It had been several years since I last ate at Nine Dragons, so I am not well qualified to describe the changes to the appearance of the restaurant. The lobby features beautiful etched glass and gold artwork on one wall, depicting a pair of dragons playing with a golden ball. Our server later explained that the ball represented wisdom, and the dragons, representing people, were forever chasing it. A sculptured golden dragon adorns the ceiling.
Inside the restaurant itself, the room felt lighter than I last remembered it, and I believe the seating areas have been rearranged somewhat. Beautiful carved wood and glass partitions divided the room into separate â€œroomsâ€ and long colored lanterns hung from the ceiling. The effect was very traditional yet contemporary at the same time. Along the back wall, intricate glass statues were illuminated in glass boxes inset in wood. The staff was very willing to explain their meaning; unfortunately, their accents were too much to get a clear translation.
Our server was from Beijing, China, and was extremely pleasant and helpful. Each time she came by the table she explained a little something more about the restaurantâ€™s decor or food. The placemats showed the evolution of Chinese writing over the centuries, and she provided us with pencils to try our own hand at writing a few of the characters for â€œrain,â€ â€œmountain,â€ and other words. Not so easy to do!
Enough with the decor, letâ€™s get to the important part: the food. The menu has changed somewhat from the past, which used to mostly feature overpriced versions of typical Americanized Chinese take-out dishes. While I donâ€™t know that you could say this has completely gone away, the preparation has taken a turn for the lighter and fresher, and more variety is on the menu.
For starters, there are choices of hot and cold appetizers. The cold choices included a cucumber salad, a spicy beef, chicken, a combo of those three items, or the one we chose to try: Shrimp Summer Rolls. Shaped like large, fat egg rolls, the translucent rice paper wrappers were filled with fresh vegetables (largely some kind of sprout) and small shrimp. The peanut sauce that accompanied it was quite good. The two rolls were plenty to split between us, though we used every last drop of the sauce.
Hot appetizers included pot stickers, egg rolls, Beef Cong You Bing flatbread with beef and apples, Shrimp and Taro Lollipops (a version of a dim sum favorite), and General Tsoâ€™s Chicken Dumplings – steamed dumplings with the red sauce. Soups and Salads were also available. Prices ranged from $3.98 for soup to $14.98 for the soup and salad combo, with most appetizers in the $5.98 – $11.98 range.
For our entrees, Lou chose the Honey Sesame Chicken, and I selected the Nine Dragons Fried Rice. The chicken was very good, with a light and crispy batter. It was served in a pyramid pile drizzled with the honey sauce, and a scoop of white rice. The portion looked a little small on the plate (which was quite large), but was more than enough for lunch. The fried rice contained chicken, ham, eggs, and a variety of vegetables plus a skewer of 3 shrimp. The flavor was enhanced by a touch of chili spice that gave the dish some heat, but not enough to make this â€œnot-so-fond-of-spiceâ€ girl reach for a water glass. The bowl was generously sized, and I did not make it to the bottom of it.
Other lunch entrees include peppery shrimp with spinach noodles, kung pao chicken, sweet and sour pork, a vegetarian stir fry, a fish in five-spice sauce, and a beef and tofu dish. There is also a â€œLunch Box Setâ€ with sesame bread, soup, Chinese coleslaw, and your choice of beef brisket, saucy chicken, or pulled pork. Prices for entrees range from $13.98 – $20.98.
For dessert (ordered only for research purposes, of course) we ordered a fried banana cheesecake with green tea ice cream. The two wedges of fried goodness were plenty big enough to share. The banana cheesecake inside was very creamy, and the green tea ice cream provided a nice cool, tart contrast to the hot sweetness of the cake.
Bottom line, no matter what your opinion of the restaurant was in the past, Nine Dragons definitely is worth revisiting. The food was excellent and the service outstanding. It will certainly be on my list of restaurants to return to in the future.