Dining Out:

Everyone has their favorite neighborhood Chinese takeout place. While I certainly wouldn’t travel from the Westside to eat at Wok Talk, if I was craving a fish filet in black bean sauce or some mean fried rice, I’d give this place a call.

I say “takeout” and “Chinese” because I do not recommend this place for its ambience or sushi. Set in a soulless strip mall with cold Formica tables, the fairly new restaurant looks weathered. Three times I visited, and while the phone rang frequently and a good many customers came in, they left quickly with their takeout. It’s all the more surprising because Wok Talk’s prices are comparable to those at a nice Chinese restaurant with full table service. Still, some of their takeout is impressive.

The best bargain is their lunch special at an average price of $6.95. You get a steaming hot (and I mean straight-out-of-the-wok, burn-your-mouth, steaming hot) entree choice, along with a tasty salad with sesame dressing, white or fried rice, a delightfully light and crispy egg roll and some other fried square they call Crab Rangoon.

I tried the spicy garlic chicken and the Kung Pao shrimp. I was tempted to rename the restaurant House of Water Chestnuts because they used far too many of this inexpensive filler in both dishes. The garlic chicken had long slices of mushroom and chicken with a delicious spicy sauce that was, gratefully, not gelatinous.

The shrimp in the Kung Pao were tender and properly cooked but the peanuts had an unpleasant texture. The real surprise was the fried rice. My companion and I could not get over how delicious it was. The kernels were nicely dry and separated so that each one took on the smoky cooking sauce. And the veggies in it were fresh, not frozen peas and carrots.

A similar smoky flavor comes through in their unique Singapore noodles ($7.95). Here they fry super thin rice noodles with sweet white onions, eggs, shrimp and beef strips in a soy-curry sauce. The taste ping-pongs between sweet and spicy.

The fish filet in black bean sauce ($10.95) is one of their house specialties. The moist, flaky white fish swims in a dark bean sauce with peppers and onions. Warm and comforting. Rice is extra with all meals ($.50 to $1). The brown rice has the aroma of green tea, which I liked. It tasted great with the braised garlic string beans ($6.95). The beans had a nice density and just the right amount of snap, but I could’ve taken more garlic, personally.

Another Wok Talk special is their two-in-one chicken ($10.95). I thought they might somehow cleverly combine orange chicken with sweet and sour, but the two are simply offered side-by-side with a cute line of broccoli florets down the middle. The orange chicken was tough probably because it was too thinly sliced and over-battered. The sweet and sour chicken was standard issue.

We rounded out our family dinner with a sushi combination ($10.95 for six pieces). We tried a bite of each of tuna, salmon, yellowtail, octopus, albacore and red snapper and were shocked to find they had absolutely no taste. I take that back. My son had a classic comment that I must repeat verbatim: “They taste like what a public pool smells like, divided by five (meaning not so strong).” The fish did have a slight chlorine taste. Definitely do not go to Wok Talk for the sushi.

The portions at Wok Talk are sizable. The five full-size dishes we bought ended up feeding my hungry family of four their dinner two times over. And, it may sound silly, but the food comes in these wonderful reusable plastic containers. Long live takeout!

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