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China Pavilion

Fine Asian Dining for the Dark Season

I’m not sure exactly what I expected when I walked into the
China Pavilion on Anapamu and Chapala the other night
for dinner, but the place was packed, and boisterously so. Although
it was just a Tuesday evening, tables were filled with couples,
families, business associates, and what had the aura of a sorority
function or bachelorette party in the corner.

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Maybe it’s always that busy at what many consider the tastiest
Chinese joint in downtown Santa Barbara (and in Montecito for that
matter), but I’m going to bet the place — and other Chinese
restaurants — get a bump in business during the dark season, when
the time shifts back and the sun sets super early, as it began to
do a couple weekends ago. That’s because Chinese restaurants, by
and large, are typically more dimly lit than other places, offering
a place to either hide away or engage with friends and family in a
more intimate setting. The latter notion is enhanced by the sharing
of food that so often goes with the Chinese eating experience. But
maybe I just don’t eat Chinese food enough, at least since Jimmy’s closed.

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Whatever the reason, I found myself seated in a booth with the
bulky menu and specials list before me. I’d never been to either
this place or the one that’s been on Coast Village Road for a long time,
but I’d always heard that this was classy Chinese eating. And if
it’s survived so long in Montecito, I assumed that to be true.

After debating whether to get the prix fixe menu for $20, which
features four courses including dessert, my associate and I decided
we weren’t hungry enough. So instead, we settled on the calamari
with garlic pepper salt as our appetizer. While I opted for the hot
tea, she settled on a small bottle of hot sake, throwing a little
Japanese into the mix. (Though they do also feature a Taiwanese
rice wine, but it was by the bottle only, for $29. The small bottle
she ordered was just $4 — quite a steal for booze of any strength
or quality.)

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When the breaded calamari arrived, topped with sliced bell
peppers and scallions, a request for some dipping sauce was
uttered. That was the move of the evening, for when the waitress
returned, she had a full span of five sauces presented in a
lengthy, stylish tray. She explained each one, from the plum sauce
and hoisin sauces to the hot mustard, sweet and sour, and soy. Our
dipping began, and before long, the calamari, which was just thick
and succulent enough, was gone.

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For our entrees, she opted for the orange peel chicken veggie
style, which was not exactly on the menu. They did have the
generals chicken in a soy variety, but not the orange peel. It
didn’t matter, for the chefs were easily able to throw the orange
peel sauce upon the slices of sauteed soy, which were enhanced by
Szechuan peppers of that black-red variety. I chose the mimosa
spareribs, an original concoction of, you guessed it, champagne and
orange juice. But making the recipe sweeter, the champagne was
carmelized, leading to a slightly crunchy exterior and most
interior, much like the more familiar sweet and sour pork. Each
entree, as expected, came with rice.

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When we were finally done stuffing out faces, we looked at the
special dessert option coyly: a Pavilion-style banana spring roll,
where the banana is treated with cinnamon and Grand Marnier, they
rolled in a Chinese crepe, fried, and topped with powdered sugar.
We just couldn’t pull the trigger though, and got our check
instead. The damage? A mere $35, not including tip. Altogether, a
very acceptable evening feast for not too much cash. And best of
all, we got our first taste of enjoying Chinese food in the early
days of this dark season. I’m ready for plenty more.

The Details: China Pavilion is located in downtown Santa Barbara
at 1202 Chapale Street on the corner of Anapamu. Call 560-6028. The
other location is at 1070 Coast VIllage Road in Montecito. Call
565-9380.

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