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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    The thrifty foodie at Guilin Chinese Restaurant

    Finding good, cheap Chinese food can be difficult. Many restaurants offer a menu based on what customers assume is Chinese food, rather than actual Chinese cuisine. Even when a place does offer authentic dishes, there’s always the danger that it may not taste good.

    Guilin Chinese Restaurant, named after the scenic city in Guangxi, China, occasionally plays to public assumptions about Chinese food, but it does so without compromising quality and flavor.

    The keywords to Guilin’s fare are clarity and balance. Each ingredient’s essential flavor – aside from the vegetarian “”meats”” – comes through clearly, even when coated with a sauce.

    Take, for example, the green pepper beef ($4.95 at lunch), a common entrée at Chinese restaurants. In Guilin’s version, the brown sauce didn’t overwhelm the tongue with salt or sugar; instead both flavors blended together with the soy and broth to complement and enhance the beefy flavor. Another noticeable quality of the entrée was the sharp contrast in textures between the bell peppers and beef. The peppers were firm without being raw while the beef yielded gently to both fork and teeth.

    Located across Speedway Boulveard from The Loft Cinema, Guilin distinguishes itself from other Chinese restaurants with its generous vegetarian and vegan menu. Half of the lunch and close to two-thirds of the dinner items are aimed at the non-meat eater.

    One such entrée was General Tso’s vegetarian chicken ($5.95), which could be mistaken for the real thing. It had a texture that was almost indistinguishable from actual chicken. Closer inspection revealed the “”meat”” could be pulled apart like shredded chicken. The fried batter shell was, remarkably, not oily. Its bright red sauce sparked the tongue with a spiciness that didn’t prove punishing, and was counteracted with a soft sweetness.

    The daily lunch specials are affordable, even on a student’s budget in the current economy ($4.95 – $6.95). Each special comes with white or fried rice; hot and sour or egg drop soup; and a vegetarian egg roll or crab puff. Both soups were good. Each spoonful of the hot and sour soup revealed a balance between the initial peppery heat and the tart finish. Cubed water chestnuts in the egg drop soup added a crunchy surprise to this restaurant staple.

    Tasty bargains could also be found during dinner service. Prices average around $8-$9 per entrée, but each dish is served family style so a party of two to four can easily share the food and the bill.

    One notable item was the vegetarian sizzling rice soup ($6.50), which differed greatly from its lunchtime cousins. Rice stuck to the bottom and sides of a rice cooker is deep fried and then placed in the broth, which causes a sizzling and popping sound. Guilin’s take on this restaurant specialty had a clean, bright taste that somehow barely had any oil to it. Each vegetable in the soup presented its flavor clearly with reinforcement from the vegetable broth, and had the right doneness without becoming mushy.

    Guilin’s cashew chicken ($7.95) had the chicken and the cashews, but it was almost a different dish. Instead of stir-frying, the vegetables and thin slices of chicken were poached in a white sauce made from vegetable broth and slices of garlic. This resulted in meat that was incredibly tender and tasted like actual chicken, not “”like chicken.””

    Not everything at Guilin’s was successful. The white rice was serviceable while there was no detectable crab flavor to the crab puffs. The lunch menu is somewhat limited so anyone seeking something beyond the typical Chinese-American fare will have to specifically ask for a different menu.

    These are minor complaints, though. There had to be a few problems to balance out everything that Guilin gets right.

    3250 E. Speedway Blvd.

    Phone: (520) 320-7768

    Business hours:

    Sunday 11:30 a.m. – 9 p.m.;

    Monday-Thursday 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.;

    Friday 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.;

    Saturday 11:30 a.m. – 9:30 p.m.

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