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Aug 5, 2008 01:27 PM

Mr. Lees Fine Asian Dining in Dayton, Ohio

Hey, I'll bet you have seen the sign for Mr. Lees when heading north on I-75 just north of the Dayton city limits. It has been open for just about a year and is located in the old Cooker building on Poe Ave. next to El Rancho Grande.

The idea of Mr. Lees is to be an upscale Chinese restaurant (whatever that means). Anyways, it was recommended so my girlfriend and I checked it out this past Sunday. It is cute inside. Yeah I said cute or I guess cool.

Anyways the service staff is predominantly american now, but the menu is Chinese with a Sushi Bar just for kicks.

The atmosphere is quiet and the lighting is dim which I approve of. However, this place could be loud if filled to capacity, but like I said this was a Sunday. You can tell the owner has a lot of money because the old Cooker was gutted and this looks nothing like any other restaurant in town. It is a combination of Asian and modern decor.

The menu prices are great. Anyone who eats Chinese food will tell you that the best food can be purchased at local take out places and the meals generally cost between $7 and $9 for dinner portions. Well at Mr. Lees the dinners cost between $11 and $15. Still quite affordable.

For dinner my girlfriend and I started with the calamari which was deep fried and came with an awesome ginger dipping sauce (which I later poured on my white rice. For our main entrees we got a dish with vegetables and white sauce. Her dish had chicken and mine had shrimp. There were about 7 pieces of shrimp and they were large. The sauce was okay, but a little thin. The vegetables included carrots, snow peas, and mushrooms. The entree was descent, but nothing I would write home about.

Overall, I think this place has potential. Our server said the Sushi is very good so I may have to make a return trip. As far fine dining goes, my girlfriend and I were over dressed compared to the majority of the other guests. The place has character and our server did an okay job.

I love how quiet it was, but that also tells you how slow it was. Apparently they do not get a lot of business right now. Also they spend no money on advertising. So I ask all of you to make your way to Mr. Lees and give them a shot. Perhaps more business will encourage them to carry on.

Maybe with the help of my fellow Dayton foodies we can make Mr. Lees into a great fine dining restaurant for the North Dayton area.

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  1. Sounds promising enough that I'll give it a try and let you know what I think.

    1. I have not had a chance to get there yet, but when Mr. Lee's opened there was quite a bit of excitement. Evidently, the owner has done quite well for himself in Columbus, and those who had dined at his establishment there (can't think of the name) were very much looking forward to it.
      Everyone I know who has been there enjoys it.

      1. Different strokes, I guess. Just for background, my family is Chinese. We've long mourned that Dayton doesn't really have much in the way of a decent Chinese restaurant scene aside from the basic takeaway joint.

        We went to Mr. Lee's in this spring, and I was seriously underwhelmed. While the decor is nice enough, the food was not terribly impressive. $20 for fish in a miso/ginger/sake glaze that was very sweet and gloppy and turned out to be one piece of filet? Yikes. They don't seem to have a listing for whole fish on the menu (steamed or fried). This may not seem like a big deal, but it suggests to me that they lack an old-school Chinese clientele. Comparable restaurants of this size with lots of Asian customers would definitely have what is a very traditional and classic dish. This is like going to a diner and finding out that scrambled eggs aren't on the menu!

        I can't even remember what else we had. It was okay, but not good enough to justify the prices when one is on a budget. I'm not really inclined to go back. My apologies if this sounds harsh. It's fine if you're looking for more Americanized Chinese food (although Dayton already has plenty of that) or Asian fusion (that they have a sushi bar in there is usually a warning sign in my book), but foodies in search of something more authentic would do better at China Cottage ordering something off the Chinese menu. Columbus and Cincinnati have better/more reasonably priced options, too.

        11 Replies
        1. re: Aria

          I like the China Cottage too, do you have any good recomendations in Columbus or Cincy?

          1. re: jackrugby

            In Columbus, we like the dim sum at Sunflower restaurant on Sawmill. Regular menu looks decent, although I haven't tried it. Dim sum is only on weekends, I think, and they get pretty busy with lots of large Asian families coming in to eat. I recommend making a reservation or getting there early, say around noon.


            There's also a decent Asian grocery called Sunrise on Henderson Rd. that sells carry-out roast duck, roast pork and chicken. It's around $6 for half a duck, as I recall, and a nice treat to take home for dinner. ;


            In Cincinnati, I had one fantastic meal and one pretty-good-but-not-as-good-as-the-first-time meal at King Wok on Mcmillan near U of Cincinnati. I seem to recall they have a special menu, but you have to ask for it. The steamed fresh tilapia (straight from the tanks at the back of the restaurant) was very good. Then again, it's been a while since I was there, because we don't get to the UC area very often. I also haven't been to Uncle Yip's in a while, but that used to be the old favorite.

