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Over the last few months, I’ve noticed more and more businesses going under in Virginia Beach.  Strip malls that used to boast a full compliment of stores are now littered with unoccupied spaces.  It’s understandable I might be a little shocked to find a new Chinese restaurant sprouting up in one of the Hilltop Shopping Centers.  Located in Hilltop between the Verizon store and Kinkos, China Wok has decided to open for business.

If you know Hilltop proper and have lived here for many years, you know Mei Zhen has been king of the Chinese Restaurant hill in this upscale series of strip malls.  Not only is their food really good, but they remember their long-time and frequent customers.  Being a big fan of good customer service, I find this particularly attractive.

A few years ago another competitor, No. 1 Buffet entered the mix.  I loved Mei Zhen, but No. 1 offered a buffet with new dishes I was particularly fond of.  With No. 1 I could take a little of everything and bring home a Chinese feast, making it a worthy addition to the area.

Is there really room for China Wok in an already saturated market?  Here’s a look at my pros and cons:

PROS:

China Wok has a web site.  The only reason I placed an order was I remembered their name from a trip back from the 7-11 and found their web site easily through Google.  I could have thrown another TV dinner in the microwave, but since I had an interactive menu that was easy to use I made the decision to order in.  They also have coupons on their web site, which allows you to use your credit card online or gives you the option to call in with your credit card number for those uncomfortable with internet purchases.  If you decide to use the online coupon, you’ll need to call in with your credit card as there is no coupon number to reference on the payment page.

China Wok delivers.  It’s been a while since I’ve had a Chinese restaurant I liked close enough to deliver so I wanted to investigate.  They do charge $1.75 extra much like the local pizza establishments, which is in addition to your driver’s tip.  My delivery driver this night was a cheery young woman with great energy.

China Wok is open a half hour later than my two favorites, Mei Zhen and No. 1 Buffet.

The food at China Wok has a little lighter feel to it.  Most Chinese food has a bevy of sturdy flavors and is a little heavy and sticky when it goes back in the microwave for meal 2 (I usually get three meals out of a normal entree).  Both my sweet and sour chicken (with fried rice as opposed to the white rice on the menu) and bourbon chicken nuked real well for meal 2.  Their take-out menu claims they use 100% vegetable oil, but I don’t know if that’s any different from anyone else because I know nothing about cooking.

I absolutely LOVED the Wonton soup.  There is a very specific flavor of Wonton soup I enjoyed as a child and I have yet to come across it until China Wok.

CONS:

Unfortunately, it wasn’t an entirely pleasant meal.  I had some issues trying to explain there was no coupon number on their internet coupons (there is a place to put a coupon number in their online order area).  I finally gave up and said I would give the printed numberless coupon to the delivery driver.  It’s a waste of paper, but until someone can express that in a better fashion than I did, I guess it will stay that way.

The rest of the food was a disaster.  I ordered the Fantail Shrimp and an egg roll, of which neither had been cooked long enough.  There was uncooked dough batter next to the shrimp when you pulled the tempura off (which I found out AFTER biting into it).  When I pulled off the tempura batter to investigate (most of this appetizer was tempura batter) I noticed the shrimp actually looked like the top little tail that usually gets thrown out with the shell, all smashed out to take up more room as opposed to the big, full shrimp I was used to at Mei Zhen.  Needless to say, the shrimp appetizer went into the trash.  On the good side, the uncooked bite I did eat didn’t make me sick.

I tested the egg roll before biting into it, but while it seemed hot enough, I could taste that “not cooked all the way” flavor you get after something has been defrosted or sitting around in the refrigerator too long.  Most of it wound up in the trash too.

While the sweet and sour chicken had batter on it, I think the fact the pieces were smaller kept it from a similar fate.  The sweet and sour sauce wasn’t as remarkable as I was used to, but less sugar is probably healthier.  If you’re a fan of the sauce, they gave enough for two sweet and sour entrees.  I don’t know if that was a mistake or they haven’t figured out how much is needed for that sized portion. In this area they missed the mark.

