Lannae's Food and Travel

I hope you like my food and travel blog.

January 8, 2008

The Chef Wins

China Chef
857 Bell Road
Nashville, TN

China Chef is located in a strip mall in the corner southeast corner of the Hickory Hollow Mall parking lot. It is right next to the TGI Fridays that is located in the corner of the Hickory Hollow Mall parking lot. It doesn't look like much from the outside, but the inside looks like a mini-NYC Chinatown restaurant with the textured ceiling, pagoda style lighting, Chinese-esque crown molding, and well used booth seating. I would not have normally gone to a Chinese restaurant in this area because it is hard to get to for me, and the traffic around Hickory Hollow is always insane around there. Well, this time, I was tipped off my a secret diner whom I have never met that China Chef has a single paper menu with Chinese menu items on it, and some sketchy English translations. There is the normal menu with normal deep fried Sysco style meats and corn syrupy sauces, and the paper menu for those in the know. As per my secret informant, I was in the know.

the ceiling

I got to talk to Suzanne, the owner, and she said her family has owned the China Chef for about 5 years now. She is from the Canton region of China, but doesn't speak Cantonese, rather she is fluent in English and Mandarin. I know some Cantonese food words, so asked her if she has a few ingredients in the kitchen in Cantonese, and she did understand what I said. I said to her, "Ah ha! You do know Cantonese!" Well she knows at least the important food words. I am at a loss because I don't know any Mandarin food translations, so I can only hope people understand what I am saying in Cantonese, or it sounds similar enough to the Mandarin word. At any rate, Suzanne confirmed that she did not have chow fun with fermented black bean sauce because there isn't the client base for that. I was slightly sad, as that is one of my favorites. I guess the next time I am in NYC or Boston, it is on my to-do list. I spend a small amount of time asking Suzanne about more traditional Chinese dishes, and she said she really had to balance making a living by serving average dishes to the taste of the Nashvillians that go to China Chef and not alienating that client base with food that is too different and that may not appeal to them, with wanting to serve up more traditional dishes that represent China.

the paper menu

Since I got the tip off from the secret informant about the paper menu that have some authentic Chinese dishes, I asked Suzanne for the paper menu. She brought it to me, and I knew exactly what I wanted. I wanted Kung Po Squid. Kung Po involves some red chili peppers, garlic, scallions, ginger and salt as the basic ingredients. It is supposed to be hot and spicy. I also wanted squid, I love squid made in both Chinese and Italian traditions, and I just can't much of it here in landlocked Nashville because we don't have ocean near by. I was told that squid is a fairly easy and less destructive to the ocean environment when harvesting them. The low amount of ocean life dies per pound of squid harvested. In contrast, wild shrimp dredged from the gulf kills about 5 lbs of sea life for each 1 lb of shrimp harvested, making it one of the worst by-catch (aka sea life destruction) seafoods.

the squid dish

When my dish came, I was actually surprised at how good it was. No, it was not exactly like the Chinese restaurant in the basement of some Chinatown side street in NYC, but it was truly good and levels above any thing comparable that I have had in Nashville. My squid dish had almost a smoky flavor to it, something only really really hot and flamed wok cooking can get. NYC and Boston Chinatown Kung Po dishes all have that smoky hot wok flavor that I adore, and this dish is the only Chinese food dish I have had in Nashville that has come close to that flavor. The scallions, garlic, salt, ginger and red hot peppers all combined to make that flavor I really like, is a classic Chinese food combination, yet seems absent from other Chinese restaurants I have been to in Nashville.

I guess every time I want to go see what the Bitten line has new to offer, or if I need a new pair of Starbury's fabulous basketball shoes at Steve and Barry's (this is located at the Hickory Hollow Mall) I will make sure I go during lunch or dinner time and hit up China Chef for a meal off of the paper menu.

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At 1/9/08, 8:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review Lannae! China Chef is my kids favorite restaurant these days and is responsible for helping me wean them off the chinese buffets they had begun to like. I much prefer having them request Peking Duck and 5-flavor eggplant at China Chef!!

At 1/9/08, 12:44 PM, Blogger H said...

I love China Chef...the owners there seem to be so grateful and happy when people ask for the "secret menu."

At 1/10/08, 8:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lannae -- Did anything else on the special menu catch your eye for trying on future visits?

At 1/10/08, 9:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post! I've been dying for something even remotely close to authentic Chinese around here. Wish I'd known about this Christmas Day, or it would have saved me a trip to Chinatown in Green Hills.

At 1/10/08, 5:57 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Hi Pogo, I am with your kids, ordering off the paper menu is gonna be fun! About anything that caught my ey on the paper menu... I did see the translation of vegetarian chicken which made me chuckle.

Hi Heather, I am glad they are happy when people ask for the paper menu. I felt so sneaky asking for it.

Mr Pink, I need you to keep plugging away at finding great Chinese food in this town, and then letting me know. I wish I knew about this paper menu sooner too. But now we are in the know, and there is time now.

At 1/10/08, 7:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Lannae! "Vegetarian Chicken" made me grin too...

BTW, in case I haven't mentioned it before -- the Five-flavor Eggplant at China Chef rocks!!

At 1/12/08, 8:50 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Thanks Pogo, I think I am definitely going to try the 5 flavor eggplant next time I go to China Chef. Thanks for the recommendation! And, if you know of any other yummy Chinese food in Nashville, please let me know!


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