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Dongbei Food Comes To Chandler

There's been a small explosion of Dongbei style Chinese restaurants (Northeastern China food) lately, but it's been in Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay area, and Flushing, NY. Consequently, when I saw that a restaurant called Chou's Kitchen had opened up where something called China and Hawaiian had previously stood, I was not prepared to confront a full blown Dongbei restaurant full of dumplings, buns, meat pies, and even Dalian seafood noodle soup. You'd have to go 400 miles west or a more than a couple thousand miles east to find this kind of food. Chou's Kitchen is at 910 N. Alma School Road if you can fight through the road construction on Alma School.

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  1. What did you try and is this a recommendation??

    2 Replies
    1. re: Melanie Wong

      Well it's more of a discovery than a recommendation in that's it's the only game in town (actually, hundreds of miles) for this type of cuisine, as evidenced by a full house Sunday lunch. I had my favorite green bean sheet with cucumbers and peanut butter sauce. Not as good as that at Dongbei Mama on Geary, but good enough!

      1. re: Chandavkl

        Thanks, I was in Chandler in December in pursuit of paletas and would have checked out this place too, if I'd known it was there.

        I have been wondering about what's behind the recent spate of Dongbei openings at home. Also seeing Xinjiang bbq places springing up, but that's a topic for another board.

        http://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/2012-0...

    2. We've tried it once and loved it. The menu is huge and there are so many things to try on the next visit! This is now my second favorite Chinese restaurant in the city, after China Magic Noodle. Unfortunately we live in Glendale so both places are a long trek -- but very worthwhile.

      1. Two friends and I had lunch today at Chou's Kitchen and it was fantastic. The clear winner was the beef pies. The fried pork potstickers and the beef buns were also quite good. The only thing that was only okay was the Green Onion pancake that were tasty, but too doughy. We also tried the shrimp and chive dumplings which had a lot of flavors going on, but needed some seasoning.

        All in all, a great trip. The beef items seem to be the best and the beef pies were just all the way around wonderful. Moist, delicious, filling.

         
         
        1. I was just in for lunch and the owner mentioned that they will be offering Xiao Long Bao soup dumplings starting next week. Really enjoyed the beef buns I had for lunch.

          2 Replies
            1. re: Hombre

              A friend and I recently "discovered" this place as well and have been there for lunch a couple times. We've been served a small bowl of corn congee both times as a sort of free appetizer. This is basically just a thin polenta. It's completely unseasoned, but a couple shakes of salt and white pepper and it's quite tasty.

              We tried a meatball clay pot with napa cabbage and thin rice noodles - this made a perfect lunch for 2 and we had leftovers. It was quite tasty. The meatballs were obviously made in house and we thought they were really good. The only odd thing is that the menu price said $9.95 but we were charged 11.95. The woman that has waited on us both times is so friendly though, and we want the place to survive so I guess we just didn't have the heart to ask them to change it since $12 split between 2 people is still a steal for what we ate. It certainly beats Paradise Bakery which is where other coworkers often go for lunch. Bleh.

            2. Looks pretty good. I hope they have lots of dumplings and pickled vegetables on their menu! Manchurian or Northeastern Chinese food is based for the most part on hearty meals centered on meat and fresh and pickled vegetables. Grains like wheat, millet and sorghum are preferred over rice and reflects influences from Manchuria, Mongolia, Korea, Russia and Japan. Look for sorghum specs in the rice, if served at all. The cuisine is also known for strong flavors, lots of dumplings and a large variety of cold dishes. Raw fish might be served to start the meal. Garlic is used but not too much ginger.

              1. I like places like this so I hope there will be a lot more of these showing up. The service was very friendly. The dumplings need more seasoning. I hope it improves. I'd like to go back and try some of the non dumpling dishes.

                1. Unfortunately it looks like this place is already dumbing down its menu to suit the fine clientele of Phoenix.

                  Too bad.

                  27 Replies
                    1. re: Dmnkly

                      I don't need them to add Orange Chicken and like 10 different iterations of fried rice and chow mein on the menu when their bread-and-butter items still need refinement.

