3501 N Arnoult Rd
Metairie, LA 70002
Napoleon's Rating - ***/*****
If you've ever left a local Chinese-American restaurant feeling that there must be more to the cuisine than the standard combination plates and sweet sauces, you owe yourself a visit to China Rose. This restaurant was a fixture in Lakeview before Hurricane Katrina, and it moved to the Fat City-area of Metairie after the disaster. It serves all the standard Chinese-American dishes – think General Tso's chicken or crab Rangoon – but it also offers a completely different, far-more authentic "Chinese menu." Just ask for this Chinese menu and you'll get a volume full of different dishes using traditional Szechuan oils, spices and techniques that create a much more exciting, fresh cuisine.
China Rose doesn't look like much from the street, and behind the plain façade the single dining room appears much like the standard local Chinese restaurant, with shiny, lacquered tables and chairs and a red carpeted floor. The tiny bar is usually the holding area for people waiting on take-out orders. You'll find people here grabbing quick, conventional Chinese combination plate lunches, and whole families gathered around larger tables working through extended feasts.
Waitresses beam with welcome and move swiftly around the dining room ferrying the many plates, bowls and steamers. Stick with the American-Chinese menu and everything is as easy as can be. But making the leap to ordering from the Chinese menu might seem a bit daunting for newcomers, who will find only the most-sketchy printed descriptions of dishes. The waitresses won't add much to those descriptions, though they may try to steer you away from the more exotic or intense specialty items (like fried pig intestines). Take or leave their advice based on your own sense of dining adventure.
To begin delving the Chinese menu, or even just cautiously feeding a curiosity about it, be sure to try the dumplings. In theory, this is the same dish that appears on the American menu, but this Chinese menu rendition is far superior. These dumplings arrive stuck together with a crisp, golden-brown shell. Pull one of these apart from the mass, cut it open and you'll find a pork meatball with lots of juice and ginger encased in the soft dough. Even simple-sounding dishes carry distinctive flavor, like the cold Chinese cucumbers cut into sticks and slathered with garlic, crushed peanuts and green onions. There are many noodle soups on the Chinese menu, though most of these are family-size and should be split at least four ways to serve as an appetizer.
Family-style dining is the way to go at China Rose no matter which menu you choose. When ordering from the Chinese menu, this approach is a hedge against getting stuck with an unfamiliar dish that doesn't turn out to your liking, and it lets everyone sample more from the many selections. I recommend trying one of several stew-type dishes with beef or chicken and "wild and hot pepper," which indicates a mix of whole, red chiles and the pungent, earthy "wild pepper." Their combined flavors pulse through the broths of these dishes with heat. People who enjoy pork belly will want to try the Dongoo pork, which is a huge, fatty cut, slow-braised, and served with baby bok choy. Vegetarians should be aware that many vegetable and tofu dishes that sound meatless are in fact abundantly flavored with pork or beef. One safe bet, though, is a dish called "tofu in home style," made with fried tofu pieces in an assertive and delicious sauce of fermented soybeans. The menu goes on and on, with dishes like shredded catfish with beans and sprouts, noodle soups with shrimp and edamame, savory scallion pancakes and Chinese eggplant with garlic sauce, all of which are recommended.
Fortune cookies are about all anyone usually has room to contemplate after a proper meal here.
China Rose has a full bar with the usual line-up of Polynesian-themed cocktails.
Whether you stick with the American menu or choose the Chinese options, meals here are inexpensive and generously portioned. Most dishes should be split and few venture above $12.
The Chinese menu at China Rose isn't a secret, but the restaurant doesn't normally push it either. That's a shame, because I'm sure there are China Rose devotees who have never been offered the menu and so don't know what they are missing. The standard Chinese-American menu offers the normal, value-oriented fare most of us grew up eating in this country. But take a chance with the Chinese menu and you get to experience cooking much more akin to the authentic Szechuan cuisine of China. With a sense of adventure and a little leap of faith, it can make for a meal you won't soon forget.