Occasionally one plumbs the depths just 'cuz they're there. Over Thanksgiving a friend and I tried the new(and only) Chinese restaurant for miles in Southern Illinois. I figured if you want down and dirty Cantonese/American chopsuey-palace-style why not go to the source. And, hey, we might be pleasently surprised-
as if! Benefit of the doubt w/o benefit of the buffet: we arrived to late for the Chinese buffet which I would've argued against anyway. We ordered ala carte: something easy-Szechuan beef combo, kung pao chicken, wonton soup, and steamed dumplings. Well, the place was packed---a good omen? Hmmm... the wonton soup came to the table in plastic takeout cups(unusual...but I could deal). The broth however: a slimy neon chicken? yellow w/o the slightest hint of chicken...dumplings having lain so long in the broth they too radiated an unpleasent, glistening gelb. It turns out dumplings in two forms would be the highlights of the evening. The soup dumplings(read: dumplings in the soup) held a pleasently fermented? pork punch. The potstickers(the best dish by far) came perfectly pinched and fresh. Their pork bounties easily the equal of their better urban brethren. The dumpling sauce however contained worcestshire sauce. What!? Unexpected and definitely not good. One expects a certain dumbing down of spice heat for the Midwestern palate BUT for Kung Pao chicken to arrive sans its signature smoky, wok-seared Szchecuan peppers? Outside of soy and forget the heat component- that there's THE flavor! Not to mention the "chicken" was more cornstarch than meat. In both entrees that decidedly Chinese/American favorite the bell pepper played a major role. The Szechuan beef as advertised came mildly spice-hot, tho' the heat was that of sprinkled red chili pepper flake not sauce or wok-fried pepper. Again cornstrach made its officious presence known tho' not to the extent of the "chicken" BITS of the Kung Pao. I enjoyed the unusual pallid sweetness of the beef dish, however. Fried rice exuded a mall-esque overt oiliness that I actually sometimes enjoy---i.e. you could taste the wok. The eggroll almost seemed cornmealy...I couldn't put my finger on it. The mustard and duck sauce? Absolutely the most crude oil/excremental things I've ever put on my tongue. Maybe if I were ill my palate would appreciate such emetics. And these sauces were pre-packaged: they ORDERED this crap!!! No fortune cookie. And it tasted somewhat better the next day(that's one thing in their favor; they don't skimp). Well, at least the waitress was amenable. I wish them luck. Not for the cuisine, but for the chutzpah it takes to make a go of something as far removed from "true" cuisine as they are in an area similarly as far removed from ethnic variety. Southern, IL harbors some good American chow(if you can avoid The Olive Garden, etc). Next up for Christmas is Hunan Cafe? in Mattoon. What it might lack in culinary acumen it certainly appears from the outside to make up for in atmosphere with its crimson lamps and opium den ambience.