When I landed my first job as a server at a Chinese restaurant north of Dallas, I had a picky palate. After a few weeks, the owner convinced me to sample one innocuous dish. “This is awesome,’’ I said as my father arrived to pick me up. I motioned to the owner. “What’s this called again, Terrence?’’ He smirked at my ignorance. “Pork fried rice.’’
That was my introduction and thus, simple fried rice became my standard for all Chinese restaurants. My tastes have expanded since then, but I still adhere to that rule: If a place serves bad rice, why bother?
Peter Woo’s Chinese Restaurant, for 17 years tucked on a busy Revere street corner, delivers on its pork fried rice ($4.75 small; $6.50 large), stained dark with soy sauce and carrying no accoutrements. Chicken fried rice ($4.75 small; $6.75 large) also holds up and packs in bonus bean sprouts and onions.
While Peter Woo’s passes the critical fried rice test, the rest of its menu oscillates between fantastic and just good enough.
A highlight is pineapple chicken ($12), a “chef’s specialty’’ with an impressive presentation of grilled chicken breast adorned with pineapple chunks and broccoli on crispy noodles. The chicken is dry at first, but once some rich, pineapple-based sauce from the bottom of the dish is scooped on top, it becomes delectable.
A staggering meal of Singapore noodles ($9), combining shrimp and chicken julienne with pea pods and curried noodles, offers good value, though the dish is heavy on ginger, but not vegetables.
Three dinner specials, Szechuan spiced shrimp ($8.20), General Gau’s chicken ($8.50), and sesame chicken ($8.50), are inconsistent. The shrimp, packed with vegetables in a delicious spicy sauce, is a healthier and tastier option than other heavily breaded dishes. General Gau’s, despite lacking spice, beats out the sesame chicken, which is too heavy with a mysterious ginger flavor. Owner Peter Woo later contends that ginger is not used in his sesame sauce, so we never figure out what the dominant taste is. All specials offer a choice of white or pork fried rice.
Though rice is an effective gauge of a restaurant’s merit, egg rolls are equally crucial. Peter Woo’s egg rolls ($4.50) are enormous and too much to handle, so we order spring rolls ($4.50). Unfortunately, they are oddly flat, disappointingly dry, and absolutely crammed with cabbage. The restaurant makes up for it with an impressive lineup of other appetizers.
The house platter ($25.25) offers egg rolls, chicken fingers, chicken wings, boneless spare ribs, fried shrimp, beef teriyaki, Peking dumplings, and crab Rangoon. We remark on the platter’s size as the waiter teeters over. With a grin he responds, “Come on, it’s not that big.’’ The sweet flavor of the spare ribs stands out.
Surprisingly, of all the dishes here, the true star is soup. Served in a giant bowl, hot and sour soup ($4.75) could be a meal itself. It’s full of ingredients such as tofu and beef, though when I ask for specifics, Woo says, “I can’t tell you that. Secret recipe. That’s why everyone likes it.’’
Maybe he’s right. Just keep serving soup and fried rice this good, and the place will be fine.
Glenn Yoder can be reached at email@example.com.