Thursday, September 30, 2010

Tiger Lily

It is hard for me to convince hubby to try a new Chinese place because it seems like we are often disappointed—so many of them seem so similarly mediocre. But we were intrigued by some recommendations I have had for Tiger Lily, so we decided to give it a try. And while many of the menu items are fairly standard American/Chinese fare, they also offer several options highlighting other Asian cuisines such as Korean, Thai, and Vietnamese influenced dishes.

The first thing you notice is that, although from the outside, it looks like your basic strip mall restaurant, on the inside it is more modern and warm (lots of dark color inside making it feel like it could be a place you might not mind having dinner as well). The next thing I noticed was how friendly the staff was, at first to us, and then to everyone who came in. And for a restaurant that has only been open a few weeks, there appears to be a crowd of lunchtime regulars that are greeted like old friends.
Hubby was intrigued by one of the specials listed for the day, a seafood pancake. As we looked over the lunch menus, he asked our server about it and she explained that it was their special batter topped with eggs mixed with various seafood and scallions and served with soy vinaigrette on the side. He quickly ordered it as we decided what to get for our main dishes. The seafood pancake was interesting and quite tasty. I have had crunchy green onion pancakes in Chinese restaurants before, but this one was more almost like a frittata. It had a thin pancake type crust, with the eggs and other ingredients on top. The bites with the shrimp were our favorite, the shrimp being tender and flavorful. I had one bite that was a little too fishy for me, but other than that, this dish really grew on me and I probably ended up liking this one the best of everything we had. It is certainly large enough to share, and it was probably a bit much along with a lunch (which come with a spring roll and salad), but we were just in the mood to try something new.

The salad that is served with each lunch entrée is just a chopped iceberg salad with a fairly spicy ginger dressing very lightly drizzled on top. There was no dressing at all on the bottom of the salad, so I just ate a few bites off the top. I was pleasantly surprised by the spiciness of the dressing and was hopeful that the dishes we had would be well seasoned as well.

For my lunch entrée, I had the Tiger Lily beef, which was designated as one of the restaurant’s signature dishes. I thought the quality of the ingredients in every dish we had was very high. The beef in this dish very tender and had clearly been marinated for quite awhile. I found the “sweet soy sauce” a little too sweet and had to add some regular soy sauce to balance it a bit. I had wished I had ordered one of the day’s other specials which was Bulgogi and was similar meat but described as spicy. I think with the quality of meat and a different sauce, it could have been quite good. The broccoli surrounding the beef was way too underdone to be enjoyable (not being a huge fan of raw broccoli). The lunches come with either fried or steamed rice (I got steamed) and I really enjoyed the rice. It was just the right amount of sticky that I enjoy. The little spring roll that came along with was a little underdone inside and thus, a bit gummy. I did appreciate the fact that they brought you bottles of the housemade sweet and sour sauce and hot mustard for use on the spring rolls. Because I am not a fan of sweet and sour sauce, I liked not having to see a dish of it go to waste.

Hubby had the Szechuan Chicken which was designated as one of the spicy items on the menu. This entrée was disappointing. It was white meat chicken with a lot of onions, celery, carrots and mushrooms that were stir fried in a “Szechuan chili sauce.” Again, the ingredients were high quality, but there was hardly any flavor to it and by no means would I call it anything close to spicy. We added soy sauce just to give it some flavor and that is not a sign of a good dish to me.

There are a lot of things to like about Tiger Lily as far as the atmosphere and the quality and freshness of ingredients being used. Unfortunately, the finished dishes were not one of the things sticking out to me in this regard. This is a place that I will probably try again however, if for no other reason than to see if all these glowing reviews I keep hearing and reading can be substantiated. But next time I will certainly order differently and try more of the “spicy” items.

Tiger Lily Restaurant on Urbanspoon

21 comments:

  1. I really, really like Tiger Lilly. Took a group just this week after reviewing it a few weeks back. I place it above Shanghai Lil's now, and definitely above PF Changs. Talked to the owner and the wife is Korean and the husband is from Hong Kong, hence the Korean influences like in the pancake and in the bulgogi dishes. I really recommend the pork bulgogi, just thought it was a great dish. Our table really liked the orange peel beef, though I thought it was good not great. Prices are good, all being quite a bit less than Lil's and each entree is $1-$2 cheaper than PF Chang's, too.

