Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Food Court Chinese Group Project!

Here we go! I've teamed up with Matt and Billy once before for our epic Five for $5 Dollar Store Challenge. When Matt shot me a message about tackling "food court Chinese", a topic he knew was already dear to my heart and well within my personal wheelhouse, I said yes, in fact similarly to Daniel Bryan, I screamed, "Yes! Yes! Yes!" And this time a total of five of us bloggers are joining in on the festivities!

I've covered Chinese food, and Chinese food inside food courts previously, actually dating back to Review the World's inaugural year in 2005. Nowadays at least 40% or more of the times I eat at food courts, be it flying solo or with my family, I'll opt for some indiscriminate chicken morsels bathed in a brownish glow and a side of noodles or rice. It usually seems like a good enough idea at the time. Typically by the end of the meal you begin questioning your moral compass.

I've got three malls very close to my palatial house and three more within driving distance beyond that. I really grappled with which spot I wanted to visit for this assignment. As many of you may know the northeastern United States got hit with some seriously frigid and potentially dangerous arctic weather last week. As a result (and also due to one of our cars being at the mechanic's) I was stuck inside for two days totaling 27 hours alone with my two babies while my wife worked. Needless to say the next chance I got free I made a break for it! To get a little quiet "me" time I hit the road and drove toward Cincinnati proper to EastGate Mall. It's about an 80 min. drive roundtrip so a bit of a hike but in this case worth it. Of all the local malls this was the last one I got around to visiting only first discovering it a couple years back after having heard its name over the years. The first time I entered the mall this was the entrance I chose at random and to my delight it entered directly into the food court! So I retraced those fateful footsteps once again to do some culinary research.

I actually bypassed the food court for a quick jot down to Orange Julius. Yes! We don't have Julius' back home. So whenever I get out to EastGate it's a must. I usually get the standard Orange Julius which is a creamy concoction that drinks like an oranges and cream popsicle in foamy juice form. In my mind I like to imagine its comparable to an Orange Lazarus from The Adventures of Pete & Pete.

And here's why we're all here! Food court Chinese! A unique breed, an oft times adventurous dining decision, and conjures an allure all its own. Bathed in fluorescent neon light and usually known by passerby for the shouting workers beckoning you with meat chunk samples on toothpicks this is it. Unfortunately that poetic prose I just whipped up doesn't really suit the accompanying image as half of the neons aren't even working and the mood in here was rather calm. Notice the cook staring directly at me.

The money shot. I used the Instagram version with the filter to better immortalize it. I got a three item plate (Hey! I was hungry!). 3 chicken entrees which I'll detail momentarily, fried rice, and my aforementioned Julius. It needs more vegetables surely as no plate of food this big should all be one color: welcome to food court Chinese.

An aerial overview. Since Chicken and Mushrooms was my third item ordered they just dumped it on top of the rest. This is a pretty standard menu item at most food court Chinese joints I've encountered. Even the bigger chains like Panda Express (which opened a standalone brick and mortar store here awhile ago) carry it. It's a nice reprieve from the more popular breaded items as its less heavy and a pretty simple formula of chicken breast, mushrooms, some shaved carrots, etc. tossed in a sauce.

Next I wanted to show off my fried rice. Well, maybe "show off" isn't the right term. I did want to show it in all its overcooked infamy for posterity's sake.

The red pieces here are General Tso's Chicken. Buried to the right is Orange Chicken. I generally try to avoid two of the similarly breaded varieties of chicken due to sameness and getting the occasional funky piece. The stuff that's not breaded and therefore you can actually see the meat with your own eyes is usually the better call but it's hard to not get at least one of these guilty pleasures each plate.

Here's another shot of China Experience from my vantage point seated. I do love that name. It guarantees it'll certainly be an experience.

To my left I saw a custom airbrushed t-shirt shop. For a split-second I'd considered going over there and plunking down my two bits and ordering a custom shirt featuring Miss Piggy drinking a Mai Tai in the back of a stretch limo with the nWo Wolfpac.

Here I am, hair shaggier than ever, documenting this momentous occasion. This bite is, or was, for you Matt, Billy, Molly, and Jay!

So how was the food itself? RtW has for better or worse always been about the scores. On this occasion I'm going with a firm B which, in the realm of food court Chinese, is a pretty nice mark. General Tso's gave things a little more flavor with a touch of spice, Orange was fine but pushed to the background, with the Chicken and Mushrooms dish undoubtedly the leader of the pack. I didn't venture too far outside of the norm but variety isn't really these type of place's strong suit. 

