, the A/C, was doing its job too.) We were just going to order takeout, but were convinced to sit and enjoy and not worry about our downscale attire.

    Though dressed in post-hurricane attire, we were welcomed by the young host, who sat us out of sight of the main dining area (at our request) in a corner table near the bar, in perfect sight of the color TV. (Another old friend, the A/C, was doing its job too.) We were just going to order takeout, but were convinced to sit and enjoy and not worry about our downscale attire.

    Gracious, relaxed service and a sense of elegance – fresh flowers, pleasant music – has been the hallmark of Winnie's ever since it opened in 1996. Before that, for 15 years, Winnie ran the China Garden restaurant in Winter Park, which never recaptured her classy touch. The sense of elegance extends to Winnie's menu as well, which has always been a cut above the area's other Chinese restaurants.

    Gracious, relaxed service and a sense of elegance – fresh flowers, pleasant music – has been the hallmark of Winnie's ever since it opened in 1996. Before that, for 15 years, Winnie ran the China Garden restaurant in Winter Park, which never recaptured her classy touch. The sense of elegance extends to Winnie's menu as well, which has always been a cut above the area's other Chinese restaurants.

    Never mind the hurricane hardships, the typical pampering experience was the same on this night. Warm towels were delivered by our server, and it was tempting to use them for more than just grimy fingers, considering the habituation to cold showers.

    Never mind the hurricane hardships, the typical pampering experience was the same on this night. Warm towels were delivered by our server, and it was tempting to use them for more than just grimy fingers, considering the habituation to cold showers.

    Ordering was easy: For an appetizer, the four pieces of crab rangoon ($4.25) were crispy outside and full of creamy flavor. For an entree, the moo shoo vegetables ($8.25) are the best in town (if anyone else even offers this meatless version), and served with brown rice, if requested. The savory gravy holds together the colorful shredded vegetables that you roll up in Mandarin pancakes spread with hoisin sauce, and savor to the last bite.

    Ordering was easy: For an appetizer, the four pieces of crab rangoon ($4.25) were crispy outside and full of creamy flavor. For an entree, the moo shoo vegetables ($8.25) are the best in town (if anyone else even offers this meatless version), and served with brown rice, if requested. The savory gravy holds together the colorful shredded vegetables that you roll up in Mandarin pancakes spread with hoisin sauce, and savor to the last bite.

    Winnie, you still rock like a hurricane.

    The section of South Orange Blossom Trail on the edge of Florida Mall territory has been catering to varying appetites for some time as the area continues to diversify. One of the area's few German restaurants is here (Gain's), Amigos caters to the Tex-Mex crowd, and Laxmi Plaza offers food and sundry shopping to a growing population of Indian residents.

    And when it comes to healthy appetites, Woodlands -- across the road from Laxmi -- is a restaurant worth adding to your go-to list. As their website (woodlands-usa.com) proclaims, "Step-in and you will be wafted with the aroma of enthralling culinary appetizing that the already proud regular customers are experiencing now."

    You also could be experiencing now the flavors, aromas and visual delight of the South Indian cuisine served here.

    Recipes from the southern region, the ancient India below the Vindhya Mountains, are based on Hindu tradition and use ingredients differently than the northern menus we're more familiar with. So no Kashmiri dishes like tandoori, no naan bread, no vindaloo. And no meat -- Woodlands maintains a "pure vegetarian" kitchen. (That means no animal fats, either.)

    Purely delightful is more to the point. Coconut milk instead of cream, mustard seeds and fiery-hot chili peppers add to the distinctive cookery. Woodlands specializes in dosai -- thin, plate-sized crepes that are fried crisp or filled with savory items like hot chutney or potatoes ($4.75 to $6.50).

    The traditional spicy and sour soup called rasam ($2.50), hot with peppers and sweet with tamarind, is a heated warm-up for dishes that stimulate every part of the tongue. Rich and sometimes smoky flavors inhabit "Gobi Manchurian" ($6.50), sautéed cauliflower, sharp with ginger and garlic, and spiced with chili and soy sauce. A concoction of lentils, brown rice and vegetables called "pongol avial" is one you'll want again ($6.50). My favorite Indian curry, the spinach-based palak paneer ($6.95) is done to a deep, creamy and slightly hot perfection.

    Settling in on a favorite is fine, but the bargain is one of the dinner specials. "Mysore Royal Thali" ($14.95) combines samosa appetizers, chana chickpea curry, spiced lentil sambar and more into a feast of bright colors (such as the green coriander raita sauce) and dazzling tastes.

    Offer thanks to the portrait by the front door of Sri Ganesha, the elephant-headed god of luck and new beginnings, for such a fine meal. As it says on the website, "We guarantee a sound and happy sleep after dinnertime at Woodlands."And one with a warm and satisfied belly.

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