Chartwells rang in the Chinese New Year on Feb. 19 by making Chinese themed dishes for its monthly luncheon. The dishes included rice noodle salad with sesame vinaigrette, dim sum, sesame pastry balls filled with sweet red bean paste, egg rolls, crispy orange chicken, broccoli, and white rice. Chocolate cake and fruit were served as dessert.
I would give Chartwells’ Chinese New Year buffet a weak 2.5 stars. The meal cost $6.95 for students and $7.95 for staff.
I’ll start with the parts of the meal I really enjoyed. The rice was perfectly cooked. It was fluffy and moist with a nice hint of creamy butter. Although it could use a little salt it was surprisingly good.
The broccoli was also delicious. It was just lightly steamed, not wilted or overcooked. I could also tell it was fresh by the vibrant green color of both the stem and the florets and the sharp crunch it made when I bit into a piece.
The chocolate cake was also one of my personal favorites. It wasn’t the traditional chilled chocolate soup on pie crusts or graham cracker crust. This chocolate cake consisted of a thick chocolate mousse that wasn’t over beaten in the mixer, which would cause it to be too thick.
I was pleased at how well it held together, especially without a crust. The small dollop of whipped cream and half of a strawberry on top was a tasty and colorful touch. If I can’t have chocolate covered strawberries, I will gladly have this cake any day.
The desert was an assortment of fruit. I was pleasantly surprised that even though all of the fruit was out of season it was all fresh. The fruit tasted so fresh it couldn’t have been more than two weeks off of the farm. The grapes looked fresh off of the vine and the cantaloupe wasn’t swimming in its own juices meaning it hadn’t been sitting out for long.
I just wish the high quality and attention to detail the chefs showed to the sides carried over into the main dishes.
The rice noodle salad with sesame vinaigrette was bland and had a spicy twist that would have been nice if you tasted it on the first bite instead of an uncomfortable after taste. The salad itself could have used some color with vegetables as well.
There were only a few sprigs of tiny red peppers that were spread thinly throughout the salad and tiny chunks of a green herb I would guess was bay leaf. The vinaigrette could have been stronger and this would have been a better dish had it been served hot or even warm instead of slightly below room temperature.
The dim sum was also a major disappointment. They too were served lukewarm and even though they were filled with wilted vegetables the only flavor I could make out was the cold onion that seemed to dominate the dish. Because of this I was afraid to try the egg rolls that were in the same warming pot.
The sesame balls were nice. If you’ve never had them they are like our fried dough balls only less greasy and instead of being coated in sugar the balls are coated with sesame seeds. The dough was light and fluffy and the sweet red bean paste filling had a hint of cinnamon. However they would have been warmer if they were hot from the fryer.
Finally the crispy orange chicken. To the chef’s credit he didn’t overpower the chicken with a citrus flavor, only giving it a hint of orange zest. However that is where the culinary mastery ends. Both batches of the chicken I tasted were burnt, giving the meat a bitter flavor distinct from the orange. All of the pieces were also dry and stuck between my teeth.
Next time I would rather just save my money and walk over to China Wok across the street. I could get a better meal with a wider variety of dishes for just about the same cost. Nice try Chartwells, better luck next year.