Second Helpings

Chopsticks China Bistro is still among the best

In this week's Cafe review, I declared China Jade possibly the best Chinese restaurant in the city. And when I told a few of my fellow gastronauts what I was about to do, here's what they all wanted to know: Is it better than Chopsticks?

For the past few years, Chopsticks China Bistro has stood as the ultimate avatar of that mutt-Asian, Chinese-American, best-of-both-worlds impulse that seems to seize so many Chinese restaurant operators when they open in the United States. They know (or think they know) that Americans like their Chinese food one way, and that their Chinese customers like it another way. Americans want wonton soup and egg rolls, gummy sweet-and-sour pork and toothless lo meins and everything served with chunks of white-meat chicken in melted down SweeTart sauce. Chinese customers want eel and pig intestine and rice porridge and jellyfish salad. The resulting restaurants operate like high-functioning schizophrenics, doing one kind of cuisine for one group of customers and something wholly other for the rest. Chopsticks walks this tightrope, and so does China Jade.

And I honestly don't know which one is better. Chopsticks' menu is longer by far, deeper and more inclusive; China Jade's is short, tight and (at least when you're talking about the laminated menu made for the Asian customers) doesn't have a loser in the bunch. I can say with confidence that Chopsticks, while widely known for its fantastic versions of traditional Chinese peasant grub like pork shank and flaming intestines and "three cup sauce frog with basil," does the American stuff better than China Jade — mostly because it imbues even the simplest lo meins and lettuce wraps with sneaky bits of pure Chinese technique. But I can also say that right now, China Jade (which operates out of a strip mall in east Aurora and depends on the steady flow of American customers to keep the doors open) seems to have a better handle on my particular appetite for traditional Chinese cooking.

But Chopsticks gets bonus points for one very good reason: It serves sandwiches. Not American sandwiches, but distinctly Chinese ones made of shredded meat in a variety of sauces, touched with cilantro or onion or both, served with rice and all made for stuffing inside hollowed-out rolls like some kind of Far East Hot Pocket. Because I am a man who dearly loves a sandwich of any description, I dearly love the ones served at Chopsticks.

But does that make Chopsticks better than China Jade? I'd hate to have to choose — and fortunately, the Best of Denver 2010 is still ten months away.