Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Review: Old Peking Chinese Restaurant

Citizen Staff Writer


Tucson Citizen

After a two-year closure, this long revered Chinese joint reopened in January under new ownership.

It’s a can’t-miss comeback story, particularly given the ugly
details that led to the old Old Peking’s demise, with a host of health
violations that would make a sewer rat blush, and the affection so many
Tucsonans had for the midtown mainstay.

Having dined at the old Old Peking more than a dozen times
(apparently in the company of no small amount of vermin), I was as
eager as the next person to patronize the new, squeaky clean and
improved version of the restaurant.

If they moved or changed anything in the dining room, they could
have fooled me, though it indeed looks considerably cleaner. The menu,
on the other hand, sports a number of new specialties and offerings.
Service was prompt and friendly, albeit somewhat language-challenged,
along the lines of more than a few Chinese restaurants.

We didn’t expect much more than standard-issue Americanized Chinese
starters, and that’s about what we got. The Vegetarian Egg Rolls
($1.95) were of decent, if not spectacular flavor and texture, while
the Crab Puffs ($2.95) were slightly above average, stuffed with a
little more cream cheese and crab flavoring than usual.

We ordered a mix of main dishes from pedestrian to racy and got mixed results.

The Lemon Chicken ($7.75), as with the egg rolls, was decidedly
indistinguishable from lemon chicken one might order at a dozen other
Americanized Chinese joints, not that there is anything wrong with
that. The chicken was of decent quality, was nicely breaded and fried,
and was also generously portioned.

The Twice Cooked Pork ($7.75) had a pleasant balance of hoisin
sauce, chilies and soy sauce, and the napa cabbage and bell peppers
were wokked to a nice texture. The problem here was the pork. What
there was of it (the ratio here seemed be about four parts vegetables
to one part pork) was a little stiff and stingy on flavor.

The Beef with Bitter Melon ($9.95) was, well, bitterly
disappointing. As with the Twice Cooked Pork, what there was of the
soft, slivery beef was nicely flavored. The problem was that the beef
was severely outmatched by the steaming pile of bitter melon. A member
of the squash family, bitter melon has twice the beta carotene of
broccoli, twice the calcium of spinach, twice the potassium of bananas,
and tasted twice as bad as anything I’ve ever tried in my life. I’ve
read that you need to acquaint your taste buds with the flavor, and
also that preparation is the key to serving bitter melon in an
appealing way. I don’t know if there’s a way to prepare this stuff in
any appreciable way that I’d qualify as edible (and this is coming from
someone who likes durian).

At the other end of the taste-bud spectrum was the Walnut Shrimp
($11.95), which was as over-the-top sweet as the melon was bitter. The
dish sounded intriguing on the menu, with the dozen lightly breaded
shrimp served with walnuts in a sauce with “honey and mayo.” This is
probably our fault for not asking, but when the dish arrived, we
quickly realized from the look of it, that honey and mayo were not
accents in the sauce, but rather the only ingredients. Teamed with the
candied walnuts and the shrimp, which tasted as if the breading was
dusted in sugar, the overall effect of the dish was one that had that
kind of piercing sweetness that instantly tears your eyes at the outer
edges. Had we tried this dish first, rather than last, we may have come
away with different results, but as it was, the sweetness was just too
much to overcome, even though the shrimp was delicately fried and of
good quality.

It’s a good bet that the familiar staples here – Mongolian Beef, Moo
Goo Gai Pan, Kung Pao – are probably in the same ball park as the Lemon
Chicken was. That said, based on our visit, Old Peking needs to up the
proteins to that served by nearly every other Americanized Chinese
joint in town if it wants to win back its customers.

And as for the Walnut Shrimp and the Beef with Bitter Melon, if you’re
game for an extreme culinary challenge, this pair will put a whole new
spin on sweet and sour.

Our Digital Archive

This blog page archives the entire digital archive of the Tucson Citizen from 1993 to 2009. It was gleaned from a database that was not intended to be displayed as a public web archive. Therefore, some of the text in some stories displays a little oddly. Also, this database did not contain any links to photos, so though the archive contains numerous captions for photos, there are no links to any of those photos.

There are more than 230,000 articles in this archive.

In TucsonCitizen.com Morgue, Part 1, we have preserved the Tucson Citizen newspaper's web archive from 2006 to 2009. To view those stories (all of which are duplicated here) go to Morgue Part 1

Search site | Terms of service