When The China opened in the Wollaston section of Quincy in December, I scoffed at the idea. An Asian-themed sports bar in an area known for its concentration of authentic Chinese cuisine? If it appeals only to Westernized tastes, it won’t last long, I predicted.
Owner Judy Chen, however, is obviously a smarter businesswoman than I. She has created an attractive and relaxing spot that welcomes a diverse clientele, ranging from locals looking to enjoy tasty bites and drinks, to Westerners intimidated by places that cater to Chinese speakers, to Asian immigrant families who expect food prepared the Chinese way.
Chen learned the business at her family’s restaurant, Golden China in Canton (Massachusetts, not China), which has been in business since 1978. They have also recently opened Hokkaido, a Japanese restaurant, a few doors down on Quincy’s Hancock Street. Chen, who grew up in Canton and served in Army intelligence in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, during Operation Desert Storm, brings her understanding of East and West to her new operation.
At 2,500 square feet, The China can seat more than 70 people in its large open space. A bar is situated on one side of the long room, and there are several bar-height tables in the main dining area. Befitting a sports bar, 11 flat-screen TVs line the walls (including two in the bathrooms, so no one has to miss the action), and murals of Boston’s championship teams adorn the remaining wall space. There are also three TVs for Keno. In nice weather, the wall-size windows are left open, so it feels like you’re sitting in an outdoor spot.
It’s the diversity of culinary offerings, however, that sets The China apart from the competition. Chen offers three distinct menus: The Chinese-American menu includes Western favorites such as pupu platters, Polynesian delights, chop suey, cheeseburgers, and pizzas. The dim sum menu offers small bites such as chicken feet, steamed buns, and fried crab claws with shrimp. The menu with authentic Chinese dishes includes braised bean curd, pea pod stems, and clams with black bean sauce.
Curious as to how well a sports bar can do real Chinese, I focused on the dim sum and authentic menus, which are printed in both Chinese and English. Our party, who all grew up eating the real deal, was pleasantly surprised at the quality of our meals. Outstanding dishes include frog with chives in a garlic sauce ($20), salt and pepper calamari ($9.25), and yee mein noodles with vegetables ($14).
The frog legs were tender, fresh, and clean-tasting, with the chives and garlic adding depth of flavor to a delightful dish. Beware, however, of the small bones.
The lightly battered calamari served over a bed of lettuce was beautifully done: both crispy and tender with a slight chew.
Yee mein (also known as yi mein or e-fu noodles) is a variety of Cantonese egg noodles commonly eaten during celebrations. The long yellow noodles have a springy, chewy texture that goes well stir-fried with onions and fresh shiitake mushroom slices. If you like Chinese-American-style lo mein, you’ll love yee mein.
Dim sum items are available to order all day, but for a real Chinese experience, visit between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., when the small bites are pushed around on carts. Prices range from $2.75 for small desserts to $6.75 for XX-large seasonal dishes such as river snail with black bean sauce. Chen says all their dim sum offerings are made in house, with a staff busily wrapping dumplings and steaming buns every day.
Thanks to a bilingual wait staff, dim sum newbies will feel comfortable and satisfied here. Purists, however, may find faults. While the har gau (shrimp) and sui mai (pork) dumplings were large and well flavored, the wrappings were thicker than ideal. Instead of being silky, the shrimp rice rolls were thicker and rougher than expected. Most disappointing, however, was the pan-fried turnip (daikon) cake; it was chewy and dry, more filler than daikon.
Chen says The China’s Asian-inspired pizzas ($8 for a 10-inch pie), with toppings including moo shi vegetable and kung pao chicken, have been a hit. The thought of cheese baked on top of General Gau’s chicken really puzzled my kids, but strangely, it worked. The sauce had a sweet, zesty kick, and they thought the mozzarella/cheddar mix complemented the disparate flavors. I made the mistake, however, of ordering the pie as take-out, and the crust was no longer crispy when we got around to eating it.
The China offers entertainment five nights a week: trivia on Tuesdays at 8, karaoke on Thursdays at 9, a DJ on Fridays and Saturdays at 9, and live acoustic music on Sundays at 5.
During my visits, I noticed that the non-Asian diners tend to order the more familiar Chinese-American dishes. Chen says she encourages people to try dim sum and other authentic items. “Customers who’ve tried it love it,” she said.
For her customers, getting an education on Chinese fare never tasted so good.
Wendy Chow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.