Sunday, November 16, 2008

Orient Express 

(A Hamburgerland restaurant review.)
(I know, it's incongruous to have a review of an Asian restaurant on a blog called Hamburgerland. Maybe one of these days, I'll get around to reviewing hamburgers. Yeah, one of these days...)

Ugh, ngóh báau lak. We just got back from dinner at The Orient Express, a new Asian restaurant in town. If you know Seattle, you might have driven past Andy's Diner on Fourth Avenue South. For those of you from other lands, Andy's was a classic greasy spoon diner located in a number of railroad cars. The food was so-so, but the ambiance was great--small tables squeezed into a passenger car, the walls festooned with railroad photos and paraphernalia. But Andy's Diner, alas, shut down a while back. The doors were locked shut and a temporary chain-link fence sprouted up around the cars. My family and I mourned it's loss and wondered if this south end landmark would go the way of the Twin Teepees restaurant of days past.

Well, one day, not so long ago, I drove past Andy's and saw that the railroad cars had been painted bright green and orange. I wondered if this was graffiti gone amok, or if it was the prelude to some sort of demolition process. (I can take a pessimistic view of life at times.) A week or two later, I discovered that it was quite the opposite. Someone had affixed Chinese characters onto the restaurant's sign. A day or two later, the English side of the sign went up--Orient Express. We were delighted that the place had found new life and curious as to what kind of place it would be. A take out joint? A buffet? Dim sum? We were hoping it would open up by my birthday, so we could we could fit a trip to the restaurant into our very limited dining budget. However, my natal day came and went before the grand opening (I pigged out at Red Robin instead) so it looked like we weren't going to check the joint out anytime soon. Shows how much we knew. After this busy weekend and all the overtime I put in, we figured a restaurant treat was in order.

So how was our dining experience? Quite good actually. We first encountered the restaurant's ambiance. The owners of the Orient Express really didn't make too much effort to remodel. It was basically Andy's Diner with new booths, a fish tank at the entrance and a shrine where Andy's cashier used to be. The train pictures are still hanging and the 1950's flatware still adorns the tables. The food, of course, is totally different. Orient Express' menu has both a Thai and Chinese section. We pretty much went Chinese, ordering pot stickers, Kung Pao chicken, Szechwan string beans, stir fried beef and noodles and a beef-onion-ginger dish. We also ordered a Thai appetizer--satay chicken skewers with peanut sauce. It was all delightful, almost as if we were back in Yunnan. (I even had a moment when I accidentally gobbled up a chunk of pepper with the seeds in it. Tears running down my cheek, I desperately shoveled rice into my mouth to try and ease the burning.)

The best surprise was at the end. We got our bill and discovered that we had come on the last day of Orient Express' grand opening promotion--20% off the bill. Even without the discount, the price was quite reasonable. Dinner would have cost our family of four around $50. We left with full tummies and two doggie bags. My only complaint was trying to eat such fare with Andy's big old forks. Those utensils were great on steak and potatoes, but next time I'm either going to ask for a spoon to eat Thai style or chopsticks to eat Chinese.

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