“Who is this Suzie Wong, anyway?” my husband asked as we opened the restaurant door on a particularly frigid January night.
His comment quickly threw me into a film noir mood, which isn’t all that extraordinary if you know my husband. In the movie reel in my head, Suzie sneaks up behind our detective, surreptitiously takes out a knife and, with leopard-like speed, whizzes it toward the middle of his back. Luckily, it hits the wall instead, but as he turns to see who committed this dastardly deed, Suzie has already faded back into the blackness of the night.
Outside my head the scene is quite different. Suzie Wong’s on Madison has an urban feel complete with a dance soundtrack and vibrant red walls. Alex Chin opened his latest Asian restaurant venture last November in the space formerly occupied by Simone’s and Seny Tapas Bar.
The glass windows that extend the length of both sides of the dining room offer a view of some of the city’s oldest and finest architecture, including the San Marco Apartment Building and St. Francis DeSales Catholic Church.
Many of the buildings in the historic district of DeSales Corner in East Walnut Hills were built specifically to cater to the German immigrants and parishioners of the church. Chin seems to embrace this same philosophy of serving the community by opening for lunch and dinner seven days a week and offering delivery service to nearby neighborhoods. By the looks of the crowd on a snowy Tuesday night, I’d say the neighborhood is returning that fond embrace.
Chin — formerly at the helm of a number of Cincinnati’s most popular Asian restaurants, including Pacific Moon, Shanghai Mama’s and Lulu’s Noodles — has reinvented Far Eastern cuisine again in this new venture, with Thai, Korean and Vietnamese menu offerings along with Malaysian Indian curries.
We started with Suzie’s Pot Stickers ($3.95), Kimchi ($3.95) and an Ahi Tuna ($9.95) starter. The pot stickers are served steamed or pan-fried. My steamed dumplings were filled with scallion- and ginger-laced chicken and served with a sweetish soy-based sauce. I popped each of them into my mouth with not-so-guilty pleasure.
The kimchi ended up providing an odd taste sensation. Kimchi is a pickled vegetable dish and I make it a practice to never pass up an opportunity to eat something pickled, so I’ve had it on numerous previous occasions. I have to say that I don’t remember it reminding me of the effervescence of the carbonated Pop Rocks candy of my youth. And while Husband found the kimchi spicy, I found it tame for a dish that has such a fiery rep.
Husband did not find the wasabi that came with his Ahi tuna spicy. In fact, based on our last two wasabi-eating experiences, we’ve both become convinced there’s a city-wide conspiracy to water it down. The tuna itself looked beautiful.
For dinner we had the Malaysian Chicken in a Claypot ($10.95), Bi Bim Bap ($10.96) and a side order of Dry Braised Wrinkle String Beans ($5.95). The chicken in my clay pot was a little overdone, but the yellow curry sauce was spectacular. The coconut milk-based sauce coated the onion, peppers and broccoli, as well as the chicken, and created a thick, satisfying texture for the ol’ taste buds.
The Bi Bim Bap is served with beef and the traditional gooey fried egg and was a solid version of the dish. And take my word for it, Dry Braised Wrinkle String Beans are much tasty than they sound. This typical Chinese restaurant dish is made by sautéing regular green beans with garlic and finishing them with a honeyed soy sauce. The wrinkling comes in from the beans’ direct contact with the hot oil.
We also took home a container of Suzie’s Chicken Noodle soup ($6.95), and I have to admit this was my favorite — so simple and yet so satisfying. I did have one complaint: The advertised Chinese greens turned out to be two pieces of Romaine lettuce. Once I fished those out, however, all was forgotten except the delicate tendrils of the enoki mushroom, the tender, snow-white chicken pieces, fat udon noodles and velvety homemade chicken broth.
While some of the dishes were more successful than others, nothing we sampled was bad. The service, however, could use some fine-tuning.
Other than Chin’s appearance with our entrees (a very nice touch, I should say), our server and the restaurant’s host seemed, well … let’s just be honest, pretty clueless. Our server, for example, described the glass noodles (transparent cellophane noodles) as “slimy.” Not a ringing endorsement for the dishes that include these.
This lack of awareness is a shame. I heard many of the other diners asking questions about ingredients and asking for recommendations. More polished staff members would be better ambassadors for the food.
SUZIE WONG'S ON MADISON
Go: 1544 Madison Ave., East Walnut Hills
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday - Thursday; 11 a.m.-midnight Friday; noon-midnight Saturday; 4-10 p.m. Sunday.
Entree Prices: $6.95-$15.95
Red Meat Alternatives: Vegetarian entrees, chicken, duck, and seafood
Accessibility: Fully accessible
Note: Suzie’s has applied for a full liquor license; in the meantime you can bring in a bottle of wine for a $5 corkage fee.