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A new hope in The Chinese Dynasty

Restaurateur turns to heritage for inspiration

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Aficionados of Chinese cuisine in the U.S. can be divided into two camps. The first, larger camp prefers the sweet heavy sauces of Americanized Chinese dishes. General Tso, the dark lord of this empire, and Jabbaesque lo mein are examples of these Americanized dishes. With astounding force, this version of Chinese cuisine has almost obscured actual regional Chinese. In fact, many consider the fortune cookie (first made in San Francisco) to be the proper ending to an "authentic" Chinese meal. Meanwhile, the second, much smaller group prefers the unique flavors of any of the eight regional Chinese cuisines, including the clean flavors of Cantonese and the rebellious spiciness of Sichuan.

Since 1999, restaurateur Joe Lam had served Americanized cuisine in his buffet-styled restaurant, Buffet Dynasty, in Matthews. Lam says that 60 percent of the items on the line were Americanized Chinese dishes; the remaining 40 percent were Cantonese and Sichuan. Lam, who was born in China, grew up in Hong Kong and immigrated to the U.S. at 13 with his parents, who subsequently opened a series of Americanized Chinese restaurants in Manhattan and Connecticut. Lam grew up knowing what his non-Asian-American patrons wanted.

But in late fall, Lam shut down the buffet line. He says that during the past decade, too many buffet-styled Chinese restaurants had opened in the area, and while he had served "higher quality" items, his competitors did not: "Customers started to think that Chinese buffets were only inexpensive foods."

The core of his loyal patrons who went for the regional dishes convinced Lam to go full-out authentic. A few weeks ago, Lam opened The Chinese Dynasty, noting, "Ninety-five percent of the items on the menu now are authentic dishes — the kind you would find in China." The other five percent include the ever-so-popular Americanized dishes, such as sesame chicken.

The 168-seat Chinese Dynasty is expansive but plain. Round white-tableclothed tables large enough to accommodate family groups have room in the center for an overabundance of dishes. Lam is currently building a bar area.

Although many area Chinese restaurants have a second menu, Dynasty has only one. Heat-seeking Sichuan dumplings sparkle beside steamed sausage potstickers. Succulent barbecued duck is there beside pork stomach and hot peppers, and other dishes with offal. To be fair, offal, including chitterlings (pork intestines) and giblet gravy brimming with slices of heart and liver, has been a long-standing element of Southern cuisine, so in effect, some of Dynasty's menu is Sino-Soul Food.

Impressive are the soups. Rustic crocks dot most tables. Hot pots, cooked tabletop, are created through a choice of broths; proteins; vegetables, mushrooms and greens; and noodles. A few pieces of Dim Sum are offered at dinner, but the trolleys roll out during weekend lunch (11 a.m.-3 p.m.). Forty varieties are created by Lam's master chef, who trained at a five-star hotel in Canton. Included on the Dim Sum roster are shark fin, chive, Shanghai and taro dumplings, as well as crispy shrimp balls, pork barbecue buns, turnip cakes, pot stickers, and, of course, the ubiquitous egg custard tart. Another cart wheels congee (aka juk), a popular rice porridge, offered plain or with preserved duck egg and pork.

The Year of the Dragon, an auspicious Chinese year, begins Jan. 23. But for those seeking Cantonese and Sichuan dishes, that fortunate year has already begun.

The Chinese Dynasty

1709 Matthews Township Parkway, Matthews. 704-814-0288. Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. www.thedynastycuisine.com/home.

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