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Apr 14, 2010 10:09 AM

Evergreen Chinese - Great Experience

Evergreen is one of those restaurants that let's you feel like you're in on a secret. Stacked underneath one of those Eat Street mini-malls rife with nail salons and places that sell long distance phone cards, it is one of the few restaurants that makes you feel as though you've arrived.

One of my pet peeves is when ethnic restaurants with stripped down decor get pigeon holed as hole-in-the-wall-authentic (HITWA). Evergreen certainly features some HITWA touch points. Golden statues of an idol or deity with which I am not familiar. Specials written on a white board with translations. One of those stand-alone refrigerators with the sliding door that contains bubble tea and canned soft drinks.

Maybe all of the accoutrements are there to put urban hipsters at ease. The urban hipsters in attendance are, indeed, at ease. The knowingly tongue-in-cheek menu (which features neither tongue nor cheek, but is worth reading for its descriptions) doesn't hurt. At any rate, Taiwan is a country that draws on many influences, and so "authenticity" takes backseat to taste and innovation at Evergreen.

On our last visit, after a nip of the (complimentary) hot tea, we began with a cold appetizer (I would recommend doing likewise), the five spice boiled peanuts. As we waited for our other courses, the waitress quickly unfurled a small bowl of pekid looking orbs that look kind of like fish eyes. No points for presentation; plenty of points for flavor. Boiling peanuts allows them to absorb more flavor, and gives them a more toothsome quality.

I'm learning to appreciate cream cheese puffs on their own terms. In this case, those terms are price (a scant $3.20 for six) and originality (the pink corn syrup comes in a ketchup bottle!). But yeah, fried cheese... Take it or leave it, but don't leave the steamed dumplings. Juicy and sumptuous, these may now be the best in town since China Jen has moved out of Roseville.

The soups are probably not for everyone. Evergreen eschews the salt-bombs, with a broad range of offerings that have strong aromatic, almost medicinal qualities. You could almost think of them as palette cleansers if the bowls weren't so large. I wound up taking most of my stewed squid soup home, but the wife downed her tasty egg drop, a cut above the typical slimy fists of Campbell's-chicken colored nonsense.

That I have gotten this far without mentioning Evergreen's hallmark is a pretty positive sign. But yeah, the place has upwards of 70 vegetarian options, made possible by an almost impossibly deft hand with wheat gluten.

How deft? I very nearly sent my lemongrass mock beef back, for fear that they had brought me real beef. Then I looked at the menu and realized that wasn't even an option. Not only was it the correct dish, but it was the right one in so many ways. I had been somewhat underwhelmed in the past by the three cup tofu, so I was really walloped by the flavor.

You know how some type of nigiri deliver a greater wasabi wallop than others? The same principle holds for mock beef apparently. This is the sort of dish that stops you in your tracks and forces you to contend with it.

You'll be very glad you did (this is now my go-to dish), but it might be hard to taste your wife's chow fun after. The thai-inspired take on this classic had a simple elegance and the noodles had a nice al dente substance to them. Fun chow.

The value here is jaw dropping (our bill came to $33 plus tax and tip). A large group could do a full six courses for under $20 per person. I guess that's pretty authentic. The rest is just excellent.

China Jen Restaurant
2193 Snelling Ave N, Saint Paul, MN 55113

Evergreen Chinese Restaurant
2424 Nicollet Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55404

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  1. On a short visit, managed to visit Evergreen (along with Alma, the Band Box and the History Center Café) and was glad I did. It’s not bad. Have I had better Chinese vegetarian fare? You bet! But Evergreen reflects the great aspirations found in the Twin Cities food scene. And it has to be the best window-less Chinese basement restaurant! Probably my highlight was in seeing some Chinese customers buying special order Zong Zi that Connie had made and stored by the till. (I think there might be some different type ones on the menu) Seems she will make just about anything if you call ahead. Mostly hits here with a couple of misses:

    Steamed Buns – listless because they were not hot.
    Garlic-Ginger Seaweed Knots – OK.
    Tofu Skin Salad – very savory.
    Drunken Chicken – too salty.
    Three Cup Chicken – excellent version of this Taiwanese staple.
    Curry Mock Duck – everyone’s favorite, disappeared quickly.
    Taiwanese Stir-Fried Rice Noodles – quite flavorsome.
    Sautéed String Beans – made with authority.
    He Fen Noodles with Vegetables with Tofu – another winner.

