A Hidden Gem
Tucked away in the rear of Salt Lake’s Chinatown shopping center on State Street is a hidden gem of a restaurant called Chinese Taste. This is one of those charming places where certain things – although not bold flavors – can get lost in translation. Just reading the menu is as entertaining as it is informative, with dishes listed in English such as “Spicy Incense Pot,” “Calamaro,” “Skin of Chickens,” “Gluten” and “Stewed Chicken with Three Cups of Source.” During a recent dinner time visit to Chinese Taste, we were the only non-Asian customers – a good sign, for sure.
A sign in the rear of the restaurant proclaims: “Not the same barbecue.” That is true. One of the specialties of the house is Northern Chinese-style barbecue, which isn’t really barbecue at all. Grilling is what is happening here – skewers of grilled meats and veggies like the kind you find from street vendors in Northern China – some 30 different choices in all. Grilled goodies run the gamut from the familiar, like green pepper, shrimp, scallops, tofu, sausage, beef and lamb, to the less routine: chicken heart, fish balls, bacon with enoki, chicken kidney, oysters, and the aforementioned chicken skin.
Most of the BBQ skewers are priced low, ranging from 99 cents to $1.69, which means it’s cheap to experiment and take a chance on something you might not otherwise try, such as pig’s feet. The prices listed on the menu are per skewer and depending on the grilled item, most skewers consist of three or four pieces per order. A sampling of some of the skewers we ordered, for example, contained three shrimp, four beef hearts, three tofu pieces, and four slices of beef. Many of the items come sprinkled with a spicy (though not very hot) chili spice rub. It’s telling that the highest priced skewer is also the least adventurous: chicken tenders for $4.99.
Mainstream & More
In addition to the BBQ skewers, Chinese Taste offers more mainstream fare like kung pao chicken, twice-cooked pork, fish in hot chili oil (a must-try), walnut shrimp, beef with broccoli, mapo tofu, and eggplant in garlic sauce. After trying an array of very tasty skewers, we gave the cashew chicken a go. It was good, very fresh tasting, and loaded with cashews, albeit it a tad on the bland side. Oddly enough, each table is equipped with powdered chili for spicy things up, but no chili oil.
And in the case of our server, very little English was spoken and so when we ordered a plate of potstickers (a single order is a dozen of them), they arrived with no sauce for dipping. It wasn’t until later in the meal when I got up to read some signs on the wall that I saw this: “Wow!! We have more than 10 types of sauce for our dumplings and potstickers.” About half way through the meal our server disappeared and was replaced by a young woman whose English was perfect.
A crowd favorite while we were visiting Chinese Taste appeared to be their special hot pot dishes, which a number of different tables were enjoying. These are meant to feed, from the looks of them, from 6 to 8 people. A large, rectangular, heated metal vessel is placed in the middle of the table and diners help themselves to the fixings and food simmering away inside. The most popular hot pot is the BBQ fish pot ($24.99) which comes with whole, skin-on fish bathed in a spicy brown sauce with asparagus, tofu, and garnished with lots of cilantro and white sesame seeds.
For beverages, Chinese Taste offers a smattering of cheap wines, a small beer selection, milk tea, homemade soybean milk, hot tea, ice tea, soft drinks, fruit juices and Wong Lo Kat herbal tea. In a somewhat comical exchange, I ordered a Tsingtao beer (when in Rome…) only to be told that they were out of Tsingtao. So, how about a Sapporo then? Nope, they’d run out of Sapporo. “What beers do you have in stock,” I asked. “Heineken. We have Heineken,” was the response. “I’ll tell you what,” I replied, “I think I’ll have a Heineken.”
Please note that the BBQ items are available only during dinner service, so don’t march over to Chinese Taste at lunchtime if you’re looking to get skewered.
Do you have a favorite Chinese restaurant? Please tell us about it.
Culinary quote of the week:
I eat at this German-Chinese restaurant and the food is really delicious. The only problem is that an hour later you’re hungry for power.
— Dick Cavett
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Originally trained as an anthropologist, Ted Scheffler is a seasoned food, wine & travel writer based in Utah. He loves cooking, skiing, and spends an inordinate amount of time tending to his ever-growing herd of guitars and amplifiers.