CHINA DOLL

Food: () The best dishes are made with beef, pork and fresh vegetables.

Service: () Pleasant counter service keeps it simple for patrons.

Atmosphere: () Sparsely decorated dining room hasn’t updated in years.

More Info

Location: 547 NE Bellevue Drive, Suite 113, Crossroads Plaza, Bend

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. ­Monday to Friday, noon to 9 p.m. Saturday

Cuisine: Chinese

Price range: Main dishes $8.25 to $11.50; combos $5.75 (lunch), $8.50 to $9.50 (dinner).

Credit cards: Discover, ­MasterCard, Visa

Kids’ menu: Combos $5.50 including soft drink

Vegetarian and gluten-free menu: Four options $9.25 and $9.50

Alcoholic beverages: No

Outdoor seating: Patio area

Reservations: No

Contact: 541-312-9393, www.chinadollbend.com

Ray Chan, the owner of China Doll in the Crossroads Plaza complex on Bend’s east side, is a charming man. He’s been in business for more than 18 years, so he’s clearly doing something right.

He speaks proudly of a daughter who is attending a Eugene university; she’s nearing completion of her pre-med science degree. Even with a brick-and-mortar rent, he keeps prices lower and portions larger than a typical food cart.

But in the years since I last visited China Doll, very little has changed in his restaurant (except for a small bump in prices). The same pair of 2008 calendars that I noted in early 2012 remain on the walls, more out-of-date than ever. They’re especially noticeable in a 34-seat dining room with precious little other decor — save a single television, high in one corner, tuned to the monotone voices of national newscasters. I find the mood depressing.

The food was mediocre then; it remains mediocre now.

Three dozen entree choices are available (the emphasis is on chicken, but there are beef, shrimp, pork and vegetarian ­options), along with rice and noodles, soup and appetizers. But the majority of diners opt for the buffet.

Combo bargains

The selection of about eight dishes is the first thing to greet diners when they walk in the door. Combination meals ($5.75 at lunchtime, $8.50 to $9.50 at dinner) include a choice of rice or noodles, or a half-and-half split between the two.

They also feature two entrees; an additional option is extra. Dinner portions are larger, and the evening meal includes a cup of soup.

My favorite dishes were those with beef and pork. In particular, I liked the beef with broccoli ($10.50). The meat was of decent quality, cooked tender and medium. Broccoli and sliced carrots were fresh and crunchy. A subtle brown sauce was light enough to let the crisp flavors display themselves.

The sesame beef ($11.50) was likewise tender and in thick slices, heavily sprinkled with sesame seeds. In this case, however, the rich sauce was heavier than necessary, detracting from the purer taste.

Twice-cooked pork ($9.95) was first barbecued in traditional “char siu” style with a mix of honey, five-spice powder, hoisin and soy sauces, giving the meat a darker red color. Tender chunks of meat were then sauteed in a spicy sauce with chile-pepper pods, onion, cabbage, zucchini and water chestnuts.

I was not as impressed by the lightly breaded Kung Pao shrimp ($10.50). Sauteed with celery, zucchini, carrots and water chestnuts, it had a less-than-fresh flavor.

Orange chicken ($9.50) was more heavily breaded and covered in a savory sauce with orange-peel spice. This is a popular dish in American Chinese restaurants, and I have had much better elsewhere.

Other choices

My regular dining companion is a big fan of crab puffs, sometimes called “crab Rangoon.” But the China Doll menu honestly admits that it is “ersatz crab,” made from surimi, a crab substitute made from fish. Eight premade wonton wrappers were filled with a blend of “Krab,” cream cheese and a little onion, deep-fried and served with a cloying, artificially colored sweet-and-sour sauce that was like something out of a candy store. These were priced $6.25 for eight or $3.75 for four.

The best parts about the wonton soup ($9.50) were the shrimp and the fresh vegetables — whole button mushrooms, crisp broccoli and carrots, red bell peppers and zucchini. The worst parts were the other vegetables (baby corn, bamboo shoots and water chestnuts), which came from cans. Those, and the wonton pastries themselves, wrapped around a too-small amount of chicken (or was it pork?) and much too thick and doughy. And the fact that there wasn’t enough broth to call it a soup.

I don’t like either of the two carbohydrate choices that accompany the combo meals, and which are also available as individual dishes.

Chicken lo mein ($8.50), soba noodles cooked in soy sauce with zucchini and cabbage, was frankly tasteless. BBQ pork fried rice ($7.50) was far too dry, the small-grain rice boosted only by a handful of frozen peas and carrots. Even the steamed rice that accompanied larger entrees was lacking in moisture.

On my last visit, I had hoped to order vegetarian green beans with black bean sauce ($9.50). The counter attendant told me: “We are out of green beans right now.” As a vegetarian replacement, she suggested the beef with broccoli.

Somehow, I don’t think that would please my friends on plant-based diets.

— John Gottberg Anderson can be reached janderson@bendbulletin.com .

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