Glossy floors and shiny wood walls line the room, setting the stage for UKAI Sushi & Chinese's centerpiece—a burbling fountain, home to a towering plant and cascading waters flowing down a rock formation. Though the scene is captivating, the main attraction is the menu, covering both Japanese and Chinese cuisine. Drawing on Japanese traditions, the chefs craft specialty rolls, some with surprising ingredients. For instance, the Angel roll pairs sliced apples with shrimp and crab meat, and the Snow White roll wraps up coconut sauce and tuna without attracting evil queens. Conversely, they specialize in Chinese-American staples, as well as a lineup of chef's specials, including coconut shrimp drizzled in coconut sauce and honey-walnut shrimp.
Considering the diversity of backgrounds that have contributed to Red Chopsticks, it's not surprising that the restaurant has a pan-Asian style. The founders previously conceived Oysy Sushi and Baisi Thai, and Executive Chef Li, a native of Zhengzhou City, left his post at the Zhengzhou International Hotel to man kitchens in St. Louis and Chicago's Chinatown before taking his post at Red Chopsticks.
The menu is predominantly Chinese, as evidenced by entrees such as szechuan pork and kung pao beef. But patrons will also find other Asian specialties, including pad thai noodles that entangle cabbage, chicken, and peanuts, and clear singapore rice noodles colored by bean sprouts and carrots. No matter the dish, Chef Li prepares everything from scratch, including sauces, pastries, and silverware, and uses a fresh assortment of veggies and produce.
The wok-frying chefs at The Formosa Cafe stock eclectic lunch and dinner menus with a variety of authentic Chinese dishes. Starter items include the nanjing chicken lettuce wraps ($6), which enrobe wok-charred chicken and veggies like the powder-blue sport coat that perpetually enrobed Ben Franklin. Entrées include gingery sea shrimp basking in sun-dried black-bean sauce ($15 for dinner; $8 for lunch) and a Hong Kong-style U Goo Gai, packed with hoisin-doused almond cashew chicken and a veggie medley ($12 for dinner; $7 for lunch). Traditional rice-wine-laced vegetable lo mein sates vegetarian cravings ($10 for dinner; $7 for lunch), and ying and yang treats ($6 for two) such as the brown-sugar-and-banana dessert wonton satisfy sweet hankerings.
Noodle and rice dishes laced with influences from Mongolia and China leap from the pages of Dragon Palace's menu to frolic between chopsticks. Clouds of exotically scented steam rise from shrimp, beef, and tofu and call to mind distant vistas. Dishes call on fresh fistfuls of string beans, baby corn, pineapple, and other common scarecrow character witnesses, which parade alongside savory morsels of lobster or scallop. Paintings of koi fish gaze from Dragon Palace's wall, and delivery, catering, and carry-out services launch warming dispatches to parties and businessmen attempting to telecommute to food fights.
"The name would suggest that dumplings are the draw here," says the Chicago Reader of Katy's Dumpling House, "but it's the fresh homemade noodles that instantly turn unsuspecting diners into fervent members of the cult of Katy's." Beyond the restaurant's expansive front windows hung with neon-lit Chinese characters, chefs simmer those noodles with rich, savory beef broth, fry them with shrimp, and pair them with pickled turnip in pork broth soup. The dumplings are nothing to scoff at, however—filled with fennel-laced pork or beef with scallions, the Chicago Tribune celebrates the delicate starch pockets as "delicious" and "awe-inspiring". Beyond the restaurant's namesake dish, a range of traditional Chinese recipes also satisfies in such forms as moo shu chicken and eggplant in garlic sauce.
Thirty years ago, Chef Wu's generations-old beef noodle soup recipe became the culinary foundation for a restaurant where authentic Chinese dishes fuse with one another to create a fresh, new cuisine. Flavors taken from the Sichuan region of China take on modern, continental influences, cloaking steak, seafood, and tofu in rich, piquant sauces with citrus, umami, and cream bases. Beloved American Chinese classics such as shrimp and walnuts are updated with the inclusion of unexpected touches such as crisp candied walnuts, and others, including tea-smoked duck, adhere to traditional flavors taken from local Earl Grey rivers.