Chinese sandwiches? Well, not quite, but Uncle Zoe's Chinese Kitchen, which opened last month in the former home of Aurora's China Jade, offers a specialty called rou bing, which are often compared to Western sandwiches. Rou bing, and its close cousins shao bing and rou jia mo, are often found at street-food markets, so handheld portability is key.
The restaurant's menu, one of the most beautifully printed and bound tomes anywhere in town, calls its rou bing "Chinese-style pies," perhaps slightly more accurate than "sandwich." These pies take the form of pastry disks filled with savory ingredients: beef and celery, pork and string bean, and shrimp and pork, and there's also a meatless version. The pastry is thin and flaky, not bready, but the pies are pan-fried, not baked. The resulting crust is delicate and tender, barely constraining the ample fillings within.
At tables where the bamboo baskets are absent, plates of steamed bao buns, similar in shape and pleating to the soup dumplings but with thicker, fluffier wrappers, tempt with pan-fried bottoms, a trick that's surely difficult to pull off without the dumplings sticking and tearing open before they ever reach a plate.
Sichuan Province is known for fiery food, but Uncle Zoe's scales back on the red chiles and Sichuan peppercorns, so if you like a little more heat, make sure and ask your server. After some mild wontons, I asked for a little extra heat on an order of fish with tofu, and the result held just the right amount of pleasant buzz. As a quaint touch, this one is served in a Pyrex casserole dish, so you can see the milk-white silken tofu beneath layers of fish and brick-red sauce.
The eatery makes it easy to round out a meal with small plates of pickled cucumbers, wood ear mushrooms, marinated seaweed salads and complimentary egg rolls. Crispy scallion pancakes make a good appetizer, too, or you can stick with tried-and-true crab cheese wontons. You can also find other American Chinese classics — sesame or General Tso's chicken, kung pao or sweet and sour beef — on page one, but do yourself a favor and skip to the dumplings, pies and other less familiar fare that's not only hard to find in Denver, but exceptionally well done at Uncle Zoe's.
China Jade was a favorite for those seeking out traditional food like hot pots, braised beef noodle soup, garlicky long beans and chilled tofu with preserved egg, but the menu seemed to grow smaller over time and the dining room was seldom full before the restaurant eventually closed over the summer. Uncle Zoe's has preserved the granite tabletops, dark wood furnishings and elegant bar (though there's currently no liquor license) of its predecessor while presenting a tighter but no less captivating roster of regional Chinese fare.
Uncle Zoe's Chinese Kitchen is located at 12203 East Iliff Avenue and is open from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. every day but Tuesday. Call 303-755-8518 or visit unclezoe.com for more details.