July 23, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

David Chu’s China Bistro: Best American-Style Kosher Chinese in the World? Try It and See for Yourself

David Chu’s China Bistro

David Chu’s China Bistro isn’t your average Chinese restaurant. You’ll see pictures of famous people dining here on the wall when you walk in. Cal Ripken Jr., revered over almost anyone in the city, has dined here. Multiple governors of the state have stopped in. The Baltimore Sun wrote an article about it. And one other thing makes it special.

I’ve been here dozens of times.

Every other restaurant that I’ve ever featured in this space has been either new, or a place I’d been maybe a couple times. Not Chu’s. I grew up in Silver Spring, Maryland. We had our own Chinese restaurant. But that didn’t stop us from hopping on the highway to drive 35-45 minutes each way to get Chu’s.

It holds the reputation as the best American style kosher Chinese food in the world. And what separates it from its competition are the dishes that the Chinese owners and chefs created here. You can’t get them anywhere else. You could walk through the door and order beef with broccoli. And it would be great. But that’s not why you go to David Chu’s.

When I was invited to David Chu’s, the first thing I noticed upon sitting down at the table was that there was already both hot food and drink present. Part of the experience at a traditional American Chinese restaurant is the wonton crisps that sit on the table with a sweet sauce to dip them in. In the old days, these were made in house at every restaurant. Sadly, modern mass production has changed that… but not at David Chu’s. Here, the wonton crisps are fresh, thick, crunchy, and they might still be warm on your table. Not only will they get you through the ordering phase of your journey, but they can be refilled and make a great addition to whatever soup you order (hot and sour with the added wonton for me). The hot drink on the table is a pot of Chinese tea. Though I am not a tea drinker, it’s always nice to see that some places still do things the old fashioned way.

Though you could munch on the wonton crisps forever, try ordering some appetizers. The easy way out is to order the Pu Pu Platter. This comes with two pieces each of the Spring Rolls, Fried Wontons, Chicken Toast, Teriyaki Beef and BBQ Spare Ribs. All of these are good, though a couple stand out in particular. The ribs have that great char siu red color and matching sweet flavor that are usually representative of Chinese pork, but here we get to savor it kosher style. The same can be said for the fowl version of shrimp toast that they make here. The adjustment allows the kosher patron to still get the benefit of that meaty crunch from the fried chicken on bread.

Wonton crisps and dipping sauce

I know I said that we are really at David Chu’s for the special stuff that you can’t really get elsewhere, but I’ll make one exception. The Pan Fried Chicken Dumplings here are just perfect. Maybe it’s the fact that they make the dough themselves? Though it also could be that they always make them perfectly where the outside is just slightly crunchy so you get the best of both worlds between steamed and fried. Either way, any dumpling fan should make sure they get some.

When it comes to the main course, we head to the section of the menu called “Today’s Specials.” There are a few strange things about this section. First, it’s kind of a secret. If you go to their website, you won’t find it on the menu page. I honestly have no idea why this is, but I find it kind of amusing that the best dishes are there, but only if you know about them. Second, there is no universe in which these specials are today’s. They are every day’s specials. They haven’t changed in 20 years.

Pu pu platter

My personal favorite has always been the Dragon Chicken. This dish gives you four roulades of white meat chicken with ground beef inside. They’re pan fried until super crispy on the outside, topped with General Tso sauce, and are served with steamed vegetables which have been tossed in a kind of clear onion sauce. It should be noted that each of these roulades are close to the size of an egg roll. The fact that it is four pieces is always something that I took advantage of when it came to sharing. Everybody at the table is going to want one of your pieces of Dragon Chicken. That’s some serious bargaining power.

Next up is the Bistro Special. This is a huge bowl of fried rice (made with extra egg and onion) that is topped with slices of pan fried steak, chicken and steamed vegetables before being drizzled with Chinese barbeque sauce, sweet sauce and garlic sauce. The only issue here is that there is no great way to eat this because the dish has so much going on that you can’t really get it all on your fork simultaneously. That said, the choices abound. Go make your own bite! Chicken and broccoli? Steak and mushrooms? Why not? When you order the Bistro Special, you have the latitude to decide how to eat it.

Pan fried chicken dumplings

If you want to lean heavily towards beef, go for the Cha-Sau Beef. This is a platter that features chips of Chinese barbecue roast beef, thin noodles and mixed vegetables. It comes with a delicious meaty mushroom sauce on the side. The beef here comes on the drier side, so feel free to add the sauce if you think it needs it. I prefer to eat the beef first and then mix the vegetables, noodles and sauce. But to each their own.

Some people really like soup. They’d have soup every day if they could. That’s the kind of person you have to be to order the Young Chow Noodle Soup. That’s right, it’s soup as a main dish. It’s a massive bowl of soup with chicken, beef, veal, mixed vegetables and noodles in a flavorful Chinese broth. It comes to your table with the top sealed by fried egg that you must puncture to reach the soup. I have eaten the whole bowl in one sitting, but I don’t recommend it. This is really better for sharing (or taking leftovers home). The soup is extremely hearty with everything in it, so if you are sharing, just try to make sure you get a little of everything.

Dragon chicken

Lastly, a quick shout out to the Chinese Casserole. It comes in a sizzling bowl and features what is kind of like a few different dishes mixed together with cellophane noodles. There are Chinese meatballs, pieces of chicken, tofu, vegetables… It’s like if Dr. Frankenstein owned an awesome Chinese restaurant and couldn’t really figure out which ingredients to use in which dish. Somehow, as incoherent as it is (though isn’t that kind of what many casseroles are?), it still tastes amazing.

So if you’re ever in Baltimore (or really anywhere remotely nearby), make sure to grab a table at David Chu’s and split everything you can with as many people as possible. After all, you can’t just get this stuff anywhere.

Bistro special

 

Cha-sau beef

 

Young chow noodle soup

 

Chinese casserole

Nati Burnside is a freelance writer living in Fair Lawn and is a man of many interests. He can be reached at [email protected].

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