Mopac location: 3407 Greystone Drive
Austin, Texas 78731
Phone: (512) 343-9307
Downtown location: 107 West 5th Street
Austin, Texas 78701
Phone: (512) 637-8888
I had visited Chinatown on a number of previous occasions, including for dinner, cocktails, and for weekend dim sum. Although I was always impressed by the decor and atmosphere at Chinatown, I never quite felt as though its food quite justified the restaurant’s comparatively hefty price tags. After hearing recently that the restaurant had upped its culinary game lately, we decided to give it a shot on a recent Saturday night.
We visited Chinatown’s Mopac location. The restaurant is lovely, with a romantic, dim lighting, rich dark wood furnishings, and deep crimson walls. Beautiful Asian antiques and statuary are scattered throughout the space, creating a moody, exotic vibe.
We were eager to see if the menu finally measured up to the lovely interior. Chinatown has an eclectic cocktail menu, and an extensive wine list (thanks to an impressive glass wine cellar in the center of the dining area).
We started out with an order of lettuce wraps and a Pu Pu Platter, just for fun. The lettuce wraps included finely chopped chicken with scallions and just a touch of spice. The wraps were served with hoisin sauce and crispy leaves of iceberg lettuce. The wraps were tasty and refreshing.
We ordered the Pu Pu Platter more out of novelty than anything else. (Who doesn’t love flaming dishes)? We were unexpectedly surprised because the offerings on the Platter were all actually quite tasty and well cooked. The Platter included chicken wings, egg rolls, fried won tons, ribs, and beef skewers. Everything was flavorful, freshly prepared, and high quality. We were excited for our entrees.
Until they arrived, that is. The first entree we sampled was Jalapeno Scallops. We ordered the dish extra hot. From the moment the dish arrived, we knew there was a problem. Although the generous peppers indicated that the dish would meet our hankering for heat, the scallops themselves looked seriously suspect. Those suspicions were confirmed the moment we bit into the first scallop. These scallops were the consistency of a sponge that has been sitting in dish water for several hours. They were mushy, completely lacking any firmness. I was unable to finish even one full scallop, despite tasting a couple to see if the first had been an anomaly. Unfortunately, it had not. This dish went almost completely untouched, with all of us agreeing that it was seriously unappetizing.
Next up was Chicken Two Styles. This entree featured two American-Chinese favorites: Lemon Chicken and General Tso’s Chicken. The General Tso’s was the bright spot of the meal. It was crispy, richly flavored, and spicy. The Lemon Chicken, however, was not nearly as appealing. Instead, the Lemon Chicken was soggy, and had the distinct taste of being reheated after sitting for an extended time. It tasted a lot like a dish that had been sitting under heat lamps at a Chinese spot in a mall food court.
The Kung Pao Chicken was also mediocre, at best. Like the Lemon Chicken, it had the distinct feel that it had been warmed after sitting out for a while. The flavors were off, and we found several small bones scattered throughout the dish.
The final dish we sampled was also the least appealing. The Oolong Duck advertised itself as a crispy duck served with plum sauce. Like the scallops before it, this dish sent off warning flares the moment it reached the table–it looked seriously unappealing, but we decided to keep open minds, hoping it tasted better than it looked. It did not. First, there was absolutely nothing “crispy” about this dish. The breading was mushy and flavorless. The duck itself was astonishingly bad. The meat was gamey, much too smoky, and extremely fatty. I could not make it through one slice of the duck, nor could anyone else at the table.
Several things made our experience at Chinatown extremely disappointing. First, the place is so beautiful, you really want it to be great, because the space is so enticing. Second, the meal started off with such potential, since the appetizers were actually tasty and fresh. Perhaps the most frustrating thing is that Chinatown sells itself as gourmet Chinese, and has the price tags to prove it. It’s one thing to spend $5 on a bad meal, but when you are asking diners to pony up close to $20 per person, you better have the flavors and preparation to back up those prices. Chinatown simply did not.