Dining out: China Grill

Published: Friday, Feb. 19 2010 12:00 a.m. MST

China Grill first caught my attention with a big sign advertising a special on walnut shrimp.

I love walnut shrimp. There's some debate about where this dish came from and whether it's "authentically" Chinese — the sauce, after all, contains mayonnaise, not exactly a Chinese staple, and sweetened condensed milk — but I don't care. And walnut shrimp for $8.99, like China Grill was advertising? Count me in!

But that's not the only thing about China Grill that caught my eye. I also noticed they have a drive-through. It's kind of a weird one: You drive up, pull over to the left of the lane, order through your driver's-side window, then pull forward to the right to receive your food through the passenger window. But I love the thought of getting good Chinese food that quickly.

Notice I said "good" Chinese food. I think the reason I'd never stopped before at China Grill, despite passing it many times over the years, is that I've been burned oh, so many times by subpar food at Chinese restaurants. It's the same reason I worry about trying new pizzerias: When the product is done right, it's great, but when it's not, it's miserable.

Well, I should have stopped long before this. China Grill is shockingly good, considering the modest prices. The service is friendly and competent, and the dining space, while basic, is bright and comfortable.

We started with potstickers, the crisped-all-over kind with nice moist fillings, and lettuce wraps.

The wraps weren't the most colorful I've seen — the melange of chopped vegetables and chicken was almost uniformly brown with hoisin sauce and seasonings — but tasted delicious, especially wrapped in one of the crunchy iceberg leaves accompanying the dish. I've usually had butter lettuce with lettuce wraps, including the ones I've made myself, and I was surprised how much I liked the iceberg's cool crunch with the dark, savory filling.

My youngest daughter also had a bowl of superior egg-drop soup, hot and silky with lots of chunky Chinese veggies.

I see, writing this review, that we partook heavily from the chicken portions of the menu. Usually, we strike a little more balance, but we all had a chicken-y favorite: the lettuce wraps, for starters, plus almond chicken and an advertised special, mango chicken.

Almond chicken is one of my husband's favorite Chinese dishes, but this version surprised him with its mildly tangy sauce and crisp sliced crumb-breaded chicken liberally sprinkled with crunchy roasted almonds. He liked it, though, and I did, too.

My daughter was thrilled that we ordered the mango chicken, a deliciously souped-up version of sweet and sour chicken with lean batter-breaded chicken pieces, a light mango-infused sauce and diced fresh mango. It was great; I wish it was a regular menu item.

We also had our family favorite, ham-fried rice, an average but tasty version with plenty of ham, peas and carrots.

And then there was the walnut shrimp, which covered all the bases: fresh crispy battered shrimp, warm and crunchy candied walnuts, that wonderfully surprising sweet-tangy sauce and a ring of crunchy-tender broccoli all around. This dish is as satisfying as any main dish I've ever had, and as sweet and fulfilling as a great dessert.

Lunch specials $3.95-$6.25; appetizers $1.95-$6.55; rice dishes, soup and salad $1.75-$6.55; entrees $5.75-$11.99; combination dinners for two, three or more $15.99-$27.99.

China Grill

Rating: ★★★

Where: 6207 S. Highland Dr., Cottonwood Heights

Hours: 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday; closed Sunday

Payment: Major credit cards accepted

Phone: 801-277-5858

Wheelchair access: Easy

Also: Drive-through and takeout orders available; lunch specials served 11 a.m.-4 p.m.

e-mail: skratz@desnews.com

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