The Chinese New Year is on Jan. 28 this year, so it’s time to start thinking about where to dine on crunchy egg rolls and mu shu pork.
One good spot to celebrate the Year of the Rooster is Red Pavilion Mandarin Cuisine, a Chinese restaurant that opened a few months ago in Meridian.
Red Pavilion is owned and operated by the Wang family, who also have an eatery in Mountain Home. They recently sold their restaurant in McCall to focus on the other two locations.
Situated in a strip mall near the corner of Meridian and Overland roads, the restaurant has a pleasant décor thanks to smiling statues and modern Asian artwork on the walls. There’s even a fireplace in the back dining room to keep everyone warm.
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Service here is pleasant and cordial, as the Wangs and their crew attend to the tables in a gracious manner without all the hovering you get at the multitude of corporate restaurants that line Meridian’s busy boulevards.
During my first visit, I quickly noticed a few Asian families sharing big plates of noodles and other Chinese offerings, a harbinger of good things to come.
The Wangs favor the delicate Mandarin-style of cooking with spicy Sichuan flair, sans the profusion of salt that’s so common at other Chinese eateries around here. In many ways the menu looks like other Chinese menus in these parts, yet after perusing it for a few minutes, I found some standouts.
I’m always on the hunt for good egg foo yong, which I grew up eating at Chinese restaurants in Seattle. Red Pavilion puts out excellent egg foo yong ($11.95), a fluffy, Cantonese-style omelet cake (pocked with cabbage, crunchy bean sprouts and shredded carrot) smothered in spicy gravy, with wok-seared pieces of tender pork on top. In addition to pork, diners can get egg foo yong with chicken, beef, shrimp or veggies.
Red Pavilion also puts out tasty low mein ($7.95), a Chinese-American dish that consists of chewy, stir-fried wheat noodles tossed in light-brown gravy with marinated beef (in my case), sliced onion, cabbage and carrot.
Diners will also find several variations of moo shu, a northern Chinese specialty that’s taken hold in America in the last 50 years or so. Moo shu pork is the most common preparation of this popular dish, but I chose the shrimp ($10.95), which came delicately stir-fried in a tenuous yet tangy sauce with wood mushrooms, onion, carrot and cabbage, everything picking up smoky notes from the sizzling iron wok. The stir-fry was served with thick, gingery hoisin sauce and paper-thin pancakes for wrapping around the tender shrimp and veggies.
The vegetable fried rice ($7.95) here is not overly exciting, but the mound of wok-seared white rice tasted fresh, dotted with veggies (zucchini, mushrooms, peas, carrot and onion) and little curds of scrambled egg. A few scoops of delicious, scratch-made chili sauce brightened up the otherwise lackluster dish.
This is certainly hot soup weather, and Red Pavilion makes fragrant egg drop soup ($2.95/cup) and won ton soup ($2.95/cup) with silky pork dumplings floating in a savory dashi broth.
The menu does have its weak spots, though, like crispy spring rolls ($4.95 for three) that came to the table nearly hollow, as if the vegetable filling somehow evaporated during the deep-frying process. The golden-brown tubes were served with syrupy sweet and sour dipping sauce.
During a second visit, I started things off with the cha-sho pork appetizer ($6.95), a plate of red-rimmed, marinated pork tenderloin (sliced and flecked with toasted sesame seeds) served with nose-clearing Chinese mustard.
Kung pao chicken is probably the most recognizable dish in Sichuan cuisine, at least for Americans. Red Pavilion serves a typical preparation ($9.95). Toothsome pieces of marinated chicken thigh meat get treated to a sizzling wok with counterparts such as zucchini, carrot, bell pepper, onion, celery, peanuts, dried chili pods and some sliced jalapeno for good measure. A side of nutty-tasting brown rice was there to soak up the peppery sauce.
I continued down the spicy path to the Hunan-style street fry ($9.95/medium on the spice scale), a pileup of tender pork loin strips stir-fried in fiery chili sauce with bell pepper, mushrooms, carrot and sliced water chestnuts.
It’s pretty obvious that the Wang family knows how to run a successful Chinese restaurant, as evidenced by the well-balanced flavors and polished, friendly service.
Idaho Statesman reviewers pay for their meals and attempt to dine anonymously. Email James Patrick Kelly: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Red Pavilion Mandarin Cuisine
Address: 1760 S. Meridian Road, Meridian
Phone: (208) 895-5880
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, noon to 9 p.m. Sunday.
Menu price range: appetizers and soups $2.95-$8.95; entrées and noodle dishes $7.95-$14.95; combination dinners $11.95-$26.
Libation situation: Bottled Chinese, Japanese and domestic beers, assorted sakes and red and white wines by the glass.
Kid friendly? Yes
Wheelchair accessible? Yes
Opened: July 2016