The royal Turandot
North Chinese cuisine in a gorgeous setting
Chico, CA 95926
With its warm and welcoming grand interior, a pianist serenading diners upon a raised dais and large, beautiful framed hangings and pictures on the walls, Turandot evoked the grandeur of a palace. Feeling a bit like the cold Princess Turandot in the mythical Puccini opera as we passed through the doors, I was hoping to be wooed by the warming Northern Chinese cuisine. Perhaps I’d even give a standing ovation.
On the slightly raised platform, alongside the baby grand piano, are two beautiful Chinese costumes. I longed to touch the beadwork and look at the stitching closely, but manners and social protocol kept me at a proper distance. Take a moment to appreciate the exquisite beauty of these costumes; the colors, textures, embroidery and materials are breathtaking.
My dinner partner and I took our seats in the open dining room, and prepared to feast in the way of a royal court. Our eyes and ears appeased by the piano serenade and hanging art, we prepared to engage yet another two senses. The menu seemed endless, guaranteed to please. The service, too, was impeccable. Our servers seemed to make it their mission to serve our dishes quickly and efficiently; feeling like royalty here isn’t difficult.
After starting with spring rolls ($2.75), we moved on to a rich, savory soup. The sizzling rice soup ($6.50), chicken and shrimp alongside mushrooms in chicken broth, served with sizzling rice on top, will chase the winter chill out of anyone’s bones. We went with an old favorite, general chicken ($10.25) and sampled the sliced fish with black bean sauce ($10.25), a flounder fillet stir-fried with a house black bean sauce and vegetables. The general chicken was true to form, fried and doused in a spicy and sweet red sauce. Over vegetarian chow mein ($5.25), the sliced fish made a nice accompaniment to the still crisp vegetables and wheat noodles, both in taste and texture. After three courses, we truly felt like royalty, and decided to make our grand finale a small one. As the last fried banana slowly disappeared, and the green tea dwindled, we made plans to visit Turandot again.
Our opportunity arose when an impromptu gathering of friends from out of town necessitated some delightful cuisine that everyone could enjoy family-style. The tangerine beef ($10.25), strips of beef deep fried and sautéed in a spicy sweet orange-flavored garlic sauce, was a crowd pleaser, as was the Ma Po tofu ($6.50). Americanized North China cuisine is pretty heavy on the frying and sweet sauces, more so than traditional northern Chinese food, which certainly doesn’t shy away from using salt or fat, but generally doesn’t include dishes like general or sesame chicken.
Along with our fried meat and tofu, we ordered steamed rice and vegetables. I ordered the garlic broccoli ($6.50), with cashews for an additional charge, and the vegetable delight ($6.50), a standard combination of carrots, baby corn, water chestnuts and mushrooms. Iced lychee fruit ($3.25) for dessert completed our meal, and the simple ending of cold, sweet lychee was necessary after the heaviness of the dishes.
My friends deemed Turandot their favorite Chinese restaurant in Chico, and I was beginning to think along the same lines. Turandot is on the spendier side, but while the food is pretty typical to what you would find at many a Chinese restaurant, the atmosphere and service make it worth every penny. Even the takeout is prompt. It seems that no matter what the order, large or small, the wait is 10 to 15 minutes. The food is always waiting for me when I arrive, ready and hot.
Treat yourself royally the next time you go out for Chinese. Enter the world of Turandot, where you’ll rise with cries of “Bravo! Bravo!” after a satisfying meal feasting on sights, sounds, tastes and textures.