Review: Hong Kong Restaurant

The search for great Chinese food in Bend continues

By John Gottberg Anderson / For The Bulletin

Hong Kong Restaurant

Location: 530 S.E. Third St., Bend

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Friday, noon to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

Price range: Lunch menu $6.95, all-you-can-eat buffet $7.75; dinner starters $5.95 to $9.95, main dishes and combination meals $8.25 to $13.95

Credit cards: American Express, Discover, MasterCard, Visa

Kids’ menu: Child and senior meals start at $6.75

Vegetarian menu: Request vegetable plates with tofu

Alcoholic beverages: Full bar

Outdoor seating: No

Reservations: Recommended for larger parties

Contact: www.hkrestaurantbend .com or 541-389-8880

Scorecard

OVERALL: C

Food: D. Poor preparation of many dishes, including overcooked meats and too-heavy batters.

Service: B+. Much improved: Friendly, attentive, though diners may not be told of substitutions.

Atmosphere: B. Pleasant but unchanged in many years, with an etched-glass room divider.

Value: B+. An individual can eat well, with leftovers, for less than $15 — if you want leftovers.

Let’s face it: There is no outstanding Chinese restaurant in Central Oregon.

There was a time when the Hong Kong Restaurant vied for that label. From its establishment in 1976 until a change of ownership in 2000, the longtime eatery on Southeast Third Street at Wilson Avenue offered Cantonese, Mandarin and Szechuan food as good as anywhere on this side of the Cascades.

No longer. I was disappointed in the Hong Kong when I last reviewed the restaurant, more than six years ago, and two recent visits did little to alter my opinion.

There are changes that could be made to launch the restaurant back in the right direction. One would be to offer fewer battered and deep-fried recipes, and where they are appropriate, to batter less heavily and drain off the oil more thoroughly.

Another would be to limit the use of bulk canned vegetables — peas, carrots and sliced mushrooms in particular, for I know that such items as water chestnuts and baby corn are not otherwise available. Fresh broccoli, zucchini and carrots are used in many of Hong Kong’s dishes, so why cannot market-fresh produce be used in everything?

As well, a more careful selection of quality meats and poultry would be a big plus. I found far too many bites of beef, pork and chicken to be tough and gristly.

On the plus side, the price is right. An individual can eat heartily at Hong Kong, and escape with leftovers, for less than $15. The atmosphere is pleasant, if relatively unchanged since my last review visits. An etched-glass room divider continues to be the center of attention in the main dining area, and contemporary Chinese inlay art hangs on the walls, although I could do without the seasonal carols as I eat.

Service has improved over the years. Once borderline rude, it is now friendly and attentive — even if some ingredients are substituted for others without informing diners.

Dinner for two

My companion and I began our most recent dinner with a combination platter of four different appetizers. Best of the bunch were the slices of barbecued pork; even though a couple of bites were chewier than I would have liked, hot mustard and sesame seeds more than compensated.

The other three apps went uneaten after initial bites. The batter on fried shrimp was much too heavy. The wonton wrappers used for the crab puffs, filled with artificial crab and cream cheese, were heavy and dry. The filo pastry of the deep-fried spring rolls, stuffed with cabbage, celery and carrots, was more pasty than crispy.

I was terribly disappointed with my order of walnut shrimp, usually one of my favorite Chinese restaurant dishes. Overcooked, the prawns were basted with honey, but they didn’t have the cream sauce that usually comes with this dish. The result was a flavor that was more confectionery than subtle.

Kung pao chicken had freshly sauteed chicken, peanuts and coarsely chopped zucchini, but most of the other ingredients came from a can, including peas and carrots, baby corn and water chestnuts. It was finished with dried red chilies, but except for the heat that come from an occasional chile seed, the dish had no real flavor.

Hong Kong lo mein was a house combination of the standard-issue noodle dish, featuring bits of shrimp, chicken and beef with a few vegetables. It needed seasoning.

