“It’s a good thing.” (Is she still relevant any more?)
What is? Finding a friendly restaurant with low prices and good food only ten minutes away from where we are staying. Such is the case with Red Lotus in Santee, CA.
As Rachele Bruce wrote on www.examiner.com: “When it comes to Chinese food, there is the great, the so-so, and the flavorless. East County is not really known to have great Chinese food...until now. For East County residents and businesses, say ‘hello’ to The Red Lotus…Their menu prices are reasonable and their lunch combo specials are fantastic, considering the delicious food they serve. For a lunch combo, the prices range from $4.95-$5.95 which includes soup, egg roll, cheese wonton, and rice (steamed or fried) along with an entree…Besides reasonably priced, the food is yummy!...The Red Lotus is a family (the Lings) owned business. Mom, dad, and their sons work together cooking, serving, delivering and cleaning.”
Over the course of our month in Santee, we managed to fit in five visits plus one take-out meal. Don’t worry. I am not going to give you a blow-by-blow account of all six--just some highlights.
On our first lunch visit, it was just Chuck and I. We were lucky that the lunch special soup was hot and sour, and Red Lotus makes an exemplary version of this Chinese classic. They have found the perfect balance between hot and sour and even the lunch portion is filled with “stuff” like tofu, bamboo shoots, tree ears, scallions, and egg threads.
My lunch was the Kung Pao Shrimp which contained eight or nine nice plumb shrimp peanuts, mushrooms, scallions, and dried chilies in a rich brown sauce that tasted of soy, ginger, and garlic.
Chuck’s lunch choice that day was the Ku Ting Crispy Chicken—lightly battered chicken pieces in a slightly sweet and sticky sauce. I couldn’t decide whether my favorite pieces were the large, moist, and juicy one or the small and crunchy ones. I kept sampling from his plate, but never did resolve the dilemma.
A few days later found us meeting Chuck’s cousin Karen Allsing and her husband Dick for lunch. The soup that day was egg drop. Sorry. No photo. But you didn’t want to look at boring egg drop soup anyway. To their credit, the Ling’s version of egg drop is better than most. I just would rather have had the hot and sour.
We next shared an order of the Spicy Fried Calamari. Even without my beloved tentacles, this is my favorite version of fried calamari anywhere. The squid strips are lightly coated with the most ethereal batter and are flash cooked with red bell pepper, scallion, and slivered jalapenos. The veggies absorb the flavor of the squid and the squid absorbs the flavor of the veggies. Magnificent.
Chuck’s lunch was the Hunam Beef—thin strips of beef tossed in corn starch and deep fat fried and then coated with a sauce of soy, sugar, garlic, and chilies. Again, because of the variation in sizes, some pieces and tender and juicy and others crisp and chewy. This contrast might not be to everyone’s liking, but I do enjoy it.
Dick, Karen, and I all ordered the Spicy Honey Shrimp although I requested that mine be extra spicy. Similar to Chuck’s Ku Ting Chicken, the battered shrimp were coated in a somewhat sticky and sweet sauce. Very good, but I think I liked my Kung Pao Shrimp better.
About a week later and the evening before the start of the Dannenberg reunion, a group of us met for dinner at Red Lotus. The party included Dick and Karen, Barb Pauly, Dora Findlay, Betty and Jack Russett, and Chuck and me. Soon the table was filled with (hot and sour soup not shown here):
Dora’s Chicken Chow Mein,
Chuck’s Ku Ting Crispy Chicken,
Betty’s Kung Pao Shrimp,
Dick’s Human Beef,
my Szechuan Hot Braised Delight,
Barbara’s Moo Shu Pork,
Chuck and my String Beans Szechuan Style,
Jack’s Seafood Supreme, and
Karen’s order of eight egg rolls (Sorry, no photo.)
Soon, platters of food were being passed around the table and our plates were heaped with a sampling of all. Did we have leftovers? A few. But not as much as would be expected.
In truth, the food at Ginger Café is Gilroy, CA is more sophisticated and refined, but no one can beat the Ling family for warm hospitality. Mrs. Ling, who doubles as server and cook, remembered us from our visits last November. On our first visit, she asked our name and never failed to greet us by name. The youngest son, whose name we didn’t get, always treated us like a long lost friend. And if you could get a peek at Mr. Ling in the kitchen, he always had a huge smile and wave.
So this is truly a 5.0 Addie experience.