There is certainly no shortage of Chinese restaurants scattered along the Wasatch Front. There is, however, a saddening shortage of good ones.
I can count on one hand—with one or two digits unused—the restaurants in our area serving authentic Chinese of any sort, be it Cantonese, Szechwan, Hunan, Mandarin … whatever. You know, the sort of place where Chinese immigrants dine with their families. Well, I’m happy to report that you can add Red Maple Chinese Cuisine to the short list of local Chinese restaurants worth picking up a pair of chopsticks for.
On Sundays at lunch/brunch time (from about 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.), the parking lot at Red Maple is packed. Inside, the restaurant is mobbed with hundreds of (mostly) Chinese customers gathered, family-style, around large tables. A couple dozen more await seating. They’ve come to Red Maple for the dim sum, served on weekends. Since most of the parties awaiting tables are large ones, my wife and I got lucky and were seated immediately at a vacant table for two. After being seated, I scoured the vast Red Maple dining rooms and noted that there was only one other table of non-Chinese diners—which told me that this was going to be good.
In case you don’t know, dim sum is sort of a Cantonese version of the tapas or small plates dining experience, typically served in the mornings until, or throughout, lunch. Meats, soups, seafood, vegetables, desserts and fruits are served, normally in small portions via heated pushcarts—dim sum servers roll the carts up and down the aisles of the restaurant and you simply ask for whatever looks especially appetizing. At the end of the meal, the small plates—which run generally from about $2 to $4 each—are added up for the bill. At our dim sum Sunday at Red Maple we shared about 10 different selections, along with two Tsingtao beers and two glasses of wine, and our tab came to only $40.
Don’t be intimated if you’re the only English-speaking customers at Red Maple. The staff is very friendly and helpful. One dim sum server teasingly encouraged me to try the boiled tripe soup and the stewed chicken feet with black bean sauce. “Next time!” I promised. For the less adventurous, like me, there are scrumptious siu mai dumplings stuffed with ground pork and chopped shrimp, steamed to perfection and served, as are many dim sum dishes, in individual steamers. My wife went gaga for the steamed pork buns at Red Maple (three per order) while I lusted after the almost-transparent steamed shrimp dumplings (dumplings or “potstickers” are a big part of dim sum dining). The dim sum offerings at Red Maple are extensive, but a few other tantalizing choices include sesame balls, congee (various versions), barbecued pork spareribs, rice rolls, turnip cake, satay skewers, assorted dumplings and a wonderfully eggy egg custard tart.
The regular menu at Red Maple can be overwhelming—an embarrassment of riches. So, one evening I took the lazy route and opted for one of the “authentic Chinese family dinners” offered. In this case, it was the $38.95 dinner, which the menu says serves four to five people but could’ve easily fed six to eight. Dinner began with a huge bowl of seafood and tofu soup, with chunks of shrimp, scallops and whitefish swimming alongside small cubes of tofu in a silky, glistening broth. Next up were tender slices of boneless chicken in a fragrant lemongrass-spiked sauce with lots of stir-fried veggies. Halfway through the platter of beef with mushrooms, we’d already polished off a bottle of Monkey Bay Sauvignon Blanc and ordered a second, to the delight of my favorite Red Maple server, “Joey.” “Empty bottle for me, new bottle for you!” he said with his infectious smile. Most of the Chinese servers at Red Maple have adopted Anglicized monikers. One of our servers’ nametags read “Faustina,” and even the Shanghai-born owners go by the names “Macy” Chen and “Bronson” Tang.
Meanwhile, back at the traditional family-style dinner, Joey informed us that they had run out of clams with black bean sauce (darn!), but he could substitute salt-and-pepper shrimp. “Bring on the shrimp!” I replied. Well … it wasn’t quite what we’d expected.
The shrimp were large, head-on (and I mean, the whole head), tail-on, legs-on and shell-on, battered and deep-fried. When I crunched into my first shrimp, I really wasn’t anticipating biting into shell. Needless to say, the saltand-pepper shrimp wasn’t a big hit with our party. On the other hand, melt-in-the-mouth pieces of filleted fish (no one could tell us what the fish was), pan-fried and served in a delicate sauce with veggies, redeemed the scary shrimp episode.
Red Maple prices are very, very reasonable, topping out at $17.95 for lobster and $18.95 for crab. But here’s the deal: That’s $17.95 for two lobsters and $18.95 for two crabs. It’s buy one, get one free, and the shellfish are prepared in myriad ways, including spicy Szechwan-style, with lemon grass, sweet and sour, sautéed with garlic, with ginger and green onion, or simply with butter—your choice. Lunch combinations, too, are a bargain: $5.95 for a main dish, rice, salad, cheese wonton (why?), soup (the hot and sour is great) and a daily side dish. I found the kung pao chicken to be a bit bland, but green beans in spicy black bean sauce totally rocked.
It’s obvious from my visits that the Chinese community here has fallen in love with Red Maple Chinese Cuisine. Now, it’s your turn.
RED MAPLE CHINESE CUISINE
3361 S. Redwood Road
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