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    by Andrea Lin

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              Front Page  venue  dining

    Chopstix Should Pick Up Fans

    By Andrea Lin
    For the Journal
        China is a nation of nearly one-fifth of the world's population, but that's well known. The Chinese excel at producing goods cheaply and supplying us with treats like fried rice and egg rolls, but you knew that, too.
        Buried in the vastness of such a huge nation, however, is a lifetime of food experiences, many difficult to find on our shores. Northern China, in particular, serves up everything from fiery hot pot to delicate steamed whole fishes, and a wonderful taste of that region can be found at Chopstix, in the Midtown part of Albuquerque.
        Buffet-style Chinese is well known along with potent flavors found in most sugary and soy-rich sauces at typical Chinese restaurants. Beyond those American adaptations there exist flavors so perfectly matched that despite exotic-sounding entree names, ultimately they are far from strange.
        Simple appetizers spanned a wide range of old recipes, such as Sesame Shaobing ($2.50), a baked bread hiding layers of rich sesame that might cause you to swear off other restaurants' "garlic bread." Homemade by the restaurant, sliced and gently spicy Szechwan Sausage ($4.95) revved up the meat eater's appetite, while a thick Hot and Sour Soup ($1.50/cup) had just enough of the vinegar punch to liven up an otherwise heavy broth.
        Many of the menu items are photographed and proudly shown, making the guessing game of "what's in that dish?" a rare occurrence. Boiled meat dumplings ($4.95) look just as plain on the plate as they do in the picture, but appearances are not everything. A quick dunk in the dipping sauce brought mellow wheat dough together with savory filling for each delicious bite.
        So far, the appetizers were tame and easy to love. The main dishes list contains many familiar names, such as Cashew Chicken, and Sweet and Sour Ribs, but the names are where the similarities to other Chinese restaurants end. All stir-fried plates were sauced minimally and with flavors that complement the ingredients, rather than overloading your tongue with salt-sweet-pungent. Even the fried rice was cooked with freshly cut carrots rather than that usual frozen mixture of carrots and peas.
        Once you've accustomed yourself to how well the "usual" dishes are treated, take a look at the specials displayed on one wall of the room— all homestyle Beijing preparations that might sound adventurous at first blush. Stewed Pork Neck ($6.95) was not too far off from what you'd find at a barbecue place. The bones gave the meat deep flavor, and no knife was needed for the falling-apart savory bites.
        Chinese Broccoli ($6.95) started out with rapini, a visual relative to the broccoli we all know. It was steamed until the bright green color was locked in, then quickly tossed in a garlicky sauce and served up, hot and fragrant.
        Unlike the mild dishes at local Chinese restaurants, Chopstix offered a few treats that would satisfy the fiery appetite of any New Mexican. Szechwan Style Chicken ($8.95) took small cubes of juicy chicken and stir-fried them with an equal number of tiny red chile peppers, lending their heat to the chicken and accompanying sauce. Customize the heat level to your preference by deciding how many of those chiles you are going to eat, whole, with your chicken. Soon the sweat will be running down your neck and the inevitable endorphin rush following quickly thereafter. Of course, rice was served so that you can cut the heat a bit if necessary.
        Once you've consumed several glasses of water to put out that fire in your mouth, only two options for after-meal sweets were presented, and the favorite was a pair of warmed Chestnut Cakes ($1.95), only mildly sweet and filled with a rich nutty paste.
        After just one visit you might find yourself planning out several more trips in advance.
    Chopstix Chinese Cuisine
        LOCATION: 6001-L Lomas NE, 268-8777
        HOURS: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays and Sundays; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays. Closed Mondays.
        NO ALCOHOL

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