Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Makeshift Chinese at Mao's Kitchen

When it comes to Chinese food there is stellar cuisine and really bad, greasy cuisine and then a huge assortment of in between. The truth is, when you're hungry and hankering for some orange chicken or curry or any of the fare's traditional standby dishes, it's hard to go wrong with anything in the in between.

 So I was thrilled to discover the restaurant Mao's Kitchen in my neighborhood recently. The first time I went there I was with a family of four picky eaters with an assortment of dietary restrictions and we managed to satisfy everyone for $60 with a table full of dishes that everyone shared. The restaurant looks more like a down home catfish joint with its picnic table-esque seating and bare bones decor and the service is super slow, perhaps because it's staffed with surfers and budding actresses who spend extra time cleaning the stainless steel machines so that they can look at their lipstick applications in the reflections. But this also means that they tolerate the loud kids and buzzed youngsters that frequent the place so if you're not in a hurry and down with the mentality of live and let live, it's quite all right. Also, try not to ask for more than one take out container, they must be counting their pennies when it comes to things like cardboard cartons, because they look at you a little funny if you have the nerve to try and take home more than a small portion of your leftovers.

The peasant's onion pancake was a disappointment. I was expecting something light, subtle and fluffy but received a big piece of chewy, flavorless dough that resembled more of a glutinous pizza base.

A nice surprise was the Shao Mountain Lamb entree that contained slices of meat, leek and jalapenos stir fried with preserved black beans and secret sauce.

The coconut curry impressed me. I love curry but hardly find any I like because some places make it too gloppy sauced and overly sweet, while others make it too bland. This one had huge pieces of vegetables and chicken and was the perfect consistency of slightly creamy and spiced just right.

I found myself choosing the place again when a friend came to town and we wanted to walk somewhere close by. Because Mao's doesn't have a liquor license, we stepped into a wine store for a bottle of mid range syrah which the waitress joyfully popped for us for a small corkage fee. That night we chose to sit outside at a small, wooden table for two and watched as all the art walk drunken hipsters oohed and aahed over our table of food. I found myself ordering the curry again that evening, and then again on another evening when my daughter and her friend came to town late one Friday looking to find a joint open into the wee hours that would satisfy their 20-year-old girl desires to be in a place still bustling with young energy. It fit the bill.

Day after Mao's curry is excellent with the over-sized carrot slices and generous chunks of chicken having had an overnight chance to steep in more flavor. A great microwaved breakfast dish that I will go back for again and again when I am not in the mood to dress up or get in the car for a good cheap and easy meal.

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