Americanized Chinese food

Dynasty China Bistro’s sign grabbed my attention. Bistros typically serve European food with wine. What does a Chinese bistro offer? Euro-Asian fusion cuisine?

A respectably stocked bar just inside the entrance also caught my eye. You almost never see bars in Chinese restaurants.

The dining room startled me a bit as well. Deeply colored wood chairs recalled Chinese furniture. But the upholstered banquettes and thick floral carpet suggested a standard upscale hotel. Things got more curious when the server handed me a wine list. A wine list? With Chinese food? I turned the pages—good Lord, is that my favorite French white wine?

By the time I opened my menu, I didn’t know what to expect. Egg rolls stuffed with foie gras? Ginger pork bisque?

No, nothing so adventurous.

Despite its unusual name and décor, Dynasty China Bistro offers dozens of familiar Cantonese dishes that use sweet, fried and sour elements in combinations comfortable to American palates.

The fried wonton ($3.95) is a classic example—a popular, generic first course that depends on dipping sauces for even a hint of flavor. The wonton was served so quickly, I wondered if it had been idling under heat lamps.

The kitchen at Dynasty China Bistro also diluted traditionally spicy Szechuan dishes in deference to American tastes.

Take the hot and sour soup ($3.50-$6.55). Minced fried scallions and shavings of black mushroom lent pungent flourishes to the mild vinegar broth. But the soup needed more ground white pepper to make it authentically hot.

Shredded pork in Szechuan sauce ($6.95) also lacked true fire. Szechuan cooks mix red pepper oil, ground white pepper and Chinese spices to give this dish an enjoyable burn. Dynasty China Bistro instead emphasized sweetness by preparing the sauce with added brown sugar. Still, the pork was beautifully tender, and the overall effect was light but satisfying.

Tenderness also distinguished the paper-wrapped chicken ($4.95), a Cantonese treat. To make this course, the chef covered poultry pieces with a light soy sauce before deep-frying them in foil. My dinner companion and I undid the shiny packages and ate the steaming morsels with our fingers.

We were tempted to do the same with the juicy strips of meat in the beef with snow peas and bamboo shoots ($7.95), versions of which are served in Canton and in the Mandarin provinces of northern China. A soy and brown sugar sauce also sweetened this dish—though not so much as the Szechuan pork. The chef added oyster oil for thickening and extra flavor. The expertly applied sauce didn’t soak away the crispness of the peas and bamboo, as sometimes happens.

Chinese restaurants use snow peas, bamboo, bean curd, cucumber and similar ingredients to add color and texture to food. The Chinese call these chopped and slivered tidbits pei tsai, which translates roughly as “tantalizing bits of vegetable.”

Tantalizing is also a good word to describe my dinner at Dynasty China Bistro, and the offbeat touches that began the evening promised an experience that would be fresh. But the meal didn’t fully live up to this promise.

There are enough restaurants in Reno that serve thoroughly Americanized Chinese food. Dynasty China Bistro should direct its obvious ambitions toward balancing these safe dishes with Chinese preparations and cooking techniques that are hard to find elsewhere.