Back on course

In case you missed it, here is my follow-up review of Monterey’s Chopstix restaurant 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.

Some took me to task for being premature in reviewing the new-at-the-time Monterey location for Chopstix back in July. If you recall, I noted that Chopstix got off to a rocky start with hiccups in the both kitchen and service.

I figured they were suffering growing pains in their first week of a service and knew a follow-up review would be in order to see if Chopstix could steady the course.

Things may have gotten off to a rough start at Chopstix, but it's settled into a good groove now.

After nearly six months in action, the Monterey location of Chopstix has settled into a good groove, filling a particular niche in Monterey’s food scene.

I’ve found myself coming to Chopstix for lunch a number of times over the past month.

On one visit, my friend and I split a sandwich and an order of fried rice.

The fried rice was flavorful without feeling heavy or leaving that greasy aftertaste.

I found the fried rice ($5.50) very flavorful. I ordered this dish without shrimp — a personal preference. There was a lot of chicken and nice portion of barbecued pork. The rice was lightly fried, but it wasn’t greasy. Its subtle flavors were accented by the rich fried egg.

The Vietnamese sandwich — conspicuously not called a “banh mi,” I suspect because of the lack of traditional paté topping on most sandwiches — was pretty good.

I ordered the lemongrass chicken sandwich ($3.50). Since I like my food spicy, I asked the kitchen to ditch the cooling cucumber and add extra jalapeños.

It may not be a real banh mi, but the lemongrass chicken sandwich is mighty tasty.

The extra heat went nicely with the flavorful lemongrass sauce. The cilantro was applied with a heavy hand — my only complaint with this sandwich.

On my next visit, I ordered the Mandarin chicken wings ($5.50). The sauce was a little sweeter for me — I prefer Mandarin chicken with a healthy serving of chilies — but tangy nonetheless. This take on fried chicken is always a favorite in my book.

The Mandarin chicken wings could be spicier, but they're still finger-licking good.

However, the accompanying tomato and cucumber felt unnecessary — I’d recommend ditching the rice and veggies and bumping up the portion size to make this a shareable appetizer instead.

Most recently, I dropped by Chopstix with friends from the office to grab lunch together before parting ways for the holidays.

The veggie rolls were crispy outside and packed with tender veggies inside.

We started with an order of the vegetarian egg rolls (five for $5). The egg rolls were golden in color — a significant improvement from my last review. They were crispy outside — though a tad greasy — and packed with cabbage, mushrooms and glass noodles.

I ordered the pho ga — chicken pho (regular portion for $5.50, large for $6.50). The broth was rich and full of sweet and savory spices. There was a generous portion of roasted chicken in the soup, and generally quality white meat. (Though a dining companion noted hers was heavy on the gristle.)

A bowl of hot pho was perfect for the chilly weather out.

I ordered my soup with extra jalapeños and let them steep in the broth to give it a bit more kick before I dove in. The bites of juicy chicken, spicy jalapeño and tender rice noodles made for an exciting take on the traditional chicken noodle soup.

I’m glad that the Monterey location realized its clientele is different from the Seaside location, making some tweaks to their business model to accommodate the crowds of hungry office workers and tourists, high-schoolers and hipsters that dine here.

You’ll find beer and wine at the Monterey Chopstix, and they now take credit cards ($15 minimum purchase). And service has improved as well — it’s more welcoming and attentive most of the time.

It’s no wonder there are always crowds lined up at Chopstix — lunch here really is a bargain. I don’t think I’ve ever spent so little on lunch and left so stuffed.

Chopstix isn’t perfect — while the dishes I sampled most recently for lunch were great, others could still use some extra work. But for so few pennies, I’m willing to overlook the imperfections.

Chopstix is at 1244 Munras Ave. in Monterey. 372-2622 or www.chopstixboba.com.

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