How did I miss this one for so long?

by Craig J Constantine

The Eastern Chinese Restaurant turned out to be a delicious discovery. Located in the center of the Bethlehem Square Shopping Center, Eastern Chinese is easy to find and easy to like.

The foyer is large enough to actually act as an air lock, and gives entrance to the waiting area without treating everyone to a blast of cold air. An oriental man in a black suit and bow-tie appeared as soon as we entered. He waited patiently until we removed our coats and had hung them nearby. He asked all the usual questions expected from a host, but without the usual off-handed, couldn't-care-less attitude that I think most people have stopped noticing these days. There was no "Please wait to be seated sign" and, although it was Saturday evening, a "We'll be happy to seat you quickly and courteously" sign would actually have been appropriate.

The dining room was divided into roughly three areas, by a 15-foot-long fish tank and a hand-painted, four-panel, foldable divider. The dining room layout and the large "Cocktail Lounge" sign out front gave me the impression that large groups would be welcome for private gatherings. Spacious, and decorated with a subdued mint-green and black color scheme, the dining room was already hosting a few couples seated at booths and a family of six at one large, round table. (I discovered later that the square tables for four had folding leaves that, when opened, made a rather large, round table.)

We were escorted to a booth. If you've read some of my previous reviews, you'll be as relieved as I was to learn that the booth was comfortable, and that its seating was appropriately spaced from the table for eating without unnecessary contortions. The only concern our host seemed to harbor when selecting our seats was our personal pleasure and satisfaction -- unlike many scarfing establishments where the primary concern is to seat patrons according to servers' stations to evenly distribute the tips and work load. In fact, I didn't discern any pattern regarding who served whom. Instead, the nearest waiter just hustled to take care of whoever needed service.

The fare was exactly what I expected: basically, the same menu one finds at every American Chinese restaurant on the planet. That's not neccessarily a derogatory comment; it's just a tactless observation. I was taken aback by the prices, which were quite reasonable (not be confused with inexpensive) for the level and quality of service and food. We thoroughly enjoyed dinner for two, with tea but without appetizers or drinks, for about $23 including our tip (a bit over 15% as we were very pleased with the service).

We each ordered our favorite Chinese selections, and the service was so blindingly fast that I couldn't empty my water glass as fast as it was refilled with ice-cold bottled(!) water. Our meal arrived so quickly we hadn't really begun any serious conversation, and my first cup of tea hadn't yet cooled.

The meal was absolutely delicious. General Tso's chicken was very spicy and held just a hint of orange rind. Although the chicken was tender, I was graciously given an unnecessary steak knife just in case. The poultry quality and preperation receive credit for tenderness, as the meal was pleasantly low in MSG (based on the absence of my usual physiological reactions to too much MSG). The white rice, which I requested with my meal instead of the default pork-fried rice, was freshly steamed with just enough salt to avert blandness.

From start to finish, Eastern Chinese has earned itself a spot on my list of favorite Chinese food restaurants. If you're in the area, take the Route 191 south exit off of Route 22 in Bethelehem, Pa.; go about one-quarter mile and turn left into the Bethlehem Square Shopping Center. You won't be disappointed.

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