I may have to get over my bias of judging Chinese restaurants by looking at how many Chinese people are eating there, and seeing if the waiters can speak Chinese. In a city where roughly 2.5% of the population is Chinese, expectations should probably be lowered. It's just a habit that's hard to shake.
Entering Chens, one can't help but notice the lovely decor - a lot of reds, blacks, and dark woods. I read from a Groupon that Chens is owned by a married Chinese couple. Weeks later, a friend suggested going there for dinner. I was game.
I ordered stir-fried pork with green beans, and they were very tasty. My friends ordered General Tso's chicken and pad thai. Like many Asian restaurants trying to thrive in America, Chens has branched out of China and offers cuisine from other Asian countries. We shared our food family-style (that is the way we do), and were all pretty happy with our dishes. Taste-wise, the food was good.
I guess I have two complaints, though.
One, the waitress didn't seem to understand that I wanted a bowl for my rice. That was a huge strike for me. It's pretty standard, folks... Chinese restaurant? Bowl of rice. It's like 1 +1 = 2. She brought a square bowl of rice out for the table, and one smaller egg-shaped bowl for me. This proved difficult for me to maneuver, and I am one who is able to eat every grain of rice and not drop any on the table. More on that in a second.
Two, I felt uncomfortable eating like a regular Chinese person. Arguably, that may have more to do with me than the restaurant, but let me explain. Customer-wise, as far as I could see or tell, I was the only Chinese person eating at the restaurant. Patrons ate with chopsticks or forks, and everyone's rice was on a plate. Or if it was in a bowl, bowls remained on the table top. Now, if you are Chinese or are familiar with eating Chinese food, you may be reacting like this: @_@. And that would be an appropriate reaction.
In that environment, I felt conspicuous holding my bowl or raising it to my lips, which is the way you are supposed to eat rice with your Chinese food! And because of the shape of the bowl, it was hard for me to maneuver the rice into my mouth. Writing it now, it seems it would be logistically simple, but trust me - if you were there, you would've understood the difficulty it presented. Clumps of rice escaped my mouth and fell on the table. Sigh.
Based on my one and only experience, I'd guess that the rest of the food menu is good. This isn't, in my book, home cookin'. It's not. They very much want to fit into mainstream America, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. It's an edgy Chinese American restaurant. But for a girl like me looking for a little piece of home, this is not where I'd go to find it.
My rating: A-okay.