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Wednesday, May 25,2011

Chinese class

Xiao China Grille tailors its elegant dishes for Lansing’s taste buds

by Joe Torok

Mindfulness aptly describes a meal at Xiao China Grille
& Lounge, an experience reinforced by an 8-foot statue of Buddha
serenely meditating on a raised platform, watching over diners stuck in
samsara.


Xiao (pronounced shee-ow) opened this year in the new development on Saginaw Street, just north of Frandor.  Owner Frank Cheng, 34, describes Xiao’s atmosphere as casual/elegant, and believes his newest venture is right for the area.  


"I feel there is a great need for a nice Chinese dine-in experience," he says.


Cheng, whose family immigrated to the New York area in
1982 from the Fujian province in southeast China, has been in the
restaurant business for most of his life.  He’s seen what works in New York, the Midwest and China.  In this country, at least, flux is the state of existence.      


"The Chinese restaurant industry here has been evolving over the past few years," Cheng says, drawing a parallel with sushi. 


As they grow in popularity and the broader culture
embraces them, styles of cuisine become not only more available but
varied as well: You can find sushi in a cooler case at the supermarket,
or have Chinese food scooped up from a buffet — or you can enjoy more
refined variations of both served as an elegant meal under soft
lighting.


The history of Chinese cuisine in this country stretches back to the 19th century.  Chop
suey, General Tso’s chicken, and fried egg rolls fill menus in America,
but they aren’t necessarily the kinds of food one finds in China.
That’s OK with Cheng. 


"You have to cater to local tastes," he says. "Taste buds in Lansing are a little  bit different than elsewhere.


"On the East Coast, it’s chow mein, chop suey and egg foo young. Here, it’s more stir fry and sweet and sour chicken." 


Restaurant success dictates that flavors must agree with palates, but we eat with our eyes first.


An attention to visual appeal is evident in the grilled
mahi-mahi ($18). The thick fish is leaned atop finger-thick spears of
asparagus. Four droplets of ginger sauce, one larger than the next, curl
out from the mahi-mahi, like an ellipsis asking for pause to appreciate
the chef’s effort. A molded mound of white rice crowned with a
filamented nest of sangria-colored beet straws finishes the plate.


Once your eyes have had their fill, the dish tastes pretty
good, too. The ginger sauce brings all of the elements together with a
mild acidity tempered by a touch of sweetness — a harmonious balance.   


Shrimp with lobster sauce ($20) surprises some diners who
have ordered such a dish elsewhere, Cheng says, when the plate Xiao
presents contains an actual tail of lobster.


Jumbo sea shallots ($18) are served with a sweet garlic
sauce. For those who prefer something terrestrial, the New York strip
($17) comes sizzling on a hot-plate.


Elegant the menu may be, but it has a casual side, too.
General Tso’s chicken ($12 entre, $7 lunch) is served with the familiar
sauce that imparts a hint of sour with a touch of heat. And a braised
pulled-pork sandwich ($8) combines pork loin with egg foo young. 


The appetizers get really fun. Oil-drenched egg rolls
filled with cabbage you will not find. The egg rolls ($5-6) at Xiao are a
bit more contemporary: Philly steak and cheese, southwest chicken and
avocado shrimp.


Peking duck sliders ($8) are cute little crispy duck burgers topped with greens and plum sauce. 


Happy hour runs from 4-7 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Dom Perignion is on the wine menu for extra-special occasions.  If you follow a precept against intoxicants —  or even if you don’t — trying the fresh ginger ale, with slices of actual ginger swimming in the bottle, is a must.


Outside Xiao, a corridor of clangorous traffic flows west
along Saginaw at the confluence of Grand River, heading toward the
swifter currents of US 127.  Inside,
the din fades with the lights. The waitstaff smiles and offers a menu.
You sink into a cushiony seat. A sigh escapes, taking the troubles of
the day with it.  A glass of red wine sounds nice, you think. Or perhaps a Zen-tini.  


Life isn’t always suffering.


Xiao China Grille & Lounge
3415 E. Saginaw St., Lansing    
11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday
11 a.m.-midnight Friday and Saturday
Noon-9 p.m. Sunday
TO, OM, WiFi, $$$
(517) 580-3720


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