Ming's Place: Great Fried Rice in the Heart
Of a Tex-Mex Zone
A couple of weeks ago, on an otherwise familiar route home from the gym, an unfamiliar sign caught my eye.
There, next to the Potbelly and Starbucks on the corner of Lemmon Avenue and Inwood Road, was a Grand Opening sign for Ming's Place China Bistro. Hmm...
While I will admit that a higher-end Chinese restaurant is a welcome addition to Tex-Mex mile (El Fenix, Mia's, Uncle Julio's, Gloria's, etc.), I couldn't help but be a bit prejudicially leery. A Chinese restaurant in this area that doesn't have the words "buffet" or "delivery" painted on its windows must be expensive, I thought. Also, the word "bistro" doesn't do anything to assuage my fears. A second warning sign arose when I tried to visit the restaurant for dinner on the night before Thanksgiving. The restaurant was closed at 7:30 p.m. What "authentic" Chinese restaurant shuts down business for a holiday?! Not only was it closed on the day before a holiday, a sign on the door read that the restaurant is "Closed on Sundays...for family time." As bizarre as it was to me, I couldn't help but find it to be endearing.
A week after Thanksgiving, as I was driving home again, the blaring red restaurant sign prompted me to give Ming's Place another try.
Ming's Place looks quite warm and inviting from the outside. The corner of Lemmon and Inwood can be quite chaotic throughout the day. It's an appropriate location to have a corporate coffee shop and carryout-sandwich chain, but a quiet little Chinese bistro? From the outside looking in, warm lighting bathes the earth-toned walls and furniture of the restaurant. The harsh red restaurant sign seems almost antithetic.
Walking in, I was greeted with sincerely grateful smiles and ushered immediately to a table. Dining at the restaurant that evening were a mixture of young couples and young families. The only distraction of the otherwise pleasant setting was the smoke coming from the open kitchen. Ming's Place has an open kitchen akin to Pei Wei. In fact, the best way to describe Ming's Place's setting is to say it's a more ambient and subdued Pei Wei. The prices of the two restaurants are closely matched, although Ming's Place's menu carries a few "VIP" signature dishes that range higher. Prices and open kitchens aside, that's where the similarities between the corporate chain and this quaint restaurant end. The most blaring difference between the two lies inside the kitchen. Every single chef at Ming's Place is Chinese.
While I waited to place my order, Grace, the owner of the restaurant, approached my table to introduce herself. Although she and her husband are both immigrants from China, they met each other in the States. During his time working at the nearby Mercedes Benz dealership, they both noticed a dearth of Chinese restaurants in the area. Being a veteran of the restaurant business while in China, Grace and her husband decided to take the leap by opening Ming's Place, their first restaurant together.
The menu is a mixture of mainly Americanized Chinese dishes like beef with broccoli and a few departures sprinkled in for good measure. Although the regular menu has a few items -- such as salt and pepper pork chops -- not normally seen at the average American-Chinese restaurant, the specialized dishes are for the most part reserved for the aforementioned "VIP" section. For $24.95, one can try the Shanghai sea bass or lobster with ginger sauce. I was intrigued more by the Shanghai sweet and sour pork ribs. Along with the ribs, I ordered the Combination fried rice, a dish that I believe is a good barometer of a Chinese restaurant.
The first entree to arrive at my table was Ming's Happy Family, a dish Grace recommended. Ming's version of the Chinese restaurant staple consists of a medley of scallops, shrimp, chicken, beef, zucchini and squash in a brown sauce. While I was impressed with the large size of the (frozen) scallops, what concerned me was the look of the brown sauce. Its thickness betrayed the overuse of cornstarch. The taste didn't fare any better. The dish was so salty that I very guiltily sent it back. Because of the open kitchen, I could hear the chef's incredulity when he was asked by the waiter to remake it. I was mortified, but I would have felt worse had I just thrown away the leftovers.