Monday, March 16, 2009

Fried Rice and Refried Beans

As we approached the rather ordinary-looking restaurant in a strip mall in Phoenix, we were curious about the type of dishes to expect.

The expectation that we would have some time to consider the choices evaporated as we were entered Chino Bandido. To the left was the counter where we would place our order in this Chinese-Mexican eatery. This smiling fellow greeted us, gave us an order sheet (left), and asked if he could take our order.

Our eyes moved back and forth from the order sheet to the groupings of selections listed on the wall. We were the only people in line to order, and since we looked "uncertain" about where to begin, our "consultant" introduced himself and asked if this was our first time at Chino's.

Our answer in the affirmative was followed by his offer to assist us in ordering. Since this was a Chinese-Mexican restaurant, you can probably guess our staff person's name. That's right--Mario.

We began: "I'd like the Pollo Diablo."
"With rice or beans?"
"Rice. And in a burrito."
"Oh, you want the combination, not the bowl."
"I guess."
"What else do you want?"
"What else?"
"Yes, with the combination, you can order two items."
"Oh,...I'll have the Chile Relleno."
"Rice or beans?"
"Can I have two orders of the black beans?"
"I'm sorry I took so long."
"No problem," was Mario's response. "We have people who've been coming her for three years and still can't figure this out."

Placing the second order was still pretty rocky, requiring a couple of re-starts. But it, too, was eventually successful.

It was the old "One from Column A and one from Column B"--21st century style. The panda in a sombrero added to the novelty of the restaurant.

With a little more time, MAYBE we could have mastered the ordering procedure presented below:


All our meat items are listed under the bowls, and are numbered 1 through 14. Any single item that is marked in this section gives you a bowl of white rice with a single item on top. Fried rice can be substituted for an extra 75 cents.

A combination is any two items (number 1 through 14) plus rice and beans. The thing that makes Chino’s unique is that those two items can be ordered in any of three ways: if you want the meat alone, insert the number only; if you want the meat in a quesadilla, put a “Q” by the number; if you want the meat in a burrito, put a “B” by the number. For instance, if you want Jade Red Chicken and Jerk Chicken, put a 7 in the first spot, and a 9 in the second spot. Want a Jade Red Chicken Quesadilla? Put 7Q in the first spot. Want a Jerk Chicken Burrito with it? Put 9B in the second spot. Nothing gets taken away from you for choosing these options. The price is the same. Next, choose your black beans or regular refried beans, and your white rice or fried rice.

So how did this concept work? Some things did and some things didn’t. I ordered the Pollo Diablo (HOT chicken) in a burrito, the Chile Relleno, and a double side of black beans. Chuck chose the plain (in neither the burrito nor quesadilla) Jade Red Chicken and the Chinese BBQ Pork with a side of Chicken Fried Rice and a side of refried beans.

The Jade Red Chicken dish was cubes of thigh meat stir fried with sesame oil, red chili oil, secret spices, ketchup, sugar, and scallions. The combination of the red chili oil and the ketchup gave the chicken a pleasant, slightly spicy and slightly sweet taste. This was my favorite of the four meat selections. His Chinese BBQ Pork consisted of tender, juicy slices of your basic Chinese restaurant barbecued pork. Tasty but not unusual.

I was more curious about the East meets West pairing of Chicken Fried Rice with refried beans. Since the rice did not have a pronounced oriental flavor – it was more like rice cooked in chicken stock with a few chopped vegetables and some chopped pieces of chicken – this blend of flavors worked just fine.

One portion of my meal was less successful. The recipe for Pollo Diablo appears in Guy Fieri’s book and, after reading the ingredients, I went into Chino Bandido determined to order this concoction. This is described as garlicky, spicy, and deep fried chicken. And garlicky it was. Too garlicky. The garlic flavor overwhelmed everything. If a vampire were within 500 miles of Chino Bandito, he/she would immediately disintegrate into a pile of ashes. And, if that weren’t enough, the chicken was so overcooked it became dry and chewy little nubbins.

The Chile Relleno was an interesting take on this dish. The long green chili was stuffed with cheese, dipped in an egg wash, and rolled in coarsely crushed crackers. Traditional or authentic it may not have been, but I enjoyed every crunchy bite. And the coating stayed crunchy to the end.

Now to the black beans. In a word – wonderful. These were a smooth puree of beans that had been seasoned with cumin and other spices. The portion shown on my plate is only about one quarter of the total serving.

To take the international concept another step, each of our meals came with a Snickerdoodle. Not a fortune cookie. Not a biscochito. A snickerdoodle. This is a sugar-type cookie that is topped before baking with sugar and cinnamon that creates a shiny, crisp coating. Now The Joy of Cooking says that snickerdoodles are probably of German origin and may come from the word “schneckennudeln” or snail dumpling. Go figure.

As we left, we noticed that Guy Fieri (host of Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives) had left his poster with a comment that summed up his experience: "Words cannot explain this joint. Only the great food and service can."

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