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Reno chow down at Peony: Great success with Chinese food

Four Chowhounds and one sometime Chowhound lurker got together at Peony in Reno for a chow down on Father's Day. We sampled a variety of dishes from Peking duck to salted spicy shrimp and came away with the conclusion Peony is a good restaurant. Maybe Reno's best Chinese restaurant. We also drank almost four bottles of wine.
Hey, it's tough job, but for you in the public, we'll do it.
Peony is on Mae Anne Drive a block or two west of Robb Drive. Not only was it Father's Day, but Andy was celebrating a tennis tournament victory over punks nearly half his age.
It serves a vareity of Chinese styles. I'd say most of the dishes we got in the Chow Down were Cantonese.
We ordered half of a Peking duck and half of a roast duck; salted, spicy shrimp in the shell and with the heads; pepper lamb on a sizzling plate; braised tofu with mushrooms and greens; dried green beans in XO sauce; seafood soup with sizzling rice; and tropical spring rolls.
I've had the lamb dish before. I described it here:
http://www.chowhound.com/topics/409863
It was good for the Chow Down, but not quite as good. The difference was when I had it before it was crispy on the outside -- Janet thinks from being served on the cast iron platter -- while this time it was just tender. It had a little bit of a kick, although the peppers seemed a little more prominent last time, too.
Both versions of the duck are worth recommending, too. I think I liked the Peking duck a little better.
the dried green beans in the XO sauce definitely rocked. I'd recommend them again.
Probably the biggest disappointment of the meal for me was the braised tofu with mushrooms and greens (I believe bok choi). The brown sauce didn't have much flavor to it. Yimster of the San Francisco Chowhound board gave me a tip on mushrooms. There's mushroms that are thin and symmetrical, but they don't taste as good as the ones that are fatter in the middle. We definitely got the pretty mushrooms with this meal.
Corkage is $10 a bottle. With corkage and a tip, it came to $35 a person. Quite reasonable.
I'm getting tired, so I'll let Janet and Andy add their thoughts.

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  1. Thanks for a great report Steve! It was a fun night, and nice to be able to go out with friends when DH had just left for two weeks of travel.

    To me, the only real disappointment in the meal was our starter...listed on the menu as "Tropical Seafood Spring Roll." Well, I didn't taste any seafood in it...but far worse I wish the menu had happened to mention that "tropical" means bananas. I don't eat bananas. Yuck. (My banana bias aside, I don't think anyone in the group was all that wild about it....It was deep fried, and a couple of us agreed that we don't think of "spring rolls" as being deep fried....).

    The soup was very good. I think that's the first time I've had sizzling rice with a seafood based stock, rather than chicken. Light and tasty, and the salt level was just about right (Just about all the dishes were well-seasoned ..). And crunchy vegetables!!

    I think the lamb wasn't quite as crispy as when you ate it because the plate wasn't as hot...so it wasn't "sizzly." This may have been reflective of the crowd more than anything else (There was quite the crowd tonight...lots of large families for Father's Day and obviously the wait staff was a little over-extended....although overall service was friendly and obliging....despite some language issues :-). The lamb was very tasty and tender, however. I would definitely order it again.

    The prawns (served in shell with heads) and the green beans were standouts for me. The prawns had a nice crispy batter, not greasy, and very tasty. I agree that the tofu with mushrooms was kind of bland, but the vegetables were good.

    I couldn't resist ordering mango ice cream for desert. Unfortunately, it wasn't Mitchell's =( It had a strong citrus flavor....we decided maybe grapefruit. Next time I might try the ginger.

    Peony's is a very pleasant restaurant with some interesting and well-seasoned dishes on the menu. I think it will become my new favorite "neighborhood" Chinese restaurant....even though its a little out of my neighborhood.....Thanks Steve for organizing!

    1 Reply
    1. re: janetofreno

      I forgot about the the seafood part of the spring rolls. No, not much seafood there. An overwhelming flavor of deep fried banana. It was okay. I'm not sure it was worth $8.25 for four. And Andy made a good point about the peas in the soup still being crisp and flavorful. The one thing I didn't like about the soup is that he didn't put the dried rice in close to the table so we all got the show of the rices sizzling as it expanded in the soup. That's part of the presentation. He did it so far away from the table no one saw or heard anything. If they were going to do that, they should have just done it in the kitchen.
      But the soup tasted good.
      Andy and Glenn both agreed that the seasoning overall was well done. Not to salty, not too sweet. And Glenn noted there was no grease or anything on our plates at the end of the meal.

    2. The Reno chowgroup(with Steve doing another marvelous job of organizing) had a surprisingly good dinner at Peony last night. I say surprisingly good because the restaurant is very nice inside and I've found that generally the nicer the Chinese restaurant the more Americanized, and bland, the food. The menu wasn't exactly San Francisco authentic, but most of the dishes we ordered were well executed and quite tasty. We started with tropical seafood rolls and seafood sizzling rice soup. The soup was excellent, with tender seafood, crunchy vegetables, and a wonderful broth. The fried seafood rolls were sadly lacking. There was no crunch, no seafood flavor, and the predominate taste of banana, which I guess was the tropical. It was served with a walnut sauce which basically tasted of sweetened mayo.

