Year of the ox
If you will it, it is no dream - kosher Chinese food is for real at Tel Aviv's China Lee.
Back when I was a kid, my family and I dined monthly at the Hope Hing Chinese restaurant in Garwood NJ. I fondly recall this local establishment, with the waiter who resembled Charlie Chaplin, the wallpaper boasting a traditional embossed rich crimson velvet design and the extensive menu.
The eatery is long gone, which is of little matter to me now that I live across an ocean and no longer eat spare ribs. Since my arrival to Israel eight years ago, I had not enjoyed any kosher Chinese cuisine on offer - until recently that is.
Just around the time of the Chinese New Year, I had the privilege of going to China Lee. The experience began with the dramatic dÃ©cor of black, silver and China Red. By chance, perhaps, my dining partner was clad in a matching hued Hawaiian shirt. We were greeted with the house cocktail. While quite sweet, it was not intoxicating enough to drown out the music track on repeat, which sounded as though it could have been from Cirque de Soleil. Sadly, there were no acrobats or trapeze artists to watch, just the bizarre tune. I suppose we could have inquired as to the soundtrack's source but we lost interest once the food arrived, having become more concerned with tastes than sounds.
One of my favorite dishes growing up was wonton soup, so I was eager to sample the China Lee creation. It was deliciously kosher and only NIS 26. We enjoyed the other appetizers sampled as well: the chicken eggroll (NIS 34) and the crunchy maki tempura coated with panko (NIS 39).
Presented with six main courses, my dining partner and I relished in the different flavors of each dish. The tender Szechuan beef with mushrooms (NIS 79) was delectable. The succulent tempura coated crispy duck (NIS 109) was a delight and so too the Lee fish (NIS 82), served with a sweet and sour sauce with garlic, ginger, onion and roasted almonds. The latter two dishes were complete meals unto themselves, each served on thinly sliced vegetables and crunchy rice noodles.
Showing great promise, the nuts in the cashew chicken (NIS 77) dish were crunchy and not soggy. But, it seemed to have been left in the wok a wee bit too long. The China Bomb (NIS 69), aside from having an interestingly interpretive name for Pad Thai, was not up to par. Thus, my quest for a perfect version of this Thai dish continues (a sign perhaps, that this Chinese restaurant should focus on that country's cuisine rather than go the pan-Asian route).
The last of the six was a house specialty, the chili pepper noodle dish (NIS 69) of egg noodles, sautÃ©ed vegetables and hot chili sauce. Even though it is oft considered impolite, we couldn't resist slurping up this portion with gusto. However, we were quickly reminded that the eye is no place for the last ingredient.
Following suit for a meal that led me down a nostalgic lane, the desserts at China Lee reminded me of those that I ate without consequence on childhood visits to American amusement parks: heaping scoops of vanilla ice cream with pineapple slices in a fried tempura shell, with chocolate and maple syrup - an amply gooey ending. Though, a simple fortune cookie would have sufficed.
A final wondrous feature on offer at China Lee is the business lunch. For NIS 45 you'll enjoy a first and main course with a soft drink. The portions are decent, and the hours it's offered, from noon to 6 p.m., are some of the most gracious I have seen. For an additional price, you can upgrade to some of the fancier dishes on offer.
For us Jerusalemites with kosher obligations, the ride out to China Lee was worth it. So, if you love Chinese fare - especially those fried wonton snacks with duck sauce - you are hereby encouraged to get on a bus, a train, a sherut or an intercity motorcycle (mopeds stay at home) to visit Tel Aviv and try some of these treats for yourselves.
China Lee (7 Montefiore St., Tel Aviv; (03) 510-3140) is open Sun. to Thurs. from noon till midnight, on Fri. by reservation only and Sat. from the end of Shabbat till midnight; kosher (Glatt Mehadrin). The writer was a guest of the restaurant.