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Thursday, December 6,2012

Eastern authenticity at Ting's in East County

By Clay Fong
Photo by Susan France

I’m often forced to compromise at Chinese restaurants by eating less authentic fare like sesame chicken and cream cheese wontons — not exactly the stuff of childhood Chinatown dinners. Certainly Lafayette’s Ting’s Place has such dishes available (and I do enjoy them from time to time, just don’t tell my parents), but a closer perusal of the menu shows it also serves more authentic dishes.

Venturing out with pal Mara, we hit this clean, well-lighted place on a Saturday night intending to dine on childhood fare reminiscent of family restaurant excursions. Ting’s has the attentive service of a family-owned and -operated spot, with friendly servers who promptly delivered our first course of $5.50 sizzling rice soup with shrimp and chicken. The broth had a clean flavor, accented by crisp-tender veggies and fresh-tasting seafood with appealing texture. Granted, the dunking of the rice cakes into the soup didn’t produce the violent sizzling sounds I recalled from my youth. But the crackling texture of the rice in the soothing broth was just as I remembered it.

We were surprised to discover that the pancake accompanying the $9.50 mu shu pork was not the traditional Asian preparation, but more of a flour tortilla. This was the only point of weakness though, and Mara found that the flavors evoked her family’s favorite Queens Chinese restaurant. This mix of cabbage, carrots, eggs, bamboo shoots, pork and scallion arrived piping hot, with each ingredient contributing distinctive flavor and texture.

The $12.50 spiced duck with steamed buns was essentially a scaled-down Peking duck dish. For some, “spiced” may be a misnomer, as this term didn’t refer to peppery heat, but rather the classic five spice flavors that include glimmers of cinnamon and star anise. While this bird may have been leaner and drier than the unctuous poultry one might get at a Chinatown deli, it was still pleasantly edible, and I’d order it again. We also received four buns that were a touch denser than usual, as well as a garnish of julienned cucumber, which was a new one for me. However, the inclusion of scallions and plummy hoisin sauce made for an authentic preparation.

At first glimpse, the $10.50 steamed flounder appeared to be a simple dish. It consisted of nothing more than a whole fish and such traditional seasonings as soy sauce, scallions, cilantro and ginger. But these are the elemental flavors of Chinese cooking, and a whole fish carries significant symbolic value. The fact that you’re getting the entire animal, as opposed to a filet or fish without head or tail, is a testament to this ingredient’s freshness. A whole fish also symbolizes prosperity. Here, it was impeccably prepared, spotlighting perfectly textured fish accompanied by plenty of aromatic cooking liquid to drizzle over white rice.

It’s unlikely that a Chinese restaurant along the lines of those found in San Francisco or New York will ever open its doors in Boulder County. However, I was pleasantly surprised by what Ting’s had to offer, and there’s no question it’s among the top Chinese kitchens in the area. I’d be more than happy to drive from Boulder to Lafayette for the flounder, perhaps accompanied by nothing more than steamed rice and vegetables. I’d find that a deeply satisfying Asian meal.

Ting's Place is located at 1265 South Public Road in Lafayette. Call 303-666-9559.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

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