Ricky Shaws brings some flair to the traditional Chinese menu
As gastronomic genres go, Chinese food has had a pretty rough run. The granddaddy of Asian ethnic cuisine in the United States, the Chinese restaurant now stands 36,000 strong. The eateries overwhelmingly serve a simple purpose: Sell cheap food adapted to American palates, at cheap prices.
The result is often a "food as fuel" approach, which can sometimes yield bad eats—bottom-of-the-barrel bad, howlingly bad. So when someone takes a fresh run at the affordable Chinese restaurant concept, it's worth taking notice.
The latest reinvention is Ricky Shaws, a slickly marketed takeout and delivery place dedicated to "traditional Chinese and chef-inspired, pan-Asian favorites." The restaurant delivers to Maple Grove and Osseo, but the food can withstand a healthy commute if you're willing to take a drive.
The theory behind the offerings: If you prepare Midwestern-style Chinese food with fresh ingredients and a bit of flair, you can breathe some life into a sleepy corner of the food world.
It's a reasonable theory, and it works. The cornerstone of Ricky Shaws is the Happy Family Feast. For $28, you get three entrées from a roster of eight, jasmine or brown rice, and an appetizer; dessert's an extra $4. That's plenty economical, and the kicker is that the food is really pretty good. To make a sweeping generalization: It tastes fresh, it's not too salty, and it's not too greasy. For takeout Chinese, that's half the battle. Hell, it's 75 percent of the battle.
An order of orange peel tofu was a little weak on flavor, but the tofu was prepared perfectly. Chicken lo mein featured tender bits of meat amid modest but richly flavored noodles. Veggie fried rice tasted both fresh and buttery, with little pops of flavor from the crispy pepper scattered throughout the dish.
More than for the staple entrées, which are pleasant but unspectacular, Ricky Shaws is notable for some excellent pre- and post-entrée offerings. Cream cheese wontons carried an unexpected and pleasant note of spicy heat, and they were nicely crisp without being brittle or overcooked. Fuji apple dumplings were a treat—pieces of tender, flavorful apple wrapped in cinnamon-sugar wontons, accompanied by a surprisingly decent caramel sauce.
Other fresh touches enliven the menu—chicken lettuce wraps ($6), featuring minced hoisin-glazed chicken tossed with ginger and water chestnuts, pack a spicy, almost caramel-flavored kick.
By design, the earnestly straightforward approach of Ricky Shaws won't lay a glove on high-end (and high-priced) Asian eats. That said, it goes a long way toward redeeming classic economy-class Chinese—fruits of a noble effort that citizens of the western suburbs can sink their teeth into.
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