Friday, May 18, 2012

For the Third Location in a Row…,

we have arrived (in Wytheville, VA) just in time for days of relentless rain. Monday we spent doing laundry, shopping for groceries, and cleaning the RV. Tuesday brought more rain—plus hail—but we wanted to do something, so elected to drive into town for lunch. And not just lunch—lunch with Chinese food. And not at a buffet.

Chinese food in a town of 8,211 (according to the 2010 census). How good can it be? Well, I won’t pretend that it is great food. But it was surprisingly good and authentic for a small town in southwest Virginia. And given the number of cars in the parking lot during lunch, Peking seems to be a real favorite with the local residents. And while it is mostly about the food, the low prices don’t hurt either.

“Peking Chinese Restaurant has been a local favorite in Wytheville, Virginia, for twenty- three years. Jen Wu opened his restaurant with the vision of creating an authentic Chinese dining experience in a quaint alcove of Southwestern Virginia” (from the restaurant’s website).

Brad R. at said: “All other Chinese restaurants are measured against this place. Born and raised in southwest Virginia we have been eating there for 18 years.... All vegetables are fresh and crisp and the meat is lean and the chicken is all white meat. The egg rolls are always fresh and are a must. I have lived in the Midwest, mid-Atlantic and Southern states and have travelled throughout the US, and I have yet to find a comparable Chinese restaurant. The staff has been there for years and the service and food is consistent. It is a dining choice anytime we travel home.”

Most newer Chinese restaurants have gone to a mini-malist—and to me reminiscent of Japanese—décor. Not Peking.
This is a throwback to days of old when many Chinese restaurants left no surface unembellished.

The booth area was covered with a pagoda-like ceiling the undersurface of which was intricately carved. The wallpaper was a profusion of fans.

Paper lamps hung from the ceiling.

The central chandelier was intricately painted and festooned with hanging fringe.

And we guessed—but aren’t sure—that these cylindrical objects hanging from a post are Chinese firecrackers.

The lunch menu contained most of the standards—chow mien, chop suey, green pepper steak, moo goo gai pan, and orange chicken. Still, you could fine an adequate representation of “hot and spicy” offerings like: shredded pork with garlic sauce and served with fried rice ($4.25); Kung Pao chicken with fried rice ($4.75); pineapple pork with fried rice ($4.25); Szechuan scallops with fried rice (the most expensive item on the lunch menu at $5.50).

We both started with a bowl of hot and sour soup ($1.10) which proved to be an above average version of one of our Chinese
restaurant favorites. The soup contained tofu, scallion, egg threads, and Chinese mushrooms in a light broth that was more hot than sour. (If given my choice, I’ll take too little sour over too little hot.) I did add a little soy sauce from the container on the table to give the taste more depth. And with the soup came a bowl of fried noodles, something we haven’t often seen since leaving the Philadelphia area where these noodles appear at almost every Chinese restaurant.

My choice was the Kung Pao chicken with the fried rice. The rice was forgettable with a few peas and carrots mixed into the rice. The chicken was quite good. The serving contained moist pieces of white meat chicken with snow peas, carrots, red and green bell peppers,
onions, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, and topped with roasted peanuts. The dark intense sauce had a hint of rice wine vinegar. With the “hot and spicy” items, you can specify mild, medium, or hot, and I went with the hot. Next time I’ll ask for medium. I was surprised at just how spicy this turned out to be. I had assumed that, here in southwest Virginia, “hot” would turn out to be “medium”. I was wrong.

Chuck went again with one of his favorites—the Sesame Chicken which also came with fried rice. This was a plate of battered and fried strips of white chicken with broccoli and carrots that were
tossed in a sticky and sweet sauce. A couple pieces of chicken seemed to be a bit overcooked and dry and chewy and the sweet sauce could have used just a touch of vinegar for balance. Still, this dish seems to be a favorite of local diners. I lost count of the number of plates of Sesame Chicken I saw arriving at other tables.

As I said about either 5 Happiness or 9 Roses in New Orleans, this place probably wouldn’t last six months in a city like San Francisco. But southwest Virginia is not a culinary epicenter and this is surprisingly good Chinese food for such a rural area and earns 4.0 Addies.

To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.

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