For 13 years, husband-and-wife team Cheau and Simpson Jiang served up Chinese favorites at San Dong Express on North Academy Boulevard. Four years ago, illness sidelined Cheau (pronounced "chow"), forcing the couple to take a long break from the restaurant business. About two months ago, renewed health along with a stifled passion for cooking brought them back.
Their new Lanshing Café, just east of the Promenade Shops at Briargate, combines a fast-food concept with a commitment to fresh ingredients. Though small, the restaurant is warm, with rich burgundy colors and a jovial Buddha statue flanked by orchids on one wall. Cheau says the restaurant's name combines the Chinese word for "orchid" and the phrase for "to carry the aroma."
Cheau greets us first-timers with exuberance, but empty steam trays give me pause.
"Everything will be made fresh," she explains.
We start off with the crabmeat cheese wontons (six for $4.95), tasty, crispy treats bearing a sweet, creamy filling. For my lunch combo #1 (one entre with choice of fried, steamed or brown rice or vegetables, $5.45), I choose the garlic chicken with stir-fried vegetables.
Lanshing doesn't skimp on the veggies: bamboo shoots, bok choy, carrots, mushrooms, red and green bell peppers mixed with slivers of garlic and tender chicken make for a colorful, slightly spicy, healthy and delicious combination.
I can't resist a small bottle of Japanese cream soda ($2.25), which I need Cheau's help to open. The plastic cap reveals a glass ball that, when forced into the tapered neck, rattles with each sip. The drink is fizzy and delicious, but the bottle itself proves a bigger talking point.
My husband's combo #2 (two entres with a side, $6.85) of beef and broccoli and sweet and sour chicken over fried rice is solid, for the most part. While I find his chicken a little gummy for my taste, he devours it happily.
The combination lo mein ($7.95), with beef, chicken and shrimp, arrives with plump noodles. The shrimp are large, and though the beef lacks flavor, that doesn't stop my kids from enjoying it.
On a second, take-out visit, I am greeted like an old family friend. I choose the curry shrimp ($11.95), Mongolian beef ($9.95) and pork egg fu young ($7.95). Cheau remarks that she's been contemplating using the steam trays for homemade, round, savory dumplings. Her husband has reminded her that in a slow economy, she shouldn't overdo it ... but maybe making some in advance once a week would be OK? Sounds good to me.
At home, the fragrant curry with potatoes, carrots, green bell pepper and large, tender shrimp bring a spicy kick. The Mongolian beef with green and yellow onion pleases, but the pork egg fu young really stands out. Ribbons of perfectly cooked meat and a bevy of just-crisp vegetables shower over an onion-laced omelet. The colorful mix of zucchini, mushrooms, pea shoots and carrots in a subtle, sweet brown sauce leaves us both smiling.
With its dedication to fresh dishes and crisp vegetables, Lanshing Café makes a lovely addition to the north side and a welcome return of a family with a passion for food.