1753 Orchard Park Road, West Seneca, NY 14224
Web: Chang's Garden of West Seneca
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Chinese West Seneca Williamsville
"The West Seneca location of Chang's Garden is a fine, if inconvenient alternative that comes close to capturing the same quality and spirit of the original on Maple Road."
If Chinese food becomes passe in Western New York, as it very well might, we will blame the disappearance of truly classy Chinese restaurants - the once-great Chang's Garden and Rita's Crystal Palace amongst them - for that sad state of affairs. In other cities, Chinese chefs face competition from increasingly popular Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese and Korean venues, but they've kept patrons interested by developing separate, specialized Chinese barbecue, seafood, and regional restaurants. For whatever reason, these newer, better, and frequently classier sorts of Chinese places just haven't opened here, and instead, local Chinese restauranteurs have opted to try their hand at inauthentic hibachi and sushi restaurants instead. Thus, we now have a glut of mediocre new Japanese places, and if you want a high-quality Chinese meal, you either compromise on ambience (see, e.g., Sun Garden) or drive elsewhere. Like Rochester's Cantonese House. Fort Erie's Ming Teh. Or West Seneca's... Chang's Garden?
We're not rating or formally reviewing Chang's Garden of West Seneca yet, because we don't totally understand yet what's going on with this place, which sits right on the border of West Seneca and Orchard Park. In name, logo, decor, and to some extent in menu, it is a doppleganger for the Williamsville Chang's Garden that declined from beloved to inconsistent to burnt-down. Yet when we asked the West Seneca location's maitre d' whether (a) the restaurants were related, (b) the Williamsville location was coming back, and (c) there was a Northern Style Chinese menu - the only part that was conspicuously missing from the other location's offerings - he shrugged and seemed not to understand or care. It was like a Twilight Zone episode, minus the excitement and the twist ending.
Since we wanted to get some sense of whether there was any commonality between the places, we went straight for a somewhat unique menu item that we remembered from Williamsville: the Shrimp & Pork Hunan Style ($14), a specialty dish that was half shrimp in spicy chili sauce, and half pork in black bean sauce. Not surprisingly, this location's version looked identical to the one we used to order, down to the plating, and the taste was very close, too; the chili sauce wasn't quite as strong, but it was the same dish. Perhaps not the same chef, but certainly the same cookbook.
Other items we tried, such as six Steamed Dumplings ($4.25), filled with pork and vegetables, and served with a strong soy dipping sauce, a Hot and Sour Soup ($1.35), and a lunch-sized Beef with Broccoli plate ($5) were reasonably priced and every bit as good as we'd hoped. None were standouts in any way, but they were all satisfying enough that we'd return again to try more from the menu - and we plan to do so. When that happens, we'll update this into a full review.
At some point, we'll hopefully find out what's really going on with the former Williamsville location of Chang's. Until then, the West Seneca location is a fine, if inconvenient alternative that comes close to capturing the same quality and spirit.
Updated: Business First reports that the former Williamsville location of Chang's will been taken over by Eastern Pearl, a new gourmet Chinese restaurant with a planned opening by February 2009. The new management apparently runs three restaurants in Binghamton and a buffet in Depew. We're seriously looking forward to seeing how this one shakes out; fingers are crossed for dim sum and a truly great menu.