Americans, on the whole, are not good at sharing. We’re used to our own share of everything from real estate to entrees.
But many other cultures around the world eat the same way at restaurants as most of us do at home – sharing a few plates with the table. That way, everyone at the table gets to try a wider variety for less financial investment. The approach works virtually everywhere, but nowhere better than those designed for family style dining. China Star, located on Sheridan Drive in Amherst, exemplifies the approach.
With a large, rotating glass disc in the center of many tables, even the decor suggests it. If you’ve never visited an authentic Chinese restaurant before, we recommend bringing a few friends and your sense of adventure. Many dishes are roughly translated, and while your sever will be happy to explain, leaps of faith can be both fun and rewarding.
Stay away from the American Dishes side, unless one of your party is very picky. Three or four dishes for a party of five is a good rule of thumb, depending on your appetites.
Szechuan cuisine tends toward the spicy side, so mind the red pepper menu icons. While China Star’s heat is relatively tame by Szechuan standards, many items still pack a punch. The lunch special features a list of mostly American-style dishes, with a side of egg drop, wonton or hot and sour soup ($6.99). Those are solid choices too, but the dinner side is where the real gold lies.
To start, cold cucumber with scallion sauce ($4.95) is a cool, crunchy complement to cool off before or after spicier dishes. Pair it with succulent, slightly sweet eggplant with garlic sauce ($9.95) to experience two very different vegetable preparations.
Next, chicken with chongqing style dried chili ($13.95) crunches like dry-fried chicken, but those crackly peppers pack an addictive punch. Leave the chilis on the plate if you value your taste buds. Shredded pork with garlic sauce ($12.95) is umami and flavorful, while tamer than the chili-studded chicken. Any of the pork or beef dishes will not disappoint, mostly tending toward slightly spicy, savory flavors.
All of the whole fish dishes are deliciously shareable as well, ($15-$22), but watch out for tiny bones. While the prices are higher than the rest, one order can easily split four ways, with side dishes.
Finally, the Big Dish ($14.95) will satisfy any protein craving, with pork, chicken, fish, and shrimp all accounted for. The broth is umami, the fish some of the flakiest we’ve seen, and with all that liquid, it’s a filling pot.
Few missteps exist on China Star’s menu, so step outside your comfort zone and order something new. Adventurous appetites will love the tongue-tickling tripe and ox tongue ($8.25), and pig intestine with garlic ($14.95) tastes tamer than it sounds. With a table full of diners, trying a new protein isn’t as daunting. Try China Star for your next group outing, and you may discover a new favorite.
Address: 4001 Sheridan Drive (631-7198)
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 10 p.m. Sunday.
Price range: Lunch special, $6.99; appetizers and soup, $2-$10; entrees, $8.95-$21.95.
Parking: In the lot.
Gluten-free options: Yes, but cross-contamination is likely.