This is the Place
General Tso's Chicken Like It's Supposed to Be and Pork That's Twice-Cooked and Sneaky
Restaurant: Enjoy Chinese
Enjoy Chinese Cuisine, from all looks and appearances, is just another Chinese restaurant in a strip mall. But looks can be deceiving. The food is very good, the décor is exceptional, and it makes for a very nice place to sit down for a good meal.
When I first entered Enjoy, I was struck by how nicely the place is decorated. There are a lot of cherry woods (the booths and chairs) and nice tables and booths, with rich colors that are just elegant. In other words, the owners have got some class. They had a few red-white-and-blue decorations going on, because it was July 4th weekend, but they were around the cash register, showing their celebration without making it an imposition to the customers. There is a large vase fountain near the door that makes for a soothing backdrop with the sound of running water when seated next to it.
The place was also packed, but the tables were cleaned and reset very quickly, which shows that the owners/management know how to handle a rush. I was greeted very pleasantly and professionally, and seated next to the fountain. The waiter then came pretty quickly to take my drink order. He introduced himself and was very polished, showing either that he has worked at some high-end restaurants in the past, or that Enjoy takes training their servers very seriously. (Considering the other attention to detail in the restaurant, I'm inclined to think the latter.)
When I looked over the menu, I was impressed by the breadth of selection in their lunch specials, easily doubling or tripling other Chinese restaurants around town. So I was at a bit of a loss on what to order, because there was so much more than I had expected. So I found myself remembering my childhood, when I did not care much for Chinese food, and one particular memory came to mind. When I was a kid, I remembered the first time I saw something called General Tso's Chicken. It looked like sweet and sour, but I was warned that it was spicy. And I got it anyway. And it was. But, forever after, I saw General Tso's and saw the asterisk saying that it was spicy, but have been perpetually disappointed when it has been on a dinner menu. So, here it was, listed on the lunch menu, where I could continue my quest for good General Tso's Chicken, and at a lower price than off a dinner menu. So I ordered that, chose Ham-Fried Rice over white, Hot-and-Sour Soup over Egg Drop, and the Spring Roll over cream-cheese wonton.
The soup came out first.
First words out of my mouth when my food arrived: "Now that's a Hot-and-Sour Soup you can dig your teeth into."
It had a lot more goodies in it than your usual strip-mall Chinese restaurant. It was, by no means, the level of what you get at O-Cha Cafe, where it's a meal in and of itself, but it was substantial. It had a few noodles, veggies, mushrooms, tofu and a thick broth that was, indeed, spicy. Not only do they talk the talk, but they're walking it. So far, so good!
Before I could even finish my soup, the rest of my meal came out. The plate was nice, once I got to where I could see it, under all the food piled on top of it. (Another good sign.) And the General Tso's Chicken was a rich, red-brown, not a red-orange, like so many of the places that say it's spicy, but it's not. And I took a bite.
First words out of my mouth when I took that first bite: "That's what General Tso's Chicken is supposed to taste like."
It was, indeed, spicy. But it wasn't like a lot of places where, in order to make something spicy, they sacrifice flavor for heat. This had a wonderful spiciness, coupled with sweetness, and a heady flavor that was just wonderful. I thought that I could detect a little allspice (or something like it), which really gave it something extra.
I then went for the rice. It was good, with more vegetables than a lot of places, but it lacked the smokiness that I come to expect in the flavor of really good Ham-Fried Rice. It was good, better than most places, but it fell short of the mark made by the General.
The egg roll was good. I would've liked a little more variety in the filling mixture but, overall, not bad. Just not as good as the chicken. The fruity dipping sauce had more of that spice that I couldn't quite identify in the chicken. Here, it seemed almost like cinnamon … allspice? … I just couldn't be sure.
I wanted to ask, the next time the waiter came over, but I was distracted by a woman nearby, who had a bite of her lunch date's General Tso's Chicken. He told her it was hot, but not too hot, and that she should like it. She took a bite, then said, "I couldn't eat much of it." And I thought, "Whaaaaat?" Yes, it has some heat, but it's nothing compared to — well, real spicy food. In any case, I missed my opportunity, then the moment was gone. Sigh.
I ended up having to box up some of the chicken, because I was too full to finish it all, which means that I had that life-is-good feeling I love after a good meal.
Last words when finishing the meal: "Enjoy Chinese … I did."
On my second visit, I was seated at the same table, there next to the fountain, which was fine with me. I enjoyed sitting and listening to it the first time around. They had also added some deep red-black sculptures of cranes near the fountain, which went along well with the rest of the décor. The place was not as busy as the first time, although I'm inclined that they have a pretty steady crowd, at least for lunch.
They had a lunch special posted on the tables, a Teriyaki Chicken Noodle, but the little signs were hand written, which just didn't go along with the overall elegance of the place. My server was a young woman who was very pleasant and energetic, and seemed to have a perpetual smile on her face. I asked about the special and she knew quite a bit about it, noting some of the cooking elements involved, and finished with, "If you like teriyaki, then it's for you." I asked if it was spicy, but it's not, so I went to the menu. Another item got my attention: the Twice-Cooked Pork. I asked her what made it "twice cooked." She said that it's barbeque pork, so it's already cooked, then they cook it again in a stir fry, with a spicy sauce and vegetables. I ordered that, with the Hot-and-Sour Soup, Ham-Fried Rice (I wanted to see if the first visit was just a bad-rice day) and the Spring Roll.
The soup came out first and it was just as good as last time. If anything, it had even more goodies in it, with bamboo shoots and more of the rest. Just good. Shortly thereafter, my main course arrived.
First words out of my mouth when I took that first bite: "That's interesting. And really good."
I had been concerned that the pork would be tough, being
twice cooked, but it wasn't. The slices (complete with the red Chinese
version of a smoke ring) were
I then went for the rice. If anything, it was even more bland than last time. So a bit of disappointment crept back in on that one. The main courses seem to be very well done at Enjoy, but the sides have a little to be desired. And I like having the same kind of experience throughout the meal, not just with the main dish.
While eating, I heard one of the other servers asking my waitress where her mom had gone. When she came back out to ask about refills on drinks, I asked her about that. She said, "Yeah, my mom's the manager. My dad's the chef." I asked about that, and she said that her dad had always loved cooking and always wanted to open a restaurant, but put it off for at least a decade until the kids were old enough that they could work there, too. Which is what she was doing. She then told me how much she enjoyed working there, and that perpetual smile seemed even bigger when she said it. So good for her — and good for mom and dad.
I ended up having to box up some of the rice, because I was too full to finish it all, which means that I had that life-is-good feeling.
Last words when finishing the meal: "I think I've got a new regular stop."
I preferred the General Tso's over the Twice-Cooked Pork, but that in itself is saying a lot. Enjoy Chinese Cuisine is not as much of a departure from standard Asian fare as Ally's Asian Grill or O-Cha Cafe, but it's definitely a solid choice for just plain goodness.
Most negative thing about the experiences — I hate to say it, but the rice. No smoky, no happy.
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