This is the Place
New Dragon Diner — Consistent, Straightforward, No Nonsense
The New Dragon Diner has been in business for a while now, and was one of the first places in West Jordan with Chinese food that was palatable. Unfortunately, with more quality Chinese coming into the area, they are lagging behind in quality, décor and service.
I hadn't been to the place in a year or so, and was surprised when I entered to find that they had changed their décor ever so slightly. They had added two rows of paper lanterns along the central portion of the dining room. This did help make it look more like a Chinese restaurant, but not a lot.
Inside, the décor is pretty plain, white walls, tables and booths that don't really cry out that it's a Chinese restaurant, other than the new lanterns and the screen in front of the entrance. It reminds me of a hospital cafeteria. Overhead, there were Chinese versions of pop songs playing, which was kind of fun, though.
The man who seated and waited on me has done so dozens of times. I assume that he owns the place, but can't tell you for sure because, although I have eaten there many times over the years, I can't say that he has ever spoken a single word to me other than asking for my order, repeating it back and telling me the total at the register. Also, in all that time, I can think of only one time that I have ever seen him smile. And that wasn't at me. To be honest, if I hadn't seen it myself, I wouldn't have believed it. In fact, if I misbehaved, I wouldn't be surprised if he yelled at me, "No Kung Pao for you!" and throwing me out on my ear.
The list of Lunch Specials on the menu was pretty limited compared to the newer Chinese restaurants in town, with only two items noted as spicy. (And I like spicy.) So I went with the Kung Pao Chicken special (which is quickly becoming my measuring stick for Chinese restaurants). There are no options with the specials at the New Dragon. It comes with a chicken soup, ham-fried rice and an egg roll.
My soup came out quickly, as usual, with a packet of saltine crackers. It is slightly cloudy, with a few bites of chicken, a scattering of veggies, and less than a handful of noodles, like a noodle combover. It's not bad, but I always add the crackers and a few shakes of pepper to give it something extra.
First words out of my mouth: “That's certainly familiar.”
The rest of my meal arrived shortly after, and the plate looked exactly like it did every other time I ordered it. The New Dragon certainly gets full marks for consistency. The sauce is a nice red brown, which contrasts with the green of the massive amount of zucchini chunks, the golden peanuts, the pale chunks of water chestnuts. There are plenty of red speckles from diced pepper, and chunks of tasty chicken throughout. And it absolutely fills the plate. The New Dragon does not go lightly when it comes to portions of the main dish.
The plating was on a plain, white plate. Nothing fancy. No nonsense.
First words out of my mouth after first bite: “Nice flavor. Like always.”
The Kung Pao Chicken has a nice, layered complexity of flavors. Moreover, it has some heat. Unlike too many other Chinese it actually deserves to be noted as a spicy dish. It warms the mouth within three bites, and had my nose running by the tenth bite.
The rice had nice flavor, albeit slightly bland. There was no undercurrent of smokiness that really makes fried rice stand out from other rice dishes, but it was still better than a plain old white rice.
The egg roll is a bit small, but it provides a nice vessel for the slightly fruity sauce without much additional flavor outside of the fried shell.
As usual, I did not clean my plate. I don't see the reason behind zucchini. I don’t think it has much flavor, and I would rather fill up on the chicken and other veggies. But, even when picking through and leaving the chunks of saucy green, I had plenty to eat, and left with the life-is-good feeling that accompanies a full stomach.
I didn't see my server again until I went up to the register, where he performed his ritual telling me how much I owed him.
When I first started frequenting the New Dragon Diner, it was about as good as it got in West Jordan. Now, after the influx of new Chinese restaurants into town, led by the likes of Enjoy Chinese, it is middle of the pack. But there are no surprises. If you find something you like there, it will be the same every time, rest assured. They are nothing if not consistent.
It was quite a while between my two visits at the New Dragon Diner. Other businesses opened on either side of it in the strip mall ... then closed again ... others opened up. But New Dragon Diner remained steadfast. I wondered if there would be anything new in the place, since it had been so long (a year?). There was not.
In fact, there was less. The lanterns were gone. Sigh.
The same man came out to seat me, same expressionless face, although he didn’t seem to be frowning. That was an improvement. Moreover, not only did I see him smile this day, but I heard him laugh. No joke. A couple West Jordan policemen came in, and one ordered Cambodian chicken. The manager asked if he meant Mongolian. The officer said, "What’s the difference?" The manager said, "Well, it’s a different country." And laughed. Again, I would never have believed it if I hadn’t seen it. But, again, it wasn’t with me.
Then I looked at the menu and found that it was all the same. The word "consistent" could not be a better fit for a restaurant than the New Dragon Diner. The two spicy items on the lunch menu were the Kung Pao Chicken and Curry Chicken. But I wanted to try a different protein, so I decided on the Pork Lo Mein special. It would have the same sides, but there were some lo mein dishes around that were pretty good ... smoky even. So I ordered that. He took my order, repeated it, took the menu and was gone.
As always, my soup came out quickly, with a packet of saltine crackers. But the soup was different. It was not just broth (albeit a good broth) with a scattering of other ingredients. This was packed with veggies and noodles. This was no noodle combover — it was a noodle hippy with a full beard and hair down to his belt! Aside from all the noodles, there was cabbage, a few bites of chicken, carrots, okra, and some other things that I could not quite identify, but did enjoy.
The rest of my meal arrived shortly after, and the plate looked exactly like it did every other time I ordered it ... other than that it was not my usual Kung Pao Chicken. The plate was heaped with food, the New Dragon’s signature level of quantity. (Which is one of my qualifies for a good restaurant.)
First words out of my mouth: “That’s not pork. That’s chicken.”
The meat in the lo mein was not what I had ordered. So much for getting a different protein. Ah, well. The noodles were a bit pale, and didn’t look like anything fancy. Of course, that’s not why you go there. They were slightly golden, mounded deep, with shreds of chicken (or the palest, most bland pork on the planet), chunks of onion and some other veggies.
However, the Pseudo Pork Lo Mein lacked any of the layered complexity of the Kung Pao Chicken. It was bland without much of anything to say that it was much more than something I could have made at home after boiling in two cups of water for three minutes. How disappointing. But I thought that there was an opportunity here to speak to the manager. When he passed, I asked him if they had any Sriracha. He said, "Hot sauce?" I said yes. And he was gone again. I saw him pluck up a small bowl like you would use for dessert at a Chinese buffet, vanish, then return with it half-filled with a pasty sauce that was deep red, riddled with chili seeds. It reminded me of a Thai chili sauce I had once. But, before I could ask, he was gone again. So I tried it.
The sauce was hot. After only a single bite, I knew that I would be sweating, nose running, within minutes. And I would be a happy camper. It proved itself to be true. The next time the manager came out, I gave him one more try, and asked what the sauce was. He said, "Hot sauce." I said, "Yes. But what IS it? It’s really good." He said, "Chili sauce." Then was gone again. Ah, well.
Unlike with the Kung Pao Chicken, I was able to clean my plate. The chili sauce breathed a new life into those noodles that was really nice, particularly when it wasn’t what I had ordered. I left with the life_is_good feeling that accompanies a full stomach.
New Dragon is consistent. I’ll give them that. Want to spice things up? Literally. Ask for some "hot sauce." It made the "blah" lo mein into something that I ended up eating to the last bite.
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