Tasty Wok BBQ & Noodle House

Written By Scott Joseph On January 30, 2014

tasty wok interior

Happy Lunar New Year, everybody! Say goodbye to the Year of the Snake and say hello to the Year of the Horse. You’ll probably see depictions of an anaconda with a long white beard giving way to a pony in diapers.

By the way, the correct term is Lunar New Year, not Chinese New Year. Not even the Chinese refer to it as Chinese New Year. If they don’t call it Lunar New Year, they call it Spring Festival. The reason is that the occasion is marked by other countries as well, including Korea, Vietnam and, though to a lesser extent, Japan (most of Japan has move to the Gregorian calendar).

What’s great about knowing that is that your celebratory cuisine choices increase exponentially. If you want to join in, at least by dining out, you are not limited to Chinese restaurants (good thing that), you can also choose from our vast inventory of Vietnamese restaurants and growing number of Korean eateries.


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Chuan Lu Garden

Written By Scott Joseph On June 20, 2013

chuan shrimp

It’s been a fairly common practice among local Asian restaurants, especially Chinese, to keep two separate menus, one for the general public (read: westerners) and one for Asians. The former would have the dishes that are well known to most who have ever eaten in a Chinese restaurant in America — your moo goos and mu shus and sueys, chopped or not, and such — and the latter would have dishes that are more authentically Chinese. The reason usually isn’t to deprive the general population of something special, or reserve it just for privileged guests but rather to protect unaccustomed taste buds from unfamiliar — and potentially unpleasant — experiences.

At least that is probably the thinking on the part of the restaurant owners. 

And for many of the guests who think they’re accustomed to Chinese flavors they just might be doing them a favor. But how much better it would be if the restaurant owners would use the opportunity to educate and enlighten our palates.

When I first reviewed Ming’s Bistro in the Mills 50 district (before it was called the Mills 50 district) the owner tried her best to talk me out of a duck entree because it had a lot of duck fat in it that she thought I might find unappealing. I had to convince her that it really was what I wanted. (To be fair, this isn’t something that is unique to Asian restaurants. In Paris last month a server tried to talk me out of an entree of calf’s brain, asking two or three times if I really knew what it was.)


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Ming Court – There’s Something in the Air

Written By Scott Joseph On September 9, 2010

There’s an old joke about the quality of a new restaurant with a punchline that says, “10 million flies can’t all be wrong,” or something like that. If you substituted gnats for flies, you’d have my thoughts about a recent meal I had at Ming Court on International Drive. Ming Court certainly is not new — I first reviewed it in 1989 — and an infestation of gnats is not quite the harbinger of unsanitary conditions that flies represent. But an infestation is the only way I can describe what I experienced.


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Written By Scott Joseph On August 9, 2010

Driving up Mills Avenue recently, I noticed a banner on Chinatown that said the restaurant had reopened. I hadn’t known it was closed, but I thought it was a good excuse to stop


Beef curry at Chinatown

in and revisit.

When chinatown opened 10 years ago, I praised it for its fresh seafood selections. And fresh they were because much of the seafood for the dining room was sourced from the fish market that shared space in the freestanding building.

The market has not reopened with the restaurant. And peeking through the window, I could see it doesn’t appear that it will be a seafood market again anytime soon. So what you have now with Chinatown is your basic Chinese restaurant with the usual choices.


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Chan’s Chinese

Written By Scott Joseph On June 30, 2010

chansYou know you’re in a more authentic Chinese restaurant when you find an entry for Crispy Fried Pork Intestines alongside the more usual General Tso’s Chicken. Of course it would be even more authentic if the General’s chicken, an American creation, wasn’t on the menu at all, but we’ll take what we can get.

Chan’s Chinese has been on Colonial Drive in the Mills 50 district before it was called Mills 50. That city-mandated designation still isn’t embraced by many locals, most of whom still call the area Little Saigon. But that moniker ignores the many other Asian eateries that also inhabit the few square blocks.


