With the addition of Chin’s Asia Fresh to State Street, those who prefer a more sophisticated cuisine can choose from a varied Pan-Asian menu that includes Thai, Japanese and Vietnamese dishes. Not only is Chin’s far superior to the monotonous world of Chinese fast food available, but its offerings outshine the most popular cuisines in the area.
College life has a way of depressing one’s culinary values. Popular restaurants around the UW are known for the unhealthy, low-quality food loved by college students: the overstuffed burrito, the soggy slice of pizza, the greasy burger.
It’s a rarity to find a restaurant that can accommodate a large party, but Chin’s is an absolutely great meeting place for a group of friends to enjoy lunch or dinner. The restaurant’s slogan, “Life is a Journey, Wok with friends,” is an accurate description of the ambiance and general feeling inside. Bring a group of friends to the upper level and enjoy an inviting, airy atmosphere and the permeation of natural sunlight from a large window on the second floor.
Chin’s Asia Fresh finds its roots in Canton, China, where founder and Canton native Leeann Chin learned cooking traditions from her mother and developed an eye for the best ingredients from her father.
In 1980, Leeann decided to open her own restaurant. Over the next 20 years, this buffet-style restaurant became a Minnesota-based franchise, and just recently, Leeann has branched into a new style of restaurant which allows customers to order first and be seated, having their food served to them after their meal has been prepared.
Leeann Chin has turned over new earth, putting together a rich, intriguing menu that may be inspired by the Asian but heads off in unexpected directions. The fact that the dishes are from several Asian countries hints at a tribute to the family’s inherent good taste and is an example of rigorously disciplined creativity.
Monday afternoon I grabbed a group of my friends, and we visited Chin’s. We began with the Lettuce Wraps ($5), a platter with a mixture of chicken, crispy rice noodles, a mild hoisin (sweet-plum tasting) and spicy Thai peanut sauce. The well-seasoned chicken placed in the cool lettuce cups with an addition of the peanut sauce gave the wrap a little zing and a burst of flavor.
We also tried the Dim Sum Platter ($6), a sampler platter of cream-cheese puffs, dragon wings, new-age potstickers and a spring roll. The platter was a perfect starter for a group of people, like us, who wanted to taste a little bit of everything.
Our meals took only minutes to arrive, and we all went crazy sampling each other’s dishes. The sesame-Caesar salad ($4.50), which is a traditional Caesar salad with the addition of Asian croutons and a sesame-Caesar dressing, was excellent. We decided to add chicken breast for only $1 extra and received a large portion of chicken atop a nice bed of lettuce.
However, the Chinese chicken salad ($5.50) did not appeal. The salad was filled with too much “junk.” There was an overabundance of carrots, green onions, rice noodles, and potato sticks in comparison to the amount of lettuce. The sweet Asian dressing was very thick and way too sweet, even for my sweet tooth.
The best dish that we tried was the Asian stir fry. Patrons can customize their stir fry, served with a choice of white or brown rice, any way they like, choosing from five bases and eight sauces. Reasonably priced for the amount of food you receive, you can choose from vegetable ($5.50), tofu and vegetable ($6), chicken and vegetable ($6.50), beef and vegetable ($7.25) and shrimp and vegetable ($8).
My favorite, the Japanese teriyaki, is a mixture of Japanese soy sauce with a dash of ginger, green onions and sesame seeds. Flavoring ranges all through the spice spectrum, which is indicated on the menu so you do not order something too spicy or too mild for your palate. Sauces include Chin’s Sweet and Sour, Mandarin Orange Peel, Peking, Hunan Sweet Chili, Indo Coconut Curry, Shanghai Sesame, Thai Peanut and Sichuan. There truly is something for everyone.
Chin’s also offers a few classic dishes, such as sesame chicken ($6.75), sweet and sour chicken ($6.75) and vegetable fried rice ($3.00 — small, $ 5.00 — large). It also has six noodle bowls that sound delicious. Teriyaki Udon noodles ($5.00), thick Asian noodles stir-fried with broccoli, yellow onions, baby corn and water chestnuts in a mild teriyaki sauce is a tasty, yet healthy dish.
You cannot go wrong with the chocolate-dipped fortune cookies (four for $1) for dessert. Believe me, they are just as good as they sound.
My advice: Run, don’t “wok,” to Chin’s Asia Fresh.