A steady, slick snow was falling as my wife and I drove into Taunton in search of some good Chinese.

There are few things more comforting on a bone-deep cold day than carbo-loading with way too much rice.

We were having lunch at Hong Kong City, a landmark Asian restaurant that’s also home to the Roseland Function Hall.

I’ve written before about my quest to find a great classic sit-down Chinese restaurant to call my own. Takeout joints we have by the score — some good, others just fine. But what I really dig is a Chinese-American restaurant in the mold of Kowloon or Fall River’s long-lamented China Royal. My criteria include decor that finds the line between tacky and tasteful, then erases that line — subcategories include guardian lion statues (at least a few of them), a Buddha (this is non-negotiable), and placemats that include the Chinese zodiac.

The building’s oddly shaped, arched-roofed exterior resembles a small arena from the outside, and is a bright yellow that stood out against the landscape. Once inside, a hostess led us to a booth inside what seemed like an absurdly spacious dining room with screens for privacy.

The decor is warm and rich in browns and golds, and I was pleased to find right off the bat a Buddha statue and the zodiac placemats — so far, so good.

We sat caught a strong whiff of cigarette smoke. I’m old enough to remember when that was normal, just how restaurants smelled. But over the years I’ve grown fond of never having to face cigarette stink while eating. Cigarettes reek.

It being just about lunch time, we had little company in the place — if there were other diners there, they were well-hidden, which isn’t difficult since the dining room was huge. Two cigarette lighters fell out of our waiter’s pocket, so Sherlock Holmes over here cleverly deduced the source of the cigarette smell, but I forgave him when he brought over a pot of hot tea without my even asking for it — it’s like he read my mind.

The tobacco stink began to fade and the tea did its magic, warming us up after braving the cold outside.

For those who prefer a little alcoholic warmth, there’s a fully stocked bar with liquor, wine, beers including Sapporo, Asahi and Tsingtao, and sake served warm. They also feature an extensive selection of fruity booze bevvies like the Scorpion Bowl and the Suffering Bastard, many with cutesy descriptions that I found pretty awesome: the Zombie (“a real thriller”), Sex on the Beach (“tantalize your taste buds”), the Pearl Harbor (“an explosive mixture,” a phrasing some might find questionable).

Hong Kong City, like almost all Chinese restaurants you’ll find, depends heavily on Chinese-American favorites. There’s also an extensive sushi menu and a handful of Thai dishes to add variety. Starters include the usual stuff like egg rolls ($4.50), crab Rangoon ($8) and every 7-year-old’s favorite, the pu-pu platter ($21). There were also a few surprises like suan la chow show, bean sprouts with wontons in a spicy garlic sauce ($7.25) and pai huang gua, cucumber with parsley, red pepper, garlic, vinegar and soy sauce ($6.50).

On the Japanese side, a few more memorable choices include the tako su, or boiled octopus ($6.50), and the Hawaii salad with cucumber, pineapple and roe ($9).

We opted to start with a tidbits sampler ($11), with chicken teriyaki, barbecue ribs, chicken wings and crab Rangoon.

Our server brought it over shortly — one of the very few times we’d see the fellow — and we had at it. There was plenty of stuff here for two, as we traded off flavorful, meaty ribs and tender chicken teriyaki. The crab Rangoons possessed a pleasant smokiness and were packed with creamy filling.

A number of entrees drew our attention, like the lemon shrimp ($15), twice-cooked pork ($10.50) and Peking duck ($20).

And there are noodle dishes like lo mein from $8.50 to $9, pad Thai, udon and chow foon with different proteins and sauces from $10 to $14. But having taken a swing through Chinatown for the starter we decided to visit Little Tokyo for the main course.

My wife picked the unagi don ($13), a simple dish of rice and eel that’s one of her favorites. I mulled over the various combos and sushi boats (ranging from $16 to $50 for a two-person sushi cruise liner), rolled sushi like the negihama maki with yellowtail and scallion ($5.50) or the Alaskan maki with salmon, cucumber and avocado ($6.50).

To see how they’d handle the basics, I picked a spicy sushi combo of tuna, salmon and yellowtail ($15), and chose a specialty roll of Taunton maki ($14), stuffed with with eel tempura, roe and cucumber, topped with torched salmon.

After a bit, the table was laden with dishes. My wife’s unagi don was fairly small, in a cute lacquer box with a side of pickled carrots. But it was deceptively filling, with plenty of eel in a sweet sauce and rice that was well cooked and appropriately sticky.

The spicy rolls I ordered were well-formed and not hair-raisingly spicy, with firm, fresh chunks of tuna and yellowtail. There were 18 of them, and I quickly made them vanish.

The Taunton maki was lusciously presented, laden with a savory sauce. The salmon on top was evenly cooked and bright pink, and biting into each piece was a delight, with a satisfying crunch from the eel and cucumber.

By the time I reached the final two pieces on my plate I was stuffed — I could feel the rice expanding in my belly, and I had to pretend it was a good idea to eat them.

As I was polishing them off, our server brought over the check — a decent $53 before tax and tip — without asking if I wanted dessert. I was starting to ache from fullness but I still wanted to try my best.

Ah well — no visit to an Asian restaurant is complete without fried ice cream for dessert, so let’s just consider this incomplete. Maybe another time.

 

 

Check out previous Dine Out reviews below