Tag Archives: Chinese

Chuan Cafe Spices up College Town

The sign outside the door of College Town’s new Chuan Cafe reads “Never Spicy Enough,” a statement some prospective diners may interpret as a challenge and others as a cue to order with caution.

Both are right — and wrong.

Chuan Cafe serves Sichuan cuisine, which is known for the heat of its chiles and numbing Sichuan peppers. The menu has a category for Super Spicy food and also indicates heat with the number of peppers but you can express your preference for more or less spice at the counter. You’ll want to ensure you’re on the same spice scale as the kitchen. If you have a timid palate, try the sesame chicken, vegetable dishes, fried rice or dim sum.

Chuan Cafe is an offshoot of the restaurant, Chuan Guo Wei, located in Chendu, the capital of Sichuan province in southwestern China. Tallahassee was picked for the restaurant’s first venture into the United States, partly because of family connections here, said manager Michelle Lin.

 

The Setting

The cafe is a natural for College Town. The place is contemporary, with a laid-back vibe, decorated with wood, exposed brick and industrial accents.

You order at the counter and are notified via buzzer when your food is ready. There’s no rush to leave. Seating includes a few communal tables with upholstered chairs and banquettes, perfect for study groups, and smaller tables around the perimeter of the room. On our visits, most of the diners were Asian, generally considered a sign the food is pretty authentic.

There’s free WiFi, and Lin notes that diners are welcome to graze, study or just read a book.

Dig In

When I stopped by the restaurant earlier this week, my third visit, I chatted with José Mendoza, an engineering professor at Florida State University, who’s already become a fan of Chuan Cafe. He was enjoying a meal of white fish with hot chile sauce, included on the list of Super Spicy dishes. “I’d eat here everyday if I could,” Mendoza said. “My wife is Chinese and she really loves it.”

I particularly liked his description of the tongue-tingling taste of Sichuan peppers. “They have an after-flavor that’s numbing,” he said, comparing it to the lingering flavor of a good cup of espresso. “It’s very pleasant.”

Incidentally, the Sichuan pepper is not a peppercorn but the dried rind of the berry-like fruit of the ash tree. You’ve likely tried it before because it’s one of the ingredients in Chinese five-spice powder (along with star anise, cloves, Chinese cinnamon and fennel seeds).

Along with its spiciness, Sichuan dishes are also sweet, sour, salty and smoky. There’s a Sichuan saying for this complexity, which translates to: “Each dish has its own style, a hundred dishes have a hundred different flavors.”

Chuan Cafe doesn’t have a hundred dishes but there are sure plenty of choices.

One of the best deals is a combo meal for $8.99. It’s served, Bento-style, with segments for a stir-fry or steamed dish, soup and dim sum. I had the “Giant Meatball,” a large orb of tender, ground pork that has a slight kick, served in a sweet-and-sour sauce. My sides were a flavorful cup of wonton soup, though similar to what you’d find at most Chinese restaurants, and plump pan-fried dumplings. Other dishes available as a combo include Kung Pao chicken, shredded pork with garlic sauce and spare ribs with sticky rice.

On another visit, my son, who loves spicy food, was happy with his aromatic bowl of Ma Po Tofu, a classic loaded with chunks of tofu and a sprinkling of ground pork and scallions. It had plenty of heat but it’s not a scorcher for those who prefer to fire up their taste buds.

– Chuan Cafe

House-made dandan noodles were also delicious, coated with a peanut and pepper sauce, topped with chopped pork and scallions.

The sesame chicken strips are a fun, shareable snack boosted by an orange sweet-sour sauce. For a light dish, try the Chinese crepe, made with egg and flour, filled with savory pork and scallions.

Sadly, the dim sum menu has already been scaled back but you’ll still find pan-fried and steamed dumplings plus binge-worthy pan-fried pork buns, soft on the inside with a slightly crisp doughy shell.

For dessert, try the “brown sugar rice crispy,” which brings strips of sticky rice pan-fried with a crisp coating, dipped into a brown sugar sauce for a sweet ending.

Chuan Cafe doesn’t yet have its beer and wine license but it’s not exactly hard to find a watering hole in College Town.

Prices

Soups $5.95 to $8.95; combo meals $8.99; noodles $6.95 to $8.95, entrees $6.95 to $11.95; vegetable dishes $8.95 to $10.95; dim sum $6.95 to $7.95; desserts $4.95 to $5.95.

Bottom line

Discover the bold flavors of Sichuan cooking at Chuan Cafe. Servings are generous, flavorful and the place has a casual, breezy atmosphere that will make diners of any age feel welcome. With dishes priced under $12, it also pays to be adventurous.

Tallahassee Table Rating
(Neighborhood Fare, Worth the Drive, or One of the Best)

Worth the Drive

Rochelle Koff writes about food and dining at TallahasseeTable.com, and on Facebook, @TheTallahasseeTable and Twitter @tallytable. Reach her at TallahasseeTable@gmail.com.

When you go …

Chuan Cafe
619 Woodward Ave., Tallahassee
850-727-0228
Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.

 

 

 

The Path to Dao

Dao, in the Chinese culture, means “way” or “path.” The path to the new Dao Restaurant in the Bannerman Crossings Shopping Center has its own special significance in Tallahassee, beginning decades ago, with local icon and entrepreneur Lucy Ho.

