Friday, September 30, 2011

Voted Best Chinese Restaurant in Petaluma!

Four years in a row!*

With an endorsement like that, how could we not have lunch at Lily Kai’s?

It’s not often that a Chinese restaurant will bring out the white tablecloths for lunch service, but such was the case here. Lily Kai’s is one of the new generation of Chinese restaurants with sleek and minimalist décor, painted with muted colors and offering a menu that reflects multiple regional Chinese cuisines.

The dinner menu listed a number of intriguing small plates. Unfortunately, none of these are available at lunch, so we were forced to order from the short list of noodle dishes or from the long list of lunch specials which come with your choice of steamed, fried, or organic brown rice, soup and appetizer.

The day’s soup, which came with Chuck’s lunch, was a very good version of Hot and Sour soup that proved to be more hot than sour and was full of tofu, mushrooms, and egg treads. The amount of the aforementioned three components was surprising given that the soup with Chinese lunch specials tends to be heavy on broth and light on “stuff.” We (he) were off to a good start.

His Chicken with Black Bean Sauce proved to be the best of our choices that day. But not as spicy as one would expect from a dish identified on the menu as “hot and spicy.” (Black beans are made by “fermenting and salting soybeans. The process turns the beans black, soft, and mostly dry. The flavor is sharp, pungent, and spicy in smell, with a taste that is salty and somewhat bitter and sweet” []). The dish was full of tender and moist pieces of white chicken, red and white onion slivers, snow peas, carrots, and red, yellow, and green peppers.

My lunch choice was the Szechuan Noodles with was a large bowl of soft Chinese noodles, snow peas, bean sprouts, and zucchini slices with an abundant amount of tender white meat chicken. All of the components were first rate, but where was the seasoning? Again, for a something described as Szechuan you would expect more of a flavor punch.

We decided to round out the meal with an order of Spicy String Beans. Here the sauce provided the heat that was lacking in the other two dishes but still there was a problem—the beans were either too thick or they hadn’t been cooked long enough. While I like my vegetables crisp-tender, raw beans can be unpalatable.

Our lunch was a combination of hits and misses. But my research into Chinese restaurants in the Napa and Sonoma Valleys didn’t produce any that received ringing endorsements. Lily Kai seems to be the top pick, but still doesn’t merit more than 3.0 Addies.

*(2008, 2009, 2010, 2011)

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