|Steamed whole striped bass with ginger and scallion at Lotus Cafe.|
Lotus Cafe -- a small, unassuming Chinese restaurant tucked away in a shopping center in Hackensack -- is approaching its 20th anniversary and still delivering simply prepared food that is both fresh and delicious.
|A simple spinach and tofu soup with spicy chili oil.|
On Saturday night, we ordered soup, seafood and vegetables from the a la carte menu, but we could have chosen the Dinner for Four from Lotus Cafe's Special Price-Fixed Dinner and Banquet Menu.
A six-course meal for four is $66, plus tip and tax. Other multi-course dinners are for six or eight people, and there are two 12-course banquets for 10 ($238 and $288, plus tip and tax).
Lotus Cafe is a BYO, and the opening of a chain Chinese restaurant, P.F. Chang's, in the upscale Shops at Riverside a few hundred yards away, hasn't made any difference:
You still have to reserve a table in the small, tastefully decorated dining room on weekends. With large plate-glass windows in the front, lighting is subdued.
We started with soup, and three of us shared simple spinach and tofu in a clear broth ($4.95). My son had wonton soup ($2.80).
Our entrees were Prawns with Mixed Vegetables (actually large shrimp) for $15.95, and Steamed Wild Bass with Ginger and Scallion for $28.95.
Lotus Cafe serves a 2-pound fish for the price of what some North Jersey restaurants charge for a smaller whole fish or fillets.
|These large, great-tasting shrimp came with mixed vegetables.|
The presentation of the steamed wild bass made the fish appear to be swimming in the sauce (top photo). It tasted as good as it looked, and the light soy-based sauce was wonderful over rice.
Our vegetables were fresh spinach ($8.95) and leafy Chinese broccoli ($9.95), both sauteed with fresh garlic.
|Water spinach with garlic.|
|We asked for the Chinese broccoli well-done to soften the stalks.|
|Shrimp and vegetables in a bowl of brown rice.|
|Leaving the teapot cover open signals you want a refill.|
|We received a complimentary warm rice pudding for dessert.|
|One of the messages in the chocolate-flavored fortune cookies.|
Don't expect a typical Chinese menu or one that is all Szechaun or Cantonese and so forth.
The owner, Philip Su, is from Taiwan, and the menu draws inspiration from that island, as well as Hong Kong and mainland Chinese provinces.
The restaurant offers more complex dishes, such as a beef casserole with an X.O. sauce of shrimp roe, dried shrimp and herbs.
We've tried some of the great noodle soups, including Seafood Soup Noodles, which is filled with fresh, tender shrimp, scallop, squid and other items.
And you won't be able to top Zar Jiang Mien -- thick noodles topped with "Zanadu meat sauce -- Marco Polo's favorite."
Our waiter has been working at Lotus Cafe for many years, and he treated us like family, even asking whether we wanted to take home a little leftover brown rice.
We did, and I had it this morning with a gooey cheese omelet.
We also took home half the fish and most of our rice-pudding dessert.
Lotus Cafe, 450 Hackensack Ave. (in the Home Depot Shopping Center), Hackensack; 201-488-7070.
BYO is open 7 days. Lunch specials from $6.95 to $8.95 with rice and soup. All dishes are prepared with 100% vegetable oil and without MSG.