Hearty servings, stir-fries with still-crisp produce, and a friendly atmosphere make Canton Chinese a comforting destination
It’s been about five years since Canton Chinese Restaurant moved slightly up 41st Avenue to a shiny new mustard-colored stand-alone building. And just recently, the restaurant, run for years by various members of the Leung family, obtained a full liquor license.
We were welcomed graciously by staff members, and our various plates arrived quickly. We enjoyed tall glasses of cold iced tea, which were kept full throughout the meal, while we weighed the numerous culinary options.
In addition to Chinese food, the restaurant offers a handful of other Asian favorites, including satay skewers, Thai iced tea, and noodle bowls with Korean barbecue short ribs, and teriyaki salmon. Although the complete dinner menu is offered all day, the lunch menu had plenty of choices to pique our appetites.
Small plates ($2.50 to $9.50) include crispy cream cheese-filled wontons, Szechwan string beans sautéed with chilies, and Chinese-style battered fried shrimp. Almost 30 rice plates ($8.50 to $9) are served with a choice of two soups, a sesame ball or egg roll, and plenty of white rice. On Tuesdays, all lunch entrées are just $7.50.
The aroma of a turmeric-laden curry powder marinade emanated from the Satay Shrimp Skewers ($6.75). Served on a bed of iceberg lettuce, decorated with strips of carrot, drizzled with peanut sauce, and topped with minced peanuts and black and white sesame seeds, the 10 plump crustaceans offered both savory and sweet components.
In the large bowl of steaming War Wonton Soup ($8.75), bright vegetables including sweet sugar snap peas and fresh mushrooms were interspersed with shrimp, chicken breast, slices of lean barbecue pork with red tinged edges, crisp water chestnuts, and fat wonton pockets filled with nicely seasoned meat. The broth itself was not as strongly flavored as I’ve previously encountered.
Threads of beaten egg drifted in the mild hot and sour soup with green onions, bits of red pepper, tree fungus, fresh mushrooms and silken tofu.
The miso soup appeared thin due to the light-colored miso paste, but was actually very flavorful and also held bits of bright green onion and tofu.
Canton’s Garlic Chicken ($6.75) was delightful. Chicken breast was sautéed with sugar snap peas, broccoli, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, and for the spice, bits of ginger, flecks of red chili, and smoky, whole fried red chilies. The dark, lightly thickened sauce was sweet, and I spiced it up with some fresh chili paste. The sesame ball was exquisite. A perfect sphere of dough was deep fried to give the coating of sesame seeds a nutty toasted flavor. Biting through the crisp exterior revealed chewy dough and a core of sweet bean paste.
Thin slices of meltingly tender beef and still-crisp broccoli were the focal point of Beef and Broccoli ($8.50), an ideal dish for the chili-adverse. A generous serving of at least two cups of rice shared the plate. The egg roll, a perfectly rolled cigar of flaky, fried pastry, contained crisp cabbage, carrot and bean sprouts. We appreciated the side of head-clearing hot mustard.
Canton Chinese Restaurant, 900 41st Ave., Santa Cruz, 475-8751. Full bar. Open daily from 11:30 a.m. until 9 p.m. Visit cantonchinesefoodsantacruz.com.