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. 

Shui Wah

Shui Wah... you really know what you're doing.  You make my tummy so happy! 

Shui Wah is my go-to for dim sum (Cantonese brunch).  I avoided Shui Wah at first because they don't have dim sum carts.  I've never, ever had dim sum without the carts.  How authentic and tasty can cart-less dim sum be? 

As it turns out, very authentic, and very tasty.

I've been here at least fives times now, and I leave every time stuffed, happy, and floating.  The wait may be long, but it's worth it.  Tide yourself over with some bubble tea while you wait! 

Upon being seated, you're given a check-off list menu and a small wooden pencil.  Once you hand the menu over, the food quickly comes steaming out of the kitchen.  The dumplings are firm and juicy, the meats are flavorful and tender, the vegetables are crisp and bright, foods that are supposed to be crunchy are crunchy, foods that are flaky are flaky, the tea is hot and bold....  Wow.  I'm salivating right now.  

The service is great - the waitstaff are busy and on top of their game.  Everything we asked for (extra napkins, cut the nuo mai gai in halves, more hot tea please!) was given to us promptly.  The selection of dim sum is great.  All my favorites and then some!  And to top it all off, the bill usually comes out to $8-$10 for each of us, including tip and tax.  Does it get any better??  I think not.  

My rating?  A+

Sun Wah BBQ

I was so excited to go to Sun Wah BBQ.  It has excellent and numerous reviews on Yelp and is somewhat close to my apartment.  Yay!  Upon arrival, the restaurant looked very promising.  Whole, darkly roasted ducks hung in the window, tripe was featured prominently on the glass window menu, Chinese writing was everywhere, and most importantly, I observed patrons and workers conversing fluidly and joking with each other in Cantonese.  Jackpot, I thought.  As I waited for my table, I eyed the humongous jar of fried chicken skin with joyful approval (25¢ for a taste!).  I'd definitely have to get some before I left. 

I would guess that there are over 100 menu items.  It was almost overwhelming!  Since this was my first visit, I figured I'd go for my favorites to see how the kitchen handles them.  The tea arrived, and this was my first disappointment.  My boyfriend (K) looked into the teapot to ensure that the leaves had steeped enough, and I noticed that he looked a second longer than normal.  After he poured my tea and his, I peered into the teapot as well.  No tea leaves.  Brushing the knowledge aside, I sipped the tea but couldn't help but notice its weakness.  The waiter arrived and I ordered egg noodle soup with shrimp and pork wontons, black bean spareribs on rice, pea pods, and a small plate of the roast duck.  

In no time, the duck was delivered.  By itself.  No rice.  Wahh?  How can you have meat with no rice?  Veggies with no rice?  That is like asking a painter to paint without a brush.  Starving, K and I decided to dig in.  The meat was good.  The flavor was full.  The skin was crisp.  The duck fat was intact.  Clearly, authentic Chinese roast duck.   I liked it.  But there was a hint of sweetness that I didn't love.

Next came the egg noodle soup.  Now this was delicious.  We devoured every last drop.  The noodles were cooked to perfection and the broth was yummy.  I did not like the wontons, but K liked them and ate them all.  I was a little sad that we just got a handful of veggies, but that was okay.  I happily slurped down the noodles and broth.

Then the pea pod shoots arrived.  It was a mountain sized serving!  Yay, I love vegetables!  I placed a bunch in my rice bowl and tucked into them.  They were a little bit tough and chewy, but the flavor was good.

The black bean spareribs arrived last.  The menu states that it is black bean spareribs on rice, and that is literally how it is served.  The spareribs are served on a bed of flattened rice, topped with gravy.  I dug in - this is my "last meal on earth" dish, my go to, my fave! - and heaped a bunch into my bowl.  Wow, was I in for a disappointing surprise.  One, the sauce was not that good.  The actual flavor of black beans was weak.  Two, again, I tasted the smallest hint of sweetness which I do not like in my meat.  Three, the meat itself had no black bean flavor - the flavor was all in the gravy.  Four, I bit into the sparerib and the center was COLD.  Aiii!!  

The best black bean sparerib dish stews in the bubbling black bean sauce for 30-45 minutes.  The meat is so tender and juicy; it bursts with black bean and hints of garlic.  I have a hunch that they precook the spareribs in the kitchen and, when a spareribs order comes through, they heat the spareribs and pour the requisite gravy on top.  Not a bad idea, but a bad result in this case.

I sent the dish back, explaining that the center was cold, and the waiter seemed very nice and apologetic about it.  When it returned, K bit into another sparerib with a cold center.  Sigh.  I was done eating and very disappointed.  I didn't even feel inspired to taste some fried chicken skin on the way out.

While Sun Wah BBQ gets points for authenticity and great prices (the whole meal came out to $27.20), I am not impressed with the food.  I'm sad that we didn't get a pot of rice, sad about the weak tea, sad about the cold meat, and sad about the overall experience.  I will go back for the egg noodle soup, and maybe then I'll try some new dishes. Hopefully, those dishes will be better.

Rating: Eh.