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Chinese-- With U.S. in Mind

Times Staff Writer

Despite its small size and simple decor, there’s a sense of elegance about Chopsticks Cuisine. Perhaps it’s the classical music or the simple floral arrangements. It might also be the subtle beige-and-dark-blue color scheme. “A Chinese restaurant with no red,” said friends who first took me to this Sherman Oaks neighborhood restaurant.

It’s become one of their favorite luncheon spots. Not surprising, when for $3.65 to $5.35 there’s a choice of 15 entrees, each served with egg flower soup, egg rolls and steamed rice.

Eric, the manager, is another reason they enjoy Chopsticks Cuisine. His good humor makes a visit even more pleasurable, and with assistance from the owner and a busboy, there’s little one can complain about with regard to service.

Some luncheon items are included on the more extensive dinner menu, so we ordered a combination of previously enjoyed as well as untried items. Or so we thought.

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As it turned out, my friends’ memories weren’t quite accurate and instead of sweet and pungent shrimps, we ordered crystal shrimp. Billed as “plump shrimps deliciously seasoned and perfectly braised in crystal garlic sauce with straw mushrooms and scallions,” they turned out to be a watery disappointment.

Better choices were the not-too-spicy Sichuan garlic chicken and crisp, toasty Chopsticks pan-fried noodles topped with shrimp, barbecued pork, chicken and vegetables in oyster sauce. Although the restaurant’s wine selection is limited to two Chardonnays, a rose and a white zinfandel, we found the latter a nice accompaniment to the meal. Three of the four choices are offered by the glass.

A return visit with a Chinese-American friend brought other interesting reactions to this restaurant. I suggested we order the previously missed sweet and pungent shrimp, but asked her to make other suggestions.

We started by sharing the appetizing deluxe plate--a combination plate including a barbecued sparerib, fried shrimp, rumaki, egg roll and sweet and sour won ton. The rumaki, dipped in batter and deep fried, looked like a puffball. Inside, however, were the familiar liver, water chestnut and bacon. The won ton seemed to be sans filling and the sweet and sour sauce looked like strawberry pie glaze.

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“I think the food has been rather Americanized,” my friend said. “It probably wouldn’t be well received in Chinatown, but people here sure seem to like it.” She was right. On both visits the nine tables were constantly filled, with people waiting. Yet oddly enough, on both visits she was the only one I noticed of Asian extraction, besides the staff.

The sweet and pungent shrimp turned out to be deep-fried in tempura batter and stir-fried with pineapple and what seemed to be the same sweet and sour sauce served with the appetizer. The shrimp were small and the sauce more sweet than sour, but the dish was very acceptable.

So were the special Chinese vegetables, a mixture of greens sauteed with mushrooms, broccoli and water chestnuts in brown sauce. Fresh mushrooms and a lighter hand with the salt, however, would have improved the dish. Most interesting was the curry chicken, simmered in curry sauce and coconut milk, which added a nice balance to the spice’s heat.

This time we chose Chinese beer to accompany our meal. Domestic beers and soft drinks are also available, and complimentary tea is served. There are no desserts offered, but fortune and almond cookies arrive with what we found to be very affordable checks.

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Chopsticks Cuisine, 14120 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, (818) 995-8824. Open Monday through Friday, from 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, from 4 to 9:30 p.m. Reservations accepted. Visa and MasterCard accepted. Lot and street parking. Lunch specials $3.65 to $5.35, dinner entrees $4.65 to $7.35.


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