                      1. re: ipsedixit

                        I have the menu in front of me. There are four of each... chicken/beef/pork/shrimp of chow mein and fried rice. And a small handful of the usual Americanized suspects. If devoting 10% of the menu to a few throwaway Americanized standards helps get folks in the door who might try and grow with other things, it strikes me as rather petty to give them a hard time about that. I've seen them working with folks who never would have walked in the front door if they didn't see a couple of those dishes, and I've watched them slowly and carefully introduce them to the good stuff. Is this really such a terrible approach?

                        I can buy the argument that they should tighten up the menu a bit before expanding it, but most of the expansion has been to add more traditional dishes. Do you really think four permutations of fried rice and noodles and a couple of Americanized stir fries are so taxing that it's going to have an effect on their ability to maintain the traditional stuff?

                        1. re: Dmnkly

                          The items were not there a year ago, and some of the original Dongbei-style items are no longer on the menu.

                          And when was Kungpao Chicken or Sweet and Sour Chicken Dongbei-style food? Not to mention Orange Chicken? And what of Egg Drop Soup? Or Hot and Sour Soup? It's hard to say with a straight face that the menu expansion "has been to add more traditional dishes."

                          Sure, the Americanized dishes bring in new clientele -- and maybe some of the new clientele will try the more traditional Dongbei dishes -- but most don't stray too far from the Americanized dishes.

                          It's a slippery slope. Once you go down the Panda Express route and see where the money-cow is, it's hard to go back. No matter how good the intentions.

                          For example, Maxim isn't making money on its Vietnamese and Pho dishes; but rather it's American-Chinese menu items. Sad.

                          1. re: ipsedixit

                            Most of the expansion HAS been traditional dishes. I mean, I have the new menu here and photos of the old one, I can do the math if it's important. But most of the items that were added are NOT the Americanized ones. And I never said Kung Pao Chicken or Sweet and Sour Chicken was Dongbei. What I said was these dishes constitute a small percentage -- about 10-12% -- of the menu. And I'm actively watching that small percentage of the menu being intentionally worked by the staff to introduce non-adventurous eaters to the other 90%. I fail to see how that's a bad thing, and particularly given the way they're working it, it strikes me as awfully early to start ringing the downhill bell. No, it's not what I'D prefer to be on the menu, but you don't think these guys deserve a little bit of slack, particularly if it seems -- to me at least -- that they're using it to lift some non-adventurous folks up rather than simply stooping down?

                            1. re: Dmnkly

                              The menu has expanded, but the Dongbei-style dishes are but a small part of that expansion.

                              If I recall correctly, there's a whole new page devoted to soup noodles, stir-fried noodles and fried rice -- none of which are traditional Dongbei-style foods.

                              How about more dishes like jiachang liangcai or liangpi?

                              1. re: ipsedixit

                                If you are willing to stipulate that chicken/beef/pork/shrimp chow mein and chicken/beef/pork/shrimp fried rice are basically two dishes rather than eight, then there are ten items on that page.

                                "Dalian Seafood Noodle Soup" is obviously Dongbei. Is Shandong considered too far down the coast for the Dalu noodles to qualify? There's zhajiangmian and whatever the Dongbei equivalent of naeng myun is from the Chinese side of the Korean border. The "Spicy Cold Noodle with Cucumber" seems distinctly Sichuan to me, but they're quite insistent that's how it's done in the northeast as well (I don't know the Chinese name for this dish). Is the Beef Stew Noodle Soup strictly Dongbei? It isn't Americanized. There are a couple more.

                                C'mon, it's almost all traditional dishes, mostly if not all northeastern, with the exception of all of two choose your meat Americanized dishes thrown in. That they've broken those two out by meat doesn't change that this is mostly northeastern.

                                1. re: ipsedixit

                                  Let's clarify something... are you suggesting that there are no Dongbei-style noodles on the menu, or none that are done well? I don't have a ton of experience with most of these -- my time in China has been in the south -- but they sure as hell aren't the typical Americanized fare. So if the ones I mentioned aren't Americanized and they're not Dongbei, what are they?

