Thanks for the comments. I just realized that they were getting "blocked" by my account, but feel free to post - they should be working fine now.
After two messages, one plane trip (!) and three voicemails, I got my first lunch scheduled - for a half-hour. Hurray! (Anyone I actually know: if you'd like to be part of any additional trips, please email me to schedule a time.)
Review: Chin's Kitchen, 1533 Larpenteur Ave West, St Paul
It's hard to find authentic Chinese restaurants in the Twin Cities, but Chin's Kitchen is one of them. It's even harder to find a Taiwanese restaurant in the area (with the exception of Evergreen on Nicollet Avenue), but Chin's Kitchen is that, too.
Like most Chinese restaurants, Chin's Kitchen has a full dine-in menu with chow mein, but the real deal is on the back page. "Hot dishes" and "cold dishes" are both labeled in Chinese and English. I tried favorites that the majority of people I had talked to had recommended to me.
First up was the seaweed salad ($2.40). Taiwanese seaweed salads are unlike Japanese seaweed salad (bright green, stringy) in that they are darker in color. While some seaweed salads feature thick strands of seaweed tied in knots, this salad was cut in thin, smooth strips. The texture worked well with the flavor, which was pleasantly more "garlicky" than soy-based, but did not overpower the actual seaweed taste. The assorted roasted sampler ($6.35) contains this as well as some other appetizers and was generally very good over my trips.
Next was the beef stew ($5.70). Chin's Kitchen is known among family friends for its soups, so I didn't exactly need a repeat visit for this. I ordered it anyway. That said, it was excellent. Note that unlike American beef stew (read: biscuits and thick stew), this beef stew is more of a soup. The texture of the noodles was wide enough and hearty for the stronger flavor of the beef broth, and the beef was pre-cut in manageable pieces. Carmelized onions also added to the flavor.
I custom-ordered the pork stew (above photo, $5.70), the beef stew's equivalent, with rice noodles (a popular option) instead of the typical wide noodles or rice. It also came with an additional five-spice egg, a traditional Taiwanese appetizer. While the staff was flexible enough to accomodate me, changing the noodles probably was not a good idea on my part. The rice noodles absorbed nearly all the soup, making it more delicately flavored than it needed to be. However, on a later visit, the pork stew was rather tasty over rice. The egg was nicely flavored.
Finally, I went to the extreme: I went off the menu. That is, I asked the owner about any new dishes that would soon be on the menu. She came back with a large bowl of a traditional Taiwanese recipe she was trying out. I recognized it as a soup that my mother made. Pronounced "bah gay" (nasal "n" overtone on the "gay" sound), the dish consists of pork covered with fish paste, then boiled in a shiitake mushroom-black pepper soup with Napa cabbage. Chin's took a different route - while they did the same thing, they also boiled taro and ginger (both roots) together for their soup base. The ginger flavor was particularly strong and added a heated flavor to the soup without making it sour (a problem that can occur when making it). I'm not sure when this will be added to the menu, but I ordered a bowl home for the road.
Chin's isn't made to be a banquet facility, but it does offer authentic homestyle Taiwanese food - a rare occurence. Portions are also generous, especially at the price. The restaurant also offers a take-out, but not with the more Chinese menu. However, if you asked, it probably would be fine with the friendly staff. If not, go for the juicy potstickers (10 for $6.00). One particular pro is that the bottom of each is evenly browned.
Did you know?
"Smarties [the British, Nestle equivalent to M&M's] are oblate spheroids with a minor axis of about 5 mm and a major axis of about 15 mm." - Wikipedia
This fact just needed to be heard because I have never used the phrase "oblate spheroids" before (hello to all math teachers!). And despite having collected M&M dispensers for fourteen years of my life, I have never measured an M&M nor Smartie...so I'm impressed.