Friday, November 9, 2012

Take a chance on Chinese Kitchen

Posted By on Fri, Nov 9, 2012 at 1:24 PM

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We all need a place we can rely on for a quick, relatively cheap, decent meal. A place you can call on when you’ve got no desire to prepare a proper meal at home or to sit down for an extended period at a restaurant. Aside from the often woefully inadequate offerings of most fast food joints, it’s nice to have a place you can drop by, quickly and easily, and snag a complete meal for the family or for any last minute visitors who’ve decided to stick around for dinner. I don’t always eat take-out Chinese food, but when I do, it’s typically under these circumstances. The so-called Americanized Chinese scene gets a pretty awful wrap, most naysayers citing its lack of authenticity with flavors tailored to the sodium and sugar-loving palates of the American people. While often sneered at, I refuse to let this deter me from enjoying a deep fried egg roll now and again. Americanized Chinese is as much a part of our culture as the bastardized American versions of pizza we all enjoy.

Last Saturday, The Mrs. and I had just returned from the hospital after she gave birth to our second. She was exhausted, our first child was hungry, and I was feeling a bit famished myself (because, you know, having babies is really hard work for us men). We needed grub…fast. Unfortunately, the cupboards and refrigerator were as barren as Mitt Romney’s wine cellar. Being the loving husband I am, I offered to take care of dinner. Given it’s proximity to our home, a decent sized menu, and quick service, Chinese Kitchen on N. Rodney Parham Rd. is quickly becoming our go-to dining option when we are in-a-pinch or simply too lazy to exert much effort to acquire sustenance.

At Chinese Kitchen everything is made fresh to order. It’s not a good idea to simply show up there and order at the counter. There is not much indoor dining available (one small table and four chairs) so take-out is generally the preferred dining option. You’ll likely want to call in your order ahead of time to prevent having to wait inside the relatively lifeless restaurant front while they prepare your food in the kitchen.

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I can’t resist starting a meal with hot and sour soup. Chinese Kitchen’s version tends to be a little more on the sweet side than other places in town, but it retains all the necessary sour, spicy, and salty elements that make this dish so popular. It is often served so piping hot it may take half an hour to cool to a point you would even dare approach it with the delicate mucosa of your tongue. The strips of tofu, dried Chinese mushrooms, and thin, firm strands of bamboo give the soup the contrasting soft and chewy textural elements that make this a personal favorite. They provide you with a generous pile of slightly oily fried wontons to top your soup with, a simple but flavorful addition that gives the soup another gentle nudge towards greatness.

While most of Chinese Kitchen’s reads like the stereotypical Americanized-Chinese menu, with standards such as sweet and sour pork, spicy kung pao chicken, garlic pork, and broccoli beef, a few less commonly seen items deserve special attention. The Cantonese pressed duck is prepared according to an old Chinese recipe. A whole duck is seasoned and steamed, deboned when tender, then flattened and steamed again. Once the double steaming process is complete, the duck is fried until the skin becomes crisp and a deep golden brown. Lastly, the aromatic, slightly sweet duck meat is gently tossed in a rich brown gravy. This is one dish not to be missed from Chinese Kitchen’s menu.

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Leung’s Special” is a hodge-podge of flavors rolled into one unique dish. Succulent lobster meat is blended with oven-roasted pork and shrimp then tossed with assorted Chinese vegetables: snow peas, water chestnuts, and bell pepper. It’s not the protein choices I would immediately imagine working well together, but they do…each bringing a distinct flavor profile but blending harmoniously to a single-cohesive dish. You might also go with the “Lobster Cantonese Style,” which takes plump lobster tail and sautés it with fried garlic and a thickened paste of black beans. Normally, I prefer nothing to distract me from the unparalleled flavor of lobster (other than melted butter, perhaps) but in this case, with some fluffy white rice and drizzle of soy sauce, I happily make an exception.

We typically always order one of their fried rice dishes, which are available in chicken, beef, pork, or shrimp. The rice comes out a dark brown color, not exactly beautiful, but it tastes great regardless. Flecked with fried egg, onion, chopped carrot, and tender peas, the rice has the familiar flavor of oil and soy sauce and pairs well with nearly any dish on the menu. The lo mein dishes are equally appetizing. They always manage to balance the savory, salty sauce with the perfectly cooked noodles in such a way that the dish doesn’t feel sloppy, saturated, or overly heavy. Instead with the mix of fresh vegetables and meat, it’s another side item that is delicious and filling enough to eat like a meal. Their egg rolls are also always fried fresh for every order. Even after toting them home, with some down time in their to-go bag, they always retain their warmth and crisp by the time they hit your plate. Dip them in a small pool of soy sauce with some spicy Chinese mustard and you have a dish no one will refuse. They may be the essence of Americanized Asian cuisine but I won’t turn them down.

I’m not claiming that Chinese Kitchen will be awarded any Michelin stars in the near future, they may not even become “Zagat rated” (whatever than means), but they put out a decent, reliable product. That’s enough to earn my continued patronage. I’ve spoken with several other customers while waiting to pick up my order who have been regulars at Chinese Kitchen for 15 to 20 years. With loyalty like that, you know they are doing something right.

Chinese Kitchen
11401 N. Rodney Parham
Little Rock
501-224-2100
Mon: Closed
Tues-Sat: 11AM-9:30PM
Sun: 12AM-9PM

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