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Madame Chang (Panama City, Panama)
||Calle 48, Bella Vista,|
Panama City, Panama,
Reviewed by: Jacqueline M. Newman
Winter Volume: 2011 Issue: 18(4) page: 24 and 25
Madame Chang is, many say, the best and most sophisticated Asian restaurant in town, also the best Chinese and most elegant restaurant in Central America. With these endorsements, we check out this place that hosts visiting celebrities, Chinese food afficionados, and simple folk, too. On our second night in town, with eight others in tow, we pop out of a van under its awning and are ready for a great Chinese meal.
Sophisticated it is, but is the restaurant or are its guests bragging? One person on the web did slam it, is he a disgruntled customer? After we get our checks, several in our group are less than happy, but not with the food nor the service. There is a six buck tab per beverage if cola, beer, or something more alcoholic, and twelve bucks for two sodas does not sit well with many of them.
The place is loaded with lovely Chinese art, we are told, but as the pictures show, there is little to see. That made us wonder if there even was a Madame Chang. The current owner, a chap in real estate, a Johnny come lately to fine Chinese food, tells us that Sui Mee Chang was the original owner, and that she, her family, and her art are history.
The menu has changed little, he said. Wonder if the food is the same because some swims as do some stir-fried dishes. Some dishes have minimal decor including these skinned headless fish, all tails; but a few do look lovely. We are told that Madame Chang did travel a lot before opening this place. The menu shows she visited Moshe Peking, and named a menu for that eatery with dishes to match those times.
There is their well-known Peking Duck, and a glazed duck at less that half the price. Both are equally good. One super dish is their San Blas Crab; you may know it as Kuna or Panamanian king crab. It comes with a delicious ginger sauce and some phenomenal crab meat. To eat it requires phenomenal strength. Most could not crack the unbelievably hard claws and legs. Considering its price, why the kitchen did not crack them for customers befuddles.
Overall, the service is fantastic, not a single complaint on that score. Considering the price of the crab, several ladies complain they could not get the meat out easily. Those of us that did, commented it was the most fantastic crab dish we ever had. Second in popularity, is a local steamed Robalo fish. This snook, also known as a Sargent fish, was meaty, fresh, and fantastic. Actually, all eleven dishes we had are good, the crab and the fish terrific.
Other Chinese eateries we went to in Central America in the following weeks are mediocre to OK, with one exception, in Guatemala. Now we understand why Madame Chang has that great reputation. More on other Central American places in upcoming issues. In this one, a very special thanks to Susan Rosenzweig for her great picture of that San Blas crab dish. Her camera and her ability to use it needs commendation.