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Wu’s Fine Chinese Cuisine
**** 1/2
Out of a possible five
$$

New Chinese eatery excites, aptly satisfies

Not a week goes by, it seems, that someone doesn’t air their wish for the wildly popular upscale Chinese restaurant chain P.F. Chang’s to find its way to Fort Wayne.

And I am sorry to tell all of those people that I do not have any knowledge of the restaurant chain considering Fort Wayne, much less breaking ground. But my observations of a new Chinese restaurant on Coldwater Road might be of interest to you.

Wu’s Fine Chinese Cuisine’s debut in Fort Wayne was halted before it even started in March 2010 when the former Ponderosa building it occupied was destroyed by fire. Its new home is a strip mall in the same location, but don’t let that fool you because it is easily the most beautiful Chinese restaurant in the Summit City and could give any restaurant a run at the overall title.

Whereas P.F. Chang’s look features such in-your-face elements like giant horse statues out front, Wu’s incorporates a minimalist approach to décor. There are none of the usual tacky, cliché Oriental decorations I normally see at Chinese eateries. The only exception was a beautiful set of ornamental couches with silk pillows in the waiting area. Cherry wood accents highlight the carpeted dining room, upholstered booths and chairs and black ceiling. French doors divide two rooms and there are only a few mirrors and paintings on the neutral walls. It could easily be a fine Italian restaurant or steakhouse.

The minimalist approach carried over to the food.

The Hot Braised Delight, for example, featured a combination of shrimp and chicken breast in a chili-tomato sauce with just a little cabbage, onions, bamboo shoots and finely diced water chestnuts. The fried rice on the side was also simple with just soy-seasoned rice; no peas, carrot or other vegetables or meat. The shrimp and chicken were the most prominent ingredients in this Szechuan-style dish and each piece had just the right amount of the sauce, which had an intense pepper aroma but was mild and a little sweet.

The sauce for the Kung Pao cuttlefish was just as deftly applied, but it had much more spice. The pieces of cuttlefish were lightly dredged before hitting the wok, which gave them just a little crispness on the outside. Inside, the fish was tender and just a little toothsome like good calamari. It was flanked by just a few princess peppers, water chestnuts, peanuts and tender pieces of mushrooms cut to be the same size as the cuttlefish.

Wu’s also had a version of arguably P.F. Chang’s most famous offering – lettuce wraps. Chicken, shrimp and mushroom were minced together and seasoned with Wu’s “signature sauce” – a soy-based slightly sweet concoction. It was easy to eat, the lettuce was fresh and crunchy and it was a respectable version.

The only items that didn’t excite me at Wu’s were a few of the appetizers. For an extra $4.50, you can add an egg roll, a cup of soup and one piece of fried shrimp. Most Chinese places either include these with the meal or let you add them for much less than $4.50, so my expectations were understandably high.

The egg flowers soup was simple with just carrot and a pea or two in the silky egg broth, but it was unseasoned and bland. The hot and sour soup was better, but still just mediocre. The egg rolls were also underwhelming – crisp and light, but a bit small – and the single shrimp was tasty, but kind of a tease since it was alone.

The other appetizers I tried were the opposite: exciting and satisfying.

The curry beef dumplings with crispy wrappings encasing a delicious blend of ground beef and vegetables in a bright yellow, spicy curry seasoning were new to me. The salt and pepper chicken wings were worth every penny. The six whole wings were sizable, extra crispy and booming with flavor from the heavy usage of the name ingredients as well as minced garlic.

The only entrée that I found any fault in, and that fault was minimal, was the Beach Party – dubbed as “a truly unique dish” with a pound of jumbo shrimp in a spicy sauce served in a lover’s nest. The shrimp were big and nicely cooked, but the brown sauce had more of a hearty flavor than spicy. The lover’s nest was sort of like a flaky tortilla shell you would get a taco salad in at a Mexican place, but it nicely emulated the crispy fried noodles takeout places often throw in as garnish. But the lack of spice and the fact that the only vegetables at all in this dish were a few onions made it not worth having again.

I would, however, go to Wu’s Fine Chinese Cuisine again. Its beautiful looks and upscale offerings should please any lover of Chinese food, and might even quiet those clamoring for P.F. Chang’s for a bit.

Heck, it even pleased legendary former NHL coach Scotty Bowman, who was dining at Wu’s with his daughter, Alicia, and her family, who live in Fort Wayne, during one of my visits. The Hockey Hall of Famer said it was “pretty good.”

Restaurant: Wu’s Fine Chinese Cuisine

Address: 4411 Coldwater Road

Phone: 483-0899

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Cuisine: Asian

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol: Beer and wine

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes, but no kids menu

Menu: Salt and pepper wings ($5.95), curry beef dumplings ($5.95), Beach Party ($15.95), hot braised delight ($15.95), Kung Pao cuttlefish ($13.95), Wu’s lettuce wraps ($15.95)

Rating breakdown: Food: ** 1/2 (3-star maximum); atmosphere: * (1 maximum), service: * (1 maximum)

Note: Restaurants are categorized by price range: $ (less than $20 for three-course meal), $$ ($20-$29); $$$ ($30-$39), $$$$ ($40-$49), $$$$$ ($50 and up).

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. E-mail him at rduvall@jg.net, call at 461-8130. DuVall’s past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net, and you can hear Ryan from 3 to 4 p.m. every Thursday on 92.3 FM, The Fort.

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