Things that weren’t, but really should have been included in our pre-marital PREPARE Inventory assessment:
- The speed at which one prefers to watch Netflix series.
- One’s preferred thermostat settings in both the summer and winter.
- How to divide up leftovers.
Sure, we argue about money and chores from time to time, but our biggest most heated fights have been about cream cheese wontons.
Cream cheese wontons are my favorite food in the entire world. They always were. And when we order them, I will count them and squirrel away exactly half so that I can enjoy the leftovers at my own leisure. Jake has this theory. Instead of splitting meals in half, he should get to eat 2/3 because he’s larger. Basically, he’s wrong.
The crab ragoons at Chef Ma’s are good and bicker worthy, but bicker we did not. The glorious thing about these wontons is that Jake thought they were “too gooey.”
Is it possible for a cream cheese wonton to contain too much filling? No way. I squirreled the rest away. The sweet and sour sauce tasted surprisingly sour. I loved this.
We felt lucky to snag the last open table. The restaurant is tiny and used to function as a Taco Bell. Half of the tables were pushed together and reserved for a group banquet, leaving about three others. The customers that arrived after us ordered take-out or waited.
The menu flashes across an electronic screens around the ordering window and register. You’ll also find a photo of Chef Ma decked out in a medal, labeled Iron Chef 2008. According to this Feast Magazine article, it refers to a “Texas-based contest.” It sounds like Chef Ma, a Hong Kong native has cooked everywhere since the age of 14. St. Louis Post Dispatch Food Critic Ian Froeb also included Chef Ma’s in his list of top 100 restaurants this year.
It’s easier to look at the paper menus instead of trying to follow the flashing digital screens. You’ll find two sets of menus listing both traditional and more Americanized Chinese dishes. We ordered from both; The Szechuan eggplant and double cooked pork from the more familiar, and the chicken in a hot scallion oil broth from the traditional.
While I’ve ordered double cooked pork many times before, Jake chose this dish because he’d never tried it. Chef Ma’s version is the best I’ve tried. First of all, the slices of pork were more like pork belly; succulent with that melt-in-your-mouth ribbon of fat. The sauce was flavorful and not too oily and the vegetables were tender-crisp. We liked the thin slices of firm, meaty tofu woven throughout the dish. It was like the tofu was pressed and marinated.
The Szechuan-style eggplant was tender without being mushy (I love eggplant cooked until it’s mushy and creamy, but Jake doesn’t) and the sauce tasted sweet and tangy.
Chef Ma’s menu includes several chicken dishes you won’t find everywhere else. We watched servers bring a big platter of the Hainan style chicken to the banquet table, garnished with the chicken’s head. The chicken dish we chose was the 1/2 Scallion Hot Oil Coated Chicken. It just sounded good and so we didn’t ask any questions about what to expect.
This dish might contain chicken cooked the same way as the Hainan style. I’m guessing it was boiled or simmered in a liquid scented with ginger, possibly five-spice. The scallion oil tasted less like an oil and more like a super-umami concentrated broth. If you don’t want to pick around tiny bones, this chicken dish might not be for you. If you don’t mind skin and carefully navigating around the bones, you might enjoy this dish. Slow down and take careful bites.
We requested any dishes that could be made extra spicy to be prepared that way, but nothing tasted very hot. I understand that some dishes probably aren’t intended to be hot. Our server kindly provided us with extra hot chili oil.
Regarding beverages, Chef Ma’s doesn’t serve alcohol. Jake sipped a can of sweet chrysanthemum tea while I stuck with water. I did see the banquet party bring their own bottles, so it might be possible. You’d have to check with them.
Overall we enjoyed our meal here and plan to return soon. It’s one of those places that, even though we only dined here once, can tell produces thoughtful dishes with care. We might encounter a dish here that’s not our favorite, but get the impression it would be a pretty good version of itself.
Chef Ma’s Gourmet Chinese
2336 Woodson Rd.
St. Louis, MO 63114