The timing was so ripe for a new Chinese restaurant in town. While there are a couple of holdouts of more than several years standing (one that sat in the Cosi shopping center off Putnam Avenue closed years ago), the town needed authentic Chinese to really pique our palates.
Even in Greenwich, Chinese takeout seemed at times as necessary to survival as pizza delivery. Often the ambience of these places were not, let’s say, exhilarating. Dark and somber, they tended to be quiet places (not a bad thing, when you come to think of it). The pan initiative was an attempt to group several Asian cuisines under one roof to attract a large clientele, and proved very popular. But we were hankering for something new and different.
Along comes China White Noodle Bar, all sunshiny, polished and fun, with lots of bells and whistles. For example, at the larger tables, a lazy susan is cleverly cut into the table so you and your guests are not constantly passing dishes under one’s nose but rather ever so gently rotating the disc until the serving dish with your desired entrée is right in front of you. Ingenious. And, in case you’re bored with your companion, you can contemplate the images of Chinese people and places that are projected on an expanse of wall like a silent movie. There are other quirky attractions, but more of that later.
China White slipped nice and easy into the space only recently vacated by Saito, a Japanese restaurant that served really good food but couldn’t survive the nasty recession. I know, I know, china white is a street name for heroin and therefore, a peculiar choice of words for a restaurant and yet, on reflection, it’s appropriate since there is so much white going on in this place. White quilted walls at the back on one side, white chopsticks (so polished they were more slippery than an eel), white napkins, white dinnerware.
There’s white salad of pear, tofu, and choy and a white shrimp dish over almost all-white iceberg lettuce with honey-colored cashews offering a wee bit of contrast. There’s white soda, coconut rice and pillowy bao bao buns. The walls and ceiling are white, the exterior is white, and so is the serving bar. If the tables, chairs and floor were not dark, almost black, and the sun was shining through the large window/doors that open to the outside while you were dining, you could be as blinded as if you were on a Caribbean beach without sunglasses on a hot summer day.
There are even white ceramic cats high up on a shelf. Eight of them precisely, the number that symbolizes prosperity in Chinese, holding up their left paws to catch and hold the wealth. Yours and mine. The prices are high for food that is considered low budget for the average family — high twenties for most entrées — but then China White is not your typical Chinese restaurant.
Let’s talk first about the food. Chinese cooking can be a complex, sublime cuisine or it could be simply lo mein any way you want it. This restaurant serves up all the traditional dishes familiar to Americans with a major difference: the food tastes so much better. It’s as if the Hong Kong cooks in the open kitchen earned master’s degrees in CIA Chinese.
Take General Tso’s chicken (a dish almost completely unknown in China, by the way) which is commonly offered at other places so lacquered sticky sweet, you wonder if you’re eating candy rather than chicken. China White’s glazed rendition with its thin caramel crust shies from over-sweetness, perhaps because it is tempered with calming baby bok choy. Tangerine beef is delicious, so is the Peking roast duck glistening in a dark plum sauce tho’ tricky to snare with chopsticks (ask for Western utensils with this dish). Again, while sweet not coyingly so. Chef Joe’s (could this be the executive chef, Zhou Guang Zan?) Spicy Dragon plump bronzed rounds of boneless chicken packs a wallop of red chilies. Diced chilies also added real fire to the spicy fried rice capped with egg and crispy shallots. I loved this dish with its tongue-numbing sensation. Great flavor. The brown rice, on the other hand, was so undercooked that it was inedible, an unfortunate miss on the part of the restaurant.
The spare ribs were perfect succulent meaty pork in a top-class goo. Thank goodness, the waiter provides wet wash cloths to clean your hands so you don’t appear childish licking your fingers like a kid with a bowl of fudgey frosting smears left by his mother just for him to savor.
The cooks have a deft hand with wrappers for spring rolls and for dumplings and whisper-soft buns. Of course, for the die-hards, there are noodles and the requisite lo mein (yes, any way you want them).
Desserts are particularly appealing. A thick slice of orange pound cake for dipping into hot, white (natch) chocolate sauce is embellished with strawberries, mango, star fruit and oranges. Ginger cheesecake gets soothing Tahitian vanilla ice cream while the rice pudding teams up with mango and a scoop of almond-vanilla cream. All are yummy endings.
This being a cb5 Jody Pennette enterprise, expect the unexpected: a tea service, one that rivals anything the British could conjure, with a pitcher of simple syrup, glass carafes for tea infusion, and a tall glass with slices of orange from top to bottom, all on their own tray; at the end of the meal, a huge 8-ball, ask a question, spin the dial, laugh at the answer; several sheets of tattoos to apply with the help of a wet cloth; and instead of fortune cookies, a giant swirl of white sugary, stick-to-your-teeth cotton candy intriguingly flavored with chai.
The sticker shock comes with the price tag. Entrées will run you $22 for the sesame chicken to $32 for tangerine beef and $39 for wok-seared lobster. Hey, organic vegetables and chicken and eggs and beef, wild-caught fish and ducks that once waddled free in their pastures costs money in an economy where you pay less for food stuffs injected with all sorts of chemicals or sprayed with all manner of insecticides and pesticides.
Service is good, parking is on-site, and the short drinks list, including Tiki cocktails, is quite adequate. Only thing missing are pretty Chinese waitresses in qipao, those long silk embroidered dresses with side slits up to here. In white, of course.
China White Noodle Bar
249 Railroad Ave., Greenwich, CT 06830
Lunch: Corporate take-out only, minimum order $100
Dinner: Daily, 5 to 11 p.m.