Here's a shot of my receipt and my Wally. Hey, I think I just named my wallet! You witnessed it right here. Consider yourselves privileged. I actually just switched out wallets for the first time in over a decade recently as my old Superman wallet had withered into tattered shreds. $7.25 seems about fair if not a touch high. A reasonable enough price but when you can go to an all you can eat Chinese lunch buffet for less it makes Wally sad. Convenience is key in this case though and that's part of the charm of food courts.

I found a relatively quiet spot and hunkered down for some meditative thought post-dinner. It looks like a corridor from an airport strangely. I did not take flight.

So now that you've read and re-read my experience at China Experience go see how the rest of our gang faired! Thanks so much for reading!


  1. Awesome post Brian. I really enjoyed reading it. As I mentioned on Twitter, I'm insanely jealous of your Orange Julius. I miss having one near me. I once tried to make my own at home and it actually came out pretty accurate. You can find recipes online. I don't think the place I reviewed had chicken and mushrooms, but that might be a dish that I order in the near future from my usual Chinese food place. And btw, I dig that seating area - Forget airport - it could damn well be Cloud City for all I know! lol.

    1. Thanks, Jay! Yes when I first wet to EastGate a couple years back I'd heard hushed mentions of a thing called Orange Julius but never saw one. Now whenever I trek there it's a must. I've had a Lemon Julius too which is good. Wish consistency was consistent. Sometimes it's real frothy, other times more juicey. You never know!

  2. I can never get down with orange Julius' since I hate creamsicles....and ive always envisioned the taste of the lazzarus to be a slightly sour but straight up orange flavor. BRAINNNN FREEEEZEEE!!
    I digress...
    As a now avid reader of your blog and Jays enroute from being a long time fan of Matt's work, seeing you all team up to cast your thoughts on my shameful secret favorite foods (im a closet food court buyer!) I thought this was really fun.
    Btw I have the same Disney sweater! Holla and i mourn the loss of you not getting a miss piggy shirt.
    P.p.s. Raphael was the right choice.

    1. I've had a Lemon Julius once or twice -- quite good!

      Yes a superheroic team-up of the pop culture set! I'm honored to be included.

      That's so awesome. Love this sweater. I've got a bunch of good hoodies but this and my Cincinnati Zoo ones are my faves.

    2. LEMON JULIUS?! Was it cream in flavor as well? If not I must track this down.

      Yeah I got the sweater on one of my billion Disney trips (i have season passes living in Tampa bay and go once a month). I LOVED your write ups on Disney, hope u get to bring the kids out there and write about it soon!

    3. Yes Lemon Julius! It was so creamy and sweet with a pinch of sour. In fact,I think they have multiple diff. flavors but they're sort of an off the menu board secret. Once a month!!!! Holy cow consider me jealous. We're actually tent. planning a trip around Oct. but it's still VERY much in the planning stages. So much food food and energy down there I love exploring the parks and taking it all in.

  3. I love this collaboration thing y'all are doing! I don't read your stuff nearly as much as I should, mainly because it never shows up in my fb feed, but I always enjoy it! Regarding Orange Julius, we used to have one in the closest mall to me, which is more of a flea market with a roof than a mall these days, but the Orange Julius is long gone. However, I live in the south, where Dairy Queens are abundant and since Dairy Queen has owned Orange Julius since 1987, you can get Orange Julius drinks at the Dairy Queens around here, which is nice. -Teddy Ray

  4. Thanks for commenting Teddy Ray! Been seeing your comments over at X-E/DD for what feels like years. Yes, I was thrilled to work w/ Matt, hopefully we'll do some more down the line, and Billy from VeggieMacabre and I just did another co-review last week so check that out! Do you follow RtW on Facebook? I plug all the new stuff there although it can get lost in a feed pretty easily I'm guessing. It allows me to see how many views posts get and it varies greatly from like 25-175, I've tried to figure out if the time of day, day of week, etc. changes it demonstrably but haven't figured out that riddle yet. Ah, an Orange Julius anytime, that'd be swell. We had a lot of DQ's in my area growing up, not many now within driving distance, but I always had a Blizzard with some Nerds or something tossed in!

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