Home-Style Chinese Cooking
My yen for Chinese food does not compare with my desire for the fresh, pure, healthy feel of Vietnamese and Thai cuisine. But my daughter said she had been to Cate Zone on Olive in U City. “It will remind you of what we ate in China during the 80s,” she said excitedly. I knew that was her way of telling me it was authentic Chinese food, unlike much of what we’ve tampered with here in the states.
So Cyndy and I headed out to what is the area’s Chinatown with its long row of Asian restaurants and groceries. We walked into the neat-as-a-pin cafe located just a stone’s throw from the fabulous Soup Dumpling, where I’d eaten a few weeks earlier.
Chinese diners filled most of the tables, which I took as a sign that we had made a good choice. I had heard of long waits during the noon hour. But it was near one o’clock on Tuesday and by then there were several vacancies. We took the advice of our server and the gals at the next table before placing our orders.
We got the Three Vegetables in Brown Sauce (eggplant, potatoes and bell peppers), which turned out to be quite flavorful. The peanut-sesame sauce on the Clear Noodles and Vegetables was stellar, but it didn’t adhere to the noodles as nicely as I would’ve liked. The Cumin Lamb was outstanding, slightly crisp and very tender. The Hot Crisp Fish would have to wait for another day, as would the Sweet and Sour Pork.
Looking about the room, I saw others being served fragrant and photogenic dishes. I was tempted to ask if I could take a picture of their food or, at least, get the name of the dishes. Thirty years ago when I was in China, testing my travel Mandarin, I often used the phrase: “Wǒ kěyǐ pāi nǐ de zhàopiàn ma?” meaning, “May I take your picture?” My request usually got a laugh, I suspect because of my faulty pronunciation.
Happily, the chatty Chinese women next to us were quite helpful in describing what they were eating in flawless English. They spoke glowingly of the Honey Crisp Sweet Potatoes, that had been dipped in batter, deep fried, then caramelized, and topped with spun sugar.
Meet Quincy Lin and Team
I learned that our server was co-owner Quincy Lin, 31, from northeast China in the Manchurian area, where the bleakness of the climate makes for hearty fare. He was a student before teaming up with Daniel Ma and chef Yuming Han. (I’d say a chef whose first name is “Yum” is destined for success.) These guys know that people far from their homeland (especially students) want comforting, home-style meals and that’s what they’ve been dishing up since they opened a year ago.
What’s in a Name?
I learned that the name Cate Zone was a mistranslation from Mandarin to English. The owners wanted the name to mean “a place for delicious food,” but as they say, something was lost in the translation. By the time they figured that out, the tee shirts and logo had been ordered. Oh, well, at least, the name is easy to pronounce and memorable, unlike some local restaurants.
You might say, I fell in love with Chinese cuisine all over again. This is the real thing, bursting with flavor and heat—if you want it that way. Whatever the name, this is a “place for delicious food”—especially on a chilly, fall day.
Cate Zone Chinese Cafe, 8148 Olive in University City. Open: Mon-Fri 11a-3p; 5p-9p; Sat & Sun 11a-9p.