                                  1. re: Dmnkly

                                    Let's clarify something... are you suggesting that there are no Dongbei-style noodles on the menu, or none that are done well? I don't have a ton of experience with most of these -- my time in China has been in the south -- but they sure as hell aren't the typical Americanized fare. So if the ones I mentioned aren't Americanized and they're not Dongbei, what are they?
                                    _____________________

                                    They are basically Taiwanese takes on soup noodle dishes, and they're mediocre at best.

                                    It's menu filler. I bet they've had more than a couple of people come in, look at their original 3 page menu and say something like, "Is there any thing else that you offer? What about kung pao chicken? Do you have fried rice?"

                                    1. re: ipsedixit

                                      "They are basically Taiwanese takes on soup noodle dishes, and they're mediocre at best."

                                      Dailan soup, Shandong soup, Zha Jiang Mian and Xian Ya Leng Mian are Taiwanese dishes?

                                      1. re: Dmnkly

                                        It's just a mutt term I like to use when a Chinese restaurant starts offering a panoply of different types of dishes without specializing.

                                        And, no, something like Shandong soup or Zha-Jiang Mian are not Taiwanese, but then they aren't Dongbei either.

                            2. re: Dmnkly

                              I do share ipse's concern here. Out in California there have been numerous examples of restaurants dumbing down their menus in catering to the masses with a resulting dilution in quality. Also I'm guessing there's not a great crossover to the authentic side of the menu from the Americanized side. One of the greatest flaws of Yelp is the commonly seen comment of good, authentic Chinese restaurants where the reviewer gives them one star, and lowers the overall rating accordingly, because the lemon chicken and hot and sour soup weren't any good.

                              1. re: Chandavkl

                                "Out in California there have been numerous examples of restaurants dumbing down their menus in catering to the masses with a resulting dilution in quality."

                                Have you noticed a dilution in quality at Chou's? I suggest we talk about a dilution in quality at Chou's when we see a dilution in quality at Chou's. What I see is a handful of Americanized dishes tossed in, with an accompanying expansion of the traditional dishes and everything I ate before the menu expansion being prepared just as well now.

                                "Also I'm guessing there's not a great crossover to the authentic side of the menu from the Americanized side."

                                Could be. I just know that on three separate occasions, I've seen families that obviously came in for the Americanized stuff being talked into and seemingly enjoying Dongbei dishes. My direct experience -- admittedly, a small sample -- contradicts this. What's more, I know a couple of people personally who have done the same with their families. I hate that this is necessary too, all I'm saying is that so long as they continue to do a good job with the traditional dishes, is it such a big deal that we're going to beat them up for "dumbing down" their menu? If the Dongbei dishes start to suck, stick their feet in the coals. But in the meantime, I think they deserve a little bit of slack for trying to work in a positive manner with the realities of their location, particularly since they're doing a better job of it than any other Chinese place in town. I reiterate -- we're talking about 10-12 dishes here on a menu of roughly 100.

                                1. re: Dmnkly

                                  It's not so much a dilution in quality, it's a dilution in concentration.

                                  Let's take an extreme example: Pizzeria Bianco.

                                  What if Chris' restaurant started offering red sauce spaghetti and meatballs, mac n cheese, and lasagna to draw in the Olive Garden crowd because the fine citizens of Phoenix simply didn't like his artisan pizzas? Wouldn't that be a cause for concern?

                                  And let me say this, Chou's Dongbei dishes (at least the dumplings and buns) are just not very good. The cold pickled dishes are ok, but can be extremely uneven. For Phoenix the food can be considered good, but in absolute terms they are kind of very below average.

                                  1. re: ipsedixit

                                    "What if Chris' restaurant started offering red sauce spaghetti and meatballs, mac n cheese, and lasagna to draw in the Olive Garden crowd because the fine citizens of Phoenix simply didn't like his artisan pizzas? Wouldn't that be a cause for concern?"

                                    If he added those three items to a menu that only has six pizzas? Yes. Similarly, if Chou's suddenly added 50 Americanized dishes to their 100 item menu, I'd agree, that's a cause for concern.

                                    As to the relative quality of the Dongbei dishes, like I say, my time in China has been in the south. I have very little exposure to Dongbei. But they either know how to make the food to that standard or they don't. Again, if the quality -- whatever level you feel it's at -- starts to slip, I'll be right there with you. I just haven't seen it.

