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Venue Review: Dynasty Cuisine

A feast worthy of a Dynasty
Dynasty Cuisine
By "Helen Schwab"
The Charlotte Observer

The last time I was so eager to work my way through an entire menu was … well, January in Istanbul.

That’s a different story, but this part is the same: Dynasty Cuisine possesses the three keys to enjoying unfamiliar foods:

• Dishes done with integrity.

• Reasonable prices.

• A staff capable of, and enthusiastic about, explaining the fare.

They can coach newcomers on how to eat unfamiliar dishes, like hot pots. They can help diners determine appropriate spice levels. They keep a close eye on folks, and how they’re enjoying their meals – and a lot more.

Chef-owner Joe Lam says he’s been in the restaurant business for 25 years, from working in a family restaurant in New York to owning his first place, in Burlington, N.C. Born in the Chinese province of Fujian, he moved to Hong Kong as a young boy, and now cooks dishes from both that area and Szechuan province, known for its fiery fare.

“Everyone says they have Szechuan. But … my Szechuan is Szechuan,” he says. He’s right: The kitchen doesn’t pull many punches.

He originally opened the Matthews site as Buffet Dynasty. But he found buffets growing more common around town, and diners growing more willing to eat traditional dishes.

Chef Eddy Zhang is in charge of dim sum. A streamlined list is offered at all times, and a fuller range of these small dishes, ranging from dumplings to tarts to noodles, are offered from carts on the weekends.

We were most excited about the hot pots: well-worn, gas-fired pots brought to your table, with a marvelous range of ingredients that you cook yourself, once the broth comes to a boil. You pay by the ingredient, and you can order more if you run out. (Start with less than you think you want. You get more than you’d expect of nearly everything.)

Choose among seven broths, from chicken to fish head to “Ma-La” – which means “numbingly spicy,” I’m told. That’s an accurate translation of this chile-oil-slicked, Szechuan-peppercorn-studded liquid. Then choose among proteins, greens, dumplings, noodles and more. You drop in the item, then fish it out with a small strainer, and eat over rice or a bit more of the broth. I’m a particular fan of the paper-thin, frozen pieces of lean beef that cook in fewer than 30 seconds, and the marvelous chive dumplings.

Another searingly spicy winner: Ma Po Tofu, cubes of silken tofu in a thin sauce with minced pork. Delicious.

But a simple dish of delicate, subtle soy sauce chicken was equally lovely, as was a straightforward beef chow fun, the wide rice noodles perfectly tender. And a plate of battered, deep-fried strips of eggplant with a salty-spicy tang was exquisite.

Servers quietly helped those new to hot pots, were blunt about spiciness: “Yes, it will make you cry.” They answered ingredient questions warmly and well.

The setting is simple – well, except for the two towering terracotta soldiers that guard the door (representations of the famous Qin Dynasty figures in China).

Once past them, you see fish tanks to your left, complete with live lobsters and tilapia (and, sometimes, Dungeness crab). A large dining room looms to your right, with golden walls, pottery and a few areas squared off in decorative wooden framing. It’s a big space, somewhat spare, but with plenty of large tables for parties who treasure sharing.

It’s the perfect place for it.

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2/23/2012 - The Charlotte Observer - Helen Schwab

Lovely Szechuan and Cantonese dishes in a collaborative atmosphere.

(Full review)
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