A pioneer of Chinese restaurants in Tallahassee, she opened her first venue, Lucy Ho’s Bamboo Garden, in 1970 and later launched Masa and Azu. Ho has retired, but her vision continues with Masa Nagashima, general manager of her restaurants for nearly 40 years, and Kenny Fan, the nephew of her late husband, who was a kitchen manager at Azu.

Nagashima, who is of Japanese heritage, and Fan, who is Taiwanese, are now both co-owners of Azu, on Apalachee Parkway, and Dao, which opened April 13 in the upscale Bannerman Crossings center.

If you’re a fan of Azu, you’ll be happy to have this outpost of the pan-Asian restaurant in the Northeast. The menu is the same as Azu’s except that some dishes are $1 or $2 more.


The setting
The setting is contemporary, desirable for a date night yet casual enough to bring the family. It’s spacious, with room for 209, but there’s warmth here, with lots of wood and subtle hues. Seating mixes tables and comfortable booths and there’s outdoor dining. Of special interest are the elegant displays of teapots from Taiwan. Dao has a room for private parties seating up to 24.


Dig In
Like many Asian restaurants, Dao has a huge menu so after two visits we’ve still only sampled a small portion of the choices available here. The restaurant offers plenty of appetizers, soups and salads if you just want to graze plus hot entrees and sushi, aiming to do justice to three cuisines — Chinese, Thai and Japanese.

As for starters, our four pan-seared pork dumplings (you can also order them steamed) were delicious, pan-fried to a golden brown, totally binge-worthy. We also liked the plate-size scallion pancake, crisp on the outside, chewy inside, pan-fired, and served with a dipping sauce of rich coconut curry. The fried oysters were coated with a light panko crust, and while not the best we’ve had, were tasty.

One of our favorite dishes at Dao was the coconut chicken curry, my husband’s go-to choice at most Thai restaurants. He was happy with Dao’s rendition, brimming with pieces of white chicken, green and red bell peppers and bamboo shoots in a lush sauce with a slight kick. All dishes come with steamed or fried rice.

Our friend raved about her Peking duck (she chose a half order), a generous serving of succulent, thinly sliced meat served alongside pieces of mouthwatering, crisp skin. You can slice open the accompanying doughy lotus pancakes and make a sandwich with the duck, skin and green onions.

The grouper filet was outstanding, a large piece of fish lightly breaded and fried, topped with bits of mapo tofu, a mix of ground pork and tofu in a perky sauce. On the side was perfectly cooked broccoli.

If you like beef, the shiitake steak was an eight-ounce rib-eye, which we ordered medium rare. The meat was tender, served with lots of shiitake and white button mushrooms in a soy-based sauce, and broccoli. It was much better than the beef tenderloin we ordered on our second visit to Dao. That tenderloin was overcooked and chewy — the saving grace was an array of just-firm sweet bell peppers, zucchini and mangoes.

Azu fans will also be happy to find Chinese classics like the salt-and-pepper soft shell crab, soy ginger cod, General Tso’s chicken, stir-fried eggplant, and Taiwanese-style rice noodles at Dao.

The menu offers six Japanese dinners, including teriyaki, tempura and panko-fried cutlets, which come with soup and salad. A friend ordered grilled chicken teriyaki, with green beans and some greenery (so you essentially get two salads). The chicken was moist and tender but it could have used a little more punch.

Dao has an extensive selection of sushi and sashimi, including dinners and a la carte choices, nigiri (leel, quail eggs with smelt roe, flying fish or squid), hand rolls (seaweed outside) and a list of more than three dozen rolls, including veggie rolls and picks such as the Philadelphia with smoked salmon, cream cheese and scallions, and the Dragon Fly, with eel, cream cheese, avocado, tuna, with eel and kimchi sauces.

We skipped the more elaborate combos and opted for the simple spicy tuna roll and the shrimp tempura, with a piece of the fried shellfish poking out of a roll with mayo and a spring mix, both standards done very well here.

We didn’t have dessert but Dao offers several choices, including ice cream, sesame balls, crème brûlée, fried cheesecake, and “Peanut Butter Explosion.”

Service
Servers are young, friendly and helpful. When we took home leftovers, we were given a new carton of rice, a nice touch.

The bar
Dao has a full bar, plus bottled and draft beer (including Japanese beers Sapporo and Kirin), a small but varied wine list and hot and cold sake.

Bottom line
We found mostly hits and a few misses at Dao, but overall it’s a pleasant dining experience with reasonable prices and a welcoming atmosphere.


When you go …
Dao
3425 Bannerman Rd., Unit A102, Tallahassee.
850-999-1482

Cost
Starters $2.50 to $15, entrees $9 to $22 ($40 for a whole Peking duck), rolls $4 to $16, sushi and sashimi dinners $18 to $28, dessert $4 to $7.50.

Hours
11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday. Happy hour from 4 to 7 p.m. Sunday to Thursday.

Reservations
Accepted.

Tallahassee Table Rating
Worth a Drive

Rochelle Koff writes about food and dining at TallahasseeTable.com, and on Facebook, @TheTallahasseeTable and Twitter @tallytable. Reach her at TallahasseeTable@gmail.com.