How did I ignore this place for so long? It is nuzzled in the strip mall where Turkey Lake Rd. dead ends onto Conroy Rd. At one time not so long ago, Mt. Fuji Sushi anchored one end of the plaza and an old favorite of mind G & G Thai somewhat to the other end. But this place looks like every other strip mall Chinese restaurant….that is, until you walk in.
Right next to the front door is a nice little seating area complete with tranquil water feature and bamboo settings. The open dining room offers white table cloth four top tables that can certainly adjoin for larger parties. At the far end of the restaurant is the counter with an enormous wine display. I know right, you are saying wine in a Chinese restaurant? Hold your tongue. There is a nice mixture of grocery store wines and a few not so common. In between these bottles are Chinese wines and sake. After checking the wine list, I realized that not all of the displayed wines were listed. The owner affirmed that they need to reprint the list, but encouraged me that all displayed wines were available for ordering, even take out. There is a certain charm that you feel in this dining room. It is not a fancy smanzy five star, white glove service, but it is not a regular little take out joint either. Certainly a place to sit and have a decent meal.
Speaking of meals, Chinese menu or English menu? Yes, there are both. Why would they have both? Well, this restaurant specializes in traditional Shanghianese and American Chinese Cuisine. The American side of this coin was all the usual suspects that you would expect. The Shanghianese side….hmmm. Luckily, I had a sage with me. My sage professed that this was a very extensive, indeed Shanghianese style menu. Different from Lam’s Garden, which is more traditional Cantonese. So naturally we ordered from the Shanghianese menu, which by the way, is written in Chinese Character. The English menu is not a translation of the Chinese menu. They are two completely different menus. But, the owner is more than willing to help you navigate the mighty Yangtze River.
Stinky Tofu – fermented tofu. If you don’t have a nose for funky scents skip this whole section. Have you ever drove by McLeod Rd. and pass the Water Treatment Plant? Or had a sewer back up in your home? Or a very, very, very stinky baby? Open the doors, windows, and turn the fan on high, for this. The smell! I braved it and put it in my mouth. Where did the smell go? You would think that with all that flatulent air the taste would be the same. Not at all. Actually, there was just the flavor and texture of tofu. The accompanied dipping sauce was a bean paste with chili of sorts. Damn good. Get pass the smell, I can see why this is a delicacy. Needless to say I had to go take a long scrubbing shower, cleaned out my nose very well, and brushed my teeth. But, I enjoyed the experience. My sage informed that there are stronger smelling Stinky tofu, I want that!
Stew Duck – Just meat. My sage explained that the serving of just duck meat with no sauce is the Shanghai style. The duck was braised to tender perfection. Unlike Peking duck which is cooked in an oven with crispy skin and layers of fat, Shanghai Stew Duck is braised in liquid, most of the fat is gone and the skin literally melts on contact. The flavors are subtle, with a nice balance of saltiness. Since this restaurant boast of not using MSG, that knock over the head saltiness is absent. Fantastic flavors and texture.
Five Spice Beef – Cold beef slices. You are thinking five spice powder on deep fried beef, stir fried? Not! This is beef braised in five spice and other secret Chinese liquids, then cooled to cold and thin sliced. The spectacular almost jellylike beef texture with a sweet subtle flavor sings praises to this preparation technique.
Spicy Anchovies – marinated anchovies with peanuts and peppers. I favor anchovies in anything. I particularly like them deep fried and eaten as snack with beer. But this marination with peanuts, takes the little morsels to a whole different level. Thanks for the pepper but no thanks. Wow. That was hot. I would order this over and over again, but hold the pepper.
Magic Wok is certainly a gem. I am still baffled why I did not try this place sooner. It just goes to show don’t judge a restaurant by its door or storefront. Walk in, explore, take a look see, challenge your palate, you might just discover that you like it. This place has made my list of must try everything on the secret menu, with my sage of course. Maybe, next time I’ll dine in. Go forth and don’t be trifled with smells or names. Eat something!