Chinese comfort food: The conservative glories at Golden Chopstix

Even the pre-packaged fortune cookies were good!

Seriously: they were fresh, crisp and flavorful. And, if the extracted slips of fortune-y paper were more aphoristic than actual assurances about the future, well, here's all you need to know in that context:

YOUR NEXT VISIT TO GOLDEN CHOPSTIX IN WESTERLY WILL BE A DELIGHTFUL EXPERIENCE.

It's true.

Located way at the far end of a strip center running perpendicular to Route 1, Golden Chopstix is one of those restaurants whose clientele seems to be mostly Asian - predominantly because the restaurant features an abundance of authentic Hong Kong-style dim sum dishes as well as indigenous recipes featuring jellyfish, pork intestine, chicken feet, trout maw, and so on. Many of these are not familiar to the Western palate - and certainly not to the Western palate belonging to Me.

Color me conservative, but I'm not going near hen feet. Fortunately, there's plenty on the Golden Chopstix menu designed for the cowardly, and the dishes and flavors are as lovingly prepared - and happily presented without a trace of derision - as the more Eastern offerings.

Golden Chopstix is a small place, a bit shopworn due to heavy traffic, but clean and comfortable. It's a tri-partite layout, with a small bar area to the right as you walk in, then two dining areas quasi-separated by aqua, high-back booths. The walls are festooned with Asian prints, fans and lanterns, and ornamental plants are arranged throughout.

As perhaps suggested above, this is a very complex and ambitious menu, roaming far and wide across the culinary Hong Kongian landscape of appetizers, soups, chop suey, egg foo young, fried rice, lo mein, chow mein, noodles, congee and vegetable, seafood, beef, pork and poultry combinations and specials - and not including the voluminous dim sum menu.

This place, though not particularly convenient for New London residents, is a cherished regular stop for us - and not just because the servers are universally friendly and helpful. Here are some oft-ordered favorites:

• Miso Soup ($2.75, $4.95) - Aromatic and hot, with a tangy, caramel-colored broth with the precise amount - not too much, not too little - of seaweed, tofu and scallions. And, no, it's not overly salty as many regional miso soup offerings seem to be.

• Orange Chicken ($10.95) - As with all lunch and dinner choices, the portion is huge and beautiful. Heaps of bite-sized thigh and breast meat, adroitly dipped in the frier for a quick-crisped exterior and moist interior - and with a stunning, tart/sweet sauce that almost suggests a tangerine more than orange. Whatever: served atop a mound of steaming white rice, it's a fantastic mound of food.

• Vegetables Egg Foo Young ($5, $8.50) - Two large, thick omelet-y patties of chewy eggs, crispy on the edges, filled with strings of onion, shredded cabbage and finely chopped carrots, and served with a brown gravy so addictive it should be available by prescription only.

• Pineapple Ginger Beef ($12.95) - This one's from the House Specials section, and it's a mesmeric combination of textures and flavors. The fork-tender, extra-lean slices of beef have been marinated in ginger and stir-fried in a tart sauce of red and green peppers, tangy pineapple hunks and even more slivers of ginger.

• Stir Fried Pickled Cabbage with Soybean ($8.95) - When we first ordered this dish, our waitress cheerily informed us that it is a favorite of the native Chinese patrons. It's a complex and wonderful concept: the main flavors somehow alternate between the briny pickled cabbage and the sliced ginger hidden throughout. There are also lots of bright green soybeans and tiny, crisp squares of tofu - both of which throw additional taste and toothsome textures.

• Crispy Salted Eggplant ($10.95) - The all-time biggie for my wife, featuring thin slices of battered and fried eggplant heavily flavored by the titular salt but also by a discreetly employed relish of onions and peppers. Rather than make it her on-site meal, she typically orders it to-go and randomly dips into the greatness over the course of a couple of days.

Also worth noting: The daily lunch specials, served from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., are tremendous bargains. The choices are fairly typical - Moo Goo Gai Pan, Kung Po, General Tso, Sweet & Sour - but they're very tasty and the portions, not including the pork fried rice and egg roll, are enourmous.

Whatever aspects you might want to explore from the options at Golden Chopstix, you're going to enjoy the experience and bring some leftovers home to enjoy later.

Golden Chopstix

62 Franklin St., Westerly
(401) 348-6666

Cuisine: Encyclopedic explorations of classic Chinese cooking

Atmosphere: Small and often crowded - but pleasant and with the vibe that everyone is happy to be there and part of the excitement

Prices: Inexpensive to reasonable, particularly considering the size of the portions. Appetizers and soups $1.50-$19; fried rice, chop suey, lo mein, congee, noodles and egg foo young $4-$11.95; entrees and house specials $8.95-$29.95.

Service: Uniformly excellent and friendly. If it's during a rush, they'll tell you if what you're ordering might take a while. They're very good with suggestions, too.

Reservations: Not necessary

Hours: 10 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Credit cards: All major

Handicapped access: Double front door but room for maneuvering.

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