Be more adventurous
Despite a plethora of options in Sacramento, my first choice for dinners out is usually never Chinese. I used to love it, in the days of hangovers and sparse funds, but until I discovered Lotus 8, those days seemed long past.
It turns out there’s a whole new iteration of Chinese restaurant hiding out in Folsom. Tucked into a strip mall in a busy area, the Cantonese-style Lotus 8 occupies the former Yummy Kitchen Chinese Restaurant, which apparently wasn’t very. The replacement is a revelation. If you think of Chinese food as oily, salty or full of suspect ingredients, fear no more. Chef Eric Kuang, who trained with a master chef from Hong Kong, uses a light hand with oil and sauces.
Here, bright, al dente vegetables are plentiful—and they aren’t all green peppers. Kuang is clearly an expert at frying, as well, with whisper-light coatings and little grease. As with many Chinese places, this one has an extensive menu. In fact, there are two: One is cleverly organized with sections such as “Our Most Popular Dishes” and “If You’re Feeling Adventurous.” It’s a unique way to guide the diner, depending on their comfort level. The other is the “Chef’s Special” tasting menu, which offers dishes less familiar to American diners, like salted egg with pumpkin, and bitter melon with beef. Be sure to order at least a couple selections from that menu.
Lotus 8 manager and co-owner Michael Chow is a restaurant veteran with more than 40 years of experience, and he directed our ordering with deft suggestions. Seeing that we were adventurous, he suggested the fried-milk appetizer. Made of sweetened milk that was battered and fried, it tasted like pillows of the lightest cheesecake. He advised that many eat it with a sweet-and-sour sauce, while others top it with powdered sugar for a dessert.
The egg with pumpkin came as half-moons that were lightly battered and fried, then topped with salted hard-boiled egg. With classic sweet and salty complements, the flavor was even better with a drizzle of hot chili sauce. Fried tofu with salt and pepper was the most exceptional. Cubes of silky tofu became barely contained bites of custardy goodness when fried and served over shreds of lettuce. It’s the kind of tofu that could almost make me give up meat. The house string beans were so good on a previous visit that we had them again. Crunchy beans pan-fried with bits of pork and chilies and lightly dressed with soy sauce were simply perfect.
Wanting a less spicy dish, we tried the honey-walnut shrimp that Chow suggested. A pile of tender shrimp tossed with a mayonnaise-based sauce graced the middle of the platter and crunchy-sweet walnuts sat to the side. It was really the only dish that we ate with steamed rice, as we were hoarding stomach space for more fantastic flavors. We also ordered Singapore vermicelli, stir-fried with shreds of pork and shrimp. It was tossed with curry spices common to multicultural Singapore and was a great example of the unique choices offered at Lotus 8.
At this point, we would have kept ordering, but Chow suggested we stop. Since most restaurants wouldn’t encourage less food, we heeded the advice. It was much appreciated, as we still had leftovers with six diners and food that was hard to not continue eating. That’s the kind of attentive, unintimidating service that makes Lotus 8 stand out.
Don’t miss the four-course lunches here for $8 to $12. Each includes a cup of soup, a salad (the only uninspired dish we tried), a generous entree and a dessert. The accommodating folks at Lotus 8 will make any dish a diner wants if the kitchen has the ingredients, but there are so many intriguing choices listed, it’ll likely be a long time before anyone is ready to go off-menu.