      Salty prawns were anything but salty. They were flash fried with the head and tail and perfectly seasoned without that salty hit that dominates many versions of the dish. Fried long enough to be able to eat the whole shrimp, head and all, without turning the shrimp rubbery. This was the dish of the night for me. A close second was the roast duck, with a crispy skin, moist meat, and a tasty jus. Peking duck was also good, served with crispy skin, scallions, and hoisin wrapped in dough similar to pork buns. However, the bun is too doughy and tends to overpower the flavor of the meat. The traditional version of this dish, wrapped in pancakes, is more appropriate. Lamb with black pepper in hot plate was also a marvelous dish. The lamb was cooked perfectly tender, served with a flavorful sauce. Steve had remarked that on his previous visit the lamb had crispy edges which elevated the dish, but even lacking that extra texture, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

      Fried dry bean with XO sauce was a terrific version of Szechwan green beans with chilies. The beans were a bit crunchy and the sauce just hot enough to give the dish a nice kick. Again, unlike many other versions, the beans were not overly salted. The braised tofu with green and Chinese mushrooms was bland.

      We finished with mango ice cream which was refreshing but tasted commercial, not homemade.

      The wine list needs to be revised, which was lacking Rieslings or any wines with sweetness, which I believe pairs better with Asian food than big cabs and chards. They charge a fair corkage so we all brought bottles that perfectly complemented our meal.

      So far this is the best Chinese food I have had in Reno.

        1. re: SteveTimko

          Does the place in the mall on Virginia & Mt. Rose no longer serve dim sum? The blog made it sound like this was the only dim sum being served in Reno.

          1. re: clarence6ybr

            That place, Golden China think it was called, closed last year. Johnathan says he likes the dim sum at Duck House on South Virginia Street across from the Peppermill. And there's a few dim sum dishes served at the Chinese place on California near Keystone and the other restaurant operated by the same guy, on Baring Boulevard.

            1. re: SteveTimko

              That would be Dynasty on California Ave. They serve some dim sum items often during the Saturday farmer's market in that center. The pot stickers are usually very good; the pork bow should be avoided at all costs!!!

              1. re: janetofreno

                You might also try the Hong Kong diner in the shopping center at Virginia and Peckham. The "fast Chinese food" dishes I've had there have been pleasant and inexpensive. It won't remind you of SF Chinatown, but for Reno its food is generous, tasty, and priced right.

                Personally, I thought it was better than what I got during my one visit to Duck Soup, though that wasn't bad either.

                (I know, I know, damning with faint praise....)

                1. re: bill2975

                  That was the second location for China Diner for a while. I guess they're no longer affiliated. I haven't been there in 10 years. I'll have to check it out.

        2. Just an update. Me, Chowhound lurker Glenn and Yimster went to Peony tonight for Peony. Yimster gives it a thumbs up. He spoke Cantonese and ordered a couple of dishes that weren't on the menu. One I loved. It's the leaves of snow peas in a crab sauce. In the picture all you see is the sauce on top. The leaves are underneath. Fantastic dish with great freshness and flavor to the leaves.
          The other was a fish with tofu and mushrooms in a clay pot. Good flavors, especially with the mushrooms, but I admit, I'm a baby. I don't like bones in my fish. Yimster said the bones add flavor. It just makes me go yuck!
          We also got the lamb with black pepper on a sizzling plate. The first time I got it the lamb was crusty on the outside from frying on the sizzling plate but still tender on the inside. This time and the second time, that didn't happen. I like it better when it is crispy on the outside, but it was sitll good.
          The seafood sizzling rice soup was good too.

          7 Replies
          1. re: SteveTimko

            I think I left the photos too big to be automatically resized. I'll try them again.

             
             
            1. re: SteveTimko

              Yes, this was one of the better Cantonese meals I have had in the Reno area. The food was just a half a level below the very best the Bay Area has to offer. It was nice treat for a area not blessed with outstanding Cantonese.

              The only draw back was the price. For the price we paid we could had the very best in the Bay Area. But I would go again.

              Thanks to Steve and Glenn for taking me there last night.

              1. re: yimster

                Yimster:
                I guess I got the name of the sauce for the pea greens wrong. What was it called again? Something like imperial sauce?

                1. re: SteveTimko

                  The pea sprouts was cooked in high broth (the English words for the Chinese word) and topped by a egg white crab meat sauce.

            2. re: SteveTimko

              I had lunch there last week and had more of a mixed experience than you had.

              The potstickers (I love potstickers!) were so-so. When I asked for hot pepper flakes in oil or something to add heat to the stock sauce, the only thing they apparently had was chili paste with garlic. I do like this sauce, but it doesn't really go all that well with potstickers, at least for me.

