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Chinese gem: Chinshan serves Sichuan specialties, Americanized favories

Chinshan’s kung pao chicken is tossed with peppers, mushrooms, peanuts and chiles de arbol. (Richard S. Dargan/For The Journal)

Welcome to the Reopening, Part 2.

As summer sequels go, it may not be as hotly anticipated as the follow-ups to “Wonder Woman” and “Top Gun,” but with movie theaters closed, it’s pretty much all we have right now. And the tagline writes itself: This time with more spacing!

The reopening refers, of course, to the governor’s recent decision to allow dine-in business at restaurants. The first one happened on June 1, when restaurants were granted the right to host diners at 50% capacity. Unfortunately, that move coincided with a steady rise in COVID-19 cases that prompted the governor to reverse her decision about a month and a half later. A stretch of encouraging numbers has allowed the door to be opened again, albeit only slightly.

For restaurateurs, the news was a mixed bag. The 25% capacity limit might not be enough to change their fortunes, but it’s a step in the right direction, and an additional boost in business is likely as the summer heat cools and we finally head into patio dining season.

The day before the order went into effect, I ventured out to Chinshan, a highly regarded Chinese restaurant on Wyoming near Indian School. I had decided that if this was to be my last takeout meal for a while, then it should be Chinese. You always get plenty of food, and the flavors in the leftovers have time to mingle in the refrigerator so that you get something that tastes even better the next day.

Chinshan means “golden mountain” in English, a fitting name, considering the restaurant’s origins in White Rock, the small community perched high over the Rio Grande near Los Alamos. In 2012, it moved to the West Side of Albuquerque, where it stayed until it moved to its current location in 2018.

On the menu, General Tso’s chicken and other Americanized dishes commingle with Sichuan specialties such as the famously spicy mapo tofu with minced pork. The lunch menu, in effect from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., offers entrées with soup, an egg roll and fried rice for a few dollars less than the dinner versions. For example, the sesame chicken at lunch costs $7.75, while the larger, dinner portion will set you back $12.

The restaurant, in a strip mall opposite a Walmart, has a square, modest-sized dining room decorated with embroidered artwork. About 15 minutes after I called in my order on a recent Saturday, I walked in to see a classic pandemic still life: takeout bags with receipts taped to them lined up on the counter. The staff was friendly and attentive, and my food came out five minutes later.

The appetizer combination platter at Chinshan consists of shrimp rolls, crab cheese wontons, wings and BBQ ribs. (Richard S. Dargan/For The Journal)

The appetizer menu trots out the usual assortment of pot stickers, egg rolls and the like, or you can get several of the hits as part of a combination platter ($10.99). Shrimp rolls, stretched and straightened and cloaked in a thin wonton wrapper, were the best part of the dish. The wrapper had a delicate crunch, and the briny shrimp matched well with the duck sauce. Crab cheese wontons, wrapped thickly in a star-shaped purse and deep-fried, tasted of cream cheese, with only the faintest suggestion of imitation crabmeat. Fried chicken wings were a pleasant surprise, meaty and with a crisp, well-seasoned coating. Only the dry, almost impenetrable barbecued ribs disappointed.

Chinshan’s lightly sauced kung pao chicken ($11.50) presents as a brightly colored pile of white chicken meat chunks tossed with mushrooms, peanuts and peppers. The marinade sealed moisture inside the chicken and gave it a burnished, chestnut brown finish. I appreciated the quality of the ingredients and the low salt level of the sauce. Most of the heat came from the small, beak-shaped chiles de arbol.

Chinshan’s salt and pepper shrimp consists of a dozen large, shell-on shrimp fried in tempura batter. (Richard S. Dargan/For the Journal)

Salt and pepper shrimp ($13.50), one of the house specials, consists of a dozen large shell-on shrimp coated in tempura batter and sautéed with onions and jalapeños. It’s pretty easy to extract the meat from the shell; alternatively, you can safely eat the shells for some extra crunch. The peppers provide a blazing hot accent to the mild flavor of the shrimp.

The chef will cook gluten-free versions of many dishes on request. For us, he made a dish of chicken with snow peas ($11.50) in a thick, savory sauce that had the taste and texture of cooked-down chicken broth. The dish was nicely done, with swatches of white chicken meat, hammered thin, over a copious serving of crisp snow peas, onions, carrots and water chestnuts. It was a simple, unfussy dish, well prepared, with enough left over for the next day’s lunch.

If you’re still restricting your restaurant visits to carryout only, Chinshan is a good option. The quality of the food justifies prices that are a bit higher than those of other Chinese restaurants in the area.


ON THE SIDE
GOLDEN CROWN PANADERIA
3 stars
1103 Mountain NW, 243-2424, goldencrown.biz

With nearly 50 years in business and plaudits from the Food Network and numerous travel magazines, esteemed bakery Golden Crown Panaderia is officially an institution.

The menu has pizza, salads and sandwiches and a good selection of local beers.

Golden Crown’s pizza menu brings a lot of variables to the equation. You can build your own or pick from one of four specialty pies. There are four sizes, from a personal pizza all the way up to a 16-inch extra-large, and three types of crust: peasant, green chile and blue corn.

The Golden Crown combination, one of four specialty pizzas, can be ordered with peasant, green chile or blue corn crust. (Richard S. Dargan/For the Journal)

I ordered the Golden Crown combination, one of the specialty pizzas, on green chile crust ($11.95).

The pizza arrived quickly. There was a good balance of cheese and sauce, and everything stuck to the pizza except for a stray hunk of Italian sausage flavored strongly with fennel. The sturdy but not tough crust, imprecisely shaped and a little blistered on the edges, was stellar. The green chile component is not particularly noticeable until after you finish and feel the lingering burn in your mouth.

Empanadas dominate the extensive selection of sweets.

The shell of the cherry empanada ($2.75), with its crisp spine and flaky body, was more enjoyable than the slightly gummy cherry filling. The bizcochito was light and brittle and didn’t leave any lard film behind.

Golden Crown makes one of the better pies in the city, and a superior selection of baked goods. You’d be remiss not to take some home with you.

— Richard S. Dargan


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