Year of the Snake -- Happy Year of the Snake
Sierra Lodestar 01/30/13

Foothill Flavors

Let’s hear it loud and clear: Haaaappy Snake!

By Antoinette May Herndon

Maybe you thought that Baby New Year safely into training pants, the celebrating was over. Think again. Hiss! Slither, slither. Don’t look now, but we’re about to enter the Year of the Snake.

Feb. 4, the first day of 2013 Chinese astrological year, ushers in this festive season with the actual New Year’s Day on Feb. 10.

According to Chinese astrologers, the snake is seen as keen, cunning, and wise. Sounds good to me!

Are you a snake? Most certainly, if you were born in 1917, 1929, 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989 or 2001. Count yourself among smart, crafty ones if born in one of those years.

Chinese New Year is a joyous time, a season of gift giving and parties, feasts and families. Celebrants also give their houses a thorough cleaning to sweep away any ill-fortune and clear space for incoming luck. The new year is a time to reconcile, forget grudges and sincerely wish peace and happiness to all.

What better time to celebrate the diverse traditions of good food first introduced to the foothills some 160 years ago?

Now as then, noodles— symbolizing long life and good health—are a mainstay. Rice is also popular—a perfect foil to the chilli and spices, garlic and shallots that contribute to the distinction of Chinese cuisine. The cooking style is based on opposites—hot balances cold, pickled counters fresh and spicy defies mild.

In traditional Chinese cultures, chopsticks are used, but local restaurants are forgiving with forks at the ready. Navigating an Oriental bistro say seem at first like a foreign affair, almost a travel adventure. But you don’t need a passport—much less a say it in Chinese tip sheet, but there’s still the excitement of a new and exotic place where nothing is quite as you expect it to be.

Here are a few favourites:

FUSION GRILL-there’s a fun sense of theatre about the Fusion Grill in Valley Springs. Though menus are available, most patron opt for the buffet where a long line of offerings span the length of the room. At one end, each person hands her or his bowl of goodies to the chef who pours the contents onto a fiery hot slab, stirs several times and then scoops the food and juices back into a bowl.

The menu says “all you can eat” and you’ll want to try everything—it all looks so good. My suggestion is take your time, but don’t miss the lamb. It’s really yummy.

GOOD FRIENDS RESTAURANT—is a tad mysterious despite its location. A taste of the exotic east in “down town” Valley Springs. I love the Shanghai 1930s ambience.

The menu is complex—wait and see. As in many Chinese restaurants, the more people, the more food. It all looks and tastes good and the price is surely right. They must do it on volume because there’s no skimping on portions.

Whatever chef Michael Wong is doing, he’s doing right. The Good Friends is family run—and run they do. The staff is friendly, fast and efficient. The Wongs have being doing a good thing more than right for nearly 20 years.

DRAGON PALACE— I love to eat at this San Andreas bistro. No matter long it’s been since my last visit, Su Kong knows me and remembers what I like. Her lovely smile lights up the room.

For some reason, my special favourite isn’t on the menu. You have to ask for the Hot and Spicy Eggplant. I suggest you do. It’s delicious. The Cheese Wonton is good too, lush and rich with a warm, crispy casing.

I like the restaurant’s ambience too. The décor has that traditional Chinese grace and subtle excitement enhanced by exotic hanging lanterns. Dragons, dragons everywhere. And you know how lucky they’re supposed.

PANDA— The food here is authentic Chinese. Don’t go there if you don’t want to eat oriental, because there’s nothing else on the menu—but the management still caters to a

Caucasian clientele. There’s nary a chopstick in sight.

The Chinese décor at Panda is mood enhancing with dark lacquered tables, paper lantern chandeliers and oriental artwork. Service in the Martell eatery is immediately attentive. Mu Shu Shrimp is a winner. Service is fast, friendly and efficient.

THE GOLDEN WOK— goldfish glide about a large fish tank, pausing often to look out reflectively. The atmosphere at the Golden Wok is pleasantly low-keyed. Lighting is dim, classical music plays softly in the background.

Though there’s an extensive menu, most opt for the buffet. I found the bacon wrapped in sausage a highlight also zucchini fried in batter. An excellent won ton soup is offered with the buffet. Don’t miss it. Steamed dumplings are popular, also sweet and sour pork and chicken with garlic sauce. Tsingtao beer is a good complement.

Here’s wishing you a Gung Hay Fat. I hope your Year of the Snake is off the happy slither.


Fusion Grill, 1906 Vista del Lago Dr., Valley Springs. Phone: 772-1182. Open daily from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. ` The Dragon Palace, 314 East St. Charles St., San Andreas. Phone: 754-3867. Both mandarin and szechuan food are served from 11 a.m. until 9 p.m. every day but Monday.

Good Friends Restaurant, at the corner of highways 12 and 26, but the official address is 9 California St., Valley Springs. Phone: 772-0888. Open daily from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Panda, 12300 Martell Rd., Martell. Phone: 223-3474.. Open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. for lunch. Dinner is from 5 to 9 p.m.

Golden Wok, 11984 Hwy. 88, Jackson. Phone; 223-1476. Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, Sunday from 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Closed Monday.

No cocktails served, but an excellent line of oriental beers and a wine list available. Credit cards accepted by all.