Did some Chinese sage once decree, “May a thousand Chinese restaurants bloom in strip malls”? Not that we know of, but bloom they have, maybe because the food—quick, simple and inexpensive—suits busy shoppers. Lotus Cafe in the Home Depot shopping mall at first glance seems like so many others. However, the food is better than you’d expect in such a location.
The restaurant is decorated with a few Chinese prints, and although it isn’t large, tables are set far enough apart that diners won’t feel crowded. Service is, shall we say, brisk. If you are not ready to order immediately, the waiter will return in five minutes, and if the whole table has not gotten its act together, in another five minutes, and so on. Despite the air of efficiency, we are not served noodles at the start nor water during the meal, even though we repeatedly ask for both.
Well, you don’t do strip mall Chinese for the service. As for the food, fried pork dumplings are well flavored with bok choy and scallion, but the thin skin is a little tough. Calamari with salt and pepper are faintly crunchy, tender, pure white, and tasty.
As for soups, hot and sour is neither, but both the seafood soup, brimming with scallops, squid, and shrimp, and the pork and pickled cabbage are based on wondrously flavorful clear broths.
The waiter obliges our request to serve the Peking duck as a separate course so that the platter of meat, Hoisin sauce, cucumber, scallion, and pancakes don’t have to fight for space with other dishes. The pancakes are much bigger than usual, but the rest is excellent. The waiter deftly dabs Hoisin sauce on the pancake, tops it with cucumber, scallion, duck meat, and crisp skin, and presents the neatly folded package.
Another fun finger food is Chicken Soong. The diced meat is sautéed with vegetables and spices. You spoon it onto iceberg lettuce leaves and wrap it up.
South Pacific prawns are huge, crisp, perfectly fried, and smartly sparked with shallots, garlic, ginger, scallions, and peppercorns.
I also recommend Mandarin stuffed eggplant (the slices are filled with ground seafood, vegetables, and seasonings, then battered and deep fried); tender, tangy beef with mustard greens and chili peppers; and the contrasting textures and flavors of pork rib belly with pickled cabbage.—V.S.
Cuisine Type:Asian - Chinese
Ambience:Utilitarian strip mall
Service:Fast but forgetful