East of Eden

Visiting a St. Louis stronghold of Chinese cuisine

Another dish I don't much love is the shrimp subgum. I will probably never write an ode to the white, glutinous sauces one so often finds menacing the seafood in Chinese restaurants; they glisten but are almost universal in their stupefying blandness. This case is no exception; the ingredients themselves -- almonds, water chestnuts and celery -- are a crunchy foil for the shrimp, but my spirit is a good deal reduced by that glum, poky sauce.

Fate, sensitive to my suffering, bolsters my flagging palate with a dish of green-pepper chicken. Bite-size boneless chicken chunks and bright, crisp bell pepper are courted by a perfect garlicky brown sauce with a wonderful afterburn. This dish does not fail to fascinate and quickly becomes our hands-down favorite.

My work at Lee's is done; I shift forthwith a couple of blocks east to Shu Feng. Anyone who's been here will report having been bullied by the cantankerous proprietress, but do not let this dissuade you. Hers is a benevolent spirit, and besides, the reddening expression of chagrin on your friend's face when his improperly deployed chopsticks are slapped out of his hand is priceless.

Strictly speaking, Shu Feng is a Korean depot, but in addition to a few dozen Korean-style specialties, they've got gorgeous versions of all the usual Chinese suspects.
Jennifer Silverberg
Strictly speaking, Shu Feng is a Korean depot, but in addition to a few dozen Korean-style specialties, they've got gorgeous versions of all the usual Chinese suspects.

Location Info

Map

Shu Feng Restaurant

8435 Olive Blvd.
University City, MO 63132

Category: Restaurant > Chinese

Region: Olive Boulevard

Of course, the real reason to darken the stoop of this tiny storefront is the food. Strictly speaking, Shu Feng is a Korean depot, but in addition to a few dozen Korean-style specialties (the red-hot kimchi fried rice is aces, and I double-dare you to try the braised sea cucumber), they've got gorgeous versions of all the usual Chinese suspects. In these I now indulge with the abandon of one who is celebrating her last night on earth.

The hot-and-sour soup here is thick, woodsy and gloriously sustaining, but tonight I'm trying something lighter, the spinach bean-curd soup. Leaves of fresh spinach and tofu cubes float in a piping-hot clear stock; it leaves nearly the same cleansing impression as miso broth.

And the hits just keep on coming. The potstickers are gingery, the egg rolls are crispy, the fried wontons are crackly little bits of savory nothings. These are more than mere appetizers -- they're the culinary embodiment of the block-long floating dragons and pentatonic zither music at Chinese New Year.

There's nothing any too subtle about the eggplant, either. Battered, crisp-fried planks of the vegetable are dripping in a sweet and tingly hot sauce -- the effect is shamelessly tawdry, almost depraved in its excess. Ditto the crispy shrimp; also deep-fried, this dish is infused with "house spicy sauce," a syrupy, blood-red concoction dotted with those fiery little chiles that would make you cry out in alarm if they hadn't already melted your tongue.

If chiles scare you, order it anyway and just pick them out.

But I just can't get a break with Mongolian beef today. Here at Shu Feng, as it was at Lee's, the dish is flawed. The problem is not with the meat, which has perfectly crisped edges and is spiked abundantly with tasty scallions. It's the sauce. I remember a lighter, more virtuous version of this wonderfully garlicky stuff, but since my last visit it has apparently fallen victim to a sinister unctuousness I find difficult to forgive.

Fortunately, all is not lost. The brilliant glow given off by a dish of shredded pork and crispy vegetables with hot garlic sauce lights my way to salvation. We've also selected the Korean version of an old standby, hot braised chicken. These wings in a tangy pinkish sauce -- hot peppers again included -- display greater nuance than the usual sweet-and-sour treatment.

Of course, the wings are not boneless, and the absence of knives, typical of Chinese restaurants, calls certain points of etiquette into question. In the end I opt for the hands-on method and afterward nip through the kitchen to the bathroom, where I hose myself down, contented.

LEE'S CHINESE RESTAURANT, 8613 Olive Blvd., 997-1218. Hours: lunch 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Tue.-Fri.; dinner 5-9 p.m. Tue.-Sun. Entrees: $5-$9.95.

SHU FENG, 8435 Olive Blvd., 997-7473. Hours: 5-10 p.m. Wed.-Mon. Entrees: $6.95-$14.95.

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