                                    1. re: Dmnkly

                                      Their original 3 pager had, what?, about 20-25 items?

                                      Now, they have, what?, something close to 100 items?

                                      That's a 4x increase. And I can guarantee you that there aren't 4x as many Dongbei style dishes.

                                      Look, at the end of the day, I'm not slamming Chou's. They're doing what every sensible business would do -- bring in the clientele to make a buck. Nothing wrong with that.

                                      What's happening at Chou's is more a slam on the fine citizens of Phoenix than it is a slam on Chou's. It's too bad that the intrepid culinary spirit in the Valley is still so much in its infancy.

                                      If there were more people like you, Dmnkly, all of Phoenix would be better for it.

                                      1. re: ipsedixit

                                        About 40 on the original.

                                        Anyway, I understand what you're saying. I struggle with this too, trying to find that balance between where you can be frank and still be constructive. I guess what I'm saying is that based on what I've seen, can we allow for the possibility that adding other items has, from a practical standpoint, actually helped them to introduce more folks to the original menu items?

                                        To that end, do you mind if I turn this around a bit? It sounds like you have a lot more experience with Dongbei specifically than I do (low bar, sadly), and unless I'm misreading it sounds as though despite your misgivings there are at least some dishes on the menu there that you've enjoyed. I'd love to know what you think they do particularly well.

                                        1. re: Dmnkly

                                          I think their beef pies are pretty good, make sure to ask them for a side dish of black vinegar and julienned ginger slices to dip them in.

                                          Ask them if they can make you either a lamb pie, or lamb dumplings. Since they have lamb on the menu, it shouldn't be a problem.

                                          I would avoid their claypots, not only because it's about 10,000 degrees in Phoenix these days, but there's something off about them. I think the broth lacks something. Time and nurture, maybe. Dunno.

                                          My personal favorite, however, on the menu is the green bean jelly salad. Ask for extra horseradish, and for it to be extra cold. Perfect for an August day in Phoenix.

                                          1. re: ipsedixit

                                            "My personal favorite, however, on the menu is the green bean jelly salad."

                                            This has been on my list for the last three visits and I somehow managed to avoid it. Mistake. Won't happen again.

                                            1. re: ipsedixit

                                              BTW... there's no website, but I got a good scan of the menu and posted it here:

                                              http://bit.ly/OnViWE

                                              1. re: Dmnkly

                                                They can't even get their meat pies and chive pockets right and they're expanding to XLB.

                                                Good thing that XLB are traditional Dongbei pastries. Oh, wait, nevermind. [slaps forehead!]

                                                1. re: ipsedixit

                                                  I know, I know. Just couldn't resist.

                                                  1. re: Dmnkly

                                                    Have you tried the XLB at Lao Ching Hing (in Cofco). Probably the best in Phoenix.

                                                    1. re: ipsedixit

                                                      No, I haven't! I'll try to get over there next week.

                                                      1. re: Dmnkly

                                                        Make sure to ask for the Chinese menu. Not the "Regular Menu".

                                                        1. re: ipsedixit

                                                          Thanks. I'm also looking for good XLB. While I'm all for a restaurant trying to make money based on what the people in the community want (obviously heavily leaning towards gringo Chinese food), all I want is for them to improve the seasoning on the real Chinese food they do make. I've only been there once and know that there is such a scarcity of authentic Chinese places, I want them to thrive. If they improved the seasoning, I might have been there more than a dozen times since the first time since I am a dumpling junkie. I really haven't found any good ones, except the potstickers at China Magic Noodle is excellent.

                                                          Any suggestions on best dishes at Chou's though. Id like to give it another try.

                                                          1. re: toucanan

                                                            As I mentioned above, to counteract the blandness of some of their fillings, ask Chou's for a dish of black vinegar with julienned ginger slices. That sauce goes great with beef pies.

                                                            The cold green bean jelly salad is a must get. Ask for it to be extra spicy.

                        2. That's too bad. I guess they are probably adding Orange Chicken. If they upped the seasoning on their real Chinese food, they wouldn't need to dumb it down because people might actually like the real Chinese food. What is wrong with Phoenix. Bad food everywhere.