Admittedly, I am a picky eater. I have this thing with texture and am pretty specific about what I will or will not eat based on looks of the food alone. On the other hand, I am a Chinese food and sushi addict and will try pretty much anything that is set in front of me at one of these types of restaurants. Last night I visited the Silk Road restaurant, formerly known as China Road, located at 681 N. 132nd St in Omaha upon suggestion from a friend who dined with me. He did not know that ownership had changed hands and was a bit hesitant upon arrival and seeing the sign change, but his fears were soon diminished as we encountered one of the best dining experiences either one of us have probably had in a long time.
As soon as we walked in the door we were greeted by a kind, smiling Asian man, probably in his 50’s or so, whom I later found out is the new owner, Peter Yeung. He welcomed us to Silk Road and took us to our table. The restaurant has a simple and open layout, and is aesthetically pleasing to the eye. The bar, with a good size television set was off to the left. Straight ahead the kitchen which was hidden from view, and to the right, the spacious dining area. The glass top tables are fitted with clean, white sheets draped over them, and are pre-set with everything needed to have an enjoyable dinner experience. The glasses and silverware sparkled and the spacing between the tables is generous. Beautiful, original, relaxing music plays on the sound system and the decor is pleasing without being overdone.
I got up to investigate a little and introduced myself to Peter, who by this time had made his way back over to the bar area. I informed him that I was visiting to review his restaurant and that I had a few questions. He was very friendly and extremely open to talking and answering any question I had. By the end of the conversation, this is what I knew: The restaurant had recently changed hands as I mentioned above. The new owner, Peter, is enthusiastic about this adventure and has big plans for Silk Road, but no moves that will be shocking. There is a menu overhaul coming, with some new things being added, a few things such as the Chow Mein dishes being taken away and the staple dishes and favorites of long time customers will be kept. This restaurant has built its clientele on some amazing dishes and Peter, wanting to cater to his clients, does not want to take their favorites away from them. I thought the subtraction of the Chow Mein dishes a good idea, as who eats Chow Mein anymore anyway? I remember it being a cheap addition to low-income families dinners when I was a kid. The restaurant does deliver, he said, and they also cater but are wanting to expand both of those areas some more. He said the prior owners were afraid of doing delivery as though they believed for some reason that doing so would somehow diminish the quality of the food, and that he believes opposite. He also wants to appeal to a younger crowd, which I think is a very wise choice.
I then asked about the staff. A waiter, a teenage cheeky white kid named Miles was closest to me. I asked Miles what his favorite dish was and right away he piped up and said Kung Pao Chicken with a big grin. That got my taste buds going, as I love Kung Pao dishes. Miles was as polite and courteous as his boss and seemed authentic about his feelings about the restaurant and the food. Peter then mentioned Chef Ken, who was preparing food last night. Chef Ken has previously worked in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Toronto and Denver. Why in the world anyone would leave those places to come to Omaha is beyond me, but I was glad to hear that an experienced, well-traveled Chef would be cooking for me. Peter and I talked a bit more about his networking adventures, advertising and menu pricing and I headed back to the table to join my friend. Peter impressed me. He seemed to genuinely care about the overall experience his customers will be receiving when they come to visit Silk Road, but more importantly, seemed concerned with his customers and their wishes before all else.
As I sat down at the table, my friend mentioned disappointment that there were no alcoholic beverages. We had both been looking forward to a good Plum wine to go with dinner, but I explained that the liquor license was in process and had not been approved yet. He quit fidgeting in his chair and agreed that neither of us needed a good drink to make what would hopefully be an enjoyable experience any better. As I looked over the menu, frankly, I was astonished. It is a huge menu. Almost too much to process, but the selection of food made it worth it. Peter then made his way over to the table with two more menus, which are to be added to the already existing plethora of choices. One of them was an authentic Chinese cuisine menu, and the other a Dim Sum menu. Dim Sum. All I could think was yay! There are not many places in Omaha that serve traditional dim sum, and to find good dim sum, I have heard is even more of a rarity. Peter asked if we would like to try anything specific or if we wanted him to pick out a couple things for us to try and I let him have full reign. I knew Peter would know best and wanted to see and taste a couple dishes he was most proud of.
