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Authentic Chinese at “Mr. Chen’s”

Posted by bhamfoodscoop on July 26, 2010

Can’t afford to go to China right now, but want the good authentic food that it’s known for? No need to worry, I’ve got the solution for you. “Mr. Chen’s”, located in the Hoover Court Shopping Center (next to Green Valley Drugstore), is the perfect place to visit. It is a small family owned restaurant that specializes in authentic Taiwanese and regional Chinese dishes. This was unlike any other Chinese restaurant that I have ever been to.

Last week I visited “Mr. Chen’s” and automatically saw and felt how different it is, compared to other Chinese restaurants in the area. It started with me seeing the waitresses wear their authentic colorful Chinese gowns, and the waiter wearing his white dress shirt and black pants. The inside of the restaurant is nice, modern, quaint, and has just been newly remodeled. We went after lunch time, so we had just missed the crowd.

The only male waiter took us to our table which was located next to the cash register and the television. “Mr. Chen’s” is so authentic that the television only showed Chinese channels; how awesome! Even though I couldn’t understand what the people on TV were saying, I was amazed because I had never seen Chinese TV before.

After I got over the television, the waiter brought us the menus to look over. The menu was like a mini book, it was divided into different sections, such as Lunch Specials, Cold Plate/ Appetizer, Chicken/Beef, Seafood/Tofu, Pork/Noodle/Rice, Specialty Drinks, Specialty Dessert, and Beer. Whew, that’s a lot, but you definitely have many options to choose from. I like options!

During our visit to “Mr. Chen’s”, we wanted to be adventurous and eat like we were in Taiwan or China. Furthermore, we wanted all aspects of our meal to be exotic, even the drinks. So my friend, Stefan, ordered the “Honey Green Tea” and it was served cold. My cousin, Ryan, and I ordered the “Peach Flower Slush” and this drink was perfect for the hot weather. It was freshly made while we waited.

After we got our drinks, we ordered appetizers that we all shared with each other. I got a large bowl of the “Seafood Hot & Sour Soup” and it consisted of a tasty, almost sour and spicy soup broth. And some of the other obvious items in it were pieces of octopus, large shrimp, radish, scallions, and mushrooms. This soup had a taste that I had to get used to, but after repeated sips, it grew on me. It also came with crisp won-tons, but I didn’t really enjoy them because I’m used to the excellent won-tons at “PF Chang’s”, and these won-tons didn’t taste fresh; they didn’t have any salt and they were cold. Overall, we enjoyed the unique flavor of the soup, just not the crisp won-tons that came with it.

Stefan ordered the “Steamed Dumplings” as an appetizer. This dish consisted of eight steamed dumplings that were stuffed with shrimp and ground pork. The dumplings were served with a ginger dipping sauce. I believe that you must have an acquired taste for these dumplings because the outside dough creates a slimy feel in your mouth, and it tastes almost like dough. However, the stuffing was awesome and if you dip the entire dumpling into the ginger dipping sauce, it has an excellent taste. Furthermore, I enjoyed the dumplings. I just couldn’t eat them too often.

While we were waiting on our entrees, our waiter was very informative about many of the dishes that the restaurant serves. I wanted to learn as much as I could about this genuine Asian cuisine.

After about 15 minutes of waiting, which wasn’t long, our entrees came out. Ryan and I ordered something that many Americans know about, from other Chinese restaurants, and that is the “Kung Pao Chicken”. However, before I ordered this dish, I told the waiter what I wanted and this was his recommendation. He told me that their “Kung Pao Chicken” is unlike any other Chinese restaurant in the Birmingham area and with that being said, I decided to order it. This dish consisted of chopped pieces of actual chicken breast that was mixed with pieces of zucchini, onion, and peanuts, in a sweet & spicy sauce. The sauce was sweeter than other “Kung Pao Chicken” dishes that I’ve had. It also came with fried rice, and an egg roll. I really enjoyed this dish, it was very good and honestly it is the best “Kung Pao Chicken” that I’ve ever had; you should know that it takes a lot for me to say that!

Stefan was a little more adventurous and ordered the “Braised Beef Belly in Hot Pot”. We were all amazed when this dish came out because it was served in a big, round silver pot that had a flame inside of it, and the flame was used to keep the beef belly broth sizzling. This dish consisted of the beef belly, a dark broth, potatoes, green bell peppers, and some type of green leaf. I sampled this dish and it was excellent. The beef belly and its broth had the taste and flavor of “ox tails”. Stefan enjoyed this dish, as well!

Our Chinese adventure was capped off with the fortune cookie tradition. And I’m sad to say that the fortune cookies didn’t taste good to me, at all. They had a stale taste to them, so I never want those again. Other than that, our experience was tasty and unique. I pushed myself to try new authentic flavors and dishes; I’m very proud of that!

