House of Wu (Burnsville, MN)
The most familiar Chinese food across America is actually Cantonese cuisine, from the Canton province in southern China. These dishes are characterized by their mild flavors and fresh ingredients cooked with very little oil. Common Cantonese seasonings are ginger, onion, sugar, salt, soy sauce, rice wine, and corn starch. Sometimes you'll see garlic and the peppery mixture called 'five spice powder.' Cantonese dishes include meat, fowl, or seafood, and most dishes are either steamed or stir-fried -- cooking techniques designed to bring out the flavors inherent in the ingredients.
Szechuan food is America's other common Chinese cuisine. The Szechuan province is in the west of China, and isolated from the rest of the country. As such, Szechuan cuisine developed independently, with very flavorful, often fiery dishes. The key ingredient is the hot chili pepper, probably introduced along the Silk Road. You can order the spicier dishes toned down, of course. Chicken, pork, and fish are common in Szechuan food.
The House of Wu in Burnsville serves both Cantonese and Szechuan dishes -- which means it's a standard American-style Chinese restaurant, with a familiar menu. If there's a basic Chinese dish you're looking for, they probably serve it.
Located in a nondescript building on the frontage road of Hwy. 13, the restaurant has been open since 1994 and the decor looks even older. Although we didn't care for the pop music over the PA system, we considered these signs of promise. Restaurateurs should spend money on the food first. That's why we're there.
Skip the uninspiring appetizers. The egg rolls and such were just a little too greasy for us. Have the soups instead. The won ton soup was a perfect light delicate broth, rich with the fresh flavor of pea pods. The won tons were big and meaty, too. We can't think of a better won ton soup anywhere in town. The hot and sour soup was nicely piquant. It had no tofu to speak of but lots of ground pork and, unusually, chopped pickled vegetable. This was delicious, though by no means the standard soup one gets elsewhere.
Black bean sauce is a Cantonese creation, and you can order it with chicken, beef, and shrimp. We tried the chicken, which was wonderfully pungent with garlic and ginger.
We also liked the scallops with oyster sauce. This came with huge sea scallops, perfectly seared. A few water chestnuts generally add desirable crispness to this dish. Here, brightly steamed broccoli added that welcome crunch.
Classic dishes like General Tso's chicken, with its slightly sweet batter-fried chunks of chicken, are terrific. Moo shu pork is quite good. You'll probably want a few extra pancakes with the moo shu; we never seem to have enough. There's a lot to choose from on the menu; you're sure to find something you like.
House of Wu serves an all-you-can-eat lunch buffet for $5.50, which is one of the best meal deals for miles. They also have a 'secret' menu of more exotic Chinese dishes that are less likely to appeal to American palates.