New Chinese restaurant puts its energy in internationals

By James Steinbauer, Opinion Editor

The stark white walls, neglected Quiznos sign and minimalist seating at Tang Dynasty, the new Chinese restaurant next to Krishna, give the place an air of unfinished shabbiness.

Passersby would barely realize that a restaurant even existed if it weren’t for the dozens of Chinese students happily slurping hot pots and sipping cucumber or watermelon soda.

What it lacks in atmosphere, it makes up for in flavor. I’m not talking your boring brown sauce-covered chicken or oil-laden spring rolls with nuclear-orange sweet and sour sauce. Except for a quarter page at the back of the menu titled “American Chinese,” Tang Dynasty doesn’t dabble in lazy appropriation.

If the menu seems like it isn’t geared toward Miami’s domestic population, that’s because it’s not.

In fact, Tang Dynasty was specifically started to cater to Miami University’s growing international student population — nearly 85 percent of which hails from China.

One of the restaurant’s co-owners, Johnny Liu, a Chinese student who graduated from Indiana University this spring, said he welcomes all diners, but acknowledged the authentic Chinese food he serves could be daunting to domestic students and Oxford residents.

For Liu, Tang Dynasty is about creating a feeling of home for other Chinese students.

“For most Chinese, whether inside or outside China, eating is one of the most important parts of their whole life,” Liu said. “Eating is one of the biggest things in the whole history of China. We live to eat.”

Entrees at Tang Dynasty are served family-style and meant to share, complete with endless bowls of fluffy, sticky rice.

In this kind of situation, I find that the best way to order is to look at what everyone else is eating, because, odds are, they know what’s good. When you see something that catches your eye, just point and say, “I’ll have what he’s having.”

Chinese staples like Ma Po tofu and lamb backbone hotpot, the restaurant’s signature dish, grace the newly minted menus. However, at a recent meal, a lapse in decision-making capabilities gave a few friends and myself a beef-centric buffet.

Braised beef stomach came sizzling in a crock of its own juices, surrounded by slow roasted green tomatoes. The reality was a stew of tender, beefy chunks more flavorful and moist than your mom’s pot roast.

Chinese barbequed beef, steamed until tender, rubbed in smoky, savory spices and grilled with red and green peppers was arguably the best meal of the night. The contrast between the spongy, melt-in-your-mouth texture from steaming and the crisped herbs and grill marks lead to a sensory overload. If you try one thing at Tang Dynasty, make it this.

The one shortcoming to Tang Dynasty was its lack of heat. If you’re looking for spice, Tang Dynasty is not the place for you.

“If you want spicy, go to some other place,” Liu said apathetically.

The closest we could get to hot was beef in chili oil — surprisingly lacking in chili.

Second-rate spice level aside, it was delicious. The same, unexplainably tender slices of beef used in the Chinese barbeque were, instead of grilled, doused in a broth of neon-red chili oil and piled high with minced garlic and sambal oelek.

Letting the vibrant concoction soak into white rice, turning it into a mosaic of garlicky goodness was the perfect ending to the meal.

Open daily for dinner. Entrees: $12 to $15.

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