- PHOTO BY ROB BARTLETT
6700 Conroy Road | 407-522-8688 | magicwokonline.com | $$
The husband-and-wife tandem behind Magic Wok has toiled in relative anonymity for the better part of a decade at the Shoppes at Winder Oaks. The fact that their restaurant’s facade and marquee scream STRIP MALL CHINESE JOINT has surely helped it fly under the radar, but its proximity to Dr. Phillips and Isleworth means pro golfers, pro ballers and Jackie “The Queen of Versailles” Siegel are among the cadre of in-the-know patrons who’ve enjoyed Magic Wok’s brand of American Chinese and traditional Shanghainese cuisine.
We learned all this while chatting with a group of friendly folks seated at the table next to us. Immediately recognizing my dining comrade and me as newbies, they proceeded to sing the praises of “chef” George and his wife, Nina Xie (who also happened to be the only server-host on duty), then proclaimed they knew, or had met, everyone currently dining in the restaurant. Now there couldn’t have been more than 10 tables in the place, but still, it was an impressive boast. Outside the Conroy-Turkey Lake corridor, the place is practically unknown, but that seems to suit these regulars just fine.
Eager to sample the saucy numbers that typify the cuisine of China’s largest city, we duly returned the first menu Nina presented and asked instead for the menu listing the authentic Shanghai dishes. (We recommend you do the same.) Nina was more than happy to help us navigate the bill of fare and offer recommendations, though we were bent on commencing this MSG-free affair with a heap of “preserved tofu with odor” ($7), otherwise known as stinky tofu. The malodor of the deep-fried squares belied their pleasing flavor, and oh how it belied that flavor! Luckily, the restaurant wasn’t full as we dipped the noxious blocks in hot sauce and devoured them; had a few more patrons been seated in the intimate dining room, the offensive smell would’ve necessitated a to-go order.
Conversely, the aroma of the broth containing pork belly with preserved vegetables ($13) was as pleasing as the stinky tofu’s was abhorrent. The belly was soft and plush, yes, but the sauce, thickened with fermented Chinese greens, was superbly comforting. Shanghai-style rice cakes ($10) threw us for a loop. These weren’t the crackling rounds of condensed puffed rice we half-expected, but tube-like rice noodles – thick-cut and chewy – mixed with chicken, scallions and celery in a slick sauce. While the stir-fry was nice, it didn’t compare to the beef chow fun ($10), which knocked us over with its heady wok-fired fragrance. Yes, it’s more of a Cantonese/Hong Kong specialty, but these noodles were Tasty Wok-worthy. The Shanghai-style crispy duck ($16) isn’t as glossy, coated or honeyed as its more glamorous Peking counterpart, but each bite of the steamed-then-fried fowl embodied the unadulterated flavor of duck, which we loved. It came simply served with a small plate of hoisin and that’s it.
Stuffed to the hilt, we fought ordering dessert, then caved in. Inexplicably, we ended up polishing off each and every fried banana ball ($6) circling two Chinese almond cookies. Nina came by with a look on her face that seemed to say, “Yes, I knew you would be pleased with that,” before handing us the check. We looked around at the others in the restaurant, then realized what they’ve known for a long time – you’re best to just sit back, relax and let George and Nina weave their magic.