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  2. We have been several times since it opened. Love the use of fresh ingredients and variety of the menu. The curry dishes are all very flavorful. The Singapore noodles with shrimp and curry is great too. They do have brown rice now but charging $1.50 extra for it seems a little steep.

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  3. I just finished my review last night and we shared some thoughts. I liked it quite a bit, great food and service…

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  4. Thanks for the review. I agree it's challenging finding outstanding (i.e., minimally Americanized, well-balanced, fresh) Chinese cuisine nearby, so I'll have to check this place out. (The now closed Forbidden City Buffet at Keystone at the Crossing [not the Forbidden City chain] was my former go-to place and was packed with Chinese ex-pats during their special extended line on the weekends. The only other standout for me, which closed over a decade ago downtown, was The Consulate House.) For Cantonese, I've found On Time Seafood to be the best locally, and for Sichuan, I've heard that Szechuan Garden on Lafayette Road is the place to go.

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  5. Sounds like yet more Americanized Chinese by large, though highly of by some and desultorily by others.

    p.s. PF Changs is not Chinese food. It is Chinese-influenced American food.

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  6. Jessica in NoblesvilleOctober 1, 2010 at 10:43 PM

    The best, most authentic (but what do I know, I'm 100% Midwestern) Chinese buffet I know of is Sichuan in Carmel, in the strip mall at 116th and Range Line Road. The weekday lunch buffet has a mix of traditional and American style dishes, but the weekends are pure traditional ... as in, I don't know what the protein is, but it sure is tasty. It's easily 50% Chinese patrons eating there, which always seems like a good sign.

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  7. Jessica, that is funny. I just saw that place for the first time yesterday and wondered about it. I will have to add it to the list. thanks!

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  8. Yes, Sichuan is pretty good, fairly authentic stuff. A little on the overly oily side, but it's not bad at all. Erin, you should try it.

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  9. Jessica and Huiray--is it only a buffet or do they offer a regular menu as well at Sichuan?

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  10. Erin, they have a 'regular' menu from which you can order at any time including when they have a buffet going.

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  11. Re: Sichuan at 116th and Rangeline rd: the cooks appear to be Mexican or similar (heh!!) who no doubt were trained properly... :-)

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  13. So what is good to order at Sichuan?

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  14. BTW, I've eaten at Szechuan Garden on Lafayette a few times. I find the food there mediocre to bad. Really gooey soups. Pasty & mealy prawns, tasted like they were "old" frozen prawns cycled through freeze-thaw cycles repeatedly. Pyrolyzed & leathery tea-cured duck. Dishes with half the ingredients as dried chillies. Way overcooked lobster w/ ginger & scallions. Ho-hum stir-fried veggies. Etc etc.

    Just my 2 cents.

    Correction on my comment on Sichuan at Rangeline & 116th: at least some staff from "back of house" seem Mexican/similar, perhaps not the cooks. BTW the tea-smoked duck you get at the weekend buffets is good; get there early for freshest food.

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  15. Erin, I haven't ordered that extensively from the menu at Sichuan so can't really recommend many dishes over others. They do turn them out with nice taste profiles ( e.g. stir-fried cabbage with coriander seeds tossed in) but many do seem to be heavy on the oil, something they could cut down on. There are also various dishes with 'less common' proteins :-), as mentioned by Jessica, such as pig maw, intestines, etc.

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  16. Jessica in NoblesvilleOctober 2, 2010 at 11:11 PM

    I've only ever eaten off the buffet at Sichuan, but I love the dry red pepper chicken (it's always on the end of the buffet by the soups, a crunchy chicken with no sauce), and they have several excellent cold noodle dishes. Their green beans are the best I've had at a buffet. Their black pepper and beef stir fry is also excellent. My favorite way to eat their food is to dip the dry pepper chicken into the tasty oil that coats the cold noodle salads ... yes it's oily, but it's so tasty! Like Emeril used to say, it's a food of love. ;-)

    Like many "authentic" places, they have one menu in English and an entirely different one in Chinese. I've seen patrons served large bowls that look like pho or maybe udon. The buffet has always been enough for me, but if you're more adventurous, I'm sure the staff can offer suggestions.

