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Nov 5, 2010 04:25 PM

Great Chowdown at Oriental Express in Sparks

A group of eight Reno-area Chowhounds and their friends/significant others held a Chowdown Thursday night at Oriental Express in Sparks with great success.
The idea originally was to have food off a special menu in Chinese that Oriental Express introduced a few months back. Only three of our items, the spicy chicken, the eggplant and the Sichuan tofu, came off that menu. The rest were specially prepared by Oriental Express for our meal.
It was all great. If you were looking for sweet-and-sour chicken, this wasn't the place to be. These were authentic Chinese food items, many with a Sichuan orientation.
The first three items were appetizers: lobster chips, purple meatballs and Chinese spareribs. The purple meatballs were meatballs covered with a sticky rice. The spareribs may have been my favorite item of the night. They're not like any other ribs I've gotten in Chinese restaurants. They were meatier and and had a darker, heavier sauce for flavor. I liked them quite a bit.
We also got fish served in a kind of soup. There was oil and peppers in the soup. You didn't eat the fish like soup. Rather, you pulled out the fish and bok choi and put it on your rice. Also quite tasty. Glenn noticed they used peppercorn on the fish.
Another dish was called tiger skin jalapenos. They took the seeds out of larger jalapeno peppers and grilled served them. They weren't too spicy.
Also we got Sichuan eggplant, which was mildly spicy. Some thought it was one of the better dishes of the night.
I had warned everyone that the spicy chicken would be spicy. When it came, everybody realized I wasn't kidding. It had both red and green fresh peppers and the dried peppers common in Chinese cooking. NVJim and I both liked it. Everyone else seemed to think it was too hot. I have a one-word response to that: Sissies.
We also got a tofu dish that was pretty nice. Like a spicier version of mapo tofu. The last dish of the night was a beef stew soup. Lots of flavorful, tender beef and a tasty broth, I liked this quite a bit, too.
The bill for all of this came to $133, so it was lots of good food for a reasonable price. I liked it so much I think I'll have to do it again.
From left to right are the lobster chips, purple meatballs, Chinese spareribs, fish dish, Sichuan eggplant, tiger skin jalapenos, spicy chicken, Sichuan tofu and beef stew soup.

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  1. Gee, wish I had been there; looks great! Jerry is often in Reno on Thursdays; if you plan Chowdown events send me an email and he might want to join you.....

    1. Sounds great. Wish we could have been there. Is the special menu available upon request if you just stop in, or do you have to make arrangements ahead of time?

      I stopped by for lunch there a couple of weeks ago and ordered Pepper Chicken, which was reasonably priced but not impressive. I'd like to give them another try with more authentic Chinese cuisine, though.

      1 Reply
      1. re: bill2975

        I go in and ask what's available on the Chinese menu. The owner looks down the menu and determines what they have in stock and what they can make.
        I like if for the more routine items.
        Remember, if anyone wants to join our group, send me an email at

      2. Steve, thanks so, so much for organizing this really great banquet. You really outdid yourself.

        I start at the beginning of the pix. I don't know the difference between a lobster and a shrimp chip but these were good and a nice antidote when my mouth was doing a little happy but warm dance from the various spicy dishes. I loved those pork/rice balls and want to fix them at home. Did they say they were sticky rice or do you think that got like that from steaming? The little spareribs were perfect. Tender but still some chew to them. And that little sweetness was good. That fish in the oil with the peppers was amazing. The fish were very thin squares of filet that I believe had been poached in the oil and pepper. Eggplant isn't one of my favorite foods but I could have eaten that whole serving myself. I believe the peppers were actually Anaheims which generally aren't spicy and, in my experience, aren't generally on Asian menus. But they were good. Difficult to eat but good. No one who wants to live a long and healthy life should ever call me a sissy (!!!) but I thought the chicken dish was too spicy. For me, the heat overwhelmed the mild chicken. Tofu was fantastic. Loved it. Anyone who thinks they don't like tofu should eat this. And the soup was the prefect finish. (The owner said that's the traditional end to this type of meal.) Although he definitely said "beef," it seem more like pork belly to me. But I'll admit by then my palate wasn't 100% accurate. This meal was a great, great success. It was clear that the owners enjoyed our enjoyment also :) I noticed many smiles from them during our meal.

        The only thing some would consider a negative (and it won't stop me from returning) is that we ate off divided "foam" plates, rice was in little styrofoam cups, plastic spoons and odd little chopsticks (narrow in diameter and the same size from one end to the other). They're definitely geared towards take-out. Also no beer or wine. A nice Tsingtao would have cooled things off some:)

        I had some insomnia that night and just kept thinking how good every bit of it was. Again, good job, Steve.

        1. Yes, hear hear to Steve for the planning of this Chowdown, my first. My favorite dishes were probably the most wimpy of the selection, but I'm not proud. Those being the eggplant and tofu. I, too, would have happily eaten all the eggplant myself and the tofu I'm sure was of the silken variety (thanks, Elisa), a beautifully smooth texture with a sauce that included scallions and a ground pork or chicken - not sure which. I would have to say my least favorite dish was the poached fish. I loved the fish itself, but the poaching liquid was a bit to floral for me. All in all, it was an outstanding meal and not your run of the mill chinese food. The flavors were not typical and were exquisite. Hats off to the chefs! Oh, and...must get that beer/wine license going - I agree, an Asahi or Tsing Tao would have been perfect!

          1. The chicken wasn't all that spicy, I thought it was quite good and had seconds. I didn't mind the foam plates, plastic spoons,etc as this is a 'fast food' type outlet. It would have been nice to have some imported/microbrews, but they seem to cater primarily to the takeout crowd--while we were there, no one else stayed and ate--they all grabbed their bag of goodies and headed home. The quality of the food was excellent.

            1 Reply
            1. re: NVJims

              Did you have a favorite dish? The only reason I mentioned the plates etc. so others would know the type of place it is. Wasn't a problem for us.