There is certainly no scarcity of Asian-inspired restaurants in our fair city. However, there are a few that stand out, and Bai Wei Asian Diner is one of them.
Opened seven years ago by the Liu and Li families, this friendly establishment serves up authentic Chinese recipes in a bright, clean environment from late afternoon until the wee hours of the morning Tuesday through Saturday.
All recipes come from Shanghai and Kaifeng, two of China’s largest cities. Kaifeng, located in central China’s Henan province, is the origination of Bai Wei’s spicier fare, while the milder recipes are from the largest city in China, Shanghai. The commingling of the Liu and Li families’ two different styles is what makes the menu at Bai Wei so exceptional and diversified. It really is a family affair, complete with residing matriarch, Joanna Liu, who spends her days in the kitchen doing everything from quality control to helping the chef prepare many of the dishes. We were helped by her personable son, Bobby, who happily shared his enthusiasm for the familial food at Bai Wei.
After a lengthy discussion with Bobby, and since it was our first visit, we opted for traditional choices: egg drop soup, chicken fried rice, combination lo mein, and beef with broccoli. While we found the egg drop soup rather flavorless, in actuality it was simply devoid of the sodium overload we have unfortunately become accustomed to. In other words, we thought it needed more salt. Even though the soup is reflective of one of the healthier aspects of authentic Chinese cooking, it left our taste buds searching for something to savor.
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And savor they did. The heaping platter of chicken fried rice was exceptional. Filled with big chunks of juicy, tender chicken, along with pieces of egg and chopped scallions, it was light and flavorful. Like most dishes at Bai Wei, it was enough for three to four people. The combo lo mein, with generous helpings of large shrimp, tender beef, chicken, sautéed onions and green pepper, was the spicy dish we sampled. We asked the chef to go easy on the heat, and it was just enough to add a peppery bite to the noodles.
Beef with broccoli is a staple ordered at nearly every Chinese restaurant we visit. However, the appealing presentation of Bai Wei’s version made it more delectable than others. A huge mound of beef strips nestled in a piquant, savory brown sauce was surrounded by a concentric ring of perfectly steamed fresh broccoli crowns. It was a beautiful sight to behold, and a perfect example of what Bobby says are the three objectives of Bai Wei’s cuisine: bold colors, intense aromas and distinctive flavors. In true Chinese fashion, presentation is important here.
Our prosaic choices don’t truly reflect the more exotic dishes at Bai Wei, like roasted duck in Supreme sauce, a Shanghai version that takes 10 hours from prep to presentation. A family with two very young children at the table next to us ordered a gigantic bowl of crawfish, and it was astonishing to watch how adeptly the youngsters maneuvered their way through the bright red creatures.
Have a craving for sauteed frog with spicy sauce? This is your place. They also have unique versions of lobster, clams, shrimp and shredded pork. Not feeling that adventurous? You can still get freshly made in-house crab Rangoon, egg rolls, moo goo gai pan, General Tso’s chicken and all of your other familiar favorites.
Bai Wei doesn’t have a full bar, but it does serve sake and a variety of American and Chinese beers. The walls are filled with pictures of old Chinese movie stars from the 1930s and a smattering of Asian art, all of which were chosen by Joanna. A beautiful picture of her presides over the cashier’s desk.
Even though Bai Wei has been open for seven years, it has a freshness about it. It’s also a place you will want to visit again and again, either to try new and exciting dishes or to enjoy eye-appealing presentations of your old standbys.
Bai Wei Asian Diner
Where: 1845 S. Rock Road, 316-689-8900
Type of food: Chinese, Asian
Hours: 4:30 p.m.-3:30 a.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays
Alcohol: Sake, beer