Nothing Elementary about ABC Chinese
Smart kids order from the Chinese-language menu for a homestyle treat
By Scott Sharot
Walking into ABC Chinese restaurant is like walking into pretty much any family owned and operated Chinese restaurant. The color scheme is red and gold (a symbol of good fortune in Chinese culture), with lighted beer signs and posters on the walls. A fish tank teems with life and giant, round banquet tables topped with lazy Susans are scattered among the booths. But that's where the similarities end.
At ABC, there are several different menus to choose from. A whiteboard menu features a list of daily lunch specials, while a larger, more expensive daily special menu is written on a blackboard; it includes seafood, meat and vegetarian dishes. Guests are also given two menus when they sit down, one red and one blue.
Like red and blue states, each menu has its own very different constituency. The red menu might appeal to a more staid, conservative lot. These are the kind of folks who prefer to stay with familiar dishes and eating utensils, like forks instead of chopsticks. There are lots of old reliables to choose from on this oversized list. You can feast on a flaming po po platter replete with fried shrimp, egg rolls, chicken wings and beef skewers ($4.50 per person). The sesame chicken is not done in a thick batter but dredged in cornstarch, deep fried and then lightly sauced so it's way more crispy than usual. Combination dinners are priced from $5.95 to $8.95 and feature perennial favorites like shrimp with lobster sauce, sweet and sour pork and chicken lo mein. They're served with appetizers, choice of soup, fried rice and tea. Skip the small kimchee-less Korean section on the menu. There are even some American dishes like fried chicken and cheeseburgers for the occasional obstinate 7-year-old or die hard xenophobe.
Me, I've learned to always head straight for the blue menu. It's geared toward open minded, adventurous, chopstick-proficient diners. I'm talking about folks who aren't strangers to squid and octopus, and have more than likely gotten up close and personal with both, while underwater in some far flung sea or archipelago. I think you get the picture. The blue menu is printed in Chinese characters with handwritten English translations underneath. You'll swoon over the salt baked crunchy shrimp, either from the delicious flavor and texture or because the whole shrimp with shell, head and all is staring up at you from the plate. Dishes tend to be presented homestyle with no real effort at garnish or flourish. Not that it matters.
Soups are served in tureens, filled with enough for four portions. I enjoy the simple shrimp with corn and egg drop or hot and sour, but you can also order the exotic crab meat with fish maw soup (maw is the air bladder of a large fish that has a puffy, spongy but crispy texture). There are also several noodle soups and porridges to choose from.
You'll go nuts for the noodles here. You can choose flat rice noodles, or soft or crispy egg noodles for your dish and a variety of ingredients to go with them. I'm stuck on beef chow fun ($5.95), flat rice noodles served with tender strips of beef garnished with scallions and bean sprouts. There are also porridge dishes, hot pots, Cantonese barbecue and lots of chef's specialties on the blue menu.
Speaking of specialties, this is one of the few restaurants in Albuquerque that has functional rather than ornamental fish tanks. You won't see fake seaweed, cute castles or angel fish in these aquariums; they serve as holding tanks for your dinner (on the fin so to speak). There might be pugilistic crabs, motionless lobsters and docile flounder to choose from. You pick your quarry and its preparation style, or leave that up to the kitchen. The chef is always very flexible and will even come out into the dining room for a consultation about your choice. I love the flounder steamed with fermented black bean sauce ($15.95). Let's face it, how can you go wrong with a fresh lobster ($17.95) or crab ($17.95) no matter how it's sauced?
This is definitely the kind of place you should try with a large group of friends so that you can order a wide variety of dishes. You can also upsize your menu choices by half, which allows your guests to get a taste of each dish and keeps the food cost down. I recently went with a group of 12 hungry friends. Everyone left smiling and sated, surprised that the check was so low. Several folks commented that they had driven past the place for many years but had never stopped in. Since then, many of these friends have become regulars. Whether you find yourself in the red or blue menu camp, there's something here for everyone.
ABC Chinese Restaurant; 8720 Menaul NE; 292-8788; Open Tu-Sa 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m.; Su Noon to 9 p.m.; Price Range: Inexpensive to Moderate
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