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Asian Bistro


Mr. Wok Walks the Walk

Published in The Dallas Morning News: 06.09.06
By KIM PIERCE / Special Contributor

NO HYPE: Mr. Wok's takeout menu says "The best in town since 1989." While that might be self-aggrandizing hyperbole in most cases, Mr. Wok is, at the very least, one of the best in the casual Chinese category. And that goes for all of North Texas.

Pride of ownership and pleasure in serving shine here like polished jade. Mr. Wok is run by Jack Kang, son of the founders, who last year sold their sister Irving restaurant, Kang's Cafe, and are semiretired.

The restaurant itself has been transformed from a one-time pizza spot to a cozy, casual family venue with pretty red curtains, contemporary light fixtures and an entryway table anchored by a lovely flower or bamboo arrangement. It's BYOB (with a $1 corkage fee).

A THREE-FOR-ALL: Mr. Wok's chief draw is its three menus, which include Westernized Chinese fare, Japanese-style Chinese and traditional Chinese. If you're not Asian, you'll get the American menu. But if you'd like something more adventurous, press for either or both of the other menus, which are available in English.

Either way, do not miss the addictive, Japanese-style fried rice (cha han), which is also pictured on the front wall.

It starts with sushi rice, which is slightly firmer and stickier than the usual day-old long-grain. Molded before it comes to your table, the combination includes bits of barbecued pork, shrimp, egg, peas, carrots and scallions, garnished with red sour-pickled ginger strips.

Edamame here was a surprise: quick-seared in a wok, which yielded a wonderfully different, smoky edge. Salt-and-pepper calamari, another star in the front-wall rogue's galley, was crisp-fried, tender tentacles that were slightly saltier than usual on puffed rice noodles tossed with garlic, scallions and ginger.

Or, you can go mainstream Western with lettuce wraps: iceberg cups with a plum-sauced chicken-and-noodle filling that got additional crunch from water chestnuts.

TROPICAL TO TRADITIONAL: Mango shrimp, a popular house specialty, combined tender shrimp with buttery mango chunks in a light sauce that was almost more like a dressing, all cleverly bundled into a fried won-ton "bowl."

Vegetable egg foo yong was one delicately fried, 8-inch omelet, tucked with mung bean sprouts, peas, carrot and celery slivers and onions. The fresh-prepared vegetables gave it, too, plenty of crunch.

But the deeper you go into the Japanese and authentic Chinese menus, even the specials, the richer the rewards. A sole fillet in savory Thai chile sauce was not only delicious but elegantly presented, with a shaped pyramid of white rice and lightly sautéed fresh vegetables. A light wine-kissed sauce clung to the traditional Chinese stir-fried bok choy and shiitakes.

Yet, there's still plenty here to satisfy those who want to venture only as far as moo goo gai pan or sweet-and-sour pork. Diners yearning to go further afield just have to be more assertive.

PLAN AHEAD, AND DUCK: As Mr. Kang describes it in an e-mail, the Peking duck ($25) sounds positively beguiling. Made according to a family recipe, it must be ordered 24 hours in advance. After marinating overnight and slow roasting, it is carved and deboned tableside by Mr. Kang.

While diners enjoy the meat rolled in steamed pancakes with scallions and plum sauce, he says that the bones are hustled back to the kitchen, where they're turned into duck soup that becomes the final course of the meal. Although we missed the deadline this time, you can bet that description is going to bring us back.

Food – Three and One Half Stars
Service – Three Stars
Atmosphere – Three Stars
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