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Restaurants & Bars 4

Pinole – Hunan Villa – Caucasian Chinese

Krys | Feb 28, 200505:39 PM

I have been so impressed with Swish Wine Shop and Pear Street Bistro, I decided not to wait until Saturday night for a Chinese dinner with live jazz at Hunan Villa. All three establishments are owned by the same group. I figured lunch today, dinner Saturday.

Lunch ($7.25 - $8.25) includes Soup & Choice of Steamed Rice or Fried Rice. Given the name Hunan Villa, I wanted to compare the Hunan chicken here to the Hunan chicken at Gou Bu Li. No chicken, so I ordered the Hunan Shrimp.

The meal started promisingly enough with one of the better sweet and sour soups I have tried. It was filled with black mushroom slivers, cubed tofu, julienned bamboo shoots, scallions and egg. The broth was red from the spicy chili sauce.

Tea was served in a black cast iron pot. I peered inside and a tea bag was floating in it. That’s about the time the meal fell apart. Most people ordered iced tea which was served in a wine carafe.

Two oily, stale tasting triangular fried wontons were planted in the two scoops of fried rice. I had to ask the waiter if the rice was brown rice because it had that taste and color. Nope. Just stale, I’m guessing. A few diced carrots and peas were in the rice … maybe five or six.

The shrimp were in a leaden bready coating, the type that usually is on corn dogs. A cloyingly sweet, gluey sauce covered them. When I think of the elegant crispy caramelized Hunan chicken at Gou Bu Li, it was like comparing a McDonald’s burger to a Loebel’s steak … no, not even McDonalds … White Castle sliders … frozen. At Gou Bu Li I got an egg roll too … and a cheerier fortune cookie.

I should have known there was trouble when the tables with BLACK tablecloths and napkins were set with a single fork. Not a chopstick in sight.

The décor was techno Chinese in dull silver, black and deep, dark jade green walls for that splash of color. The black ceiling with tiny lights had an Ana Madera movie set look to it. The ‘hand painted’ floor was squares of dark green and purple lined in black. Chairs were dull metallic silver.

For private parties there was a separate area surrounded by heavy black curtains. A few fake bamboo shoots were attached to black pipes that jutted from the ceiling. There were a few pieces of Chinese furniture and a fake plant in the corner. It had to be fake. Nothing green could live in that gloom.

The major light was provided by two large plasma tvs that silently played some sort of Cirque du Soleil type of show. Soft Chinese Musak played in the background.

The waiters were all dressed in black … shirt, pants, and shoes. There was a little red and yellow wok and the restaurant name embroidered on the pocket. My waiter looked like a pale, young Andy Kauffman. The Mexican bus boy was dressed all in black as well with the words “GOT RICE?” on the back of his shirt in white. There were also three white pictures showing how to eat rice with chopsticks on the back of his shirt. Seeing no chopsticks in sight, it seemed unnecessary. There were a few Asian waiters thrown in for ambiance.

There is some sort of food karma out there. Just this morning I was making fun of the décor of Slanted Door, Cliff House and Michael Minna for looking too funeral. What happens? I have lunch in a closed coffin. It was beautiful today, but this place sucked the light out of a sunny day. All that black. The room was stifling hot. Maybe that was part of the ambiance. It reminded me of a summer I spent in Taiwan.

Yes, like the other two establishments this place made me feel like I was in the new millennium … the Matrix new millennium.

AND it turns out they no longer have live jazz. I chose this place for my meal today instead of Fifth Floor … sigh.

I see no point in providing the address, phone and hours of this place. Gou Bu Li is just a few miles away. Not only is the food vastly superior, so is the décor.

I initially was weary when I read the background of the owner who wanted to buy a chain franchise. I have never been to P.F. Chang, but this is how I imagined the food would taste. I may not know much about Chinese food, but I know that Hunan Villa wasn’t serving it.


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