16580 N.E. 74th Street 2nd Floor
Redmond WA 98052
Golden? In price perhaps, but surely not flavor
By: Steve G
My first impression of Redmond Town Center's Golden Chopsticks was that this would be a campy place akin to Panda Express or Magic Dragon. After gazing at its sign with a font that I can only describe as "stereotypical Chinese", I half-expected someone to start quoting an old Charlie Chan movie as we entered the door.
Given the exterior, I was surprised to find that Golden Chopsticks sports a clean, minimalist, modern look that almost teeters on industrial. Between the mirrors adorning the sidewalls and the lack of natural lighting, the place can look a bit cavernous. The design concept is also somewhat awkward. With its excessive use of yellows and black, one reviewer commented that it seemed more like an abstract Charlie Brown motif than anything else. The track lighting and exposed support structure created that all-too-common, quasi-industrial ambiance. The post-modern industrial meets ancient Chinese temple didn't really work for us.
On the menu, Golden Chopsticks offers a variety of Chinese-inspired foods. Lunch combos are available during lunch and dinner. They also offer larger family style dinners for those looking for a more traditional Chinese experience. They were missing the lazy susans that are often found at Chinese places to help pass the food to everyone, so be prepared to constantly be passing dishes around the table. The extra-long table at the center of the restaurant is great for larger parties and reminiscent of the traditional communal banquet tables found in the forecourts of wealthy Chinese families' homes, though we like to think of it as the "triad" table.
Opting to eat family style, we tried the Kung pao shrimp, Chicken in Black Bean Sauce, Crispy beef and Happy family with Pot Stickers for appetizers. Offering six pieces per order, the pot stickers were a good starter. They were made with freshly ground pork, a hint of ginger, and dough that was fried just enough to be crispy without being laded with oil. The dish also came with two different sauces, rice vinegar and chili oil. Note: if you try the chili oil, be sure to use conservative amounts as it can be very potent in larger quantities. Don't say we didn't warn you!
If you're a fan of sweet sauces, the Kung Pao shrimp might be for you. Mixed with expertly cooked mushrooms, peppers, celery and water chestnuts in a spicy, sweet sauce, the plump shrimps were abundant. Usually Kung Pao shrimp is characterized by its mix of spices like ginger and sesame, but this dish seemed to lack any potent punch of taste. In fact, the sauce was mostly just sweet which was very disappointing.
The Happy Family is one of Golden Chopstick's specialties. The sauteed mixture of chicken, prawns and scallops with vegetables wasn't too impressive, but all of the ingredients tasted fine, except for the sauce. Tasting very nondescript, the sauce seemed to be made with a salty yet bland mixture of oyster sauce, soy sauce and a little too much MSG. MSG can be a great flavor enhancer, but to be honest, at $10.00 a plate we would have liked the sauce to be made with real broth instead of a cheap flavor substitute.
We were hoping for some spicy, pungent flavors when we ordered the chicken in black bean sauce. Consisting of chicken mixed with a variety of Chinese greens, I felt the dish could only be described as decent at best. The highlight of the dish was the sauce which was quite surprising as the other dishes seemed to fail in that regard. Much like the other dishes, it exhibited flavors more on the sweet end of the spectrum rather than the salty and spicy. And just like the Happy Family, the chicken had some subtle hints of MSG. Only when it was too late did we notice that by request, Golden Chopsticks can cook the meals without MSG.
The crispy beef consisted of deep fried chunks of beef coated in a light batter. The menu indicated that it was spicy, but after a couple of bites, we tasted little spice in almost every dish. A common thread throughout everyone's meal was that sweetness seemed to substitute for spice. If you prefer some spicy heat with your meal, we recommend asking for extra spice with the crispy beef.
If patience is one of the virtues they wish to bestow on their patrons, mission accomplished. Golden Chopsticks is usually understaffed, so be prepared for a longer wait compared to other restaurants for your food. Some might argue that all good things are worth waiting for, right? Well, the quality of food is decent, but not enough to put up with our long wait. The lunch specials cost around $10.00 and while there might be some markup due to the Redmond Town Center location, $10.00 for a lunch special is far from special. The portions seemed very scanty, particularly in the rice department. Golden Chopsticks is the only option for Chinese food in the Redmond Town Center and while it's a nice little nook, the quality doesn't really justify the prices.