As teenagers, my friends and I became known by name at the Chinese Buffet in our upstate New York town. There, we followed a ritualistic fortune cookie reading in which we'd tack on "in bed" to the end of our fortunes, making each experience a memorable one, and the buffet rotation felt almost like a school cafeteria. Whether it was the sleep-inducing buzz from MSG or our raging teenage hormones that led to the tagline, a reprise of "in bed," fortunes echoed at Red Dragon Chinese Restaurant this week.
For many foodies, Americanized Chinese food isn't a regular stop with more authentic Asian options like Japanese and Thai food available, but several of my friends, devout fast-foodies, as I've come to call them, enjoy nothing more than heaping portions of General Tso's (an American invention) at Red Dragon. We arrived at this south-end spot and settled in with good intentions and were greeted by a giant gold Buddha in the entryway and the familiar sounds of trickling water and soft music. The space was well lit and decorated with porcelain vases.
The dining area consisted of banquettes, a service bar with a few seats, and a buffet station that was not in use for dinner. Through a corridor, another door led to a secluded lounge that was restricted to patrons 21 and older. We were seated in a banquet in an otherwise empty dining room, which could explain the speed of service.
We started with beer, sake and an order of Vegetable Spring Rolls ($6.95) as we looked over the menu. The deep-fried cabbage and carrot spring rolls were served with sides of hot mustard, a mild plum sauce and a sweet and sour sauce. The appetizer was edible, but not incredible. The Hot & Sour soup was well seasoned; the salad served its purpose although the dressing was overly sweet and sticky. It could've benefited from some olive oil and vinegar.
Our entrees arrived quickly and we were overwhelmed by the generous portions. I wondered about chopsticks, but eating such a giant portion with chopsticks would've taken forever, so we all dug in with forks. The Orange Chicken ($8.95) was presented traditionally with sliced oranges and a pile of slightly battered chicken with a nice, sweet orange flavor. The Mongolian Beef ($9.95) was not spicy enough, but the serving of sliced beef was hearty. The Combination Dinner #10 ($9.50), featured Hunan chicken drenched in sauce, BBQ pork, pork fried rice and fried shrimp. A bowl of white rice accompanied the entrees.
Whereas traditional Chinese food is based on opposites (hot vs. cold, spicy vs. mild) and emphasizes leafy vegetables and fresh seafood, American Chinese food caters to American-style take-out and buffet dining, with favor to food that can be cooked very quickly with oil and salt.
American Chinese food originated in the US in the 19th century when Chinese restaurateurs, realizing a new market among railroad workers, began substituting original ingredients with local ones and modifying preparations. Dishes were numbered for distinction and a roll with butter became a common side dish. This is unique to American Chinese food for better or worse, but its heritage is worth noting since these restaurants were a reaction to the political climate of the day.
As we stuffed half of our entrees into to-go containers, a receipt and three fortune cookies were placed on the table. "Good food leads to a good life... in bed"; "Your greatest desire will be revealed... in bed"; "Your future will be full of fortune... in bed." For our future and for the future of Red Dragon, I hope that these fortunes come true, in and out of bed.
Lunch Mon-Fri 11:30-2:00; Dinner Mon-Sun 4:30-9:00. 61247 S. Highway 97, (541) 389-9888