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On Menus: Around the Country

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Restaurant Reviews

Winter Volume: 2000 Issue: 7(4) page(s): 23, 24, and 25

Is fine Chinese food available around the country, a refrain heard about various cities in America? Readers need to speak with Chinese restauranteurs for an answer, and they need to order Chinese food served to and recommended by Chinese patrons. They also need to convince both owners and the wait staff that they do not want Americanized Chinese food. One can get fine Chinese food be it in Louisville Kentucky; Providence Rhode Island; New York City; or California's San Francisco. You need to know how to do that.

Using Louisville as an example, we attack the problem of getting good Chinese food on a recent trip to that city. We set about, as a reader might, learning about Chinese restaurants there and which one might be a good choice. We ask friends, hotel staff, call newspapers, and speak to folks there claiming authority and knowledge about Chinese food in their city. We also query web and women before leaving the Big Apple. All of these are useless.

In many cities, this one included, no one knows of a Chinese restaurant to recommend; some hardly know a Chinese restaurant there. City guides are no better, the five perused in a travel store have no suggestions. We are attending a Wine and Food Institute national meeting, so we query our professional hosts in Louisville; they have no clues either. Shame on those we bombard with dozens of questions, they have not a single Chinese restaurant to recommend.

What happens when we take this route may happen to you. There is an Asian restaurant there called Asiatique. We question them to see if it is really a Chinese restaurant, but only one person had eaten there and that was some time ago. Though never successful when a hunch tells us to avoid a place, we try it to confirm that it is really not Asian, just western food with a few Asian accents. The next morning, we notice a newspaper advertisement recommending a Chinese restaurant. It says that this place is one of Louisvilleā€™s ten best. Maybe it is, but as an all-you-can-eat buffet, we quickly discover there is quantity, but not enough quality for our taste buds. Things do not look promising.

In this city, we resort to the best system we know, beyond finding a Chinese friend who knows the city. We are already in this particular city at a food conference, so we visit the Yellow Pages to sense the scene and find a potential place to enjoy Chinese food. After all, this is the Kentucky-Derby-hosting city and it does attract people from all over the world. What we did with these pages, you can, too. Just call every tenth listing and ask what culinary school or famous restaurants their chef(s) received training at or worked in. This worked before and it works here, after a fashion. We have language problems, of course, but we keep calling and keep looking down the yellow pages.

As we go down the list, an ad catches our eye for the 'Empress of China' and the 'Emperor of China' restaurants. It reads: 'Best of the World' by Ochsner World Dining Guide and 'Best of the Nation' by Time Magazine Coast-to-Coast Dining Guide. We wonder about our fellow foodies, did they not know these places? We meet them again at a reception and query more food mavens, no better luck. Then we meet a local Philippine lady who looks Chinese. When she is queried, she says she has a Chinese grandfather. She advises that at the Emperor of China restaurant, many foods taste similar to those her grandfather made. She adds that she ate there frequently and wonders if it would meet our east coast culinary standards. We left the party, made a reservation for the next day, then go back to query others specifically about this place. A few have heard of it but very few have been there in the past couple of years. No one has another suggestion, not even the food writers we speak to. Asking someone that looks Chinese can be a good tactic; but have a place or two in mindto ask them about.

The next day, after trying a few small places in the downtown area, we head to this royal-named destination. Chatting with Tony, the cabbie who drives us to the suburbs, we learn his opinion. It is that all downtown Chinese restaurants are take-out joints. He likes our chosen place, says Chinese food there is OK, and he has eaten there a while back. Were we going to be successful on our quest?

Try this or a related querying technique when seeking a Chinese restaurant during your travels. We review three of our 'ask a local' forays in different parts of the country. You can read these reviews in the Restaurant Reviews section of this website. They are for:

Emperor of China; 210 Holiday Manor Center--US Highway 42; Louisville, Kentucky 40222; phone: (502) 426-1717
Galaxie II Restaurant; 1449 Mineral Spring Avenue; N. Providence, Rhode Island; phone: (401) 354-4570
Bon Hon Restaurant; 850 Grant Avneue; San Francisco, California 94108; phone: (415) 362-0601.

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