Food & Drink // Knockout take-out

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December 6, 2010
By: Carla Waldemar
Carla Waldemar
Thanks to my Nordeast tipster (aka my daughter), I learned about Chin Dian. “Nina says hello,” she added, after extolling the merits of the spring rolls.

Oh, Nina Wong? Of the Wongs’ Lyn-Lake icon, Rainbow? Same Nina, who worked there with her sister, Tammy, before her entrepreneurial spirit, and cooking élan, prodded her to strike out on her own. (Well, with the blessing assistance of her husband, Thomas, an ethnic Indian from Malaysia.) Toss Nina’s own heritage — born in Vietnam, raised in China — into the kettle, and out comes Chin Dian’s Pan-Asian menu, based on local, organic foodstuffs and Nina’s signature sauces.

The small room resonates of Modern Asian minimalism, backed by colors so rich you want to wear them (lick them!) and a splashy, hypnotically attractive mural of giant koi in aqua waters: That’s it.

And outside, an unlikely stretch of Hennepin that’s left trendsters far behind. Why here? “We drove by and it spoke to me,” spoke Nina. Foodies got the message, too.

We started with the chicken and chive steamed dumplings, and you should, too. They’re fluffier than most despite chunks of chicken mingling with the fresh breath of chives. In fact, they almost require a paperweight.

Equally delicious — the spicy peanut noodle app, enough to satisfy an NFL team. It’s a tumble of cold rice noodles given a little crunch from cabbage, carrot and scallion slivers, all glossed with a sweet and savory peanut sauce hot-wired with chilies. (Appetizers $3–$8.)

What’s about to follow is an itemized confession of the sin of gluttony. We, (OK, I) so grossly over-ordered that Nina had to push another table over, as neighboring diners shielded their eyes and concentrated on their chopsticks.

We shared the curry chicken — a chunky mélange of potato, carrot, onion, peapods, bamboo shoots and chicken morsels bathed in coconut milk and yellow curry. Having failed to specify “hot,” it came off well-cooked but downright boring. We did better with the platter of wok-fried green beans, tricked out with Nina’s black sauce and garlic, though they could have been crisper, please.

Loving noodles, and Malaysian food, we also summoned the Kew Tieu Goreng, featuring lots of the flat rice ribbons mingling with shrimp, tofu, bean sprouts, egg and scallions in a conflagration of garlic and chili sauce so addictive it should require a prescription.

Next, the Chin Dian Manchurian. It’s based on a super-tasty tomato-garlic-ginger sauce that flavors garlic, jalapenos, and dried chilies. (Need I tell you it’s dynamite, in both senses of the word?) Plus, you get your choice of chicken, paneer or gobi (cauliflower), topped with palate-cleansing sprigs of cilantro. We opted for the paneer version — cubes (too large, too dry) of the soft Indian cheese.

And just before the truck with the straight jackets arrived, a platter of Chin Dian fried rice — the best fried rice in the city, thanks to an infusion of dried chilis and curry seasonings to pump up the usual suspects. (Entrees $8–$13; seafood $15.)

Struggling under the weight of countless white paper cartons, we departed before trying Nina’s ginger tea. Or Anna’s hot lemonade. Or — oh, stop! But a final word about the short wine list with its off-the-mainstream labels, and that word is “swell.” Nice beer offerings, too.

Chin Dian
1500 E. Hennepin Ave.