Wok this way

In case you missed it, here is my review of Tommy’s Wok 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.

When it comes to Chinese food, Tommy’s Wok usually rises to the top of the list for many local foodies.

Tommy's Wok is a go-to for many when they're craving Chinese food.

Even though it’s tucked away off the main drag, this little restaurant almost always has a line of hungry foodies queued up outside the bustling kitchen waiting for takeout.

Many a night I’ve joined that line waiting for a quick takeaway meal. But for a change of pace, my friend and I instead decided to dine in the other night.

We started with a couple of appetizers — pork potstickers (six for $7.50) and paper-wrapped chicken (eight for $7.50).

Potstickers are a must-order for me at Tommy's Wok.

The housemade potstickers were stuffed with ground pork, cabbage, green onions and ginger. They were quite flavorful, though a little heavy on the ginger.

The paper-wrapped chicken arrived wrapped in mystery . . .

The paper-wrapped chicken arrived as a curious plate of silver foil triangles. Unwrapping the foil revealed a nugget of spicy ground chicken. Cooking the meat in these little packets concentrated the juices of the chicken, keeping it very moist.

. . . each packet revealing juicy chicken.

Since it was a little chilly out, we ordered a bowl of hot and sour soup (small $7, large $10).

The hot and sour soup was too heavy on the pepper, but packed with mushrooms.

The soup was filling, loaded with chicken, tofu, bamboo shoots, egg drop and mushrooms. But the texture was a little gritty, and the soup was seasoned with too much black pepper. Next time, I’d probably skip this and choose my usual egg drop soup instead.

The mu shu chicken was light and fresh.

The mu shu chicken ($10.50) was packed with chunks of chicken, fluffy egg, and lots of veggies including bean sprouts, cabbage, green onions, mushrooms and bamboo shoots.

The roasted half duck ($13) was rich and fatty, with that salty crunch of crispy skin that’s so iconic of Chinese-style roasted duck.

The roasted duck was crispy and tender, but the buns a doughy letdown.

The accompanying buns were disappointing — I had hoped for light and fluffy steamed buns, but got gummy, doughy biscuits instead. But the tender duck made up for the shortcomings of the buns.

On a second visit, I picked up takeout to bring home to the gang.

This time, I ordered just one appetizer — the cheese crab puffs (eight for $7.50), which are a crowd-favorite at Tommy’s Wok.

They're a little light on crab for my tastes, but the crab puffs are an indulgent cheesy treat.

The golden wonton skins were wrapped around crab meat, jicama, green onions and cream cheese. For me, these were too heavy on the cheese and didn’t have enough crab. But they made for an indulgent treat for dinner.

In the mood for a veggie dish this time, I decided to try the hot and spicy eggplant — Chinese eggplant sautéed with spicy garlic sauce ($9.50).

I was surprised how much I enjoyed the hot and spicy eggplant, especially given my rocky history with Chinese eggplant.

I’ve had a rocky relationship with Chinese eggplant — most times I’ve found this vegetable too bitter. But a friend recommended I try this preparation with spicy garlic sauce. Good call — this was a great dish with hints of garlic and chilies that cut the bitterness of the eggplant.

I also ordered one of my guilty pleasures from Tommy’s Wok — orange chicken ($10.50). Sure, it’s one of the most Americanized dishes you can find on the menu at a Chinese restaurant, but it still holds a special place in my heart. Spicy red chilies accented the sweet orange sauce.

The orange chicken is a guilty pleasure of mine at Tommy's Wok.

Instead of steamed rice, I ordered chicken fried rice ($8.50). The rice wasn’t greasy — a risk with fried rice — and instead packed with fresh peas, carrots and fried egg.

Tommy’s takeaway made the perfect feast to enjoy on the couch watching some trashy TV.

Tommy’s Wok serves up classic Chinese food tweaked for the American palate. The dishes might be a little “safe” for those who want a little more flair to their food, but there’s a certain comfort in these familiar favorites at Tommy’s Wok.

Tommy’s Wok is on Mission, between Ocean Avenue and Seventh Street in Carmel. 624-8518. www.restauranteur.com/tommyswok.

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