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Chinese education
Thursday, 28 March 2013
Budai Gourmet Chinese garners a well-deserved reputation as a fine destination restaurant

ImageBy Shari Taylor

I don’t usually order Chinese food off a menu. Rather, I’m used to Chinese food served by yours truly at restaurants where the title usually includes the word “super.” Said restaurants offer a buffet selection of classic fried rice and what I can only describe as “pork on a stick.” That said, Budai Gourmet Chinese, the runner up for Best Chinese Food in the recent Local iQ Smart List, was probably the best traditional restaurant experience that I ever could have wished for on my first real Chinese food voyage.

Budai certainly looks the part. Upon walking into the restaurant, my dining companion and I were struck by all the Chinese calligraphy and art. A message written in over-sized Chinese calligraphy extended across an entire wall and Chinese characters decorated our booth. Decor featuring cranes and curling dragons was complemented by background Asian elevator music. A wall behind our table was decked with framed photographs of the establishment’s owners alongside celebrities ranging from Jackie Chan to Richard Gere and Miss America.

Our chipper and attentive waitress had a lot of suggestions for me when I asked, providing glowing reviews and recommendations of various menu items. She seemed to know what she liked and steered us toward some enticing dishes. Egg drop soup and pork buns served as our appetizers. The Egg Drop Soup ($1.95/cup, $5.95/bowl) was silky, as it ought to be, though the flavor was perhaps saltier than usual. The Mini Pork Buns ($8.95 for 10) were presented beautifully, placed delicately like droplets inside a steamer, delivered fresh from their trip to the sauna. They were tasty, too. A little meatball was rolled up inside those droplet buns, and each was savory as it was soft.

ImageThe buns also served as a tool for furthering my Chinese food education. They were difficult to eat without spilling the inner juices. The restaurant’s hostess, not content with watching me pour pork bun juice all over my scarf as I tried in vain to eat it properly, finally intervened to help my dining companion and I get the most out of our pork bun dining experience.

“Have you ever had ginger and vinegar like this?” she asked, and when we both shook our heads, she schooled us in the fine art of spooning up the vinegar, placing a toothpick-sized strand of ginger in it, and then adding the pork bun to the lot. “You will like this,” she insisted. “Try it.”
She was right. Aside from my embarrassment at not instinctively understanding how to eat a pork bun properly, I appreciated her help. The vinegar and ginger added a zing to the pork bun that it had been lacking. The flavor was surprisingly strong, but pleasant and clean when taken as a whole.

We next ordered the Cashew Nut Chicken entree ($8.95). The best part about this dish was its subtle mixture of flavors. The celery, carrots, cashews, chicken and sauces played off of each other and it became clear quickly that the ingredients of the dish were freshly acquired and freshly prepared.

When I took the advice of our waitress and said, “Yes, that one,” to the Salt and Pepper Fish ($9.95), I did not know that it would be battered. I was wary when she placed the plate of fried food in front of me, as I’m not usually a fan. But lo, I got something quite different from what I feared. Not greasy at all, the lumps of tilapia wrapped in fried batter were airy, soft and sweet in an unexpected and subtle way. Topped with a mixture of chives, salt and pepper (I’m guessing) and an assortment of herbs, the Salt and Pepper Fish was a refreshing change from the usual greasy fried food that I would expect.
The Budai menu is not overly vast, but every item, from Tea Leaves Smoked Duck ($15.95) to Jalapeno Beef ($9.95) to Sa Cha Mussels ($9.95), seems thoughtfully designed.

Budai followed up our meals with the usual fortune cookies wrapped in crinkly cellophane and (another pleasant twist on the usual Chinese dining experience in America) orange slices. My fortune cookie informed me that I was going to go on a vacation soon, but really it should have told me that I was going to be returning to Budai soon. Budai Gourmet Chinese absolutely earns its reputation as a fine eatery and a pleasant experience.

Budai Gourmet Chinese

6300 San Mateo NE
11a-9p, Tue.-Thu.; 11a-9:30p, Fri.; noon-9:30p, Sat.; noon-8:30p, Sun.

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