Sullivan may be the most curiously named Chinese restaurant we've ever been to, but more about that later. First, let us introduce you to Shiu Mei Liu, the effusive, warm and generous proprietor who welcomes you into her world with her wide, charming smile. This small, bright and pleasant storefront restaurant in Huntington Beach is definitely worth a visit.
Think of all the times that you and a companion or two have gone into a Chinese restaurant and envied some large party with a Lazy Susan in the middle of their table, sampling a banquet of dishes. A really unusual feature at Sullivan is that they offer small and large portions of most dishes, so you can expand the number of selections that you order and have a mini-banquet for yourselves. We had quite the feast. Be forewarned, it might be a good idea to order appetizers and starters first and wait until they arrive before ordering entrées. We did it all at once, and entrées came out before the starters because they take longer to prepare.
The menu is classic American Chinese, meaning you won't find sea cucumber or jellyfish. Spicy dishes are marked with a red chili pepper, and you can specify how much heat you can handle. We asked for good and spicy, but the dishes were only moderately nippy.
Shiu Mei herself makes the fabulous onion pancake, a Beijing layered flatbread laced with green onions. Listed as a starter, it's delicious on its own but also can be used like a tortilla to wrap around some saucy protein. Be sure to order more than one to avoid conflict.
The excellent potstickers come in a portion of eight and are plumply filled with a well-seasoned, moist and juicy mixture that is almost all finely chopped chicken with a bit of ginger, green onion and a touch of cabbage. The dough was thin and chewy and fried on one side to a golden brown crispiness. We particularly liked the dipping sauce that had a lovely balance of soy, vinegar and sugar.
Chopped red bells and green onions topped the crispy deep-fried salt and pepper chicken wings. The sautéed veggies made a pretty garnish but were too salty to eat on their own. The wings themselves were very crispy, but the meat was overcooked and dry.
The chicken in the spicy garlic chicken, however, was moist and tender. Joining it in the wok was a good amount of broccoli that was some of the best we have ever eaten. It tasted wonderfully fresh and was cooked to a gently crunchy perfection. The dish was rounded out with a bit of red bell pepper, wood ear mushroom and fresh bamboo shoots, adding texture and color. All was bathed in a tasty, light garlic sauce. We found ourselves fighting over the impeccable broccoli, made even tastier by the sauce, and finished all of it before eating the rest of the dish. We can't remember ever flipping out over broccoli before.
Tilapia filets sautéed in black bean sauce were just ordinary, but again, the veggies, bell peppers and onions were crunchy and good.
We were dazzled by the intense hot pink color of the heavily glazed aromatic shrimp surrounded by more bright green broccoli. We were a bit dubious about actually eating something that garishly pink. However, when we got around to tasting it on the lightly battered fried shrimp beneath, we found it quite appetizing, not nearly as sweet as it looked and with a pleasantly spicy undertone. The shrimp were juicy, plump and toothsome.
While sipping the last of our tea, we were pleasantly surprised by a lovely complimentary platter of fresh fruit to accompany our fortune cookies...a typical gesture from the charming proprietress of this reasonably priced, family-run Chinese restaurant.
P.S. The name Sullivan is someone's idea of the Americanized transliteration of Shiu Mei Liu.
ELLE HARROW and TERRY MARKOWITZ were in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. They can be reached for comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Where: 21064 Beach Blvd., Huntington Beach
When: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday
11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Appetizers: $1.95 to $9.99
Entrées: Regular, $7.50 to $10.95; large, $9.95 to $13.95
No alcohol is served at this time
Free delivery within a five-mile radius
Information: (714) 536-8538