From the highway this looks so bizarre and out of place it can only a lure to draw in people to a lame all you can eat buffet where quantity is king for the price. However, My initial thoughts were dead wrong. This is not only one of the better Chinese restaurants I have been to in a long time, its very very tiki (and for those of you into retro pop culture, this is a must visit for all things tiki). And of course, what authentic Chinese restaurant would be complete without a goldfish pond?
Once inside you will be amazed at the decor. Its every bit intricate inside as it is inside, even more so. Hanging lanterns, and just look at those red and gold ceilings.
There are saltwater fish tanks all around and in the dining rooms. Saltwater fish are very hard to maintain, they must be the perfect temperature, the perfect salinity in the water, and the fish are not cheap, they are around $100 each, so just to decorate a place this size could cost thousands in fish alone… and you best know how to keep them alive at that price.
You can see that this is one dining room where we were seated, and there was another if you can see through those 50-gallon fishtanks on the other side.
So the first thing that makes a place like this are the Tiki cocktails that have been around since the 1940s and 1950s. Tiki drinks all (or should) have one thing in common, they all contain rum, and it is in fact National Rum Day (only I would know that thanks to my cocktail loving friends on Twitter). The Navy Grog should have all three types of rum: Silver or white, gold and dark, combine with fruit juices. What I loved about this place is, they float the dark rum on the top of the crushed ice. Delicious and it packs a punch. I ordered a Planter’s Punch but he brought back another Navy Grog. No problem, I know once a drink is poured there is no recovering that expense on the restaurant’s end, it either gets tossed or someone in the kitchen drinks it. Still, there is no profit and all loss, so the first one was so good, I insisted I would have another. Also on the cocktail menu of exotic drinks was a Volcano for Two, and this thing was huge, literally the diameter, or so it seemed, of a soccer ball. And, at $17 per drink, that had better be enough for 3 people. Maybe next time.
On to the food. The Pupu platter or “appetizer assortment” always gives a sample of what the food is like. It included beef sticks, shrimp toast, fried dumplings, spare ribs, and fried shumai (which is actually Japanese, but its all good to me). I loved the beef stick, the fried pork dumplings were ok, the spare ribs were tender, but the pink sauce on it was a bit sweet. The shumai here was the winner.
One of the other appetizers ordered were the shrimp and bacon rolls which were more like dumplings, which you can see on the left. It was served with a very sweet wasabi sauce. Interesting, but I think with bacon and shrimp there was enough going on, maybe some soy or teriyaki sauce would have been better.
Mongolian Lamb: This was a clear sleeper and winner. I love lamb, but only in its most natural state, on the grill with merely some salt and pepper. I am not used to eating meat on a Friday (its an Italian thing), but this was delicious. Served with caramelized onions, button mushrooms in a light brown sauce. Very tender, very good, this was my favorite.
Tangerine Scallops: Spicy sauce with caramelized tangerine peels, chili peppers and perfectly steamed broccoli. Warning: These peppers are not to be eaten, I don’t care how brave or how hot you like your food, these peppers inflict pain, and not even the good kind. Even those with the strongest of tongues will find themselves removing them from their mouth and pushing them off to the side.
Pork Fried Rice: The test of any Asian restaurant is their rice. They take their rice more serious than any other culture, or at least they should. However, here I was not impressed. While the rice had a nice even array of egg, peas, the pork, onion, baby corn and bean sprouts were sparse. Not a lot of flavor here.
General Tso’s Chicken: Deep fried, best I’ve had. The problem with most places is its a batter coated in pink sweet and sour sauce that just slips off the chicken, not this time. Its a deep golden fried piece of chicken breast, perfectly battered in a rich sauce.
All and all, a very good place, from an upscale Chinese perspective, definitely from a Tiki perspective, and aside from the not so inexpensive price, the fact is you, you get what you pay for. In any case, I will certainly be back again, hopefully soon.
HUNAN TASTE CHINESE RESTAURANT
67 Bloomfield Avenue, Denville NJ 07834
Phone: 973.625.2782 or www.hunantaste.com