For a time I thought the phrase “tasteful Chinese restaurant” was an oxymoron. Chinese food was my guilty pleasure, my crispy fried, carbo-loading dinner that came out of a kitchen where I could order simply by pointing at a photo and saying “that one.” Then, on a warm February afternoon I met Charlie Chiang’s.
The house restaurant at North Naples’ Doubletree Guest Suites, Charlie Chiang’s is a different brand of Chinese restaurant. Part of a family of casually upscale Asian eateries owned by Christiana Chiang and her husband, Charlie – the Naples location has been gaining popularity since it opened just over one year ago. After opening the first Charlie Chiang’s in 1973 in Washington D.C., the Chiangs have spent the past 30 years turning their original concept of contemporary Asian cuisine served in a sophisticated space into an empire of Chinese dining rooms that stretches all the way from D.C. to Southwest Florida. Today, Charlie Chiang’s has even gotten some love from the U.S. government: a fast service version of their more formal restaurants is located at the Pentagon.
Perhaps the best thing about Naples Charlie Chiang’s however, is that you’d never know it was part a chain. The décor is refreshingly modern and urban, and the restaurant is divided into several different zones, which flow into each other effortlessly and lend the feeling that the floor is unfolding in front of you. In the midst of the minimalist landscape nothing says cheap; nothing says cheesy; nothing says chain.
But beyond the tasteful décor, the real draw at Charlie Chiang’s is the menu. Entrees range in price from $9.95-$20.95, but the prices are not the only thing to get excited about. With plenty of old favorites like General Tso’s Chicken, Lo Mein noodles and Pork Fried Rice alongside more innovative options like Flaming Steak Christiana, (flank steak in a black pepper sauce flambéed with rum at your table) or Honey Tempura Chicken and a separate sushi menu, Charlie Chiang’s is Chinese for adults.
Since the coastalbeat.com crew dines on a strict budget, we turned our attention to the short list of lunch specials and picked out a pair of discounted plates – the chicken with string beans ($7.95) and sushi bento box B ($12.95).
The bento box special began with a tasty bowl of Miso soup and continued with a shiny black and red box full of raw goodies. With hot white rice, a few pieces of spicy tuna and California rolls, seaweed salad and some thick slices of sashimi, the lunchtime sushi special offered more than enough food for my dining companion, although he commented that it lacked imagination and seemed less than enthused about his plentiful lunch.
My choice of chicken and string beans was a simple dish comprised of crunchy green beans and thin chicken strips doused in a simple brown sauce and served with a heavy scoop of rice. Although the sauce was a simple and almost syrupy creation, the chicken was pleasingly moist and the green beans snapped freshly with every bite.
As we prepared to leave the restaurant and head back to the office, we bumped into an appreciative customer saying goodbye to Christiana and the staff.
“It’s my favorite restaurant,” Donna Livingstone gushed when I asked her what she thought of Charlie Chiang’s. And as she swept out the door she called out to Christiana behind her, “you’ll probably see me for dinner.”
Looking back on my meal at Charlie Chiang’s I can’t honestly say that we gave the restaurant a real shot. Yes, you can eat there for under $15. Yes, you will be impressed with the restaurant’s stylish design, and yes, I believe you can have a great meal there, but you can’t do all three at the same time. Next time I head to North Naples for a Chinese dinner I’ll spend the extra few dollars and splurge on a plate of Salt and Pepper Jumbo Shrimp or maybe try the Land and Sea Delight. I’ll be back to see you, Charlie Chiang’s, and I’ll be hungry.