I enjoyed a recent meal with my parents and a friend at the China Kitchen in Erwin.
This restaurant, the only Chinese eatery in Unicoi County, offers quite a varied menu featuring everything from beef, pork, poultry and seafood to chef’s specialties and vegetarian options. Jei-sun Wu owns and operates the restaurant.
We arrived for a weekday dinner, and we were apparently not the only ones with the same idea. We did see busy servers passing to and fro. After a short wait, we found seating available at a booth. The dining area is arranged in a courtyard fashion and offers seating at tables and private booths. The walls are painted white and terra cotta. A red lacquer wood trim marks the private booths. Attractive wall murals and other Chinese ornamental fixtures, such as hanging lanterns, complete the decorative theme for the restaurant. A long back-lit mural is located along the length of one of the walls in the dining area. There’s also a separate banquet room, marked off by a curtain of beads designed into a mosaic of swimming koi fish.
The server soon arrived to take our drink orders and provide some menus. She also brought a bowl of crispy fried wontons, which can be eaten with spicy mustard or duck sauce while scanning the pages of the menu.
We decided to start the meal by sampling some of the restaurant’s appetizers. Among the meal-starters listed on the menu are Pan-fried Dumplings, Egg Roll, Barbecue Spare Rubs, Shrimp Toast, Chicken Wings, Scallion Pancake, Crab Rangoon and Cho-Cho Beef.
There’s also an appetizer — the Boa Boa Tray — designed for two, or in our case, a small dining party of four. This tray provides the perfect means for sampling a variety of the restaurant’s appetizers, including Shrimp Toast, Spare Ribs, Cho-Cho Beef, Chicken Wings, Crab Rangoon and Egg Rolls. We chose to order this appetizer and to share the items.
The Boa Boa Tray is presented in an attractive manner, with the items arranged on a large, round tray with various compartments. In the center is a small charcoal-fueled heater, over which any of the items can be heated by the diners. Each appetizer selection was served on a lining of fresh cabbage leaves. All the morsels provided on this sampler tasted great.
I was partial to the Cho-Cho Beef, which consisted of skewers of beef that had been marinated in a sweet sauce. The plump Egg Rolls, which we halved into two pieces, pleased everyone at the table. My friend also remarked on the tender barbecued spare ribs, which slid off the bone and provided a finger-lickingly good treat. We also liked the Chicken Wings, which featured a light batter that had been fried to a crispy golden brown.
For diners who prefer a bowl of soup in lieu of an appetizer, China Kitchen offers Wonton, Egg Drop, Hot and Sour, Shredded Pork with Szechuan Cabbage and Tofu and Vegetable. There’s also a hearty Seafood Soup, which is billed as a soup for two diners.
After we finished off the tidbits on the Boa Boa Tray, we gave the menu some serious consideration for our entrees. In addition to a wide range of dishes featuring beef, pork, chicken, duck and seafood, the menu features steamed favorites and vegetable dishes. Other options include different varieties of Fried Rice and Lo Mein. For families, there’s also a convenient menu for children.
I considered several tempting choices, including Hunan Crispy Fish, Orange Beef, Sweet and Sour Pork, Marco Polo Beef and Precious Duck. Finally deciding I was in the mood for seafood, I chose Beijing Shrimp. The other members of my dining party ordered the Moo Shu Pork, General Chow’s Chicken and Peking Lo Mein.
The server checked back, but not always as quickly as we would have liked. A couple of times we had to wait for empty water glasses to be noticed.
Our meals, which came with Steamed White Rice, arrived after only a short wait. I really enjoyed the Beijing Shrimp, which the server had recommended. This dish featured shrimp tossed with a medley of vegetables in a spicy brown sauce.
The other dishes served to my dining party also proved a hit. The General Chow’s Chicken featured hearty chunks of breaded chicken, fried until crispy, then tossed in a spicy sauce with steamed broccoli. The Moo Shu Pork involved some diner participation. This dish offered shredded pork sauteed with egg and then stir-fried with mushrooms and shredded cabbage. These ingredients can then be folded into four pancakes (reminiscent of flour tortillas) and seasoned with some sweet and slightly salty Hoisin Sauce. The Peking Lo Mein offers noodles with chicken, pork, beef and shrimp with vegetables.
Incidentally, the Hoisin Sauce with this dish is named for the Chinese term for “seafood.” However, the condiment contains no seafood. In fact, Peking-style Hoisin Sauce is usually made from a starch (traditionally sweet potato) mixed with water, sugar, soybeans, vinegar, salt, garlic and chili peppers.
All the dishes were well prepared and featured fresh-tasting ingredients. After we finished them off, we did take the time to look over the menu for possible sweet conclusions available to diners.
The restaurant does offer a few desserts, including New York Cheesecake and Fried Ice Cream, but we opted to enjoy the obligatory fortune cookies at the end of the meal.
China Kitchen has been a dependable location for a good Chinese meal for years. In addition to its dinner menu, the restaurant offers a selection of lunch options, which are accompanied by an egg roll, fried rice and a choice of soup. If you decide to visit, let them know they came recommended.
AT A GLANCE: China Kitchen Restaurant, 1067 Main St., Erwin. 743-7788. Open daily from 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Lunch is served Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Entrees range from $5.92-$13.44. Credit cards accepted. Carryout available.