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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Far East Cuisine falls a little short

Posted By on Wed, Jun 26, 2013 at 5:16 PM

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Despite the fact that “Americanized” Chinese food has a long history of being looked down upon, I remain sympathetic to these “less authentic” forms of Chinese cuisine. While it would be nice to see a bona fide “Chinatown” in central Arkansas—a place a guy could sit down in a dumpling house or grab a Szechuan-style hot pot, I’ve always enjoyed the quick carton of beef fried rice or kung pao chicken—and General Tso is practically an American hero at this point. Indeed, the current undisputed king of modern Chinese cooking and James Beard award winner, Danny Bowien, has built a name for himself based on his unique celebration of Americanized Chinese food (the guy’s even doing “catfish a la Sichuan”). So on a recent lunch outing with Kevin of The Mighty Rib, when Chinese was suggested from Far East Cuisine in the Pleasant Ridge Shopping Center, I was certainly not opposed to the idea—and once in my head, the promise of crispy eggrolls was too much to resist.

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The interior of Far East was lovely, a little fancier than I had anticipated, however, it never felt stuffy or uncomfortable. The restaurant appeared squeaky clean, the servers and hosts cordial and accommodating, and the large dining room well lit and cheery. All good signs that we were in for a pleasurable lunch...which turned out to be only moderately pleasurable in the end.

We both opted for the lunch specials posted on the back of the menu, which in addition to an entrée of your choice, comes with an eggroll, side of white or fried rice, and cup of soup. We also chose to start with their chicken lettuce wraps as an appetizer.

Our soups were good, in fact I felt my hot and sour soup—a favorite of mine since I was a child—was the best part of the entire meal. Some H&S soups tend to be oversweet, some tend to be deficient in the necessary ingredients that make this such a popular starter here in the States. It had a nice, subtle tang from vinegar, but was well endowed with soft, tender Chinese mushrooms, countered by a nice helping of chewy, thinly sliced bamboo shoots and creamy tofu. Kevin’s wonton soup was adequate—speckled with tasty bits of pork, but he found the rest to be “run of the mill” and “pedestrian.” I’d stick with the hot and sour.

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Our lettuce wraps—which always take me back to my inescapable memories of my first P.F. Chang’s dining experience—were decent, but I felt they were fairly bland and underseasoned...in fact, I have much fonder memories of the same dish from P.F.’s. The filling consisted of chopped bits of chicken, diced water chestnut, mushroom, onion, and garlic, all bound together by a slightly sweet, hoisin-style sauce. The lettuce was ordinary iceburg, with half a dozen large leaves on the plate. It was a decent dish, we still managed to clear most of the plate, but I’d pass on this were I to return, finding nothing particularly inspiring about the flavors or presentation.

Entrees included “shrimp with lobster sauce” and the ubiquitous favorite General Tso’s chicken. The shrimp dish was more than a little oversalted. The grey-hued, thickened “lobster sauce” tasted little of shellfish and it was difficult to even get through the soup of salt the shrimp were swimming in. Our General Tso’s was a little better. The sauce was thick and goopy, a generous amount coated every bit of chicken. But I found that the battered and fried chicken, which should have arrived hot and crispy, was a bit too soft and soggy for my liking. The flavors were decent, however, and a few textural alterations would have made this a much more pleasurable dish. Rounding out the plates were a few lackluster egg rolls—very likely of the previously frozen variety—and a scoop of fried rice.

Far East Cuisine felt like a restaurant with potential but was simply unable to deliver anything particularly special. Contrast this with a place like Mr. Chen’s—a nondescript SWLR gem, with unexpectedly great food—and I’d find it hard to justify a return visit. But a few tweaks probably could have greatly improved our meal, and I’d not be opposed to going again if need be.

Far East Cuisine: 11610 Pleasant Ridge Road, Suite 100, Little Rock. (501) 219-9399

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