Bistro Chen making a name for itself in Arlington Heights
Walking into Bistro Chen in downtown Arlington Heights, I got that anticipatory feeling of entering familiar territory yet knowing there was something different about it.
Bistro Chen was opened in late in 2013 on Miner Street by the same people who run Bistro Dragon in Elk Grove Village. The space formerly housed Chin's, an Arlington Heights institution that closed in 2012 after 54 years. I don't remember how old I was, but I remember Chin's was the first place where I ever ate Chinese food.
Chin's dim space with heavy red decor and Chinese zodiac place mats has been replaced with soft white walls and a black tiled divider that separates the new sushi bar from the dining room. Upholstered booths and a high-topped communal table give the space a contemporary flare. Red pendant lights provide ambience, and a bold red wall defines the Japanese tea room, one of two private dining rooms available. I found the stone slab walls by the sushi bar and in the bathroom at odds with the rest of the surroundings.
But there was nothing odd about the menu. All the traditional favorites are there -- won ton soup, moo-shu pork, egg foo yung, General Tso's chicken -- and then there's an array of familiar and signature sushi rolls and nigiri, bento boxes and dim sum. Dim sum, Chinese-style small plates, is served around brunch time Saturday and Sunday. A handful of items from the dim sum menu are available at other hours.
We started our dinner with a trio of appetizers -- edamame (which could have used a pinch more salt), egg rolls and crab Rangoon. The egg rolls were plump and crisp (aren't soggy egg rolls the worst?), but the crab Rangoon, while nicely crunchy, was too light on the creamy, scallion-flecked filling.
Bistro Chen pays homage to its predecessor by highlighting a handful of Chin's signature dishes, a nod that old-timers will no doubt appreciate and new diners will grow to love.
I opted for a Chin's favorite, almond duck, and enjoyed the generous slices of nicely pink, crisp-skinned poultry. A companion happily devoured the sweet and sour chicken. Right-sized nuggets of batter-fried chicken were dressed with a sticky sauce that was not cloyingly sweet. This dish also appears on the kids menu (along with shrimp tempura, teriyaki chicken and chicken lo mein) and is a good way to introduce younger diners to Chinese cuisine.
Bistro Chen's miso salmon, Peking pork chop and Chinese sausage-studded fried rice definitely caught my eye; maybe next time. The staff honored a request to add pea pods to the onion and carrots already swimming in the curry shrimp. The intoxicatingly fragrant sauce and tender shrimp pleased this palate, but the ginger carried too much heat for others at the table. Several items on the menu are designated as spicy, but this was not one of them.
Looking for a little something sweet to end the meal, we picked mango pudding and, at the server's suggestion, fried sesame balls from the dim sum menu. The mango pudding was a brightly flavored flan-like treat that we finished in just a few bites. I liked the slightly crunchy shell of the sesame ball, but the inside seemed gummy and the flavor was too one-dimensional.
Bistro Chen offers a handful of signature fruity cocktails with names like Golden Dragon and Monkey Shoulder. As the designated driver I appreciated that the drink wasn't too strong, but other customers may think otherwise. A handful of beer and wines also are available.
By Memorial Day the restaurant hopes to have its Zen garden open for outdoor dining. A walk-up takeout window is open seasonally as well.
• Restaurant reviews are based on one anonymous visit. The Daily Herald does not publish reviews of restaurants it cannot recommend.
Bistro Chen10 E. Miner St., Arlington Heights, (847) 255-9080, bistrochen.com
Cuisine: Chinese-focused with sushi and dim sum
Entrees: $7.95 to $24.95
Hours: Lunch 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday; dinner 4 to 9:30 p.m. Sunday and Tuesday through Thursday; 4 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday