New Chinese in Chico…Meet “Flavor Falls”

23 12 2007

I’m usually loathe to try a new restaurant. I want it to be open for a good 3 months and work out the kinks before I visit. However, we recently read in the Chico News and Review that one of the Chinese Buffets had been revamped into a sit-down restaurant, AND it got nice reviews on the food. I’m afraid I may be more harsh than the reviewer from CN&R, but that isn’t to say the food wasn’t good.

Following our last Chinese dining disaster, as recounted earlier here, we figured anything would be reasonably decent.  It was 3 days before Christmas, still early in the evening for dining.  The shopping centers were still in gridlock. Trying to think of somewhere that we could get in without an hour’s wait, we thought of the place we’d read about.  At that point, neither of us could remember the name of the restaurant, but we knew where to go.  Housed in the former Pat & Larry’s Steakhouse building at 20th & Park, “Flavor Falls” presents as a standard Chinese restaurant, but one without a lot of clatter. Booths and tables fill the dining space, really nothing to remark about…art work on the walls, and since their greeting/cashier area is a bit secluded from the dining area, one could be there several minutes without being noticed. That having been said, everything appeared clean and sufficiently appointed.

The food…the food was really good, but not great, not fabulous, not beyond-compare as we’d been lead to believe by the CN&R article. We started off with an appetizer they called a “Bo-bo Platter” ($.950) – you know the kind, called po-po, or any number of other things. We ordered their Wor-Won-Ton Soup ($6.95) as it’s a perennial favorite of ours. From there we struggled…we love good food, and love to try new things so we tend to order WAY too much food in order to sample lots of tastes. Being sensibly restrained, I ordered one entree each for us: Cashew Nut Chicken and Salt and Pepper Ribs (we’ve seen these as Chiu Yim Ribs-it was a good guess). Now it didn’t arrive in that order, but it all got there…a little quick perhaps, but it wasn’t busy at all either. Here’s the run-down.

Wor Won-Ton Soup: They get bonus points for actually hanging around to stir and serve the first bowls! Bonus points again for the fact that there is actually SOUP in the bowl! Whoa! Another bonus point! The vegetables are crisp-tender and not overcooked! The broth is clear, yet very flavorful. There’s a bit of warm spice going on that’s very nice. The meats all have their own flavors, and that’s very nice. The only drawback is that the little won-ton dumplings are rather pasty where they’re closed. Not bad, but not pleasant either.
Bo-Bo Platter: This is a sharing-plate for two with butterflied deep fried shrimp, eggrolls, BBQ pork, beef skewers, paper-wrapped chicken and won-tons. The plate came nicely arranged, two by two on a bed of shredded iceberg lettuce (I’m not sure whether to give bonus points for trying to dress the plate or what here), with a small bowl of hot mustard on the plate and a bowl of sweet & sour on the side. Much to my surprise, the BBQ pork was warm, not hot, but just warmed enough to release it’s juices – very nice touch! The eggroll was pretty much unremarkable – neither good nor really bad. The shrimp were over-breaded, or too small for the amount of breading, and all the deep fried foods were cooked at too low a temperature, so were greasy – blech. Thankfully, the s & s sauce proved to be a flavorful, downright tasty savior for this dish. It could have had a bit more tang for me, but it had a honest-to-goodness flavor and wasn’t over-congealed. The paper-wrapped chicken was fragrant and tasty. I’m not sure that can be messed up. It aways seems to come out well. As I mentioned the BBQ pork was slightly warm, and had a lovely delicate flavor. The beef skewer was a 1/4 inch thick strip of steak (london broil perhaps) which had been marinated and likely baked. It was dry top and bottom, but very tender and very tasty. It would be worth getting an order to analyze the flavors.
Salt and Pepper Ribs: One of my favorite dishes at the local Chinese restaurant is Chiu Yim Ribs. It’s a little spicy, but not too bad if you don’t eat those dark red things (chiles). These are very thin pieces of pork (but I don’t know what cut. They’re seasoned and dredged in flour (rice?) and deep fried. They’re addictive! We were hoping this would be similar enough to what we’ve had before, and we hit it right on the money. The meat is cooked really fast so it keep the meat moist while the outside is crunchy. Gotta love it!
Cashew Nut Chicken: Now this was tasty! Little chunks of chicken, celery, onion, baby corn, carrot and zucchini combined and cooked so quickly that the vegetables don’t lose their crunch. We ate easily half of this without batting an eye.

About the time I got started on the Cashew Nut Chicken, I began to notice a similarity of flavors. Uh-oh. There’s an anchor seasoning, and so far, it’s in EVERYTHING. That’s not to say that was a totally bad thing, but it wasn’t 100% good either. If I wanted all the same flavor, I’d only order 1 dish. So, I started tasting back…yep. That nice warm spice in the soup was also in the sweet & sour sauce and it was in the chicken dish, and it was on the ribs as well. Doggone it. I like Chinese 5 spice as well as the next person, but #@*% ! That’s kind of like putting curry into every single dish! Like I said, it wasn’t necessarily bad, but it breaks down the adventure of the classic flavors of the cuisine. Oh well. It’s not my restaurant. Maybe they need to cook according to their audience rather than to their heritage. Lord, save me from the masses and feed me heritage ANY time!

At this point, Flavor Falls may be the best Chinese that Chico has to offer…and that’s kind of sad.  For me it rates a “Let’s come here again…sometime” which is right up ahead of “If we’re in the neighborhood…” but behind “Let’s come here again!”  The food is good enough to bring me back, but it isn’t so good I’d drive well out of my way over Happy Garden, and do not get me started on Peter Chu’s…that’s not the prettiest of stories!  However, if I had a serious yen for Wor Won-Ton soup…I’d definitely go out of my way to get theirs!

I think I’ll give them 2-1/2 Whisks.

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