Perhaps no other cuisine in this country has veered away from the roots of authenticity more than Chinese food, but that hasn't quelled our nation's desire to chow down on chop suey, General Tso's chicken and sweet-and-sour pork. Fact is, Americanized Chinese food is here to stay and will likely never be supplanted by the real thing ' sticky chicken feet and fried pregnant smelt may be a little too daring for most palates. If it's authenticity you crave, head to Ming's Bistro, Chinatown Seafood or Tasty Wok downtown. Otherwise, Chinese restaurants like Lake Mary's Shàn Asian Cuisine will continue to sprout all over the city in an effort to sustain what may arguably be America's national cuisine. Sure, Shàn distinguishes itself from others of its kind with an attractive interior of dark woods, cozy booths and white-linen tables, as well as enormous, aesthetically plated portions, but if it's not nearby, is there a compelling reason to make the drive? Not really. In a word, the overall experience here was unremarkable, though it was somewhat amusing to hear our delightful waitress tell us that the chefs (all of whom are Chinese) cook authentic Chinese cuisine, and then to see items such as fish Florentine and Buffalo chicken wings on the menu.
So I opted for the Shàn chicken ($7) to start, a dish that promised to be 'extra hot and spicy.â?� It wound up being extra fried and awful, even though the menu said the crumbly nuggets were to be sautéed. Lettuce wraps ($9) with minced chicken met expectations, while the spare ribs ($8), four meaty slabs slathered in a sweet honey-soy sauce, were a top-notch gnaw. I also sampled the vegetarian hot-and-sour soup ($3), which proved to be too vinegary for my liking. From the sizable sushi menu, the spicy tuna kobachi ($7) masked inferior-grade tuna cubes with spices and hot sesame oil.
As expected, entrees are plentiful, encompassing beef, chicken, pork and seafood, not to mention the requisite noodle dishes. The plate of Cantonese pan-fried noodles ($20), one of the 'chef's specialties,â?� was wonderfully sauced and came with enough beef, chicken and shrimp to feed a pair of famished diners. Red peppers, bok choy and shiitake mushrooms provided a little color and texture to the thin noodles, though they quickly lost their crisp. If it weren't for the overly unctuous broth, the beef roasted chili ($16) might have actually satisfied. As it stood, the braised filets were drowned in oil, rendering the dish virtually impossible to finish.
On the sweeter side, mango mousse ($7.50) served in a latte glass was a complete failure, given the absence of any moussey consistency. The dessert came (inadvertently) frozen ' and eating crumbly, partially ossified mousse bits is no way to end a meal. (On a previous visit, it should be mentioned, the dessert was flawlessly executed and properly served.) Soft, spongy chocolate lava cake ($7.50) was eye-rollingly good, however. (If you're wondering about the lofty prices for these confections, it's because they're all made from scratch at the Patisserie Bakery Cafe next door. The pastry shop was once run by Shàn's owners, but has since been sold to new owners.)
The space's previous tenants, Jinja Asian Café, placed a focus on frippery instead of the fare, and it seems the trend has carried forward to Shàn. If problems with kitchen consistency and food quality aren't remedied, Shàn's fledgling dynasty may meet an unfortunate demise.