I debated whether to call them back and let them know how badly things had been cooked.  They may have just been trying to get it to me quickly, but undercooked food is not a plus for someone with no domestic skills.  I finally reasoned customer feedback is important to a new business, so I did let them know it would be better for the fried food to be a deeper golden brown and let them know the two appetizers had gone to waste.  They thanked me for my input, but didn’t offer any type of compensation.  Good customer service is essential to customer retention and more importantly a huge requirement in an establishment I’m going to patronize.

China Wok is not very conveniently located.  If you live at the oceanfront, you have to come down Laskin and catch the service road at First Colonial which is one of the more annoying features of that group of shops.  One has to drive all the way down to Borders and drive back up through the parking lot to where their strip of shops is.

None of the restaurants previously located in that space have done very well. If I could give them a tip as a new business, I’d recommend they get a professional Feng Shui consult.  Every little bit helps.

After my experience, I can’t see making a return visit when I’ve got two perfectly good Chinese restaurants I love so close by.  Undercooked food and lack of concern for the customer’s welfare would normally preclude them from my playlist, however, the Wonton soup WAS really good and they are a brand new business. I may take another look in a few months if they are still there.

China Wok
The Marketplace at Hilltop
729 First Colonial Road, Suite 102
Virginia Beach, VA
Phone: 422-8207, 422-8208
Web Site: http://www.chinawokva.com

Hours of Operation:
Monday through Thursday 11:00 a.m. – 10:30 p.m.
Friday and Saturday 11:00 a.m. – 11:00 p.m.
Sunday 12:00 noon – 10:00 p.m.

I am a child of the 60s.  I grew up in an era when almost everyone had a good job, their own home and health insurance that was completely paid for by their employer (including dental, eye and prescription coverage).  Our gas was less than $1.00 a gallon and our families took one to two week vacations at the beach or camping.  It was a special event as we got to spend entire days with our families just to enjoy one another.  The formative years of our childhood were about peace and love.  We watched our heroes stand up for social change, only to be shot down one-by-one by those who feared it.

My generation made a mess of our world.  In the 60s, it was love, peace and happiness.  In the 70s, we learned how to embrace greed and materialism.  In the 80s, we got complacent and allowed the government to give the financial keys to the kingdom to Wall Street and the banks.  In the 90s, we allowed the government to give our jobs away to impoverished countries so the board members of our corporations could become even bigger multi-millionaires.

In our first decade of this century, we allowed the government to completely pull the wool over our eyes as we engaged in a war over oil and gave away billions of dollars to the already rich.  Then we wondered why we lost everything.  We were asleep.  This is the mess we left as a legacy to our children.

I live in Virginia Beach because in the 90s, the town I grew up in became too expensive to live in any longer.  My research showed that Virginia Beach (in the 90s) cost less in every way, shape and form to live so I moved without a job to the area to make a way for myself and my son.  I rationalized at the time that even though we couldn’t afford vacations as a single parent family, at least we’d have the beach.  It has been our home for over a decade.

There are many things about Virginia Beach that are wonderful. There are also darker sides to our city’s government, school system and police force.  I’m not shy about pointing those things out either.  I hope to reveal both sides of my city, the jewel in the 7 city area known as Hampton Roads, in future blogs.

I am a lone Democrat in a city full of hypnotically programmed Republicans. The obvious question being if I dislike so much about the city, why do I stay? Because it’s my home and most people defend their home from negative influences.  You can’t do that if you’re living somewhere else.

Change is coming. Whether it’s for the worst or the better is up to us. What we allow with our complacency is what will consume us. Let us help to make a better world – a world similar to the one we grew up in with a roof over every head and a chicken in every pot. We DO have the ability to do this. We just have to care enough and be bold enough to speak up when others try to “run the table.” Let us be bold enough to fix the mistakes we made, and then left to our children.