Good fortune?

At Eat Rice, maybe it’s in the cookie

By Paula Johnson

“You area gifted in many ways.” This was the misspelled sentiment in the fortune cookie I opened after eating lunch from Eat Rice in Kettering. It was close to being correct, but the one letter off resulted in it making no sense. It seemed the appropriate ending to my meal because that was not quite right, either.

Joining me for a quick lunch was art teacher extraordinaire Jenn. Eat Rice is a small storefront located in a strip shopping center on Smithville Road. We parked easily, though parking is shared with the other businesses in the strip. The day was cold, and we noticed as we stood at Eat Rice’s counter to order that the small dining area didn’t seem to be very warm either. As we briefly sat at a table to look at the menu, we noticed something else.

“It’s pretty sticky,” Jenn observed.

Decision made: we would take our order back to Jenn’s art studio nearby. We chose Fried Dumplings ($4.25), Cold Noodles with Sesame Sauce ($4.25), Black Pepper Chicken ($7.95), Bean Curd Sezchuan Style ($5.50) and lunch special Broccoli with Garlic Sauce ($5.25) which included an Egg Roll and Wonton Soup.

The real deal?

The question with Chinese cuisine (and other ethnic cuisines) is always “Is it real?” The issue is not that the food is inauthentic—most of Mexican cuisine, for example, bears little resemblance to what the average Mexican eats. Americanized hybrid versions of another country’s cuisine can be good. Cuisines can be adapted to use available local ingredients and can incorporate different cooking techniques than what traditionally are used. It’s when the food is poorly done that’s the issue.

Chinese food 101

So how is what we eat here different from what’s typically cooked in China? Ming Tsai, the owner of the Blue Ginger restaurant in Wellesley, Massachusetts, summarized a few of the differences. Tsai says, “Chinese-American cuisine is ‘dumbed-down’ Chinese food. It’s adapted to be blander, thicker and sweeter for the American public.” Thick sauces with more sugar and soy are used, along with more battered foods. American broccoli, carrots, tomatoes and onions don’t exist or aren’t regularly used. Chinese broccoli is thin and leafy, and scallions are used in place of western bulb onions, for example. Tsai also went on to describe the scattered approach most US restaurants have, combining cuisines from five or six different regions instead of featuring one type of regional cuisine.

Same sad story

So now that the American Chinese restaurant food primer is out of the way, how accurately did it match what we had for lunch? Lugubrious and cloyingly sticky-sweet sums up the Black Pepper Chicken. Ample amounts of black pepper could do nothing to cut through the gloppy sauce, which clung to the small batter fried chicken chunks like a drowning man to a life raft. That matches Ming Tsai’s assessment pretty well.

The dumplings were fair, quite large and filling, probably the best thing we sampled. The soup disappointed, at once salty and bland. The Cold Noodle dish suffered from excess sweetness, as well. There were no other taste notes present. Fresh chopped scallions and a sprinkling of sesame seeds helped, but not nearly enough. I actually washed the sweet vinegary sauce off the tofu when I got home, and added a little hot chili oil. This did serve to improve the dish, one of my favorite go-tos when I eat Chinese. I love the silky curds of tofu and pop of the little green peas. Jenn concurred that the sauce on her broccoli dish lacked any dimensionality other than the sweet and salty, which seemed to plague everything we tasted.

It was the kind of meal that left me with the feeling I get when I eat fast food. Regretful, and like there’s not enough water in the world to satisfy my thirst. The upside to Eat Rice is that if you consult its website, you’ll find many printable coupon options to save money. I had one for $3 off, which reduced our total down to $25.20. The downside is, well, the food.

Eat Rice is located at 2236 S. Smithville Rd. in Kettering. For more information, please visit eatricekettering.com or call 937.256.6666.

Dayton City Paper Dining Critic Paula Johnson would like every meal to start with a champagne cocktail and end with chocolate soufflé. As long as there’s a greasy burger and fries somewhere in the middle. Talk food with Paula at PaulaJohnson@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Dayton City Paper Dining Critic Paula Johnson would like every meal to start with a champagne cocktail and end with chocolate soufflé. As long as there’s a greasy burger and fries somewhere in the middle. Talk food with Paula at PaulaJohnson@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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