By Bonnie Williamson
Most of us have tried Chinese food at some point in our lives. You order from a menu, have take out or sit down in the restaurant to eat. If you’ve tried a Japanese steakhouse, the chef puts on a show as your food is cooked on a hibachi surface.
Well, at Chopsticks, located at 212 Eagle School Road in Martinsburg, you can literally create your own show. Chopsticks opened in June.
My husband Stephen and I entered the spacious establishment after the lunch rush with preconceived notions about what to expect. We both love Chinese food and anticipated a good meal and quick service. You order from a menu and get your food, right? Wrong!
The restaurant is owned by Susan Yaling Chen and her husband, Yong Dong, who is also the master chef. She said we had the choice of ordering pre-done selections from the menu OR going for the Custom Bowl from the Mongolian Grill.
This was a totally unique offering for me. I almost fell into the more conservative choice of sticking to the menu, but the Custom Bowl was such a different way to go, Stephen and I went for it.
Susan handed us a little card to fill out with our table number, any allergies we might have and choices listed on the back of different rices and/or noodles. She then directed us to the front of the restaurant where a wide assortment of foods are on display to fill our bowls.
Stephen was definitely impressed. “They take pride in healthy and fresh food. You make your own bowl (pretty much anything you wish to have) and it costs less than $9. Even after the lunch rush, all the veggies looked farm fresh and the meats were all first quality and looked (and tasted) very good.”
I filled my bowl with shrimp, carrots, water chestnuts, bean sprouts and onions. You then fill small bowls with the sauces you would like. I went for sesame sauce and garlic sauce. I picked white rice and flat noodles to go with it. You then hand your bowl over so the food can be cooked. Stephen picked beef and a variety of vegetables to be served with the Chopsticks house sauce.
We then returned to the table, waiting to be served, which took no time at all.
I was fascinated with the unusual bowl my dish came in. The bowl is red, a good size and tilts slightly downward. I was also taken with the food. Fresh, light, delicious.
“The bowl is tilted to keep the food hotter. It keeps the steam on it,” Susan says. “It’s red because that is considered a lucky color in China.” The portion was just enough food for me, but Susan had other ideas.
She asked what appetizers we would like so we ordered Harumaki, two crispy fried Japanese vegetable spring rolls; Gyoza, six pan fried Japanese pork dumplings; and Shrimp Tempura, lightly tempura batter fried shrimp. Different sauces came with each. Everything was tasty but, being a shrimp lover from way back, the Shrimp Tempura was my favorite. It was so flavorful and yummy. Appetizers can range from $3 to $4.99.
And the food kept coming. Susan wanted us to try the Sushi. The Sushi menu has pictures next to each item to let customers know if the dish is raw or cooked. A fish drawing means raw, a little bowl picture means cooked. Susan said Crunchy Shrimp and Crunchy Chicken are customer favorites.
The battered shrimp is wrapped and topped with spicy mayo and eel sauce. The chicken is breaded and topped with Tempura crunch, spicy mayo and eel sauce. We also ordered the West Virginia Express, salmon, cream cheese, crabmeat and jalapeño, batter fried with special sauces; White Tuna Avocado, Escolar, white tuna and avocado sprinkled with sesame; and the Shaggy Dog Roll, crunchy shrimp inside topped with crabmeat, eel sauce and spicy mayo. Sushi can range in price from $8.50 to $25.95, depending upon the number of pieces ordered.
Susan soon returned with a bowl of hot and sour soup, created by her husband, consisting of chicken based broth with pork, mushroom, wood ear, bamboo, pickled radish and tofu. The soup was accompanied by the Sushi, which almost looked too pretty to eat. The presentation was exquisite.
Stephen was particularly fond of the West Virginia Express.
“It was a good mixture of spicy and mild with the jalapeños and cream cheese,” he says.
There was so much food we just couldn’t eat it all.
“Needless to say, we brought several take out containers home with us,” Stephen adds.
A variety of soups and salads are on the menu. Soups include onion soup and miso soup, a soy based broth with onion, tofu and seaweed.
The salad choices include cucumber salad, crab meat salad and seaweed salad. Other appetizers are dragon fingers, breaded jalapeños stuffed with spicy crab meat and cream cheese; fried calamari rings breaded and deep fried; and Crab Rangoon, deep fried wonton with crabmeat, onion and cream cheese.
Desserts, which we were too full to try, included fried ice cream, triple chocolate pie, key-lime pie, cheesecake and strawberry sundae pie. Wine, beer and sake are available along with a variety of sodas and juices. There is also a kid’s menu with meals at $6.99. They include Lo Mei or rice to go with cheese sticks, deep fried in Mozzarella cheese; Chicken Katsu or Shrimp Tempura.
Chopsticks has eight cooks and about 10 servers. Most of the employees are family members.
Susan, who is originally from mainland China, came to California when she was 15 years old. She eventually ended up in New York City to help her sister in the restaurant business. She came to West Virginia in 2003 and worked in the Great Wall restaurant in Charles Town owned by her husband’s family.
“I learned a lot. We had many regular customers over the years. I just wanted to make food healthier. Cook it in a different way,” she says. She and her husband sold the Great Wall last summer.
“We work seven days a week. It can be a challenge, but we want to make sure things are done right,” she says.
Chopsticks is open Monday to Thursday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Sunday noon to 10 p.m. Take out orders are also possible.
For more information, call 304-262-8888.