            Sichaun Bistro in Mason was interesting, but very crowded on the night we went and service extremely slow. It's in a strip mall along Mason Montgomery Rd., with a fairly young crowd and reasonable prices. Was a bit more homestyle than Uncle Yip's, and also has a special menu on request.


            None of these places have a particularly fancy atmosphere, which is pretty typical of most eateries frequented by Chinese, IME.

            1. re: Aria

              China Cottage is where we usually go for generic Chinese. I didn't know they had a Chinese menu (and usually don't see too many Asian folks at the one on Wilmington, closest to us), but I'd love your suggestions for what to order off the Chinese menu. And in your opinion, is there a difference in the food at the China Cottage in Kettering, vice the one in Washington Twp, vice the one in Springboro. Do you prefer one of the three for food? Thanks!

              1. re: Niki in Dayton

                We mainly go to the one on 48, although I've been to the newest one in Springboro (near DLM) once. The latter did not have a Chinese menu at that time, although the food was still pretty good. I don't have any experience with the other locations, sorry!

                Re: the special menu, it seems to change from time to time. I personally love beef tendons, so I usually try to order that if I see it. I think the regular menu has a "golden calamari" dish that's very good-- deep-fried calamari with crisp bits of garlic, ginger and chili peppers, it's an appetizer. Er... I like the cold jellyfish salad on the special menu, but that's not to everyone's taste. :) My parents usually like to get the steamed fish, which is unfortunately not a whole fish but fish steaks. Still, the preparation (usually ginger and scallions) is fairly classic. I also love the dry braised eggplant and the mala green beans (with pork) on the regular menu.

                On the whole, I'd say go with what sounds good or interesting to you, and the waiters have been pretty good with helping out re: translations if needed.

                1. re: Aria

                  Thanks. The mala green beans and the eggplant are what I usually order. We'll have to try the calamari since my husband loves squid...

                2. re: Niki in Dayton

                  We went to the China Cottage on Far Hills recently, so I thought I'd update with some of the things we had while it's still fresh in my memory. :)

                  There was a beef (brisket, I think, but IIRC, they also have tendons) dish braised with five spice sauce and baby bok choy that was very nice-- this was off the Chinese menu, and I'm afraid I don't recall what the Chinese name for it was. We also got a whole steamed fish with ginger and scallions that was pretty good.

                  Rock salt shrimp... so-so. You do get a large portion and it is nicely seasoned (heads still on, in case anyone's squeamish about that kind of thing) with a thin, crisp layer batter on the outside, but I've been spoiled by shrimp from the Gulf. These were slightly mushy, like farmed/frozen shrimp. I wouldn't bother with them again.

                3. re: Aria

                  i am very impressed to see that sichuan menu. it is streamlined, but it has dan dan noodles, dry spices, etc. and overall is the real sichuan deal. very good to see a break from the usual americanized chinese food in sw ohio!

                  1. re: mrnyc

                    Oh, yes, quite a change of pace from the usual fare in Dayton. The online menu isn't exactly the same as the menu they give you at the restaurant, but it's pretty similar. When we saw something on the online menu that wasn't on the paper one, they had no problem making it for us anyway.

                    The only real disappointment was the Yu Shang pork, which wasn't at all what the photo gallery picture described, and it wasn't that lovely blend of sweet/savory/spicy, either. Then again, we were there on an extremely busy night and service was somewhat lacking in other areas as well, so perhaps there was a mix-up. We do plan on going back another time.

                    1. re: Aria

                      Aria: The Chinese Menu at China Cottage sounds great and next time I eat there (I usually go to the one on Wilmington Pk.) I'm going to ask to see it. One dumb question though, is it printed in English?

                      1. re: jackrugby

                        Some of it is in English and some of it is not. I went to take a look and found China Cottage's menu online:


                        The special menu is at the bottom, you have to scroll down past the regular menu listings. The first dish listed on the special menu is "Lian Baan Do Si". Unfortunately, I don't speak or read Chinese, so I'm lost most of the time, too. :) My parents understand a bit more, or they ask for clarifications in Cantonese to doublecheck that such-and-such dish is really what they had in mind.

                        This might be a good opportunity to order something at random and see what you get. ;)

                        1. re: Aria

                          Thanks, Aria, I'll do just that next time I'm there.