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At Chu's in the Falls, even the mistakes are well worth it

It's OK to be picky about Chinese food.

I was reminded of that during a recent excursion to Chu's Dining Lounge. It's the type of place where your server watches intently at your reaction to the first bite of a meal to make sure it's satisfactory.

The well-maintained establishment is a bright spot on a part of Main Street that becomes all but deserted after 5 p.m., when the law offices and nearby City Hall close.

On a recent Thursday night, about 8, my husband and I brought our growling tummies to Chu's on the advice of a co-worker.

The co-worker had enjoyed going to the original Chu's in Niagara Falls, Ont., growing up.

The owners opened up shop there in the late 1950s but decided to swim against the tide and move to the New York side of the falls in the early '90s.

Now open for the last 15 years on Main Street, the won tons and egg rolls are still as tender as ever, meals are made with fresh ingredients and Margaret, a relative of the owners who has worked at the restaurant for as long as anyone can remember, is just as concerned with pleasing every customer.

Also on the advice of my co-worker, we ordered the won ton soup ($1.50) and an egg roll ($1) to start.

The soup was a clear, tasty broth with four perfectly crafted won ton dumplings floating in the middle of a generous bowl. The crunchy egg roll was filled with bean sprouts instead of the usual cabbage and tasted remarkably like it had never been near a freezer.

We also tried a bowl of the hot and sour soup ($1.50), which had a lot of kick and featured large chunks of tofu, some fresh veggies and strands of egg. The best I've had.

I also had a spring roll ($1.50), which I preferred over the egg roll. While both rolls were quite large and flavorful, I enjoyed the mixture of bamboo shoots and other veggies in the spring roll.

I think a note about the service is needed before we go any further with the meal.

Throughout the spotless establishment were, unfortunately, empty tables with starched white table clothes and servers darting this way and that.

We watched one owner of the restaurant greet a mother and her child who had come to order take-out. As they waited for their food at the empty bar, he talked to the toddler, asked her name and was generally more friendly than strangers seem to be anymore.

Just three tables were occupied, including our own, but two women were serving the food that night.

One insisted on taking a group picture for one of the other tables where four Asian college students sat, and then gave them a little advice about growing up.

We noticed these things because our food did not arrive in five or 10 minutes. It took longer.

In this case, a wait meant the food was being prepared fresh, as we were to soon find out.

The meal was served family style, in large platters with a serving spoon to encourage sharing.

My order of Subgum Won Ton ($8.95) was unfortunately not what I was served. The meal I thought I ordered should have included shrimp and meat-filled won tons, which the menu said were tender cases of pasta and the Chinese precursor to ravioli and kreplach.

I love anything with a won ton in it.

But the plate that arrived steaming before me had fresh, mixed vegetables, shrimp, chicken and barbecue pork all sauteed together with what could have been fried and crunchy won ton triangles lining the sides.

I would rather have had them soft and filled with meat, but the truth is that I didn't even notice the mistake until I was at home perusing the take-out menu I had taken. Then, I realized I had been served the dish listed underneath what I had pointed to on the menu.

I had eaten the Tai Dop Voy, which was the same price and included many of the same ingredients, just prepared in a different manner.

I had thought something was wrong at the time that I was served, but if the food was good enough to distract me from the mistake almost immediately, then all was good.

My husband, however, made an order that's hard to mistake for some other dish. Something which I usually detest, but which I would now order at Chu's:

General Tso's Chicken ($8.95).

The difference between other General Tso's and Chu's version of the popular American dish cannot be overstated.

The chicken pieces were large, moist and juicy.

"There's hardly any gristle or fat!" he exclaimed, which leads me to wonder why he orders something that usually comes with a noticeable amount of either.

But in fact, where the sugary sauce usually dominates a General Tso's order, the chicken was the main feature of this meal at Chu's.

The sauce was thick, tangy and filled with red peppers, one of which my husband accidentally ate, making a funny face before he drained his water glass.

It was served with large steamed broccoli pieces and a large bowl of white rice to share.

I only took a bite after our server promised I would like it, and had such a pleading look on her face that I couldn't refuse.

I would rather have maintained my hatred for the dish but had to admit, darn it all, that this was much different than what I had tried in the past. I think the red peppers and added spices made a big difference with the sauce.

The General Tso's became two more meals at home for hubby, just to give you an idea of what $9 will get you at Chu's.

I can't believe it took me so long to discover Chu's, and that it seems to be taking others a long time as well. It could be one of the few good things we've stolen from Niagara Falls, Ont., and something I hope stays put right there on Main Street.

Chu's Dining Lounge

1019 Main St., Niagara Falls (285-7278)

Review: 3 stars (Out of four)

Favorite dish: Egg rolls and spring rolls

Needs work: Make sure order is correct, don't let us customers point!

Healthy choice: Fresh vegetables

Price range: Fried rice and noodle dishes, $5.95, to special features, such as escargot for $12.50 or Lobster Chunking for $24.95.

Service: Friendly and helpful

Wheelchair access: One step in the front

Parking: Two-hour street parking

Noise level: Quiet but there is a bar, so potential for noise

Kid appeal: Depends on how adventurous they are

Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily.

e-mail: gnorheim@buffnews.com

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