Reviewed by The China Insight Restaurant Review Committee
The China Insight Restaurant Review Committee recently enjoyed a lovely Sunday evening dinner at Peony’s China Bistro in Plymouth. The Committee this month was: an IT expert (a young professional bachelor who loves to go out and eat – Chinese cuisine, of course!), a medical doctor, an educational administrator, and a China Insight staff writer. Our young professional also became our photographer of the evening. The medical doctor and the administrator have traveled the globe and enjoyed a world of cuisine; they are experienced gourmands and gourmets and subscribe to gourmet magazines.
As we drove up to Peony’s China Bistro, we noticed that the free standing building appeared to have been a Baker’s Square in the past. The owner, Nancy Feng (she goes by “Nancy”), graciously met us at the door. Our waiter seated our group at a large round table with a turn table in the middle – perfect for our evening together of trying many different items, from on and off the menu. Nancy explained that she had remodeled the restaurant, taking out walls and opening it up for the traditional Chinese round tables for families. There are also square tables, and some comfy booths. The restaurant has a clean and shiny look. The décor is like a neighborhood Chinese restaurant with accessories from China, and red and black and gold scheme throughout. Almost everyone seated appeared to be Asian – a good sign. On this Sunday night, there were families, professionals, and mixed groups.
Although the décor looks like a typical local Asian cafe, we were in for a fantastic surprise in the dinner. We each ordered an entrée and drinks. Nancy brought us samples of Dim Sum appetizers and special-ordered entrees that she wanted us to try as examples of the best her kitchen has to offer. We were delighted with our dinner! It was beautiful, delicious, and elegantly presented. Nancy and our server were charming and attentive.
The Dim Sum appetizers Nancy ordered for us included plates of various dumplings, shumai, and baozi. Peony’s Dim Sum is served as a buffet on weekends with a single charge as you walk in the door. Nancy said that she saves on labor costs by not using the manned traditional carts serving you tableside. With the buffet, she is able to offer a set price. The gently steamed shrimp dumplings were fresh and light. Both the pork shumai and the pork steamed dumplings were generous and delicious. Finally, Nancy sent us Chopped Chives with Shrimp Steamed Dumplings, noting that she prefers healthy food, with less frying and no MSG in her restaurant. There is also a regular buffet, which includes sushi items (About US$10/weekday lunch; about US$15/M-Sat dinner; about US$12/ Sunday dinner). To-go from the buffet is billed by the pound.
Nancy ordered two specialty dishes from the chef for us to try. These are not on the menu but are recommended for special occasions. Chrysanthemum Sole or Walleye (we had sole) was delicate, beautiful, and lightly breaded with a tempura-like coating. Each piece looks like a flower. The sauce is dribbled over the flowers and the plate is garnished with carrot flowers and cilantro. The “flowers” melt in your mouth. We marveled at the presentation and enjoyed the light and delicate flavors.
Nancy also ordered for us a Special Steamed Flowered Prong Shrimp in a light salt and pepper sauce (even lighter than a lobster sauce). Each one was decorated with a rice-flour breading on top and decorated with embedded colorful green and red “flowers” made from green and red garnish leaves. This too, was beautiful to the eye and delicious-tasting for most of us. Our IT bachelor gentleman noted what he called a “slimy sauce”. When he learned that the sauce is a lightly seasoned chicken broth, he tried it again and felt better about it.
We each ordered a dish from the menu for a total of four choices. These included: Chung King Chili Chicken, (US$11.50 noted with two red hot chili pepper symbols on the menu and with the choice of bone-in or boneless chicken - our gentleman ordered it boneless but later wished he had ordered bone-in); Spicy Basil Beef, (US$12.95 from the Malaysian and Thai Cuisine section with one red hot chili pepper); Eggplant with Garlic Sauce, ($9.95 with one red hot pepper and from the Vegetarian section); Mongolian Beef (US$10.50 with one red hot chili pepper). All dishes were presented attractively on clean white platters of different shapes, and garnished with hand-carved birds and flowers made from shaved carrots. These garnishes were then accented with crisp bright green sprigs of cilantro (also called Chinese parsley).
Our China Insight staffer requested a sample of the bone-in Curry Chicken Platter (US$9.95 with one hot chili pepper). This was a way for the table to try bone-in chicken. Our entire group was impressed with the flavorful bone-in Chicken Curry. Entrees served with the bone, such as ribs, pork, chicken, and duck, always are far more flavorful and worth the trouble of eating off the bone, we all agreed.
At Peony’s you can have wine and beer with your meal. Our table sipped drinks that included white wine, Tsingtao beer, house tea, hot water with lemon slices, and ice water. Everyone enjoyed their choices of drinks with the meal.
“I think they have a serious chef, here; the dishes are so imaginative compared to my neighborhood spot near where I live. This is a destination. There is something for everyone here,” commented one of our diners.
The Mongolian Beef was exotic and moist, and glazed with a zesty sauce. The Basil Beef was not so exotic and a little dry – kind of boring. The Curry Chicken was “delicious and one cannot eat it without noticing the artistry and skill of the chef. Each piece is cut clean and perfectly bite-sized. The chicken is more flavorful, tender, and juicy with the bone,” noted a Committee member. The Chung King Chili Chicken was spicy, as desired, and “goes great with the Tsingtao beer”. The Eggplant with Garlic Sauce was tangy and absolutely perfect; most of our Committee had never tried this dish, however, all fell completely in love with it! Vegetarian can be fantastic! Both chef specialty dishes (Chrysanthemum Sole and Steamed Flowered Prong Shrimp) were aesthetically amazing and yummy; as Nancy suggests, these are wonderful special occasion entrees. The Dim Sum items were fresh and generous in size; the Chopped Chives with Shrimp Steamed Dumplings were the most flavorsome and interesting of the four that we sampled.
Peony’s China Bistro has been open for about three years. The servers speak a variety of languages, including Mandarin, Cantonese, English, Vietnamese, and other Asian dialects. Feel free to ask for dishes that you desire that are not on the menu. There is karaoke available for parties and Nancy is exploring featuring subdued live dinner music. During the buffet times, the menu is also available, although it seems that some online reviewers feel that at times the menu table service is not up to par during the buffet times.
Our Committee feels that we could “eat at Peony’s for months and never have the same thing”. Judging by our experience, we feel the menu is fresh, imaginative, reasonably priced, varied (“the menu is huge – Thai and Malay choices included…”), with both American and authentic choices. Our younger gentleman expert said that “a beer and buffet at Peony’s is perfect for the single guy.”
The China Insight Committee felt our visit was exquisite and the food was upscale, particularly for the price. The online reviews, however, are somewhat varied. In the beginning, it seems, there were lapses in service and quality of food. Since then, these negatives are fewer with most customers leaving very satisfied.