Fire in the sky

Chef Paul Chau fires up the wok at The Flame, where the veggies are plentiful, the spices are sly, and the Mandarin duck is delicious.

Chef Paul Chau fires up the wok at The Flame, where the veggies are plentiful, the spices are sly, and the Mandarin duck is delicious.

Photo By David Robert

“I hope this isn’t going to be an estrogen overload for you,” said my sister, Brenna, as we pulled up to Flame Fine Chinese Dining. I pshawed. Having always been something of a ladies’ man, I knew a dinner with four lovely ladies wouldn’t even begin to bruise my masculine skin. In addition to my sister, our party included my sister’s two roommates, Kat and Morgan, and Kat’s sister, an old classmate of mine, Julie. The girls were treating me to dinner in return for my being the muscular force behind their recent move across town.

By the time Sex and the City and its astounding parallels to their own lives was brought up in conversation for the fifth time, I must admit that my manly reserves were getting low. Fortunately, I was fueled by that most masculine of beverages, beer, and was comforted by the relaxed atmosphere and the solace that only a tank full of colorful fish can provide.

And there was the food. My sister and I had the egg drop soup, which wasn’t particularly remarkable but did serve as a nice warm-up to the meal. Kat, Morgan and Julie all had the salad, another simple but effective affair: cabbage and peanut sauce. We all shared an order of the pot stickers ($4.95 for six), highly recommended.

Our entrees included the kung pao shrimp ($9.95), good and very hot (in that sly way where the spiciness doesn’t quite hit you until just before you swallow, and then it sneaks up and makes you quickly scramble for your water glass). We also had the pan-fried noodles ($6.95) with loads of good veggies.

Morgan had studied in China and kept us entertained throughout the meal with samples of the language. She picked the crisp and flavorful general’s chicken ($9.95) as her favorite among our dishes.

I would have agreed with her, were it not for the Mandarin duck ($13.95), which I loved. My one frustration was that it was in pieces that were just a little too large to qualify as “bite-sized” and, for some reason, I had no knife. So I would just open wide and stretch my mouth around the too-big pieces, which made me feel a tad self-conscious, especially since my dining partners were all eating with such effortless grace. And this was after I’d already embarrassed myself with my chopsticks “skills.”

The take-out menu has reprinted handwritten endorsements from such notable locals as Jim Galloway, Richard Kirkland and Jim Gibbons, who apparently had some trouble spelling the word “restaurant.”

I hadn’t been overly hungry, but I still ate a lot. I’m probably a compulsive eater, but the food at The Flame is of such high quality that it easily encourages such vices.

We were having such a good time in the cozy environment that we hardly noticed we were the only people left. The Flame employees were quietly hovering near our table until we asked for the check and enjoyed the final ritual of the American Chinese-food experience, the fortune cookie. We read our fortunes the correct way, with the phrase “in between the sheets” appended at the end. My fortune was, “good friends will be coming back to you—in between the sheets.”