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  17. thanks for all the info you guys..and to think I had never even heard of this place until a few days ago..

    any other recommendations?

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  18. I had lunch there the other day. Kim Chi Soup, Salt & Pepper Shrimp, Singapore Noodle Soup (rice noodles/mei fun), "Hong Kong style".

    The ingredients were very fresh indeed, but the final dishes were...odd.

    The soup was prepared with tofu and was fine, but its hard to screw this one up if you start with decent Kim Chi. The S&P shrimp preparation was odd, completely de-shelled shrimp with a chewy slight batter applied although the shrimp was fresh and cooked "al dente" - clearly styled for American tastes, confirmed by a chat (in Cantonese) with the proprietor-chef. It was certainly not "Chinese"and I would not have recognized it as S&P shrimp. The noodle soup was also odd, a confused taste profile, barely cooked mei fun, burnt beef pieces (so the soup also tasted burnt), fistfuls of julienned carrot and celery, which is weird and off-putting in that kind of soup.

    I'll try it for dinner, but am not yet impressed.

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  19. Thanks for this blog. We went to Tiger Lily's last night. Being from CA originally, we are perpetually disappointed with Chinese food here. We likled Tiger Lily's quite a bit, even if the Kung Pao chicken was not really spicy. Sichuan was good a few years ago, but has declined noticeably. Shanghai Lil's has good Chinese food, but too expensive.
    We also like Taiwan Teahouse, which is temporarily closed while they are relocating. Which why we tried Tiger Lily's.

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  20. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/629916

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  21. Had dinner there. Vegetable spring rolls, wonton soup, hot & spicy shrimp, stir fried beef flat noodles.

    The spring rolls were nice.

    The soup was not good - two wontons with minuscule meat, extremely thick wrapper; I could have sworn I had ordered hot & sour soup but accepted the wonton soup anyway to see what it was like.

    The shrimp was OK - fresh & nicely cooked shrimp, the sauce was lightly spicy (not full-blast spicy) but somewhat muddled in taste and a little salty.

    The rice flat noodles with beef was good - almost South-East Asian in taste profile, good "wok hey".

    They need to lose the plastic squeeze bottles with ho-hum mustard and lackadaisical whatsit pink sweet-n-sour-type sauce.

    The menu advertising "classic chinese dishes" with the formulaic named-versions of ingredients I think is, uh, "American/Western-style" in nature.

    Overall, better than the lunch I had, but not outstanding. In general, I wouldn't call the style there "authentic" - more pan-Asian/fusion/quasi-Americanized. I'd go again, but not necessarily for "authentic Chinese/Korean cuisine" - rather, for fresh ingredients done in an Asian or Chinese/Korean style. (Unless I chat with the chef and get him to make something more "authentic" - but see below) BTW, I'd consider it not cheap for the amount of food one gets.

    p.s. What one means by "authentic" is a matter of debate. Does one mean "as the native originating practitioners of such cuisine" might do it AND in the place where it originated from, or does one mean "as adapted to the place where such cuisine is executed" and variations thereof? If the latter, one could say that a particular Singaporean or Thai or Malaysian ("South-East Asian") version of a dish that might have originally come from Canton or Hunan would be "inauthentic" - yet it would be fully authentic to the region in which it is executed in reality. Etc etc. Chinese-American cuisine is authentic insofar as it is specific to (particular regions of) America yet is inauthentic when compared with (regions of) China.

    The point here is that one needs to be careful about what you mean when you say "best Chinese food" you have tasted, "most authentic food" you have eaten, etc, especially as it applies to "ethnic-type" food. I daresay it also applies to American Regional cuisine (Low Country, Tex-Mex, New England, etc)

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Thanks, Erin