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Elegant and original, Chow’s is also consistently good

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Chow’s Asian Bistro on St. Michael’s Drive offers elegance and originality. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Chow’s Asian Bistro on St. Michael’s Drive offers elegance and originality. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

With consistently good food and service, Chow’s has long been Santa Fe’s go-to restaurant if you are looking for something elegant and original with a Chinese bent.

On a recent visit, I was pleased to discover that Chow’s was as good as I remembered. Maybe even better.

Established in 1993, Chow’s has survived and thrived in a town that can be less than welcoming to newcomers. The restaurant has a cadre of loyal customers, folks who come just for the Nuts and Birds, a stir-fried feast of chicken, crisp slices of water chestnut and other veggies.

Also popular here are the amazing Firecracker Dumplings, an appetizer that combines ground turkey and carrots, served beneath a pesto sauce. You will also find two newer Chow’s restaurants in Albuquerque.

In addition to the food, another thing I always enjoy about eating at Chow’s is the ambiance. The dining room is subtly lit, and decorated with live blooming orchids and paintings in a classic Chinese style.

At lunch, daylight streams in the windows; at night, subtle, soothing lighting fills the room.

You can start your meal with several types of hot or iced tea, warm or chilled sake, or a beer if you wish. In addition to our tea, my friend and I shared two fine appetizers.

Pigs in a Cloud – I love that name – reminded me of the steamed buns one finds on a dim sum cart. The three buns were beautifully arranged on an oblong plate with a single round of radish and a sprig of parsley.

The dough, spongy and slightly sweet, looked like white porcelain topped with a slender white chrysanthemum blossom. I have never eaten a bun as beautiful. Inside was a serving of tender meat in a bit of sauce. Delicious.

We also shared an order of four baby back ribs. They were small but meaty and the hoisin sauce with a bit of citrus was applied with a gentle hand. Yum.

Chow’s amazing menu offers many lunch and dinner choices. This is a good place to come with a posse of friends who like to share so everyone can enjoy a wide sampling of the great food served here.

The menu includes a separate menu of specials that change regularly, rice and noodle dishes, specials of the house – Chow’s signature creations – and soup and salads. The “entree” section outlines several preparations and gives customers the option of chicken, beef, shrimp or tofu.

I selected the Mongolian chicken. Stir-fried with mushrooms, onions, a few spears of broccoli and fresh scallions, and served in a savory sauce with red pepper flakes, this was a treat. I enjoyed the level of spice, but customers can request more or less heat depending on personal preference for any dish on the menu.

Our second entree was Chow’s Spicy Beef, another tasty and beautiful choice. Although the menu warned us that this was SPICY, it was actually not as hot as the Mongolian dish. The tender slices of beef arrived in abundant quantities, and my hungry friend and I both enjoyed the fragrant slices of fresh ginger and the large amount of garlic here. The dried red chile pods added color and more spice for those who want it.

Or you can be like us and fish them out, along with the little whole peppercorns. I think this sauce would be especially good with shrimp. We left with enough food for lunch for two the next day. We added brown rice ($1.50) to soak up the sauces and calm the spice.

Food this good would be welcome downtown, but Chow’s sits in a shopping center near the intersection of St. Michael’s and St. Francis drives. Parking is easy.

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