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Eastern Pearl Orlando

Written By Scott Joseph On July 1, 2009

I’ve always been a fan of Eastern Pearl, the casually upscale Chinese restaurant in Altamonte Springs. In fact, I awarded it numerous Foodie Awards for best Chinese while  I was the critic at the Orlando Sentinel. And plenty of readers agreed with me. One of the things that impressed me was that there wEastern Pearl logoas a window into the kitchen. I usually follow a don’t ask/don’t look policy when it comes to Chinese restaurant kitchens. It was refreshing to see Eastern Pearl’s so spotless.


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Nine Dragons

Written By Administrator On March 26, 2009

Nine Dragons at Epcot’s China pavilion

Nine Dragons I field a lot of questions from people planning vacations to Walt Disney World who want to know about various restaurants. The queries are for restaurants throughout the resort, but it seems the bulk of them are about dining at Epcot. That’s not so surprising — the restaurants in the country pavilions have always been big draws to tourists and locals alike. They offer some of the better dining options on Disney property.

So I see a lot of questions about Les Chefs de France and Bistro de Paris, the Biergarten at Germany, and a stupefying amount of inquiries about Le Cellier, the darkly sequestered steakhouse at Canada.

But no one ever asks about Nine Dragons in the China pavilion.

At first I thought it was an aversion to more exotic cuisines, if Chinese food could be considered exotic. I figure the unadventurous American palate is the reason so many people seek to dine at Le Cellier. But that wouldn’t explain the interest in places like Teppan Edo and Tokyo Dining in the Japan pavilion, the herring at Norway’s Akershus or the Moroccan Restaurant Marrakesh, of course for the latter many red-blooded American men are willing to give up their red-blooded steaks to watch belly dancers while they dine.

But on a recent visit to check out the newly renovated Nine Dragons dining room and updated menu, it occured to me the reason so few people are interested in eating here. And it was the memory of sitting in another Chinese restaurant two decades earlier that made me think of it.

 That restaurant was Ming Court on International Drive. When it opened near the convention center in 1989 it drew a lot of attention for its elegant design, which featured a wall that resembled the rolling back or a dragon and floor to ceiling windows that looked out on a serene koi pond.

While I sat at Ming Court looking at the menu, I noticed more than a couple of people come in, sit down, look over the menu then get up and leave without ordering.

The reason wasn’t because the menu was missing their favorite egg roll or moo goo gai pan, it was because it had something most of them were unfamiliar with: food prices similar to those at other fine dining restaurants. For most people, Chinese restaurants are synonymous with inexpensive meals, food served in large portions at prices that make it an even better bargain. They don’t expect Chinese restaurants to have entrees that drift over $20.

I think most people still have that notion, which is why I get so few questions about Nine Dragons, and why it was virtually empty when I visited recently.

Too bad because the food is very good, and the refreshed dining room is comfortable and affords diners a view of people passing by rushing to make their reservation times at Tutto Italia or San Angel Inn.

I popped in for a lunch and started with a bowl of chicken consomme with pork dumplings ($3.98), a golden broth with a rich mouthfeel. It had two big dumplings of chewy dough filled with well-spiced ground pork.

For my entree I had the shrimp with spinach noodles ($17.98), which looked very much like something you’d find served in the Italy pavilion. (But remember that Marco Polo is said to have introduced Italians to pasta after a voyage to China.) The noodles were fettuccinelike and were mixed with red and green sauteed bell peppers and dotted with flecks of hot pepper flakes and topped with cool, fesh coriander.

The shrimp had a thin film of crispiness and peppery spice.

For dessert there was a sponge cake with fruit filling that was slightly dry.

The dining room is a vast space, but for all its expanse it is a tranquil place, at least when not full. A variety of lanters decorates the room. Tabletops are polished wood and set with paper placemat adorned with Chinese figures, both ancient and present-day, with spaces for diners to practice writing the words for mountains, rain, sun and moon. There was one major annoyance: tables are set with a knife and fork; diners must request chopsticks. It should be the other way around.

The staff was friendly though not obsequious. And even though I paid with a credit card, none of the Chinese nationals questioned my ability to repay my debt.

Nine Dragons is in the China pavilion at Epcot. For dinner reservations, call 407-939-3463.