Dim sum, by the way, is comparable to the American word appetizer although its literal meaning is “point of the heart”. Dim sum traces back to travelers along the Silk Road needing a place to rest. Originally, only teahouses existed on the roadside and it was considered inappropriate to combine tea with food because it was thought to promote weight gain, but as travelers and exhausted farmers started visiting the teahouses more after a long day of traveling or hard work in the fields, it was discovered that tea aids digestion so the teahouse owners began gradually adding light snacks to their offerings. And for those of you that don’t know, only luxurious, well sought after items were traded on the Silk Road. When thinking about this, and how Peter had incorporated the name of the restaurant with the dim sum menu and the way we were being catered to, I knew my friend and I were going to have a very special dining experience.
The first menu item that was brought out was Pan Fried Dumplings. They were delicious. They were perfectly golden brown, crispy on the outside yet still a bit chewy and on the inside a yummy pork filling. It came with a brown dipping sauce which our adorable server Cecilia told us was made with soy sauce, ginger, garlic and green onion. The sauce was light and extremely tasty and a perfect compliment to the dumplings. She said it was probably one of her favorite items on the menu there.
The next dish brought out off the dim sum menu was unlike anything I have ever seen or tasted. There is no other way to describe these House Jumbo Shrimp Dumplings except to say that they were out of this world. Upon first inspection, they looked like little clouds sent straight from Heaven. They were white on the outside with a seemingly very delicate skin which was almost translucent. I almost didn’t want to touch it and just looked at it for a few minutes processing what I thought it might taste like. I had no idea what to expect. I lifted one gently off the small steamer it was set in and laid it on my plate. I touched the dumpling to see what it felt like. It was soft, and smooth and reminded me of what a jelly fish might feel like to touch. I took my fork and cut off a piece and lifted it to my mouth. When it hit my tongue and I started chewing, I think my eyes may have rolled back in my head. The shrimp inside was just incredible, seasoned perfectly with spices, and I think a hint of butter. The dumpling itself melted in my mouth and it was all I could do to hold back from attacking and ravaging the rest of them. That was, after all, supposed to be an appetizer. I could have eaten a whole meal of them. I later found out, upon research for this review, that good dumplings are very hard to come across and that it is a good demonstration of the chef’s artistry to be able to make good dumplings. Not only were they extremely flavorful, but the design and appeal of how they looked was just incredible. Huge kudos to Chef Ken. Thank you for making my first dim sum experience one that will be hard to beat!
Next our main courses arrived. I was shocked at how large the portions were! We ordered the Kung Pao Chicken and Firecracker Chicken. As Cecilia set down the enormous portions on the table, my friend and I looked from plate to plate and met eyes and all I could say was, “Wanna share?” There was definitely enough to feed a family of four if not more. I was a tad disappointed as I received Kung Pao Beef instead of Kung Pao Chicken, but it looked amazing so the disappointment quickly passed. They did get the most important part right though by subtracting the peanuts and adding almonds at my request so I was pleased. The Kung Pao Beef has perfectly sized, thinly sliced beef in it along with the almonds (or peanuts if you order it the way it is supposed to come), red bell peppers, mushrooms, green onions, celery and broccoli stem in a spicy brown sauce, if it is made the way the menu says. I think mine varied a little with small bits of zucchini replacing the broccoli and dried red pepper added, which pleased me greatly. I would have loved to have had the broccoli instead of the zucchini, but when I spied the dried red peppers, my heart leapt for joy. It was really, really good. The sauce was just spicy enough for my liking without being so hot that it overpowered any other flavor.
My friend had the Firecracker Chicken which had chicken, red bell peppers, snow peas, water chestnuts and baby corn in an orange looking mild spicy sauce. It was made exactly the way the menu said it would be and by all appearances just looked amazing. It tasted even better. The chicken was made from real white meat chicken, and not some mystery meat. The chunks were the perfect size and deep fried to perfection. I could have handled the sauce being a bit spicier, but don’t listen to me, as I eat habaneros and ghost peppers like candy. I think we were both truly pleased with this dish.
Overall, wow. That’s really all I can say about what I experienced last night at Silk Road. The atmosphere is great, the food is impeccable, the presentation of such was incredible as well, and the pricing very generous for the portions. The dim sum was surprisingly cheap. The Pan Fried Dumplings at $3.25 for four, the House Jumbo Shrimp Dumplings at $3.25 for 4 (double wow), Kung Pao Chicken for $10.95 and Firecracker Chicken at $11.95. Anyone who ever balks at this pricing will think twice when they see how much food they get, how it is prepared and how it tastes. We left fuller than full and with more leftovers than actual food that we ate! The highest priced item that I found on the entire menu is $14.50 and even that is extremely reasonable in my opinion.
Thank you Peter, Chef Ken, Cecilia and Miles for a wonderful, new and different dining experience. You’ll see me again!