    A decent, down-home type place.

    More on Zong Zi:

    2 Replies
    1. re: scoopG

      I'm shocked that scoopg got salty drunken chicken. That's one of my all time favorites, usually get it out of the refrigerator already plated. Hoping it was a glitch because I hate too much salt.

      1. re: faith

        Perhaps it was just a glitch - this was freshly made. It was not in the fridge when we sat down and were told they were out of it at first.

    2. I went there for the first time a week ago. Never had it before. I think I ordered a beef fried rice and some cream cheese wontons. I wasn't too impressed. It was okay, but nothing to rave about. I'm going to have to try those vegetarian suggestions that have been mentioned so far. That's the problem with me and chinese restaurants, I never know how to order the right thing.

      4 Replies
      1. re: alpa chino

        AC, if it is the real deal you are looking for I'd suggest not ordering cream cheese wontons as they are decidedly not Chinese! Next time (if you are solo) I'd just look in their fridge to see what appetizers they have, grab one two or three and then order a vegetarian dish.

        1. re: scoopG

          We saw people taking food out of the fridge on our last visit. We vowed to do the same on our next visit. That is a fridge worth raiding.

          But yeah, if you are unsure of what to order at restaurants, that's why sites like this exist. For you first visit, take crib notes. Then, once you are comfortable with a place, do your own thing.

          For subsequent visits, I cannot imagine anyone disliking the lemongrass mock beef, but the eggplant dishes are held in high esteem as well. And, by all means, raid the fridge.

          1. re: scoopG

            i like the quip on the evergreen menu under the CCW-- "invented by the chinese of philadelphia during the quing dynasty" or something like that. lmao. and the description under soda: "you know, fizzy watery sugary stuff in a can." whomever wrote the menu has a good sense of humor about the more americanized offerings on the menu.

            i like the veggie dumplings. they have always been piping hot for me, whether steamed or panfried. you can pick up a large bag of them to take home-- they are in the front freezer, with the mock meats.

            one of my favorite dishes on the regular menu is the five spice dried tofu. last time i was there i tried the "hakka special": dried tofu, dried fish, pork and vegetables. thought it was really good-- could not stop eating it after the initial couple of bites.

            1. re: soupkitten

              One of my favorite dishes is simply chinese broccoli sauteed in ginger and garlic. I don't think it 's on the menu but they will do it if you ask.

        2. Okay, so I'll try this lemongrass mock beef dish. And that eggplant in garlic sauce looks good too.

          But I'm not sure as to what this "mock beef/duck/chicken" is all about. Is mock just tofu? does it actually taste like the meat it is supposed to represent?

          Oh, and about the cream cheese wontons--I just love them. doesn't matter if they're authentic.

          2 Replies
          1. re: alpa chino

            Most mock meat dishes in Chinese cuisine are made from wheat gluten + soy. Traditionally the Chinese in the past ate far less animal protein than in the West and believe that those who chose to not eat meat did so on religious grounds, not for health reasons. So some dishes might be made or presented to appear, like meat dishes.

            1. re: alpa chino

              By all means, enjoy the wontons. Who doesn't?

              I credit Evergreen for charging a very reasonable markup on their version. It's just that there isn't much you can do with them, without employing high-end ingredients and changing the makeup, to make the plate stand out.

              So go back for the cheap wontons, and use the savings to play around a bit. And yes, give the lemongrass beef a shot.

            2. Alright, So I tried the Lemongrass mock beef and I was pleasantly surprised at how good it was. The mock meat had an interesting texture. It wasn't quite beef, but far easier to eat. The dish had a sweet tinge to it though, so I would've preferred something a little more savory.

              They seem to specialize in vegetarian type dishes. Please suggest some more.