If you’ve grown to find that the typical menus at Chinese restaurants are quite similar from establishment to establishment, spice things up with a visit to Magic Wok in Johnson City.
The restaurant actually offers two menus, one a more recognizable menu of Americanized Chinese standards such as General’s Chicken, Egg Foo Yong and Sweet and Sour Shrimp, and another devoted to authentic Szechuan cuisine.
I’m a recent convert to the Szechuan items offered at Magic Wok. Not all items on the Szechuan menu are spicy, but many of them are and should therefore be ordered cautiously by those with low tolerance for spicy foods. Happily, the kitchen will adjust the level of spice upon request.
The term Szechuan refers to a style of Chinese cuisine originating in the Sichuan Province in southwestern China. This particular Chinese cuisine stands out because of its bold flavors, achieved chiefly through the use of garlic, chili peppers and the unique flavor of the Sichuan peppercorn. The overall taste of Szechuan cuisine is also achieved from such ingredients as peanuts, ginger, sesame paste and various spices and herbs.
The restaurant dining room features a dominant painting of lotus blossoms enhanced by Chinese screens and lanterns. The seating in the booths and the chairs for the tables feature teal-colored vinyl upholstery. Crystal-paneled chandeliers add some bright visual interest.
Once seated at our table, my friends and I found a bowl of crispy fried wontons already available for our enjoyment as we scanned the menu’s offerings.
We decided to start the meal with an appetizer and considered such meal-starters as Fried Dumplings, Teriyaki Beef Stick, Crab Rangoon and Barbecue Spareribs.
Having ordered previously from these Chinese options, we focused during this visit on the selection of Szechuan appetizers, which include Hot and Spicy Pork Roll, Chicken in Special Szechuan Sauce, Five- Spice Beef Tendon and Scallion Pancakes.
A friend and I decided to share the Hot and Spicy Pork Roll. This appetizer, which could serve as a meal in itself for a single diner, consisted of a flour tortilla wrapped around a filling of pork, cabbage and various herbs and spices. The appetizer was also served with a soy sauce-based dipping sauce. The filling offered some spicy heat, but nothing too uncomfortable.
Another member of my dining group ordered the Egg Rolls from the regular Chinese menu. They looked plump, and he remarked that they also tasted delicious.
Main course options on the regular Chinese menu at Magic Wok include the categories of chicken, beef, pork, vegetables, seafood and noodles. The menu also features several chef’s specialties and combination dinners. A separate lunch menu is also available for diners visiting Magic Wok from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Sunday through Friday.
However, my dining party and I focused on the Szechuan specialties, which includes its own lunch and dinner menu. The entrees are divided into the categories of pork, poultry, beef, seafood, vegetables and Hot Pots.
Some of the selections that caught my interest included Guan Gong Chicken, Gan Bian Duck in Szechuan Sauce, Shredded Pork with Hot Pepper and Cilantro, Shredded Pork Sauteed with Pickled Mustard, Fish and Gin Zhen Mushroom in a Hot Pot, Jumbo Shrimp Sauteed with Szechuan Spices, Braised Beef with Chili Sauce, Szechuan Noodles with Beef and Gong Bao Bean Curd and Sauteed String Beans. Another Hot Pot listed on the specials board featured String Beans with Chinese Bacon.
I was intrigued by the Hot Pots listed on the menu, which included Braised Beef Hot Pot with White Turnips and Pork Hot Pot in Chef’s Specialty Sauce.
I ordered the Chong Qing Hot Pot with Fish, Shrimp, Beef and Chicken. All these ingredients were mixed in a rich, spicy brown sauce with straw mushrooms, translucent Bean Thread Noodles and various vegetables. This dish is presented in a theatrical manner in a stainless steel wok attached over a charcoal heater that soon had the content of the dish bubbling in a rolling boil. I soon found it necessary to douse the flame or else I feared the contents would have boiled over.
This dish is a new favorite not only at Magic Wok, but from local Asian restaurants in general. The mild, tender fish was my overall favorite, but all the other meats — plump shrimp, tender beef and tasty chicken — blended well with vegetables such as snow peas, water chestnuts, mushrooms and carrot strips in the spicy brown broth. Giving the dish some extra kick was a handful of chopped cilantro sprinkled atop the contents of the bowl. This dish was, quite simply, a smorgasbord of wonderful flavors.
The other dinner party members ordered Chicken with Honey Sauce (one of the non-spicy dishes available on the Szechuan menu) and Shiang La Chicken, which consists of puff-fried chicken strips served with rice and its own sweet-spicy dipping sauce.
From other visits, the Cumin Beef is a winner, especially for fans of spicy-hot dishes. The tender beef is served with rice and accompanied by broccoli florets. Both the broccoli and the beef receive the spicy treatment in the kitchen. I’ve even ordered this dish as carryout and found it held up well once I transported it home to enjoy.
Throughout the meal, the server did a good job keeping our drinks refreshed. That was very welcome, since I drank a lot of water while eating this spicy food. Our server was also pleasant if somewhat tentative at times when answering questions about the menu.
For dessert, we were content with the complementary fortune cookies. I hoped mine would offer an urging to return frequently to try more Szechuan items at Magic Wok.
It didn’t, but then again, I don’t really need more urging. I hope to continue to explore the items listed on the “other menu” at this local restaurant. If you go, let them know they were recommended.
AT A GLANCE: Magic Wok, 701 S. Roan St., Johnson City. 929-9550. Lunch, Sunday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.- 2:30 p.m.; Dinner, Sunday- Thursday, 4:30-9 p.m.; and Friday-Saturday, 4:30-10 p.m. Entrees range from $6.95-$13.50. Carryout available as well as limited delivery. Credit cards accepted