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Ming’s Bistro

Written By Scott Joseph On July 10, 2006

There isn’t an egg roll to be found on the menu at Ming’s Bistro. Nor is there a moo goo gai pan or anything named after General Tso. Instead, the menu – and the experience – is more traditional Chinese than is to be found at most Central Florida Asian restaurants, and that added to a general consistency in good quality and a welcoming and gracious staff make a meal here a real treat.
Especially exciting is Ming’s dim sum menu, which is offered at all times, even during dinner hours, something rare for even the half-a-handful of Chinese restaurants serving dim sum. But the best time to come here dim sum during the day on weekends when the small plates are served from carts wheeled through the dining room.
The trolley service presents a never-ending parade of tasty tidbits, the servers giving diners quick peeks of the foods stacked in silver steaming trays or ceramic dishes. Point and say, “I’ll have one of those,” or simply nod yes if your mouth is already full from whatever was placed on your table a moment earlier. The server will grab the hot tray with a pair of tongs and place it on your table, then make a checkmark on the tally sheet on the table. It’s sort of like an Asian version of tapas, but the gratification is more instant and the prices don’t seem to add up nearly as fast or as high as in a Spanish restaurant.
In fact most of the dim sum at Ming’s Bistro are under $3, and a serving will give a table of three or four at least a sample bite.
You may or may not be adventurous enough to try the spicy chicken feet ($2.50) or beef tripe in ginger sauce (2.50). But do try such dim sum staples as shrimp dumplings ($2.60), lotus leaf sticky rice ($3.75) and turnip cakes ($2.25). I especially liked the sticky rice, with bits of roast pork wrapped inside a lotus leaf, then steamed. (I bought one in a market in San Francisco’s Chinatown a couple of weeks ago where is was marketed as a Chinese tamale, a perfect description.)
Steamed beef balls ($2.50), were good, too, dense meatballs that had to be pried apart with chopsticks.
Dim sum isn’t the only reason to try Ming’s. I had some very nice entrees from the main menu, none better than the genger scallion fish fillets ($8.95). It featured thin pieces of firm white fish covered with slivers of ginger in a yellow sauce that was similar to a curry. The sauce was wonderful with the steamed white rice.
I also liked the house special casserole ($8.95), though you should know this isn’t the sort of casserole known in the Western world. Rather, it’s more like a stew with all sorts of goodies in it, including beef, pork, chicken and squid.
When I requested the crispy roast pork ($5.25) the woman who took my order kept asking me if I was sure that was what I wanted. Usually such a question is a signal that the dish isn’t very good or is a bit off that day. But she simply wanted to make sure I knew that this particular pork would be somewhat fatty (yea!) and have some small bones. That was acceptable, and the meat, served over rice with a slightly sweet sauce, was mouth meltable.
I also got a strange look when I ordered the egg and pork congee ($4.50). It was a different server this time but she kept asking if I knew what it was. Congee is basically a rice porridge, a breakfast staple in Asian countries, and a tough sell to American palates. In truth, it’s not something I usually care for because it’s just so blah, but I did like this version. The creamy texture of the boiled rice was complemented by the addition of egg and bits of pork.
Roast duck on rice ($5.95), similar in presentation to the roast pork, including a side of steamed bok choy, had deliciously crispy skin.
The English descriptions on the menu can be startlingly frank, as in gingered pork intestine or fish head with tofu (which is more frightening to you, the fish head or the tofu?). Each item is presented with Chinese characters but followed by a Vietnamese translation, a nod to the predominant culture in this part of town.
Ming’s Bistro is a big, bright box of a restaurant in a newly constructed building just east of Mills Avenue. On the far end is a large fish tank, with large fish inside, and a hot box with hooks holding cuts of pork, beef and whole ducks.
From the high ceilings hang jeweled chandeliers, but any light they throw is drowned out by the fluorescent fixtures above them. The walls sport framed pictures that appear to be posters or perhaps part of a mural wallpaper scheme. Décor is not emphasized.
Rather the efforts are focused on the quality of the food and service, which, despite the slightly prejudicial concerns for the Western palate, was kind, prompt and efficient.
I’m not sure why, but Chinese food has been a tremendous disappointment in Central Florida. Few manage to do it well, but to that limited list we can now add Ming’s Bistro

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