DINING OUT:

The Chinese New Year celebration is the most important of Chinese holidays. It begins on the first day of the new moon and lasts 15 days. It ends on the night of the full moon with a lantern festival. With so many Chinese restaurants in Burbank, you have no reason to stay at home during this festive season.

My cousin Ron and I decided to start celebrating the Year of the Rat at the China Inn Bistro in Burbank. At first, I was confused by the atypical surroundings. Rather than the paper lanterns and deep red hues one naturally expects in any Chinese restaurant, you walk into a bright room flanked on both sides with blue-green colored booths. While the decor seems stuck in the 1980s, the booths were comfortable and the atmosphere quiet for a weekend lunch.

The menu at China Inn Bistro has plenty of choices. Appetizers range from your typical egg rolls and fried wontons to spicy chicken wings and honey spare ribs. There are several categories of entrees, including chicken, shrimp, fish, squid, scallops, beef, vegetable, pork, fried rice, noodles and grilled. The entrees, prices and serving sizes are representative of most Chinese restaurants in Southern California.

I always like to try the lunch specials at any Chinese restaurant before I even consider their dinner menu. The other day I took Ron to lunch at China Inn Bistro. The lunch specials are served every day and start with a salad and fried wonton. I can’t say that I like this new trend of serving salads instead of soup as the first course. At the very least, I think we should have an option. Our salads consisted of a small plate of lettuce with a thick, gritty Asian dressing that was too sweet for my taste. The wonton was crispy, but there is nothing special about a plain, fried wonton.

Every entree is served with fried rice and an egg roll. I thought the vegetable filling in the egg roll was good, but Ron took one bite and complained it was too greasy. He had a point. The fried rice was good, but the entrees were certainly the highlight of the meal.

To our surprise, the entrees were served a la carte. Fortunately, we ordered two very different dishes. Ron had the cashew chicken. While it could have used a few more cashews, the chicken was tender and the sauce delicious. I chose the beef chow-fun. The beef was fork-tender and the noodles just right.

I found the food at China Inn Bistro well-prepared, fresh and overall a good lunch for the price and quiet atmosphere on a Sunday afternoon. But, I have to say that like most people when I have Chinese food, I look forward to that fortune cookie. It is simply a fun way to end the meal. And besides, after just getting the braces off my teeth, I had been looking forward to that crunchy cookie all week.

When two small wedges of fresh pineapple saturated in salt were placed in front of Ron and I, we just stared at it. Poor Ron took a huge bite and nearly gagged on the salted fruit. Fortunately, my cousin saved the day. On the way home, we stopped at the grocery store and he bought a box of fortune cookies for us. Even Confucius would say that a meal without a sweet ending sours the reviewer’s pen no matter how delicious it begins.


 CHRISTINE PUTNAM is a freelance writer. You can reach her at www.christine putnam.com.

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