SOY MEETS GRILL

Tsang's, 10402 North Metro Parkway East, Phoenix, 997-8281. Hours: Lunch and Dinner, Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Tsang's also seemed wonderfully promising, if one of my correspondents could be believed. A seven-year resident of the Far East, he made the food sound so good that I was even willing to brave the horrors of Metrocenter traffic to sample it. This place certainly isn't designed to scare away Americans. Don't look for Hong Kong travel posters or daily Chinese-language specials posted on the walls. Don't look for homesick natives in search of old country fare, either--no one of Asian ancestry came to dine the night we visited. What you will spot is a pretty, pink-and-green color scheme, along with lots of fake greenery mixed with plastic cactus and Southwestern pots. About the only Chinese touches are three embroidered wall hangings and the display case at the entryway, filled with porcelain and jade bric-a-brac for sale. Aurally, too, you'd be hard-pressed to know you were in a Chinese restaurant. The proprietors' music tape sends out Rossini overtures, "Amazing Grace" and Scott Joplin. Quite unexpectedly, though, the barbecued-pork appetizer roused some long-dormant Chinese-food memories. In what seems like another lifetime, my wife and I once spent some time in London, after living for five years in porkless Muslim countries. We stumbled on a Chinese restaurant with a wonderful appetizer of sliced barbecued pork. We ate it every night for a week. Tsang's version, served in a richly fashioned sweet sauce, seemed just as good. For a few happy moments, the dish enabled us to recall a once-carefree life, before mortgages, kids and worrisome cholesterol counts. The seaweed soup, however, yanked us quickly back to reality. I was hoping for something with quirky ethnic punch, but this bland broth could have been ladled out of the soup tureen at the employee cafeteria. Tsang's fare, like the New Hunan Restaurant's, suffers from some inconsistency. There are peaks, and there are valleys. Hunan beef and chicken had all the flair of a mall-court Chinese-fast-food operation. It's just pieces of meat and poultry in an insipidly flavorless sauce. Sizzling sa-ta beef also lacked oomph. While the beef was certainly tender enough, neither the mound of onions nor the salty brown sauce furnished much of a taste kick. And though both the Hunan beef and chicken and the sa-ta platter were advertised as hot and spicy, they packed all the heat of a tuna fish sandwich. The lo mein, soft Cantonese noodles, also couldn't get off the ground. It tasted like most every other noodle dish in most every Chinese restaurant in town--filling, but uninspired. But several dishes are so deftly prepared, I began to wonder if maybe two chefs patrolled the kitchen. Take the glazed walnut and shrimp, an eye-catching platter you won't find at most neighborhood chop suey parlors. It consists of a dozen shrimp, lightly battered and fried, coated with an offbeat mayonnaise sauce. The shrimp are garnished with sweet, crunchy, honey-glazed walnuts. This unlikely combination of flavors shows off the zest that imaginative Chinese food is capable of. Sesame chicken is a dish that isn't afraid to taste like sesame. It's battered chicken flecked with sesame seeds in a sesame-drenched sauce. Orange-flavored beef has the same winning quality. It's got crispy, gristle-free beef slathered in an orange sauce with a real citrusy kick. Actually, my favorite item here is the yui-shan pork. Sure, it's an old Chinese-restaurant standby, but Tsang's breathes new life into it. The version here features tender pork seasoned with wine and garlic, saut‚ed with pungent, shredded pickled cabbage. You know how Chinese restaurants use asterisks to indicate hot and spicy dishes? Well, maybe Tsang's and the New Hunan Restaurant could help us out by marking their menu highlights. That way, diners could zero in on the good stuff and avoid the mediocrities. Crossed chopsticks, I think, would be the appropriate symbol.

Location Info

Map

Tsang's Chinese Restaurant

9617 N. Metro Parkway W.
Phoenix, AZ 85051

Category: Restaurant > Asian

Region: North Phoenix

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