A vegetable dish from the “healthy delicious choice” menu offered a choice of any four veggies with one of five sauces. We requested green beans, eggplant, tofu and bok choy with black bean sauce. But the kitchen was out of eggplant, so we settled for black mushrooms. And the bok choy was mysteriously replaced by broccoli when it was served.

We really hadn’t wanted broccoli, but were pleased that neither that green veggie nor the beans were overcooked. On the other hand, the tofu and especially the mushrooms were chewy.

The steamed white rice that came with our orders was fine. But we passed up our leftovers and went home.

Luncheon buffet

I returned solo for an all-you-can-eat buffet lunch — just $7.75 for adults — to try a bit of everything.

It was a cold day, so I warmed up by first sampling both soups, egg flower and hot-and-sour. The former was completely forgettable, a thin potage with bulk peas, carrots, mushrooms and egg drops, but with no depth of flavor. I preferred the mildly spicy hot-and-sour soup, made with fresh carrots and celery, along with tofu and black fungi.

I merely glanced at several of the buffet items — cucumber salad, green salad (with iceberg lettuce), dinner rolls, crab puffs, egg rolls and two gravies. I tried the coarsely chopped slaw and found it unremarkable.

It was far better than tiny maki sushi rolls, made with cooked pork rather than seafood: The meat was paired with cucumber in vinegar rice and wrapped in nori seaweed, then served with soy sauce that already had wasabi mustard added.

Nothing on the buffet was more objectionable than tempura vegetables. Carrot, zucchini and mushroom were heavily battered and deep fried, but they were not properly drained and as a result were very greasy. Small cakes that I thought were crab cakes had a very thick and crusty batter; I learned later they were egg foo yung. One bite was enough.

The buffet offered four chicken dishes and three of them were battered and deep-fried — orange chicken, sweet-and-sour chicken and sesame (or Morfar) chicken. Not of them exactly burst with flavor. Batter and deep-frying make foods taste alike. I much preferred a fourth chicken dish, chunks of poultry sauteed with onions in brown gravy.

Probably my favorite buffet offering was beef with mixed vegetables. Although the beef was thinly sliced and generally tender, some bites were more gristly than others. But I liked the saute of green peppers, sliced carrots and zucchini, onions and water chestnuts in a brown ginger sauce. And it was even better with pork-fried rice.

— Reporter: janderson@ bendbulletin.com

SMALL BITES

• It’s a big week for new Mexican restaurants in Central Oregon. Rose’s Cocina has announced plans to open this weekend in the former El Burrito space, fewer than two months after its predecessor closed its doors. Owners Nan Brown and Anne Birky plan an official grand opening Jan. 4. The café, which promises “authentic Mexican cuisine,” is named to honor Brown’s mother, a native of Culiacán, Mexico, who previously owned El Burrito from 1985 to 2006. Open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, 4 to 9 p.m. Saturday. 335 N.E. DeKalb Ave., Bend; 541-678-5360, www.facebook.com/rosescocina.

• Hola! is scheduled to open a new Redmond restaurant — its fifth in the region — this weekend. Owner Marcos Rodriguez said the cafe will offer the same “Nuevo Latino” menu of Mexican and Peruvian foods as its three Bend (downtown, Old Mill, east side) and one Sunriver establishment. The new eatery replaces Kim and Karla’s Spuds and Suds and seats about 40. Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday. 514 N.W. Greenwood Ave. (at Fifth Street), Redmond; 541-923-7290, www.holabend .com.

• A new cookbook featuring stories and recipes from restaurants and chefs in Seattle, Portland and Bend has been released for the Christmas shopping season. “Sizzle & Buzz: What’s Cookin’ in the Region’s Hottest Restaurants” features full-color photography and stories about many of the Northwest’s leading chefs. It was produced by John Herbik, publisher of “The Where to Eat Guide,” and written by Bend author Sarah Daily. A portion of proceeds from the book’s sale will benefit the Hunger Prevention Coalition in Bend. The cookbook may be purchased online at www .sizzleandbuzz.com.