I’ve had better carry-out

Shen’s misses the mark

By Brandy King

 Photo: The minced chicken lettuce wraps at Shen’s Szechuan & Sushi in Vandalia

I had heard people talk about Mr. Lee’s Fine Dining for the better part of 10 years, and by the time I finally got around to trying it, it was called Shen’s Szechuan & Sushi. The Vandalia area is flush with chain restaurants, mostly nestled around the Miller Lane area. Not only is there a lack of independent eateries, but hardly any joints serving up Asian cuisine. Not far from the constant traffic jam of Benchwood Road and Miller Lane, you’ll find Shen’s on Poe Avenue.
The architecture and decor is warm and elegant, even if a little dated. Loosely Asian pagoda-style design outside, well-lit and flanked by lions near the entrance. The interior of the restaurant is more dimly lit and full of rich cherry tones on the woods and the fabrics.

We found out too quickly that the service didn’t match up to the looks. Our server greeted us hurriedly and seemed inconvenienced by any questions. I asked her if she’d had the sake martini, to which she replied, “Yeah, I guess a lot of people order it.” No thanks to her helpful recommendation, I ended up ordering it, but am fairly sure they got the order half-wrong. The grated ginger was boundless (so much that I couldn’t finish the drink), but it was obviously the apple martini and didn’t contain sake at all.

She was no more welcoming when we made inquiries about the rest of the menu. The menu at Shen’s is long on choices, but not necessarily anything outside of your garden-variety Szechuan menu – which is a fancy way of saying, “Chinese food with heavier use of red pepper and peanuts.”

I opted for the Triple Delight – which, according to our server, “Has more stuff in it” – and the rest of the table all ended up ordering from different sections – sesame beef, Cheng Du Pork, Hunan chicken and Triple Harvest.

We dined with two other couples and we all ordered an appetizer without insinuating that we would be sharing. They were still delivered to the middle of the table and we all had to rearrange. The fried pork dumplings (gyoza) were tasty, but calling them or any of the entrées exceptional would be a stretch. Everything was fine – don’t get me wrong. At double the price of a standard Chinese restaurant, though, one tends to expect something above and beyond. Our entrées took almost 40 minutes to arrive, with no explanation. Portions were also smaller than expected and only included rice. Our bill for one appetizer, one soda, one cocktail and two entrées topped $50. Only one person in a party of six had enough left to take leftovers. No one in our party ordered from the sushi menu either, so unfortunately I can’t speak to that. For their sake, I hope that’s their strong suit. They’ve got to have one, right? I should have been more alarmed when I noticed in a restaurant that probably seats well over 100 people, no Asian diners could be spotted.

Shen’s may have shed the Mr. Lee’s moniker nearly two years ago, but the plates and doors still boast the old logo. Speaking of plates, time to hire a new dishwasher. Maybe with the name change, it’s time to spring for new dinnerware altogether. Once new plates are in the picture, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to run the kitchen staff through a beginner’s plating course. I know that the finer details get dumbed down on the busiest dining night of the week, but take some level of care and pride in what you’re sending out to your tables.

I can’t say that I’ll be in a hurry to trek across town to visit Shen’s Szechuan any time soon.  Plenty of other Dayton area restaurants do the same – or better – food at more reasonable prices and much better service. It might have a more polished façade than some of the old tried and true Asian eateries in the area, but I’ll pass on aesthetics any day for a better meal, better service and better prices.

Shen’s Szechuan & Sushi is located at 7580 Poe Ave. in Vandalia. For more information, please call 937.898.3860 or visit shensdayton.com. 

Reach DCP freelance writer Brandy King at BrandyKing@DaytonCityPaper.com and visit her blog, foodvsface.com. 

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