A group of us went to ChenZ the other night to celebrate a friend’s birthday. I wasn’t sure what to expect since the restaurant opened only about a month ago, and there were mixed reviews on Yelp.
The moment we stepped foot inside, I was surprised. It did not look like the “typical” Chinese restaurant. The decor was modern, the lighting was dim, and things looked slightly upscale.
For a moment I panicked and thought I was in for a PF Chang’s experience. Nothing against PF Chang’s, but I was just planning for authentic Chinese food at ChenZ.
After glancing at the menu, I was a little more reassured. I noticed that the noodles and dumpling skins were made in-house. AWESOME. I feel like nowadays, most places just use frozen crap.
Another plus was that the menu was varied without being overwhelming. My husband commented that one thing that often puts people off from going to Chinese restaurants is the complicated menu. It can be frustrating trying to decide on what to eat.
Anyway, we had no problem making our selection. There were 8 of us, so we ordered a ton of food to share.
I didn’t get to try the beef noodle soup. It was on the other side of the table most of the night, and I was too full by the time it made its way over to me. The duck noodles were all right. They were covered in hoisin sauce.
I thought the lamb noodles were really good. I think the noodles were made of buckwheat. The texture and taste of the lamb was spot on…not too gamy, perfectly juicy, not overly flavored (which often happens with lamb). The dumplings were nice and crispy on the outside.
Honestly, these dumplings were forgettable. They weren’t bad, but they weren’t AMAZING. I also found it a little odd that one order consisted of 20 dumplings, and they wouldn’t let us do a half order. The ja jang mein (炸醬麵) was pretty good. It didn’t taste like what I’m used to (a little strong on the peanut sauce), but it was still good.
I can’t remember the exact name of this dish, but it’s basically wontons in chili oil sauce. It wasn’t that spicy, which was perfectly fine with me since I have a low threshold for spiciness.
These sesame seed bun thingies (燒餅…I’m not sure how to say this in English) had pork inside. It almost reminded me of 胡椒餅 (Pepper pie? Pepper bun? Again, I’m not sure how this is translated into English). The meat had a nice ginger kick to it, but it was a bit dry. I really liked the outer part, though.
I’ve often heard this dish called “green onion pie”, “green onion pancake”, “scallion pancake”, scallion pie”, etc. It’s called 蔥油餅 in Chinese. I think you can figure out what’s in it. It’s basically dough fried flat like a pancake with bits of scallion in it. ChenZ made it really crispy and flaky. It was great alone, but I think it would’ve been phenomenal if they also gave soy sauce with bits of garlic chopped in it for dipping. That’s how it’s normally eaten.
So, this is what sets ChenZ apart from other Chinese restaurants in Austin…hot pot! ChenZ currently holds the title of the only restaurant in Austin to serve this. If you’ve never had hot pot, you basically get to cook your food at your table. Some people have trouble understanding this concept. “Wait wait wait, you want me to pay to cook my own food??” It sounds silly, but I’m still a fan of it. You get a huge pot of broth, and then you choose which veggies, meat, and other things to cook in it. When the food is done cooking, you can dip it in different sauces. You can also choose different flavors of broth.
Unfortunately, we were too full to order hot pot. I’ll have to go back another time just to try this.
The bill came out to $87 (including tax, excluding tip). For all the food we ordered, I thought it was a steal.