Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Lam's Garden

510 Bailey Rd
Crystal City, Mo

Yeah, I know, chronologically it looks like we’ve been spending a lot of time at Chinese places.  That’s because we were in Springfield, Mo. a few weeks ago and one simply must have Chinese there, and that sort of gave us an appetite for more. However last week we didn’t have Chinese, we went to Ruby Tuesday’s thanks to a generous gift card from my lovely and sweet sister. I didn’t write it up since we were there in November, so I told the family I’d only write it up if there were any significant changes or occurrences. There weren’t.  It was a good meal.
The Place:
Lam’s is a little tough to find behind the storefronts on Main Street. There’s plenty of parking. The exterior walls were adorned with modest murals and signage, just inside the front door was a large, heavily and stylishly decorated Christmas tree. At the counter there was a smaller white plastic one. Apparently the colorful Chinese calendars were being ignored. Large, red paper lanterns hung from the ceiling, I don’t think they were part of the holiday decorations. There were lots of tables in the front and off to the side a row of booths. The booth table tops were laminated with glossy, colorful murals of waterfalls.
Lam’s is not a buffet, so we were handed menus. I prefer buffets, and the rest of this review will make it very clear why.
The Food:
Green pepper steak
I struggled with the menu. One protein, one of two kinds of rice, and a choice of either two crab Rangoons two wontons, or an egg roll.  Angel suggested that we get some half-order sides to fill out the meal, add some variety. We ordered our drinks and were shortly given our tea, Diet Coke and Coke. Fortunately the tea was clear and not too bad, I’d had concerns. We asked for a little more time with the menus though I was the only actual holdout, Angel and Adam had pretty much walked in with their orders in mind. Last time we were at Lam’s I’d had the chicken pepper steak and found it okay, but as the only protein, too much savory. I considered sweet and sour but Lam’s uses that heavily tempura-battered style of cooking the chicken for that dish, it makes the chicken look like mini corn dogs, too bready.
General Tsao
The choice for me narrowed to sesame and General Tsao. The problem I had with the General is that they put some heat into that, and depending where you are, maybe a bit too much heat. The problem with sesame is that some places make that way too sweet. Then Angel suggested that half order of something else, like beef pepper steak. That seemed like a good fit to cut the sweet of the sesame. My mind was tacitly made up by the time the lady returned for our order. We went around the table.
Angel, unsurprisingly asked for the cashew style chicken since Lam’s uses a recipe that is similar to what they use in Springfield. (Emphasis on the word ‘similar’) She asked for the egg roll which surprised me a little, she’s very picky about egg rolls. (Canton Inn in Springfield being the benchmark.) She added the pepper beef and added a half order of beef and broccoli. She told the lady to not bring rice with the two half-orders. Adam ordered the General Tsao’s which I appreciated, it would give me a chance to taste it in case the sesame disappointed or for the next time we went there. He asked for plain rice instead of fried rice, since he doesn’t like little extras like veggie chunks, egg, and flavor in his rice.
“That’s a lot of food!” the middle aged Chinese seemed impressed.
“We share.” Angel replied to try to make us not look like porcine gluttons.
Beef and broccoli
For the short wait we discussed entertainment options for later in the evening. It was decided to stop at Blockbuster on the way out of town. I don’t like going to Blockbuster, it’s depressing. Blockbuster is well past its prime, and it shows. The overhead TV’s are all big CRT types, the type that even the most run down of bars got rid of nearly five years ago. The shelves, once proud of their status as cutting edge with the latest in movies are half bare, unable to keep up with the newer, alternative media formats. Much the way Blockbuster all but wiped out locally owned, mom and pop video stores, they themselves have now been outdone.
The food arrived in two deliveries. It all looked very good. There also seemed to be a lot of it. Lam’s portions are generous and three full meals plus two half orders filled the table.
Cashew Chicken
I cautiously tried the sesame chicken. Good, not too sweet. The chicken chunks were quite large, I’d rather see them a bit smaller. Each nugget required double cutting.
The fried rice was brown, too brown. Sure enough to my taste buds they had overdone the soy sauce. There were indeed chunks of veggie and egg in the rice, but it all tasted the same due to the sauce.
The pepper beef veggies were spot on, the sauce seemed just right and the peppers and onions were cooked, just barely, just right. The beef itself though was a bit…. And I’m reluctant to say this, too salty.
Sesame Chicken
Working the sweet/savory/sweet/savory worked for a while. The first thing I gave up on was the beef though, followed shortly by the rice. I used the pretty-good but not great egg roll to cut the sweet, but halfway in had to give that up as well.
Angel and Adam didn’t seem to have the problem. They lapped theirs up at full speed without complaint.
I tried the cashew and the General chicken. I thought the General was quite good, not too hot as I’d worried. The cashew style was weak, tame. It had the taste of the Springfield style, but not as strong. It was a lot like brown gravy. Angel said that it was good, almost light. Adam said his General Tsao tasted great, but the chunks themselves were too fatty. As for the egg roll, I asked the expert. She shrugged. They both agreed that the broccoli on their dishes was great. (blech).

The staff at Lam's is unbeatable, my favorite part of the experience. They're affable, energetic and enthusiastic. Always at the ready to whisk away a plate or refill a drink.

We discussed the food, specifically my less-than-stellar opinion of it  like this like it was a serious family problem. They were quite pleased with the meal, I was not. Angel was keen on the fact that I seemed to have an over-active sensitivity to saltiness. I can’t disagree completely, of all the things I’ve ever railed about in all these reviews, too salty is the top of the list, by more than a mile. So keep that in mind. I rarely if ever add salt at the table to anything. If you do add salt to things then understand that my sensitivity is more than yours and adjust my review to that perspective. They thoroughly enjoyed the meal, I simply didn’t.
Thus the discussion about buffets. If this were a buffet, I could have sampled a little of a dozen or so things, pushed aside the rejects and seconded on the better choices. Perhaps I’m spoiled by buffets. Why this applies to Chinese food and not other styles I’m not sure. I’ve been to several buffets where I didn’t care for one thing or another, but just went with something else and was quite happy.
Then there was the price. Chinese food is almost always a bargain. We can eat at a buffet, or even Lam’s for half what we pay at Ruby Tuesday’s. I can only fairly compare Chinese to Chinese. We had to over-order at Lam’s to get a reasonable variety. Thus the bill came in at over thirty five dollars, nearly ten dollars more than the buffet down the road.
So for me, Lam’s is not worth it. It's only a little better, to me, than the little Chinese restaurant in Hillsboro. You order a dish that isn’t quite to your liking after all, and you’re done.  I’m sure many people enjoy Lam’s, Angel and Adam certainly do. But if it is ever up to me to choose a Chinese place, it will be a buffet, almost any buffet.

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