THE CUISINE that I miss the most from when I lived in New York City is still Chinese food, hands down. To be honest, there still isn’t a place in New Tampa or Wesley Chapel that really compares to the incredible Chinese food I have loved all of my life.
That having been said, I do still enjoy quite a few of the Chinese places in our area and one of the places that has really grown on me the last few months in Kwan Ming Bistro, located on S.R. 56, in the same Seven Oaks Plaza as Wolf’s Den and Cabana Spas. Owner/chef Henry Lo opened Kwan Ming in 2012, but I will admit that I didn’t like it as much then as I do now.
I believe that Henry, who has 40 years of Chinese cuisine experience and is known for his creative specials printed on a specials board inside the restaurant, has grown as a chef and the addition of assistant chef Nick Shalna in 2015 has given Henry the freedom to explore his more creative cuisine options and better control the quality of the food at his restaurant. Kwan Ming bills its food as Hong Kong-style Chinese cuisine, but I believe several of its offerings are as close to NY-style as you’ll find in our area.
“Don’t give me any credit,” says Nick. “Henry is the chef. I’m just trying to help him make sure that the fact that the two of us cook everything here will continue to make sure that our quality stays consistent.”
I believe the formula is working. Let’s start, as I always do, with the appetizers. I can’t really enjoy a Chinese meal without spare ribs, egg or spring rolls and dumplings and Kwan Ming’s are all very good.
I like my Chinese-style ribs with as little sauce as possible, but while the honey-glazed ribs at Kwan Ming are slathered with a little more sauce than I usually like, they are tender, meaty and delicious, albeit a little bit on the messy side. And, speaking of messy, the gooey General Tso’s chicken wings are very tasty, although not as spicy as some of the General Tso’s recipes I’ve had at other places.
The pork egg rolls and veggie spring rolls aren’t particularly large, but they are served crispy and the homemade duck sauce makes for a nice dip. I also prefer my pork dumplings more pan-fried than a deep-fried, but the flavor of Kwan Ming’s fried dumplings is excellent, as is the homemade dumpling dipping sauce.
I also enjoy the Beijing hot-and-sour and Hong Kong-style wonton soup and plan to try Henry’s unique vegetable garlic soup on a future visit.
Ahh, Yes, The Entrées
I’m still exploring the huge selection of entrées at Kwan Ming Bistro, but I do have a number of favorites. My two favorites to date are probably the beef with fresh asparagus and the Su Choi Chow fish with fresh vegetables, which features nicely sautéed chunks of fresh, white fish.I usually order the sauce a little spicy, but I will suggest that if you like your food spicy, ask for it that way. I love the heat I feel when I enjoy a great Szechuan or Hunan-style Chinese dish, but I think Henry and Nick tone down the spiciness unless you specifically ask for your dish extra spicy.
Other favorites among our Neighborhood News staff include the General Tso’s chicken, the kung pao chicken (shown as one of several available lunch specials in the photo on the next page), the beef with broccoli and the Mongolian pork.
I also really love Kwan Ming’s fried rice, from the house special fried rice shown on the next page (I order it without the shrimp, of course), which actually gets a nice flavor boost from the addition of fresh red peppers, to the simple pork fried rice. I’m not the biggest lover of Chinese noodle dishes, but Kwan Ming has a wide variety of not only lo mein dishes — there’s even a mixed seafood lo mein and a k-krab special lo mein — but other noodle dishes, too. For example, Nick says that those who like broader Chinese-style noodle dishes will love Kwan Ming’s beef ho fun, which is made with hand-cut, house-marinated flank steak and homemade rice noodles.
Speaking of special, the aforementioned specials board always attracts a lot of attention at Kwan Ming Bistro, for good reason. Although none of these dishes are pictured here, Nick says the following are his favorites: the true king crab lo mein, the deep-fried Chinese eggplant, the lobster kew and the seafood volcania, which features krabmeat, U10 scallops, white fish and shrimp.
“We also have an extensive number of vegetarian options,” Nick says. “We will even use water to cook your vegetarian meals, instead of chicken broth.”
“We don’t keep a lobster tank here,” he says, “but, if you give us one day’s notice, we will gladly order a whole lobster for you.” He adds that Kwan Ming serves Halal meats as approved on Zabiliah.com.
He also notes that the duck also takes a day because Henry will hang the ducks — as I remember them doing in Chinatown in New York City — to help the fat drain out and leave nothing but succulent duck with crispy skin. I definitely plan to try this one sometime in the future, too.
And of course, even though Kwan Ming certainly isn’t a fancy place, it does accept and recommends reservations for weekend evenings and also offers beer and wine, including Tsingtao Chinese beer and others. There’s also a variety of hot teas, including some Chinese specialty teas.
Kwan Ming Bistro is located at 27607 S.R. 56. It is open every day except Monday for lunch and dinner, as follows: Tues.-Fri., 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m., and noon-9:30 p.m. on Sat. and Sun. For more info, search for “Kwan Ming Bistro” on Facebook or visit KwanMingRestaurant.com. For dinner reservations, call 994-2328. And, Kwan Ming Bistro stays open on Christmas Eve & Day and New Year’s Eve & Day.