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Oct 28, 2006 12:34 PM

Chapel HIll: Red Lotus

Last night we tried Red Lotus, a new Chinese restuarant in Village Plaza (near Whole Foods). Red Lotus is very similar to Ming Garden on Airport Road: sleek and contemporary, serving unapologetically Americanized Chinese food with a lighter and more sophisticated touch than the typical take-away. This kind of restaurant does not appeal to me, but if you're the kind of person who likes General Tso's chicken and fried rice this is the place to eat it. Our menu:

Eggplant salad. Lightly fried eggplant pieces served atop a salad of iceberg lettuce, sliced tomatos, sliced cucumbers, and raw button mushrooms. The eggplant was nicely flavored and wonderfully light, but the salad called out for a side of blue cheese dressing and some saltines.

Kung pao chicken. The chicken was tender, but there was not much spice or flavor interest.

Beef ho fun. Beef tender, noodles slightly mushy. Flavor a bit bland.

Entrees are $9-$13. Portions are generous, and we wound up taking food home. Here's the website:

I noticed, by the way, the gratuitous and discourteous remarks made about my wife in a post on Friday (quickly removed). I've never seen a post less in the spirit of Chowhound.

Sinophile/David A.

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  1. Went there a few weeks ago, and had roughly the same opinion. Nice looking place, decent food but unexciting. The one thing that initially endeared me to the place was that they will substitute fake chicken in any of their entrees, and it's always nice to have an option like that. However, my enthusiasm took a nose dive when I bit into a piece of real chicken in whatever dish I got. I would brush it off, but it shows a lack of awareness in the kitchen, which isn't a good sign.

    1. i've had two disastrous meals there-- one for dinner and the other for lunch. both times the food was bland and poorly cooked. charlie's, for all its predictability, at least was tasty. too bad...

      1. i initially found this review while searching for Red Lotus after a friend of mine had recommended it to me. After reading the reviews of this site, i admit, i was a bit hesistant to go. But with the support of a friend i decided to try it out anyway. Here was my experience.

        First off, walking through the door, i noticed a huge change from charlie's. the decor was trendy and uplifting while the one red accent wall made the place feel inviting. THe large black and white photos on the walls, according to my server, were taken in house and looked great. Quite a transformation from what it used to look like... i was impressed...

        our menu consisted of this:
        -Red Lotus Curry Chicken
        -Genghis Khan beef
        -Salt and pepper calamari(appetizer)
        -hot and sour soup

        I'd like to start of saying, i have had hot and sour soup from many chinese/pan-asian restaurants, and i have to say, the soup was one of the best i have had in the area. The Salt and Pepper calamari was a great starter with just enough spice to eat it without the sauce (although that was quite delightful as well.) The genghis kahn beef was quite flavorful as was the red lotus curry. i was confused that the earlier posts stated how bland the food was, but i have to disagree with that. Maybe is was the items ordered. But since then, i have been back quite a few times, and i have to say, the food seems to get better every time i go back.

        The servers are quite consistent with their service and are quite friendly. I have to say though that it's almost become a weekly place that i visit with friends and also family.

        some of the items that i'd like to recommend are:
        -any of their curry dishes
        -Genghis Kahn
        -Fantasy Duck
        -Szechuan String beans
        -Singapore Noodles

        3 Replies
        1. re: SweetFever

          SweetFever, I think I speak for many people on this board when I say that you're gonna have to post opinions on several more eateries before a review like that is given any credibility. When a reputedly mediocre restaurant all the sudden gets a gushy review by somebody with no track record, it looks fishy. It strongly suggests that either (a) you don't know your food, or (b) you're working for the restaurant. Or both.

          1. re: durhamois

            I think you need to re-read the reviews. Of the three earlier reviews, only HeelsSoxHound's is negative. Statolith basically gave them a "Meh." David A's (Sinophile) review is actually quite complimentary:


            ... serving unapologetically Americanized Chinese food with a lighter and more sophisticated touch than the typical take-away. This kind of restaurant does not appeal to me, but if you're the kind of person who likes General Tso's chicken and fried rice this is the place to eat it.

            ... The eggplant was nicely flavored and wonderfully light ...

            Kung pao chicken. The chicken was tender, but there was not much spice or flavor interest.

            Beef ho fun. Beef tender, noodles slightly mushy. Flavor a bit bland.

            Entrees are $9-$13. Portions are generous, and we wound up taking food home


            Compared to his takes on, e.g., Jujube, Lantern, Mama Dips, Jade Palace, Neo China, Grand Asia Market, it hardly sounds like he's calling it "mediocre."

            1. re: mclaugh

              Point well taken, mclaugh. My reference to Red Lotus being "reputedly mediocre" is more based on hearing friends say that they liked Charlie's better, rather than anything I've read on this message board. In any case, as a general rule from now on I'm gonna refrain from saying that "I think I speak for many," and instead I'll stick with speaking for myself.

              As someone who worked in restaurants for many years, though, I have to say it's not some weird conspiracy theory to think that a restaurant might put someone up to posting a positive review on a place like Chowhound. Not necessarily restaurant managers or owners themselves writing reviews under fake names; more likely that some friend of theirs gets encouraged to write something nice, and then the next time they eat at the place, voila!, their whole meal gets comped. Do I know for a fact that this is the case with SweetFever? No, I don't. But s/he has written absolutely nothing else on this board. And to characterize the review as "gushy" was an understatement: the entire post is written like a bad infomercial. Call me cynical, but I'm taking SweetFever's remarks with many, many grains of salt. If you on the other hand find that to be a credible review of Red Lotus, by all means follow your gut. Or stomach. Or palate, or whatever other body part leads you in these matters.

