Bottomless noodle bowl
Henri goes overboard at local Mandarin favorite
Chan Pheng’s Mandarin Cuisine1140 Mangrove Ave.
Chico, CA 95926
While Henri has always admired the Aristotelian admonition “everything in moderation,” he’s always felt it didn’t really apply to him. A more appropriate Henri motto, though more by habit than design: “Anything worth doing is worth doing to excess.”
Which, of course, as the good Dr. Epinards continues to remind me, most likely accounts for the range of irregularities vis-à-vis my liver, cholesterol, and weight, among other organs and considerations.
It happened again just the other day. Colette and I were craving Chinese food, so we headed down to one of our favorite Chico restaurants, Chan Pheng’s, for take-out. We didn’t realize how much we’d ordered until the waitress brought it out from the kitchen, in a huge cardboard box—so heavy that Colette could barely carry it to the car.
Chanpheng and Cindy Siameng arrived in the United States in 1980 after emigrating from Laos. They took English-language classes at Butte College and within three years had saved enough money to buy a home. They opened Chan Pheng’s Mandarin Cuisine in 1990.
Chan Pheng’s menu offers a wide range of steamed, sautéed, and deep-fried appetizers, vegetables, chicken, beef, pork and seafood, as well as rice and noodle dishes, with varying degrees of spiciness—many of them distinctively, and deliciously, garlicky. House specialties include the dry braised chicken, hot and spicy eggplant, and beef with hot ginger and garlic sauce. We love their General Tso’s chicken and the broccoli with cashews.
Lunch specials (kung pao chicken, Mongolian beef, sweet and sour shrimp) are $5.75, appetizers (egg rolls, paper-wrapped chicken, Teriyaki beef) are $4.75 to $10.50, and main dishes (almond chicken, Szechwan beef, mushrooms with snow peas and broccoli, scallops with black-bean sauce) range from $6.55 to $9.95. Complete combination dinners are $8.95 to $12.95. With a week’s notice, you can get a whole Peking duck served in a plum sauce for $25.
Originally planning to pick up just two or three items, we ended up with six (see “excess,” above), not including appetizers or soup: shrimp with hot ginger and garlic sauce, ma po bean curd (tofu in a spicy sauce), orange beef, sliced chicken with mushrooms, house chow mein, and house fried rice. As Colette set the boxes on the dining table and dished up, I opened a bottle of Cabernet Franc.
I’d never tried the orange beef before, so I dug into that first, and it was delicious—deep-fried, slightly crunchy but tender pieces of steak, the orange sauce punctuating it powerfully but not overwhelmingly. Colette agreed that it was exceptional. The chicken was also very good, mushrooms and tender white meat cooked with zucchini, carrots, water chestnuts, snow peas and cabbage. My favorite, though, was the shrimp dish, a delicious stew of large, fresh shrimp, snow peas, green onions, cabbage, red peppers and water chestnuts. Perfectly spicy, if a bit much for Colette.
Also excellent: the house chow mein (with chicken, beef, pork, egg whites and small pieces of carrot, cabbage and green onion) and the tofu.
Minor complaint: the fortune cookies. Stale. But something we’ve come to expect. Apparently, the Chinese restaurants in Chico order them from out of town, so they’re rarely fresh—I’ve eaten at Chinese restaurants in New York and San Francisco where the fortune cookies were made next door, probably as we ate.
The real problem: We had far more than we could finish, and even the next day, after we reheated the chicken and the chow mein for lunch, our refrigerator was still full of take-out boxes.
Solution: I threw a chicken carcass that I had in the freezer—always save carcasses from grilled chicken!—into a stock pot with onions, celery, parsley and garlic, let it boil for a couple of hours, strained the broth, and added the chow mein, rice and shrimp. Voila! Chan Henri soup. Five forks, mes amis.