Tucked away behind the trees in the Grogan's Mill Village Center is Chef Chan's Restaurant. One of over forty different Asian variety eateries in The Woodlands area, Chef Chan's has quietly gone about their business for more than 22 years. The decor inside the medium-sized dining area is nondescript; nothing fussy or overstated. Chef Chan's is at once a casual diner and a formal restaurant; where one can be comfortable in shorts and flip-flops, even when dining with linen tablecloths and napkins. Chef Chan's has an extensive menu of nearly 140 items, ranging from Americanized Chinese favorites to Traditional Sichuan and Hunan delights. Here's our take on a few dishes we sampled...
Both of us ordered entrees with the Complete Dinner accompaniment. For $4.95 each, we received three appetizers (an Egg Roll, Fried Wonton and Crab Cheese Puff), our choice of one of two soups and egg fried rice or steamed white rice. A small price to pay, especially considering the rice portion is never-ending. She had the Wonton Soup and the Egg Fried Rice. I chose the Egg Drop Soup with Corn and the Egg Fried Rice as well.
I for one love Chef Chan's Wonton Soup. Not too salty and always piping hot, the one large wonton swimming in broth is stuffed with a sizable chunk of tender pork meat. As a child I used to cut up and eat only the wonton, but as an adult I now look forward to that nugget, and nothing is so disappointing as a wonton soup with only slivers of pork swimming around for appearances as in so many other restaurants. The Crab Cheese Puff (commonly called a Crab Rangoon) was a little chewier than I would have preferred, but having eaten here a number of times before, I know that this was the exception and not the norm. The Egg Roll would be more appropriately named a Fried Spring Roll, filled with crisp veggies and fried crisp. Unfortunately I didn't care for the Fried Wonton. The large amount of ground pork in the fried wonton easily became chewy and flavorless in the time it took the fry the Wonton - which in and of itself was a bit overdone. Chef Chan's Egg Fried Rice, which came out with the entrees, is really good. It's fluffy and tender; somewhat sticky in consistency but not gummy. The Egg Fried Rice makes a nice accompaniment to most any entree.
I went with a dish I hadn't tried before - Chef Chan's Chicken. The portions served up at Chef Chan's are enormous. There's more than enough for sharing, or packaging up and having for lunch the next day. Chef Chan's Chicken is flash-fried, strips of white meat chicken, in a semi-spicy, somewhat-sweet red pepper sauce. The chicken is stir fried with chunks of baby corn (which, truth be told, I didn't care for), red bell peppers, snow peas and mushrooms. I had them hold the mushrooms, as it's been my previous experience that the earthy fungi don't always hold up well in stir-fried dishes... or maybe just because I flat don't like them.. I thought the chicken and sauce was very good, almost as good as my favorite, General Tso's Hunan Chicken. The snow peas and red bell peppers had the nice, crisp-tender texture of fresh vegetables, not that dull, limp appearance and taste some frozen vegetables can sometimes have.
I had the Egg Drop Soup with Corn. The 'soup' is really little more than a cup of hot chicken broth with some egg, corn and oil floating on top. I generally pass on Asian soups but have found that adding corn is a great way to add some flavor to them. Also, as Chef Chan's egg drop soup didn't have that thick, slimy consistency some other restaurants achieve by adding cornstarch to their broth, it was much more enjoyable. The soup was better than I expected and plan to order it again the next time I have lunch or dinner at Chef Chan's.
I started to order the Sa-Chia Chicken, if for no other reason than that the description on the menu amused me, "White meat chicken in a special oriental [sic] sauce called Sa-Chia..." Ultimately, I stuck with a more familiar dish and had the Kung Pao Cashew Chicken instead. An Asian restaurant's Kung Pao Chicken is a great measuring stick with which to gauge the skills of the chef. The plate comes with an ample amount of chicken, water chestnuts, chilies, celery and (of course) cashews. Chef Chan puts out a great dish - not too spicy, and certainly not dry. The chicken was tender and juicy, and the veggies all crisp-tender and fresh, as she found with her Chef Chan's Chicken.
In all the times I've been to Chef Chan's over the years, I'm almost certain I've had the same server and I know I've seen the owner there every time. This, coupled with consistently good food from the kitchen, make it easy to keep Chef Chan's on the short list of places to go for Chinese food.
Chef Chan's in the Grogan's Mill Village Center is one of those restaurants that's been around so long, sometimes you forget it's there. Clearly, not everyone forgets, as they've been going strong in the same location since 1990. And when you do get back around to Chef Chan's - or even have it delivered if you're fortunate enough to live in the area - you'll wonder why you didn't think of them sooner.