        2. Just to be clear: Red Lotus is not a bad place to eat...but only if you're a certain kind of eater...most likely not a Chowhound type. I recommended Red Lotus to my chicken-breast and Lean-Cuisine eating sister, but I would not recommend it to Chowhounders.

          Further clarifications:

          I eat at Grand Asia market every week or two, as we regularly make the long trip from Chapel Hill to stock the fridge. My surmise is that Grand Asia has multiple chefs of vastly differing skills. This explains why it's possible to have a meal that's distinctly excellent one week and a meal that's distinctly mediocre the next week. I continue to think the bakery very ordinary.

          I've been to Jujube only once. I had an unambiguously bad -- even terrible -- experience food-wise. Clearly, however, this experience was unrepresentative. I'm witholding judgment until I have the chance to make a few more visits.

          Neo-china belongs to the same category as Red Lotus. I haven't been in a few years, but I imagine that the two restaurants are fairly similar in quality and style of cuisine. Coincidentally, I've been invited to a birthday dinner at Neo-China next week. I'll report back.

          Jade Palace is truly awful. No question there. Mama Dips is okay, but not really worth the money, and probably a little worse than the several comparably priced restaurants in the area. It's a worthwhile experience once, and maybe more than once if you have kids, but for the same price I'd rather eat at Tyler's or Elmo's, and I would most definitely rather have a burger and fries at Town Hall Grill.

          Sinophile/David A.

          7 Replies
          1. re: Sinophile


            I don't disagree with your views on those restos (as a matter of fact, I think they're spot-on, except in the case of Jujube); my point was that, given your comments on other restos, your review of Red Lotus does not support durhamois' characterization of Red Lotus as "mediocre"; in fact, given their aspirations ("unapolegetically Americanized Chinese food with a lighter more sophisticated touch than the typical take-away") and your professed lack of interest in that genre, your review of Red Lotus suggests very much the opposite conclusion.

            1. re: Sinophile

              Red Lotus looked good, but you can't eat atmosphere. Seems to me that most Chinese restaurants share the same awful recipies. Are there any good Chinese restaurants in the Triangle? It's getting so I miss Twin Dragon on Pico.

              1. re: Parsley

                The best authentic Chinese -- as opposed to fusiony upscale Chinese -- is Red Palace in Raleigh.

                1. re: Sinophile

                  Thank you Sinophile, I will try Red Palace in Raleigh the next time I'm there. Any dishes you can recommend at Red Palace? Something with a bit of heat, perhaps? Thanks.

                  1. re: Parsley

                    Everything has a bit of heat and more! The place is a genuine Szichuan restaurant. The danger is too much heat, not too little, and I say this as a guy who can take a good deal. We love the tea-smoked duck. My advice is to consult with the waitress, and don't allow yourself to be dissuaded from trying some of the more authentic dishes on the menu; as in so many Chinese restaurants, there is a weird and condescending tendency to steer non-Chinese clientelle toward less interesting fare.

                    1. re: Sinophile

                      Not so sure its "weird and condescending" so much as realistic. The modern consumer doesn't think twice about sending something back even if there is technically nothing wrong with the dish. That cuts into an already slim profit margin. If I'm serving dongpo pork (braised pork belly), I specifically tell the servers NOT to push it. If someone knows what they're getting into and loves the fatty goodness of pork belly then they'll be fine but if a customer thinks they're more adventurous than they really are, I've got to eat the margin on that dish once it gets sent back for being "too fatty".

                      I do the same with very esoteric wines in my descriptions. One actually reads "Yes, that's how it's supposed to taste" because the wine is quite peculiar but gloriously so. I don't want someone looking for "Chardonnay only different" to roll the dice with that wine. That's a wine geek wine pure and simple and I want to discourage anyone who's not truly game from ordering it so I don't have to take back a perfectly good bottle.

                      The market is all powerful. If Red Palace was inundated with non-Chinese customers that were were asking for the goods, they wouldn't steer them into safe choices. My guess is that they're learned the hard way that it just isn't worth it.

                      1. re: detlefchef

                        I'm sure that Detlef's economic theory has much validity, but I suspect that there is also a specifically Chinese cultural component. In any case, I'm surprised to hear that so many people are willing to return dishses. I consider it acceptable to return an improperly prepared dish (oversalty, burned, cold) but not a dish that is simply mediocre or that fails to catch my fancy. I can recall returning only one dish in my years of dining: an entree that was oversalted by a factor of maybe ten.

            2. Sinophile - what do you stock the fridge with at Grand Asia Market that you can't get at say, Asia Market in Durham, for example? I know your wife is from Taiwan and you guys no doubt make all sorts of things most of us wouldn't know about from eating at Chinese restaurants here. I'm just curious about what special things await me there. I do know something about Chinese food. I have yet to go to Grand Asia. There's something about Cary.... I think once I've made the trek once, I'll head back often. Also, what do you eat there that is particularly good?