Wok of ages

Owner Marty Liu prepares walnut shrimp with shredded lettuce and parsley garnish at The Wok.

Owner Marty Liu prepares walnut shrimp with shredded lettuce and parsley garnish at The Wok.

Photo/Allison Young

For more information, visit www.thewokchinesereno.com.

This tidy, 60-seat Chinese eatery offers an extensive menu, like many Chinese restaurants, and pays very close attention to the quality of Chinese-American cuisine it serves. Owner Marty Liu grew up in Szechuan Province and has a penchant for tasty food and proves it on the plate.

All the food is prepared in a wok, a versatile round-bottomed cooking vessel originating from Guangdong Province in China. It’s one of the most common cooking utensils in China as well as in East and Southeast Asia. I learned to cook in one many years ago in San Francisco and know that the flavor, tastes and essence imparted by a hot wok on food during stir frying allows everything to take on golden flavors and great textures.

Lunch is served from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m., with a special 15-item menu ($6.95-$8.50) including egg rolls, crab cheese puffs, and pork or chicken chow mein. The same menu translates to dinner special, adding pork rice and chicken chow mein ($9.95-$11.50). The a la carte menu is grand with appetizers ($3.95-$10.95), soups, chicken, pork, beef, seafood, egg foo young, chop suey, fried rice, chow mein, pan fried noodles, and chow fun, with prices ranging from $6.95 - $12.95.

I started with a trio of appetizers: eight crab cheese puffs ($6.50), eight pot stickers ($6.95), and eight walnut shrimp (13.95). The shrimp were lightly battered with a corn starch egg coating and wok fried, coated with honey and a sauce that was almost savory with a hint of heat. With the crispy walnuts and honey, it was a great treat for the taste buds. The pork-filled pot stickers were light. The housemade sauce used soy, ginger, rice vinegar and a little shallot. The cream cheese-filled crab puffs were light, airy and rich with generous crab meat.

The lettuce wraps ($7.95) were filled with chicken and seasoned with cilantro, a hint of ginger, garlic and sprinkled with crispy rice noodles. It was full of flavor, and then I added the housemade hot chili oil, and now you’re talking Szechuan hot. The chili oil is made from vegetable oil, garlic, cilantro and Japanese red peppers.

I’m not a huge fan of wings, but when done in a wok, I know from experience, these are not your bar food foibles. Eight garlic and eight salt-and-pepper wings ($8.50 ea.) appeared, and the smell alone sold me. Stir frying in a wok locks in flavor and moisture. The light sauce on the garlic wings had that Gilroy goodness without being overpowering, and the salt-and-pepper got the attention of my taste buds. This is classy tailgate material, and take-out is absolutely part of this dining habitat.

My entrée was filet of fish in black bean sauce ($12.50). A flounder with the ever-so-lightly corn starch-egg batter wok fried and then gently bathed in succulent black bean sauce—douchi. Douchi is made by fermenting and salting black soybeans. The flavor is sharp, pungent and spicy in smell, with a taste that’s salty and somewhat bitter and sweet. But when used in stir fry, it mellows and complements the fish with a pleasing heartiness as your palate marries sea with earth.

They offer two build-a-dinner options: Cantonese ($12.95 per person) and the Wok ($16.95 per person)—a lot of choices and a lot of food. The simple wine list includes by-the-glass ($5) and a half dozen beers ($4), Chinese, Japanese and domestic. For dessert ($4.50), I had a bodacious blueberry cheesecake with a graham cracker-butter crust and Philly cream cheese. Two amazing bites, and I was out for the count.