Sometimes traveling to a new restaurant is known territory, a trip down Gravois or up Lindbergh. But every now and then things get more interesting. A tip from The Old China Hand sent us out on the somewhat more complicated trail that would lead to the Hot Wok Cafe. Located behind a couple of '70's-kitchy-looking high-rise office buildings at I-64 and Woods Mill Rd./141, it's part of a low, long curve of shops.
On the night of our visit, a fairly early one because of a theater curtain, we found the majority of the patrons were Asian and many clearly were regular customers. A small bar gives room for those awaiting carryout; the adjacent rosy-red dining room has an air of calm.
Hot Wok's hot and sour soup is a classic rendition, bits of tofu, shiitake mushrooms, green onion and waterchestnut suspended in a thickish, aromatic broth, very tart and showing evidence of the Szechuan pepper. Egg drop soup lives up the egg part of its name. The creamy-dense liquid lets it be known that in this recipe, the egg (flavor) comes before the chicken. Serious comfort food. Pot stickers were moist and gingery but didn't cause excitement.
Who is Glen Hu? We have no idea, but Glen Hu's Special combines slices of tender beef and fat shrimp sauteed with mushrooms and green onion. The menu describes its sauce as sweet and spicy and even gives the dish a "spicy hot" star. That's not what came on the plate; rather, it was very like a Mongolian beef with its savory, oniony flavor. It even had the crumchy little rice noodles. Yes, there were small dried red peppers in the dish, but they seemed to have somehow been neutered, all looks and no performance. The heat issue aside, though, this was a very tasty dish, the best of the evening.
Yu shian pork gave narrow strips of meat, lean and tender, with plenty of bamboo shoots and water chestnuts in a garlicky sauce, again described as spicy and wearing those peppers but again with no discernible cranking-up of the Scovill units. It was no spicier than the non-starred tan pen beef.which shared its plate (which the menu did describe as "a hot plate") with mushrooms, baby corn and snow peas in a sauce that hit ginger and soy quite distinctly. All these things arrived hot and fresh-tasting, though, despite the lack of spicy-hotness, and that gave them a considerable edge.
A fairly basic menu for a West County Chinese restaurant, but generally above-average renditions of the food. At least that was going to be the bottom line, but we had noticed on our way in a little sign that said "Chinese Brunch on Saturdays". No, not dim sum, said the server, brunch. Hmmm, we thought. Let's try that. Fate intervened, but eventually Ann did get back. And you can read about that visit in our next post.
Hot Wok Cafe
14346 S. Outer Forty Rd., Chesterfield
Lunch Mon.-Fri., Dinner Mon.-Sat, Brunch Sat.
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Good