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Gossiping Gourmet: A different, delicious take on Chinese

December 01, 2010|By Elle Harrow and Terry Markowitz
  • The Hunan spicy lamb, left, the crispy duck, the fish with black bean sauce and the minced beef with egg soup at Lotus Chinese Eatery.
The Hunan spicy lamb, left, the crispy duck, the fish with… (SCOTT SMELTZER,…)

For a great night out "on the wagon," we would like to recommend the Lotus Chinese Eatery, which is one of the few Islamic Chinese restaurants in Orange County. They feature halal meats and serve no alcohol. Although there is no pork, there are a number of excellent lamb dishes. Because this is the cuisine of Western China, varieties of noodles and breads replace rice as the staple food, since wheat grows abundantly in the colder northern and western parts of the country.

Another distinguishing feature is the very contemporary décor with beautiful mixed wood floors, dark brown walls, ceilings and spacious booths. Tasteful, soft red accents, bamboo shades, some well-placed plants and a few Tang ceramic sculptures complete the picture.

Not brave enough for the cold spicy ox tripe, we opted for the house-made chicken vegetable pan-fried dumplings. To be honest, we missed the richness created by pork, but the house-made dumpling dough was excellent and so was the very flavorful dipping sauce — a soy-based concoction made with rice vinegar, ginger shreds and red chilies.

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Crispy fried duck at Lotus is similar to Peking duck but is steamed and deep-fried rather than baked. The result is extremely succulent flesh and wonderfully crackly skin, delicately seasoned with a star anise spice mixture. It comes with big fluffy white buns, shredded green onions and a hoisin-based sauce. You can put all the ingredients together to make delicious sandwiches or just dip the duck in the sauce and go for it.

The hand-cut noodles here are house made, wide and toothsomely chewy, a bit like Japanese udon. You can get them in a variety of preparations, or you might prefer the thinner pan-fried noodle dishes, also using fresh noodles but not house-made. We were in the mood for the crunchy-bottomed pan-fried variety, but we will come back for the soft noodles another time because they looked great. You can select your protein, and we chose chicken with assorted veggies. It turned out that there were eight different kinds, all crunchy and fresh; even the water chestnuts had never seen the inside of a can. The dish was lightly flavored with a classic, somewhat thick brown sauce. It was a pleasant mélange but a bit bland. We gave it a boost with chili sauce.

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