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Golden Wok
*** 1/2
Out of a possible five
$

Freshness found at Chinese offshoot

There normally wouldn’t be a reason for me to be clamoring to check out Golden Wok, the relatively new Chinese takeout place in a strip of stores at Broadway and Taylor Street.

But when a Twitter follower informed me that Golden Wok was actually the second location for one of my favorite little Chinese restaurants – China Garden, 5441 S. Anthony Blvd. – I had to check it out.

And as soon as I walked in, I knew I was in for something good when the same pleasant, smiling person greeted me at Golden Wok who usually greets me at China Garden, the wife in the husband-and-wife team that runs the restaurants. So why the new name? Apparently, a partnership had something to do with it, but that partnership did nothing to change the refreshingly high quality of the reasonably priced offerings.

For starters, you will not find better crab Rangoon anywhere. The little crown-shaped, crispy pockets holding a sweet cream cheese filling dotted with imitation crab are addictive. And a few other fried appetizers proved just as delicious.

The chicken egg rolls were a step above the normal pork ones, which were also pretty good. They were packed with surprisingly moist ground chicken, sprouts, onions, rice noodles and carrot, and the wraps were perfectly crisp and not at all oily.

The crab sticks – imitation crab heavily coated in a gritty breading and deep-fried – were not as good as the Rangoon, but were OK when dipped in a little sweet and sour sauce.

The only appetizers that fell flat were the pan-fried dumplings, which had heavy and kind of doughy wraps and were filled with subpar meatballs.

The soups were not at all subpar. The egg drop was velvety and delicious. The hot and sour was packed with cabbage, bamboo shoots, mushroom, egg, chicken and red pepper flakes, and it packed a punch.

The thing that really separates Golden Wok – and China Garden – from the normal discount Chinese restaurant is the freshness of all the vegetables. The place must only use the best available or the folks there just have a deft touch as to not overcook and oversauce them. Or, most likely, a combination of both.

The Hunan pork, for example, had bits of tender, Chinese barbecued pork throughout, but also included big slices of white onion, slivers of green pepper, celery and carrot, pea pods, broccoli and zucchini. All were still crisp and all had their own distinct flavor and were not masked by the sauce, which was spicy but not over the top.

The vegetables in the cashew chicken – carrot, water chestnuts, a few mushrooms and baby corn – were just as fresh and tasty, but they were diced to be uniform with the bits of chicken and the whole cashews, which was brilliant and also unexpected.

The broccoli in the beef and broccoli was bright green and looked and tasted good enough that it could have rested next to a steak at about any steakhouse in the city. The beef was melt-in-your-mouth tender and perfectly marinated with soy flavor.

The sauces all had distinctly different flavors. For example, the Kung Pao Triple Delight – chicken, beef and shrimp – was made with hot pepper sauce and garlic, which was thick and red with a subtle sweetness. The hot and spicy shrimp also incorporated a hot pepper sauce, but this thinner sauce was flavored with sautéed ginger instead of garlic and had ketchup incorporated to give it a much different profile.

The combination of fresh ingredients and the extra effort made to create layers of flavor really made Golden Wok shine. Even one of my least favorite Chinese dishes, sweet and sour chicken, impressed. Big pieces of white meat chicken heavily coated in batter had a clean flavor that you just don’t often find at Chinese takeout places that often stretch their oil too far.

The only drawback at Golden Wok is that it is mostly a takeout place and is very small. But the dining room furniture and glossy wall-coverings were clean and new, and the restrooms were impeccable. And when dining in, the service was way above the norm as an employee checked on my parties regularly and removed used containers, offered take-home boxes and brought sliced oranges to the table as a gratis dessert.

Oranges are customary at the end of a meal at fine-dining Chinese places, but they are not customary at quick-stops like Golden Wok. And that is what makes it so great – it is not a customary takeout place.

It is so much better.

Restaurant: Golden Wok

Address: 1930 Broadway, Suite D

Phone: 420-9988

Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday

Cuisine: Asian

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol: None

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes

Menu: Crab Rangoon ($3.75), chicken egg roll (2 for $1.95), dumplings ($4.25), egg drop soup ($1.50), hot and sour soup ($1.75), Kung Pao Triple Delight ($8.95), hot and spicy shrimp ($9.60), cashew chicken ($4.95 small; $7.95 large), beef and broccoli ($4.95; $7.95)

Rating breakdown: Food: ** 1/2 (3-star maximum); atmosphere: 0 (1 maximum), service: * (1 maximum)

Note: Restaurants are categorized by price range: $ (less than $20 for three-course meal), $$ ($20-$29); $$$ ($30-$39), $$$$ ($40-$49), $$$$$ ($50 and up).

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at rduvall@jg.net; call at 461-8130. DuVall’s past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter (@DiningOutDuVall).

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