A bumpy start

In case you missed it, here’s my review of the new second location for local noodle hotspot Chopstix that appeared in Thursday’s Go! section of the Monterey Herald. I’ll be reposting my reviews and stories from my weekly column for the Herald here on my blog along with extra photos that didn’t appear in print.

Chopstix, a staple of Seaside’s burgeoning noodle and boba scene, has opened its second location in Monterey.

Like the original location in Seaside, Monterey's new Chopstix shop serves up noodles dishes and boba.

As expected, the restaurant was packed, with about a 10-minute wait to be seated. Luckily, they offered to put drink orders in while we waited so we’d have something to sip on.

I’d forgotten about the thriving boba business at Chopstix. They’ve really carved out a name for themselves with an extensive menu of milk teas and smoothies served with those tasty tapioca pearls.

I ordered an avocado snow bubble ($3.75), sans bubbles (so basically just a smoothie). It was tasty — so tasty I took more than a couple sips too quickly and wound up with brain freeze.

Dinner started off with a couple of appetizers — the popcorn chicken ($4) and the vegetarian egg rolls (five for $5).

I'm not really sure what I was thinking ordering popcorn chicken. Let's not speak of this again . . .

I don’t quite know what I was expecting from the popcorn chicken, but I wasn’t expecting the fried chicken leftovers that arrived at the table. Some pieces of meat were tender, but most were pretty tough. I did appreciate the little kick of spice in the breading.

The egg rolls didn't look so sexy, but they tasted pretty good.

The egg rolls were a far cry from the golden egg rolls I’ve come to know and love. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of them at first glance — these egg rolls were pale and unappetizing. But at least they were packed with veggies and tofu. The wrapper was light, but pretty greasy.

I ordered the No. 12 BBQ pork and shrimp dry noodle bowl ($5.50 for the regular portion, $6.50 for the large), but without the shrimp. (I was in the mood for BBQ pork, not shrimp.)

When it arrived, it was piping hot and a beautiful sight, piled high with lots of pork. Sadly, when I took a bite, I was sorely disappointed.

The meat had little flavor — and what delicate flavor it did have was overwhelmed by everything else in the bowl, especially the heavy hand with the cilantro.

Looks can be deceiving--the BBQ pork bowl didn't taste as yummy as it looked.

The textures were off. I had been expecting my pork would be lightly charred, and tender, with a sweet glaze — this was anything but. The crunchy lettuce and sprouts with gummy pork just wasn’t working for me, and I wound up leaving most of the bowl behind.

After a lackluster bowl of noodles, I wanted something to cleanse my palate — what better than fried banana egg rolls (two for $3.50)? Sadly, the egg rolls were very greasy; the fry oil overwhelmed the banana flavor; the wrapper was tough and took work to cut.

Chopstix is really just a couple notches above fast food, if you ask me. The food comes fast and cheap, so I don’t expect much in terms of service or ambiance. This is true of the Seaside location, and it’s certainly true of the new Monterey location, too.

Service was good-hearted, but amateurish. It felt like we ordered everything twice — someone would take our order and immediately after they left, another server would come along to take our order again. This happened not once, not twice, but three times during dinner. There needs to be better communication among the servers.

But I’ll give them this — they’re resourceful! When a party of six came in, they didn’t have any room, so they brought in one of the tables from the outdoor patio to expand a four-top! Crude, but clever.

I know, it’s just the first week for Chopstix, so it’s fair to expect some hiccups along the way with food and service. But then again, is Chopstix really new? It’s an established restaurant in Seaside — the concept and menu here at the new Monterey location aren’t anything different from the original location.

Let’s hope Chopstix gets its act together quickly. They’re taking a risk here — the crowd that frequents the Seaside location, close to the high school, skews younger and might be more forgiving of missteps in food and service. But Monterey’s dining scene is much more competitive.

I’ll be back for boba, but I’ll wait a while before I return to this new Chopstix for food.

Chopstix, 1244 Munras Ave., Monterey, 372-2622, www.chopstixboba.com.

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