              My favorite sauce for potstickers is to take some small shreds of ginger, mix with white vinegar and a little soy and drizzle this on the potsticker, then a few drops of hot pepper flakes in oil for added heat. Nobody in town that I know of does it that way, unfortunately, and I didn't think the Peony version was all that good. I've had better at Palais de Jade, Szechuan Garden, Dynasty and even P. F. Chang.

              The siu mai dumplings were good, with nicely cooked shrimp inside, though not on a par with any really good place I've tried in SF's Chinatown.

              On the other hand, the Mongolian Beef was excellent. Extremely tasteful and well cooked. Very enjoyable. The best dish by far. The accompanying fried rice was not very memorable.

              I would definitely go back again, but maybe I need to go with someone like "yimster" to order in Chinese and maybe get better quality (off menu?) dishes!

              1. re: bill2975

                Bill:
                As this thread shows, we had pretty good meals there without Yimster's help. I think a lot of it depends on finding the stuff they do well.

                1. re: bill2975

                  Our serve was not Chinese, so she did understand all the dishes we wanted. There is no Chinese only menu. I did use Cantonese to make clear with the Front Manager what exactly we wanted. So you do not need a Chinese speaker but it does not hurt.

              2. Went to Peony for the first time in a long time on Saturday night and I'm glad I did. A vey nice meal.
                I'm trying to put together a good Chinese meal in San Francisco and I got a hankering for Chinese food just thinking about it. So I went to Peony. They have a new basil prawns dish on the menu and I was ready to order that. When the waiter came I asked if there were specials not on the menu. He said there were and for me to follow him. I did and he led me to the entrance to the kitchen. There were about eight specials written in Han characters on an erasable board. He ran through them. Lots of tasty dishes.
                I decided to go with one he said takes about four hours to prepare. It's a cold dish of sliced beef, jellyfish and sliced pork. The beef was prepared with a soy sauce. I'm not much of a fan of teriyaki beef or chicken but this dish was excellent. The jellyfish was gooey and had a mild spicy bite to it. The pork tasted more like ginger. It was my least favoirte of the three mainly because it was a little too chewy. The waiter said all three had been marinated in Chinese wine and then spices before being steamed.
                I got the three meat-dish. They also have a five-meat dish I'd love to order some time for a Chowdown. Maybe when the reverend gets back.
                I also got a nice vegetable dish of tofu, bok choi and mushrooms. Loved the mushrooms especially.
                So next time you go to Peony make sure you ask if there's anything available not on the menu. They were pretty busy last night so I wonder if it's a Saturday night kind of thing.

                1. After some favorable reviews from friends and positive reviews from Chowhound, we went to Peony tonight for dinner and I must say I'm disappointed overall.

                  We started our meal with the BBQ Pork and Calamari. The pork appetizer was great, no complaints there. The calamari had good flavor. I liked the scallions and red chiles that were finely chopped over it. However, about 1/2 of the calamari was overcooked and very chewy. The pieces that were cooked well were great.

                  For dinner, we ordered Pork with Green Beans in XO sauce & Beef Broccoli. The green beans were cooked well and tasted good, but the minced pork in the dish was excessively salty to the point it may as well have been kosher salt. Just awful! The beef broccoli...the first thing we said when it arrived was, "That's beef?" It did not look like any beef product I have ever seen, and I cut through a piece and it was white, but not meaty. Eating a piece, it tasted of fat and gristle. I must say this was a unique dining experience for me because I've never gotten to play "Is This Beef?" with my dinner partner before. We spent about 5-10 minutes examining this mystery meat before coming to the conclusion that whatever it is, we didn't want to eat it.

                  We expressed to the waitress each of our complaints and they were addressed with nothing more than her saying, "I'm sorry you don't like our food." Not satisfied with three of four menu items ordered, I would have expected the option to order something else to our liking, but we left hungry.

                  Lesson learned, we simply will not go back.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: turnerz

                    I went to dinner last night at Peony and I was disappointed as well. The cup of wonton soup had mediocre broth and soggy, flavorless wontons. The peas and water chestnuts I got as vegetables were not fresh and crisp. And I got the sizzling lamb dish. It was coated, no, drowned in a gooey sauce and some of it tasted gamey, like the fat had not been cut off.
                    The only thing they had that wasn't on the menu was squid. In the past they had a half-dozen off-menu items.
                    I don't know what's going on, but I wonder if they have problems with chefs.
                    As I've said before, it's amazing that Reno has so many good Thai restaurants but is hard up for decent Chinese restaurants.

                    1. re: SteveTimko

                      It's unfortunate that this place seems to be going downhill. It sounded like so many people really enjoyed it when it first opened.

                      One of my friends always tells me that the best Chinese restaurant in Reno is a 4 hour drive away in SF...lol We're seriously lacking here.