On Jan. 31, the Chinese and much of the Asian world will welcome in the Year of the Horse. While in China, the Lunar New Year is also known as Spring Festival, in Maine, spring is still a long way away. We have too many more days of muddy boots to make the ritual spring cleaning that the Chinese practice as part of their New Year’s observance a practical reality. But we can honor the New Year in another, much less taxing way – by eating dumplings.
Thankfully, the local Chinese food scene has improved significantly in the past few years. Here are four suggestions for Chinese New Year dining, including notes from Press Herald reviews.
TAO YUAN, BRUNSWICK
22 Pleasant St., Brunswick
Through April, chef Cara Stadler will offer family-style Sunday dinners featuring the cuisine of distinct region of China. The first, on Sunday, will highlight the Guangdong/Hong Kong region.
“Uncommon food prepared expertly, with special attention to new and complementary flavors, textures and visuals. The results are surprising and enticing. A creative kitchen melds the best of Far East seasonings and food with local ingredients when possible, and seldom gets it wrong.”
— Nancy Heiser, Dine Out Maine, January 2013
ZEN CHINESE BISTRO
45 Danforth St., Portland
“You enter into an attractive bar area that sports high-top tables for dining and cocktails as well as comfortable dinner booths. The main dining room is upstairs. And it’s large and airy even under its banner of walls painted deep electric blue … The cooking is not necessarily cutting edge or crafty. There’s no fusion gimmickry or sleight-of-hand flavors in surreptitious guises. Instead it’s good solid renditions of the genre, using quality local ingredients prepared with care.”
– John Golden, The Golden Dish, November 2012
EMPIRE CHINESE KITCHEN, PORTLAND
575 Congress St., Portland
“In a thoroughly lively venue for authentic Cantonese cooking (many dishes are old family recipes of the dim-sum and stir-fry chefs), don’t miss the pastrami egg rolls, Peking duck buns, steamed pork buns, honey-walnut shrimp and a menu of eight to 10 dim-sum preparations. Standout large plates include lobster longevity noodles, spicy wok-fried jalapeno shrimp, sizzling teriyaki chicken, marinated fish fillet and nightly specials. Service is first-rate, and the wait staff is fluent in everything the kitchen produces.”
– John Golden, Dine Out Maine, December 2013
KON ASIAN BISTRO
1140 Brighton Ave., Portland
A giant wooden Buddha, his gaze serene, presides over this large and lively restaurant, where well-prepared sushi shares the menu with Chinese stir-fries, noodle dishes and teriyaki. A glass wall separates the main dining space and bar from the boisterous hibachi room, where chefs perform knife tricks and cook your food to order.
– Susan Alexrod, January 2014