Keep in mind that my American perspective, of this food, played a big part in the way I felt about it. There are many people who might enjoy every aspect of what I ate, or the whole menu at “Mr. Chen’s”; it’s just gonna take more experience with authentic Chinese food, for me to make it to that point. “Mr. Chen’s” is the best place for people who want authentic Taiwanese and Chinese food. They have reasonable prices, and numerous dishes that allow you to gradually get your palate used to their exotic cuisine.

Mr. Chen's on Urbanspoon


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Funky “Twenty Six”

Posted by bhamfoodscoop on June 24, 2010

Monday night I went to “Twenty Six” for a friend’s birthday celebration. “Twenty Six” is located in the heart of Five Points South, between “Ocean” and “Mellow Mushroom”. This restaurant probably has the most modern atmosphere in Birmingham. It’s almost like your eating in a contemporary art museum that allows you to be loud and comfortable. I would define the food style as an eclectic mix to cutting edge comfort food; the menu also has somewhat of an Asian twist. Furthermore, you should know that parking can be difficult, so they have complimentary valet parking in the front to ease your worries.

There were about 10 people in our group, and we had a wonderful time! Everyone started by ordering appetizers. I got the “Blue Crab Crusted Fried Green Tomatoes”, it consisted of fried green tomatoes with blue crab meat on top. The blue crab tasted like it had been mixed with mustard. This dish tasted alright. In my opinion, the fried green tomatoes were a little too greasy but I did enjoy the blue crab meat, and the presentation was awesome.

I didn’t order an entrée because I was still full from lunch, earlier that day. However, the rest of the group ordered a variety of things from the menu; for example, the birthday boy had the “Wood Grilled Baby Lobster Tails ” which consisted of six half lobster tails, cooked in a wood-fired oven. It also came with chopped potatoes, green beans, and carrots. He said that the lobster tasted so exceptionally well that there was no need for the butter sauce that came with it!

“Twenty Six” is also known for their sushi, so many people in our group ordered that as well. And they all gave it rave reviews. I’m not sure of the names of the other dishes, that the group ordered, but I do have the pictures below.

It’s important that you know “Twenty Six” has a special menu on Monday nights, so if you go to the website you will not see the same menu that my party ordered from on Monday night. Next, whenever you go to eat here be ready for some good food in a fun and funky atmosphere. The prices are on the high-end but keep in mind, that you don’t have to order everything on the menu!

Posted in Asian, Bars, Five Points South Finds, Upscale | Tagged: , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Welcome to Thailand: “Surin West” Edition

Posted by bhamfoodscoop on June 23, 2010

“Surin West” is a staple in the city of Birmingham, Alabama. The restaurant is known for attracting diverse people under one roof and it’s also known for getting many people outside of their comfort zone, when it comes to food. This Thai restaurant specializes in making various types of sushi along with many other authentic Thai dishes. “Surin West” has two locations, one in Five Points South and the other on Highway 280.

Earlier this week, I went to the original location in Five Points South. This is my favorite location because it transports me to the exotic land of Thailand upon entering the front door. The design, decor, drinks, and food all scream Thailand! I went in the middle of the day when it was not busy. Basically, it was like my friend and I had the whole place to ourselves; VIP style, lol! I was very thirsty when I arrived, so I ordered water. However, I wanted something else to drink besides water, and I didn’t want the standard American beverage in such an exotic atmosphere, so I opted for the “Thai Tea”. Now let me be honest, this is a drink that I will have to get used to because it is very very sweet and it seemed like it was made with milk instead of water. Furthermore, it was ok; let’s just say I drunk more water than tea!

For my entrée I had the “Thai BBQ Chicken” and it came with a bowl of  “Coconut Soup”. Ya’ll, the food tasted great. I wish I could think of another adjective to describe it, but that’s all I can say; I was speechless! The “Thai BBQ Chicken” consisted of a half piece of chicken marinated over night in Surin’s BBQ sauce and slow roasted to perfection then char-grilled Thai style; served with shrimp fried rice. This dish also came with a sweet & sour dipping sauce and I used it for my chicken and rice. The sauce was so good that I ended up ordering one more! Since this was my first time having “Coconut Soup” it took me to a new level, meaning that I want more of it. The soup was white, garnished with two pieces of mushrooms and had a creamy texture; the taste was poignant and good. And at the bottom of the soup, were a few pieces of tofu.

I sat in the restaurant for almost two hours, just basking in the atmosphere and the food. My experience was wonderful! I would recommend this restaurant to anyone who loves Asian food and who wants to be whisked away to a foreign land without ever leaving the city.

Surin West on Urbanspoon

Posted in Asian, Business Friendly, Date Night, Five Points South Finds, My Favorite Lunch Spots, Upscale | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »